In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ in today is the Sunday of All Saints; both those that are known and unknown.
What does it mean to be a saint?
The answer to this question is found in today’s Gospel when Jesus says “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven…. He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”
When we look at the saints we often think of them as perfect people that are without sin. The Church teaches us that that there is only one that is without sin, our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. He lived in perfect obedience to God the Father as a loving Son.
The saints are those that imitate Christ in their lives. Saint Symeon the New Theologian reminds us of this when he says “He who peruses his own will, however slightly, will never be able to observe the precepts of Christ the Savior.”
It is through the denial of self that we are able to receive God’s grace.
What is this denial of self? There are two types of denial of self. The first type of denial is the denial of self that Adam experienced. Adam denied that God created him to live in harmony with Him for the sake of sin. Not only did Adam use his will contrary to the will of God but, he clung to a lie. The lie was that he was not responsible for his actions. (Genesis 3:12)
When we examine our lives for confession we should find the same denial of what God created us to be. We should see how we have exerted our will over God’s will as well as the lies that we have told ourselves. What are these lies? Some examples are: I am better than I really am financially, morally etc. or if I am addicted drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or some other passion that I can stop at any time. These lies that we tell ourselves are an illusion of our true way of living. The denial of this illusion of self is the second type of denial of self that Christ is speaking of in this portion of the verse.
This denial of the illusion of self is the restoration of the harmony between God’s will and our own will. Through this denial of the lies about ourselves we will deny those things that bind us to the earth and replace them with spirituality; that passions will be replaced by virtues. Most of all the fear we have of God, that He is punishing us in this life and our grumbling against him will be replaced with obedience to Him and love for Him. We will realize the difficulties we experience are self-inflicted as a result of our misuse of our free will.
We mordify our self will when we take up our cross Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic tells us that the meaning of taking up ones cross is. “…..the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, bitter though it may be, that is offered. Do great catastrophes fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling and with faith in hand, as the apostles did. Are you condemned to death for Christ? Be thankful to God for such an honor, like thousands of Christian martyrs.”
After we take up the cross we must then follow the Lord. These words are probably the most difficult for us. What does it mean for us to follow or accompany Christ to the cross? It means to go against all that this world holds as important as Saint Paul reminds us in his Epistle to the Corinthians “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-27)
Once we have denied ourselves taken up the cross and followed Christ is only then that we are given God’s grace to proclaim Christ to all men. It is through this grace that our lord gives us “power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” (Matthew 10:1)
This power and grace is given to us to give freely as our Savior said “freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) We are further reminded of this from the Acts of the Apostles “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I you:” (Acts 3:6)
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ my prayer for you is that you may be saints through the denial of yourself, taking up the cross and following Christ so that you may receive the grace and gifts of God so that you may make Him known by giving of them freely.
Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church,, Youngstown Ohio on All Saints Sunday 2009.