Let All Your Things Be Done With Charity - A Sermon for the 13th Sunday After Pentecost (2020)

September 06, 2020

Let All Your Things Be Done With Charity - A Sermon for the 13th Sunday After Pentecost (2020)

         Today’s Epistle and Gospel teach about love—love for God and love for man. In the Gospel we see that those who did not love, but killed their own brothers, the servants of the Lord, went on to kill the very Son of God Himself. Abba Dorotheus’ lesson on the dangers of pride are most manifest in today’s Gospel: Those who do not honor their fellow-men go on to disdain even living Saints, then the ancient Saints, then the Apostles, and finally even God Himself.

         In stark contrast is the picture derived from today’s Epistle. Everywhere St. Paul is speaking of love—“let all that you do be done in love”; “greet one another with a holy kiss”—and he shows this love living and active amongst the Churches—“Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus” have “addicted themselves to the ministry of the Saints”; they have “refreshed my spirit and yours”; “the Churches of Asia greet you”; “all the brethren greet you”; and finally he says, “my love be with you all. Amen.” So serious is St. Paul regarding love that he states emphatically: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ let him be anathema!” And we know that if we do not have love for all men, then we do not have true love for our Lord Who became Man for the sake of all men.

         The Greek word St. Paul uses for “greet” and “salute” in today’s Epistle means also “to embrace.” When spoken in a letter, or communicated from one person to another afar off, it simply means a greeting or salutation. But when spoken regarding those who meet face-to-face it has the special meaning of embracing one another. And this is made all the more clear when St. Paul adds to his words, “greet one another”, the words: “with a holy kiss.” This is the embrace and kiss of peace which we render to those whom we have not seen for a while, on special occasions, when we make amends, or feel a special impulsion to do so because of our outflowing affection. It is that holy embrace and kiss of filial love which the priests give one another before the Creed, which used to be performed during the Liturgy by all the faithful also, and still is during the Bright Paschal Matins.

         Those words which we hear during all of Paschatide manifest the loving spirit from which such embraces and holy kisses are born: “It is Resurrection Day, let us be radiant for the Festival, let us embrace one another and let us say: ‘O Brethren!’ even to those that hate us; let us forgive all things on the Resurrection and let us say: ‘Christ is risen from the dead!” This is that holy state of soul which St. Seraphim had, greeting everyone, at all times, with the words: “My joy! Christ is risen!”

         But now, in order for us to escape that condemning anathema which St. Paul utters against those who have no loving affection for Jesus Christ and thus also all men made in His image, we must see what it is which cuts us off from the bond of love. Is it not pettiness, grudges, divisions, opinions, stubbornness, selfish pleasure-chasing; lack of endurance of our pains, afflictions, and sicknesses; lack of sacrifice and thanksgiving amidst trials; gossip, slander, whisperings, suspicions? How often do we sell this loving affection for small things?—dust, cobwebs, ashes, un-processed dung; these are the words the Holy Fathers use for worldly things and trivial matters. This loveless state is not just a plague of the world, but it creeps unceasingly amidst us like a shadow which distorts our vision, and paints monstrous depictions of others into our maimed eyes and convinces us of its truth. It sows discord, rivalry, arguments, factiousness, lovelessness.

         For what do we sell this priceless treasure of a soul bathed in warm affection, peace, and divine love? For opinions, ambitions and desires born of a selfish spirit; for such words as “I think” and “I believe” and “I want.” We always want something better for ourselves over against our brothers. We want recognition and get frustrated if someone simply looks away from us. We have opinions about how everyone else is to do his work, about how things should be done, even about God’s providence!

         And what now in the Churches? We hear now that there is a foolish division within the Orthodox Church of the so-called “mask-wearers” and “non-mask-wearers”! This is ridiculous! This is un-Christian! This is demonic! Be not offended at my words, for this is what it is. Why deceive ourselves? Yes, Covid exists, but we do not need to fret so much that we trust a piece of cloth more than the Omnipresent Spirit of God. Yes, some people are taking things beyond the level of healthy precaution, but we do not need to berate them, to pride ourselves on having greater faith. Where is faith without humility? There is a healthy middle path: to be prayerful and cautious, to have faith and to use common sense; and to not divide ourselves from our fellow-members of the Most Holy Body of Christ over such pettiness; and to have sympathy for others’ weaknesses.

         But to divide ourselves into parties and forsake love and peace? This is unacceptable! Wake up petty souls and realize that the devil, having left the world to its own devices, has now crept right into our petty minds and has banished love from our heart, from us who are named after Christ! The beguiling serpent has made us to define ourselves by a piece of corruptible cloth which hangs about our face. Congratulations, Christians, we have proved either our supposed prudence or our supposed faith, but more than this we have proved our pettiness, blindness, lack of love, and childishness. And yet, this is an insult to children, for although they often bicker about petty things, nonetheless they quickly repent and forgive, embracing one another for the sake of love.

         Does not St. Paul’s rebuke against the Corinthians for being carnal-minded apply even more to us than it did to them when we do these things? For they were quibbling about honorable teachers of the Faith—Paul, Cephas, and Apollo—and dividing themselves into factions for the sake of living Saints, yet they were still rebuked as carnal-minded. But we have divided ourselves from our brothers for the sake of a piece of cloth! What insanity! What a sin against love and our brother’s conscience! Will we carry this division to the grave? Will we hold on to it when we stand before the gates of the Kingdom with the brother whom we have spurned on account of it? Will we still hold to our narrow-minded pride when we stand before the Judgment Seat of the Crucified One? Then why hang onto it now? Let us cast it off before we cast ourself into hell through it!

