Homily on the Heavenly Wedding Banquet, by Hierodeacon Theodore (Stanway)

A homily given at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Lynchburg, VA, by Hierodeacon Theodore (Stanway), on Sunday Nov. 1, 7530 (11/14/21 on the civil calendar). Fr. Dn. Theodore is interim Dean of Students at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. He also presented on that same trip a talk to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at Liberty University, which is available at this link on video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBtTUU64o8o This is on the same topic as the talk that he gave recently at Bucknell University, co-sponsored by our mission, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Church in Lewisburg, PA.

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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today’s Gospel reading is full of both fear and hope. Fear, because we are confronted with the foolishness of the Jews and how we ourselves can fall into the same mistake. Hope, because we see in this reading everything that our good God has done for us and offers to us.

The king in the parable is, of course, God Himself, and the wedding is the mystical union of Christ and His Church. The Lord compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet because the wedding banquet is the celebration of a new life, a new beginning, and the fulfilment of the desires of one’s heart in an act of love, for do we not, when we are married, leave the household of our old family and begin a new life in a new home, united spiritually to the one whom we love? Indeed, this is an icon of the penitent answering the eternal call of Christ to “give me your heart” and entering into the many paradisiacal mansions of the heavenly Father through being united to the Holy Church.

Those who are bidden in this parable are the Jews and the messengers of the King are the holy prophets, calling the people of old Israel to hearken to the words of the Lord and turn their hearts back unto His Law. Did they listen? By no means! While many who were called were satisfied in simply ignoring the call to repentance by making light of it and heading back to their farms or being happy merchants, which of course represents the love of carnal pleasures, the life of ease, material comforts, and the love of money.

A remnant, however, did not simply ignore God’s call to repentance, but actively opposed it. As the Lord Himself told this “stiff-necked people” who are “contrary to all men,” “you are the sons of them that killed the prophets!” This bloodthirsty hatred for truth – God’s Truth – led to these men, blinded by their impiety and madness, killing those true servants of the God of Israel, the prophets, and, ultimately, murdering God Himself when the incarnate Son came down to earth Himself and presented them with their last opportunity to turn away from evil. Ultimately, as the parable says, their city, Jerusalem with its temple, was razed to the ground. Despite this, we have an entire religion that, to this day, is explicitly based on the rejection of Jesus Christ.

We gentiles, then, are those who were summoned to the marriage feast from the highways and byways, which represent the foolish paths of paganism and idle philosophy, those paths which ultimately lead nowhere. We see this harvest being reaped even now, as more and more people, especially young men at this present time, hearken to the Lord’s invitation and are welcomed into the marriage feast of the holy Orthodox Church, turning away from heresies, false religions, and vain ideologies in order to pursue salvation in Christ Jesus.

At this halfway point in the parable, it is easy for us to look at those unfortunate men, the Jews, and be amazed at the rejection of the Messiah. If we consider things carefully, however, this is where the fearful aspect of this parable is most evident, for are we not just like the Jews, in that we have received the fullness of the Truth? Yet, we continually harden our hearts to the Word of God and His commandments. Actually, I will correct myself: we are in a more grievous position than the Jews, for while they received the Law and the Prophets, we have received the Gospel! When we Christians ignore the words of Christ and do not pursue a pious life, we fall from an ever greater height than the Jews!

This parable should warn us against complacency in our spiritual and moral lives, since just as those who were “of the seed of Abraham and slaves to no man” became the “Synagogue of Satan,” we who are the sons of the Apostles, “begotten through the Gospel,” can become the greatest enemies of Christ – apostates, heretics, schismatics, persecutors, and, possibly worst of all, lukewarm, half-hearted Christians because of whom the “Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.” Just as Jerusalem and its Temple were crushed under the feet of Roman paganism because of apostasy, so to was our Constantinople and its Hagia Sophia crushed under the feet of the Hagarenes, and our Moscow and its forty times forty churches crushed under the boot of the Bolsheviks, so take heed, we that “think ourselves to stand, lest we fall.”

As we continue the parable, we see that it is simply not enough the heed the call, but to continually transform oneself through repentance, co-operating with the bountiful mercies of God’s grace and love towards us. The king in the parable comes to inspect the guests and finds a man with no wedding garment. Contrary to popular belief, this wedding garment is not holy baptism, for to enter the banquet is to be received into the Church and to actively participate in the holy sacraments. No, this wedding garment is the virtues that we are called to cultivate through our life in Christ. The king’s appearance at the banquet is the dreadful Second Coming of Our Lord and that man with no garment represents all of those Christians who, despite receiving the fullness of Truth, despite receiving the fullness of grace, have not multiplied their talents, have not struggled to develop virtue, have not fought the good fight, have not run the race, and, ultimately, have not loved the Lord, because they did not keep His commandments. These are the whitened sepulchres that we too can become if we simply reduce our Christian lives to external pieties and empty religious observances, instead of cultivating true Gospel love in our hearts and genuine religious devotion. We can know all the dogmas and all the rules, but if this knowledge is not filled with a genuinely spiritual love, then we are just clanging bells.

