Sermon for the Feast of Saint Athansios the Great - The Rev. Demetrios Mott
Your Eminence, Reverend Fathers and beloved faithful,
This evening we gather to celebrate the memory of a saint and hierarch of our church who was and remains a blazing lamp of Orthodoxy- Saint Athanasios the Great. From a young age, he had a remarkable theological understanding and an exceptional knowledge of sacred Scriptures. He attended the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 as a deacon, accompanying the Patriarch of Alexandria, Alexander. The following year, before his death, Patriarch Alexander appointed Athanasios His successor.
Saint Athanasios the Great would spend the rest of his life defending the truths of this council and protecting the faithful against the heresy of Arius and the poison that infiltrated the church at that time. Out of his forty-five years as Archbishop of Alexandria, sixteen of those years were spent in exile, why? Because he stood up for truth, because he stood up against what was popular. He was not afraid of what people thought, or said, or could even do to him. His life’s work as a bishop of our church was to lead his flock in the truth and purity of the church of our Lord. He was not concerned for what certain people wanted, or were motivated by- that is not the life of a bishop and true shepherd, but concern only for speaking the truth, even in the midst of darkness and poison.
Our hierarchs find themselves fighting for the truth of our faith, without protection, without support in many cases. That is martyrdom and true holiness- to stand for Christ, to preach him above all else. This is the life of our devoted bishops and teachers- they sacrifice their lives for something that is greater than their very life, a message, a truth, the very Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ itself. Can we think of anything more precious to defend? More valuable to protect? And yet, today we find ourselves living in post-modernity. For decades society has pushed to become secular, to become this misconstrued definition of freedom- which we call modern.
Now we move into the year 2020- we are postmodern, further away from that which is true, from that which is divine. This is indeed a dangerous time in history, and many, if not, I dare say, most of the world, finds itself in a state of confusion. Our focus has shifted so far from the precious declarations of the First Ecumenical Council, we have gone so far beyond one man, with a specific heresy being fought.We have entered a territory that has no precedent in human history- we are swimming lost in the time of atheism and consumerism. Our children grow up in the era of the “Nones”, where sporting events rule our Sunday mornings. This is our fight for truth in the 21 st century.
Tonight, my dear faithful, we are reminded of a very beautiful and yet, sobering reality- that our Orthodox faith contains divine truths. We hold in the palm of our hand the Apostolic Faith. We are stewards and heralds of that faith. We are communicants of the greatest of mysteries- the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior. This is a joyful blessing beyond comprehension.
But we are also called to stand up for our faith- just like Saint Athanasios and all of the exemplary hierarchs of our faith. We are called to live our lives dedicated to
Jesus Christ and to the commandments and the Gospel that he gave to us. We are called to stand up for the truth of Orthodoxy, to not let fear of scrutiny, fear of consequence, or even our own laziness to get the best of us.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ is more than simply calling ourselves Christians. It is more important than counting the dollars in our bank accounts, or the hours we might think are in front of us. We are the stewards of the Orthodox Faith, preached by the Apostles and passed down through our mother, Christ’s Holy Church. To the best of our ability, we must stand up for these truths. We must stand up when heresy and confusion of thought tries to enter our church communities. We must stand up when what is true and right clashes with what is popular. May we live our lives to receive the most beautiful title as St. Athanasios- to live as blazing lamps of Orthodoxy, shining brightly in the darkness and confusion of our time.