Sunday of All Saints

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Holiness is normal for Christians
1st Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday of All Saints
30 May, 2010
Hebrews 11:33-12:2 ; Matthew 10:32-33, 37, 38 ; 19:27-30


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

The English language is a strange language, and, in some respects, it has had a strange and difficult history. Because of the strange characteristics and the difficult history of our language, our mentality as English-speaking Orthodox Christians can easily become confused, if not deformed. If the pun is pardonable, part of the problem, frankly speaking, has to do with how we have been using French in English. In the English language, when an animal, for instance, is alive, it is called a “pig” or a “sheep”. When it goes to a higher level of self-interest (for us), then it is called “pork” or “mutton”. These changes take French words and use them as the preferred and delicate way to describe food. This is one of the reasons why people rightly say that English is French badly spoken.

The same principle applies to saints. I have had much experience with this difficulty lately. It is important on this Feast of All Saints to pay attention to this. In English, somehow, we tend to think that a saint is a special category of holy people, perhaps elevated and rarified. This comes about because of our pork-mutton divided mentality. Sometimes we use the word “holy”. This word has a Germanic or Saxon history which, from Norman times in Britain, has been considered to be “low-brow”. That is why we often use “holy” for so-called regular descriptions. The word “saint” has a Latin heritage through French, and its usage is preferred for so-called higher or more elevated conditions. It is a “high-brow” word. However, despite the apparent differences, whether we say “holy” or “saint”, it has nevertheless the same meaning. Either word simply means that someone is holy. This holiness is something that we are all called to. It is not some sort of special achievement. It is true that we do recognise certain, particular persons on our calendar who number in the hundreds of thousands. There are many of them, but in the context of human history, and the number of human beings, these particular persons are a small number. We have a tendency to focus on them and make them into something that they have never been : pure, perfect, detached from reality, somehow, like a Hindu guru floating in the air. People think about saints in this way. However, in our human history, saints are simply human beings who have taken up their Cross and followed Christ, just as our Saviour says today.

Another thing that our Saviour says to us, which is extremely important in this context, is found in His words to us in yesterday’s reading : “‘Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’” (Matthew 5:48). He is not speaking to a special class of persons, who are particularly chosen and particularly capable. He is speaking to every one of us. He is asking us all to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection is only achieved in taking up our Cross, following Christ, putting Christ first in our lives, identifying with Him, and being identified with Him. This is accomplished in the context of being in harmony with His love. This call to be a saint is a call to us all, because it is precisely the call to be holy.

When our Saviour is saying : “‘Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’”, He is not saying anything new. From the beginning, we have been asked by the Lord to live in this perfection with Him. We have been repeatedly exhorted in the Old Testament to be holy, as He is holy (see 3 Moses [Leviticus] 20:7). He created us to be in His image and also in His likeness (see 1 Moses [Genesis] 1:26). The Lord gives us the Grace and the strength to be holy. This holiness is developed in the context of His love. Holiness is our way of life. It refers everything to the Lord, and gives thanks to the Lord in and for everything. Holiness is a turning to the Lord for help. It is always involving the Lord in every part of our life, and most particularly in the way of repentance. What is a great distinguishing mark of a saint (apart from the martyrs) ? One might say that this main characteristic is found in how they have lived a life of repentance. It is not concerned with whether they have ever or never broken any rule or law from infancy. I do not know anyone like that. If anyone wants to put any one of the saints on our calendar in that category, the saint would not recognise him- or herself. Every one of us will be with those who say at the end of their lives (even though they are wonder-workers and have healed people by God’s mercy) : “I have only begun to repent” (see Abba Sisoës). The way of being a saint is the way of forgetting oneself, putting the Lord (and everyone else) first ; living in love with the Lord and doing love in the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is with us. He is in us, and we are with Him. He is asking us to be like Him. We want to be like Him because we love Him. The Lord will make us to be like Him the more we live in love with Him, and the more we give ourselves in love to Him, to His creation, and to human beings in particular.

Let us ask the Lord for two things. Let us first ask for an Orthodox understanding of the English language without silly categories such as the difference between holy and saint (or mutton and sheep). We can understand that they all mean the same thing, not something different. The second thing is to ask the Lord to give us such harmony and unity in our lives, oneness in our lives, in ourselves, and in Him, that we may glorify Him in everything, always and everywhere : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.