In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. Every year, two Sundays before we celebrate the Nativity of Christ, we remember His forefathers, His relatives according to the flesh. This remembrance is given to us for a very specific reason, which is mentioned by St. Gregory Palamas in one of his homilies for this very Sunday. This Sunday is given to us, St. Gregory writes, so that we can know that the Hebrews were not cut off by God, nor were the Christians grafted on (as St. Paul writes) in a way that was unjust or unreasonable. There is an inner continuation between the Old and the New Covenants. And in learning this, we’re offered a warning from the history of God’s chosen people.

The forefathers of Christ were, for the most part, Jews. They were from the Chosen People of God—one of the very reasons that God had chosen a people was to prepare that people and eventually to bring forth the Messiah from that people. The Fathers of the Church are very careful to make sure we understand that being a chosen people doesn’t mean your better than everyone else. The Chosen People are chosen by an all-knowing God to fulfill His purposes. And that’s it. So the relatives of Christ were obviously from among the Jews. All of Hebrew people were the Chosen People, but only some of the people are recognized to be the forefathers of Christ. And this really doesn’t have anything to do with bloodline (not necessitated on). It reveals to us that though there were a great multitude of Israelites, only those who followed God’s commandments were chosen for kinship with God. Only those who truly lived as Israelites were counted as Israelites.

St. Gregory writes of these true Israelites, “to them the prophecies belonged, through them future events were prefigured, and to them the promises were given. Only these men [the one’s who followed the will of God] were the true fathers and forefathers, firstly of her who in virginity bore Christ, who is God over all, according to the flesh, and then, through Him, of ourselves. These fathers and forefathers certainly were not cast out of Christ’s Church, for they are publically commemorated by us today as partakers of the fullness of the saints. For in Christ there is neither old nor new, nor Greek nor Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all.’ In Him there is no Jew, which is one merely outwardly, neither is there any circumcision, which is outward, but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter of the law. All, old and new, who have been well-pleasing to God, and all who have led lives acceptable to God, either before the law, under the law or after the law in the gospel of grace, have this circumcision and are united by it” (On the Saints: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, Mount Thabor Publishing, 2008, pp1-2).

This is where the great importance of this day for us is seen. It is a reminder that our relationship with God, as members of the New Covenant, is based on the same factor as those members of the Old Covenant—the true members of Christ are those who do the will of God. Outward membership in the Church is not enough. To simply call ourselves members of the Body of Christ isn’t enough. Remember Christ’s words to the Jews; He warned them that simply calling themselves the children of Abraham was worthless—God could raise up children to Abraham from the stones if He so chose (Matthew 3:9). Just because we’re baptized and chrismated members of the Orthodox Church, doesn’t guarantee that we’re true followers of Christ. Just because we go to Church regularly and tithe and are active members of a local parish, doesn’t guarantee that we’re true followers of Christ. Even saying our prayers and reading the Scriptures at home and keeping to the fasts and ascetic life of the Church, doesn’t guarantee that we’re true followers of Christ.

The transformation that we’re looking for is not just external (though that will certainly happen). The true Christian is one who is being transformed in his heart by the presence of Christ, by a longing to do the things of God. St. Gregory writes, “…not all of us who are called after Christ…will be reckoned as belonging to the Christian race, but only those who live according to His will, keep His commandments, and make up for their shortcomings with repentance” (ibid. p3). To be chosen by God is an inner transformation. Through the history of God’s dealing with man, it was not outward but inward obedience that indicates chosen-ness In our understanding of the New Testament, to be chosen by God for salvation means that we choose God. The Church is the New Covenant, the chosen people…but we choose to be her members. The question put before us by the Church today—are we living as true members of the Body of Christ? That’s the most important questions we’ll consider today.

Glory to Christ! Glory forever!