By St. Luke of Simferopol
(Delivered in 1957)
Numberless and vast as the sands of the great Sahara and Gobi deserts, they are our contemporaries and those who lived before us. Who are they? What were lives like? What do we see in their souls? If we could see what is too vast to see, then we would see that the great majority of mankind consists of those who in Holy Scripture are called “peoples of the earth”. Why are they called by that name? Because the most important goals in their lives, and their main strivings, are directed toward the acquisition of earthly good things, those good things that they can receive from material nature.
They are either not spiritual at all, or their spiritual life is not deep! They either do not believe at all in the spiritual world, or they give it little attention.
Such are the peoples of the earth, such are the people who are emotional, but not spiritual.
These are the main masses of all mankind. But with fear and pain of soul we see on humanity’s left flank people who are incomparably worse and even terrible. We see human beasts, human predators, human monsters and even human devils. But on the right flank of the peoples of the earth we see the light and glory of the human race, those blessed and divinely graced people, whom the great St. John the Theologian calls children of God and friends of Christ.
With reverent awe we see the great hosts of the saints, shining in the darkness of the world like God’s bright stars against a dark sky. We see the hosts of prophets and apostles, great holy hierarchs and pastors who preached and lived the Gospel of Christ.
We see the great hosts of holy martyrs, monastic saints and anchorites, and even people who are like angels of God.
What made them saints and completely unlike the peoples of the earth? We can learn this from the very profound words of the apostle Paul—words that no one before him could say.
The awesomeness and boundless glory of the Cross of Christ so shook his soul that he forgot about the whole world and said, "The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world…” and, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 6:14; 2:20). These sacred words could be spoken by all the great saints. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and love for Him burned like a bright flame in the hearts of the holy martyrs and gave them the strength to endure horrifying tortures and terrible deaths.
The world lost its attraction for the great monastic saints and anchorites; the world was crucified to them.
They could no longer bear to remain amongst people who are capable of such an immeasurable crime as crucifying the Savior of the world, the Son of God, on the Cross; and so they departed into uninhabited deserts and impassible forests in order to live there in inseparable prayerful communion with God.
Their prayer was deep as the sea, and poured out ceaselessly day and night.
Our great St. Seraphim of Sarov prayed a thousand days and nights in the forest on a flat stone. St. Arsenius the Great stood from evening till morning with arms upstretched to heaven in the desert, praying for the whole world. And the power of prayer of St. Mary of Egypt exceeded even his.
We could go on much longer about the other great ascetics of whom the world is not worthy.
On this first Sunday after Pentecost, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of all the saints. Why was this feast established? There are many names in the calendar of saints—around 2000 names; but it can’t be that there are so few saints. Of course there are more, infinitely more.
In the seventh chapter of the Revelations of St. John the Theologian we read, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands… These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9, 14).
A vast and countless multitude of saints was shown to St. John the Theologian in this vision, and not just the 2000 saints whose names we read in the calendar.
With God are an enormous multitude of saints, for the sake of whose salvation the Pre-eternal Son of God, the Savior of the world, came down to earth and was incarnate of the Most Holy Virgin Mary.
Only an insignificant number of saints have been canonized by the Church. But the whole enormous multitude of other saints are known only to God, about Whom we say that He is the only One Who sees our hearts, “the only knower of hearts”. In His all-seeing eyes, ordinary and poor people, who are utterly insignificant to the world and even disdained and persecuted by the world are great and precious, and the world really isn’t worthy of them. The Church dedicates this first Sunday after Pentecost to the memory of all the saints—those who are known to the Church, and those who are known only to God.
Great and holy is this day, and it behooves us to honor it at least through our hymns of prayer, and to pray to all the saints for their intercession before God for us, so that we sinners might also stand, if only in the very last ranks, with those whom the Lord has vouchsafed to call His children; those who have been born again, "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man" (Jn. 1:13), but of God Himself and the measureless power of Christ’s Gospel.
May it be so for all of us!