Author: Fr George Dimopoulos
Source: Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions
“For I bear them record that they have zeal of God, but not according to knowledge”. (Romans 10:1-10)
Dear brethren, today is the Fifth Sunday of Matthew. One Sunday prepares for the next. Time passes as explicitly as the water runs from the river bed in order to get to the vast ocean. We of this life are like passengers running for eternity.
The apostolic reading of which we speak today is in the epistle to the Romans, chapter ten verses one through ten. Indeed, it is a superb passage. Paul speaks for that religious fanaticism which damages religion, any religion and nothing else.
As we all know, Paul was a Jew by heritage, a fanatic for the traditions of his father; a very severe persecutor of Christians. He was supplied with introductory letters from the Archpriest of Jerusalem, and he leaves for Damascus with one purpose in mind – to arrest the Christians there and bring them back to Jerusalem. On his way to Damascus, not far from the city, Christ appeared to him. Paul became the greatest figure of Christendom. The herald of Christ. The trumpet of Apostles to all Gentiles. No one before then had the power or strength to preach Christ to the idolatrous Gentiles. Paul turned the attention of his sermons to the ears of the pagan peoples. He wanted to bring them into the Christian family.
Nevertheless, his heart was fired by patriotic pain. He dreamed that all the Israelites would accept Christ, for Whom all the Prophets of the Old Testament spoke. But the Jews accused him as a denier and traitor of the Hebrew heritage. This is always a very easy accusation, which many people, even today, very easily and with much irresponsibility repeat against those who have the courage and the power to say the truth, to open new roads, to recognise the new times, the new circumstances. Of course, they have zeal of God, but their zeal is not according to knowledge.
St Paul was not a traitor or a denier of his father’s traditions. On the contrary, he felt a great desire and his daily prayer was a plea to save the people of Israel, to help them accept the Messiah, and to help them take the first position in the Christian Church, to become pioneers of salvation which took place through Jesus Christ. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they might be saved”.
Unfortunately his patriots did not want and they could not understand the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ. Of course, they had zeal of God, they were interested in religious matters. They cared only for the dry letter of the law. But their zeal was unenlightened and blind. It was an intolerant religious fanaticism and nationalistic pride.
A very great contemporary preacher writes concerning the religious fanaticism as follows: “Very unfortunately, many of the nations have such blind feelings, and especially those nations which history happened to bless with a great and huge heritage. They endanger them when they boast only of the fatherly traditions and pride themselves on the glory of their ancestors, to prove themselves unworthy of the history and this heritage. It is not sufficient to have zeal for our Orthodoxy and be proud of its national derivation, if we cannot keep and cannot continue this heritage with humility and faith. Otherwise, we will be likened to Jews of the days of St Paul, who had zeal of God, but their zeal was not according to knowledge”.
Really, my dear brethren, such zeal is better absent. It is said that the Communists and atheists of Moscow, in order to prove that God does not exist, use examples which they took from the lives of Christians, and which they exposed in the magnificent churches of Russia which they changed to atheistic centres, calling them museums of art. So they expose there the intolerance of the inquisitors of the Middle Ages, who, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, burned people in fires because they disagreed with them in religious matters. In another place, they expose the Crusades of the West against the East. What kind and how many destructions, slaughterings, knew the peoples of the East at that time. The Crusades also began in the name of Jesus Christ. In another place, they expose the luxury, the wealth, the prosperity, the gluttony of the popes, the bishops, the archbishops, the tzars and the Christian kings on one side, and on the other, the poverty and the sufferings, the starvation and pain of the peasantry. Behold, dear brethren, the over-zealousness. Zeal…but not according to knowledge, brings damage to religion and gives weapons to the hands of unbelievers and atheists, who throw it at us as arguments.
Brethren and friends, the Christian message and piety conquered the whole world, while wherever intolerance and fanaticism penetrated, there was created only enemies. Do we want to preach Christ? Do we want to preach Orthodoxy? Do we want to preach our heritage? Our superiority! Let us live to preach those things through our good works. Not only with our mouth and empty words. But with good works in our practical lives. Amen.