The sermon delivered by His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of Romania, on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, 06 September 2015, during the solemn Divine Liturgy celebrated on the stage in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Cluj-Napoca, during the European Orthodox Youth Meeting (you can also find below the Russian translation of the text):
14th Sunday after Pentecost
(The Parable of the Wedding Banquet) Matthew 22:2-14
“Jesus spoke to them again in parables saying: The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding. But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding. So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Gospel reading of the 14th Sunday after Pentecost contains several teachings regarding the mystery of the salvation of the world in our Lord Jesus Christ, the mystery of the Church and of eternal life. The king that prepares the wedding for his son is God the Father Himself. The king’s son is our Lord Jesus Christ. The wedding is the Kingdom of God. The bride is the Church, namely the multitude of people called to salvation, who answer promptly to this calling and put on through Baptism the wedding garment of Christian faith and life.
Firstly, the Gospel presents the calling of Jews to salvation, to whom God had sent His servants, prophets and heralds of the coming of Christ (the Messiah) into the world. Many of those invited did not answer to the invitation. Some of them excused themselves that they could not come being busy with the farm, others with commerce. They were too bound to the evanescent profit and could not find any more time for gaining the unperishable and eternal goods.
Others even responded with hostility, disdaining and killing the servants of the king. These servants represent the prophets, who were put to death by stoning, they were sawed in two parts, persecuted, chased away from the world, in desert places.
Hearing about what happened the king was angered and sent his armies to destroy the murderers, setting their cities on fire. These events came to pass through the invasions of the foreign peoples, when the temple in Jerusalem and the city were set on fire. Because the wedding was ready, the king sent his servants again saying: “Go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding”. Thus, “the wedding hall was filled with guests”. This second call or invitation to the wedding is the calling of the Gentiles or the pagan peoples to salvation, the good and the bad, people on the highways, who have never claimed to be a chosen people. The Gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ was directed towards them when they were pagans or polytheists, wandering at the crossroads of history without a precise direction, without the light of the Revelation of the Creator of Heaven and earth, living “in darkness and in the shadow of death”, as the Gospel relates about the Galilee of the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15). Pagan peoples were also called to salvation because the love of the heavenly King is universal, and covers the entire humanity; even if this love prefers some persons, it never excludes the other human beings. And while the hall was full of guests, the king arrived and observed that one of them did not have on a wedding garment. He asked this man: “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12). Naming him a friend means that he was an acquaintance, he was a friend of the house, but he didn’t prepare himself according to the friendship and honourable invitation addressed to him. When the king asked him “how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” he remained silent. This silence meant the lack of every possible excuse, the silence of man guilty for not being prepared for the wedding. Then the king ordered that the one without a wedding garment have his hands and feet tied up and be cast into the outer darkness, which means he was deprived of the freedom and the light of the communion of man with God.
Most probably the friend without a wedding garment who was present at the dinner offered by the king prefigured Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus during the night (cf. John 13:30), but also all those who had become Christians and denied Christ afterwards.
The Gospel excerpt ends with this expression that became famous: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
It depends on the freedom of humans to be chosen or not
The Holy Church Fathers, and especially St Gregory of Nyssa, who lived in the 4th century, have interpreted this expression “Many are called, but few are chosen”, saying that all humans are called to salvation, but only those who respond to the call are chosen, and more precisely those who prepare themselves to fulfil the will of God, Who calls them to eternal life. All human beings are called in Jesus Christ to join His heavenly wedding, to acquire salvation, that is the joy of the communion in love and eternal life, but become chosen ones those who respond to the call of God through faith, prayer and good deeds. They take heed to the Holy Gospel, participate in the divine services, and partake of the Holy Sacraments, which represent the pledge of the wedding of the king’s son, and offer assistance to those in need. Those who by many labours, through tears of repentance cleanse the garment received at the moment of Baptism and stained by sins, and illuminate themselves through the Holy Sacraments of Confession and Communion become also chosen ones. Therefore,the Gospel teaches us that every human being is called by God to eternal life, but it depends on our freedom whether we are chosen or not, whether we are prepared or unprepared for the communion with God. The Gospel regarding the calling to salvation that God addresses to us in order to participate in the wedding of eternal life is connected to the mystery of our freedom: are we responding to this call or refuse it? Are we dressing our soul with the new garment of the sanctifying grace or are we wearing the garment outworn by sins?
The wedding garment is the vestment of faith and good deeds that illuminate the soul
When the Gospel speaks about the wedding garment it does not refer only to the outer clothing that cover the body of the transitory human being, but it especially refers to the garment of the human’s soul, who presents himself in front of the Righteous Judge in a vestment of light or of darkness, in the light of faith and of good deeds, or in the darkness of unbelief and of bad deeds or of sins.
Actually, this garment is the grace of Christ received by Baptism, as St Paul the Apostle tells us saying: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”(Galatians 3:27). We have put on Christ meaning that by Baptism we put on the garment of His grace, with the garment of His luminous and sanctifying presence, within and around us. Therefore, we ask during the Sacrament of Baptism: “Grant me a tunic of light, O most merciful, Who gives light”. The robe of divine light received in Baptism is “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:13). When we were baptized in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, we received the grace of the Most Holy Trinity, namely the robe of divine light for the soul. Yet, when we forget about the Most Holy Trinity, when we cease to pray, when we stop listening to the word of Christ’s Gospel, when we sin by thought, word and deed, then our robe of divine light received in Baptism becomes dark and ugly. In order to regain this wedding robe of divine light given to us in Baptism, and in order to participate in the Eucharistic banquet, we must repent of our sins and chase away the darkness in our thoughts, words and deeds, replacing them with good thoughts, words and deeds of faith full of the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ, full of the merciful love of God the Father, full of the light of the Holy Spirit. All these can be accomplished especially through prayer and confession, which is considered to be a Baptism of the tears. Thatis why the faces of people who pray constantly become illuminated, while some of those who pray ardently have become worthy even in this world to see or even to be seen shrouded in the uncreated light of the grace, in the glory manifested on Mount Tabor, when Christ our Lord transfigured was “revealing His glory to His disciples as far as they could bear it”.
A similar experience lived St Simeon the New Theologian (11th century), St Pious Theodora of Sihla from the Carpathians (17th century), St Seraphim of Sarov (19th century) and other saints. Even in this world they received the garment of the unfading never-setting light, which is offered by the Holy Spirit to the souls that unite with God through prayer, through the Holy Sacraments, and though good deeds, receiving the luminous grace of the Most Holy Trinity. Therefore, the luminous garment of the faithful and pure soul is the very presence of God in grace, in human beings. That is why, St Paul the Apostle affirms that while our outward man perishes (ages), the inward man is renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16). St Paul exhorts us also by saying: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). These are fruits resulted from the action of the Holy Spirit in humans (Galatians 5:22-23).
Let us pray to God to help us prepare our garment for the celestial wedding, that we are now foretasting in the Holy Eucharist, let us cleanse it from the darkness of our sins through repentance and confession, let us illuminate it through prayer and the kindness of mercifulness, of assisting the poor, the sick, the orphans, the elderly, and all those that God calls to salvation, even if they never consider themselves worthy of such a high honour. The Church of Christ experiences great joy when many children and youth participate in the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy, proving that the grace received in Baptism is present and active within them, in order to become witnesses of the merciful love of Christ towards humanity and missionaries of the Church of Christ in the world, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the joy of the fellow human beings. Amen!
Patriarch of Romania