A homily for the Sunday of All Saints of North America
On Pentecost, we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit, which changes the pattern of reality. No longer are we stuck in a cycle of sin and death. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. The following Sunday, we commemorated All Saints, which shows us the logical conclusion of Pentecost: saints are made by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Today, our Church helps bring this theme home. We celebrate the saints who lived on the turf of our American homeland. They came from all different walks of life, honoring God and serving the Church in various ways.
Our Lord said Be ye holy several times throughout the Torah (the Old Testament books of Moses), and the holy Apostle Peter reiterates this message to Christians in his epistle (1 Pet. 1:16). The word holy in Greek is agios, which is the same word that they use for saints. Saints are the holy ones. These men and women realized that the call to holiness was a command, not a suggestion.
We are meant to internalize their example, as we sang last night in Vespers:
The precious feast of the saints of North America has dawned for us,
to illumine us and to set our hearts on fire,
to imitate their godly lives,
and to follow their example of zeal for God.
The call to sanctity and holiness is not just for the saints, it is for all of us. It is life fully lived in the Holy Spirit. If we aim for nothing else in life, we will not do wrong. After all, oneness with God is the entire purpose of our existence. God is holy, and if we are to unify with Him, we too must be holy.
This unification happens through adoption, Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15). This adoption by the Divinity, this partaking of the of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), has come to be called theosis in the Orthodox tradition. We are meant to be deified by grace so that what our Lord is by nature, we might be through adoption (ref#).
If we begin to grasp this perspective of reality, it changes everything – including our interactions with others. We no longer can look at one another with indifference. We are surrounded by potential gods and goddesses. CS Lewis speaks about this in The Weight of Glory:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Every day, we are faced with a choice: will we receive the Holy Spirit through repentance, confession of our sins, living virtuously, and loving others? Or will we try to forge our own path to fulfillment, chasing the desires of this world, repeating the pattern of brokenness that began with Adam and Eve and continues to this day?
The saints of North America showed us it is possible to live in this land and become one of the holy ones. We no longer have an excuse to settle for anything less.
I created the photo collage above from the work of Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934). I chose her work because she photographed ordinary (she especially esteemed motherhood). Since this homily is about how we as ordinary people are called to sanctity and deification, I decided to portray ordinary Americans (albeit, classical photos) rather than an icon of saints. We are all called to become saints, and to recognize the potential sanctity of others.