- Fr. Athanasius Oweis
Sunday of All Saints - 6/27/2021
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
One of the verses that I struggled with for a very long time was the verse in the Gospel of John 14:12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father”
And the daunting question for me was always: “What can anyone possibly do greater than what Christ has done?”, and I asked several priests that did not give me an answer that would relieve me. Some people said that someone who speaks now can talk to millions via TV, while Christ could reach only thousands, and this answer did not satisfy me because it was the technology that did the work, it was not the person.
Saint John Chrysostom commented on this verse that Christ did not say that He can do greater than these, but Christ gave to those greater works to others.
And when I looked up the Orthodox Study Bible it would say the following: The greater works indicate that Christ's working through mere humans after Pentecost is greater than His performing signs and wonders directly. These works, attested to in the Book of Acts, include spreading the gospel throughout the world, miraculous healings, and raising the dead. This is somewhat convincing, but still did not fully relieve me from wandering.
But today, on the Sunday of Saints, I found the answer, It is an answer that I can profess emphatically. One of the things that many saints did was that they lived much harder lives and/or bore more pain than Christ, physical pain that is. They have been subject to more horrifying tortures, more asceticism, and longer endurance. Now to say this within the boundaries of the Holy Orthodox Faith we have to emphasize that these Saints did all what they did not through their own strength, but rather through the Holy Spirit that was sent by Christ. So they did it through Christ. It wasn’t that they more powerful than Him, It is He who gave them all this love, strength, and zeal…
And now, let St Paul and not me tell you about the saints from His letter to the Hebrews:
ST. PAUL'S LETTER TO THE HEBREWS 11:33-40; 12:1-2
Brethren, all the saints through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated - of whom the world was not worthy - wandering over deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.
Having read this epistle, the evil one immediately shoots one of two fiery darts at us:
The first dart is that these people are far from us, lived totally differently that us, probably in older times of persecution, or in monasteries or convents, and we immediately think: This is not for me. I don’t want to become a saint.
The other dart is a feeling of comparing ourselves to them, and we immediately start to think less of ourselves, and we will say, I will never be able to achieve this. And we immediately think that we are feeling humble next to them.
Let me tell you how does the Church protects us and quenches these darts. Let us start from the last one.
When the Church shows us every day in the Synxarion what the saints did in their lives, she does not do it to make us feel bad, but she rather does it to tell us: “Look, how much the love of Christ can transform people like you and me into heroes, The love of Christ and the strength of Christ gives amazing strength”. She also invites us to forget our small worries like paying the bills or taking care of our families or jobs, and looking farther beyond what truly matters. This feeling of lowliness due to comparison is not a feeling of humility, because humility forgets oneself, and looks at Christ. This lowliness is not humility, but negative pride, because it is also centered around the “I”. And this is not what the Church calls us to do.
As for the first dart, this sainthood is not for me,
I am here to tell you brothers and sisters that the path to sainthood in Orthodoxy is not optional, you have no choice but to pursue that path, otherwise you are not an Orthodox Christian. Simply because the path to sainthood is the same path of repentance. If you don’t walk in your life repenting your sins and coming closer to Christ, you are simply walking in the opposite direction.
So all of us are called to be saints, as Saint Paul calls the faithful in all of his letters… “Called to be Saints”
How to become saints?, we love Christ, and when we love Christ, the love of the world becomes smaller and smaller, and Christ’s presence becomes overwhelming, until the whole life becomes worthless, if it wasn’t for Christ.
This is why we venerate saints, not for themselves, but because they carried, showed, lived for, and worked the works of Christ, and by venerating them, we venerate Christ Himself. Venerating Saints and reading their lives and their works, helps tremendously in our walk of repentance… And this is what we do in the Church, as Kind David sang in Psalm 52:9
I will praise You forever, Because You have done it; And in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.
And also in Psalm 149:1
Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, And His praise in the assembly of saints.