Homily on Nov. 16, 7529 (Nov. 29, 2020, civil calendar), at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, Lewisburg PA
Today we commemorate the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, whom our Lord and Savior and God Jesus Christ called from his work as a publican tax-collector to become one of His Apostles and ultimately one of the writers of the four Holy Gospels.
For this calling to proclaim the good tidings of salvation, the Evangelist had to leave his lucrative and secure if unpopular work as a collector of taxes for a system that ultimately supported what today we might call religious and colonial oppression, the rule of pagan imperial Rome, which existed precariously alongside and over the self-righteous religious elite of the Jews at the time, as seen in the way that our Lord was sentenced to death by a combination of those powers.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN PARABLE AS A CALL TO SPIRITUAL WARFARE
In happy parallel, the commemoration of St. Matthew today also coincides with the Gospel reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which indicates to us today how we should carry ourselves in relation to our neighbors who may be caught up in oppressive systems of thought and life apart from the Church in America today, which has become a veritable “land of giants” in biblical imagery.
The Church teaches us that the Good Samaritan of the story is a type or in effect icon of our Lord, and in icons is often depicted as Him. For our Lord picks us up and binds our wounds, physical and spiritual, as he in effect did with St. Matthew also. Our Lord releases us from captivity to the worldly flesh and gives us true freedom in service to truth, in His person as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Late-18th-century Russian icon of The Good Samaritan
An interesting feature of this story is how it expresses what St. James in his Letter called the royal law, to love our neighbor as our self, which is predicated on the other Great Commandment, to love the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.
For our Lord asks his disciples, who was neighbor to the man in trouble? They reply the Good Samaritan. He says, do likewise. Literally, if the Good Samaritan is our neighbor to love as ourself, and if He is seen as our Lord, then we love our Lord with all our heart and soul and mind as our self, and so our neighbor in Him. This indicates that in our neighbor as in ourselves we should see an icon of our Lord, as each of us is made according to the image of Him, with the potential to be fulfilled through His grace to be in His likeness also. As Matthew’s Gospel records the words of our Lord, inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me, meaning that our service to our neighbor is also service to Him.
I was reminded of this Parable of our Lord’s message and its call to us to do likewise in considering a recent podcast on Ancient Faith Radio entitled “The Land of Giants,” an interesting discussion about the topic of the giants in the Old Testament, a now-perennial favorite topic of online discussion.
The core of the lengthy podcast involved how, symbolically and actually, accounts of wars with giant clans in the Old Testament (gigantomachia in Greek) involve God-inspired battle against demonized communities who (to combine comments by the podcast co-hosts Fathers Andrew Stephen Damick and Stephen DeYoung) “are in communion with demons, and who are engaging in demonic fornication rituals, in order to produce demonized human beings, who have supernatural abilities.” This involved battle “against communities engaged in mass enslaving of people, murdering those people, sacrificing them to these demons, in cannibalism and drinking their blood.”
Although the laws in Deuteronomy established certain rules of warfare, requiring the opportunity for communities in the promised land to surrender to the children of Israel, presumably to become joined ritually to Israel by acceptance of her rituals, in a type of the Church to come, at the same time it makes exceptions for communities identified with the type of demonic dominance mentioned above. In those cases, we see God-inspired warfare that wiped out those communities in the Book of Joshua.
Our Lord’s Church is not Israel in the sense of a territory, but the fulfillment of Israel as a people dedicated to God, His Body, the spiritual Israel today that is also an historical presence, as in our mission worship space this morning. We war, the Apostle Paul tells us, against principalities and powers, names for ranks of angels and presumably fallen angels or demons, indicating the spiritual nature of our warfare today. The giant clans arguably were types of what we face today in such spiritual warfare. We face in our own country today the most egregious combinations of idolatry (in the sense of objectification of people and things and ultimately the self, in what Alexander Solzhenitsyn called the “permanent lie” of an alternative virtual reality), sexual immorality, demonic uses of technology, mass abortion and abuse of children, and spiritual murder and enslavement. Nihilistic identitarian networks based in all these gross sins form around a devilish assertion of autonomous individualism–rather than the self-emptying in our Lord Jesus Christ in which the Church protects us.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian Orthodox Christian writer, wrote about the demonic tendencies of modern nihilism, especially in his book Demons, about how demonic ideas possess people and whole communities in modern times, much like the ancient giant clans of old. We see for example the effort to encourage polysexualism, new forms of supposedly progressive racism driven by atheistic revolutionary ideology, transhuman super-abilities claimed through technology, and a hyper-consumer mentality toward children and the earth, all coming together in an atheistic revolutionary cultural movement called cultural Marxism by some advocates and critics both. This is a new Western version of the demonic madness that overtook Russia a hundred years ago amid great persecution of the Church, and which still enslaves today the most populous country in the world, from which came our current global medical plague. Arrayed against our Lord and His Church today are the forces of transnational capitalism, transhuman technology, atheistic and anti-Christian systems of education, media, finance, commerce, and social conformity in historically Christian lands, coupled with new forms of loneliness and terror, all leading toward a new kind of totalitarianism. Truly the spirit of anti-Christ, denying the Incarnation of Christ and seeking to erase His Church, is abroad in our own land and is at our very doorstep.
But our Lord assures us that the gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church. The Blood of the Lamb is on our door frames in this Passover, the Pascha that we commemorate and participate in through our worship as the Body of Christ.
We are called today in America to a spiritual warfare, a New Testament version of gigantomachia, or the battle against the giant clans, in our lives as Orthodox Christians today. This spiritual warfare begins with our own lives, with our home prayers, our participation in worship in the Church, with our study of Scripture. As our Lord says in the Gospel of Matthew, ye do err not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God.
Jan Saenredam, David with the Head of Goliath, Dutch 1600
In terms of being well armed spiritually for today’s battle with the giant clans, let me also put in a plug here for our weekly Bible Study at 2 p.m. each Sunday, in the New Testament under the guidance of Archbishop Averky’s commentary based in the Church Fathers. The author of the text we currently are studying, the Apostle James the Just, according to Church tradition first translated from Aramaic into Greek, the Gospel of the Evangelist Matthew whom we commemorate today. So the Church works together across the ages.
And so the Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we should “do likewise” in service to our Lord, for our neighbors in Christian love. If our society is hostage to giant clans, we should then for the sake of our neighbors take up spiritual arms daily as warriors for Christ, to give them the opportunity to be free, and to do God’s will and be witnesses for it with his grace, on earth as it is in heaven. The Judge Samson was unworthy in many ways. But God gave to him the power to witness to the freedom of Israel and be a type of Christ among the Holy Forerunners recognized by the Church. How much more can we, however unworthy, I speak for myself, witness as those baptized and washed clean in the Lamb, witness to the freedom of the true Israel, the people to whom we belong in the Body and Blood of our Savior, even in the land of the giants today.
In our inspiration let us look to the tradition of the martyr’s death of St. Matthew and how it bore fruit. At the end in a strange pagan land of cannibals he was put to death by the tyrant king. But that king afterward was converted to Christianity through the relics of the saint. The king took the name of Matthew in baptism, and by written instructions prophetically left by the evangelist later himself became bishop of the very land that once had killed the apostle in defiance of Christ under the former king’s own hand. That former tyrant himself on his repose entered into the rolls of the saints of the Church. May the Lord similarly bless our unworthy land and bless the evangelism work of our mission and our spiritual warfare against the giants, through the intercessions of our patron St. John, and the Holy Protection of our Lady the most Holy Theotokos, under whose patronage our mission was founded. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Emperor of Emperors