September 12, 2021

Homily on the Sunday Before the Elevation of the Cross (Metropolitan Augoustinos Kantiotes)

 By Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

(Delivered in 2010)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15)

Did you hear, my brethren, today's Gospel? He spoke to us regarding He Who descended and ascended: descended to the deepest depths, to Hades, and ascended to the greatest height, to Heaven. He spoke to us about God. But what is God?

Once, they say, there was a king who was tortured by the thought: “What is God?” He called a great wise man and asked him: “What is God?” The wise man asked for three days to ponder this. He shut himself in and began to study, but after three days, he was in no position to give an answer.

He appeared before the king and asked for another three days. He granted it to him, but again, nothing. He asked again and again, but the same occurred, until he appeared hopeless and told him: “My king, unfortunately, no one can give you an answer to your question: 'What is God?' The finite mind of man is unable to give an answer. His little mind is unable to perceive the notion of God, His incomparable Godhead, the incomparable Mind.”

As much as a cup could hold all the waters of the ocean, so much can our little mind hold the ocean of the Godhead, of divine wisdom. On this topic, there is another anecdote:

Once, someone was tortured by the question: “What is God?”, as he was walking along the beach.

He then saw a child make a small hole in the sand with his hands, and then with his pail, bring water from the ocean and pour it into the hole. He asked him: “What are you doing, my child?”

“I am trying to empty the ocean into here” the child replied.

“But this is impossible, my child.”

“If this is impossible,” said the child, “how much more impossible is it to think that man can hold in his little mind the ocean of the Godhead?”

This little child was an angel, and the man was one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, whose name I unworthily bear [Saint Augustine]. So far, therefore, no one has been able to give an answer to our question? But the answer which the wise men of this world cannot give, is given by the Gospel, which, unfortunately, we do not even read.

What does the Gospel say, how does it answer our question? Open and search through the epistles of the Evangelist John, and there you will find the answer. Within are three words — what grandeur! -- the whole issue is solved: “God is love” (1 John 4:6,16).

God is love! Let us glance, my brethren, at nature, at man, and at history, and we shall see the great love of God.

All of nature and the whole universe were created by God, as the Apostle Paul writes: “Every house was built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4). The house has its builder, but the world has its Creator.

God created the world out of love, which even more clearly we see if we examine ourselves - Man. He is the perfection of divine creation, a microcosm, a wonder of wonders.

God made him to dwell on this planet with the animals, the birds, the sea and the fish for his service. He gave us everything, and above all, His love gave us three gifts: the air, which we breathe every instant, the water, which waters everything, and the sun, which enlightens and warms and gives life. Without these, the animals and plants and man would cease to live. But what great love God has is shown by history.

Look and see what God did on behalf of man. I am not saying this myself, today's Gospel said this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He sacrificed His only Child! How can I make you, my brethren, understand the great love of God? I would need a bit of the golden tongue of the Chrysostom.

If one of you were a father with an only child, he can understand this.

You, the father of an only child, who loves him so much that at night when he sleeps you place your ear on his chest and feel his breathing, what if I told you that the most mortal enemy of your family is endangering you, but that you could be saved if you opened the veins of your child to sacrifice him? I ask you, father, would you do it?

But, my brethren, God did this. He sacrificed His beloved Son for us His enemies, who disobeyed His will.

In the mountains, once after a battle, a gravely-wounded soldier died. He wanted to write two words one last time to his most-beloved person, to his mother. No one was near him to help him. He did not have a pencil. He only had his blood, which was pouring forth from his wounds.

He took a piece of paper, dipped his finger in his blood, and wrote: “Mother, I love you.” When the soldiers came through to gather the dead, they found this little piece of paper, and sent it to his mother.

The mother had many signs that her son loved her, but the greatest, the most practical sign, was that which she held in her hands: “Mother, I love you.”

And we have many signs that God loves us, but the death of Christ on the Cross is the most clear of all of them. There, God wrote with the Blood of His Son: “My child, I love you.”

The love of God, however, my brethren, gives birth to requirements for man. We ourselves must show our love.

Love is the Queen that rules over the land of virtues.

If we take a stone, and throw it into a lake, it makes circular ripples: small circles, larger ones, even larger ones that reach the edge of the lake.

Thus, love has circular ripples.

The first circle is to love our family, our mother. No one is born from a stone. She brought us into this world, and sacrificed for us. Because of this may the hand that lifts to strike his mother be turned to stone! We should love our spouse, a man his wife “as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25).

Now, however, for meaningless reasons, families separate and dissolve. Besides our family, we should love our teachers, for if we must thank our parents for life, we must thank our teachers for our living well.

Beyond this, we should love the larger circle, our country, and this country is Greece. Love, my brethren, our Greece, this martyric country, which gave hundreds of victims for its high ideals. “Our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far more than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding” (Plato, Crito).

Therefore, love your family, your teachers, your community and your country. But even more so, love the Church, the Priest with his casock, who so much worked towards our freedom.

The Church with our schools kept and preserved the treasures of the Spirit, and cultivated the idea of the Faith and Fatherland. If it weren't for the Priests, we would be wearing a red fez today [i.e. be Muslim].

But above all else, my brethren, we must love God. Unfortunately, in our times, love has disappeared. What is the cause of this indifference towards God?

Sin. The Lord said: “Because of the multiplication of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).

Yes, my brethren, sin, and especially the sin of blasphemy, which is heard everywhere, within homes, on the streets, in the squares, in the market and in the army.

My brethren, I make a contract with you: if the people cease to blaspheme, we have nothing to fear. An electronic field will surround us, and whoever approaches will disappear into the air!

Write this everywhere, and especially within your hearts: if we desire to see days of peace, we must stop blasphemy. Then the love of God will rule everywhere, and an incomparable doxology to the Lord will be heard: “O children, hymn Him and exalt Him beyond measure, unto all the ages.”