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June 11, 2017

Homily for the Sunday of All Saints (St. Gregory Palamas)


Delivered on the Sunday of All Saints

By St. Gregory Palamas

1. Truly "God is glorious in his saints" (Ps. 68:35 Lxx). Let us call to mind the martyrs' superhuman struggles, how in the weakness of their flesh they put to shame the evil one's strength, disregarding pain and wounds as they struggled bodily against fire, sword, all different kinds of deadly tortures, patiently resisting while their flesh was cut, their joints dislocated and their bones crushed, and keeping the confession of faith in Christ in its integrity, complete, unharmed and unshaken. As a result there were bestowed on them the incontrovertible wisdom of the Spirit and the power to work miracles. Let us consider the patience of holy men and women, how they willingly endured long periods of fasting, vigil and various other physical hardships as though they were not in the body, battling to the end against evil passions and all sorts of sin, in the invincible inner warfare against principalities, powers and spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:12). They wore away their outer selves and made them useless, but their inner man was renewed and deified by Him from Whom they also received gifts of healing and mighty works. When we think on these matters and understand that they surpass human nature, we are filled with wonder and glorify God who gave them such grace and power. For even if their intentions were good and noble, without God's strength they could not have gone beyond the bounds of their nature and driven away the bodiless enemy while clothed in their bodies.

2. That is why, when the Psalmist and Prophet declared, "God is glorious in his saints", he went on to say, "he giveth strength and power unto his people" (Ps. 68:35 Lxx). Carefully consider the force of these Prophetic words. Whereas God, according to the Psalmist, gives all his people strength and power - for He shows no partiality (cf. Acts 10:34) - He is glorified only in His saints. The sun pours down its rays abundantly upon all alike, but they are visible only to those with open eyes. Those with clear-sighted, pure eyes benefit from the pure light of the sun, not those whose vision is dimmed because illness, mist or something similar has afflicted their eyes. In the same way, God richly bestows His help on all, for He is the ever-flowing, enlightening and saving Fount of mercy and goodness. But not everyone takes advantage of His grace and power to practice and perfect virtue or show forth miracles, only those with a good intent, who demonstrate their love and faith towards God by good works (cf. Jas. 2:20-26), who turn away completely from everything base, hold fast to God's commandments and lift up the eyes of their understanding to Christ the Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2). He not only invisibly holds out a helping hand from above to those who struggle, but we also hear Him speaking to us and urging us on in today's Gospel. "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men", He says, "him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32).

3. Notice that we cannot boldly proclaim our faith in Christ and confess Him without His strength and assistance. Nor will Our Lord Jesus Christ speak out on our behalf in the age to come, recommend us to the heavenly Father and make us His kin, unless we give Him reason to do so. To make this clear, He does not say, "Whosoever shall confess me before men", but "Whosoever shall make his confession in Me" (Matt. 10:32), that is to say, whoever is able, in Christ and with His help, to declare his faith with boldness. Likewise, again, He does not say, "I will confess him"" but "I will acknowledge what is in him", meaning that His confession will be in respect of the good fight and patient endurance which such a person has shown in the cause of godliness. Take note, however, of what He goes on to say about those who are cowardly and betray the Faith: "But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 10:33). Here He does not say, "Whosoever shall deny in Me", since the person who denies God does so because he is bereft of God's help. Why has he been abandoned and forsaken by God? Because he first abandoned God by loving what is transitory and worldly more than the heavenly and everlasting good things promised by Him. In His turn, Christ will not just disown what is in him, but deny him himself, finding in him nothing at all that could be used in his defense.

4. Whoever loves according to God, "dwelleth in God, and God in him", as Christ's beloved Theologian tells us (1 John 4:16). So he who truly loves God has God dwelling in him, and naturally confesses his faith in God. On the other hand, as he dwells in God, God too will acknowledge him. The words, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me, him will I confess also" (cf. Matt. 10:32), demonstrate the unbroken union between God and those who acknowledge Him, from which he who denies Him has distanced himself. These mutual exchanges between God and man are divinely just, arid fairly reward like with like.

