Homily, Saints of Rus-Ukraine and America: the coming baptism of America (and Woonsocket)

All Saints of Rus’-Ukraine, America, and Woonsocket (also Father’s Day)
Romans 2:10-16: There is no partiality with God
St. Matthew 4:18-23: Fishers of men
The Church is Christ Incarnated: it blesses real people in time and place
Last week we celebrated the lives of all the saints, known and unknown who have found perfection through our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we continue this theme, celebrating the way God has worked to bring perfection to a more specific set of people: those Rus’-Ukraine (the birthplace of most founders of this parish) and America (the place where most of us were born and in which we ourselves seek perfection). One of the great beauties of Orthodoxy is that it glories in the Incarnation of Christ. Other Christians profess their faith that God became man and dwelt among us, but we embrace it. So, for example, Communion for other Christians is a memorial of Christ’s life 2000 years ago; but for us it is the living God offering Himself to us for our healing and perfection, right here, right now. Similarly, other Christians refer to the Church as the invisible union of all Christians; but for us, it is the living Body of Christ with us as its members. And because we take the Incarnation seriously enough to actually live it, culture – i.e. the beliefs and actions of people in a specific time and place – takes on a whole new meaning.
Let me come at it just a bit differently to make the point: just as we have a balanced theology of the body, rejecting the false notion that the soul is trapped in a meat cage (but can, through meditation and a good death, be set free from its confinement) in favor of the truth: humans cannot be human without their bodies any more than they can without their souls. And so it is with the Christian Church. We are not a collection of disembodies souls, melded into a mystical collective unconscious (etc.); but real people growing in unity with one another and God in a specific time and place. Which is to say that culture matters. Today we celebrate not just the saints of Rus’-Ukraine and America, but the culture that was sanctified through their prayers and actions and that, in turn, serves as such good soil to raise up even more saints.
The Dynamic in Rus’-Ukraine
It is easier to speak of the sanctified culture of Rus’-Ukraine because the story has already been written. Hagiographers have gone through the history of the Ukrainian nation and given us narratives that describe the way the Holy Spirit was allowed to work through her. In English, the work of Metropolitan Illarion is especially worthwhile. He tells us about the parts of the pre-Orthodox Rusyn culture that were easily baptized (examples), as well as those that needed to be removed before people could really experience the joy of a perfect life (example – to include the many concubines of King Volodymyr).
But what about America?
The story of the Baptism of America is still being written. Christ told us that the Church must work to baptize ALL nations, bringing them to Orthodoxy so that they, too, may directly experience the glory of God and gain the inheritance prepared for all God’s children. As Metropolitan Illarion wrote, when the Orthodox evangelists came to Ukraine in hopes of transforming her into a holy nation, they found some things that were useful and some things that needed to be changed – or just plain removed. People in New England intuitively understand this dynamic. I say this not because of the Puritans (if only they had more discernment about the blessing and transformation of native cultures), but because of the soil. In general, New England has good soil. Things grow well here. But it takes work. Why is it that there are so many of these quaint stone walls everywhere? Because some things had to be removed in order for the ground to be transformed into something that could bear good fruit. There is no need to replace the soil – the basics are here, but it does take work. It is the same with perfecting our culture.
So what are the stones we must remove in America for us to become a holy nation? What is the “good soil” that our heathen culture has already provided?
Make no mistake, there is good soil here. When future hagiographers write about the transformation of American into a holy nation, they will say that even before here people became Orthodox, they had much going for them. Their ethic of hard work, their belief that there was no problem that could not be overcome, the sense of community and social cohesion that observers from the time of de Tocqueville have noticed; in fact, the very “American Dream” itself is something that finds its most perfect expression in Holy Orthodoxy (explain).
Of course, there are rocks we need to take out, and we need to be honest about those as well (example of the loss of rhythm). But the truth is that America is ready to be transformed – it is on the verge of greatness. But its next step won’t come by picking the right president or voting for the right party (in fact, I am willing to say that the rightly understood separation of Church and State is part of our good soil – the government is the wrong tool to make men good and free)… the next step will come when we surrender ourselves to Christ, when we open up our entire lives and the life of our nation to the cleansing and perfecting operation of the Holy Spirit.
And it begins right here and right now, in this place and time, with the very real people gathered in these pews. Because we are not just celebrating the saints of Ukraine and America, but the saints of Woonsocket and the Blackstone Valley. Andrew was the first called, but he wasn’t the last.
Christ is calling you now. He is calling all of us here. The sanctification of Woonsocket begins today.