The Inheritance of Our Fathers - A Sermon on Sunday of the Forefathers

The Inheritance of Our Fathers - A Sermon on Sunday of the Forefathers - Holy Cross Monastery

Today, beloved, the Church remembers the Forefathers of Christ. On this Sunday and next we remember all the Old Testament righteous. Just as we are preparing in this fast period to receive Christ born in a manger, so it is appropriate for us to remember the Old Testament righteous who were preparing their wholes lives for Him as well. And yet, it was not for them to behold the promises fulfilled. What they longed for, they did not see. Living in the year of our Lord 2023, it is important to remember their expectation and hope and to know what they were deprived of in their lifetimes so that we can see and better understand the rich treasures we have inherited.

The righteous who died before Christ lived the same life the righteous after Christ lived. There is one path to holiness—obedience to God and following His commandments. What can be surprising for us is that in many ways the Old Testament righteous even followed the New Testament commandments that had not yet been revealed. Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery and not only that, but embraced them, fed them and supported them in famine. Job, who was not even a Jew, performed sacrifices for the unintentional sins of thought his children might have committed. There was no sacrifice needed for sins of thought in the Old Testament. And yet even someone outside of the Law was exacting in following after God.

Those who followed the commandments and purified themselves were filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way the Apostles later were to be, in the same way the saints always were, up to the God-bearing elders of our times. This can be seen especially in the Prophets, whom the church commemorates during this Fast, and rightfully so, because they pointed to the coming Messiah. By purifying themselves, they were deified in the same way all those who came after Christ were deified. Like the apostles, they rebuked sinners. Many of these rebukes are still timely in our day. Isaiah says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (5:20). They comforted sinners. They performed miracles, raised the dead, were granted heavenly revelations, beheld the first and even second comings of Christ. And yet for all of that, for all their struggle, for all of the gifts they were given, for all the hope they had in God and in His promises, it was not for them to see them fulfilled. Every single righteous man and woman who died before Christ lost the gift of deification they had received once they died. Why? Because Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil had not yet been accomplished. Human nature was still fallen and under bondage to death. It was still separated from God.  For all the Old Testament righteous—Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Ruth, Hannah the Prophets Moses, David, Isaiah, and so forth, when their bodies died, their souls died as well. Not that their souls ceased to exist but that their souls were separated from God when they died. Every last one of them went to Hades on departing this life. Granted, they were not punished there for their sins, but they were cut off from God nonetheless. They had to continue waiting.

They waited in their lifetimes, and they waited after their life as well. We, however, have always lived in the light of Christ’s victory. While we are preparing for the Birth of our Savior, we also have already received Him, being clothed with Him in Baptism and united to Him in communion. If the Prophets are those who have worked since the first hour and bore the burden of the heat of the day and still weren’t not paid at the end of their life, we on the other hand are workers of the 11th hour who are paid as we work.

As much as we rightfully lament living in a post-Christian society, we still live in a world where the devil has been defeated by Christ and he knows it. Again, even though we live in a non-Orthodox country, with few saints and not many roots, we have still been given the incomparably rich inheritance of the Prophets and the Apostles and all the saints. As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:19-22). Unlike the Holy Forefathers, in a real sense, we have everything handed to us.

This brings us to today’s Gospel of the Great Supper. Here we see the Master preparing a supper and sending his servant to invite others to come. Notice how the servant was sent to people engaging in lawful activity—buying and selling, getting married. The servant was not sent to a dark alley to invite robbers and murderers to the banquet. He was not sent to a pagan temple to invite the heathen. He was sent to those engaged in normal, every-day life. Yet each person declined the invitation. They were too pre-occupied in what they were doing to realize that what they were invited to was far better.

For us at this monastery, this banquet is offered all the time. Christ invites us to the Mystical Supper of His flesh and blood every single day. We have been given the greatest gift that none of the righteous before Christ had access to in their lifetime. St. John Chrysostom tells us that there is nothing greater that God can give us than what He gives us in communion. We are given Christ’s flesh and blood and soul and divine energies. Is this not the Kingdom of Heaven? We have infinite wealth pouring out from this Altar table.

And yet, this is a difficult obedience to have. We are hard-pressed to keep up with services and all our obediences, especially this time of the year. Work doesn’t go away for the sake of daily liturgies. Temptations, illnesses, travelling doesn’t go away. Perhaps it can feel like most of the burden is being shouldered by a handful of the Fathers. Or for some, they can’t partake more often anyway no matter how much they want to. But the Mystical Sacrifice is still offered for all of us, and not only do we benefit, but so do the thousands that we commemorate. We are blessed to have the services set up the way we do, and we don’t know how much longer we might have them. Not because we might decide to discontinue daily liturgies, but it might be taken away from us. We’re a car accident away from a father or two being permanently disabled or killed.  We never know how international affairs will affect the economy. Not only could the church construction come to a halt, but even our day-to-day activity as well.  Disease and death don’t discriminate between their victims.

I say all this not instill fear in the unexpected, but that we might appreciate what has been given to us for this time, and God-willing, permanently. All of us, even the laity present, have already chosen to follow after God and to put Him before all else. I’m not challenging you to check your goals to make sure receiving communion is placed above finishing your obediences or placed above getting the sleep you need. I’m not chastising anyone for putting off doing the communion rule and choosing not to receive on a weekday or lesser holiday because they want to rest and find some consolation in spending time with the brethren. Rather, I want to remind everyone that what we have is incredibly unique and miraculous. We have what people for thousands of years desired but could not receive. In one of the secret prayers for the liturgy, the priest says, “When we had fallen away, Thou didst raise us up again and didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven and bestowed upon us Thy Kingdom which is to come.” God has already bestowed upon us His Kingdom. This is the Kingdom the Jews were seeking for hundreds of years. This is the Kingdom the prophets foresaw. This is the Kingdom that is greater than the Paradise from which Adam and Eve were expelled. God has already bestowed upon us His Kingdom and in a few minutes, He will invite participate once more.

As we prepare our hearts for the Nativity of Christ, let us remember the countless righteous who earnestly waited for the Redeemer. Let us remember their virtues and their patience. But most importantly, let us also partake of the inheritance they labored for and longed for so much—Christ our Lord.


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