Luke 7:36-50; Rom 10:1-10
The apostle today warns about those who “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God…” The question that we must ask ourselves then is; how do we discern what is the righteousness of man and what is the righteousness of God? How can we recognize the path that God sets before us and turn away from the false paths that are the invention of men? Remember how the Ethiopian eunuch answered the Apostle Philip who had asked if he understood what he read in the prophets. The Ethiopian said to Philip, “How can I understand unless I have someone to guide me?” He saw the truth that for those of us who are seeking Christ, it is necessary to have a guide who will show us the true way and warn us against the false path. In the Church we have many such guides: our parents, our godparents, our priest and confessor, our bishop and our spiritual elders in the faith who have more experience. Another great source of guides is the choir of the saints. From the lives and teaching of the saints we can see how they followed Christ and so follow in their footsteps. Today we can look at three guides that will help us in our Christian life.
The first of these guides is not someone remembered by name in the choir of the saints, but who is set before us in the Gospel by our Lord: the woman who was a great sinner, but who came and washed the feet of Christ with her tears and wiped them with her hair, who did not cease to kiss his feet and who anointed them with perfume. Yes she was a great sinner, but her actions show us how we, who are also sinners, should approach God and she demonstrates for us a very important characteristic of the Christian life. That characteristic is repentance. She saw her own sins and did not excuse herself; rather she wept for her sins – so greatly that her tears were sufficient to wash the feet of Christ. She offered her love of Him in the multitude of kisses with which she covered His feet. She worshipped Him, sacrificing that which she had, pouring out a costly ointment of fragrant myrrh upon His feet. This profound repentance marked by tears, sacrifice and the love of God is an example for us as well, showing us the path of repentance which leads to the forgiveness of sins.
The second of these guides that we are shown today is the first of the saints that we remember on this day, the Great Martyr Euphemia the all praised. St Euphemia acts as our guide not only by her life, but again by the great miracle that she performed at the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. In her life, she was the daughter of pious Christian parents who resisted the Roman governor’s demand that the citizens of Chalcedon were all to offer sacrifice to Ares. Although she was still only a young woman, she valiantly resisted the threats and enticements of the governor. She displayed great courage and steadfastness in her confession of the true faith (so much so that others were brought to faith in Christ simply by her example). Although she was spared from death many times by the hand of God, finally she surrendered her soul into the hands of the Lord Whom she had loved more than life itself. Her martyric struggle took place in the year 303AD. But this was not the end of her help to the Church in revealing the true faith. In the year 451, in the city of Chalcedon a great council of the Church was convened to address the issue of the nature of the God/man Jesus Christ. There were some, led by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus and one of his priests, the Archimandrite Eutyches. They maintained that in the God/man Jesus Christ there were not two natures – divine and human – but only one nature, the divine nature and that the human nature was completely swallowed up by the divine nature. The opposing position was championed by two Patriarchs, Anatolius of Constantinople and Juvenal of Jerusalem. The discussion of this matter was passionate and intense, such that no decision could be reached. In order to resolve this question, the two positions were each written on a scroll and the two scrolls were then placed in the hands of the incorrupt relics of St Euphemia. The coffin was sealed and a guard placed around it to insure that no one could approach it. The bishops then entered into three days of prayer and fasting, asking God to show them the truth of the matter. When they again opened the coffin of St Euphemia, the scroll of the Orthodox confessing the two natures of Christ was in her right hand and the scroll of the monophysite heretics was beneath her feet, showing clearly the true faith of the two natures of Christ. Even a century and a half after her death, St Euphemia continued to act as a guide to the Church, revealing the true faith and setting at naught the false teaching.
Finally we move ahead another 5 centuries to come to the Great Princess Olga, equal to the apostles. St Olga was the wife of the prince Igor who was the son of Ryurik the first prince of the Slavs. Igor was attacked and killed by the soldiers of a subject people and Olga, then still a pagan, was fierce in her retribution for her husband’s death, burying the envoys of his killers alive and burning the city which had attacked him with the people still in it. These pitiless actions are contrasted by her later life. At the age of 60 she visited Constantinople the Emperor, seeing in her great strength of mind and will, began to speak to her of the Orthodox faith. At his hands she received baptism and became from that moment on as fierce a defender of the faith as she had previously been the fierce avenger of her husband. Returning to Rus, she strove with her son Sviatoslav, the heir to his father’s throne, trying to convince him to accept Christian baptism. Even though he refused to be baptized, he did not prevent any others who wished to become Christians from it. St Olga had great influence over the whole court of the prince, including the lives of his children (her grandchildren). One of those was the Great Prince Vladimir, who during his life, embraced the Christian faith and proclaimed that the whole of the people of Rus should be baptized and that from then on (988AD) Russia would be a Christian nation. St Olga, by her wholehearted embrace of the Christian faith and her fierce defense of the faith which resulted in her grandson’s baptism and in the baptism of the whole nation is also for us an example. Like her we must give ourselves over wholeheartedly to the Orthodox faith, changing our lives to conform to the life of the Church.
There are many around us, who being ignorant of the righteousness of God have invented their own righteousness and so do not pursue Christ, but pursue a false path. In order to follow truly the path of Christ, we require guides who will lead us in the way of truth. We have many such guides in the lives of the saints – and today we see three of these guides who by their lives point us to Christ. First is the sinful woman of the Gospel who won forgiveness of her sins by her deep and profound repentance. Second is the Great Martyr Euphymia the all praised who courageously defied the worship of idols and so was granted a martyr’s crown and who, even after her death, guided the Church into the path of the true belief of the two natures of Christ. Finally is St Olga, equal to the apostles, who by her wholehearted embrace of the Orthodox faith, left behind her old way of life, and who fiercely proclaimed the truth of the Orthodox faith, opening the door to the baptism of her grandson St Vladimir the Great and the subsequent conversion of the whole of the Russian people. These three women are but a few of the saints who guide us in the true path of God’s righteousness. Let us look to our guides, the saints, who show us the way of truth and who lead us as we follow the path of salvation.