Today, on the First Sunday after Pentecost, we come to the end of a long journey, a long liturgical cycle lasting around 120 days or one third of the year, which began with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and ends with this Sunday of All Saints. This is a journey of sanctification, meant to sanctify us and teach us about the meaning of our life on earth – which is to be sanctified. On the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee we contemplated the beginning of the path to holiness in Christ – the humility of the Publican. After asking the Lord to “open unto us the gates of repentance” we proceeded to fast and mourn over our sins throughout the holy 40-day fast, finally turning our attention to the saving Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and whether we were ready or not, purified completely or only a little, we rejoiced in His Glorious Resurrection. After lingering a little on the events surrounding the Resurrection and the days thereafter (the Sundays of Thomas and the Myrrh-Bearing Women), we eventually came to His Glorious Ascension, where we are reminded that Christ ascended only after giving his disciples the promise of the coming of the Divine Comforter, the Most-holy Spirit. Last Sunday we celebrated the much-awaited Descent of the Holy Spirit, the life-giving Spirit Who sanctifies and enlivens all things, all creation, most of all that created in the image of God, mankind.
Today is the day of the harvest, the final day after all the preparation, the sowing, the weeding, and cultivation which has gone before. Today we walk into the garden of Divine Grace and behold the wondrous fruit of this long journey, the fruit of the life of the Church, enlightened and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. This fruit is is the assembly of wondrous saints, known and unknown, recognized and not yet fully glorified by the Church on earth: Apostles, Martyrs & Confessors, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous Ones. Behold the fruit of the Holy Spirit, behold the fruit of the life of the Church, behold the fruit of the fasts, of the feasts, of the Divine Revelation. Behold the fruit of the full immersion of the Apostles in the Spirit through tongues of fire, the fruit of the Martyrs who, while living on earth, considered the Heavenly Kingdom their Homeland and eagerly awaited death in the flesh while hoping in the life beyond the grave, the fruit of the Prophets such as Moses who spoke to God “face to face, as a man converses with a friend”, the fruit of the Hierarchs who illumined the whole world with their flaming prayer and Divine doctrine, who gave us the Divine Liturgies and destroyed the machinations of the heretics, behold the fruit of the Monastics who were also martyrs in their bloodless martyrdom, who returned completely to the Garden of Eden and dwelt together with nature in a Paradisical state, who were seen in the uncreated light and lived without normal physical nourishment, fed by grace alone. And finally, behold the fruit of the Righteous, those who, without receiving monastic tonsure, entered fully into the grace-filled state while living in the world, such as the miracle-working St. John of Kronstadt and the Righteous Matrona, to whose relics thousands of people flock every day, standing in line for hours in the middle of modern sinful Moscow. This is the fruit of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which descends on the faithful not by the will of man alone, but by the will of God, after the long journey, after the purification of humility, fasting, rejoicing, and patience, after the awaiting of the coming of the Holy Spirit, “which blows where it wills”.
Looking upon all this glorious fruit in God’s vineyard, we turn to ourselves and to today’s Gospel, asking the question: How can I, a great sinner, in some way remain in this Divine Garden, together with the Mother of God and all the saints, together with everything which is beautiful and pure in Heaven and on Earth. The answer we receive is difficult, but not impossible to receive and act upon. The Lord tells us that we must confess Him before men, confess Him by our way of life, by the way we dress, by the way we speak, by the way we treat others, and by our words, not remaining silent regarding the Good News of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, which is a stumbling block to many but life and the hope of salvation to us.
The Lord tells us that if our close family and their demands upon us are more important to us than the Lord’s call, we are not worthy of Him. The Lord tells us that our true family is a spiritual family, the family of the true followers of Christ, and if our earthly family should ask us to deny Christ or compromise our faithfulness to Him, we must refuse and choose the Lord’s commandments over their demands and desires for us.
Some might conclude that running from the world, from family and those who would put us in a difficult spot and try to force us to deny Christ, is the easy solution to fulfilling these commandments. Every person finds himself in a different situation with regard to family and other worldly ties and pressures, nevertheless though one can separate himself from family and the world which hates the Truth of Christ, no one can run from himself and his Providential lot in life. Thus the Lord gives us a final qualification for true discipleship: the bearing of one’s cross. Each person’s cross is different. It can be an intense internal suffering, with despondency or depression, or a difficult illness, or the burden of labor and responsibility. Whatever that cross is, if we take it up and bear it, and follow after Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit will help us, just as the Divine Comforter helped the saints to carry their cross all the way to the end, until they received their final reward. We say we are followers of Christ. When we look at the life-giving Cross we know exactly where the path of Christ leads – to the Cross. Where else, as followers of Christ, should we expect to end up?
Yes, together with all these saints we must follow Christ all the way to the Cross, to our personal cross, and bear that cross valiantly, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Behind and beyond this Cross, as we see today in the Feast of All Saints, is a beautiful garden, a Divine vineyard, nothing less than Paradise itself, the Paradise of the Saints, for which may we all be made worthy, through our Lord Jesus Christ, worshipped together with His Heavenly Father and the Most-Holy, good and Life-giving Spirit, unto the ages of ages, Amen.