The Church is surrounded by a cloud of martyrs and other saints. On every day through the year, we honor their memory. However today, on the Sunday after Pentecost, we honor and celebrate all the saints together, both known and unknown. We commemorate those who loved and dedicated their lives to Christ in pure faith, no matter how they ended their earthly lives (be it martyrdom or in peace). If we can distinguish a common feature among all of them, I believe it is this spirit of sacrifice, which arose from their faith and love for Christ.
When we study the lives of the saints, we see that they were people who:
- sacrificed their possessions to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
- sacrificed their freedom and became like slaves in order to help souls to be saved.
- sacrificed their precious time in order to serve the sick, the elderly, orphans and other abandoned people who had no one to care for them.
- sacrificed the comforts that they enjoyed in their homes in order to preach the Gospel to others.
- sacrificed their royal thrones for the love of Christ.
- sacrificed even their very lives – millions of lives – in martyrdom for Christ.
So we can see how the saints serve as a model for Orthodox Christians today. They invite us to search our hearts in order to see if we too possess this spirit of sacrifice. We are truly living in a time when, as St. Paisios puts it: "the joy of sacrifice is not enjoyed by people today. They do not understand this ideal and they are bored of living. Manliness and self-denial constitute the driving force of human beings. If this force is lacking, then in its absence man is tortured."
In our time, the amazing and rapid advances in technology have had the effect of making humanity lazy. People do not wish to exert themselves and do what is needed, but are consumed by selfishness and an undue focus on “their needs” and “their rights”!
Orthodox Christians, however, cannot relate to people with this mentality. They know that the Lord Jesus Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He went so far as to wash the feet of His disciples, and in the end to sacrifice His life for us. This should move us to imitate this spirit of sacrifice of our Savior Christ. This is why St. John the Theologian writes: "because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16)
Many saints kept this principle of sacrifice to the letter, and sacrificed themselves for Christ and for others. Except in some rare cases, this sacrifice of our lives is not required of us living today. The sacrifices we are called to make in our daily lives are quite small in comparison. Usually, we offer our time, money and other material support to those who are in need. It is often the case that members of the same family are called to make such sacrifices for a harmonious family life. St. Paisios tells us: “The basis of our lives constitutes in forgetting ourselves in a positive sense and to think of others, to participate in their pain and in their difficulties. Not looking for an escape from difficulties, but for a way to help others, to give them peace. In other words, to acquire a tendency to give rather than to take and to serve rather than to be served”.
It is good to look for that which we owe others and not what others owe us. To seek how to bring peace of mind to other people, instead of what would make our minds peaceful. When a person has a spirit of sacrifice, they do not grow weary or feel burdened. They rejoice! This sense of self-sacrifice brings great joy to the person who has it. It is only when one sacrifices themselves for others, that they can be united to Christ, because Christ is the supreme Sacrifice. This constitutes our great love for Christ, and nothing moves God more than the noble act of self-sacrifice in the face of people’s pain and need. The more a Christian forgets themselves, the more God remembers them. This is the spirit of our saints, which they teach us by word and example. "You will not lose anything of what you sacrifice for the sake of the Lord, because you will be rewarded a hundredfold", says St. Mark the Ascetic. The first place in Heaven belongs to those who sacrifice for others, and imitate Christ in their sacrifice!
My dear brothers and sisters, every sacrifice we make for Christ and for others must not be done with reluctance or grumbling. In order to have value, it must be done willingly and with a warm heart. Only then can a Christian receive an abundance of Grace, divine power, and the direct protection of God. May all the saints we celebrate today inspire us with the spirit of sacrifice, for the sake of our Lord and our brothers and sisters. Amen.