Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Sunday 2nd November 2020
Readings: Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a
Language is always evolving. Words become fashionable, like the word ‘iconic’ which word used to be reserved for something or somebody who stood out, whose image was instantly recognizable, like the South American revolutionary Che Guevara whose image was on the posters of so many students rooms. Now anything and anybody seems to be described as ‘iconic’. The word has become something of a cliché.
An icon is of course a religious image, of Christ, Mary or the saints; but to the Orthodox Christian, it is more than just an image, it is a powerful channel of divine grace. Icons are like opened books that remind us of God, a means for the church to teach the faith, especially to those who do not learn well from books. St John of Damascus once recommended that if a non-believer asked you to show him your faith, he should be taken into a church and placed before the icons.
The lives of the saints are also like open books of the Christian faith. They are manuals where we see how the faith is applied and lived out. The Feast of All Saints was instituted to honour all who had lived holy lives and been paragons of the Christian virtues. The church realised that though many were singled out and honoured by name, there were countless others who were equally virtuous, many who had been martyrs for the faith, who were now unrecorded. On this day all saints are honoured, known and unknown. It is rather similar to the altar that St Paul found in Athens, inscribed ‘to an unknown God.’ The Athenians did not wish to offend a deity they had overlooked.
You may well have known people whom you would consider to be saintly people, people whose were living books that spoke volumes of the Christian faith; people whom you felt brought you closer to God, whose words were imbued with the presence of God, that penetrated your soul and stayed with you; people whose innate goodness made you feel just a little bit shamed by comparison. Those saintly people might well have said the most profoundest things about God in the simplest ways.
The Catholic mystic and writer Caryll Houselander wrote about one of the nuns at her school, whom she remembered long after
Soeur Marie Emilie
Is little and very old
Her eyes are onyx
And her cheeks vermillion
Her apron wide and kind
And cobalt blue.
She recalled how she comforted generations of new children at the school, how they sat beside her to shell the peas and stone the plums for jam, how she gathered the eggs in the palm of her hand and would cry for the death of a hen. Children could sit beside her and weep without shame.
And she said:
We have grown up
And gone away
‘into the world’
And grown cold
In the service of God.
But we would love him
Even less than we do
If we had never known
Soeur Marie Emilie
With the green peas and the plums
And the hens and the beautiful eggs
And her apron as wide and kind
As skies on a summer day
And as clean and blue. 
Caryll herself might be considered an unofficial saint for the beauty of her Christian writing. She followed the tradition of saints like Teresa of Avila, who saw eternal truth most visible in the reality of everyday life. St Teresa reminded her sisters of the spiritual value of the performance of menial tasks when she said ‘The Lord also walks among the pots and pans.’
Caryll saw Christ’s life on earth as being made up of ordinary things made extraordinary by love, and aspired to copy him. She tried to see Christ in everything and everyone, She expanded on the beatitude ‘Blessed are the Meek’ by saying that in dealing with other people we should avoid the sin of pride:
we should regard ourselves as insignificant,
we should give in a hidden way.
and make few demands on others,
but value their natural gifts as the best they have
and do everything in the most ordinary way possible.
As Christians we all have a vocation, a calling to holiness, to be saints, as followers of Christ. We are children of God, St John says, our true destiny is not yet revealed but we shall be like him when we come to him. But surely, he says, we won’t want to wait until then, but have a jolly good try to be as much like Christ now, as we can, to be as pure as Christ as is pure.
We are now faced with a new challenge as we are dispersed to our homes once again. But less us support and encourage one another as best we can, and in our isolation let us rejoice in our company with all the saints, this great cloud of witnesses and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
 Caryll Houselander Essential Writings, selected with commentary by Wendy M. Wright, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 2005, pp 19-20