Homily on the Sunday of All Saints
By St. Philaret of New York
The Orthodox Church as it were completes and finishes on the current Sunday that special liturgical-ecclesial period that began long ago, more than one hundred days ago, when the Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee was read and the Church for the first time this year chanted that song of repentance: “Do Thou open unto me the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life.” Completing this period, which occupies of full third of the year, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of All the Holy God-Pleasers. As the Holy Fathers have pointed out to us, the Church thereby as it were responds to Christ the Savior for all that He has done for us and for our salvation: He was incarnate on this earth, taught, worked miracles, healed, suffered, arose, ascended in glory, and finally sent down the Holy Spirit. Now the Church, which was founded by Him and guided by the Holy Spirit, offers Him as if in response this incalculable host of God-Pleasers. We know thousands and tens of thousands of them, but we know far from them all. There were many great God-Pleasers who are unknown to us and whose names we do not even know.
Here is one such example from the Sarov Hermitage. You yourselves know how the Savor monastery was adorned by the great God-Pleaser of the Russian land, Fr. Seraphim of Sarov. Who does not know him in the Russian land! The humble Seraphim (as he liked to call himself) was also known beyond the borders of Russia as a great God-Pleaser. And when one pious monk (one of the Sarov monks) prayed to God, the Lord revealed to him (this happened to be when St. Seraphim was still alive and shining forth in the Sarov monastery by his miracles and holiness) that among the brethren was a monk by the name of John who was equal to Seraphim in the grace-filled gifts of the Holy Spirit, spiritual heights, and ascetic struggles. But this was revealed to this monk alone, and the rest did not know about it. But even this monk did not know exactly who this ascetic struggler was, since in the monastery there were many monks with the name of John. Thus this great God-Pleaser remained unknown, about whom the Lord Himself revealed that he was equal to St. Seraphim in the spiritual heights to which he had ascended to God in his enlightened spirit.
From this example and others like it, we see that there are many, many God-Pleasers about whom we do not know, but that are known to the Lord God alone. It is known that such a great Elder as Ambrose of Optina – that adornment of the Optina Hermitage – had a spiritual father who was a hidden ascetic known to nobody, but who stood on such spiritual heights that the great Elder himself, as his spiritual son, enjoyed his instructions, although other people did not know him.
Great and incalculable is that host of God-Pleasers that stands before the Throne of the Lord of Glory and prays for us, sinners. How diverse were the images of their life! There was everything: both kings and princes, both rich and poor, both famous and unknown, both monks and pastors and archpastors, both fools for Christ and martyrs, as well as simple laymen of righteous life… Most diverse were their life’s paths! But they also had something in common that united them and for which reason they are all together glorified by the Holy Church. That which united them is clearly indicated in the Gospel that was read today in their honor at the Liturgy. In this Gospel reading the Lord says: He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me [Matthew 10:37]. All this was fulfilled by them. This does not mean that they refused good earthly attachments, or personal love for their parents and children. These words of the Lord do not at all mean that one needs to “stop loving” all one’s earthly loved ones who are dear to us on earth and to love Him alone. By no means! This only means that love for Him should rule over everything and cover everything else like a tent, just like a big tent covers everything that is secure, protecting it. That is how love for God should be like a tent covering everything earthly.
There is a well-known case from the time of Caesar Julian the Apostate, of the son of a pious father, a pious Christian who led a righteous life and loved his son, the hope of his old age, who suddenly changed his Christianity by persuasion of the Apostate king, ceased being an Orthodox Christian, and renounced Christ. The Father, for whom the son was the comfort and hope of his old age, abhorred such a son and in turn disowned him, for Christ and the Truth of His Gospel were more precious to the father than even his beloved son. Soon after this there was a royal feast. The father was among those close to the king. When he sat down with the king at this feast, the son was there too, not far away. The king began to ask the father that he return his son to his favor, but the father replied: “About whom are you asking, Sovereign? About the apostate? Do not ask for him; he is no longer my son; he is completely foreign to me now. I do not know him…” This is how spiritual love overcomes the bonds of earthly love!
In another place the Holy Gospel cites the words of the Savior: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother… he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26). This does not mean that the Lord teaches us to hate, and especially not to hate those who should be most precious to us. No, this means that in those cases when on one’s path to God people become an obstacle, even if they are one’s parents, then one should remove them – even one’s parents – from one’s path, dispensing with them as with enemies who stand in the way of one’s salvation. Not hating them of course with a personal hatred, but mercilessly removing even them if they will take it into their head to hinder one on the Christian path.
Such fidelity to the Lord and wholehearted love for Him united all the God-Pleasers, the whole host of whom we now glorify. And in this fidelity and love for God they should serve for us as a lesson and instruction.
If one asks many present-day Christians: what is you personal attitude toward Christ the Savior, they will become perplexed. What does one mean by “personal…” I pray to God, I go to church, what more is needed? But the Lord says that one needs to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, with all one’s strength, with all one’s mind, so that the thought and heart of the believing person would always be directed to his Heavenly Father. Recall how the troparion to St. Seraphim of Sarov begins: “From thy youth thou hast loved Christ, O Blessed One…” This love for Christ should be constantly aglow in the true Christian. The Lord Jesus Himself said the following words: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind [Luke 10:27]. St. John of the Ladder, speaking about such personal love for God, did not stop there to say: You know how someone loves his beloved; so, too, learn to love the Lord thy God, so that He would become more precious to you than anything in the world. When one loves another person, his beloved is constantly in his memory; his thoughts turn to him constantly; and when he meets with him, he is not bored with him: he is ready to spend hours and days with him. It does not get boring with one’s beloved. This example is similar to how man should be united with the Lord God in the bonds of love – namely united.
Let us recall the first commandment of God’s law: I am the Lord thy God… Thou shalt have no other gods before Me [Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronoy 5:6-7]. Does the Lord Himself need this? It is clear that the commandment is given to the believing person, so that he would love God with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his thought. I am the Lord thy God. You yourselves know that when someone writes a letter, then only if he is writing to a particularly close or dear person does he write at the end “Thy” or “Yours.” This is an indication of a special mutual proximity. So it is here, if the Lord says I am the Lord thy God, He is thereby, so to speak, offering Himself to man as an object of love and reverence; and knowing what good there is in this for man, the Lord adds: and you will have no other gods besides Me. In the love of God there is for man an endless source of joy and spiritual light. The Holy God-Pleasers were aflame with such love, and this love and fidelity united them in the lofty and sacred host that is now glorified by the Church.
May this Divine love of theirs serve as a lesson for us sinners of how we should love God, of how we should always think of Him and turn to Him with our soul and heart. When we love another person, we think about him so much that we want to spend our whole life with him, to correlate all our actions with the beloved person, and always to be in his presence. Thus does the true Christian abide with God constantly, cleaving to God and not doing anything without thought of the Lord God and of turning to Him. And it is no accident that one of the beautiful sayings of the simple Russian people says: “Without God you won’t make it to the threshold” [“Bez Boga ni do poroga”] i.e., without God, you cannot take a single step… Amen.