Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, the Sunday before Nativity, at St. John Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg PA, 12/20 7531 [Jan. 1 2022 on the civil calendar]
Beloved to Christ,
The verses with the Beatitudes today referred to the Wise Thief who recognized the hidden God being crucified next to him.
Today as we look toward the coming birth of our Lord and Savior and God Jesus Christ, to Christmas this coming week, it is the birth of the hidden God, hidden in plain sight, the Divine Word become flesh in the cave at Bethlehem, the Creator Whose handiwork we are and Who governs and sustains us, in Whom we live and move and have our being as the Apostle Paul put it. We dwell in Church today hid with Christ in God and in the branches of His family tree.
We gather on this Sunday of the Holy Fathers to commemorate together the ancestors of Christ with the righteous in the Old Testament Church who rightly can be called the friends of God.
This memory is in the mind of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, of which He is our Head.
It is a reminder of how we find our true family in the Church, the Body of Christ, in the quietness of the heart. This quietness lies both our spiritual ancestry that we remember today in the cloud of witnesses with whom we seek a renewed year, not amid a crowd on New Year’s.
We dwell not only among the ancestral pictures of the Holy Saints of every age as iconography, but also with them as intercessors among our family praying for us, with whom we worship our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just so we ask His Holy Mother, Our Lady the Most Holy Theotokos, to intercede with Him for us. We ask her as the greatest of saints and our Mother in the Church, She who is identified with the Church.
We do this apart from materialistic crowds but hidden in plain sight, tending the seeds that our Lord has planted in us and in our local region here.
This afternoon our humble community Bible Study will mark the new civil year discussing the book of the Holy Prophet Job the Patient, one of the Holy Fathers commemorated today. We will do so amid all the consumer commerce of the secular holiday in a corporate supermarket, in a small room dedicated to civic purposes there.
Yet the room is named St. Mary’s Room after old St. Mary’s Road by the shopping center, a name that symbolizes in Protestant terms the Holy Mother.
As we pursue our community Bible there, we gather with our icon and our incense in the almost hidden St. Mary Room to study a text that goes back thousands of years, to Job the grandson of Esau, thus great great grandson of Abraham the friend of God.
We learn about it through the three volumes written on the Book of Job by St. Gregory the Dialogist about 1,500 years ago, written from Rome in Latin, inspired by the Holy Spirit flowing through the apostolic succession of our Church that breathes on the waters of our baptism still today and comes down in the Eucharist upon the Body of Christ of which we will partake physically soon at Nativity, God willing.
It was the same St. Gregory who sent missionaries to our forebears in Anglo-Saxon England from Rome before the Schism. Indeed, the royal St. Alfred the Great of early England would write an introduction to one of St. Gregory’s writings.
Now as we gather in central Pennsylvania, we look toward Old Christmas next weekend, the date that our own forebears here in northern Appalachia celebrated Christmas into modern times, Dec. 25 on the Julian calendar, Jan. 7 on the current civil calendar. It reminds us of the hidden nature of God’s liturgical time. We celebrate the coming of 2023 on the civil calendar, yet we also live in the year 7531 on the biblical calendar developed by Byzantine Orthodox Christians, once used in Russia and still used on Mount Athos. We celebrate the civil new year, yet our Church new year is Sept. 1. We mark the liturgical timelessness of God’s beyond-time given to us by grace in the Church, the Body of Christ. As the Anglican writer C.S. Lewis, an admirer of Orthodoxy, put it, we walk every day among immortals although we know it not, among each of our brothers and sisters here today, in time yet beyond time, hid with Christ in God.
We hold our Deacon Liturgy here partly hidden from the world, in a rented space downtown from a back-alley entrance.
Indeed, we are hid with Christ in God, with His Holy Fathers.
Brothers and sisters, we celebrate our Lord’s birth away from the hurly burly of the commercial consumer calendar this coming weekend on Old Christmas, partly hidden. Yet we are part of the leaven at work in our Lord’s Church and in the world at large as we commemorate the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. One of them, the Prophet Job, is as mentioned known as the patient and long-suffering, awaiting the
This past week we received new-year encouragement for our building and outreach projects from our Metropolitan Nicholas, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. His Grace in Apostolic succession through the grace of the Holy Spirit stands in a line back through the Russian Church to the Byzantine Church to the Church of the Holy Land and of the Apostles and of Pentecost and of the Old Testament Church– all the way back to the friends of God whom we commemorate among the Holy Fathers of Jesus Christ. His Grace Metropolitan Nicholas encouraged us to build our temple according to plan as soon as possible this year, and blessed continuing our outreach work in the Bible Study. Although our efforts may seem partly hidden, the gates of hell cannot prevail against our Lord’s Church. The signs of the times are around us of cultural and social decline and apostasy even from the heterodoxy of the Western religions. But thank God we are here. Orthodox Christianity is here in Union County and at the Susquehanna Confluence. In 2023 we will see God willing our new temple arise and open, and new changes in our mission with it, as we come forth more than ever locally into view. There will be spiritual challenges with this too.
In the readings from Job for our Bible Study this afternoon there is a verse that speaks of Job’s wish to join those who reposed in desolation. Often superficial modern readers merely take this as an expression of despair. But St. Gregory corrects this. He relates the reference, in the context of Job’s righteousness, proclaimed by God, as being to the state of desolation of holy men, the holy Fathers. In their solitude they do not fall into lives of self-assertion that paradoxically keep us always living in a crowd like the Legion of Demons while also in lonely despair. Those living in the mass of people, in the consumerism and worldly cares of the world’s Dec. 25 and New Year’s, think they do so individually. But they fall into a million different realities of manipulation and power plays reflected in deceptive illusions of the fallen selves of one another, on cyberspace and in delusion.
Those who live hidden spiritual lives, however unworthily, are in solitude lifted in prayer to real communion with God and with one another in His Holy Church, in patience like Job, for as our Lord Jesus Christ put it, “in patience posess ye your souls.”
We seek quietude at this time of worldly holidays not in a virtual mob nor a New Year’s crowd apart from Church.
During crowded rush-hour traffic a few days ago I was in a crash as many of you know.
A truck driver had a diabetic seizure and rammed my car. It could have been fatal. But God’s hand was with us as we both separately spun across lanes amid heavy traffic. Getting out of our vehicles and later meeting, it turned out that driver and I, who had never met, recognized each other as Russian Orthodox Christians. We thanked God together. Of the mass of drivers on the road that evening in Harrisburg, we two, one in health distress, came together in shared quiet of our faith.
Brothers and sisters, in patience and long-suffering dedication like Job, watch this space this year as unworthily with God’s grace we God willing bloom forth and proclaim the hidden God more than ever from the solitude God gives to us in the quiet of His Church. Amid our family with our Lord’s Holy Fathers, from the loving Church family of our brothers and sisters, beyond the crowded loneliness of this world, may the Lord strengthen us in offering love to others.
Truly, we are hid with Christ in God. It is marvelous in His eyes.
Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Amen.