St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
Riches of Grace

Eph 2:4-10

“God, who is rich in mercy … show(s) the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  For by grace are ye saved… it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”  In these few words that we heard in today’s Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul describes for us the great plan of God for us.  Freely and without any effort on our part, God pours out the riches of his grace upon us that we might be saved.  This out pouring of grace has not only a spiritual effect upon us, but also shows itself in the lives of those who reach out and embrace it.  In order to see the these effects we need only to look at the lives of the saints.  Each and every day, we are called to bring into our remembrance a wealth of saints so that we might draw from their example the means by which we too can embrace the grace that God freely pours out upon us and experience this same salvation.

Today is no exception.  Today is in many ways an “ordinary” day.  Certainly as it is Sunday, today we celebrate the Resurrection, however, we also celebrate the memory of some of the saints.  In the lives of  these saints – just as in the lives of the saints remembered on any other day – we can see the effects of the grace of God.  Today we remember the martyrs Zenobius and Zenobia, a brother and sister who together reached out to embrace the grace of God and to acquire for themselves these heavenly riches.   Although we remember them as martyrs, it was not their martyric struggles alone that proclaimed their love for God.  Zenobius and Zenobia were the children of pious parents who raised them in piety and the love of God.  But while the children were still young they were orphaned and inherited not only the riches of the Christian faith, but also great material wealth.  Desiring to serve God above all, these two decided to forsake the world and to follow Christ.  The whole of the inheritance was put in the hands of Zenobius who freely gave to the poor and all who were in need until there was nothing left of their material inheritance.  But God seeing the burning love of these two did not abandon them but bestowed upon them eternal riches in exchange for the material riches that they had distributed.  Zenobia, though now without any worldly resources, was protected by divine help from all the ills and temptations of the world and from every evil intent of men or demons.  Zenobius was granted by God the gift of healing so that the hands that formerly freely distributed worldly riches now distributed the healing grace of God to all who were ill and suffering.  Because of his great compassion and the love of God which was evident in his life, Zenobius was made the bishop of Aegea.  This also brought him to the attention of the pagan Roman ruler of the city who seized him and tried to get him to renounce Christ.  Seeing that her brother was suffering Christ, Zenobia also came before the ruler and confessed Christ that she might share in his sufferings.  After many tortures, both remained steadfast and were beheaded for their confession of Christ.

As if these brother and sister martyrs aren’t enough of an example, we also remember today the great Serbian king Milutin.  As a child, he was raised by his parents, Urosh and Helena in the love of God.  When he ascended the throne, Milutin promised to build a Church for every year that he ruled (a promise which he kept building 42 churches in 42 years).  He also built hospitals where the poor received medical care without payment.  He took great pleasure in giving to the poor and would often dress in simple clothing and go out at night among the people with only two or three of his faithful servants enquiring after those in need and would distribute alms among the poor that he met.  He lived very simply, setting aside the privilege of wealth and position and valuing instead the labor of his own hands.  Milutin was blessed by God and became a great defender of the faith of his own people.  He resisted the false union with Rome even under the pressure of the Byzantine emperor who attempted to pressure the Slavic people of the Balkans to accept this union.  In his resistance, Milutin preserved not only the Orthodox faith of his own people of Serbia, but indeed kept the whole of the Balkan nations safe from the pressure of the emperor.  He also successfully repeled every danger from outside.  Before every battle he would pray and commit himself into the hands of God and God gave him success after success in all that he did.  Even in his death, the grace of God shone in him, for his relics remained incorrupt and wonderworking.

Now in these saints we can see how the grace that God pours out upon us is manifest in those who embrace it.  But if this grace flows freely, how is it that only a few manifest it in such a manner?  For this we must remember that God gives us His grace freely and without cost (as the Apostle tells us), but in order for that grace to have an impact upon us, we must reach out and grasp it with spiritual hands and begin to incorporate it into our own lives.  We do this by our good works by which we imitate the works of God and which in turn open the doors of the soul that the grace might pour in and empower our feeble attempts, filling them with grace of God.  By such works we do not earn this grace (for no man can earn the grace of God) but we only prepare our souls to capture this grace and incorporate it into our own lives.  If we are surrounded by the grace of God, but keep the doors of the heart closed against it, then we are not affected by it.  Or perhaps we only open the door a crack, allowing only the slightest trickle of the flood that surrounds us to enter.  Again, we do not enjoy the riches of God’s grace for we impoverish ourselves.

Recall Zenobius and Zenobia who had great worldly wealth, but who used that wealth not to satisfy their worldly desires or to acquire even greater worldly riches – but they used that wealth to acquire for themselves spiritual riches through almsgiving.  When Zenobius emptied his hands of worldly wealth, they continued to give of the heavenly riches of God’s grace, healing all who suffered.  His alms did not “purchase” this gift of grace, but by emptying his hands of worldly wealth, he could now receive the heavenly wealth that God was pouring out on him.  This is how our works acquire for us the grace of God – they sweep away the impediments that prevent us from receiving this grace and open the gates of the soul to let the floods of grace pour in and fill us. 

King Milutin dedicated his every act to God – praying before every battle and committing every year of his reign to the glory of God through the building of a Church.  In doing this, he did not act for himself, but rather only for God.  As a result, he was attuned to God’s will, he worked in symphony with God and so the grace of God was able to fill every action and aspect of his life.  There was nothing in his life that was not given over to God and because of this his soul was open to the flood of grace.

This then should be our labor as well – to empty ourselves of every encumbrance and to align ourselves with the will of God and so open our souls to the flood of God’s grace.  The only thing that limits the action of God’s grace in us is when we ourselves by our own will hold back something for ourselves.  Whatever we hold back blocks the flow of God’s grace to a greater or lesser degree, but whenever we let it go and give it over to the glory of God, then His grace flows freely in us.  In this manner the words of the Apostle are made manifest in us “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

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