For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts.
Last week was All Saints Sunday. Today commemorates the feast of all local saints – in Russia it’s All Saints of Russia, in Serbia, All Saints of Serbia. Here it’s All Saints of America. We loose site, I think, of the point, however in our youth. The church here is less than 200 years old and our American hymns list all the saints that have been glorified in our country and in Canada.
Rejoice, O continent of North America, illumined by the holy Gospel!
Rejoice, every province, state, city and town,
which raised up citizens of the heavenly Kingdom!
Rejoice, our venerable Father Herman, first saint of our land!
Rejoice O Martyrs Juvenaly and Peter,
for your blood has watered the seed of faith planted in Alaska!
Rejoice, O holy Hierarchs: Innocent, Tikhon, Nicholas and Raphael!
Rejoice, O holy Fathers Alexis, John, and all righteous priests!
Rejoice, All Saints of North America,
for your light has shone forth to the ends of the earth!
We beseech you to pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
However, to list by name all the saints glorified in Russia or Greece, or any of the Elder countries of our faith, would take much longer than even we Orthodox are used to talking in Church! Today is not a day to celebrate just the actions of the local church body (one gets the sense that in America, the OCA is making political hay with this feast). Today is a day to celebrate all the holy men and women in out lands…
Rather than the saints who have “shown forth” in ways that we can see, who are the saints of America that the Church has not seen?
Be sure to weave in the verses from Saint Paul: this isn’t about Christians… ands this feast certainly isn’t about Orthodox Christians. This day is about all those who “do instinctively what the law requires”.
We probably need to ask what are the works that the law requires? Did St Paul imagine that there were gentiles who had gotten themselves circumcised and kept the Sabbath and a Kosher kitchen – even thought they had never heard of the Torah? Probably not: I doubt not but that the Gentiles he was thinking of we polytheists, “idolators” in the Jewish mind. But they manage to “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God”.
And we, ourselves – I think especially of Orthodox Converts in America – might go looking for those who do what the law requires – as people who are venerating icons properly, who know how to fast keeping all the rules. Certainly that leaves out all the sloppy ethnic types who are, at least here in Buffalo, even now, celebrating their ethnic festival, eating meat and what not in ways that Ain’t Really Orthodox! Makes you feel good that you skipped the dairy in your coffee, eh?
My friend Ana Hernandez used to say to me, “sometimes the Pagans are better Christians than the Christians.”
Again: we’re not talking about “Works righteousness” here. We’re talking about men and women who show the power of God in their lives without even knowing it.
The Akathist of Thanksgiving, that we sing on the last wednesday of every month, says,
The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!
And hearing that I think of the awe that I have watching the wonderful series, “Cosmos” by Dr Carl Sagan. Or any of the BBC or PBS series on animal life such as Nature or Life or planet Earth. I can not watch one of these things without singing (while sometimes weeping) “How glorious are thy works, O Lord, in wisdom hast thou made them all!” You – secular scientist – have brought me to my knees in awe as surely as the iconographer who painted the image of the Theotokos of the Cup. Even without desiring it or willing it, the light of God shines through your works!
Who else lets the light shine?
It is, perhaps, de rigueur to speak of Martin Luther King, but we might also wonder about others, even less popular. What about the founders of the Haight Ashbury free clinic or the Doctors who work there, what about the founders of soup kitchens or those who work with migrant workers and defend them from our racist attacks and greedy corporations? What about those who died to give peace or those who raised up the standard of peace when all cries were for war?
Who are the saints who shine in our lands?
Eleanor Roosevelt? Black Elk? Chief Seattle?
Who are they who – even not knowing the rules – manage to be better Christians than even the Christians?
Who showed a generous hospitality even when invaded and conquered?
Who turned the other cheek and prayed for their enemies even when the enemies were us?
Who lit the way when all was dark?
Who used their skills to improve the world even when we were not wanting their help?
And against all the yeses for people you might expect, I imagine the millions of slaves and indentured servants, the migrant workers and undocumented immigrants, chinese railroad workers and native american warriors who have through out our history and even to now are giving their lives in the gentle Christ-like ways of Passion Bearers.
As the hands of “good, white Americans” make martyrs of millions.
Today is All Saints of America. And our Icon shows – as you might expect – a handful of respectable men in clergy drag plus one young boy.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, however. Of every tongue and tribe and colour.
If we can only see.