Sermon based on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (2:10-16) and All Saints of North America, whom we commemorate on this day.
Glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the Law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the Law, do instinctively what the Law requires, these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
In the past year, with our teen group, we were reading and discussing a very good book, a very important book, a book I recommend to everyone (we have two copies in our library downstairs). It’s called Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
He begins the book by discussing how we, regardless of our beliefs or affiliations, have an inherent understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Humanity has always had it, without religions telling us what is good and what is bad, without governments making laws which restrict the bad behavior, and allow the good one.
It’s like a computer or a smartphone that comes with a pre-installed application – we come with a pre-installed moral compass. If we have this compass, then Someone must have put it in there, Someone must have pre-installed it in us. Without giving too much away, C.S. Lewis argues that it was God (for the rest of his argument, read the book).
While this understanding of good and bad, right and wrong, has always been part of our human conscience, it has been corrupted by sin. And, it can change somewhat over time. It is affected by our surroundings, by the society we live in, by the laws of our nation, by the faith we confess.
Saint Paul today, in his letter to the Romans, discusses how the believers will be judge on the Great Day of Judgment, as opposed to how the nonbelievers (St Paul calls them Gentiles, in other words, pagans) will be judged. The basic distinction is that the believers have been given the Law, the Commandments, the Teachings of Christ, while the nonbelievers – have not.
Does this mean that the nonbelievers are doomed for not having what the believers have? No, of course not, because they will be judged by the moral compass that is natural to all of us. The believers show what the Law requires by following that Law, by doing it. The nonbelievers, as Saint Paul says, “show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness.”
We, the believers, have been given the Law, we know the Commandments, we learn from the teachings of Christ. We know the expectations, so we can’t plead ignorance in the end. All the nonbelievers have is a general moral compass.
You might be asking yourself, don’t the nonbelievers have it easier? Why be a believer at all, when by the looks of it, it's harder?
Think about it this way. When going on a hike, would you rather go with a map or with a map and an experienced guide? Ok, you are a great hiker. How about when going to a court, would you rather have a law book or the best lawyer? Alright, alright, you have connections and friends who are big lawyers. What if doing a surgery, would you rather cut yourself open by following instructions from youtube videos or let a surgeon do it?
When trying to lead good and honest life, would you rather rely on your own instincts and conscience (which might be broken and corrupted), or let the Creator and Fashioner of your moral compass point you in the right direction?
Our Lord does not give us the Law, the Commandments, and all those teachings as a burden to be suffered through. He gives it to us and says, “Follow Me, and do as I do.” He is the ultimate guide in everything. Only through Jesus Christ our moral compass can point in the right direction. Without Him we are shooting in the dark, relying on pure chance and luck.
Take for example the North American saints, whose memory we celebrate today. Most of them came to America from Russia for a very specific purpose – preach and witness to Christ. They built churches, translated texts into English, and converted people.
Some of them had to return to Russia, only to be killed by the Communists. People like bishop Tikhon, who would later become patriarch, and priests John Kochurov and Alexander Hotovitsky.
There was a simple monk Herman, who traveled to Alaska, and with his love and care for the natives won them over, showed them the light of Christ, and planted the first seeds of Christian faith in Alaska.
There was also a priest, Alexis Toth, who was Greek Catholic, but returned to the Orthodox faith. In his zeal, he converted thousands of Greek Catholics back to the ancestral Orthodox Christianity.
There was another monk, named Juveanly, and a boy by the name of Peter, who were both killed in California simply for being Orthodox, for refusing to reject their faith.
All of these saints were simple human beings like all of us. Did they make the right decisions at every step of their life? No. But their moral compass was set on Christ, and in the most crucial points in their lives they knew what to say, what to do, and where to go.
Having the Law, the Commandments, and the Teachings, all forming their moral compass, they also let Jesus be their guide, and He led them back to Himself.
Through the prayers of the North American Saints, may the Lord guide us and set our moral compass on achieving salvation.