Today is the Sunday of the Syro-Phonecian woman, this Sunday precedes the Sunday of Zaccheus that leads us to the preparatory Sundays before the Great Fast. Jesus, last week, had restored sight to a blind man who had recognized him in the eye of his heart, in his true mind, in his nous, to be what his own disciples did not know him to be – that is the son of David, the Messiah. And now, he goes into the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Why did he go out of Israel? Was it so he could insult the Syro-Phonecian woman? No, indeed. It was to show that the power that he exercised in Israel upon the Jewish people was also the power that he would exercise throughout the entire world.
So he comes, and this woman comes up to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And he doesn’t answer her. He wants to hear from her more, what does she have to say? She says, “Lord help me.” The conversation that he has with her has been interpreted by some rabbis as a terribly insulting conversation. He said, “It is not proper to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But is that what he really said? You know, in Greek there’s no question mark. As you read the conversation, it sounds not like a conversation between Jesus and the crowd, but an intimate conversation between Jesus and the woman. He is saying to her, “Is it proper to take the bread that belongs to the children – the house of Israel – and to give it to the dogs?” He’s not calling her a dog. In Jewish idiom, all gentiles were dogs. “Gentile dog” was a compound sort of like “Damned Yankee.” And so, when he says to her, “Is it proper – is it possible – to take the bread of the children of Israel, these people who don’t even understand what I’m doing and to give it to the gentile dogs?” She comes back with a very astute comment, “If the children are throwing their bread on the floor, then can’t the dogs take it?” That’s what she’s saying. “If the children of Israel aren’t accepting you, and I am, then shouldn’t I be able to benefit from what they’re not choosing?” The Lord says, “Great is your faith,” and He heals her daughter immediately, and He shows that His grace flows over, that even though he was sent first to the lost sheep of Israel, that His power, and His mercy, and His healing will extend to all the nations.
And so today, we are here, a gathering, a multitude of gentile dogs, of people who are not the descendents of Abraham after the flesh, but who have attained more than that, who have been grafted into the tree of Abraham, who have been made the true Israelites. But we come from a motley crowd. We are not a people who are monolithic in our culture, in our nationality, in our origin. God has taken us from many nations, from many cultures, from all of the colors of human flesh which was formed from the dust of the earth, and he has gathered us together in one assembly, in one ecclesia, one gather called out from among the nations to be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.
So, today we celebrate St. Gregory the Theologian, who was an Archbishop of Constantinople, but at the same time we celebrate St. Sava of Serbia, the first archbishop, a holy man, a man who could have been the king of his own country, who was cultivated by his father to succeed to the throne but who exchanged that earthly glory of the robes of a monastic, and then brought back to the Serbian people and through them to the Russian and Ukranian people, the treasures of the Law of God translated into the Slavonic language, and also brought back to us our beautiful Typicon of St. Sava’s of Palestine – which is why our service is a little different from the Greeks, because ours comes from Jerusalem, not second hand from some Greek town. So, we celebrate all the saints, the new martyrs who have died in Russia, at the very same time. And Romanian and Serbian ladies work together to make a wonderful feast in honor of St. Sava. And we remember when St. Sava died – when he caught pneumonia blessing the waters of the lake – and then died a week later on the leave-taking, it was to resolve a conflict in Bulgaria – to bring peace to the Bulgarian people. And we understand that what we really in is not a diminution of our culture by bringing together and mixing all of these wonderful gifts that God has given, distributed to the many nations, gathered together here in one community; but we have is that Greeks can have St. Sava for their own now, and Serbs can have St. Gregory, and the Romanians can have both of them, and we can all have St. Philothea, and St. Dmitru Bazarabov because they have all become our relatives, our kin, our family. They have all become our protectors, our intercessors.
So, today we glory in God’s mercy but I wanted you to think for a moment today, as you stand and pray, utter a prayer for the thousands of Serbian men, and some women, who came to this country, who took the jobs laboring in the mines; those who were shot down in cold blood by the state militia during the coal field wars, and those who died of black lung disease, those who were never able to return to their home land as they’d promise, but were never able to marry and leave children – remember that those people were the people who built this church here. But they have left very few children behind because their lives were difficult, because their struggle was hard. Very hard. Many many of them died very young. Pray for them. We always bless their graves at the cemetery, buried among the railroad tracks there. There all also some in Eerie, some in Lafayette, and up in Leadville, and down in Trinidad. So, pray for those people and remember that every year, no matter how cold it was, how snowy it was, no matter how dangerous the roads, these men and their wives if they had them, and their children would load into wagons with animals or Model T Fords and they would go down those mountain roads – sometimes at night a little boy would have to sit on the hood of the car with his flashlight to show where the road ahead was, snow blowing in his face – to come to Globeville, to gather here in this place, this place where the great Tesla, the great scientist, prayed together with them at one time. They came here to celebrate a saint who had touched their lives, and melted their hearts, and made them feel the love of God.
So today we honor St. Sava and we ask that by his prayers, we also, of many nations, of people who were gentile dogs, of people walking in darkness but have been brought to see the light and have been made children of Israel by water and the spirit, have been made more than that, have been made divine, have been made to have union with God himself, how we are made into one family; and lets ask our dear patron, Sava, to make us all feel a new burst of love and to be able to embrace each other in Christian fellowship as a family, to lay aside all of the foolish and trifling arguments and disagreements which throughout decades my have arisen among some of us, and to again stand before God and have the group photo taken in heaven of this household, this family, this Eucharistic assembly today, in peace and harmony and joy, with our father Sava standing behind us, embracing us like a great grandfather, holding us all warmly in his arms.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ.