Today is the feast day of St Jacob of Hamatoura, whose life can be read here. The Arabic original of this sermon can be read here.
Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen.
I wanted to congratulate you on this noble feast, since you have come from different places to spend the night, despite the cold, in prayer, to warm yourselves in your prayer and to be made holy through this great saint, the hieromartyr Jacob of Hamatoura.
What strikes in the readings that we heard today from the Gospel and the Epistle, is the part that pertains to education. It says that someone who wants to be an authentic son, not an illegitimate one, must endure his father's corrections and be obedient in order to practice, through this obedience, fulfilling his duty and realizing his sonship. One who is corrected by his father, he is an authentic son, but one who is not corrected is illegitimate-- that is, inauthentic-- and does not have the same traits as his father. Here it means belief and faith, not beauty or appearance or other inherited traits. This is because one who is corrected by the Lord bears and possesses the Lord's traits and in this way he is able to live within society but apart from society. "You are not of the world, though I have chosen you out of the world," but you are distinct from the world in your mentality and your behavior. A Christian cannot resemble the people of the world. People offer you lusts, they offer you whims, they offer selfishness, and you cannot be that way. You are corrected by the Lord so that you will be different from this society and so that you will rise up to a holy, heavenly, society.
If we compare this text that we are hearing with our life in our Christian society today, we find ourselves embarrassed. This is because Christians in general do not act according to the Gospel, do not adhere to it, and do not practice and learn from it. They are far from it and for this reason witness and holiness are rare and the level of human thought is declining, because it is losing holy illumination. It is losing the effectiveness of grace because it receives it and makes it useless and does not put it into action. But one who practices the Lord's commandments, he receives grace upon grace from God and again and again practices developing this grace, cooperating with it, making it effective in his life in order to attain the holiness that the Lord wills for him.
Saint Jacob, despite the social circumstances that surrounded his life in those times, practiced the love of the Lord to the utmost limits. This is why he accepted suffering and difficulty with joy and relish, and he did not accept to be saved by society which offered him false faith. He did not accept what reigned in his society. Rather, he accepted to be defiant, not out of selfishness or pride, but because he knew the truth. When we say this verb 'he knows', it means that he has experience with God, because true faith is for them to know that You, the true God, and Your Son whom You sent, Jesus Christ. 'That they know You,' not know about You intellectually. The human intellect is not capable of comprehending divine thought. However, it is capable of getting to know you, that is to obtain practical, life experience through prayer, through the holy mysteries, and through reading the holy scriptures.
This is how the saint lived, unwavering, bearing suffering and hardships unto death, and slander just like we see today in our day. The thinking is the same because its source is the Evil One. A Christian does not return evil for evil, but he does stay firm in his struggle and rejects sin every day in his home, his work, his business, and his interactions with people. Then he is able to be a martyr. God did not allow persecutions to be continuous because we are weak and because we do not prepare every day to die for the sake of the love of Christ. We persist in our sins, far from His love. So He has mercy on us, since if the Evil One stirred up persecution against us, not one of us would remain steadfast. But we trust in His mercy, He who helps us, makes us capable, and extends His grace to us, so that we might continue in our struggle and be made holy. In the abundance of His love-- indeed, in the excess of His love-- He does not accept for us to perish. Rather, He wants us to be saved and be made holy. He waits for us. When we approach Him even a little, He rushes to meet and embrace us and make us steadfast in our holy struggle.
Be steadfast and learn from the Holy Bible, its morals and teachings, so that in your daily life you will truly be witnesses to Him, so that at your end you will be made worthy of the holy crown of martyrdom, so that you will attain the kingdom of heaven, joyous with the saints whom we celebrate every day, to whom we sing hymns so that we will be encouraged to imitate them and be made holy like them.
May Saint Jacob of Hamatoura intercede for all of us. May he make our way easy in every good work that pleases God. Let us be corrected by Him and let us walk in a way that pleases Him, scorning every lust and every desire that the world offers us, so that we may strip off, as the Lord said, this world, being raised up to His love. Amen.
Archimandrite Pandeleimon (Farah)
Abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura
October 15, 2011