In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Welcome to our visitors today. It is the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost today, and on this day we read the story of the widow of Nain, or more correctly, that of her son, who was raised from the dead by our Lord Jesus Christ.
This also is a great day in our church, because Bishop Jonah of Manchuria has been glorified as a Saint. The main services for him are in San Francisco and Chicago, and we sang his tropar today, and we number him among the saints. Of course, we knew he was already a Saint, because of the miracle that occurred on the day of his death.
We will talk more about this after liturgy, because we will have a Molieban beseeching St. Jonah for help, and then I want to read his life. It might be a little long, but then, after all, we do not have very long in this life, so we must spend the time we have fruitfully. Reading about the saints, those who inspire us to do good and avoid evil, is one the best ways to spend our time.
Our Lord tended to do things in a stepwise fashion. He revealed Himself by degrees. This is a principal in the Christian life. God reveals Himself slowly, as we can bear Him.
“God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us”, so it says. This is what the Lord did in His ministry. He revealed Himself bit by bit. In the beginning, He was born as a babe, merely a babe in swaddling clothes, and there was nothing spectacular about Him at all, except for those who knew how He was conceived, and that was not well known at the time. Except for those who saw the star, and only those who were worthy saw the star, and we know the star was an angel, don’t we, from the Holy Fathers. It was not a physical manifestation in the heavens, it was an angel who guided the wise men from Persia, whom Daniel had prepared and told to expect the Messiah.
Our Lord, just before the miracle we have before us today, had cured the centurion’s servant . You remember the story. Our Lord is walking toward the centurion’s house, in order to heal his servant, who is almost dead. The centurion hears of this, and send some friends to Jesus with a message. This soldier, through his friends, with humility pronounces himself unworthy to even have Christ “under his roof”.
The friends continue delivering a remarkable message: “Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”
And Our Lord said, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”, and healed the servant immediately, without even seeing him. Later, this man, Cornelius, who was a man with a good heart, was enlightened by the Apostle Peter, and that story is given in the Acts.
Our Lord healed his servant right then and there. He did not heal him by walking to him, He just spoke the word, and the servant was healed. A time before this, Our Lord healed the mother in law of the Apostle Peter, when He was in her presence. She was in a fever, probably not altogether near death, but nevertheless, very sick and feverish.
Do you see how the miracles progress? And can you can see why our Lord raised the dead, healed the sick, stilled the waves? All these miracles are meant to show us who He is, so that we can believe in Him.
Our Lord comes into the city of Nain, right after he had healed the centurion’s servant, before which He had delivered His sweet discourse we know as the Sermon on the Mount. We mostly think of this when it is recounted in St. Matthew’s gospel, but the Apostle Luke also records it.
He is walking into the city, and He is walking along the road, just going from one place to another. People are following Him, because they heard of his miracles, they have seen them, and they have heard His sweet words. They were attracted to these sweet words. At least, they continued to be attracted, most of them, until they heard him say such things as “I am the bread of life”, and “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”.
Then they had trouble with Him, because He was saying things that their carnal minds could not understand. But this was, if you want to call it so, the “honeymoon” period of his ministry. Thousands of people were thronging about, watching our Lord’s every movement.
He comes into the city of Nain, and He sees a funeral procession of a man who had been dead quite some time, because he was about to be buried. This procession passes by Him. They coincide together. And so Our Lord says to the woman “Weep not”, and touches the bier.
Who is this who says “weep not”? Who has a right to tell a woman who has lost her only son, who is a widow, and has nothing more in this world for sustenance? Remember, in those days, to be a widow was to be truly poor. There was no financial safety net for such people. They were destitute if they had not a husband or a son. She was bereft of any help in the world. Not only had she lost her son, but she was also likely to endure a life of poverty in the future.
Our Lord says “Weep not”. We don’t have the right to say “Weep not” to someone who has lost their son, but our Lord does. Why can he say this? He had compassion on her, and knew what she needed. He knew he would provide what she needed.
