Today we gather on this 2nd Sunday after Pentecost to honor all of those who have lived righteous lives in following the teachings and commandments of our Lord in Ukraine . On this Sunday of All Saints of Ukraine we commemorate those in our ancestral homeland who having received the grace of the Holy Spirit lived their lives in so as to fulfill the assignment of our Lord to be “fishers of men”.
We have just come through the celebration of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Holy Pentecost and now we now see the practical result of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have been called to faithfulness: namely the saints of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church . These two commemorations follow logically from each other: in the one we saw the power come which makes possible the lives that we now commemorate in the second. And in noticing the close connection we are able to understand the meaning of both celebrations and gain a very important insight into what these two festal celebrations mean for our own lives.
Today we have before us the examples of all the holy men and women from our ancestral homeland who having received the Holy Spirit , proceeded to live their lives in light of having the Spirit working actively in their lives. They lived out their calling to be fishers of men exactly because they had the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They were able to fulfill the calling of every Christian to bring others to Christ because having the Holy Spirit within gave to them the “rivers of living water” about which we heard in the words of our Lord on the Feast of Pentecost. For each of the saints and holy men and women in Ukraine that we honor today were not born as saints but rather were made saints through allowing the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to guide and transform their lives so that their lives became models of piety and holiness. And through living such pious and holiness lives they spread the Gospel message and so brought hundreds and thousands of others to accept and embrace the Holy Orthodox Faith. And this is a very important point for us to understand, for the saints were not super human beings- like some mythical super heroes- but rather they were and are like you and I in that they share in our human nature with all of its struggles, temptations and failings. But they understood that having received the gift of the Holy Spirit gave them the power to live in such a way that their lives became a living Gospel and in this way they answered the call to be fishers of men.
When today we honor and commemorate these holy men and women , those who allowed the Holy Spirit to enter their lives completely and to use the living water which this gave to them to spread the message of the Gospel, we are reminded that they are not just names from a list of holy men and women of a far-away age or distant society. Rather they are models of sincere faith and complete faithfulness for us to follow today in the 21st century. They faced daunting challenges in heeding this call, but yet they were faithful and God blessed their faithfulness with great success in spreading the truth of the Gospel through their lives. From Saint Andrew the First-Called, to Saints Olha and Volodymyr, to the Right- Believing Prince Martyrs Boris, Hlib and Ihor, to St. Paisius(Velichkovsky) and down to those who suffered and gave their lives under the vicious Communist era of the 20th century; each one in their time were faithful despite all that faced them and in so doing gave testimony to their faith and so have passed to us models of how it is possible to live faithfully because of the rivers of living water we have with the Holy Spirit within our lives.
So today the challenge that is before us today on this Sunday of All Saints of Ukraine is to answer a simple question: do we honor our spiritual ancestors simply as names on a register of holy men and women or do we honor them because we accept them as models we seek to follow in our own lives each day. Are we also willing to answer the call of our Lord to be fishers of men and to take the message of the Gospel to those in our society who are searching for the truth that is to be found in our Holy Orthodox faith?? In answering that question , we are called to ask ourselves another question that bears on the first one: are we willing to be among those who accept the responsibility given by our Lord to “confess Me before men”, which after all is the first character trait of a saint? In answering these questions we are led to understand that by confessing Christ before men we are also engaging in becoming fishers of men: we reach out to others with the good news of the Gospel message by confessing the Gospel truth in word and deed just as did our Ukrainian spiritual ancestors we honor on this day. We engage in confessing Christ and being fishers of men not just in giving verbal assent to Christ but in giving witness to our confession through our manner of life. For how can we say we confess Christ if our way of living is at odds with that very confession of believing in Christ as our Lord and Master. For the first hallmark of one who truly confesses Christ before all men- and a key characteristic of a saint- is the testimony given by one’s life. And this manner of life- what we might call holiness- is made possible because we also have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and allowed this grace to work actively in our lives so that we are lives are transformed as we live faithfully each day. Now granted this pathway of holiness, this way of living our lives and allowing the Grace of the Holy Spirit to work freely and fully in our lives is not easy. It means being willing to take up our cross and follow our Lord wherever He may call us to go; but we do so gladly if we truly are willing to confess our Lord because we understand that we have the power of the Spirit to give us the strength to give testimony to our Lord before all men even when the giving of that testimony leads us through difficult times and struggles in this earthly life. The Holy Saints we commemorate today followed the call of Lord to confess His Holy Name through a life of holiness and in so doing to preach the message of the Gospel even though they knew that this would lead them through sufferings and struggles: they understood that the end result of living out the commands of our Lord was a far greater blessing than the temporary pain, sufferings and struggle that might need to be endured in this life.
So this morning as we honor and celebrate the lives and evangelistic efforts of All the Saints of Ukraine, let us ask our ourselves this: are we willing to confess our Lord before our society and live a life of holiness that gives testimony to that which we confess? Or do we seek to hide our confession of Christ in order that we may “fit in” and be seen as “normal” by our society? Are we willing to live out the power of the Holy Spirit we received at our Holy Baptism and allow the “rivers of living water” given to us by having received the Gift of the Holy Spirit or do we hide this gift and power so that we may seem to fit in a society that judges actions and lives according to what seems acceptable to a secular worldview that has become so prevalent in our time. For we also have heard the same call to live lives of holy faithfulness as our holy and righteous fathers and mothers in the faith did: they responded positively to this call and lived lives of holiness because they understood that this is what it meant to confess Christ and in so doing to spread the message of the Gospel. Will we follow them in this dedication to confessing our Lord before all men despite the cost? If indeed we do then we also will receive- as the Holy Saints did- the promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “… him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.”Amen.
Father Paisius McGrath