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3rd Sun after Pent. June 25, 2023 Matt. 6:22-33, Celtic and Other Saints
Glory to Jesus Christ! Today is the third Sunday after Pentecost and once again we are to consider the saints of the Orthodox Church. We have gone from considering all of the tens of thousands of canonized and glorified saints throughout the entire world and all of Church history, to last week giving thanks for the handful of our recognized saints here in North America, and now today we venerate the hundreds of first millennium British and Irish Saints, mostly the Celtic saints; one of the best known of course being our own St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. This 3rd saint’s day was instituted by the Russian Orthodox Church very recently, in 2007.
Britain, Ireland, and Scotland have a very impressive list of saints. Aristobulus, one of the 70 and brother of the Apostle Barnabas was sent to be the first bishop, bringing the Christian faith to Britain very early in the 1st century. St. Joseph of Arimathea, after taking down the crucified body of Christ from the tree, wrapping it in fine linen, anointing it with spices, and laying it in his new tomb, ended up also bringing the gospel to England and is buried in Glastonbury. St. Constantine was there before becoming emperor. Sts. Patrick, Brendan, David, Kevin, Aidan, Columba, Columbanus, Cuthbert, Bede, Brigit, Hilda, Ida, Martyr Kings Edward, Edwin, Oswald, Oswin, and many more.
It is significant that for the first three Sundays after Pentecost we are to reflect upon the saints who have gone before us and manifested the gift of the Holy Spirit, radiating with the light of Christ, to bring the kingdom of heaven to those they touch. This is the fruit of Pentecost. This is also the path that we are called to. May we see with clarity what this path looks like in the thousands of lives that have travelled it within our Church. May we also have our eyes opened to clearly see the path to sainthood that God has called each of us to follow! There are as many different paths to sainthood as there are saints, and they are all marvellous and treasured in the eyes of God and His Church. Each path is paved with thousands of good choices. Good choices come from good understanding and right thinking, and this comes from absorbing the teachings of the saints and the absolute consistency of doctrine and belief that runs through their teachings.
Our thousands of glorified saints are all part of the “visible” Church of Christ, the Orthodox Church, not of some amorphous spiritual union of well-meaning Christians with a thousand different understandings regarding what is a proper interpretation of scripture or even who Christ is. Throughout every century when you read the works of the saints of the Church, their teachings stay in harmony and agreement, because they are based on what the Church has always taught from the beginning, from the Apostolic age. We have many Fathers and Mothers but no reformers, no-one other than Jesus Christ to look back on as our founder so the message never changes.
There is no “new move of God,” (Heb. 13:8) “He is the same yesterday today, and forever.” I hear people say that “this is what God is doing today” and I confess I am puzzled. Has God come up with some new teaching? I hear that “God was really with us today!” and I wonder “was He on vacation yesterday?” No, it is not some new move of God we seek, but our hearts which need to be moved and converted and come to rest in Christ, as have all the saints through all the ages before. The most reliable way for this to occur is within the protection and nourishment of the Church, in her sacramental life.
We should not expect that somehow we will receive great revelations apart from what has always been taught by the Church. Actually, Christ tells us in the last days just the opposite will occur. (Matt.24:4,5) “Take heed that no one deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying I am the Christ and many will be deceived.” The main safeguard that can protect us from being deceived, is to learn what the Church teaches us, what the saints of every age have taught us, and thereby recognize when something doesn’t square up. Even if it comes complete with 4 scripture verses and a tantalising new interpretation. Yes, we all say we follow what the bible teaches, but the important question is – whose interpretation do we follow? Do we really think we have the wisdom to decide? We need to cultivate a spirit of humility and realize just how susceptible we are to error when we judge by our own understanding. Not a popular message I realize in our present culture where we are taught constantly that everyone’s “truth” is equal, and if you don’t agree with the latest cultural revelation you are some kind of “hater.”
When we run into a conflict between what we have learned from the culture we live in and what the Church has always taught, the safe road is always to allow the Church to judge the culture’s wisdom, rather than allowing the culture of the day to judge the Church. A most favorite strategy of the evil one is to first mis-represent what the Church actually teaches on any given subject, and then to hold it to ridicule. Right from the 1st century in the Emperor Nero’s reign we hear in the popular media that Christian’s were sacrificing babies as a misrepresentation of the gift of communion. This is why it is so important that we take the time to learn what has been taught by the Church “everywhere, always and by everyone” as St. Justin Martyr put it in the 2nd century.
Today’s Gospel starts out saying “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Our eye is bad if we only see that which is visible to our physical eyes, and we can not perceive the glory of God as being the very life force that calls all things into being and sustains all that lives. When our focus is on consuming, and satisfying our appetites and passions, we are living a fallen life which Christ came to restore. Do we live only by the physical, material creation or also by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God in prayer, worship, almsgiving, and communion? Our eye is good when we live a God focused life and comprehend that the kingdom of heaven is at hand; right here, right now, and for evermore; and we live in faith in that reality. If our thoughts and words, see a God filled life everywhere present and filling all things, our eyesight is good and may God grant that it continues to improve. We hear at the conclusion of today’s gospel, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. The next verse adds, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
When our eye is good, we seek to gather spiritual wealth by investing our time and worldly treasure into eternal riches in God’s kingdom. The fathers tell us that at the end of our journey here on planet earth, we can only take with us that which we have given away! May we be able to join with the saints at the end of our lives and say, “Glory to God for all things!”