Sunday of All Saints
Commemorated 5-6 June 1999
by Nick Brown
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Let me pose a question. What are we doing here tonight/today? Now let’s think… did I come to Church because I want to worship God… did I come to Church to have Holy Communion… did I come to Church because it’s a good place for a social gathering… did I come to Church because it’s tradition? To answer the question of what we are here for, let me first state that the whole idea of ‘Church’ is not this building that we gather. While it may be ‘a’ church, it’s not the Church. What makes up the Church is you and I, and what makes up the Church, the Body of Christ, are the millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide who gather in unity to worship the One True God.
So why do we do it? Well let’s look at the meaning of the word Church. In Greek the term for Church, when translated into English means to call out, to call out to the faithful to gather together, and to call out to the heavens and to ask for God’s mercy. Ultimately the Christian life is a calling for each and every one of us, a calling to attain what we call theosis, to attain intimacy with God, to participate in his energies. What this means ultimately is that we are called to become saints! That’s right, you and I are called to join those invisibly present with us here now, whose images we see on the walls of our Church building. Many of you are thinking now ‘how could I possibly become like Saint Nicholas or Saint George or even the greatest Saint of our Church who is the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary?’ It’s not as hard as we think. After all these people were mere body and soul just as you and I are, but they chose to dedicate their everything, body and soul to God (the sole purpose of our existence).
On the Sunday of all Saints (commemorated on 5 and 6 June), we remember those that have gone before us, who have fulfilled God’s plan for humanity here on earth, who took up that call from God to join Him, and the many who suffered greatly and died for their faith. It is on these days that we not only commemorate those saints who are well known to us, but we also commemorate those who’s names we don’t know. As is known, every single day of the year with exception to the major feast days of Christ and the Theotokos, is celebrated with the memory of a myriad of saints, with the calculation of the day being the day on which they passed over into eternal life. However, it should also be remembered that each and every person, who attains the Kingdom of Heaven, through the grace of God, is essentially a saint! Even departed loved ones have the possibility of attaining sainthood. While we don’t specifically assign the term of ‘saint’ to them, we still pray and hope that one day them, and those of us alive on this earth, will be together. For, those whom we do honour as official Saints, have been recognized at this level because we are certain that because what they had done on earth and their Christian has verify their entry into the heavenly kingdom (by the grace of God).
Today is also the day on which many who don’t actually have a known patron saint who’s name they share in our church will celebrate their name-day. On the topic of who would make a candidate for a Saint in our church, we can see from the icons on our church walls that our Saints came from all different walks of life. We have Saints who were doctors, soldiers, bishops, monks, priests, nuns, kings, queens, married couples, whole families who were killed for their faith, and we even have repentant prostitutes as saints of our church. Could you imagine for a moment the girls that solicit themselves in the most degrading manner actually becoming Saints of our church? Also, age is no barrier, and this is something that is relevant to the youth of our Church. Many of the Saints, and especially many of the martyrs, were teenagers and young children. For example, the Apostle and Evangelist Saint John the Theologian, the same one who wrote the Gospel bearing his name and the book of revelation, was only a youth of around 14 years old when he was chosen by Christ to become one of the 12 disciples. Even the Mother of God was a mere teenager, according to the tradition of the time, when she gave birth to Jesus. Furthermore, Saint Markella, was only a child when her pagan father martyred her for her faith because he wanted to use her for incestuous relations. Ultimately, through the great sufferings and tortures that the martyrs endured they were able to attain a special position in God’s kingdom, a special position in our Church, which is God’s kingdom on earth, and a special position in our hearts; the place where we need to make manifest the Kingdom of God.
Having said all of this, what are the terms and conditions for attaining sainthood. We have just noted that you don’t need to be young or old, you don’t need to be a bishop or a nun, and you certainly don’t need to walk through life trying to display actions of false piety and pretending that you wear a shinny halo around your head! Christ tells us in today's gospel how we are to become saints. This is how:
- We must confess Christ before all people. This means that we don’t hide our faith as if it’s something to be embarrassed about. Don’t wonder what people might think if you go to Church every week. Don’t fell ashamed to make the sign of the Cross in public. Furthermore, don’t disregard the practice of praying or reading the Bible as if it’s something that either only priests or religious fanatics do. We have Orthodox Christians 2000 years of tradition, and God who loves us very much. It’s not something to hide, it is something that should make us happy and proud, and it is something that we should wish the whole world was a part of.
- We need to place Christ and to love Christ before anyone else that we love. We need to love Christ more than our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and husbands! This is often a sore point with many Christians and it is quite a hard condition to fulfil. However, what we need to do is to focus our attention on Christ and to focus our love toward Christ. After this is done, love for one’s family members follows naturally.
- The final point of taking up ones Cross and following Christ is interconnected with the second above. The message of Christ often creates sharp conflicts and divisions within families due to people’s unbelief and total disregard for the Creator. To carry one’s Cross to the end, the true Saint must be prepared, if absolutely necessary, to sacrifice even family relationships. The true Saint must also be prepared to endure the hardships that this world brings.
So there are three key points: confessing Christ, loving Christ above everyone else, and taking up one’s cross and following Christ.
Finally, an elderly pious monk known as the elder Paisius, who has since gone to his rest, upon visiting Australia in 1977 when he came out from Mount Athos in Greece made the following comment, "Many problems exist here in Australia, because this land has not as yet brought forth a saint". He also said, "I believe though, that even Australia, in the future, will bring forth Saints, from within so many faithful who fight the good fight here, and then things will change…" Wise words from a man who himself may one day be canonised. Who knows? Maybe one day an icon of yourself may adorn our church walls!