“Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.” (Matt 8:11)


Today my dear Christians, in the Holy Gospel reading, Christ spoke about a man, but not only spoke about him, He praised him publicly, Christ has done this only on a couple of occasions, where He praised someone in astonishment. This man was not a Jew; he did not belong to the true Faith of Israel. He was in fact an idol worshiper, he believed in false gods. He was a Roman officer by profession, and to be more precise; by rank he was a centurion, which in today’s analogy, we would refer to him as a captain in the army. He had a hundred soldiers under his command and was stationed in the city of Capernaum.

As an idolater, one would have expected him to exhibit the evils, impurities and iniquities of the ancient world. In the heart of this man, however, were sparks of virtue that surpassed morally the virtue of many Israelites who belonged to the true Faith. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon which can be seen today also. For example, there are those people who belong to the one and only true Faith, Christianity; who label themselves as Orthodox Christians, yet in practice, they do not know the first thing about what it means to be a Christian, so accordingly, they live not like Christians. They verbally profess that they are in the true Faith, but in action, they do not even truly believe in God. The elements of our Faith such as prayer, fasting, attending church, involvement in the Holy Sacraments is all but unknown and alien to them, quite simply, they are secular, materialistic people.

As Christians of course, we are all obligated before God, to be more virtuous, righteous and ethical than the others who belong to imperfect false beliefs; like all the pagans and heretics. Sadly, this is not the case for many people. What is most disappointing, many pagans and heretics are by far morally stronger than many of the Christians; they are righteous in their hearts and virtuous in their ways, just as this idol-worshiping centurion in today’s Gospel was in comparison with many of the Israelites of his time. How is this phenomenon explained? A good and simple example comes to mind, for me to share with you. It is based on one of the parables our Lord Jesus preached in a different Gospel.

Someone was given a thousand gold coins. Instead of using the gold wisely, he was slothful and lazy and so he buried it deep into the earth. There was another man however, who received half the amount of gold coins which the first man received, however, this man was enthusiastic, conscientious and a hard worker. He used his inheritance wisely, and put his thoughts into action, therefore he not only sustained his inheritance, but he doubled and tripled the amount he was given. As a result of his efforts, everyone respected and admired him as they wondered how he, with so little, surpassed the other man who had twice as much capital to begin with. Let us now see how this story relates to today’s Gospel passage. The gold which was given in both cases symbolizes the Christian Faith, which was given to us by God Himself. Unfortunately, most Christians, to whom this precious treasure of Orthodoxy was given to, do not cherish it and certainly do not make use of it. Instead they are lazy, indifferent, uninterested, and often faithless with atheistic mentalities. They bury the truth of the word of God deep into the ground and live like pagans, if not worse, yet they demand to be called Christians. In secular society, if a person wishes to become a citizen of a different country, it is evident that they must first spend a certain amount of years in the country blending in and acclimatising to the culture, and more importantly, respecting and keeping all the civil laws. You see, just as those people need to make that effort to gain a citizenship; Christians must also make effort to respect and keep God’s Law and acclimatise to the Church’s environment, which is made up of Holy Scriptures, Holy Canons, Holy Traditions; both written and unwritten. By acclimatising to the Church environment, we earn a legitimate status as Christians before God, and as we strive to progress spiritually, by accepting and keeping God’s Law and His commandments; only then will we be granted a citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Contrary to the things we just mentioned, when the so-called Christians are overcome by sins and transgressions, the opposite is often happening to those of false beliefs and creeds, who by tradition or conscience, bring forth virtues which are admirable. We see heretics, Jews, Moslems and pagans who follow and practice with zeal the teachings of their own beliefs and dogmas, while many of us Christians ignore our Faith, which is the only truth. Unfortunately, most people think today that it is naïve to say that there is only one true Faith. Well, if you refuse to believe in the one true God, then naturally you will think this way. Unfortunately for us, these are the people who sometimes surpass the Christians in virtue. The ones sitting in darkness do deeds of good, and those in light, do deeds of evil. They set examples in virtue, while Christians become pioneers in sin. The fact of the matter is, that these pseudo-Christians are insulting the name Christianity; In fact they give people wrong impressions for the true Faith.

