My dear brothers and sisters,1
It is beautiful to be here tonight to pray together in peace and love — as brothers and sisters in Christ.
These beautiful words from Jesus that we just heard are his parting promise to us. And he promises us peace.
But he also tells us that his peace is not like the world’s peace. And that’s the challenge we face every day in trying to follow him.
Because he promises peace. But he also told us to expect the sword. To expect division. Brother against brother. Mother against daughter. Father against son. He told us that if we take up our cross and follow him, we will encounter suffering and loss:
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.2
And all around the world we see it — people being killed and tortured for professing faith in Jesus Christ.
Of course, Christians aren’t the only ones being persecuted. Everywhere in our world today, we see believers paying the price for their beliefs — in their own blood.
And sadly as we know, this is not a new thing. The Armenian people know this in a tragic way. So do the Jewish people. We have passed through a century of world war and genocide. We are still living in days when millions are being murdered and terrorized in the name of God and in the name of ideology. So many sins that cry out to heaven for justice.
That’s why the anniversary we mark tonight is so important. The Edict of Milan is a landmark in history. But it teaches us lessons we need to remember right now.
The Edict of Milan should remind us today — that conscience is the sanctuary of the human soul. That the most basic human freedom is the freedom to believe — and to live according to one’s beliefs.
There is a bright line that runs from the Edict of Milan to our American Constitution and its protections of religious liberty.
But as we know, in our country today, the space for religious liberty is shrinking as our society becomes more secularized. Thanks be to God believers don’t suffer outright persecution.
But especially those of us who are Christians — face strong pressures to keep our faith to ourselves. We face pressures to live as if our beliefs don’t matter to how we work or how we carry out our duties as citizens.
And our religious institutions face pressures to compromise and abandon our beliefs. We are sometimes being asked to render unto Caesar — what Caesar has no right to demand.
So we need to pray tonight for courage — and for the peace that Jesus has promised us. Not the peace offered by this world or the rulers of this world. But the peace that comes from following him, from doing God’s will. From seeking his Kingdom.
At the end of the Gospel passage that we heard tonight, Jesus commands us very simply: Arise, let us go from here.
My brothers and sisters, this is our mission — as Orthodox, as Catholics, as Christians. We are called to rise with Jesus and to go with him. Wherever he calls us.
We live, in the freedom of his Resurrection. What St. Paul called “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”3
That’s the freedom we claim as believers. That’s the freedom this country has always guaranteed to her citizens.
The liberty of the Church, the liberty of children of God — is more than the freedom to pray or to worship. It is the freedom to shape our lives according to his Cross. It is the freedom to live as Jesus calls us to live. Sharing our faith in his salvation. Spreading God’s mercy and love. Building a society of freedom, justice and peace.
So my brothers and sisters, let us rise, and go from here. Let us commit ourselves once more to Jesus Christ who is our peace. Let us commit ourselves to growing in prayer, conversion and dialogue. To give a common witness to Christ in this world that needs to know him.
Let’s pray together for all those who do are persecuted and oppressed for the name of Jesus. And all those who suffer any kind of religious discrimination.
Especially tonight we need to remember all those martyrs in the long history of our religious traditions. Let us make their blood and their sufferings — the seed of a new birth of religious liberty in our times. A new recognition that we are all children of God and brothers and sisters to one another.
And let us entrust ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary — she is his mother and our mother. The great Theotokos. May she help us by her prayers to follow her Son — with greater love and devotion. In the glorious liberty of the children of God.
1. John 14:27-31.
2. Matt. 10:34-39; John 15:20.
3. Rom. 8:21.