We Must Live the Liturgy of our Great High Priest Every Day of Our Lives : Homily for John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, and the Eighth Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 7:26-8:2; Luke 10:25-37

      There is an ancient Christian saying that the rule of prayer is the rule of belief. Our worship as Orthodox Christians manifests what we believe, and what we believe informs our worship.  How we pray shapes our souls and how we relate to God, as well as to our neighbors.  We must live in accordance with our prayers and beliefs in order to avoid the religious hypocrisy that our Lord so strongly condemned.  Prayer, belief, and faithful living are all interrelated, and we must never succumb to the temptation to think that we can do without any of them as we seek to enter into the blessedness of the Heavenly Kingdom through our great High Priest.

Today we commemorate St. John Chrysostom, whose ministry stands as a brilliant icon of how to integrate prayer and practical service in the Christian life.  St. John remains famous for his powerful preaching and interpretation of the Scriptures, his doctrinal and moral soundness, and his association with the Divine Liturgy.  Originally from the Church of Antioch, he became the Archbishop of Constantinople, where he imposed needed discipline on the clergy and boldly criticized the abuses of the rich and powerful.  He died in exile due to the harsh treatment he received for denouncing the corruption of a Byzantine empress.   His faithful life was not easy, and his example of holiness shines all the more brightly as a result.

In a society still influenced by pagan traditions that disregarded the basic needs and dignity of poor and suffering people, St. John stressed the importance of serving Christ in them.  Through his preaching and support of philanthropic ministries, he demonstrated that those assumed to be worthless and undeserving were those with whom our Lord identified Himself. He taught that, in the face of unmet need, it was impossible to be in communion with Christ without ministering to His hungry and sick body in daily life.   He knew that the Lord calls us all to be neighbors to one another, refusing to pass by on the other side when we can help our suffering brothers and sisters in practical ways.

In this respect, our Savior’s ministry was clearly made present in St. John’s life.  In today’s gospel reading, Christ refused to allow the lawyer to narrow down the list of people whom he had to love as himself in order to find eternal life.  St. John proclaimed the same message.  Even as today’s parable criticizes the religious leaders who passed by on the other side, St. John denounced distorted forms of spirituality that separate true faithfulness from how people live in the world, especially in relation to meeting the urgent needs of others.

The character of the good Samaritan is an image of Christ in many ways.  The same religious leaders who rejected and despised Him ignored the true needs of the people before God.  Purely out of self-emptying love for us, Christ comes to bind up the wounds of those corrupted by sin and enslaved to death.  Out of compassion, He nourishes us back to health with His own Body and Blood and anoints us with holy oil for forgiveness and strength.  He makes us members of the Church, the inn where we continue our recovery through the gracious mercy shared with us through the Holy Mysteries. He Himself forgives our sins every time that we humbly repent in Confession.  The only limits to our healing are those which we place on ourselves, for there is no other boundary to His transforming love for those who bear His image and likeness.

The vocation of a bishop is to manifest the fullness of Christ’s ministry.  As a bishop, St. John was an icon of Christ mostly obviously in presiding as a high priest over the church’s celebration of the Divine Liturgy.  Our Lord is the true High Priest Who has ascended into heaven at the right hand of the Father, where He ministers eternally in the Heavenly Temple.  We enter mystically into that heavenly worship when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy as we unite ourselves to His Self-Offering through the Cross, by which He conquered death and brought us into the blessedness of the Kingdom.  In Him, we dine as guests at the Heavenly Banquet when we receive the Eucharist as living members of His Body, the Church.

St. John made clear through his preaching and witness that we must never think that worship, offering, and communion are merely religious rituals that somehow enable us to escape the world.  If we limit them in that way, then we will not truly commune with Christ for the healing of our souls, for He entered fully into our life and world for our salvation.  If we make our liturgical celebrations points of escape from living faithfully, we will become just like the hypocritical religious leaders in today’s parable who failed to see that they encounter our Lord in every neighbor who bears His image and likeness.  Perhaps they ignored the victim of the robbers because they were hurrying off to fulfill their religious duties in the Temple.  Perhaps we do even worse by ignoring the needs of our spouses, children, parents, and neighbors due to our own self-centeredness or obsession with our work, hobbies, or routines.  Perhaps we do even worse by passing by on the other side because we think that people in this or that circumstance deserve what they get and that their difficulties are not worthy of our concern.  Perhaps we do even worse by becoming so addicted to satisfying our cravings for pleasure and distraction that we have lost the strength of character to serve anyone other than ourselves.

By offering Himself on the Cross, rising in glory, and ascending into heaven, our Lord overcame the corruption of the human person enslaved to the disintegration of death.   He did so as the New Adam Who has made it possible for all to become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  As the God-Man, He has offered every dimension of Himself for our salvation.  Through His eternal High Priesthood, He calls us to ever greater participation in eternal life.  So great a salvation may not be limited to any sphere or segment of our lives.  We must offer not only bread and wine, but ourselves and all our blessings back to Him for the accomplishment of His gracious purposes for the salvation of the world.  We must live as those in communion with Him in every dimension of our lives.

Christ calls us all to become like the good Samaritan, binding up the wounds of our neighbors and refusing to narrow down the list of those whom we must learn to love as ourselves.  That is a necessary characteristic of a life lived in union with our great High Priest, for we must conform our character to His if we are truly to share in His life.  We will do so, not by disregarding prayer and belief, but by embracing the daily struggle to become living extensions of the Divine Liturgy.  We must become icons of the blessedness that we celebrate, especially as we share that blessedness with our neighbors. Like it or not, we are always celebrating a liturgy of one kind or another.  We are always offering ourselves to this or that.  Like St. John Chrysostom, let us refuse to think that we can rightly worship the Lord by confining our piety only to what we do in liturgical services. Instead, we must make every dimension of our life a point of entrance to the Kingdom of our great High Priest.  That is what it means to fulfill the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

 

 

 

 

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