My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This Sunday, the second Sunday after the Pentecost, is dedicated to the memory of all Russian Saints. The Gospel reading for this day talks about how the Savior called His first apostles to follow Him. And our Russian saints give us a most-perfect example of what it means to "follow the Savior".
MATTHEW 4: 18-23
18. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
19. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
21. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
22. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
This was not the first time that these four men met and talked to Jesus. They met Jesus when He first began His mission after He came out of the wilderness. He had just completed His prayer vigil of 40 days following His baptism by St. John the Baptist. They then heard about His mission and traveled with Him, during which time they witnessed His first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. In fact, as St John reveals in his gospel account of this miracle, one of the reasons that Jesus performed this miracle was to build the apostles' faith in Him. Later however, they returned back to their homes and their regular life. Now when Jesus comes to them to call them for full-time service as apostles, they leave everything behind to answer His call. From this point on, they are with the Savior, never leaving Him during the entire length of His mission on earth.
The Savior's word's to the apostles to follow Him are meant not only to the apostles but also to every Orthodox Christian. Therefore, it is important for us to think about what that Savior expects from us when He is calling out to us to "follow Him". Obviously, we are not called to the same kind of service as the apostles. But we do need to "follow the Savior" if we are to earn salvation, and our Russian saints show us the way. They took to heart the Savior's words when He said: if you love Me, keep my commandments, and, overcoming all worldly temptations and difficulties, they remained faithful to Him. Jesus always prayed, and they strove to grow in prayer. The Savior loved the Temple; the saints considered the church to be their second home. The Messiah being sinless, nevertheless, fasted, and they faithfully fasted. Jesus, despite being not only man but also God, was an example of true humility, and the saints were humble. The Savior was merciful, compassionate, forgiving, always denying Himself for the sake of others. The saints did the same. They can lead us up the road to salvation, clearing out of the way all roadblocks. If we walk this road with them emulating them as much as possible, they will lead us without fail to the very gates of the Heavenly Kingdom. By following them, we are following our Lord.
My dear brothers and sisters, yes, the Christian road is very narrow and difficult. The Kingdom of God is a reward to us for our effort against a very formidable enemy. Yes, it is impossible for us to walk it by ourselves. But that is why Jesus sent down to earth the Holy Spirit. For God, nothing is impossible. With the Grace of the Holy Spirit as our strength, we can do it. Our saints, who were just as human and weak as we are, did it. Let their memory help and inspire us to do the same. And what better time to begin than on the day that we celebrate their memory.
With Love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar