of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
On the Third Sunday of Matthew
Feast of Saint Kyriake the Great-Martyr
and of Venerable Thomas of Maleon
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation
July 7, 2019
My Dear Sisters and Brothers, Beloved Children in the Lord!
The Third Sunday of Matthew coincides this year with the feast of two great saints of our Church, Saint Kyriake the Great-Martyr and the Venerable Thomas of Maleon. It so happens that these two saints lived in different eras: the Great-Martyr Kyriake lived in the fourth century and the Venerable Thomas in the tenth.
Throughout the month of July, the Church honors and celebrates the memory of a series of Great-Martyrs, such as the commemoration today of Saint Kyriake, the commemoration tomorrow of Saint Prokopios, Saint Euphemia on July 11, Saint Marina on July 17, Saint Christina on July 24, Saint Paraskeve on July 26, and Saint Panteleimon on July 27. One might even say that July is “the Month of the Great-Martyrs”—both men and women—who share certain characteristics in common: they were put to death after many tortures, and they suffered martyrdom in the era of the Church’s persecutions. They were martyred for their profession of faith in Christ during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, in a five-year period from about 300-305 A.D. At this time the official religion of the Roman Empire was one of idolatry and emperor-worship. It was also in this same period that Saint Demetrios the Great-Martyr in Thessaloniki gave his life for the faith.
The timing of these commemorations of the Holy Great-Martyrs throughout the month of July did not happen by chance. We should recall that on the First Sunday of Matthew (which was June 23 this year) we celebrate at the same time the Feast of All Saints. Our Church—the earliest ecclesiastical communities, the Apostolic churches from place to place—gathered themselves around the Holy Martyrs of the faith. They conducted the mystery of the Divine Eucharist on the actual tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs. The martyrs thus became living foundations for their Holy Altars, just because they had been glorified by Christ. For this reason, from the very beginning, the Church exalted the Great-Martyrs as role models, so that Christians might draw strength from their example and receive the protection of these heavenly intercessors. It is also for this reason that in the consecration of churches, we sanctify the Holy Table by placing portions of the sacred relics of martyrs inside of it. Our Church is and ever shall remain a Church of the Holy Prophets and Apostles and Martyrs, such as the Great-Martyr Kyriake, whom we celebrate today.
The Church lives on in continuity and in testimony to this Tradition. She confesses her faith in Christ also as a prophetic promise. She lives her faith as an apostolic eyewitness. She lives her faith as a testimony in the Holy Spirit. She lives her faith as a confession of martyrdom. She lives her faith as an ascetic vision! Thus was it so for the Venerable Thomas of Maleon. For he beheld the grace of Christ as a pillar of fire, just as did the Prophet Elijah. All the Saints hold fast the same faith, because they live and experience a foretaste of the glory and the Kingdom of God.
Let us turn now to the Gospel passage for today. It is a proclamation that our life in the Church is a continuation of the life of the Holy Apostles. The Apostles constitute eyewitnesses of the work and preaching of Christ in the world. Today’s Gospel reading is one portion of a larger passage in which Saint Matthew the Evangelist records those words which are well-known to us all, the Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes, the Law of Moses and the testimony of the Prophets are summarized and distilled. After that, Christ conveys the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father.” Thus, when Christ spoke the Beatitudes, then was this way of the new life made manifest; with the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God the Father, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ, those who hear Him are now the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is in today’s Gospel reading that Christ explains precisely to His listeners how they may be the salt of the earth. He explains to them how to become the power to preserve and to hold fast the faith in the one true God. He also teaches them how they can be the light of the world, calling them to rid themselves of evil thoughts, to put away selfish desires and to share their goods with one another. For when we wish to keep for ourselves alone those things which belong to the whole world, this results in inequality and the exploitation of our fellow human beings. This selfishness leads to brother fighting brother—to brother killing brother—and brings misery upon everything that God has made.
Christ, therefore, sums up human existence with His example of the eye. The eye is called “the lamp of the body,” because it is the organ by which information comes to us from the whole universe. With the eye, we behold all of Creation and our fellow human beings. This information which we take in with our eyes is processed by our mind and guides us to make decisions and take actions. The eye, the faculty of sight, we would say, is the chief bodily sense, the primary power of perception. And so for this reason Christ emphasizes the necessity for the eye to be clear and simple, full of light. Thus, we approach the world and our fellow human beings with simplicity. And in this simplicity we shall be free of selfishness, whether mental or material.
And this is why Christ gives as an example the birds of the air who live without storing up goods for themselves. The birds live by the Providence of God. Christ offers also another example from nature: the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow withers away. With these illustrations, He educates His hearers, and all of us, to become aware of our finiteness; to comprehend our creatureliness, just as the Fathers of our Church teach: so that we might put our trust in God and not be people of little faith; so that we may strive for our faith to blossom as righteousness in our Creator—to blossom, that is, in brotherly thoughts and deeds towards our fellow human beings. To blossom in a sense of confident reliance on the word of God, according to the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. So that we may be free from the egotistical mindset that we are better than our fellow human beings, or even the idea that we are somehow self-sufficient. For this would be a rejection of our very own existence! Our life is so limited in terms of time: And this is the common course of all humanity.
On the contrary, therefore, in light of these certainties of this world, Christ calls His listeners to seek first the Kingdom of God: not simply to seek some future condition … but a present reality. It is for this reason that Christ, after almost everything He says and after every good deed He does towards human beings, speaks of the Kingdom that comes [and the will of God that should be done]: “… on earth as it is in heaven.”
Finally, let us look at the Epistle reading for today. It is a passage that is read chiefly for commemorations of the many Great-Martyrs of the Church, and so we hear it again and again throughout the course of the Ecclesiastical Year. The Apostle Paul reminds all of us—both the Old Israel and the New—that we have a common ancestry, that we are all children of Abraham. It follows, therefore, that there can be no exclusion of anyone in any way; that the entirety of the human race is to be included, as was expressed by the prophetic word. This same word is both promise and inheritance for the unity of the whole world in Christ. In Christ, Who is the God of peace, as He Himself always gives the greeting, “Peace be with you all.” With these words, Christ sums up everything about righteousness in this faith we hold in common. To this faith we are called; we are invited spiritually together with all of the Saints, Prophets, Apostles, and Holy Martyrs who sought Him with their eyes. We are not merely hearers of Christ only.
God Bless you all!