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Sermon on the twentieth week of Pentecost

Dear brothers and sisters!

Jesus Christ, with His Resurrection, conquered death and showed that the death of the body is only a transition from one state to another – from a temporary life and a passing one, to eternal life. The Lord performed many miracles to establish faith in the future resurrection of all the dead. The Bible describes the resurrection of people by the prophets, through the faith of their loved ones. For example, the widow’s son was resurrected by Prophet Elijah in Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the Shunammite’s son was resurrected by Prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37). For their faith, the mothers received their resurrected sons from the prophets. Apostle Paul, confirming this, says: Women received back their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:35).

Sermon on the twentieth week of Pentecost

Our Lord Jesus Christ performed many miracles on earth, preparing His disciples for the miracle of resurrecting Himself from the dead. He first showed His Divine power by healing Peter’s mother-in-law, who was already dying; then, at the humble request of a centurion, sent health to his dying child. He resurrected the daughter of King Jairus and also, Lazarus, who had already been deceased for four days. Our life is in the hands of the Lord, His Divine providence begins and ends with the flow of all life; as clearly witnessed by the miracle of the resurrection from the dead, described in the Gospel of Luke, which is read today at the Divine Liturgy.

The Gospel reading for today (Luke 7) begins with a recount of great human sorrow. In the small Jewish city of Nain, a widow buried her last consolation in her earthly life — her only son. There is probably no greater grief than a mother who experiences losing her only son: all of life seems to end, hope and support are lost.

In this great tribulation, the unfortunate mother, who had previously lost her husband, walked in tears behind the coffin of her son. It is said in the Gospel that a lot of people went with her from the city. Jesus Christ, followed by many of His disciples, went to meet the funeral procession and these two crowds of people met. In front of one crowd – Jesus; ahead of the other crowd – a bier with a deceased man. The Lord approached the funeral procession and the bearers of the deceased stopped. With pity and compassion, Christ turned His Divine gaze upon the grieving mother and said a speech that immediately announced that the end of her grief had come: Do not cry!

The Gospel recounts that Jesus came forward and touched the bier; the bearers stood still and He said, “Young man! I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak; and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us, and God has looked favorably on His people!”

St. Gregory Palamas explains this miracle in the following way: “The Lord, as truly having authority over life and death, by His command, resurrected a deceased man in the presence of all, in order to show everyone the saving faith. Seeing the mother, that is, the mother-widow, relying all her hopes on her only son and deprived of his untimely death, following the coffin and woefully beating her breast – the Lord is merciful to her. Oh, how could He not pity her, He Who is the Father of orphans and widows? He knew what He was going to do, however, the woman did not know Him, nor, much less, about what was going to happen. Therefore, most probably, she had no faith and did not ask anything from Him; neither did He demand faith from her; but the Almighty proceeded, and touched the bier to show that He possesses Divine, life-giving power by raising the dead. This was also how it was with the son of the widow in Zarephath: when his soul returned to him through the prayer of Prophet Elijah and the boy immediately cried, this was to prove that his resurrection was real,” concludes St. Gregory Palamas.

Death and hell heard the Lord’s omnipotent word and returned their sacrifice – the dead came to life and was returned to his mother. The evangelist does not talk about the immense joy of the mother – that is already clear. He only notes that this miracle led to the fear of all who were there and they glorified Christ, calling Him a prophet, for they could not yet understand that before them was The Savior Himself. The rumor about this spread to all the borders of the country and even reached John the Baptist.

This Gospel teaches first and foremost the Lord’s sympathy to human sorrow. The Savior walked all day to Nain, traveling a considerable distance through the mountains, under the heat of the sun, in order to console the grieving mother, saying to her: Do not cry! – and to revive her son. The Lord resurrected life, not only for the people’s own sake, but He healed and resurrected them for others – leading those also to the faith that opens us the path to eternal life, and He resurrected the son for the mother, over whom He had compassion, as evangelized.

St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Do you see how the Lord, taking pity on the widow mourning her son, used not only words of consolation, but He also took care of her by deed? That is how we should act, showing compassion not only in words, but also in deeds, because if we exercise benevolence with all our strength, then God in return will respond to us with goodness.”

Many have had to endure grief, like this mother. It happens, that a person lives in hope of lasting happiness and suddenly this joy and happiness disappears with the death of loved ones. Sometimes the person, like this widow of Naina, remains alone – everything suddenly disappeared, everything died, nothing remained. But we must hope that Christ is always there in great compassion and by His word, He can restore in our hearts everything that has disappeared as if without trace.

Therefore, we also learn from Christ to have compassion on human grief. He says: Do not cry! – instilling hope and comfort in earthly sorrow, reviving faith in the soul, giving strength to live again, because all misfortunes are overcome by God’s love.

With the loss of loved ones, believers have consolation in the truth that our departed fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children, in their departure from mortality, are in the hands of God. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord! (Job 1:21), said the righteous Job at the loss of his children. He was a courageous, deeply religious man, for he humbled [himself] under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6). Can we accept the loss of loved ones with the same faith and humility? Often we are overwhelmed with questions: why? for what? We sometimes do not find the answer. Only in the future life will we probably understand why we were parted with our close ones.