He stopped the bier. He put His hand on the bier. The Fathers think this is very significant. By the way, I mention parenthetically here that when we talk about the scriptures, we who are appointed to teach , the priests, and preeminently, the bishops, we do so with fear and trembling, and we consult the Holy Fathers. We don’t just make things up, since scripture is not a matter for private interpretation. We read from those Fathers who led lives of great sanctity, and we know some of their names. Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. John the Damascene, St. Theophylact of Bulgaria, and many other Fathers, who agree, even in minor points of theology. We read these fathers before we start to talk so that we do not make a mistake, and say something that is heretical, or say something that is not edifying, and even then, may God preserve us and you when we make mistakes.
Our Lord touches the bier. There is great significance to this action. We do not have a particular icon in the church, but one of these days, hopefully, we will have it – it is called “Sweet Kissing”. It shows the Mother of God, with our Lord kissing her on the cheek. It is a very tender and evocative icon. It means the same thing as what He meant when he touched the bier – His great love for humanity. After all, He became a man. He took on our flesh, not just to show solidarity with us, not just to be an example to us, but to transform us, because He loves us. He is not an aloof God. He is right here and now, as He was right there, and He touched the bier to show us His great love and to show how He would transform us as He Himself had transformed His own flesh. He was made of the same stuff we are made of you know, the same flesh, also being God, but the flesh He wore is the same flesh as we have, or the same flesh, should I say, as we will have in the eighth day, because He will transform us, if we live in the way. This is the way that He walked.
This man, this dead man, was fortunate to be in the way of Christ. After our Lord touched the bier, He then said dogmatically, “Young man I say unto thee, arise”. He could have said something else, perhaps a bit less dogmatic. He could have said, “Young man, be risen from the dead”, but He said “I say unto Thee, arise”. Why should He say such a thing? Because He is the Lord. He is the One who said to Moses, “I am”. He is the uncreated one. He is our Savior, and He shows us this by this miracle, and by His presence. Even those who hated Him knew that, He does speak as the scribes and the Pharisees. He speaks with authority. And how did He speak with authority? Because He was and is – authority. He is God.
We have a principle in the church. You cannot give what you do not have. This is very true.
Parents, if you want your children to grow up without passions, to be without anger, or to be obedient and God-fearing, if you are still filled with anger, or not obedient, or do not fear God, do not expect your children to learn these virtues from you. You wont be giving them what you don’t have. A priest cannot ordain. Only a Bishop can ordain. He has something a priest does not have. Christ can give us so much, because He has an abundance.
So He says to the young man, arise, and He gives the young man to his mother. He starts to talk, and the fathers tell us that the reason he sat up and began to talk right away is so those around him would not think that our Lord was a sorcerer. He was not glassy eyed, he did not look like he was drunk, or on drugs. The man was completely risen from the dead, and was ready to begin his life anew. Surely, indeed, he had much to ponder in the rest of his life. We are not told what happened to him from that point on.
The people who saw this miracle had a great fear upon them. They said “ a great prophet has risen up among us, and God has visited His people”. And they were correct, but they also did not know the fullness of the truth concerning Christ.
Remember that God is revealing Himself to them, just as He does to us, according to what we can bear. Do you remember the story of the talents that we spoke about recently? The man who had five talents, later increased to ten, and then to eleven, and then, really, infinitely – that man had greater talents at the beginning because of his greater love for Christ. So Christ filled Him more.
The man started with a few talents, and went higher,. And we should start with some number and go higher, and never lose talents, and bury them ion the earth, and blame our Lord because we do not use the grace that He has given us.
Remember that is what a talent is – the grace that God gives us to follow His commandments.
What is the point of the Christian life? It is to know God, isn’t it? It is to obtain our salvation.
And how do we know God? By becoming like Him. We follow His commandments. It is impossible to be a Christian and not to follow His ways, and do the things that He tells us. He says this over and over again. Every page of scripture speaks of this. If you say you believe, act like it! Your faith is known by how you live, how you think, how you act.