5. Although the prizes God gives us resemble our offerings to Him, consider the overwhelming superiority of God's recompense to those who, in Him, confessed Him. Each saint, as a servant of God, boldly acknowledged Him in this fleeting life before mortal men, though actually just for a brief period of this present age and in front of only a few. By contrast, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is God and Lord of heaven and earth, will speak openly on their behalf in that eternal, never-ending world before God the Father, surrounded by Angels, Archangels and all the heavenly host, and in the presence of all mankind from Adam onwards. For all will rise and appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. Then, before everyone and in the sight of all, He will proclaim, glorify and crown those who demonstrated their faith in Him to the end.

6. How can we attempt to tell of those extraordinary crowns and the excellence of those future rewards, which eyes like ours cannot see, nor ears hear, nor hearts understand? (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; Isa. 64:4). But what about things visible to us now? Who can speak adequately of the divine glory which constantly accompanies the tombs of the saints and their relics, the holy fragrance issuing from them, the flowing myrrh, the spiritual healings, the miraculous works, and all the other saving manifestations to us from that source?

7. Shall I say something about the honours we offer them? For a short while, as I have mentioned, each of the saints fearlessly made a godly confession before certain rulers and kings. Now, however, kings, rulers and all their subjects sing hymns of praise, magnify, honour, glorify and venerate not just the saints themselves, but their icons, as lords, or as something higher than rulers and kings. They willingly prostrate themselves before these icons with joy, and wish to leave this devotion as their greatest legacy to their children, a blessed inheritance bringing sublime happiness. This is a sign, a proof, and, as it were, a foretaste' of that indescribable future glory which the spirits of the righteous now have in heaven, and to which their bodies, having shared to the end in their godly struggles, will also attain in the age to come. To teach His holy disciples and Apostles about the excellence of this glory and of the good things to come, the Lord tells them, "Verily, I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28). He then goes on to say generally to all believers, "And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29). "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37).

8. As God the Father gave His beloved Son for our sake, and the only-begotten Son of God gave Himself for us, it is rightly demanded of us that we disregard the members of our family if they are an obstacle to piety and a godly way of life. Nor should I be referring only to relatives. Should the occasion demand, it is just and necessary for each one of us to give up his own soul, if he wants to gain eternal life, since the Son of God Himself laid down His life for our sake. As He Himself says, "He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:38). The cross means crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts (cf. Gal. 5:24).

9. In a time of religious peace, we take up our cross and follow Christ by putting our evil passions and desires to death through virtuous living. But when persecutions come, we must despise our own life, give up our soul for the sake of our faith, and thus take up our cross and follow the Lord, so as to inherit eternal life. "He that findeth his soul", says the Scripture, "shall lose it; and he that loseth his soul for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 10:39). What does this mean? Man is twofold: the outer man, that is, the body, and the inner man, the soul. When someone delivers up his outer self to death, he loses his soul, which becomes separated from him. Anyone who loses his soul in this way for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will certainly find it again, having procured for it heavenly, eternal life. He will recover it at the Resurrection in this new state, and through it his body will become as heavenly and eternal as his soul. To crucify the flesh with its passions and desires; to be ready for extreme dishonour and the greatest possible disgrace for the sake of a noble death; to lose your soul for the Gospel: these are difficult, great and, it could be said, Apostolic matters, only for the perfect. So the Lord goes on to say something both for the encouragement of those waging this supernatural struggle, and for the salvation of those less perfect. "He that receiveth you", that is to say, the Apostles and the Fathers and religious teachers after them, "receiveth me", He tells us, "and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (Matt. 10:40).

10. He arranges a welcome here for those who are perfect, and provides for the salvation of those souls who are not, through welcoming those who are. Do you see how great the reward is for receiving people who live godly lives and teach the truth? Anyone who welcomes them welcomes the Father and the Son. So how should we receive such people? Not just by entertaining them and making them comfortable, but by obeying them. On this subject Christ says elsewhere to His disciples, "He that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16). But even the person who offers hospitality and refreshment to God's servants will receive a great reward if he does it for God's sake. For the Lord says, "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward" (Matt. 10:41). How shall he receive the reward of a prophet or a righteous man? As the Apostle says, "That our abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply to our want" (cf. 2 Cor. 8:14). Anyone who, for God's sake, welcomes a righteous man because he is righteous, and makes him comfortable, will reap great benefits, even if he does nothing exceptional and only gives a little. "Whosoever", He says, "shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matt. 10:42).

