The Feast of the All-Merciful Saviour
1/14 August 2009
All-Merciful Saviour Monastery, Vashon Island, WA
Those who are lucky enough to call this monastery their home parish, and those who came here from other cities and towns in order to partake of the sanctity of this holy place—I greet you with the Feast of the All-Merciful Saviour and His Most Holy Mother.
On this day, we celebrate several memorable events from history. 166 years before the birth of Christ, the Maccabee brothers and their father suffered martyrdom at the hands of pagan occupants who had forbidden the worship of the true God in Judea and instituted the worship of Hellenic idols. Through their refusal to worship idols, the Maccabees started a revolt which restored the religion given to the Jews through the Law. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob blessed and sanctified the labors and sacrifices of the holy Maccabees, and the worship of the true God continued in Judea until the incarnation of His only-begotten Son.
On this day in 988, the All-Merciful Saviour crowned the labors of Saints Cyrill and Methodius, who in the ninth century were sent from Constantinople as missionaries to the Slavs, with the baptism of Russia, when Saint Vladimir of Kiev looked upon his family and his people being baptized in the river Dnieper and prayed that they would come to know the true God. And the true God blessed and sanctified the labors of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Vladimir, which then were only beginning. If we speak of the Holy Russia, undoubtedly it was such through the prayers and labors of its Baptist.
Almost two hundred years later, in 1164, the year that Saint Olaf of Norway was canonized, Saints Andrei Bogolyubski in Russia and Manuel Komnenos in the Byzantine Empire found themselves fighting against Muslim armies. Both Christian armies marched under the banners depicting the face of Christ, and both had miracle-working icons of the Theotokos in their midst. During the battles, God revealed many signs to inspire the soldiers, including rays of light coming from the banners. The Lord blessed and sanctified the labors and sacrifices of the soldiers, and granted them victory over their enemies. When Saint Andrei wrote to Saint Manuel about the miraculous victory, and the Emperor wrote back with a similar account, both rulers glorified the All-Merciful Savior and instituted the feast which we celebrate today.
But it is not only for its historical significance that the Church celebrates this day. The Church does not build memorials to by-gone events and tombstones to dead people. Everything that the Church offers to us has relevance in the present. We rejoice in the living God, Who continues to bless and sanctify the labors of all who devote their lives to Him. Whether you are a missionary or an emperor, a monastic or a person who lives in the world, a beekeeper or a gardener, a computer programmer or an auto mechanic—when you labor for the glory of God, He accepts the fruits of your labors, blesses them, and sanctifies them.
As a visible sign of God’s abundant blessing, the Holy Church blesses honey on this day; and on the Feast of Transfiguration, we bless fruit. Honey—because its taste and fragrance remind us of the sweetness of the future life. Fruit—because it reminds us of the bounty of the Garden of Eden, which we lost by bearing the fruit of disobedience. But the Church wants us to think not only of the past and the future, but also of the present. Whether we keep bees or grow apples in our own back yard, build monasteries or empires—all must be done for the glory of God, and all our labors must be dedicated to Him, and our fruits brought to His feet; because all is His, and we are only custodians of that which God entrusts to us.
A life worth living is a life given to God, because without God there is only corruption (Matt. 6:19); out of dust we were made, and without God we die and return to our dust (Ps. 104:29). Only he who loses his life for the sake of Christ (Matt. 10:39), that is to say, gives it to Christ, will have life, because in God is life (John 1:4).
So, let us not shortchange ourselves, chasing after the world’s masks and props, which today seem alive and real, but tomorrow are thrown into the fire (1 Cor. 3:13). Let us not settle for corruption and death, but strive for life, life abundant (John 10:10), which is in Christ. And let us not settle for the shadowy treasures of this world, which are eaten by moth and rust (Matt. 6:19), but labor for the glory of God and for the benefit of the least of the people for whom Christ shed His Blood (Matt. 25:40). And as we look at the fruits of our labors—whether it be honey or apples, well-raised children or an honestly done job, a house in which people will live or a monastery that will shine for them as a beacon of spiritual light—as we look at our harvest which comes from God and is blessed and sanctified by Him, let us live our lives in such a way that the Lord will say about us, His people: “…lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (John 4:35). Let us be His wheat which dies to the world with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24), and rises up unto eternal life with Christ (Rom. 6:8).