This is why the Holy Apostle Paul warns us to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.”  “The fool says in his heart that there is no God,” but even more foolish is he that claims to believe in God but doesn’t do anything about it. Maybe ignorance will be forgiven on the last day, but laziness and negligence certainly will not be. The Apostle calls us to “walk circumspectly,” because we need to be cautious in all things pertaining to the spiritual life: be vigilant, be reserved, be obedient, and, most importantly, be attentive to those things that are taking place within our hearts, using discernment, discretion, and a little bit of common sense to prevent ourselves from falling into the snares laid out for us by the enemy of mankind.

The Apostle tells us to “redeem the time” because we need to make use of every moment that God gives us in our earthly lives to cultivate those virtues, so that we may through His grace and mercy, be cloaked in that wedding garment on the last day, pure, undefiled, and spotless before Him. Every day, every hour, every minute that we waste will never be given back to us, with the exception of those to whom the Lord gives back the years “which the locusts have eaten,” which is those who have spent a great deal of time in the spiritual wilderness. For those of that that know Christ and know His Church, however, we are without excuse.

We redeem the time by “giving thanks always for all things unto God.” We redeem the time be using each day profitably, starting and ending it with prayer. We redeem the time by ensuring that God is glorified in all that we do during the day, making sure that our words are seasoned with salt and our deeds are in keeping with His commandments. We redeem the time by resisting evil and not giving in to temptation. We redeem the time by holding our tongue from gossip and criticism, from slander and insult. We redeem the time by controlling our appetites, neither gorging ourselves on food nor “being drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” We redeem the time by averting our eyes from carnal distractions and sinful indulgences. We redeem the time by not judging our neighbours but instead meditating on our own sinfulness and seeking to overcome it. We redeem the time, brothers and sisters, by simply being Christians and struggling to remain Christians from our baptism until our dying breath.

Saint Paul, when telling us to “redeem the time,” tells us to do so because “the days are evil,” and how many Jeremiads could be said about this! How many lamentations we could make about our current state of affairs! Our days are indeed evil, brothers and sisters, very evil. Now, the foolish are wont to tell us that we’ve always had problems and sin has always been with us, how immorality has always been rife and there have always been brutal murders. This is of course true, but in no time in history, since maybe the days of Noah, has evil ever been considered good and good considered evil. Such are our times! We are living in times of complete moral inversion. Whereas in pagan Rome, they pointed to Christians and said “see how they love one another,” due to the high moral and ethical standards of the Church, in our modern enlightened world, they say “see how they hate everyone,” because of these same high moral and ethical standards. I, for one, am happy to be a hater if that means hating sin.

The days are evil because we are once again being confronted by a beast system that threatens to destroy body and soul: a so-called healthcare system that churns out millions of corpses of infants every year, a so-called education system that seeks to extinguish the burning desire for God in every soul, a so-called justice system that sends the righteous to prison while the evil roam freely, and a so-called department of defence that actively seeks to destroy anyone who says “no!” to the globalist hydra, wherever they may be.

The days are evil because we are once again being confronted by a new religion that seeks to supersede the divine revelation of the Gospel, a religion that, unlike Islam which embraces death, seeks to avoid death at all costs. A religion of fear where no fear is, a religion of paranoia, of isolation, of cowardice, of disinfectant, and of casting aside of common sense for the sake of some measure of a temporary feeling of safety, a religion that throws aside its dogma of “my body, my choice,” when it is convenient, a religion of hypocrisy, of division, and of lies, all of which come from Satan himself.

We can choose to live the lie, or we can choose to stand against it, but we should always keep in mind that “our war is not against flesh and blood, but the spirits of evil in the high places.” Don’t be deceived into thinking that we are to take up arms against the beast, for you will fail. As we read at Matins today, “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” We are simply called to persevere. As dogs, maybe, but alive to love and serve the Lord. We will be cast out from society, we will be vilified, we will be ridiculed, we will be mocked, we will be reviled, we will be slandered, we will be hated, we will be persecuted, but we will persevere, for “great is your reward in the Kingdom.” Just as the world hated the Lord, so too will it hate us. We simply need to persevere, brothers and sisters, enduring the spittings, the buffetings, the mockings, and following our Lord to the Golgotha that waits for us all. Remember, that without the Cross there is no Resurrection, and without a righteous death there awaits no eternal life. Rejoice, brothers and sisters, for this is a great time to be alive, as God is calling us to great things and promises us much in return for our labours!

This is the hope we find in today’s parable: a wedding banquet, laid out for us in the Kingdom, waiting for us to simply answer the call to return to the One Who loves us and gave His life for us. That wedding banquet, the eternal heavenly banquet, is here today in the holy Eucharist, and we, those who are called and those who are chosen, stand inside this holy church, which contains within it the holy throne room of God Himself. He calls us to Himself, not simply to keep His commandments, but to partake of the eternal life that He offers to us through His most precious Body and Blood, wherein we find the grace to persevere, the strength to struggle, and the love that we ourselves are called to bring to others. Come, then, and receive all the good gifts of our good God Who loves mankind, that we may be worthy of a wedding garment on that dread day and, instead of the outer darkness and weeping, there is eternal light and rejoicing in His presence. Amen.

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