26th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Forefathers

Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ.  The Lord calls on us this day to recall His earthly forefathers through whom God the Father prepares the way for the holy Incarnation of His Word, the Logos of God..  

On this day, we begin to ponder in advance of the Feast of His holy Nativity what it means that God took on human flesh and human nature to become one of His own creation to renew that nature and save us.  Remarkably, in doing so, He adds Himself to the genealogy of that created human order He Himself established by the begetting of His own Word. Think about that for one moment! This act, called kenosisin the Greek, or “self-emptying,” is God’s ultimate “condescension,” toward us; it demonstrates to us the humilityof God, manifested in no greater wise than through His holy Incarnation.   God, who is outside the universe He created, wills to become incarnate, one of His own creation, for the sake of us sinners, who continuously reject and rebel against Him.  Such is God’s great love and mercy for us.  

The list of those ancestors of Christ—the holy forefathers—contains a list of the “who’s who” of the Old Testament—men and women, sinners and foreigners, all of whom manifested extraordinary faith, repentance, humility, willingness to be in this world but not of this world, who lived in the fear of God, an attribute in response to God’s mercy so rarely seen today.  That respect, holy fear, was enough to motivate them to have faith and truly live for God without excuse.  The women among these ancestors, such as Rahab, a foreigner, and Ruth point to the prominent place that women will play in mankind’s redemption through the Virgin Mary, the new Eve, the new model of womanhood, along with the women disciples of the Lord—the holy Myrrh-bearers, but also, Ruth who, as a foreigner, demonstrates that the Messiah comes to redeem allof humanity—not just the Jewish people of God, but human nature itself.  God desires to create a new race of Adam—one not based on race, but on our new eternal identity in Christ, a race capable of deification, participation in the life God is, conquering sin and the passions, so that we may be able to attain to the near presence of God in His eternal Kingdom.  

Yes, even before He sent His disciples to preach the good news to “all nations”,Christ Himself hails, in part, from Gentileseed.  The Jew of Jews, St. Paul, reminds us of this truth in today’s Epistle, saying, “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11).  Our new birth means that we ground our identity in the heavenly reality of life with Christ here and now, striving for growth in communion with God, fighting the temporal passions that are part of this temporal and passing life, so that we may inherit eternal life as fellow victors with all the Saints.  

We who worship here today are inheritors of this promise God made to Abraham when He declared, “in your seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:4).   Many Jews, who did not follow the prophets, saw this promise as given purely through the Abrahamic blood line, grounded in this world and, in turn, partaking of the fallenrace of Adam.  But God had something greater in mind: the renewal and regeneration of the human race itself where everyoneis called.  No one is excluded from the calling to be born anew in Christ, the new Adam, to become a co-heir with Him.  St. Paul reminds us of this truth today:

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry...anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth… since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…”(Colossians 3) 

So, we see that there’s a great participation here in our salvation that you and I must muster for salvation’s sake in deed but also in mind and attitude, to exercise our free will.  We strive with much effort and in the fear of God to “put to death,” as St. Paul says, all those passions, sins, that otherwise pollute our souls and keep us from communion with God, living out that calling.  

God’s will is clear for us: He desires to give us a new name, a new identity, a new beginning, a new nature, to bring us to enlightenment, but what if we don’t avail ourselves of this great gift of God’s mercy?  What if we keep putting off repentance out of fear, a form of pride, of over reliance on self and not on God, what if we take the Orthodox life in Christ on our terms, not making a priority of Christ and His Church?  Any time of the year, but especially now, we can buy into the consumerism and materialism of our present world and forget what this is all about—Christ—and our calling in Him to progress in our faith, to cooperate more with the Holy Spirit, not just for ourselves and our own salvation, but to the benefit of those around us as well. 

Today’s Gospel is an invitation, yes; it is also a warning not to take God’s mercy and love for granted.  All are called to the marriage Feast (that of Christ and His bride, the Church), but not all chooseto be among His chosen, that is, to deny themselves, submit themselves and their self-will to the fullness of humanity, life in Christ, to take up the cross that is our denial of self.  God’s life is never forced upon us; we can choosedeath, that is, apartness from God and His life.  None of us, even those who attend church regularly, can assume we’re already among the saved because ‘being saved’ is the ongoing working out of our salvation, the ongoing taking up of our cross necessary for the new life in Christ and our continued journey into greater union with Him.

The message of today’s Gospel, the invitation to the marriage feast, is that those who reject the fullness of the life in Christ are not worthy of that life, but, to those who desire it, thirst for it, our Lord says, “Come to Me, all youwho labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice, I will come into him and dine with him and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).  Christ invites us to share in koinonia(Communion) with Him—the King of Kings, our Creator, our Savior who comes to be born, humble, lowly, in a manger in a cave among the beasts He created.  To receive Him, to be in His near presence, we too must grow in humility and be grafted into the faith of those holy Fathers who’ve come before us, who did not withhold anything from God  It’s because of their humility that the poor shepherds were the first to receive the news of Messiah’s birth, for, as King David says, “a contrite and humble heart” God will never despise.

God loves us too much to hold back from warning us of the consequences of neglecting His life, our calling to new life in Him, that for which you and I have been created.  He is the Life, and in that life, there is no place for resting on our “laurels,” or coming before the Bridegroom unprepared.  We prepare ourselves by humbling ourselves and repenting, confessing our sins, changing our priorities and way of life.  We prepare by struggling harder to put off the passions, all stubbornness and pride to be obedient to Christ and His Holy Church.  Advent is meant to spur us on to make our souls ready to meet Christ first, when He comes to us at Nativity in the Eucharist of the Feast, and second, as we await His glorious and awesome Second Coming.  

So we prayerfully beseech God daily for the things we need to lead holier, more loving, more obedient lives for Christ, “putting to death our members,” as St. Paul admonishes today, repenting of anything that keeps us from embracing the fullness of the life in Christ.  Now, at the 11thhour, we ready ourselves to receive the King of all, humbly born in a manger in a cave for our salvation.  We pray for humility, the way of true courage, of dying to self, that we may live with Him for all eternity.  Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead, so we live now with eternity before us, participating even now in the Kingdom through His Church and the divine worship and Sacraments, that we too may be received at the “marriage feast” of the Lamb at His awesome Second Coming.  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Epistle:            Colossians 3:4-11                         Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ 7

Gospel:            Luke 14:16-24