3rd Sunday After Pentecost - sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
There is a famous quote which states: "Behind every great man, is a great woman". This is very true, as we see many people who become successful cannot do it on their own. They need someone to help them, to guide them. Usually this person is a spouse, but it can also be parents who help shape and form their children. This is true in our Church as well as we have many great Saints who are holy precisely because they had a holy upbringing. One of these Saints is commemorated today, who is the blessed Augustine of Hippo. Through the prayers and action of his mother Monica, who is also a Saint, he became numbered among the Saint of the Church. While he is thought of predominantly as a western saint, he is also revered in the Orthodox Church. It was in fact our beloved Saint John Maximovich who brought back the tradition of venerating and reading the lives of Western Saints pre-schism.
St. Augustine was born in the area known in the modern era as Algeria. His father was a pagan, but his mother was a faithful Christian from her upbringing. He was raised as a Christian by his mother. However, he abandoned Christianity to join a sect called the Manicheans, which is closely related to Gnosticism. This all happened when he went to study in Carthage. His life was full of many sinful exploits. All this, and his mother kept praying for him throughout this time. He would travel around the world to various places, and yet his mother was not far behind. She would follow him, always trying to have him come closer to the faith. Eventually the blessed Augustine met St. Ambrose of Milan, and there his faith became renewed. Even though he was almost convinced of the truth of Christianity, he still latched onto his sinful life. He was quoted as saying: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet". He would finally be free of his past life when he heard a voice telling him to take up and read. Turning around, he only saw a book of the scriptures. When he opened the book the first thing he read was: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:13-14). Reading this, he left behind all his sinful ways and he eventually became the Bishop of Hippo.
When St. Monica died, St Augustine said about her: “If any one thinks it wrong that I thus wept for my mother some small part of an hour – a mother who for many years had wept for me that I might live to thee, O Lord – let him not deride me. But if his charity is great, let him weep also for my sins before thee”. She had wept and struggled to have her wayward son come back to the faith. And yet all this time, she had faith in God that his life would be turned back towards the true faith. This reminds me of the Gospel reading today which said: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" (Matthew 6:25). It is true in fact, there are so many hardships that come in our life which make us want to lose our faith. And yet, this is exactly where we should be strong and have patience.
So beloved, let us emulate both St. Augustine and St. Monica. As St. Monica chased after her son and pursued him, even to distant lands and various places, let us do the same thing as well. Let us pursue God as she pursued that which was dear to her. We should also take up the example of St. Augustine, who put off his sinful life and embraced God fully. We should put off and fight against all the sins which constantly drag us down, such as lack of prayer or not fasting as we should. Let us follow God in any way we can and always have our lives centered towards Him and as much as we can. We should put our absolute trust and faith in God. He will take us to places where we might not want to go. We will have to do things that we do not want to do. And that is okay as long as we trust in Him and know that where He is taking us is what we need for our salvation. So as we struggle in this world, let us remember the final works in the Gospel reading today: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33). Pursue the kingdom of God, flee away from sin and embrace righteousness. Doing these things will give us the fruits of eternal life. St. Augustine put it best: "Our hearts shall ever restless be, until they find their rest in Thee".