After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways ... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church. ~St. Philaret of NY


Sermon for Sunday of the Holy Fathers

(Mt. 1:1-25) 

The Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord is called the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, and the Gospel reading gives us the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we might think that of all the Gospel readings, this one is the most tedious, for what can we learn from just a list of names?  At first glance it seems inconsequential.      

One of the duties of a Christian, besides prayer, is the reading of Holy Scripture.  If we look at today’s Gospel reading carefully, it opens up a whole different picture.  Even a superficial knowledge of Holy Scripture leads us to another world.      

Today’s Gospel reading lists the Lord’s ancestors in the flesh, starting with Abraham and ending with Joseph, the Betrothed of the Virgin Mary.  One of the first questions one might ask is, is this the genealogy of Joseph the Betrothed?  The Jews at that time had the custom of choosing a bride from one’s own tribe.  Therefore, the genealogy of Joseph the Betrothed is also the genealogy of the Mother of Christ.      

Furthermore, one could not have talked about the seedless conception of the Son of God while the Mother of God was still alive.  If even Christ’s miracles did not open the eyes of the Jews that before them was no ordinary man, they would have been enraged to hear of a virgin birth.  It would be easier for them to come to the faith if first they were convinced and come to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and only afterwards know that He was born of a Virgin.     

From all this we can understand that the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew was written for the contemporaries of Jesus Christ, and it follows that the Gospel of Matthew was written primarily for the Jews.      

Among the kings of Judea who reigned in Jerusalem 600 years prior to the Birth of Christ, there were two kings Josiah and his son Jechoniah.  Josiah found the Book of the Law of God by chance, since previous idol-worshipping kings had destroyed the Book of the Law of God in the Temple of Solomon.  When Josiah found the book, he read it and “rent his clothes,” signifying repentance.  After his death, when the book of the Holy Prophet Jeremiah in the Law of God was read to his son Jehoiachin, he not only refused to repent, but he flew into a rage, tore up the book, and burned it up completely.  One and the same reading of the Law of God benefited one, and corrupted the other.  Let us not follow the example of Jehoiachin when reading about the ancestry of Christ, but follow the example of his father Josiah.      

Sometimes the ancestry of Jesus Christ follows the line of kings, that is, noble extraction, and sometimes along the line of shepherds, that is, simple extraction. See how worldly fortunes can change: some people arose from the dunghill to the height of royalty, while others were brought low from the royal throne to the level of common folk, such as a simple carpenter, just as this genealogy ends.      

Therefore, it is not one’s ancestral origin or lack of spiritual worth that is important in the eyes of Eternity, before the face of God.  There are many names in the genealogy of Christ that cannot boast of being beyond reproach from a moral point of view (Tamar, Rachab, Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, and others).  Their inclusion emphasizes the fact that, in God’s eyes, the depravity of the parents in no way disgraces a pious person, and does not at all detract from his virtues.       

It is interesting to note that the whole genealogy is divided into three parts with fourteen generations each.  The first fourteen generations are theocratic, the second fourteen generations monarchical (of kings), and the third fourteen generations aristocratic (of specially chosen people).  This in itself did not make the people any better, or more God-fearing.  Again, we should take note of the inner spiritual condition of the nation and individuals.       

Out of all the 42 generations mentioned, Holy Scripture indicates three, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who did not sin before God (2 Chron. 36:8 -- prayer of Manasseh) and three, David, Hezekiah, and Josiah, who repented (Wis. of Sir. 49:4).  Nothing is said concerning the rest, whether they were saved or not, and how God’s mercy dealt with them.  From this we can see for our edification that many are called and few are chosen.      

Many were in Christ’s lineage, yet few were with Him in spirit.  It is appropriate to note here that we often boast of the honor and might of our forebears, but how many of them entered the Kingdom of Heaven?      

And so, the genealogy of Christ actually has great significance.  It convinces us that Christ did not disdain sinners, that His coming was indispensable for the renewing of mankind, and that He became the spiritual progenitor of the righteous ones of the New Testament.  Amen. 

+Bp. Joseph

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