Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
— From the Epistle for the Sunday of Orthodoxy: Hebrews 11:24-26, 11:32-12:2
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, and of all the saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!
In today’s Epistle we heard: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” We are not alone today. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, the saints whose lives we heard in the Epistle reading.
When offer our praise and petitions to God “through the prayers of our holy fathers, and of all the saints,” the saints do not stand between us and God. They do not obstruct our prayers and our worship of God. They stand alongside us, adding their voices to ours.
We are a small parish, yet this chapel is as big as the heavens, because all the host of holy ones, angels and saints of God stand with us and sing with us the Thrice-Holy Hymn. You will never be abandoned alone to cry out to God because all the saints join their voices to your prayer, “Lord! Have mercy!”
In our struggle to gain the virtues of Christ and combat our passions, we are surrounded by the saints like an audience at a sports match or a performance. They cheer for us and they pray for our victory. The saints are our heroes, our examples. Having finished their race, now they eagerly watch our struggle for the virtues, our fight against sin. After the Cross and Resurrection, Christ sat down at the right hand of God, and all the saints with Him.
Saint Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim 4:8)
So: “Let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Our Lord walked the way of the Cross, not only showing us how it’s done but becoming for us the Way, the Truth and the Life.
“For the joy that was set before Him, Christ endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Now He invites us to sit with Him.
The road to the throne is through the cross. This was the way for Christ Himself, and it is the same for us. “No one is greater than his Master.” We have completed the first week of the Great Fast, and we are weeks away from the bright resurrection of Christ. The way to Pascha is through Lent, and the way to the Kingdom of God is through struggle. “The kingdom suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (Mt 11:12).
Yet we never fight alone. Christ has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you… I am with you till the end of the world” (Mt 28:20; Heb 13:5). And He has given us excellent companions for this journey: Millions of saints who have successfully run this course before us, and who now cheer for our victories and intercede when we fall.
“For the joy that was set before Him, Christ endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What is the joy that sustained the Lord on the Cross? You are the joy of Jesus. “The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will renew you with His love, He will rejoice over you with songs of joy” (Zeph 3:17).
In your struggle, not only do millions of saints cheer for you: the Lord Himself rejoices at your peace, reconciliation, generosity, self-control. And if you fall on the way, “He will not always chide; He will with patience wait; His wrath is ever slow to rise and ready to abate” (Ps 103:9 NLT)
A crown of glory is prepared for you! Do not give up or grow faint. For at the end of all suffering and temptation, amid a great cloud of witnesses, Jesus Christ is ready to welcome you into His everlasting joy.