One day a Sunday school class was discussing the topics of sainthood and saints. The children were riveted to the teacher’s presentation, as they listened to the wondrous miracles and acts of personal sacrifice which were associated with the saints. As the presentation ended, it was time for the children to ask questions. All but one child asked a question and received their answer from the teacher. Little Suzy was the only child who sat silently in her chair looking around with a puzzled look on her face. Suzy was normally quite vocal and had opinions about everything, but she sat there silently listening to what the other students had to say. For homework, the teacher asked the students to answer the following questions - who are the saints and what does it take for someone to attain sainthood? But before class was dismissed, the teacher took the children to their church next door to show them the icons of the saints they had just talked about.
It was a bright sunny day, when the class entered the church. The children began to walk around and look closely at the icons placed on stands, on the iconostasis and painted on the walls of the church. But Suzy wasn’t paying any attention to that, instead she was standing in the middle of the church mesmerized and consumed by something else. Her eyes were fixated on the beautiful stain-glass windows. The bright sunshine was piercing through them creating a sparkle of different colors with an unbelievable brilliance of the images of the saints depicted there. Suddenly, little Suzy raised her hand and excitedly yelled out: “I know who saints are!” “They are the people who let the light of God shine through them!”
Indeed, on this second Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate those who let the Light of Christ shine through them brightly in the land of Ukraine.
We remember all those who have gone before us and who have fulfilled God’s plan for humanity here on earth. Those who have answered the call from God to join Him, and became His hands, legs, eyes, ears and voice in this world, brining God’s love, grace and salvation.
On this day we not only commemorate those saints who are well known, but we also remember those whose names we don’t know; who are not officially recognized by the Church (Canonized), but nonetheless attained the Kingdom of Heaven, by the grace of God, and are essentially saints!
The Ukrainian nation from the beginning of its Christian era had a certain God giving role in raising saintly people. It’s worth mentioning that nowhere in the world is there another place that has produced more saints than the Kyiv-Caves monastery. In addition to the 123 incorruptible remains of saints who lived their saintly lives inside the monastery walls, there are also 61 myrrh-bearing skulls of unknown Saints preserved there with the Fathers of the Caves.
However, the theme of this Sunday goes well beyond a celebration or commemoration. It is probably the only Sunday of the church year that hits us right in between our eyes with a sober reminder and maybe even a certain degree of condemnation on what we, as Ukrainian-Orthodox Christians, are missing in our life today. We are missing the zeal or desire of personal sainthood!!!
How do we know that? It’s how quickly and easily we surrender to the ways of this society, rather than staying affirmed to the Divine teachings and sacred traditions of Holy Orthodoxy.
St. Apostle Paul very often in his letters addressed the first Christians as “saints”. At that time they were still alive and there was not a standard process of canonization developed yet in the Church. But he called them “saints” anyway…Why? Because they were different and willfully “separated” from the sinful ways of the world around them. The original meaning of the word “saint” (Agios in Greek) – means different, separated and exempt from common use. Undeniably, the first Christians were different from the rest of their society in the way they treated each other, and those around them; in the how they put Christ and His Church above all other earthly matters and in the way they lived and how many of them died.
They were not sinless, however by the grace of God they strived to elevate themselves above the sinful ways of society. The light of Christ shined through them intensely in the darkness of sinful and perverted cultures of those days. This same light penetrated the darkness of sin throughout generations of our ancestors being produced by the saints of our motherland Ukraine beginning from Saint Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Volodymyr and Saintly Princess Olga.
Now, let’s ask ourselves:
How different are we in this sinful world around us? How much of God’s light do we let shine through us?
Are we dedicated to the Truth of God and Holy Orthodoxy or to lies and empty promises of today’s society?
These are the questions that we should try to answer on this Sunday of all Saints of Ukraine.
This world needs saints more than ever before. We live in time of raging Neo-paganism in this country. There are many people who call themselves Christians, but look how Un-Christian and Un-Godly this world had become. Change is much needed before it’s too late for us personally and our society in general. We have to stand up and lead the way as Ukrainian Orthodox Christians with over a thousand year long tradition of producing saints. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why the Lord brought us here to the shores of North America, as He said: “You are the salt of the earth…” (Mt. 5, 13), “You are the light of the world….” (Mt. 5, 14), and “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5, 16)
Christ told us last Sunday what it takes to become a saint, so that the light of God may shine through us. There were three key points that our Lord made: confessing Him openly, loving Him supremely, and following Him self-sacrificially with determination and endurance.
The time to act is now… Yes, we are sinful and have evil inclinations in our souls. But if a person is striving for God and His Truth, if that striving is sincere, deep and real, then the Lord will see it, come to meet them to make a connection of the human soul and God’s grace – this same grace of the Holy Spirit that descended on the Apostles on day of Pentecost. This connection is called holiness or eternal life. But it doesn’t stop there. This grace begins to shine and spread around the saintly person, which continues even after their physical death.
So today, as we commemorate all the Saints of Ukraine, let’s take a closer look at our Saints and become conscious of one simple fact that, if we desire to be saved, have life eternal and help others to achieve the same in what we call our homeland now, we have to become saints, for only then will the light of Christ shine through us and illumine the way of salvation to those around us, even all the way to the Heavenly Kingdom of God, of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in Essence and Undivided.
V. Rev. Anrrii Pokotylo
St. Mary Parish, New Britain, CT