Let us come back again to the Centurion. According to the assurance of Christ, Who is the only one Who can rightly evaluate the worth of each person, the centurion appeared superior to contemporary Jews; superior in love, superior in faith and superior in humility. Many of the Jews, in spite of what God’s commandments say about love; proved to be unloving, even to the dearest people in their lives. The centurion, he was not like them, he showed love, and for who? His act of love was for a slave my dear brethren. In those times, slaves were neither regarded nor treated as people. They had no rights; they were sold and bought in the same way animals today are sold and bought at farms. They were often slaughtered, and their flesh was used as food for the Roman fisheries. And yet for a sick slave, the centurion of today’s Gospel showed great concern and compassion. He came to Christ, and begged Him to heal the slave.

Another area in which the centurion was shown to be superior, was humility. Most of the Jews, and certainly their leaders; the scribes and the Pharisees, even though they witnessed the majesty and magnificence of Christ every day, did not hesitate to speak contemptuously about Him. They referred to Him as “the son of the carpenter” disgracefully, when they would talk about Him. The centurion, on the other hand, was quick to acknowledge his unworthiness before our Lord, as he said to Him: “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof”. (Matt 8:8) He recognised a moral distance between himself and Christ. When Jesus entered Capernaum, the centurion went to Him, begging and saying: “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.” (Matt 8:6,7) That is when the centurion expressed himself to Jesus in public saying aloud in anguish: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” (Matt 8:8) This would have been extremely humiliating for a man like the centurion to do, because he was a man with authority; so to be desperately seeking the well-being for a slave, especially from the point of view of the Scribes and Pharisees, this was ridiculous and blasphemous to them because they hated the fact that he was asking Jesus “the carpenter’s son” for help.  The centurion continued his pleading with Christ, but he felt very unworthy to bring Christ into his home; and so he said: “Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Matt 8:8,9) When Jesus heard those words, He was truly amazed and He said to the people who were following Him: “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matt 8:10) Jesus praised the centurion for his great display of faith and said to him:  “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” (Matt 8:13) and just like that, in an instant his servant was healed. If we too truly believe and show faith in Christ, He will praise us as He did to the centurion, however, He will do so on the Great Day of His Second Coming; on Judgment Day, and He will not only praise us before all men, but before all the angels in Heaven, and that praise will be everlasting.

Christ also said something else to the multitude: “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:11,12) What was the message Christ was trying to send here to the people? First of all, Christ was warning the Jews who so arrogantly declared that they were God’s chosen people. He was giving them a wake up call because their hearts had become like as hard as rocks, and because their actions contradicted their teachings. He said that one day, people from the east and from the west, meaning Gentiles; will repent and become believers of the true God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that those who were indeed God’s people, who thought themselves to be children of the Kingdom of Heaven will perish and shall be damned to everlasting torment, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This message was not only for the old Israel, but also for the new Israel. We, who often boast about being Orthodox Christians, may one day find ourselves outside of the true Faith, because of our failure to live the Christian way of life. We are supposed to be living examples of virtue and beacons of light to help navigate those who are lost in darkness, back to the harbour of light. When we do not practice and confess our Faith, then it will be taken away from us, and given to the non-Christians who repent and seek truth and salvation.

Let us then imitate the actions of the centurion my dear brethren, by begging Christ our God to heal us, who are slaves not to men, but to our passions; let us again, like the centurion humble ourselves before Christ our God, and before all men, as we unworthily ask for God’s mercy, but more importantly, let us ask Christ to give us faith, so that like the centurion did, we too may please God, and then maybe our prayers shall be answered. Understand, that we have a far greater advantage over the centurion, because we are Christians, we have been baptised in the All Holy Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we have put on Christ. We have the Grace of the Holy Spirit within us, therefore, we have all which is needed to become virtuous Christians, seeking to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, where we may; like our Saviour said today: “sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob” unto the ages of ages. Amen.  

Hieromonk Sozómenos
Saints Constantine & Helen Parish and
Holy Chapel of Saint Nektarios

Birmingham, UK. - 2012 a.d.

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