Since ancient times, the Russian people have a saying ‘Words edify, but examples convince’, that is, while words in one way or another edify a person, a good example seen through real-life actions is what inspires people to do the same, and woe to the person whose deeds fail to live up to his words.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard the words of our Savior which were directed primarily to His disciples, and through them to all of us sinners, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16), that is, let your good deeds on earth shine before men, so that seeing them, people would glorify your Father in heaven.
These Gospel words remind us of what the heathens said about Christians in the first centuries of Christianity. In the beginning, the Jews, malicious enemies of Christians, tried to distort the Christian dogmas by using all kinds of slander. For example, they said that Christians get together for the sacrament of the Eucharist and slay infants in order to drink their blood. However, in the end, all these slanders were brought to naught, and, as contemporary historians asserted, crowds of heathens converted to Christianity. “Look at the kind of life these Christians lead!” said the heathens with great respect and amazement over what they saw. The Christians’ real-life examples convinced them to accept Christianity and imitate their way of life.
Looking at us today, however, do many people convert to our faith, to our Orthodox Christianity? In the Far East, Orthodox people lived among the pagan Chinese, and here they are surrounded by the heterodox. What can those people learn from us? That is the question! Holy Scripture not only says that our light should shine before the heathen, but there are yet more fearsome words. The Apostle Paul wrote sternly to his brethren, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24). How can this be? It is a known fact that when a Christian missionary once arrived in a pagan land and started to preach about Christ, people listened to him attentively and respectfully. But then, they said, “Tell us, were those people who first came to us from your country also Christians?” Not knowing what this was leading to, the missionary replied, “Yes, they were also Christians”. They said, “Then go away from us! Your Christians behaved in such an abominable way that none of us want to be Christians!” This was what happened.
And this was not an isolated incident. Instead of being a good example, Christians today are quite the opposite. They blend into their surroundings, living like everyone else, and our Orthodox Russian people are doing this all the time. They are no different from the heterodox surrounding them. By looking at us, no one could imagine how lofty and wonderful our faith really is.
How incredibly marvelous God is, in promising us eternal life, to reign with Christ for eternity, to eternally sing songs in joy and triumph in the never-waning day of the Lord’s Kingdom! How great and wonderful are His vows! Yet, by looking at us, can anyone imagine that we live with this expectation? Instead, we are totally committed to this life which has sucked us in. Therefore, every time you hear these words ‘let your light shine before men that they may see your good works’ remind yourself that these words were directed towards us, and that the Lord in due time, at the Dread Judgment, will seek requital if we did not set a proper example to others by how we lived our lives. May the Lord through His grace set us on the right path so that looking at us, other people may truly appreciate the greatness of the Orthodox faith and accept it as their faith also. Amen.
St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Sermons, Vol. II, pp. 216-217
With the blessing of Vladyka Iosif.
Holy Ascension Orthodox Church