Sermon given by Fr. David on the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt, 2012
The gospel for the day (Mark 10: 32-45 ) tells of James and John, who had a special relationship with the Lord, asking to sit at His right hand and at His left in the glory of His kingdom. There is a natural aspiration in men and women to reach the top, and to be special, and to be held in high esteem. We are aware of youngsters, who when asked, say that they aspire to be celebrities. They say this without realizing the effort, the hardship involved and often the despair and disaster which may accompany such celebrity.
Our Lord knew that James and John had, and would have, the mettle required but He could not give them what they were asking for. Rather, He said, that, whereas rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, this was not the way for His disciples. He taught a better way, and cited His own example:
“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many”.
A ransom is the price given to free an individual. Christ’s example, His life and His death, was to give us freedom, to set us free, to become what we are meant to be; servants of God and servants of all; of God and of our fellow men and women. This is the true and better part in life; not to seek privilege, not to lord it over others, but to serve.
Serving is, firstly, to be in Church. At the vigil here there are often only six or seven people present but the music has been prepared, it is sung from the heart, others set up the church and together, we begin our Sunday service, preparing for all, whether present or absent, serving on their behalf and in service to God. Then, we gather together on Sunday for the Liturgy.
We do not come together for our own personal reasons only, but so that we can be there to serve all, whether present or absent. Then our concern should be for those whom we serve, by encouraging them to be with us, by making contact, expressing our fellowship, by telephoning or visiting. We also have concern for the sick by keeping in contact with them and giving them support.
Then, there is an even greater form of service, service to all the men and women who do not know God and do not know the Church. What of the 50% of children who do not know the Lord’s Prayer? What of those who are so far away, that the Christian Gospel is meaningless? We have to be prepared to meet them where they are, and to answer their questions. Steeped in scripture and the understandings of our Church, we have to be ready, as any good servant, to serve Our Lord and be ready to meet every circumstance as it arises.
People may ask if we are Christians. We should be able to explain that we are, and why. When they may ask, ‘What is the point of attending church?’, we should have something to say. ‘What is the point?’, they may ask. Again we should not be speechless.
Metropolitan Anthony gave us this challenge: “We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost they could be rewritten by looking at us! “ When our life is Christ-like and our service to God and to our fellow man is as Christ’s is, then even if the scriptures were lost, men and women would not be deprived. Our lives would convey the truth that would bring them to God.
Today we honour St. Mary of Egypt. The Gospel read for her today (Luke 7: 36-50) is of the woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and pouring ointment upon them. It so aptly describes the life of Mary. As the Kontakion proclaims:
“Once thou wast defiled with every impurity, but through repentance thou hast become the bride of Christ.”
After her conversion and dedication in the service of the Lord, she was seen by only one person, the monk priest Zosima. Through her Christ-likeness, he immediately recognized her as a saint, and even bowed at her feet asking for a blessing. She was seen only by him, and yet she is has been an inspiration to all Orthodox Christians for the past 1500 years.
By following the example of Mary, by following the example of Christ, we too are to be servants of God and servants of our fellow men and women, so that even if the Gospels were lost, they could be rewritten by seeing the Christ-likeness in us and by the Christ-like quality of our lives. Amen.