December 24, 2023

Homily for the Epistle Reading on the Sunday Before Christmas (St. Luke of Simferopol)

We Don’t Have a Permanent City Here, But We Are Looking Toward the Future

(Hebrews 11:8-16)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on December 26, 1947)

In his Epistle to the Hebrews, the holy Apostle Paul says that the entire life of the Old Testament righteous was organized according to their ardent faith, like that of Abraham: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8).

Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees, his father was a pagan, and he himself believed in one God. Having received an order from God to go to a land hitherto unknown to him, which God promised to give to his descendants, he, without thinking at all, without doubting or delaying at all, left his father and went where the Lord called him.

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb. 11:9). He lived as a stranger, without an inch of his own land, and when his wife Sarah died, he had to buy a place for her burial from the indigenous people. He lived like a nomad in tents and was alien to the idea of building a rich house, although he was already very rich at that time.

“He waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (Heb. 11:10-12). Who was born from him in such an innumerable multitude? This is the entire race of the faithful, the race of the righteous, and subsequently the Christian race.

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out (Ur of the Chaldees), they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:13–16). What if Abraham was like his sons? And if all of them, considering themselves strangers on earth, did not set up their homes like peace-lovers, if they were not looking for “a permanent city here” (Heb. 13:14), but for another, heavenly city, then isn’t this also appropriate for us, for those who are attached to the world, whose thoughts are aimed at arranging earthly life as best as possible, who does not think about the city of heaven?

All the saints felt like strangers on earth. Remember the ancient king David. Who else but he was settled in earthly life, surrounded by prosperity, and he said: “I am a sojourner in the land, and a stranger, as all my fathers” (Ps. 39:12). Shouldn’t we all consider earthly life as the time of our dangerous journey? It is necessary that we, Christians, despise wealth, glory and high position and that everything earthly be insignificant in our eyes, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1).

But unbelievers do not know and do not want to know that from God we have a dwelling-place in heaven, erected for the saints, for those whose thoughts were directed to the higher and incomparably more precious heavenly things, and not to the blessings of the world. The saints sighed, were burdened by life, and suffered, like righteous Lot, living among a furiously depraved people. All those who are pure in heart, who do not tolerate evil, are tormented in this life by untruth and strive to go further away, into the kingdom of eternal truth. They strive to put off their sinful body and put on the new heavenly things.

We all need to be that way. Let us not be like those unfortunate people who save money, hide it under mattresses, in their beds, and themselves live in poverty; the loss of all wealth can shock them so much that they commit suicide. How far these pitiful people are from the saints: from Abraham, from Job, who were looking not “for a permanent city here, but... toward the future” heavenly city. Seek it also, and there may your eternal life rest with our Lord and God Jesus Christ. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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