11. In these sayings and commandments the Lord is concerned not so much with the righteous and His disciples as with those offering them hospitality. If His only thought was for His disciples, He would simply have exhorted people to receive them, and would have requested that they be welcomed and refreshed, regardless of how it was done. But by adding that they should be received in the name of a prophet, a disciple or a righteous man, He shows that He is more concerned about the people who offer the welcome, directing their thoughts towards something more excellent, that they might subsequently gain a reward as well as virtue. Christ's Church honours those who truly live according to God's will even after their death, and every day of the year commemorates those saints who departed hence on that day and left this transitory life. It also sets before us the life of each one of them for our benefit, and shows us their end, whether they died in peace or finished their life as martyrs.

12. Now, after Pentecost, the Church gathers all the saints together and offers up a common hymn to all, partly because they are all united with one accord and are one, according to the prayer of Our Lord, "Grant them", says the Lord to His Father in the Gospels, "that they all may be one; as I, Father, am in thee, and thou in me, that they also may be truly one in us" (cf. John 17:21). But this is not the only reason why the Church offers up one hymn to them all. It is also because during Holy Lent and the fifty days following, it strives to declare and magnify all the works of the Lord. As you know, it celebrates everything: how the world was made in the beginning by God; how Adam was banished from paradise and from God; how in times gone by God's people were called; how they too were cast out from friendship with God because they transgressed; how God's only-begotten Son bowed the heavens and came down for our sake, did extraordinary wonders for our good and taught the way of salvation, suffered and died on our behalf, was buried as man, rose again as God on the third day, ascended into heaven, whence He had earlier descended, with His flesh, and, having sat down on the right hand of the Father, sent down the All-Holy Spirit. Now that the Church of God has sung hymns of praise in honour of all these events, it adds what is lacking, and shows how many great fruits have been harvested for eternal life by the Coming of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It commemorates all the saints together and renders praise and honour today to them all.

13. Let us too, brethren, give honour to God's saints. But how should we honour them? By imitating them and purifying ourselves "from all defilement of flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. 7:1), and hastening towards holiness through abstaining from all evils. If we keep our tongue from swearing and making false oaths, as well as from speaking nonsense and abuse, and stop our lips from uttering lies and slanders, then we offer the saints sweet praise.

14. If we do not cleanse ourselves in this way, each of us shall rightly hear from them those words God directed to the sinner. How can you dare to commemorate the names of the saints, to take them on your tongue and tell of their way of life, filled as it was with every virtue and purity? You, by contrast, have hated virtuous living and have driven away purity from your soul and body. "When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son" (Ps. 50:18-20). Neither God nor His saints, brethren, accept hymns from such mouths. If none of us will take something we need from our own hand if it has touched dung, unless we wash it first, how will God accept the offerings of a dirty body and soul, unless we cleanse ourselves first? Sin, deceit, lies, envy, hatred, greed, treachery, shameful thoughts and words, and the polluted acts which result from them, are all much more disgusting than dung. But how can someone who has fallen into these be purified? Through repentance, confession, good works and fervent prayer to God.

15. When on the feasts commemorating the saints we all take a holiday from our trades and businesses, we should occupy our minds with the question of how we can distance ourselves from the sins and defilements into which each of us has fallen, and become free of them. On the other hand, if we amuse ourselves to the detriment of our souls, pay no attention and get drunk, how can we claim to be celebrating the saints, since we have made the day impure? I beg you, brethren, let us not keep the feasts like that, but let us, like the saints, present our bodies and souls as a pleasing offering to God on these days of celebration, that by the prayers of the saints we may come to share in that endless festival and joy.

16. May we all attain to this, by the grace and love for mankind of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs glory, with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and lifegiving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, Volume II, St. Tikhon's Seminary Press.