“He who loves father and mother, or sister and brother more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew)
These are words that may sound harsh at first hearing, but Our Lord was instructing His Disciples that they needed to ensure their priorities were right. This is a message that needs to be taught over and over again, each and every day. We must always put God first, and all else will fall into place. I know it sounds easier than it is, but the reason that it ends up being difficult for us is because we prioritize ourselves and our relationship with God all wrong. It should be easy for us to show ourselves as Disciples of Christ when we have dedicated our lives to following Him each day, for this is the most visible example that others should see in us. It has been said countless times, and it still rings true: You are the only bible some people will ever read. When people see us, and how we act, what we say, how we say it, what we do, they get a more complete picture of the kind of Disciples we actually are. However, the real question is: Do they see consistency in us in what we say about our faith? Or do they see hypocrisy? For those answers we must reflect within our own selves.
Our faith in Christ, my brothers and sisters, must be plainly evident in all of our actions. I was watching a program the other day about a priest who converted from Judaism. He gave a great illustration regarding the life of a Disciple of Christ. He explained to the host of the program: Think of your life as a pizza. Each component of your life is a different slice. One slice may be work, another represents family, yet another represent our social relationships – the pie, as a whole, makes up all of the different factors in your life. Notice that I didn’t mention your faith as a slice in particular. The reason is because your faith is not merely a slice of the pizza; it is the cheese on the top of it. It covers every slice, and it is the first thing visible as soon as the box containing it is opened. Our faith must be like that – spread out and covering everything else in our lives. It is what others see when they see us. Just as the look of a good pizza is inviting and enticing, so is the reaction people have upon seeing our genuine faith in Christ and our willingness to follow Him as a Disciple.
This is what we celebrate on this first Sunday after Pentecost. Our blessed Orthodox Church placed this day on the calendar as a day to remember all of the saintly men and women of the church who are honored for their faith commitment. A saint is an individual who lived an exemplary life in devoted service to God. They were rewarded for being Disciples of Christ in their own day. Generations after generation of people have been pleasing to God, even up to our modern age. St. Alexis Toth and St. Nectarios are but two examples of people who lived on earth within the last 100 years who dedicated their lives to God, despite all of the obstacles placed before them by the devil and his minions. These saintly people endured for the Glory of God. Today we remember Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Teachers, Monks, Priests, Nuns, men, women and children, young and old alike – all ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Listen again to the words from the Epistle to the Hebrews, “they were stoned, sawed in two, tempted, killed by the sword… the world was not worthy of them. God had a plan, a plan which included us.”
These pious men and women are the model examples for all of us, not the scandal ridden celebrities and sports figures. Sometimes as I am reading a biography of one of the saints, I begin to feel depressed because I feel so unworthy in comparison to all of the heroic actions taken by them. But then I stop and remember that God only gives us what we can handle. As our Lord told St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Indeed, every saint had a past, and every sinner has a future.
As we go forward this day as faithful Disciples of Christ, let us go armed with the might and will to be an exemplar of faith for the entire world to see.
While we are here today, let us also gratefully acknowledge and give thanks and Glory to God for the 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the Holy Priesthood of our beloved Father in Christ and Shepherd, Father Lucas, as well as the joyous celebration of Father and Pani’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, which was actually yesterday. The happy couple spent the entire day pinching pirohi.
Here is a fine example of two faithful people. Each have used their God given talents to bring others to Christ by their example of faith, by offering counsel, by listening, by raising a family and instilling values in them, which in turn have been passed on to their children’s children.
In addition to their individual strengths, they have also worked side by side as each other’s helpmate for over 50 years and my prayer for them is their continued joy in their family and friends, and most importantly, their continued faith and trust that God is with them in all of their actions.
Father and Pani, may you continue to be blessed with good health, physically and spiritually, and may God grant you both many more fruitful and blessed years. Amen.