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On the second Sunday after Pentecost our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church celebrates the Sunday of All Saints of Ukraine. Sadly, many of our parishes are witnessing a decline in Sunday worship and in membership. Our parishes are doing everything possible just to keep up with the monthly expenses. Is praying for the bills to be paid the main purpose for the Church? There is another purpose for the church – that purpose is to make people holy. A church that does not make it’s people holy is not a church, it is merely an organization which uses the word ‘Church’. The Church celebrates the memory of the holy ones, the saints, to show us living examples of people whose souls were saved, so that we can imitate them in our lives. They teach us how to please God. Today is the Sunday of All Saints of Ukraine and we commemorate all of those men, women and children that are famously known to us and those who are known only to God.
What is a saint? First, we should understand that saints are not born, they are made. We are all born to potentially become saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not saints and the saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they reach holiness, whereas we tend to give up. One type of saint is known as a martyr. The saintly martyrs desired to confess Jesus Christ rather than live, and in doing so, sacrificed everything for Christ. Today, on the Sunday of All Saints of Ukraine, we recognize those who became saints and martyrs in Ukraine and we honor them. At every Divine Liturgy and at Morning Prayers we sing and read the Creed, in which we confess that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These words which define the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, are also words that define the saints.
What exactly does this mean? The saints are One because they are all together and are united – also known as the communion of the saints. The saints are also holy – the word saint means holy. The saints are also Catholic. This word does not mean Roman Catholic – it means ‘Catholic’ in the original sense of the word. ‘Catholic’ means the same in all places and at all times. Therefore, on the Sunday of All Saints of Ukraine, we commemorate all the saints of all of Ukraine throughout all the centuries. We commemorate saints of all ages, of all men, women and children, the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick. They all confessed the same Holy Orthodox Faith. Finally, the saints are Apostolic, for they share in the same Faith and Tradition as the Apostles.
All the Saints of Ukraine that are being remembered today followed the example of Jesus Christ. All of them in their time, in their circumstances of life, fulfilled God’s commandment of love of God and their fellow human being. For many, their times were difficult in Ukraine, maybe more difficult than ours here in the United States. Often their situations in life were more dangerous in spiritual terms, and often in worldly terms were worse than ours. But they still continued, struggled, and reached their reward in Paradise where they now triumph. All we need to do is look at the icons of our church and we will see them: martyrs, confessors, ascetics, fools for Christ, educated people, simple people, rich, poor, bishops, priests, monastics and lay people. This is the Heavenly Church and is all-inclusive. It includes us, the earthly, Militant Church. There is room for each of us there. There is a purpose for us to attend church. Are we being made saintly and holy?
Rev. Fr. Mark Swindle
Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church,