Called to be Saints!
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
St. John the Baptist. St. Basil the Great. St. Martha and Mary. St. Peter and Paul. St. Constantine and Helen. St. Maria of Paris. St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. Everyday in the Orthodox Church, we remember the lives of many different saints. Our Church calendar is filled with names of saints - kings, bishops, priests, monks, martyrs, as well as common people like you and me, men and women, old and young from every walk of life. One unique factor about all these saints, however, which may differ from our own lives, is their total and absolute dedication to and love for Jesus Christ and His Church. They all had such a strong desire for the Kingdom of Heaven, that they placed this passion before all else!
Today, on the first Sunday after Pentecost – when we remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire and empower and help people become holy – today we celebrate All Saints Day! We remember the thousands and millions of men and women who lived holy lives, seeking first the Kingdom of God, and dying in the hope of our Lord’s resurrection. Each day throughout the year, our Church calendar commemorates a few of the saints of history. Every year since the time of Christ, though, there have been faithful people carefully working out their salvation! Many are anonymous and will never be “officially canonized” as saints by the Church. And yet, their witness and lives touched those with whom they had contact, and today we remember them.
St. Paul refers to all these saints in today’s Epistle Reading, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1,2). St. Paul reminds us that if we have the eyes to see, all around us stand a great cloud of witnesses who offer an example for us to imitate. Like them, we are to cast aside every sin that holds onto us, and run into the arms of Jesus Christ. We must leave our daily sinful habits, and the impurity that attacks us every moment, and we must strive to live lives that are different, holy, pure – lives that radiate the image of Jesus Christ. The path is narrow and difficult that leads to life, to eternal life. Let us never forget that. The road is easy and wide that leads to destruction. Let’s not be lured and deceived by that!
So St. Paul encourages us to lay aside all the things that try to lead us astray, and follow the path of the “great cloud of witnesses.” WE ARE CALLED TO JOIN THIS CLOUD AND to become saints! Yes, you and I here in this church can become saints!
There is a beautiful story about a reporter who once approached Mother Teresa, who at that time was one of the most famous people in the world, and one that even the secular media was calling a saint. And she was asked, “What it was like to be a “living saint?” Mother Teresa paused for a moment and looked straight into the reporters eyes saying, “Do you know that we’re all called to become saints. It should not be something so unique. Even you, Mr. Reporter, you also are called to become a living saint.”
Unfortunately, many of us think that the saints come from a different category than ourselves. How many of us would dare place our names in the same category as St John the Baptist, Sts Peter and Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St George and St. Fotini. And yet, we have the same makeup as these men and women. We have the same potential as they do!
Sainthood is not reserved for only a few people! Sainthood should be the normal growth of every Christian’s life in our journey toward the Holy Trinity. The good news is that God expects us all to become living saints, and He has created each of us in His image and likeness, giving us the potential to reach this goal!
Remember, saints are not perfect people, but saints are sinners who live in constant repentance, who have accepted the mercy of God and have filled their lives with His Grace. In other words, they commit their lives to Jesus Christ each and every day and strive to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit within them!
This is the story of all our saints. Look at St. Paul as an example. Before his conversion, ST. PAUL fanatically persecuted Christians, blasphemed the name of Christ, and even approved of the St. Stephen’s death. Later in his life, however, he told his spiritual children to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” A drastic change transformed Paul from sinner to saint. The same could be said for ST. FOTINI, a confused and broken woman who had five different husbands, or ST MARY OF EGYPT, an immoral and infamous prostitute. Do you know the story of ST MOSES THE ETHIOPIAN, a terrible criminal and leader of a dangerous gang, who later became a model of holiness. These are the lives of our saints. Our church calendar is filled with holy men and women who at one time in their lives represented awful sinners. They accepted the mercy and love of God in a dynamic way, however, and became radiant lights shining the love and holiness of God throughout the entire world.
Do you realize how many times we pray these words at every Divine Liturgy: “Remembering the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”
What does it mean when we say “with all the saints, let us commit ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.” Obviously, this prayer tells us to place ourselves in the midst of the saints of the Church, and to commit our lives to Christ as they committed their lives to Jesus!
Throughout the New Testament, the early Christians use to call every believer a saint. Why? Because it was a reminder that every baptized believer is suppose to live a holy life. We all are called to become saints! 100 years from now, our Churches should be filled with new icons of each of us – of St. Helen of Lancaster, St. John of Litiz, St. George of Columbia.
Many of you may be thinking, “Fine, God is calling us to become saints, but HOW do we pursue this path towards holiness?” St. Paul gives us directions in his letters.
First, he reminds us that we all are “temples of the living God.” Temples are places dedicated solely for God. Thus, our lives must also be focused solely on Him. Remember, each of us is precious in the eyes of God, and our lives are sacred. Therefore, let us set ourselves apart from all the vain and impure things of this world. Let us strive to live as holy children of God. Remember, no matter what we have done in the past, and no matter how we have fallen away from God, He still sees the goodness and purity that dwells deep within us and desires for that holiness to radiate from our lives.
And to live “as a temple of the living God” does not mean that we have to abandon the world and become a monk or nun, or even dedicate our life as a priest. For some, this may be our calling. For most people, however, our dedication means that in whatever we do, we do it in the name of Christ. Whether we are a housewife or a business man, a teacher or a factory worker, a student or a farmer, we must live life as if God is watching us; He is our partner, our co-worker, our competitor, our master, and our Lord! We must act in purity, in honesty, in truth, in faith, and above all, in love.
Second, Paul reminds us that God wants to live in us, walk with us, and be our God. In other words, God is ready to help. We cannot become saints on our own. God will help us.
Last week, we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with power. This power is the special strength we have to overcome the temptations and evils of Satan, and to live a life of discipline and sacrifice, a life of service and love, helping others and glorifying God.
Thus, our effort to become saints obviously will not be a individual one, but will be a cooperation with God. By our effort, and with His grace, we all can become saints.
There is a story about how ST. ANTHONY heard God tell him to go into the city of Alexandria and meet this holy man. St. Anthony was very interested in meeting another serious co-sojourner in the Kingdom of God, so he got up, left the Egyptian desert, and went into the big city. Thinking that he would meet some great ascetic, or some holy Bishop, St. Anthony was surprised when the Holy Spirit led him to the home of a simple shoemaker. This humble man lived together with his wife and children. Anthony was surprised that God would lift up this simple man, but he was attentive to the Spirit and stayed with the man for a few days. What he noticed was that the man lived his life according to the Gospel. With his wife, with his children, in his work, with his customers, and with anyone he met, he treated them all with respect and humility, in service and love. He did all in the name of God, and for the glory of God. After a few days, Anthony returned to the desert, praising God for this lesson he learned in seeing holiness in the simple and humble!
Sainthood doesn’t imply doing great things the world will admire. It does imply doing simple things, everything, with great love and humility, all for the glory of God’s name! Doing ordinary things with extraordinary love for the glory of God!
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Called to become saints! Will you accept this great privilege and responsibility? Remember, it does not depend on God. He already showers all of us with the potential needed. Our holiness depends on each one of us – whether we are ready to commit our lives in a absolute way, to die to our old, sinful selves and live our lives in a holy way dedicated to Jesus Christ. If we choose to follow this path, then our reward will first be a life of inexpressible peace and joy here on earth, but also will be the crown of sainthood in eternity.
Let us honor the saints whom we celebrate today by meditating on these words of St. Paul, evaluating the direction of our lives, realizing the potential that lies within us, and beginning our long journey toward sainthood.
Christ is with us!