(Hebrews 11:33-40; 12:1-2)
As we celebrate all the Saints of the Church together, the reading for today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the struggles, feats and martyrdom of the Saints in the Old Testament, which were achieved by their faith in God.
St. Paul provides us with rich examples of the power that righteousness had in the lives of the prophets and those who came before us, such as when David defeated Goliath; or when Daniel closed the mouths of the lions; or the three Holy Youths of Babylon, who defeated the power of fire. Such acts are impossible by human standards, but were made possible by Faith. In addition, there are also those who have faced horrific martyrdom: "They have trial of mocking and scourgings, and of chains and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword ... they lived in deprivation ... they wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth "(verses 36-38).
It is the memory of these heroes of the Faith that we honor today, as well as the multitude of witnesses and Saints that have since come in Christian times. These include: The Confessors, who confessed the Faith “before Gentiles and kings” (Acts 9:15); The Hierarchs, who in a spirit of holiness and sacrifice, fed the flock in good faith which Christ entrusted them; The Monks and Ascetics, who, “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Finally, the simple people who lived in the world, with all of its temptations and unspeakable sorrows, but with their patience and trust in God overcame all and remained faithful to the end. These Saints are commemorated on the day of their martyrdom or repose throughout the year. There are also other Saints, who remain unknown to us and labored in obscurity. This was another reason that the Church established today’s feast, to honor ALL Saints to include these silent witnesses, in a great celebration of the spiritual fruits of the Holy Spirit.
It is important to remember that the Saints were not just Bishops, Priests, and Monks. There were also men and women who lived in the world. Their professions varied, to include grocers, gardeners, tailors, cooks and painters. For every glorious general like St. George or philosopher like St. Catherine, you also had the lowly soldier and illiterate commoner. More amazingly, there were also unlikely Saints: Executioners who tortured and killed Christians, magicians, prostitutes and others at the bottom of society who through sincere repentance (like St. Mary of Egypt), lived like Angels on the earth!
So when we see people who have families, with similar circumstances to ours, facing the corruption of the world in the Grace of the Holy Spirit (becoming Saints in the process), there can be no doubt that we can imitate them in this struggle. It is not impossible, because they too were like us, and they endured. St. John Chrysostom declares in his Homily to the Holy Martyrs, that the best way to honor the Saints, is to follow their lead: To honor them is to imitate them.
St. Paul the Apostle concludes today’s reading with this: "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of Martyrs let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (12: 1-2).
My dear brothers and sisters, as a Christian poet once said: "Inside us heroic blood runs, we are descendants of Martyrs." Keeping that in mind, let us always honor the memory of the Saints by invoking their intercession as we struggle in life, and always look to Christ as they did. In doing this, we can be found worthy to joyfully share in the heavenly Kingdom of God. Amen.