Sermon of Archbishop Simon (Vinogradov, +1933) on the 26th Sunday of Pentecost
The Lord gave a parable: “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:16-20).
The rich man described in this parable is the image of a man who lives apart from God. Public life in big cities, with its ways of seeking to satisfy human passions, separates mankind from God and manifests the image of this rich man. But it is every believer in God who, devoting himself to worldly cares and alienating himself from church life, approaches this type to a degree, and even if he does not repeat the words of the rich man, shows in his actions that he does not remember God.
Still, if man entwined in life without God does not intentionally abandon God, if he has not yet lost his conscience and the spark of the fear of God remains in his heart, he is always able to turn to God again in an instant, and return to spiritual life. So it was with Zacchaeus the Tax-collector in the Gospel. He was likewise a sinner, who oppressed his compatriots for the sake of enriching himself, but when the Lord spoke to him, and came to his house, his heart softened, he confessed his sins before all and promised to make amends to his victims.
Zacchaeus’ conversion to God occurred as follows: the Lord, surrounded by a multitude of followers, was passing through the city of Jericho, where Zacchaeus lived. Zacchaeus also wished to see the Lord, and so, running ahead, climbed a tree by the roadside. But the Lord did not pass him by unnoticed, He addressed him and then visited his house, and the fruit of this visit was Zacchaeus’ repentance.
The enemy of mankind, the devil, knows that when sinners are under Divine grace, they can easily turn to God and correct their lives, so he tries to create circumstances, an environment in which they will not sense this grace.
Look at the city in which we live. On every street, every public area we are lured to eat, drink and be merry: “We have whatever it is you desire.” This is repeated every day in newer and newer forms, with more alluring ads. What is all this for? In order to keep mankind alienated from God and ensnared in sin, and if possible, catch the chosen few.
To eat, drink and be merry is not sinful in and of itself, it is in fact needed in some instances, but for the believer, consuming food must be accompanied by the memory of God and sanctified by the invocation of His holy name, and merriment must be limited by the fear of God and diluted by the sense of gratitude to Him. When people gather to eat, drink and make merry on a Saturday night or on the eve of a great holiday, or during lent, then it is clear that this is not done with the memory of God and without fear of God, for devoting time ordained for God on entertainment, or on daily matters when there is no need, is a direct violation of the fourth Commandment of God.
Even if you don’t commit a clear sin at this time, even if you don’t overeat, or get drunk, the very willingness to trample underfoot what is dedicated to the glory of God, to do so for the sake of something else, is unforgivably brash. No good intention can be used to justify this, for instance, a benefit event for a good cause, so often organized during lent and on the eve of holidays.
The Lord commanded us: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). For us it becomes the opposite. For the sake of collecting what is needed for life, that which is established by God for His glory and our salvation is ignored, the commandment for the children of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some may say that we find ourselves among foreigners here. We must become like them and behave like them, otherwise we will lose their support. Really? Have we departed from the Kingdom of God? No, we confess our faith in the power and glory of the Divine Kingdom. We begin Liturgy with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the Lord’s Prayer, in which we pray for our daily bread, ends with the words “For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.” Is it not clear that our surroundings, our environment, which destroys our Orthodox daily life, is being created by the enemy of our salvation? Are we to accept that he is mightier than our Savior Jesus Christ, and are we to forget the good promises of the Gospel and seek help where there is no Divine life?
Prophet Jerome, fretting that those leaders of Judea who had lost their faith in God sought the aid of Egyptians against the Chaldeans, spoke in Divine words: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). And we have two sins: neither belief in Providence nor fear of the Judgment of God is what guides us in life, but the effort to create something of our own and rise above others.
“O generation,” said Jeremiah, “see ye the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?” (Jeremiah 2:31).
Prophet Jeremiah denounced the Judeans for having forgotten God’s care for them, sought help from heathens. May we not also be denounced by these words, too.
December 9/22, 1929