Though in the Orthodox Church November 1st is not our day to remember “All Saints,” I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity the western holy day affords, especially when Anglican priest Malcolm Guite has written a fitting poem, Sonnet for All Saints Day. If you visit his site you might like to stay awhile and explore others of his lovely poems; for each one he posts an accompanying audio file of him reading his work. For that reason I’m sending you directly to his page, so you can hear the poet himself.
On Sept 25th we are remembering St. Sergius of Radonezh, a Russian of the 14th century who “filled the wilderness with ceaseless prayer, and transformed the forest into a holy place of God.” From The Prologue of Ohrid I give you this sweet story:
A saint does not shine outwardly. All of his riches are within, in his soul. A peasant came from afar to the monastery to see St. Sergius. When he asked the monks for the abbot, they told him he was working in the garden. The peasant went to the garden, and there saw a man in poor, ragged clothes, digging like any other peasant on a farm. The peasant returned to the monastery dissatisfied, thinking that the monks had made fun of him. So, to make things clear, he asked again for the glorious holy father, Sergius. Just then, Sergius returned to the monastery, and welcomed the peasant, serving him at the table. The saint saw into the heart of his guest, and knew the low opinion he had of his appearance. He consoled him by promising that he would see Sergius in a little while.
A prince and his boyars then arrived at the monastery, and they all bowed low to St. Sergius, and asked his blessing. The monks then removed the peasant from the room in order to make room for the new guests. In amazement the peasant looked on from a distance, to see that the one he had sought had been nearby all the time. The peasant rebuked himself for his ignorance, and was greatly ashamed. When the prince departed, the peasant quickly approached the saint, fell at his feet and began to beg his forgiveness. The great saint embraced him and said to him: “Do not grieve, my son, for you are the only one who knew the truth about me, considering me to be nothing–while others were deluded, taking me for something great.”
painting by Mikhail Nesterov
I remember as a Protestant laughing at the prophet Jonah, because he seems to make himself ridiculous in his pouting conversation with God. Essentially, his emotions are all over the place, which I can relate to. Jonah is unhappy when God spares the people of Nineveh, because that means his prophecy of their destruction doesn’t come to pass, and it makes him look bad. Then he is “exceedingly glad” when God makes a gourd grow up to give him a little shade. When the gourd dies he is very displeased again. And God chastises him for having more pity on a gourd than on a whole city full of humans.
In the Orthodox Church we read the entire book of Jonah in church every Holy Saturday, along with a dozen other Old Testament passages. No one ever chuckles when we get to this part of the story; Jonah has a lot to teach us about our salvation, and we revere him for the fact that God made his life a picture of Christ’s death and Resurrection.
For the Prologue of Ohrid St. Nikolai has written a Hymn of Praise to God for how He worked in and through Jonah’s life, and for His forgiveness. I imagine that much of the poetry got lost in the translation from the Serbian language, but I appreciate the attitude toward the Holy Prophet Jonah, whom we commemorate on this day.
THE HOLY PROPHET JONAH
Nineveh! Nineveh resounds with sin,
And God sends Jonah to heal Nineveh.
Jonah does not want to, and flees from God!
Oh, where will you go, Jonah, to hide from the Most High?
Jonah sleeps; he sleeps and the tempest rises.
God moves slowly, but He will find you in time.
Hurled into the waves, swallowed by the whale,
“From whom did I flee?” Jonah asks himself.
“I fled from Him, from Whom one cannot hide!”
God chastises Jonah and yet delivers him,
And, by His providence, glorifies him forever.
Jonah, you do not want to speak to the Ninevites,
But through your punishment you will prophesy the immortal Christ.
You do not want to by words? Then you must, by deeds,
Prophesy Christ and the death and resurrection of the body!
Your deeds, Jonah, will not fade away,
And Christ the Lord will speak of you to men,
That, through you, the mercy of the Living God might be revealed,
By which you will be saved, as well as Nineveh.
Through you, the power of repentance shall be revealed–
The power of repentance and God’s forgiveness.
You pitied the gourd, and God pitied men.
Help us to repent, O God, and save us from condemnation.