Dear Parish Faithful,
The liturgical book that we began with the Matins of Pascha is called The Pentecostarion. This theologically-rich book contains the hymnography for all the days of Pascha, and the Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost. But it does not end with the Leavetaking of Pentecost (this past Saturday). We draw from The Pentecostarion one last time on the Sunday of All Saints, our celebration yesterday. This commemoration is all-inclusive, embracing all of the men, women and children - known and unknown - throughout the ages that have been well-pleasing to God in honestly trying to fulfill the will of God in all things. If a "saint" is a holy person, then that holiness is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a humanly-generated holiness; as it is not a matter of the "indomitable human spirit" struggling to overcome any and all adversities. A saint is the one that makes a conscious effort to cooperate with God (synergy), and is fully aware of his/her dependence on the grace and deifying energies of the "Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth." Thus, the Feast of All Saints is the perfectly-placed commemoration to follow the entire paschal-pentecostal season.
If there is a "road to perdition" then there is certainly a "road to holiness." And there is a seemingly endless number of vocations that a particular person will be able to follow on that road - straight and narrow as it may be. In the Liturgy we commemorate "those who have fallen asleep in faith: ancestors, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith." What are some of the consistent characteristics of the multitude of saints who bless the Church with their intercessory presence? Perhaps we can bring to mind a few of those qualities that draw forth our admiration as well as our desire for emulation:
+ Following the words of the Lord, the saints love no one more than they love Christ - father, mother, son, daughter, etc. They place nothing or no one above the "one thing needful" - Christ and the fulfillment of the Gospel precepts. The primary goal of the saints is to enter the Kingdom of God.
+ The saints acknowledge that they are sinners and spend their lives in an ever-deepening experience of repentance. They will thus never justify or rationalize their sins or shortcomings. But they will never despair of the boundless forgiveness and love of God. The saints realize that they are "nothing" without God.
+ The saints are not concerned with worldly popularity, praise and recognition. They feel no need for "ego gratification." They have no need to favorably compare themselves with their neighbors. They do not feel envy or jealousy when their neighbors prosper. They flee from pride as from the plague.
+ The saints suffer in spirit over the suffering of others in the world. They mourn in spirit when they contemplate the sinfulness of the world. They are deeply compassionate toward all creatures. The heart of the saint expands in order to embrace the entire creation with love.
+ The saints leave all judgment in the hands of God.
+ The saints are ever-prepared to forgive others when they are offended or even persecuted. And they will suffer if they even inadvertently offend another. They do not hold grudges or long-standing anger towards others. Reconciliation is always their goal. They can actually "turn the other cheek." The saints will even love their "enemies."
+ The saints struggle to overcome their fleshly and spiritual temptations. They do this through the consistent practice of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. They also do this by guarding over their "thoughts," driving away the ones that strengthen temptation and thus the proclivity to sin. Their goal is to overcome the "passions."
+ The saints know the Scriptures "forwards and backwards." They regularly immerse themselves in the living Word of God so as to put its teachings into practice.
+ The saints will confess their sins with regularity. They will receive the Eucharist "in the fear of God, and with faith."
+ The saints will defend the Faith when it is under attack, but never harm another person in the process.
No one, beginning with the Lord, ever said it would be easy! In fact, the Lord taught us yesterday in the Gospel: "And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (MATT. 10:38).