Sermon on May 21, Feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen

John 9:39–10:9

 “Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore, Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

Today on the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen we celebrate the joy of conversion. When we bless the pre-sanctified lamb, during lent, we remember that because of Jesus’ death, “sacrifice to idols has ceased.” In the case of the conversion of St. Constantine, the persecution of the Christians also ceased, and eventually the whole Roman Empire became Christian.

The joy of conversion is not just for converts, and not just at the point of conversion. The life of Christ is a continual conversion. We are continually re-baptized in the tears of repentance. The single moment of conversion is but a single moment of joy, and should not be represented as any kind of fulfillment. At my own conversion, when I was chrismated, the priest told me that the battle had just begun. Now comes all the work.

Orthodox Christians have been tempted to see the conversion of Constantine as a kind of fulfillment of the Kingdom on earth, a kind of Millennialism still survives, curiously, even though the Byzantine Empire which was supposed to be identical to the Kingdom of God does not survive. Has the Kingdom of God ceased at the fall of Constantinople? Of course not. Because they were not identical.

Jesus said, in today’s gospel reading, “I am the gate.” The good news of the conversion of Constantine is that he found Christianity and was given the mercy of joining the church, not that Christianity found Constantine and was given the mercy of receiving him.

If you are looking for a way to see the will of God and the mighty acts of God do not look for political signs. You will not see God if you look for conspiracies, political parties, or big cosmic narratives. You will not see the divine perspective on the world by turning on your TV or computer but by turning them off.

The work of God is, rather, seen on the road to Damascus. Listen to today’s epistle:

Acts 26:1-5, 12-20

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.   “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee.  “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.”

When Jesus comes with great power, he changes the heart of one person at a time. And that is the miracle which is celebrated today on the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen. That is the mighty act of God: repentance and obedience. The glory of God is a man fully alive.

The Divine Liturgy is your personal road to Damascus experience, which empowers you to be conformed to the image of Christ. Come to the Divine Liturgy to see what God is doing.