These people did not quite know Christ yet. They knew that He was very unique, and extraordinary, but they did not quite understand that He was the God-man, and that when He said “Young man, I say to unto thee, arise”, that He was the one, the Messiah. He had to show them many, many times, with many miracles, and many sweet words, and even some did not understand until much later.
We have St. Paul speaking of how he was one born “out of season”, as he says. He was born out of season because he persecuted the Christians for a great length of time, and killed many hundreds of them, if not thousands, and with blood on his hands, on the way to Damascus, he was visited by the God-man, Jesus Christ, and his life was changed. It took him quite some time, but we believe that he certainly made up for that time, by becoming a great apostle.
We can see several things we should learn from this short passage. We can see many other miracles in the scriptures. When we read them, do they make an effect on us, do they change us?
What do we see? First of all, there is something earlier in this passage that we have not touched on, but need to, because it is very, very critical. Our Lord touched the bier, and they that bear Him stood still. Stood still , because of obedience.
If we do not stand still in the Christian life, our Lord will not touch us, our Lord will not change us. We must stand still. And what is it that we must do when we are standing still? Be obedient, and listen to our Lord.
Why was this man raised from the dead? Because he was in the way of Christ. What is this way? It is the gospel, it is what our Lord teaches us. Preeminently, He has taught us to love, and He has given us an apparatus as it were, to help us – the church. His body is where we must be joined, or else we are not in the way, and God will not touch us, and will not redeem us, and will not change.
So all these things that we know about as Christians, such as following the fasts, because they a prescribed for us, not by man, but by the Holy Spirit (the apostles fasted after our Lord was gone, and taught the church to do so), the Holy services, partaking of the Holy mysteries, reading the Holy Fathers, understanding all the doctrines and dogmas of our faith – all these things comprise being in the way, but we surely know that they are all useless if we do not change because of them.
If we do not change, it matters not what we believe, because the Devil believes. He knows. He knows the truth of the matter, better than most of us do, and he will not change.
Our Lord gives us many opportunities to change. The Gospels are one continual story after story of God showing Himself, manifesting Himself, showing His power, His wisdom. These people who did not know our Lord yet, at least many of them would learn because they would see other miracle, and our Lord would touch them in other ways, and they would come to an understanding. And then there are others, you know, who, when they came to a greater understanding, rejected our Lord. It is a mystery why one man and another act differently with the knowledge of God. This is something we do not know and cannot understand, only God knows – why some reject the truth even though they believe it. This is a hard thing to understand, and a hard thing to know.
The bishop that we glorify today, Bishop Jonah, lived a very extraordinary life in terms of the inner life in the church, but very pedestrian in it’s outer aspect. He died very young, before he was forty. He died of typhus, just like anybody else, with a fever. He had only begun his ministry in Manchuria. He was there about three years, and yet, he left an indelible print upon the Russian people and upon the church because he invested in young children, and those that had fallen away from the faith. Even to this day, surely you can find priests, and those who have lived pious lives or come back to the church because of his ministry. He only died in the late twenties.
His life did not look extraordinary to someone who would not be looking very carefully. This woman of Nain did not have an extraordinary life either, and yet extraordinary things happened to both of them.
The woman had her son raised from the dead, merely because her way coincided with Christ. Bishop Jonah gave his legs to a young boy who had lost the use of his, the night he died. He appeared in a dream to the boy and said, take my legs, I don’t need them anymore. This is one of the signs by which we know that he is sanctified and that God has received his repentance, and numbers him among those who please Him.
I want you to realize again , there was nothing extraordinary about his life externally. He just worked hard. He worked in an orphanage. He took care of children. He preached. He taught. He labored. He administrated. In the midst of all his work was Christ. He was a man with great love, and when you hear his testament and his life later on, you will agree that he is certainly numbered among the saints.
We can learn something from his life, so plain on the outside, or from the widow of Nain, that our life is just to follow Christ, simply and without pretense. God will indeed do miraculous things to us, if we just live as He has told us.
This is very simple, a lot simpler than we want it to be. We like to have things complicated. We like to have things difficult. It is very simple. Christian, what are you to do? You are to struggle to know Christ, and to know yourself. You are to struggle to love those who hate you. You are to struggle to learn God’s commandments, which are sweet, and to follow them.
