I know it must come as a terrible shock to all of you that when we were considering going to seminary I was a bit of an insufferable know-it-all. It probably can’t even be said, completely truthfully, that what we did was “consider.” I am fairly certain I didn’t stop to consider anything. I know my wife had reservations about the plan, if one could even call it that. I was convinced, however, that God had called me from His lofty heights to shepherd the poor, unwashed, dull-eyed masses. I was going to save them all through my intellect and a bit of old sav·oir faire.
I had these delusions of grandeur right up until the first day of seminary when God, in unambiguous fashion, set before me a problem in the person of Fr Alexander, a Russian priest, professor, and the academic dean. For those of you who’ve not heard this account, let me briefly tell you my first encounter with Fr Alexander, and my own hubris. That first day, during an orientation session, Fr Alexander began asking the new seminarians why we were all there. An outstanding question many of us probably thought until we started to give our answers.
The first unfortunate soul said that God had called him to seminary. Fr Alexander’s response has been mythologized in my brain and super-imposed with the character of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride. I can just hear him saying, “Oooh toopoo, look who knows so much, eh?” In reality, what he said was far more unnerving. He replied, “who are you that God should speak to you?” It was then that I realized that maybe there was no “call” on my life. Maybe I wasn’t going to lead an Orthodox revolution. Maybe I had just put my family into sink hole from which it would take years to emerge. Who was I that God should call me to service?
This is a question that I have wrestled with since that day, and I know some of you wrestle with a related question about the “call” on your life. Are you called to service, or to ministry, or visitation, or giving, or to priesthood, or self-sacrifice, or holiness, or martyrdom? The answer is yes, you are. The Gospel lesson today makes it clear that the entire human race is called from all eternity. We are called to be the glorious and redeemed bride of the eternal Bridegroom who is Christ himself.
Today, in the parable, the King gives a marriage feast for His Son. This marriage feast is seen in patristic thought as the joining of the Bride and the Bridegroom in the Incarnation, Christ’s taking on of our human nature. And the King calls us to be joined to Him, to sup with Him, but the people did not come. In the narrative we might envision the King not understanding this response. He sends the servants out again saying:
‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’
But the response was harsher this time. Some made fun, some had business to attend or worldly cares to busy themselves with, and some even murdered the King’s servants. Then the King took retribution upon them, killing them and burning their city, but He was not finished. The King had prepared this glorious bounty. He had supplied the best His Kingdom could offer and He wanted His hall filled. In other words, the people were called. They were invited. They were not forced to attend this feast. He laid no onerous obligation on them. In taking the language of the Fathers of the Church and the imagery of the Incarnation, this King, who is God Himself, invited the whole of humanity to unite themselves to Him. As Athanasius tells us, “God became man so that man might become god.” He has invited us to life, to immortality, to freedom from passion and necessity, and His call was rejected.
God called, has called, and is calling us to communion, to participation not only in a religious exercise, or obligation, but to participate in His very life. And so, the first people having responded with negligence and violence, the King calls those who didn’t hear the first call. And the Scriptures tell us that both good and bad were gathered together in the feast hall.
You see, your calling and mine are the same. It is the same calling of our blessed Mother Maria; the same as St John Chrysostom, or Basil the Great, or Gregory of Nyssa, or the Apostle Paul. The call, the universal, and unambiguous call, of God to all humanity is to be united with Himself. You are called to unite yourself to Christ; to put on Christ; to be filled with the Holy Spirit in Christ to the glory of the Father. And, as a feast cannot be a feast without the meal, so to full union with Christ is incomplete without the culmination of the Feast and that is the partaking of Christ’s Holy Body and Blood.
The Bridegroom eternally calls His Bride, which is the Church. The Bride responds to the gift of an incorruptible life and immortality, joined forever to her beloved. We persons, who are the Church die to ourselves, rejecting Satan and all of his works and all of his angels, and all of his evils, and all his pride. We put off the old man and die in the baptismal fount, rising as new creatures in Christ, putting on the heavenly wedding garment, marked with the Holy Spirit and are given a glorious consummation of this cosmic wedding which is the partaking of the life of Life.
A final word, here, must be said about the ending of the parable. The King finds someone who does not have on a wedding garment. The King does not immediately judge, but rather, calls him ‘Friend’. But when this man can make no answer, no excuse, for his attire, he is cast out. This guest had not put on Christ. He had not put off his old clothing. He had not died to his old self so that he might rise in Christ and participate in Him.
He had also been called by God, as all humanity has, but he did not respond in the proper way. Maybe he thought, as I once did, that he was special among all the others. Maybe he thought that the calling wasn’t about service and martyrdom but about leading and influencing. Maybe he was one of those who want so desperately to be a big deal, and to change the world, that he could never cultivate humility. Maybe he is a picture of you or me.
God calls from all eternity to the Bride. May we remember that in order to respond to the call we must die to ourselves. May we unite ourselves to Christ, to put on Christ and to live Christ. May we always give thanks to God for the wondrous and life-giving consummation of the cosmic wedding feast of which we have been made worthy through His life and His blood. To Him be glory forever: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.