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June 23, 2019
Delivered by Archpriest Basil Rhodes
Today is an exciting day! It’s the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday or Holy Pentecost, and on it we celebrate all of the saints. Not just one or two, not just a small group of them, but ALL of them - known and unknown. That’s why we have this particular relic out today. It’s a relic, a piece of bone, from a monk who was martyred in the early 7th century when the Persians captured Palestine. He lived in the Monastery of St. Theodosios the Cenobiarch, just a few miles from Bethlehem, and died along with his brother monks, but we don’t know his name. The relics of those martyrs were buried in a mass grave. There are many bones, but we don’t have the names that go along with those bones, but God does. God knows their names, and God knows this man’s name. God knows him and loves him for all eternity. That’s what we mean when we sing “Memory eternal!” We mean: “May they live forever in the memory of God!” And of course, they do, the saints do, the righteous do. But human memory, human remembrance is not nearly so long-lived.  After three or four generations we are nearly always forgotten. But God does not forget His righteous ones, ever!
I’d like to take a quick look at one of the Old Testament saints. This one is in the Bible, so not forgotten in that sense. But he certainly may have felt forgotten, lonely, separated from everyone and everything. And this saint is Noah. Let’s look at some of the details of his life having to do with the ark. Noah entered the ark when he was 600 years, 2 months, and 10 days old. Seven days later the rain began to fall. The rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights. The floodwaters spread across the entire earth, covering the mountains to a depth of 20 feet. All living creatures on dry land were wiped out. The flood covered the earth for 150 days. As the floodwaters receded, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, a region where modern Turkey, Iran, and Armenia converge, near the border with Russia. Seventy-four days later the very tops of the highest mountains became visible. Forty days later Noah sent out a raven. Noah then sent out a dove on three occasions. The third time it did not return. Two weeks later he saw dry land. Noah stayed in the ark another 57 days until the Lord told him it was safe to leave. Noah was 601 years, 2 months, and 27 days old when he left the ark. If we add it all up, Noah spent one year and 17 days in the ark. That’s a long time in a cramped space, with your wife, your kids, your in-laws, and yes - lots and lots of animals. It was disgusting, stifling, fly-infested, wretched in every way.

The Holy Scriptures don’t tell us anything about Noah’s feelings, emotions, or thoughts during the long time he spent in the ark. We know that he was a man of faith because St Paul, in Hebrews 11:7, says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”  Did he perhaps worry and wonder if God had forgotten him? We wouldn’t blame him if he had his doubts. We all do, on occasion. There he was. He was obedient in all things, yet he was in a giant boat bobbing up and down with the waves. One day fades into another. He cannot see the sun because of the cloud cover. There is no course to follow, just drifting on the surface of the endless, endless ocean. The ancient mariner, gone and forgotten. But what does Genesis say concerning Noah? Genesis 8:1 begins with the words “And God remembered Noah.” And then what happened? Everything dried up “And Noah came forth, and his wife and his sons, and his sons' wives with him. And all the wild beasts and all the cattle and every bird, and every reptile creeping upon the earth after their kind, came forth out of the ark. And Noah built an altar to the Lord...” (v.18-20). That’s right, God had not forgotten Noah, or his wife, or his family, or even the animals. That’s what Genesis says, not even the animals!
Have we ever felt alone, forgotten, isolated, neglected, despondent, hopeless? Let us not despair. As God never forgets the name and the life of every saint, neither does He forget us who strive to love Him, honor Him, and please Him, just like Noah did. Was Noah perfect? No he wasn’t. We know that from the Bible. But his heart was always to please God. St. Basil the Great says: “Let us be glad and bear with patience everything the world throws at us, secure in the knowledge that it is then that we are most in the mind of God.” So we are never alone, we are never forgotten. God is always near, even if we don’t feel His presence or recognize His activity. The Mother of God is also our helper and protector, our advocate and defender, and our intercessor at the time of death. And what did the Epistle reading say today?  “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12: 1-2). Who are these “great cloud of witnesses?” They are the saints, all of whom we celebrate today, and all of whom care for us, pray for us, and occasionally even act on our behalf. St. John of Kronstadt says: “When your faith in the Lord, either during your life of health and prosperity, or in the time of sickness and at the moment of departing this life, grows weak, grows dim from worldly vanity or through illness, or from the terrors and darkness of death, then look with the mental eyes of your heart upon the companies of our forefathers, the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous ones: St. Simeon, who took the Lord up in his arms, Job, Anna the Prophetess, and others; the Apostles, prelates, venerable Fathers, martyrs, the holy unmercenaries, the righteous, and all the saints. See how, both during their earthly life and at the time of their departure from this life, they unceasingly looked to God and died in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life, and then, strive to imitate them! These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable to strengthen the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord now, and unto the future life.” Amen.