Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Hebrews 13:7-16 (Epistle from Feast the Three Hierarchs)
If this Epistle lesson looks familiar, it’s because it was just read it a few days ago on the feast of Sts. Athanasios and Cyril, two distinguished Hierarchs of the church, and it is being read again tomorrow on the feast of the Three Hierarchs—Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Of course, each time we read Scripture, even if we read the same passage, even if we read the same passage frequently, something different is going to speak to us. As I often do when I read Scripture, particularly Scripture I have written on, I do not look at what I have written previously, but read the Scripture with “new eyes” and let the Holy Spirit speak new thoughts into my mind as I read the Scripture anew on a different day.
Remember your leaders (Hebrews 13:7)—this is a call to pray for all of our spiritual leaders, specifically our bishops and priests. That call, and I’ll say it as it relates personally to me, is not to “consider the outcome of my life and imitate my faith,” for I have not achieved sainthood. Rather, if you pray for me, pray that the outcome of my life and that my faith are worthy of imitation.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (v. 8)—The world is changing rapidly by the day and not all of these changes are positive. For instance, for years, there has been clamor to keep certain former baseball players out of the Hall of Fame because they used performance enhancing drugs. For years, these players have been vilified and excoriated. Now there is a cry to let them go into the Hall of Fame. Whatever “egregious” thing they did is now being okayed in the eyes of many former detractors. Many are taking this stand with Christianity. Where Jesus was once seen as Lord and Savior, it is now the Christians who are part of the problem. Jesus’ message is seen as outdated. And whether the Resurrection really happened is no longer just a matter of faith but of relevance. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever” (v. 8) regardless of which way the winds of society are blowing today.
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings (v. 9)—This accompanies what we just mentioned for verse 8. People are being led away by strange teachings that are foreign to the Gospel and to the message of Christ.
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood. (v. 12)—Jesus was rejected by His own people. In like manner, many of the hierarchs and bishops, as well as priests and laypeople, have been rejected throughout the centuries because of their faith in Christ. Thankfully, there have been faithful people, who like Jesus have gone forth to Him outside the camp, and (borne) the abuse He endured. (v. 13) If there hadn’t been these people, no way does the faith survive to this day. And if there aren’t people today who are willing to suffer for Christ, there won’t be a church a generation from now. I remember when I was first ordained a wise hierarch of the church told me “You are going to be a priest on this earth for a finite amount of time. You will pass the church which you served on to another priest at some point, you will pass the faith you’ve preached on to someone else. It is not your right to edit or alter what you’ve received. You must preserve it, and if possible, grow it, so that it is passed to the next generation at least as good if not better than it was passed to you.” How many of us received the faith from our parents but will not pass it to our children? The faith in our family will end with us? That is sad, and will not put us in good stead when we stand before Christ to answer how we did not pass on what was given to us.
Regardless of where you are in your faith journey, whether you are sharing the faith, maintaining what you’ve received, or even if you have failed in both of these areas, St. Paul ends the Epistle reading with two practical ways to maintain the faith, deepen the faith or reclaim lost faith—offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name, (v. 15) and to do good and to share what you have (v. 16). The work of the early church (Acts 6) consisted of two things—worship and philanthropy. These two things are accessible to us at any time. We can worship at any time. We can be generous at any time. We don’t have to have a “golden mouth” like St. John Chrysostom in order to pray. We don’t have to build hospitals like St. Basil in order to be philanthropic. Prayer is simply opening up our hearts and our mouths to God. It is being in His presence in prayer and Scripture reading. It is standing before Him in worship. If you are reading this message on Saturday, plan to go to church tomorrow to worship. And if you are reading it on a non-Saturday, plan to worship next Sunday. Regarding philanthropy, philanthropy begins with a spirit of generosity. And generosity is anything that we give from what we have. That might be a donation of money. Or it might be a donation of time, sympathy, empathy, encouragement, even forgiveness. A faith journey is jump-started, sustained, or deepened by worship and philanthropy.
Are there any worthy crowns of praise so that we might lay them on the holy Teachers? Although they were physically separate, yet in the Spirit they were unified. And they are the chiefs of the God-bearers: the servants and numeric equals of the Trinity; they shone forth as luminaries of the universe. And they are the Church’s pillars; and with crowns of glory these three holy men have been crowned as victors by Christ our God, the Lord who possesses great mercy. (Lauds, Orthros, Three Hierarchs, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Create opportunities to pray and to be generous today!