Sunday sermon on the day of All American Saints. Loosely based on the Sunday Gospel reading of Matthew 4:18-23, but mostly on the modern phenomenon of tolerance that is slowly degrading our society.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
On the second Sunday after the feast of Pentecost we celebrate all the saints, known and unknown, who lived and labored in a particular country or geographical area. Accordingly, in America we celebrate the saints of North America.
Each saint, in fact every one of us, has been chosen by Christ. And He calls everyone to follow Him, just like we heard Him today call Peter and Andrew, James and John. He simply told them, “Follow Me.” And they left their jobs, they left their families and friends and … followed Him.
This same call every saint has answered also. This same call we are to answer as well. If you were checking our website during the week, perhaps you saw that leading up to today’s feast day, I was posting articles on some of the saints of North America. They were all very different. Some came from Russia, some were Carpatho-Russians, there was a Syrian, and an Aleut. What united them was faith in Jesus Christ and His love that burned in their hearts.
Coming to America they faced an uphill battle because we Orthodox have always been misunderstood or mistaken for pagans or Roman Catholics. And the Orthodox saints who labored in America, by their words and actions, pointed to the True Faith. Even when persecuted, in imitation of Christ, they loved their persecutors, when they saw people being confused about the truth, they patiently and with compassion corrected them.
Today, however, patience, love, and compassion are often confused with tolerance of sinful behavior. But let’s not be confused, tolerance has nothing to do with Christ or Christianity. It is not a Christian virtue. Christ did not say, “Tolerate your neighbor,” but “Love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31).
Often, people who do not want to help others or look for excuses to avoid helping, say something along the lines, “God was patient and willed us to do the same.” Meaning, if you are going through tough times, just be patient and all will be well. The Lord indeed went through a lot in times of His earthly abode, including humiliation and the most awful death, and He did it all with patience. But our patience usually is limited to ourselves, or at most to those very close to us.
Christianity sees in patience a virtue. Evangelist Luke quotes Christ saying, “By your patience you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:19). Meaning, in this virtue we have a guarantee of eternal life. Patience does not mean spinelessness and submissiveness to all and everything. We are servants of God, and God only, and patience is an imitation of the One Who went on the Cross for us.
Unfortunately, we have forgotten how to be patient. Any problem, sickness, or trouble not only knocks us out of our routine, but often becomes the reason for depression and anger.
If you turn on the news or go online and read some of the articles or blogs, you’ll see that humanity, in general, has lost patience. Shouting, noise, accusations – this is the result of impatience. This is the result of the development of the society, where at the head stand consumption and desire to have everything, without putting in the work and patience.
The same goes for the society that strives for satisfaction of every desire, rather than faith in Christ. In such cases, to make sure we are morally covered, we replace patience, compassion, and love with tolerance. And we present tolerance as an achievement, as if it’s another great step humanity has taken towards progress.
The media talks about tolerance non-stop. Books are written on it, and it is taught in schools to our children. Tolerance, effectively, has replaced in our life God, faith, patience, and sacrifice.
At the root of tolerance stands indifference to sin. The principle of Christian patience is – “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But the principle of tolerance is “respect the confusions and perversions of others, then your own confusions and perversions will be respected.”
Tolerance perverts our children, who are forced to have sex-ed before they should, who are taught that homosexuality is normal and natural, and abortion is a harmless procedure. Tolerance assumes acceptance of serious sins, acceptance of fornication, adultery and unfaithfulness, of treachery and betrayal, of greed and selfishness, and, in the end, of blasphemy.
We can already see where absolute tolerance leads. Words like “mother” and “father” are deemed offensive by some. Traditional marriage between a man and a woman is slowly becoming rude and barbaric. People, especially children, who are confused about their gender, are encouraged to explore their confusion because conforming to something that is natural, being a male or female, is boring in our day and age. Some of the more despicable sins are not only tolerated, but are being defended by legislation.
But let’s not be confused, tolerance is not love. Tolerating a great evil is itself an evil. As St Ephraim the Syrian, a prominent saint of 4th century, said, “Love for neighbor without love for God is like a plant without roots.” Tolerance, that is being offered today in our society, is exactly this kind of rootless love, where God conveniently becomes a mere category of morality.
Humanism is the main architect of contemporary society, it has elevated human being to the throne, having glorified egotism.
When human being becomes the measure for everything, then there is no higher truth, no absolute values, then moral boundaries are blurred, especially the boundaries between good and evil. The concepts of good and evil themselves become relative and insignificant.
We are often reminded that Christ told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1-15), but they forget to add that He also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Meaning, we should hear someone else’s opinion and objectively evaluate it from the perspective of Christian truths.
Patience, not tolerance, is a quality worth developing in ourselves. Patience and compassion means respecting the opinion of others, even if we don’t agree with it. And if that opinion goes against our faith and the teaching of Christ, as laid out in the Bible and taught by the Church, then we have a responsibility to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). And if someone is confused or does something wrong, Christ advises us to tell them about it, to point it out, (Matthew 18:15-20) – It’s an opportunity for us to help them return to the right path.
In all things we imitate Christ, just like the saints did, especially the saints who labored in America. They were compassionate, where compassion was required. Where the truth was being betrayed, they were unwavering, standing firm in the faith in Christ. But in everything they were loving and patient. This love and patience I wish we all learn and excel in. This love and patience may Christ our Lord grant us.