         Wake up Christians! Wake up world! “We struggle not against flesh and blood,” says the Apostle! Our war is not against Republicans, nor Democrats; not against mask-wearers, nor non-mask-wearers; not against those who disbelieve that there is a virus called Covid, nor those who have gone mad over its existence. Our war is against deceptive and divisive spirits who seek by any means to sever us from love, from God! Wake up!

         Let us now follow a principle of Abba Isaac which is the basis of one whole homily of his: “If you do not believe the Church, at least be convinced by those philosophers bereft of God.” We know of that great love and unity of heart, mind, soul, and all things of the first Christians, as related in the Book of Acts. Often, when the Holy Fathers were exhorting their hearers to Christian love and unity, they invoked that Apostolic band of men and women which grew out of Pentecost. They often stated: “They had all things in common, except their wives.”

         These last words which qualify their sharing to exclude that of wives was a necessary statement for the Greek mind. It was to show that the Christian communion was not the same as Plato’s Republic, which stated that the citizens should also share their wives. Nonetheless, it is amazing that Plato and Socrates state that the true city should share all things; that “mine” and “thine” are the same; that all should have a common feeling, mind, and heart. They even invoke the image of the body: that if one of its members should feel joy or pain, all the members should do so also. St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, must have had this in mind when he stated similar things throughout his Epistles to the Greek Christians, as if he were saying: “Remember how even pagans strove for this unity! How much more should we who are members of Christ God Himself?!”

         Moreover, throughout the entirety of the Republic of Plato the question keeps coming up if such an ideal city can exist. Finally, near the end the answer is given. The questioner states that they are now founders of an ideal city which exists only in thought, for, he says, “I do not believe that there is such a one anywhere on earth.” Socrates answers, saying: “In heaven there is laid up a pattern of it, I think, which he who desires may behold, and beholding, may set his own house in order. But whether such a one exists or ever will exist in reality, doesn’t matter; for he will live after the manner of that city, having nothing to do with any other.” St. Justin Martyr calls Socrates a Christian before Christ because he followed the Logos, the Reason and Mind Who governs all; maybe only for this saying of Socrates did he utter such words.

         St. Paul must have had these words of Socrates in mind when he, speaking to Greeks newly converted to Christ, states that “our citizenship in is in heaven, from where we await the Savior”; and also when he speaks of the “city of the Living God, whose builder is God.” St. Paul was also speaking of a heavenly city, but unlike Plato and Socrates he knew that it is a reality in heaven, the New Jerusalem, that which will descend from heaven to earth at the end of all the ages, as seen in St. John’s Revelation.

         Furthermore, it has already begun now, since Pentecost, in the Church. To highlight the wondrous gift and reality given to us Christians, which was only an ideal and unattainable dream for the philosophers, we must look to Plato’s later years. His Republic was a work of his youth, but he maintained the same understanding of such an ideal city in his old age, in his work called the Laws. Regarding this ideal community which holds all things in common, after stating that it may not ever really exist, he states: “Nonetheless, whether such a city is governed by gods or sons of gods, by one or more than one, happy are the men who dwell there.”

         Did he not, like Balaam the pagan, become the unknowing mouthpiece of a prophetic utterance which has now become reality? For Pentecost and the Church of the Saints have shown this dream a reality, a concrete reality founded on earth by Christ. For not only has this Platonic dream become possible, but it is governed by God and the Son of God Himself, and also by gods and sons of God, the Saints deified by love. King David, a true clear-sighted Prophet beheld this divine city 1000 years before its founding on earth, and knew it would become reality in the Church of Christ, when he exclaimed: “How good and joyous it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! For there is found the blessing: Life forevermore!” Only in unity!

         “If you do not believe the Church, then at least be convinced by the philosophers bereft of God,” says St. Isaac. But are we not sometimes much worse and much more bereft of God than these pagans? For they dreamed of and mentally constructed in their minds a noble city where unity prevails. But we, having this city as a reality in the Church, often dream of very ignoble things which sever us from God. We often dream of power, position, pleasures, honors, rank, riches, and every selfish thing under the sun. This is a shame to us. For while the more noble of the pagans are dreaming of a heavenly city, we, the sons of God and gods by adoption, have left it to chase after dreams of earthly things.

         This is what keeps us from love. This is what destroys the unity and filial affection which must bind us together in Christ. Let us be shamed by our pettiness, by our earthly-mindedness. Let us be quick to repent of our foolishness. Let us lay aside every stumbling-block which makes our brother stumble. Forgive me, for I have spoken bold words. And I ask that no one measures my life against them. For it is very easy to speak, but extremely difficult to do. But, if you see me failing, pray for me, be patient with me, and forgive me. And I too will strive for the same. If we give in to fits of mad pride and passion, and are blinded and paralyzed for a span of time, let us then quickly repent whenever we should come to ourselves, and the Lord will receive our humble repentance.

         Let us all overlook petty and earthly things that we may not lose the most priceless heavenly treasure of Christ God Himself, Who is Love and Affection within our hearts; that we may not cast away His most priceless treasures, our brothers in Christ who are made in His image. Let us call upon God, and cling to His Son in loving affection through constant cries of prayer, humble sighs of repentance, and let us beg Him for all things—both small and great—but especially that greatest gift of the Holy Spirit: compunctionate tenderness of heart which pours itself out in tears and love for God and man. Amen.

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