A Sermon for the Season
It has been approximately two months since we have been able to come together in the church for a Divine Liturgy. In preparing to preach this day I could not do otherwise than consider: What subject do I preach on? Do I refer to the Gospel lesson of the day or should my subject be centered on the pandemic which has struck and affected the whole world. I believe this latter is in the forefront of everyone’s mind and it would be best to address it in some way. For the Church has been likewise hit with this catastrophe in a way that was unimaginable. The Church at large, throughout the whole world, was basically shut down for two months and is now only gradually reopening.
How do we look at this? How should we perceive this happening? From what angle or aspect do we view this? First we must realize that God is in control, and in our existence in this world we are called to work out our salvation. God is in control and man His beloved creature has fallen from the high dignity which He bestowed upon him. We have been created in the image of God. What could be more awesome and wonderful than this? But we have fallen from this high dignity. In his Liturgy, St Basil the Great, speaks of this. In his Eucharistic prayer we read:
When Thou didst create man by taking dust from the earth, and didst honor him with Thine own image, O God, Thou didst set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Thy commandments. But when man disobeyed Thee, the true God Who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself.
In continuing his prayer St. Basil expounds this, and we could say that he is summarizing for us a history of the salvation of man. And this is continuing, and shall continue until the second coming of Christ our Lord Jesus Christ. So God is in control, the mystery of salvation is at work, but how do our current events fit into it? Well, besides the “mystery of salvation” there is also something else: The Apostle Paul writes, “the mystery of iniquity is at work” (IIThess. 2:7). It seems to me, that we now, see these two things occurring at the same time. Sin is abounding to unimaginable measures, therefore, in the history of salvation which God has foreordained before the foundation of the world, is it possible that mankind now has a wakeup call? I believe so, God is as work, God Who desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth is at work. Is this one facet or phase of the mystery of salvation? Perhaps?
Yet we also see something very fearful that has occurred. We see how easy it is for the authorities of this world to set boundaries on the Church. Our churches have been basically shut down. Is this “the mystery of iniquity at work”? Is this a foretaste of what the antichrist can accomplish when he appears?
Maybe, then again, we don’t really know. But in the midst of this present trial and various temptations that we may meet, what do we need to remain on the path salvation? Faith is of prime importance. Christ said, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
So now, I would like to refer to something which Archimandrite Zachariah of Essex, England, had written on faith in our particular time. I have referred to this some time ago, but in another context, and repetition of something so edifying is good:
“Our faith is not simply an inner matter; it always reflects the times we live in as Christians. The Fathers of the fourth century—a time of great flowering for the Church—repeatedly said that the Christians of the last times would neither have the strength to endure ascetic hardship nor be able to perform the godly works of the Fathers of old. But they added that those who would succeed in simply keeping the faith would be more greatly glorified in heaven than those Fathers who had worked miracles and even raised the dead to life. In other words, it is the privilege of our time to preserve the fullness of our faith, and this requires a greater measure of grace than that by which our Fathers raised the dead. The Lord Himself asked, ‘When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ His words reflect the same thing: if faith be found among men at His Second Coming, this will be something very great indeed. We see that God judges us with respect to the generation in which we live. Father Sophrony would say we are all leaves on the same tree of humanity and nothing can separate us from the life of this tree. So if our time is characterized by a general falling away from the faith of our fathers, our success in preserving it will be the more sublime because of the apostasy surrounding us.
“But we must be resolute: either we live according to our faith or we do not. The Book of Revelation says we must not allow ourselves to loiter, to become lukewarm in the false security of a kind of middle ground. In our day, we are witnessing a dynamic increase of evil, and we find ourselves caught in a surge of iniquity even as it gathers force. As Christians we must place ourselves in a different, indeed contrary, dynamic increase which grows not away from but towards God, so that evil itself will spur us on to do good. Father Sophrony had the gift of discerning God’s purposes when people asked him how to cope with distressing situations: he knew that even the most tragic circumstances can have great spiritual benefits hidden within them. But we are wholly responsible for the direction we choose to follow, we can either remain inert and lifeless, or we can engage with the dynamic increase of life in God.” (Remember Thy First Love, pp. 17-9)
May God strengthen and have mercy on us. Amen.