Archbishop Augustine (Augoustinos Kantiotis) of Florina’
Sermon on the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (John 17, 1-13)
“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one”.
(John 17, 11)
My beloved, the earth is not our permanent residence, but it was ordained by God as our temporary home. The eternal homeland and our permanent home is heaven. For this land, which keeps us bound so much by its pleasures and entertainment, with its treasures and pleasures, it will come a day to be destroyed. For it consists of matter, and the matter is perishable. It has existed for some „time” and everything that has been made „to have a time” has an end. Therefore, there will be a last hour for the earth as it is for everything. This is also confirmed by science. But more than science, it’s been confirmed by the word of God, and the Holy Scripture that calls the end of the world, the “end of time” (cf. Matthew 13:39, 24:3, 28:20, Hebrew 9:26). On the end the world spoke even the prophets Daniel and Isaiah, and speak clearly the Lord, the Apostles, and the „Apocalipse” (the book of Revelation).
It is a fact that the earth will be destroyed. But before the end of the world, the “signs of the times” [the “Zeitgeist”] will occur first (Matthew 16:3). And what are these signs? The Lord has explained them: there will be “famine” (hunger), “plagues” (diseases of which people will die like flies), „local earthquakes”, “a great tribulation, such it has never happened since the beginning of the world” and finally, the sun and the moon will darken, the stars will fall and “the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Matthew 24, 7, 21, 29, Luke 21:11). Who will believe them if they were not spoken by the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ?
These „signs of the time” will disrupt or alarm the natural world. And nowadays such phenomena of turbulence is encountered by the physical world. In South America, on the coast of Chile, while people were lying naked on the beautiful sandy shores having fun – as it occurs on our beaches – suddenly the earth shook, the volcanoes opened-up, spilling their lava; many islands got lost entirely and other new ones had emerged, the sea became wild and great waves rose up fifty feet and swept the whole area. Thousands were dead and homeless . Something like this has never happened!
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But if you ask me, my beloved, what is the worst sign of the time, I will say to you that it is not this phenomena. It is not the typhoon (hurricane), neither the earthquake, nor the fire or the waves of the sea. The worst sign of the time is the division, which exists nowadays between people. Never before was the world so divided. Where shall we turn our sight, to not see division?
Division among nations. A well-known international body is called „United Nations”, but only euphemistically. We must take down the sign “United Nations” and write “Divided Nations”. Beneath the smiles and politeness of diplomacy lies a great rivalry. Not so much among small nations – they are the victims – but among those big, who like the beasts of „Revelation” are ready to fall on each other. But each nation is divided internally, there is the germ of division into parties, camps, factions, leaders, interests, companies and beyond. But above all (it is) among us Greeks. Open the history. Three thousand years of life and during this, how often has our nation been united? And when it was united, it was glorious and invincible, raising the peaks of Pindus up to the stars of heaven. As someone said: „if the Greeks were united, they would have ruled the world”. But division remains the greatest tragedy of our nation. But this discord reigned often and then many evil things happened, such as, the destruction of Asia Minor.
Division everywhere: in villages and towns. The smallest kingdom is even divided. And, which is the smallest kingdom, with an emperor, an empress and people? It is the family: the father is the king, the queen is the mother, and people: the children. Division reigns in the home. Anarchy of thoughts and of man. The woman is not subject to her husband, the man does not respect his wife, children count on no-one. Division between spouses, between children and parents. The house, which once was a little haven, a church, a convent, no longer “attracts” as a magnet.
Once upon a time, the small „huts” of the villages were palaces of heaven and angels dwelled there; now in the large apartment complexes live winged demons. Blessed be the time when people were not intellectually developed, but were educated at heart. Now, the house became a hotel for sleeping and eating. Rare are those cases where spouses love one another, and children have respect. Show me a home where harmony and unity exist in the love of Christ!
„You are exaggerating on this!” – you may say to me. But, if you think so, then go to the Archdiocese and ask, and if you’re Christian, you’ll weep for the state we have drawn into. Not long ago, although having illiterate priests, there was not even one divorce in a thousand families. Now, with all the priests and bishops graduates, one in three marriage crumbles! We, clergy, have a great responsibility. Our vocation becomes a stumbling block if we do not follow it. Every day a great multitude of divorces are being issued. Our „Hellas” (term for the country/nation of Greece) has become Hollywood.
Man seeks the unity among peoples, nations, families and cannot find it. He finally enters the Church, with the hope that here he will find unity; since the Church prays for “the unity of all” (cf. Divine Liturgy) and our Christ in the Gospel today raises His hands and pray that Christians remain united (cf. John 17: 11). And what does He see? Here are the Orthodox, there – the francs (Catholics), and down further the Protestants split in 300 fractions or more…
Christian disunity hinders the spread of Christianity – and two-thirds of the world remain pagan. Missionaries go there to preach the Gospel and weep. And one would expect them to get baptized and become Christians. However, they do not (want to) get baptized. They say „Your words are beautiful, your vestments, your songs. But you are divided, there is no love among you. The English are chasing the Americans, Americans the British and so on. And us, non-Christians, have a greater unity then yours. You are not together, and hate one another. So, go first and make peace, then come and preach us the Gospel”.
Today is the celebration of the 318 holy Fathers who gathered in the first Ecumenical Council and have formed the Creed. They are the stars of our Church. However, I will not refer to any of them. My thoughts go to another father who is not among those who composed the Creed, but he composed the Divine Liturgy which is celebrated and heard continuously. It is the great teacher of our Church: St. John Chrysostom-the Golden mouth, and we keep him always in our memory. So, they asked him, when it would be the end of time, and St. John Chrysostom responded from the pulpit:
„My brothers, the end will come when you’ll see that people will be divided: women not submitting their husbands, men not loving their wives, children raising their hands to strike their parents, laymen not obeying, civil wars. But before all, the end will come when the division will enter the church, and get as far as the altar. When you’ll see that monks brawl with their fellow monks, deacons with other deacons, priests and bishops with their fellow priests and bishops”.
And what do we see, my beloved? We live in such days and only God can save us. If He will save us, salvation is not owned to us. If He will save us, He will do it for the sake of the innocent little children who are still left in the cribs.
Let us repent. If we continue the tactic of hatred, we will be punished. We will be shaken by an earthquake and no stone upon stone will remain. Let us all big or small repent, let us kneel, and pray, laymen and clergy, priests and bishops, rulers and people, so God may be merciful to us. To send us (His) love, understanding and justice, so that with one mouth we may praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.