The Lord takes the souls of the dead, separating them from their mortal body, and keeps them in the bosom of His mercy – saving them for endless eternal life. The Lord keeps the souls of our dear departed ones and calls us to Himself. Sooner or later, our time will come to be in the place where we send off our loved ones. One after another, our loved ones leave this temporary life. A person who has lived a long life becomes much dearer to the hearts of people beyond the threshold of death than to those who remains here on earth.

The meeting of the delighted mother with the resurrected son is a prototype of our future connection with loved ones in heaven and solace in the meeting of loving hearts. Sometimes, when losing loved ones, we shed abundant bitter tears, and like those who have no hope in the Lord, ask Him to return the dead to us. But it is not fitting for Christians to grieve like this, for, according to a common law for all – saints do not escape death. For all of us sounds the comforting word of the Savior: Do not cry!

Christians should not grieve for the dead, Apostle Peter instructs. To ease our grief, we can pray in the Holy Church, which brings consolation to the souls of the living and the dead. With prayer, our soul gains hope in the joy of the true eternal life with the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven. The apostle says: For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).

We live and die according to the will of God, Who punishes and pardons, strikes and spares. This is what the Holy Scripture tells about the king and prophet David. When his child fell ill, David prayed to God for the baby, fasted and laid alone all night on the ground. Still, the child died, and the servants, afraid to convey this message to the king, said: “How can we tell him: the child has died? He may do some harm.” Seeing that the servants were whispering among themselves, David understood everything and he asked his servants: “Did the child die?” They replied that he had. David then arose from the ground, washed, changed his clothes, went to the house of the Lord and prayed. Returning home, he asked that he be served bread and he ate. The servants asked him: “What does it mean, that you act like this? When the child was still alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you arose and ate?” David explained everything simply: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept, for I said: ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:16-23). David knew that there is a God Who rules the living and the dead. He was devoted to the will of the Lord and he believed he would meet his son when he went to Him after his death; therefore, he did not give in to crying and sinful despair.

You can cry in different ways. There are tears about the loss of earthly goods; there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 24:51), that is, crying from despair; and there is crying for sympathy for physical suffering. When Jesus went to His death on the cross, the myrrh-bearing women mourned and wailed for Him, and he said: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children (Luke 23:28). The Lord called to weep for their souls and for their children, who sometimes do not want to know about God, or about eternal life, or about the death of the Savior on the Cross.

It should be noted here that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4). But those who weep are blessed for they weep for their sins, for their spiritual poverty, for it is said: Blessed are the poor in spirit.

The weeping and joyfulness of pagans, who do not know God, and of Christians, the people of God, are for different reasons. If death is terrible for a non-believer, for as Scripture says, the death of sinners is evil; then, for those who trust in God, death is deliverance from earthly sorrows, a transition to immortality and incorruption in the new, eternal life. We know that the righteous, when they die, will not perish and will not disappear – their soul will return to God. Their body will go to the ground, and in the second coming of Jesus Christ, the dead will rise, and the perishable will be clothed in immortality, and the mortal will be clothed in immortality. We should not grieve, knowing that the dying are given the great mystery of God’s mercy, when our death is preceded by the death of Jesus Christ, Who in immortality gives us hope for deliverance, salvation and transition from the worst to the best, from grief and sorrow, to joy and bliss with the Lord.

Do not cry! – with these words the Lord addresses to each of us who loses their loved ones, because everyone will die, but everyone will be resurrected and will meet each other again. Do not Cry! – because the time will come when God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death: or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev. 21:4). It is fair for us to grieve only for those sinners who did not know God before death, who did not do the works of repentance, that is, they did not atone for their transgressions. But here too we must not despair, but pray for them with hope in the mercy of God.

Only here, in our present life, can we prepare our immortal soul for eternal life. Now is the time of prayer, repentance and crying for sins, because when we lose mortality, no one will help us – who will confess in hell? said the Psalmist. Although we are alive in our body, our soul may be dead because of countless unrepentant sins. The Lord calls some people dead, sending them to bury their dead (Matt. 8:22). Every unrepentant sinner has a dying soul that can perish and then remain forever in terrible agony. This dead soul of the sinner in this life can be resurrected only by Jesus Christ through faith and sincere repentance. The righteous will fall seven times, and he will rise; but the wicked shall fall into perdition (Prov. 24:16), says the Scripture.

Будем помнить, братие и сестры, и радоваться, что нашим Искупителем и Спасителем Исусом Христом побеждена смерть и нам всем даровано Воскресение. Прославим Бога в делах наших за Его великую милость к нам, грешным, поминая слова Господни: Тако да просветится свет ваш пред человеки, яко да видят ваша добрая дела и прославят Отца вашего, иже на небесех (Мф. 5, 16).

With prayer and repentance, brothers and sisters, we will purify and revitalize the soul that is being put to death. In order not to die forever, we will overcome the inclination to sin: sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must rule over it! (Gen. 4:7) – teaches the Holy Scripture. The Lord lives, and our soul lives by the grace of Christ and His death on the cross; and therefore, having risen in repentance, we will try not to die

again in sins, appreciating the supreme gift of God and listening to His call: Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:14).

We will try, so that all of us will rise in joy and eternal life, to be irreproachable and pure children of God (Phil. 2:15) and after the resurrection, be honored to stand at the Lord’s right hand and hear not a terrible voice that sends to eternal torment, but a merciful one, calling to the legacy.