You are not just to say that you believe, because that just puts you in the same league with the devil, but you also must follow what you believe. And you are to keep the fasts, you are to worship in the services with fear and with trembling, and with awe, you are to prepare yourself carefully for the mysteries. You are just to go on with your daily life, imbuing it with Christ, Who lives within you. If indeed, God ever gives you a mountain to climb, and some great work to do, then you will know it., And it will happen. Great works begin with very tiny beginnings.
When Bishop Jonah went to Manchuria, the people there were very faithless. He would begin the divine liturgy, and nobody would show up until after the Cherubic hymn, but he persevered. And his preaching was powerful. People saw something in this man that attracted them, and this something, of course, was Christ. So as he continued serving and preaching, in a very short while, the churches were filled to overflowing, and he was able to come up with vast sums of money to create orphanages and schools. At that time, the Russians in China that had been exiled were quite poor. There were children that had been sold into slavery, women being sold, dysentery, and disease … and typhus, from which our saint died. There were very bad conditions. Bishop Jonah waded into those conditions and changed people. He made people to see what it is they should do with their life, and follow Christ. He just did it by being a Christian, by believing what he was doing. By laboring.
I don’t know why this word “labor” is misunderstood so much among those that call themselves Christian today. Perhaps the greatest heresy of our day, and of all time is the divorcing of … belief from action.
This is greater than the heresy of Arianism, which if you are a student of heresies, and you should be, as a Christian, so you can know how to avoid them, leads to this great heresy, since Arianism separates the flesh from the spirit. We Christians don’t do that! The flesh and the spirit are joined. So as we believe, so we should act, but so many believe and act differently, and have no qualms about this. This heresy has infiltrated all levels of life.
We cannot have this heresy in our life! We must follow what God has taught us, or we cannot call ourselves Christians. And if we follow what God has taught us, most days it will not be spectacular. We will have struggles, we will be victorious in some, we will fall in others. There may be some passion or sin that has a hold on us for a long period of time, and we fall again and again and again.
How in the world can we say that we are making any progress when that happens? Oh, indeed, we are making progress! God wants us to be patient, to endure and to struggle. But we must struggle in truth, according to what has been revealed in truth! If we struggle in something that is not true, then it is of no benefit to us, except perhaps, that when we come to our senses, we will be ever grateful to God that He has delivered us from our previous life, before we were Orthodox.
Let your way be in Christ’s way. This is the meaning of this scripture for today. Let your way be in Christ’s way, follow what He teaches you. And when He touches you, stand still and listen. Listen to what He commands you to do. Don’t consider anything He says to you, through His church, to be a suggestion. The young man did not consider our Lord’s words to be a suggestion when He told him to arise. Nothing our Lord tells us is a suggestion. It is an order, from a king.
Check yourselves every moment, which way are you proceeding on? If you are proceeding on the way that is Christ’s, then He will fill you. He will change you, He will enlighten you, He will raise you from the dead. If you deviate from that way, whether it be by incorrect belief, or pride, or not trying to struggle against your sins, then you will not meet Him, because He will not be there. Stay on the way of Christ. Stay on the royal path. And then stand still, and listen, and God will help you.
And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. 7:12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. 7:13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. 7:14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 7:15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. 7:16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people
Priest Seraphim Holland St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 This homily was transcribed from one given On September 20th, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel appointed for this day is Luke 7:11-16. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.
 Bishop Jonah was officially glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia on September 20, 1996, according to the church calendar, which is also the day of his repose (1925)
 Luke 7:6
 Luke 7:7-8
 Luke 7:9
 Acts 10:1-48
 Matthew 8:14-15
 John 6:35
 John 6:51
 2 Peter 1:20
 Luke 7:14
 Exodus 3:14
 Matthew 7:29
 Cf. Luke 7:16
 Matthew 25:14-30 (Read on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost)
 Luke 7:14
 Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8
 Acts 9:1-8
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