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(July 2013)

St. John the Wonderworker, Bishop of Shanghai and San Francisco [feastday July 1st]

By Fr. Demetrios Carrelas. A Sermon delivered during the Divine Liturgy at Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, on the Feast of St. John (Maximovitch), June 30, 2012.

St. John the Wonderworker, serving in Tunis 1952surrounded by the Uncreated Light

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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (Jn 10:11) In his teaching on these words from today’s Gospel lesson, St. Gregory the Dialogist reminds us that our Lord came into the world and died for us, in order to change His Body and Blood into a Sacrament for us, and to satisfy the sheep He has redeemed with His own body as food. And having risen from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and sent the All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit upon His Apostles at Pentecost, our Most-sweet Lord Jesus then permeated the living presence of His Body and Blood by the laying on of hands—through which He anointed pious men to become good Shepherds to His sheep, until His awesome and fearful return to judge the earth.

What a sacred honor it is for this sinful and unworthy priest to be in the presence of the living holy relics of one of our Lord’s true Shepherds of souls: our holy Father among the Saints, John of Shanghai and San Francisco! Some of you present today were blessed to have worshipped with St. John, and directly received his Spirit-filled teachings and guidance, before God called him into His Heavenly Kingdom. And yet, far from leaving you few eyewitnesses as orphans, our All-Compassionate Saviour has made St. John accessible to everyone here and to the entire world. What overflowing Grace has God poured out upon our humble Shepherd! Who can number the countless thousands of souls who—through prayers, letters and/or kneeling before his sacred, incorrupt body—have received soul and body healings for themselves and for others?

Indeed, as these words—taken from his Akathist—exclaim, St. John is: a helper of all who call upon [him] with faith; an infirmary where every ailment is healed; refreshing water for those perishing in the heat of sorrows; one who works wonders for those who come to [his] relics with faith and love; one whose love knows no bounds of country and race; a fountain of miracles poured out by God!

In addition to his miracle-working powers, we are also blessed to have his Spirit-filled teachings for the nourishment and healing of our wounded souls. And how desperately we need those teachings today, my beloved sojourners on the sea of life! They are words of one who has become the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his thoughts, words and actions. They are words of a true Shepherd, and not those of a hireling, who—as the Lord says—sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf seizes them and scatters the sheep—that noetic wolf, the evil one, who comes to steal, and slay, and destroy as many souls as possible.

While he walked amongst us, St. John was God’s instrument to protect a large number of souls from the devil’s efforts to destroy them. Today, he continues to be God’s instrument—on an even greater scale—to transform those who seek his divine intercession: so that the various afflictions and injustices one encounters in life become sources of joy and hope, rather than sorrow and despair; so that the loss of such temporal things as material wealth and physical well-being, give birth to spiritual treasures and soul-healings that are eternal; so that one’s superficial self-centered existence, becomes a profound Christ-centered life!

Permit me to share a few spiritual morsels from the great banquet of his teachings. St. John reminds us that "God’s grace always assists the struggler … What is important is not victory, or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him." The Saint refers to these words of St. Paul: that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9); and he adds that "the power of God is effective when a person asks for the help of God, acknowledging the weakness and sinfulness of his nature." This is why St. John believes that "humility and striving towards God are the fundamental virtues of a Christian." Are these primary virtues alive in the trenches of our daily lives? An old priest once told me: "This temporal life will be either one of agony or struggle: with Christ it is a struggle, without Him, it is agony." Today, do our lives personify someone who is struggling with Christ, or in agony without Him?

In a sermon he gave over 50 year ago, St. John lamented that "public life had departed from Christian paths." O my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, what would our holy Hierarch say about the condition of society today? In the last 39 years we have "legally" slaughtered 56 million pre-born babies upon the ungodly altar of privacy, convenience and profit. Euthanasia is now legal in at least two states, and strong efforts are in place to make this a national pastime in a few years. Many high-level politicians and judges are now assaulting the institution of marriage. Last year, the President declared that the entire month of June is now to be celebrated as National LGBT Month, so as to seemingly bestow our Nation’s approval on these soul-destroying lifestyles. And the organization of Planned Parenthood, in addition to killing over 300,000 babies a year for profit, is seeking to brainwash even our grade school children with their sex education literature, which destroys the Christian virtues of purity and modesty, and glorifies all sins of the flesh! Our Nation has replaced God’s Truth with man’s fallen reasoning. Do not these words of the holy Prophet Isaiah succinctly describe the condition of our society today? Woe to them that call evil good and good evil; who make darkness light and light darkness. … Woe to them who are wise in their own conceit … who justify the ungodly for rewards, and take away the righteousness of the righteous. (Isa 5:20-23)!

Only God’s Truth, as preserved in our Holy Orthodox Faith, can save our society from its rapid descent into irreversible perdition. Our beloved holy Hierarch, Fr. John, devoted every fiber of his being to upholding the true doctrine and moral integrity of our Holy Orthodox Faith. He daily entreated our Lord to both help and strengthen him to actively "labor unto death" for that Truth. And, through the grace of God, he continues that active labor! By his example, we see that Holy Orthodoxy cannot simply be a part of our lives. It cannot be something that we turn on and off, like the appliances we use. Our Holy Faith must be present in all aspects of our lives: from the way we worship God in the Divine Liturgy, to the way we drive our cars; from the manner in which we make the sign of the Cross, to the manner in which we prepare a meal, raise our children, or perform our secular work. Only by striving with all of our strength to live the Faith in this manner can we come to truly know Christ—to truly know ourselves.

Because he incarnated God’s Truth in all of his words and actions, St. John received a number of heavenly crowns; which include: Confessor, Defender of the Faith and—in a spiritual sense—Martyr. Today in the United States, where are the defenders of the Faith? Where are the confessors? Where are the martyrs? Where are those, both clergy and laity, who—like St. John—are being "reproached, persecuted, and having every evil word being said falsely against them on account of Christ and His One True Church?" Is it possible that we have allowed both the demands and sensual pleasures of our society to put us in a state of spiritual lethargy and indifference—as individuals, as parishes, as jurisdictions? Is it possible that we have lost touch with the true fronema (mindset) of our Faith, and replaced it with the politically correct, compromising and secular humanistic mindset of our society?

Beloved Orthodox Christians, is it not the time for all of us to beg our Saviour’s forgiveness for the occasions in which we ourselves have compromised, watered-down—even denied—the sacred Truths of our Faith, in our thoughts, our words, our actions? Is it not the time to bend the knees of our hearts to the Lord—entreating Him to raise up martyrs, confessors, and defenders of the Faith, who—like our St. John—will be His instruments to proclaim and uphold the true doctrine of Holy Orthodoxy—some of whom may be standing amongst us at this very moment?

It is the eleventh hour! Two generations ago, St. John called upon the Orthodox faithful to become God’s instruments to manifest "the spiritual and moral rebirth of our society." Today, his call is directed to each one of us; and it is even more profound than it was 60 years ago. Our holy Hierarch, Fr. John, awaits our answer. What will it be?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!