In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the second Sunday after Pentecost already, and on this day, when the Russian church celebrates all the saints of Russia, one could also commemorate, and, indeed, we remember also, all the saints of Mt. Athos –an incredible panoply of saints, from all different walks of life, all different life situations, with the constant in their life that they desired Christ above all. We have readings today from the Gospel that are very much related to one another; they are right next to one another, near the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.
As we think about the saints of Russia and the saints of Mt. Athos, we should come to a question in our life, in our mind: What is our goal in life? What is our purpose? Why are we here? As you are asking yourself this question, ask another question: Do you want to be a saint?
Every one should say, “yes, indeed, Father; I want to be a saint.” Because I tell you, if you don't become a saint, you won't be saved. If you don't become sanctified, if you don't desire Christ above all, how can you expect to be with the sanctified? Oh yes, there are men and women who were exemplary in their character, and we should not be prideful and arrogant and think that we can reach to their heights. Of course, the interesting irony is that if a person is humble they can reach that height. But that's another more technical, more spiritual issue than I want to get into today.
What is a saint?
A saint is someone who desires Christ, who lives according to who He is, who ascends in knowledge and in action in the virtues, who loves the Law of God above all else.
Today we see how saints are made.
We see the path that they take, and we see the results of that path, if you listen carefully, in the reading, where St. Paul is speaking to the Hebrews, that famous passage about faith – how faith conquers, they quench the violence of fire, and all those other things. And the world was not worthy of them… because of faith. And of course this faith was action; it was knowledge, and action. Faith is not just some belief, but a whole-hearted desire, to live according to who God is.
So that is the path, and then you see the path also, in the beatitudes which the church considers so important that we sing them every day of the year. The path is effort, the path is having a certain mindset of mourning, of humility, of desire, and then action based upon that desire, giving alms, being merciful, the acts that a Christian should take, based upon who he is, because of who Christ is.
So the keys to the kingdom are laid out before us today. Faith, effort, desire: that makes saints. And all of us should have that desire to be a saint.
Now this path is not for the squeamish, it's not for the lazy, it's not for the lukewarm, it's not for those who wish to make compromises, and it’s not for those who are distracted by the world, or proud or dissolute. All those people don't go up on the mountain.
Do you see the progression from these two readings which the Holy Spirit has joined together today for us? He called His Apostles from the boat, and they left straightway and followed him. And then immediately there after, right there after, he went up into a mountain, it said, and seeing the multitude he went up into the mountain.
Do you think the multitude followed him? No. Only very few followed him.
First of all, there's not so much real estate at the top of the mountain; very few people can be there. Secondly, very few people are willing to make the effort to climb. Thirdly, very few people look up; most people look down at the earth.
To be in the mountain, one must toil, one must have desire, and one must look upwards to God. One must be willing to be separate from the rabble, and from the crowd, and from the world, and even from those who call themselves Christian. And even within the church now, we're seeing people who want to be at the base of the mountain. You cannot be saved at the base of the mountain. You must ascend the mountain, because that is where Christ will teach.
He took His apostles, and immediately took them to a mountain. And He didn't tell them, “I'm going to appoint you priests, and we're going to have the Holy Eucharist, and confession, and baptism”, and all these other things that you see in the front of catechesis books. And He didn't say, “You must believe in Me as God and Man”, and all those other things that are so important, that are in the front of books.
What did He get to immediately? Morality.
He is the God Man and he was telling them how they should live, how they should be. This is the essence of the Christian life. If you do not have the morality, your belief is of no consequence. In fact, it will cause your condemnation to be that much greater.
So we've gotten out of our boats, as the Apostles did, and we've followed Christ. And He has taken us to the mountain, and we should never get down. Never go back to the base of the mountain, ever again. We should stay on the summit, listening to our Lord, at His feet, about morality. About how we should think, how we should live, how we should be because of who he is. This is the Christian life.
It takes toil and effort to get up the mountain. There is a lot of danger on the mountain. There are wild animals and beasts, there are rockslides, it's cold and windy, and it’s difficult. And also — have you ever been on top of a mountain? It's lonely up there. It's lonely. You're very much alone, just with your thoughts.
Of course, your thoughts can be quite difficult to deal with sometimes, when you're on top of a mountain, because there's nothing to dissuade them, there's nothing to stop them from coming. We don't want to have thoughts of who we are, and what we need to de. It's our nature, unfortunately, our fallen nature. But, God put into man a desire to look upwards, a desire to climb the mountain and to sit at His feet and to learn from Him. That is built into our character. It is integrally who we are. And any man who disavows that, he's living a lie. We are people who should be at the top of the mountain and listening to our God, telling us how we should live and how we should be.
Now, these beatitudes are quite profoundly beautiful. As poetry they have no equal. As dogma they have no equal. They are the essence of Christianity, because Christianity is action based upon knowledge.
Without the action, there is no Christianity.
All these things we will learn if we struggle. Now, one can get books out, one can even read the Fathers about meekness, about thirsting after righteousness, and about the nuance of meaning that Christ is giving in this extraordinary sermon — the greatest sermon, I think, that was ever preached by our Lord, the most important sermon that was ever preached by our Lord. But the meaning is not easy to discern, because the only way to know is to live what He says, the only way to know what these things mean.
So, my brethren, you have a task in your life: to be like Christ, to know him, to have intimate knowledge of him. This is your task, this is your goal.
Anything that dissuades you from this goal, cast away, throw into the fire, whether it be job, or anything — using sensibility, now. Don't just quit your job tomorrow. I'm talking in a spiritual way with you now. If there's anything that keeps you from the kingdom, cast it away. And hone your priorities, every day. To desire to live according to who Christ is, and to read again what St. Paul says to the Hebrews, you should be filled, your heart should expand, it should be warm, and you should think, I want to be like this. God will help you if you have that desire, if you have that hunger and thirst. But you must cultivate it, over and over and over again.
I will tell you one more thing. Do you know why we talk about the saints so much? We talk about the saints because they exemplify the reality of what God wants for us. And we use them as examples. Doesn't St. Paul say, seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses? How can we live in the dirt, wallow in the mud like pigs, when we see the examples of our fathers. This is why we read about saints, why we think about them, why we pray to them, and why we desire to be like them.
Brethren, God help you. Stay at the top of the mountain. This is your task. Listen to God, and act upon what he teaches you.
Where is your mountain?
Your mountain is in your desire, in prayer, in coming to the services with zeal, with desire to hear, with desire to know, with desire to be told, with desire to be filled and healed. It's in your fasting, it's in your separating yourself from everything that's worldly that would hold you down. That is your mountain, and that is my mountain. And we must stay on this mountain if we are to be saved. May God give us the strength. Amen.