• Text of Gospel Reading
  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    Christ is in our midst! Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Martyr Sophia, together with her daughters Faith, Hope and Love. This mother and her daughters were Christians living in Italy during the reign of the emperor Hadrian—who was known for routinely slaughtering Christians. St. Sophia was a pious Christian widow who had named her daughters for the three Christian virtues. Faith was twelve, Hope was ten, and Love was nine. St. Sophia raised them in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their days and nights were filled with prayers and hymns and psalms. They did not hide their faith in Christ from those around them–a faith they knew could result in their deaths, but they openly confessed Christ before everyone. An official named Antiochus denounced them to the emperor who ordered that they be brought to Rome. Realizing that they would be taken before the emperor, the holy virgins prayed fervently to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking that He give them the strength not to fear torture and death. When the holy virgins and their mother came before the emperor, everyone present was amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival, rather than to torture. Summoning each of the daughters in turn, Hadrian urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. But the young girls remained unyielding. Then the emperor ordered them to be tortured. They burned the holy virgins over an iron grating, then threw them into a red-hot oven, and finally into a cauldron with boiling tar, but the Lord preserved them. Often we hear of the Lord protecting people in the midst of horrible tortures, like He did with the Three Holy Youths in the fire, or Daniel in the lion’s den. After undergoing unspeakable torments, the holy virgins glorified their Heavenly Bridegroom and remained steadfast in the Faith. They subjected St Sophia to the most grievous torture: the mother was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. She displayed adamant courage, and urged her daughters to endure their torments for the sake of their Lord. All three maidens were beheaded, without fear they bent their necks beneath the sword, knowing they died for their Christ. In order to intensify St Sophia’s inner suffering, the emperor permitted her to take the bodies of her daughters. She placed their remains in coffins and loaded them on a wagon. She drove beyond the city limits and reverently buried them on a high hill. St Sophia sat there by the graves of her daughters for three days, and finally she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr’s crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. Believers buried her body there beside the graves of her daughters. Reflecting on the Gospel reading from this morning, these holy martyrs would be those people invited to the wedding feast who arrived in their finest clothing. They prepared for their Lord in the best way they possibly could. They gave all of themselves to Christ in life, even in death. As Christ said about Mary of Bethany—they have chosen the better part. The final phrase of our Lord’s parable in this morning’s Gospel reading is a haunting one—“many are called, but few are chosen.” St. Sophia and her daughters heeded Christ’s call, and were chosen. In the parable, Christ initially called a select group to the wedding feast, and at their refusal to come to His feast, He expanded His invitation to everyone. We are all invited, by the Father, to the marriage feast of the Lamb. The heavenly wedding between the Son, Jesus Christ, and His bride, the Church. Many are called. All are offered the chance to be with Christ. But few are chosen. What does that mean? Does that mean that no matter what we do, no matter how fully we give ourselves to God, that He might not choose us? No. The Fathers of the Church interpret these words in light of the rest of the Scriptural Tradition. To interpret them to mean “God might not choose you even if you choose Him” is contrary to the rest of the witness of the Bible. The Scriptures plainly teach that God desires the salvation of all mankind. God calls everyone, it’s up to us to place ourselves on the side of the chosen. To heed His invitation, to put on our baptismal garments, and to proceed to the wedding feast of the king. In the Christian Church, salvation, accepting the invitation of Christ to His heavenly kingdom, requires the work of both man and God. God calls. God offers man the grace to respond to that call and to choose Christ. Man is responsible to accept that grace. God allows us, in the freedom He has given us out of His love for mankind, God allows us to reject Him. He won’t save us if we don’t want to be saved. But He promises that if desire Him, there’s nothing He won’t do to see that we can find Him. But what about the man who was cast out? The man who came to the feast, but wasn’t properly dressed, and was not only thrown out of the feast, but into outer darkness. This man represents those people who think themselves worthy of the banquet, but come unprepared. In today’s environment, this would be the people who don’t think they need saving. Or more devastatingly, those who confess Christ with their mouth, but don’t offer true repentance. People who have their Christianity as a security blanket, rather than as the guiding precept of their entire lives. The martyrs we celebrate today measured their every word by Christ. They chose to accept His invitation, and to be numbered (by His grace) among those who are chosen. In this morning’s reception of Justin as a catechumen, we see someone stepping out, as many of us have done in the past, to offer himself fully to Christ. In the service of the reception of the catechumen, we see what it takes to choose to be numbered among the chosen. In the first prayer we heard “enable him to walk in all Thy commandments.” To do everything that Christ taught. We struggle on a daily basis to just do a little of Christ’s teachings, when we’re called to fulfill them all. Then we heard four prayers of exorcism. Satan being bound and cast out, the catechumen being placed under the protection of Christ. Reminding Satan, and all of us, of the defeat of sin and evil and death on the Cross and in the Resurrection. Reminding us of what happens to those who choose Sin over Life—burning Gehenna and outer darkness. And toward the end of the service, the catechumen has several things to proclaim. “I renounce Satan, I unite myself to Christ, I believe in Him as King and God.” And after the recitation of the Nicene Creed, the Faith of the Christian Church, we joined in a final prayer that the catechumen will put of the old man, be no longer a child of the body, but filled with the life of the Holy Spirit. We prayed that Justin, and in fact that all of us, will choose to accept the grace of God and to struggle to conform ourselves, to unite ourselves, to Christ. By the grace of the all Holy Trinity, may we all accept the invitation of God to the Heavenly Wedding Banquet, choosing to follow Christ down the road to the Heavenly Kingdom. Glory to Jesus Christ!