Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded yet again that as Christians, our principal and main responsibility lies in the need to love and serve the Lord with all of our heart, mind, body and soul. This is the essence of us being Christians, not in all other things, which all truly have their roots in the love which we ought to show the Lord our God.
And why is this so? That is because, without love, we are not Christians, and without the love which we ought to serve the Lord with, then we truly have not known love. Because if we have remembered and known just how much God has loved us, then we should also show the same love for Him, first of all, and then show the same love to our fellow brethren.
Yet, many of us mankind have forgotten this fact, and we have rejected God and His love, for the love of other things, all the distractions out there which have turned us and our attentions away from God. We have become detached from Him, and ended up being concerned only about ourselves, only about our needs and desires, and not about what truly matters, that is serving the Lord with all of our heart.
This was what happened, at the time of the early Church, as recounted to us through our first reading today taken from the Acts of the Apostles. At that time, the tension between the two factions in the Church had reached a breaking point, between the faction of the Pharisees and the faction of the Hellenists. The Pharisees were those who were similar with the Pharisees at the time of Jesus, being composed of the Pharisees who came to believe in Jesus, who wanted to keep the purity of the Jewish faith and traditions, wishing to impose on all the believers the rigour of the entire Jewish laws according to the laws of Moses.
Meanwhile, the Hellenists were those who favoured relaxing and bypassing the requirements of the Jewish laws and customs, in order to make the faith more practical and favourable to the non-Jewish people, the Greeks and the Romans, all of whom found that certain practices of the Jewish tradition such as circumcision and food prohibition to be repulsive and difficult to be followed, as these came into direct conflict with their own customs and cultural traditions.
As such, such a division in the Church was truly a tragic event, at the time when the Church should have been united against all those who sought to destroy it in its infancy. But the Church fathers and the Apostles ruled against those who would distract the Church from its primary mission, that is the salvation of souls and the repentance of all sinners.
To that extent, they agreed and ruled that all Christians should henceforth be freed from the obligation to obey the entirety of the Jewish laws and customs, most of which were in fact human creation and not originating from God, as means and historical practices meant to preserve the Jewish customs and culture. And they ruled that as long as all the Christians lived in accordance to what the Lord Jesus had taught them, that should be sufficient.
That is because as Christians, all of us truly have to remember that our primary and indeed sole obligation is to love the Lord our God, with all of our might, and with all of our strength. And when we love Him and obey Him, we will definitely also love our brethren, just as we have been loved by God and loving Him back. We will show the same love that we showed Him to our fellow men.
We should follow the example of our holy predecessors, the holy saints and martyrs, in how they devoted their whole lives to the Lord and to their fellow men. Pope St. John I, the holy Bishop of Rome and leader of the Universal Church during its early years is one of such examples. He was a devoted man, a pious and holy servant of God, dedicated to his calling and vocation as the leader of the Church.
He lived during a difficult time, as political and worldly conflict threatened the Church in Rome, due to the conflict between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom, who then ruled over Rome. The Ostrogoths were Arians, heretical followers of Christianity, while the Empire was following the Orthodox and true Christian faith. Pope St. John I lived and reigned through the turbulent times, and tried his best to bridge the differences between the two powers.
However, he was caught in the entanglement of the conflict, and was imprisoned by the Ostrogoths, under the false charges of sedition and supposed plotting with the enemy against the king. He was arrested, incarcerated and made to suffer, but yet he never gave up the faith. He continued to persevere through the challenges, and even unto martyrdom, as he met his end in prison, he kept the faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all from now on strive to serve the Lord with greater zeal and conviction, and devote ourselves to Him ever more willingly. Let us all love one another as well, just as we have been loved by God, and just as we have loved Him with all of our hearts. Let us all be true Christians inspired by the examples of our brethren who have preceded us. Pope St. John I, holy Pope and martyr, pray for us sinners. Amen.