Sermon 16. On the Anniversary of the Saints.
1. If the weakness of my body should continue for as long as I have to speak and you ought to listen, we would all in fact be excused – I from teaching the commandment and you from keeping it. But because we are smitten with sickness, so that we are unable to say what we ought, let the devotion of the mind excuse us whom the demand of preaching does not. That is to say, even if we cease from the praises of the Lord with our tongue, still let us bless His wonders with works of faith; if we do not speak His glory in words, let us pursue His grace in deeds, since deeds are prior to words. For the Lord says in the Gospel: Whoever does thus and teaches thus will he called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5.19). You see, then, that the deed precedes and teaching follows, because to act well is the first way of teaching. For, when words fail, a work of great goodness itself teaches a person as long as it is visible, so that even if it does not excite the ears by a sound it still pricks hearts with its power. For who, on seeing a good action, does not rejoice, admire and imitate it, does not use it as an example and learn from it as if from a silent teacher? Deeds precede words, then, and in fact without deeds words profit nothing. And this is how the Lord wished that teaching should be done, lest without good work there be just the useless and superstitious throwing about of words.
On this day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we commemorate the feast of All Saints from all times and throughout all the world: from Asia, Libya, Europe, from the North and from the South.
Our godly Fathers have established the commemoration of this present feast after the Descent of the Holy Spirit in order to show that the coming of the most Holy Spirit worked enormous deeds through the Apostles, sanctifying and bestowing wisdom upon those who were like us, and setting these saints in the place of those angels who had fallen, leading them, through Jesus Christ, to God. Some, the martyrs, came through blood, while others were led through their virtuous way of life, but all were perfected through the Holy Spirit in an ineffable manner.
On this day, the eighth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the day of Holy Pentecost.
We have also taken the celebration of this feast from the Jews. Their celebration of Pentecost was both in honor of the number seven as well as in remembrance of the fact that they received the Law fifty days after the Passover. Thus we also celebrate fifty days after Pascha, receiving the One who gives us the Law, the most Holy Spirit, who guides us in all truth and teaches us what is pleasing to God. It should also be known that among the Jews were three great feasts: Passover, Pentecost; and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Passover was in remembrance of passing through the Red Sea, for the name of the feast itself is one of “passing.” That feast prefigured our own Pascha, which is the passing and returning from the darkness of sin to Paradise.
On this day, the Saturday before Holy Pentecost, we celebrate a memorial for all those who have fallen asleep since the ages in true worship and in the hope of everlasting life.
The Holy Fathers established that on this Saturday that precedes Holy Pentecost, we observe the memory of all people who throughout the centuries died in the right faith, just as they ordered that this be observed on the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday. They did this moved by their love for mankind, so that all who for whatever reason did not have the usual benefit of individual memorial services might be included in this common memorial. According to tradition, the Fathers of the Church received this injunction concerning the memorial services from the Apostles, who themselves taught that the memorials performed on behalf of the reposed bring great benefit to those who have fallen asleep. (See Apostolic Injunctions, 8.42.)
On the seventh Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the three hundred eighteen God-bearing Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea of Bithynia.
The reason we celebrate this feast today is as follows: after our Lord Jesus Christ took flesh and fulfilled His ineffable dispensation for us, He returned to the throne of the Father. It was the desire of the Saints to show that the Son of God had truly become man, that He had ascended as perfect man and perfect God into Heaven and is seated at the right of the glory on high. This council of Holy Fathers proclaimed and confessed that the Son is of the same essence and honor as the Father. Therefore, following the feast of the glorious Ascension, this present feast has been set forth in order to add to the already large number of Fathers who preached that He Who has Ascended in the flesh is both perfect God and perfect Man in the flesh.
Οn Thursday of the sixth week after Pascha, we celebrate the Holy Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
While the Savior was still together with the Disciples, before the Passion, He promised that the most Holy Spirit would come, saying, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7) and, “However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth...” (John 16:13). That is why, after the Resurrection from the dead, having shown Himself to them during the period of forty days – not constantly, but from time to time – eating and drinking together with them and clearly revealing the Resurrection to them, on the final day, He promised them many things about the Kingdom of God. He commanded that they not leave Jerusalem but remain there and wait for the coming of the most Holy Spirit, for they needed to be baptized in the Spirit, having been baptized before only with John’s baptism of water. Thus, He commanded them to stay in Jerusalem so they would be strengthened by preaching the Gospel first in that very place instead of going to foreign lands immediately where they would more easily be ridiculed. This was also necessary so that they would be trained there, like soldiers, with the weapons of the Spirit, and thus they would go out for battle in preaching the Gospel.
On this day, the sixth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the miracle which our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ performed for the man who had been blind from birth.
This miracle, like those of the Samaritan woman and the paralytic, was brought about through the use of water in this way: As Christ was speaking with the Jews and showing them that He is together with the Father, existing before Abraham, they sought to stone Him. He then left that place where He had been speaking with them and met a blind man who was wandering about and who had been blind from birth, having only the shape and form of eyes. When the Savior saw him, His Disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The reason they asked this is because they had heard Him telling the paralytic at the Sheep's Pool, “Behold, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14), as if to say that “the sins of the parents are visited upon the children...”
On the fifth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the feast of the Samaritan woman.
This feast has been placed during the week of Mid-Pentecost because Jesus, on this day, clearly bore witness to Himself as the Messiah, that is, the Christ or anointed One (for Messiah in Hebrew means anointed one), and also because He had worked the miracle at the Sheep’s Pool on the previous Sunday.
On Wednesday of the fourth week of Pascha, the week of the Paralytic, we celebrate the feast of Mid-Pentecost.
We celebrate this present feast in honor of the two great feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, for this is the day which, in a sense, ties the two feasts together. The celebration of this present feast came about in the following manner: after Christ had performed the miracle of healing the paralytic, which surpasses all nature, the Jews sought to put Him to death, using the excuse that it was a scandal to do such a deed on the Sabbath, since this miracle had been performed on a Saturday. Knowing this, Jesus left Galillee and went about in the mountain region where He performed the miracle of the multiplication of five loaves and two fishes, feeding five thousand men, aside from the number of women and children.
On this day, the fourth Sunday after Pascha, we commemorate the paralytic who was healed by the Lord, and we celebrate this as a miracle of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The commemoration of this event is made on this particular day because it occurred during the celebration of the Hebrew fifty days. Christ entered Jerusalem during this time of the Jewish festival, and He went to a place north of the Temple near the Sheep Gate called the Sheep’s Pool. Built by King Solomon, this pool was covered by a dome that was supported by five sets of pillars, thus creating five porches. It was called the Sheep’s Pool because the sacrificial lambs were washed there before they were offered in the Temple. An angel of the Lord came down at a certain time and stirred the water, and the first person to step into the water after it had been stirred was healed of whatever disease he possessed. Thus, the five porches were crowded with a multitude of sick folk as they awaited the moving of the water.