Today, all the Saints who shone forth—both before the Law and under the Law—in Old Testament times, those times before grace and truth shone forth from our Incarnate God and Savior Christ; today, all these Saints are commemorated by the Church as co-heirs of Christ, co-equal with all the New Testament Saints—Apostles, Martyrs, Hierarchs, Monastics and Righteous Ones.
Some shine out more brilliantly than others. Some are more well known to us or closer to our hearts. Some of us have heard about them since we were little children, having their glorious deeds and faith impressed upon our imagination and heart. Some of us may have never read the Old Testament at all, or maybe only a little bit.
Some of the Saints have called the Holy Scriptures nothing less than Paradise. I think this is because when we open the holy books, and read their divine words, we are immersed within a world of holy men and holy women with whom God walks, just as we hear that He walked amidst the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.
Truly the Holy Scriptures are a Paradise. The first Saints from the foundation of the world are revealed thereby. The Mother of God—whom we can call the truest tree of life—is seen to be most beautifully surrounded by all the fragrant flowers, healing plants and mighty trees of the Saints. Coming forth from the Mother of God—that truest tree of life—is Christ our God and Savior, the all-blessed Fruit of Immortal Life!
This Divine Fruit is offered to us unworthy ones every Sunday and Feast Day in the Holy Chalice. Adam and Eve committed one sin, being deceived by the serpent on account of their untested simplicity—for this they were deprived of that Tree of Life, cast out of Paradise, committed to toil for hundreds of sorrowful years in agony and remorse, and then they spent 4500 years in dark and dismal hades until Christ came to save them, raising them back up to Paradise—and not only that, but bringing them with Himself in His all-glorious ascension unto the high throne of Divinity!
One sin they committed, and then they were banned from that Immortal Fruit. How many sins do we commit? How many passions do we nourish? How many times do we fall into the same dismal cycle of negative and evil thoughts? How many times do we assert ourselves as gods in our pride? How many times do we turn our mind and heart away from God? Yet, how many times have we been allowed to dine upon the Divine Food—the Immortal Fruit, even our God Who gives Himself to us an all-saving, most-sweet, life-giving and deifying Feast?
Today we have open before us a divine Paradise—the countless Saints of the Old Testament. What purity is found in them! What simplicity and faith! What courage and endurance! What virtue fills them! They did not know what we know—they did not fully comprehend that God would become incarnate and visit us as Emmanuel. They perceived in symbols and shadows! But we are given the reality and substance of these things. However, we often live as if we didn’t know these things; yet these Saints shone so brightly with many graces and eternal splendor even before Christ.
Truly, the Holy Scriptures are a divine Paradise. If we open them, we will be immersed within a heavenly world of pristine breezes, beautiful fragrances and refreshing crystal-pure waters. Adam and Eve are there. The most-righteous Abel, the divine Enoch, the all-graced Noah are there. Shem, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are there. Judah and Levi, the all-comely Joseph are there.
Moses and Aaron, the holy Israelites, the mighty Joshua, the righteous judges are found there also. Godly kings, noble warriors, other-worldly prophets are found there too. David, Solomon, Hezekiah, the most righteous Josiah, Elias and Elisseus, Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, the valiant Maccabean Martyrs, the zealous Maccabean warriors are there also. Isaiah, Daniel, the three holy youths, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the God-graced and God-illumined prophets are found there too.
Amidst there numbers is also Joachim and Anna; and opening the New Testament we find the Mother of God, the all-chaste Joseph, the most-just James, the blessed Forerunner John, the God-Receiver Symeon, the holy women, the glorious Apostles, disciples, the first martyrs and all the faithful.
Truly the Holy Scriptures are another Paradise. When we open them and immerse ourselves in them, we dwell in Paradise with the angels and saints, and we are in the company of Christ with His Father and the All-Holy Spirit.
Some of the saints are presented to us as fragrant flowers to cheer our innermost souls. Some are given to us as mighty trees to wonder at and to take shelter under. Some are given to us as healing plants which provide remedies for all our passions. Some blossom forth sweet and nourishing fruits for us. We are free to walk amongst them, to come to know them, to mingle with their most-humble and benign and all-bright company, to learn their ways, to feast with them, to walk in their world.
We are free to choose the ones which delight our souls the most, and warm us with warm fervor and divine delight in God. Some are closer to us than others, but none of them are envious. Some have us in mind more than others, and they watch over us with unsleeping care and constant intercessions to Christ our common Lord and God and Savior—yet we might not be aware of it.
When we think of a saint, they are thinking of us. When we invoke the saints, they hearken to us and help us that we might all be more knit together into the heavenly family of the Father of all.
Truly the saints are a Paradise, and the gates of this Paradise are Holy Scripture and fervent prayer to them. Let us seek those that are closest to our hearts and provide the best remedy for our passions and sorrows and afflictions.
Are we grown old in sin and feel barren and embittered in this world? If we open the book of Genesis we will be refreshed with those pristine breezes of the newly-created ancient world with its first-created peoples.
Are we afflicted and oppressed by our many passions? The book of Exodus will show us that our God is a mighty Deliverer from all evil. Are we insensible to holy things and Church life? The book of Leviticus will instill within us a reverence and sense of the holiness of God and wonder at His wise ordering of divine worship.
Are we wandering in the desert of a dried-up soul with many temptations? The book of Numbers will give us consoling hope in God’s long-suffering and the power of His salvation. Do we desire a greater respect for the spiritual law of God? Deuteronomy will instill within us wondrous thoughts and holy fervor.
Joshua will teach us courage in our spiritual warfare. The Judges will show us that God does not forsake us in our sins if only we cry out to Him in our affliction and desire repentance; and this He does not just once, but even if we turn away from Him countless times, yet if we turn back to Him He will receive us again. Ruth will warm our hearts with piety. Samuel will teach us uprightness. The holy kings—with David and Josiah at their head—will show us how to live divine and godly lives amidst earthly-plenty and amidst the greatest evils of worldly life.
The Chronicles will teach us how many people God cares for, and how He knits together all our lives into a well-ordered, unified whole. Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah will teach us zeal for the Church and the Holy Faith. Esther will teach us how to use rank and position for the good of all. Judith will teach us that youth, bodily beauty and riches are nothing; for she had all these and was left a widow early on, yet she remained chaste and single-handedly defeated the blasphemous Holofernes and saved her people.
Tobit—the one who confessed of himself that he alone and his house remained faithful to God when all his tribe worshipped Assyrian idols—this Tobit will teach us how to be true family members, how to live with angels and how to live for God no matter what.
The Maccabean Martyrs will teach us that nothing is so painful as disobeying and rejecting God, not even being seared in flames, having our flesh raked off or our innards spilled to the ground. The Maccabean warriors will teach us how to nobly lay down our lives for our brethren and how to strive with all our heart for the purity of God’s grace. The Prophets will teach us sobriety, godly fear, true contrition and repentance, the vision of eternal realities and how to live in holiness amidst this fallen and corrupt world.
Solomon will teach us the vanity of this brief life, the beauty of eternal heavenly wisdom and how to sing divine hymns. David will give us psalms and prayers which express our innermost feelings and yearnings more eloquently and more thoroughly than we can ourselves. Sirach will teach us how to live in every situation according to God’s will. Job will teach us how to live blamelessly amidst sickness, depression, feeling forsaken by God, terrible diseases, the abandonment by friends and the misunderstanding of worldly-minded people.
All of these are offered to us as healing remedies, cheering fragrances and mighty protectors. If we immerse ourselves in the world of these saints, they will teach us how to prepare ourselves to receive Christ into every fiber of our soul.
They will lead us to Christ, they will keep us in Christ, by their prayers they will give birth to Christ in our hearts. This is the mystery which has been hidden from the ages, as St. Paul says: “Even, Christ in you!” He has deposited Himself within our hearts by His incarnation. He has chosen us as a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people! How can we reject His great gifts by our insensibility, our wicked habits and our thirst for worldly impurity?
May the Lord Christ forgive our ignorances, our weaknesses and failures! May He overlook all our sins! May He truly make us to feel His very life pulsing through every fiber of our being! May He prepare us to give birth to Him in our hearts at His Nativity! Only He can fill us with His grace! We are weak and barren and helpless! But with God all things are possible and eternal life is given to us, unworthy as we may be! Meditating on this great love of God and seeing it so beautifully alive in all the saints, we cannot help but be moved and transformed unto a better and more holy state. Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us! Amen.