If you received your Church Calendar at the beginning of 2018 and flipped the page from August to September, you no doubt would have noticed the message that was written in red ink, right in the box for September 1st, which said “Church New Year”.
For those in our Metanoia classes, and those who rightlystudy their faith, we know that today marks the first Sunday of the New Liturgical Year! But we also notice that there was no party at times square in New York to celebrate this wonderful turning of the page. There were probably no house parties or champagne being opened this weekend. I am also willing to bet that later today when I greet Theophan who works at Snap Fitness, he will inform me that there was not an influx of new memberships yesterday, for all those new year’s resolutions to lose weight.
September 1st in the Liturgical calendar does serve an important role. It provides us with the opportunity to start off this new year of our Lord with a fresh mindset, allowing us to change the way we go about viewing and living in the world.
We begin this beautiful new journey today, with our Lord providing an invitation for us to join him in the joys and richness of the kingdom, through the imagery of the parable of the wedding feast. This invitation, like many of them in the parable, often goes unnoticed or ignored by so many of us, because it is a great temptation for us to let the temporal business of the field, and the momentary enjoyments of the earth, take precedent over the eternal joys of the kingdom. This is why so many priests weep…literally weep…after a lightly attended Liturgy, especially when they don’t know or are not told where so many of the flock has gone.
How can anyone ignore the invitation of the King? How can anyone put the eternal joys of the wedding feast second to anything else?
We celebrate today, the life of a wonderful Saint from the 6thCentury who spent his life refusing to let this festal invitation from God fall by the wayside. This saint was known as St. John the Faster. He was a person who woke up every morning and said: “Lord, I am here for you today…what do you need me to do?” This was his naturalresponse to the invitation he received.
St. John not only lived his life void of excuses, but he loved those who were entrusted to his care so much, that he didn’t let them make excuses as well. There is a fantastic story that occurred shortly after he was chosen to be the Patriarch of Constantinople. He was celebrating the great Feast of Pentecost, in the largest and most beautiful Church in the World, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. And it just so happened, that on the eve of the feast, precisely when Vespers was about the begin, there was a large horse race that was scheduled to take place in the Hippodrome, to which many of the people were flocking to, as opposed to heading to the Church.
St. John of course was mortified that so many of the people who were entrusted to his care, were once again ignoring the invitation to celebrate and be with God the King. So, in the middle of the service, he fell to his knees and prayed that the Lord would open their eyes to what they were doing. A few minutes later, there was an incredible storm that blew through Constantinople, complete with thunder, heavy rain, and hail, which made everyone run for cover. The horse race, by the grace of God was cancelled, and the largest Church in the world was packed the next morning for Divine Liturgy and Pentecost Vespers.
I love this story, because it showed that St. John truly loved his people so much, that he wanted nothing more for them in life, than to appreciate this incredible invitation that we heard about in the Gospels today. He knew deep down that our lives now, and our eternal life with the King, can be described in one simple sentence: We are alive when we attend the wedding feast…and we die when we deny it’s invitation.
We spoke last week in detail about bearing fruit and how this is done through our Love of God, and through our Love of each other. Next week, we celebrate the birthday of Mary, who in the hymnology of the Church is sometimes referred to as the “Bridal Escort of Holy Souls”. Out of her love for God, she accepts the invitation to the wedding feast, and out of love for us, she literally escorts mankind…guiding us all to the Love of her Son.
Escorting others to Christ is what Saints do to show love to the world. It is what St. John did in the story we just heard. It is what we are called to do. It is not enough to simply accept the invitation to “come and see”. We as saints must endeavor to escort others who are searching for truth and beauty, of which the world has never seen.
As this New Year begins, let us take our invitation to Divine Life more seriously than we have ever done before. Make this the year that we never allow the words “I have better things to do than pray” escape our lips. Show the world which is THIRSTING for beauty, holiness, and life, where to find the fountain of life. And most importantly, let us all not forget to send in our RSVP to the great Feast of Joy which surpasses all understanding.