Christ within us
Today is the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Church. We hit All Saints Sunday after a week free from fasting (one of only 4 such weeks in the calendar year) because we thank God for His gift of His Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The gospel reading is a bit strange as it features selections from St Matthew’s Gospel as opposed to one contiguous passage. But the Sunday of All Saints gives me unique pause this year because of the mystery of being a saint.
I spoke yesterday about the need to embrace a Gospel that declares us to be sinners and saints to affirm the Divine Mystery of the Gospel. This Gospel declares that Christ works within us in addition to being wholly independent of us. And here we are, approaching the Sunday of All Saints. This Sunday is unique because we celebrate all Saints, rather than just the ones who have been revealed to the Church. Indeed, the number of Saints unknown to us far surpasses the number of Saints we celebrate. Only God knows all of His Saints.
But what of a Saint? Or even of a saint? A lot of people have never been to midweek liturgies of the Orthodox Church as many people have never been to a Sunday liturgy of the Orthodox Church. There’s an interesting acclamation which is sung on Sundays “O Son of God, who are risen from the dead, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!” that gets replaced during the midweek services “O Son of God, who are wondrous in Your saints, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!” We sing of the Resurrection on Sunday because Sunday is always the day of Resurrection, but during the daily services, we celebrate Christ’s work within our own human family.
Something about a saint permits God’s grace to shine through their cracked, earthen vessel. Something, or rather Someone, seems to shine through them in ways that we cannot even begin to articulate… we just know. These persons are real, authentic, simple, while at the same time being wholly other-worldly even in their ability to relate with such compassion to the world around them as a whole. I am convinced there’s a section of saints who fly totally under the radar in every way possible: God-honoring grandmothers.
We recognize a saint when we see Christ shining through their life. Christ’s ability to shine through our human frailty makes manifest some of the reasons why it was better that He returned to the Father. He manifests His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection through very humble vessels indeed; a human vessel really no different from any of us. He permeates everything about them with His Grace, His Love, His Mercy, His Compassion… with Himself. They cannot help but point to Christ for He has captured their gaze. They “have seen the rabbit” and will not give up the chase, even if that chase takes them through sufferings, toils, pain, rejection, or any sort of nastiness.
Hebrews 11 tends to be an interesting passage. We would love to be among those who conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. But in even reading this list, we tend to ignore “made strong out of weakness” and we surely wished the list did not continue to include those who were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
May we be so bold to entreat Christ, the image of the invisible God, to allow us to see Him in a way that transfixes our gaze on Him, independent of what else we encounter on our journey. May the myriad of examples set forth before us, both in the recognized and in the hidden Saints, grant us encouragement that no matter what our path looks like, Christ sees to it that we do not walk alone, but we walk with another brother or sister in Him.
We return to the greeting of “ordinary” time: Christ is in our midst! Indeed, He is and ever shall be, residing in the hearts struggling to receive Him and the wills struggling to yield to His Divine Will.