Author: Fr George Dimopoulos
Source: Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions
“You are the light of the world”. (Matthew 5:1)
Today our Church celebrates the memory of the Fathers of our Church, who in the year 451AD assembled in Chalcedon of Bithynia for the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Six hundred and thirty bishops from all over the world gathered to condemn the heretical teachings of Monophysitism, which asserted that Christ had only one composite nature, (that was divine). In the Gospel Lesson appointed for today, is found in the 5th chapter of Matthew, verses 14-19. In these verses (an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus speaks concerning the clergy of His Church, and concerning all Christians as well.
The Holy Fathers of the Church, are those who have both observed the precepts of the Gospel in their own lives, and preached that same Gospel to the world. When we say “Fathers of the Church”, we refer to those who were specially gifted, particularly in the twin realms of holiness of life and correctness of faith. Holiness and wisdom must go hand in hand. Of the two, however, by far the most important is holiness. We have examples of Church Fathers who were not particularly wise theologians nor prolific writers, but who distinguished themselves by their holiness of heart and life. Yet who could name for us a Father renowned for his theological knowledge despite the fact that he was lacking in personal holiness? Of what value is science without virtue? Plato used to say that educated culture without virtue is not culture at all, but mere cunning. What good is theology without piety?
Christ said, “Whoever both does and teaches thus, shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven”. In other words, the person who accepts and applies to himself the teachings of the Gospel, and secondly preaches them to others, shall be called great, even if he is not particularly well-educated, and lacks the fine skills of homiletic elocution. The important thing is that the teachings of the Gospel be mirrored in our lives. The example of a consistently holy life is of infinitely greater value than the best sermon preached by one who leaves much to be desired in his moral life.
The Gospel, dear brethren, is a way of life, and the best Gospel sermon is a life of virtue and good example. Each of us is called to be an active member of the Church, a living example. Our Heavenly Father is a Person. Christ is a Person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. The Saints are persons. All serve as examples for us. Our Orthodox Christian Faith is not a formal lesson based on theories, axioms, or human word or wisdom; it is the living word of God, alive first of all in the earthly life of Christ, and secondly through the Saints and through us as well. The Church in the world is like a city built on a mountain-top is symbolic of our individual lives as Christians; the light is symbolic of our true belief and teaching. Our lives must illumine the world – our example must be permeated by our beliefs.
Who exactly are members of the Church? Only the clergy? Does Christ address only clergymen in the Gospels? Are they alone the city on the mountain, the light in the home? If such were the case, the great honour of the clergy would be totally eclipsed by the unbearable burden, to say nothing of the huge injustice. We all have our distinct place in the Church. The clergy lead the way, but the people must follow. They are the shepherds, but the people must be the sheep. Can there be a shepherd without sheep, or a general without soldiers? Each one of us is to be a teacher and preacher of Orthodox Christianity. Our best means of preaching is through our families – the members of our own households. The house of each Christian should resemble a temple, and their family life a Holy Liturgy. Children born and raised in joy and love, prayer and work, respect for property and law and order, are a living Liturgy, a sacrifice of praise. Surely this is the way to “let our light shine before men, that they may see and glorify our Father in Heaven”.
In the minutes of the Fourth Ecumenical Council we read: “We follow the Holy Fathers”. This is the order of Orthodoxy. The Apostles followed Christ, the Fathers followed the Apostles, and we follow the Fathers. Until us the Church of Christ is one unbroken chain. Let us keep this order, maintain this line. Let us remain close, faithful and dedicated to our Church, so that with the Apostles and Fathers we may be with Christ. For to be joined to Christ is to be joined to God, and to be joined to God is to be joined to eternal life (theosis – union with God and to become godlike).