Commemorated on August 10 (O.S.)
Sermon by Fr. John McCuen
The holy martyr and archdeacon Laurence of Rome shows us the labors of a martyr, and the reward, both earthly and heavenly, that is paid to one who testifies to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, even at the cost of one’s life. The holy martyr Laurence was an archdeacon and servant of the Pope, St. Sixtus, and the treasurer of the Church. When St. Sixtus was arrested for his faith, Laurence wanted to go with him, but was told by the Pope that he must wait, and that he would suffer greatly and then would follow him in martyrdom. St. Sixtus was beheaded; and Laurence was arrested. As he was tortured, not only was he told that, if he denied Christ, he would be set free, but he was also offered the opportunity to obtain his release by turning over to his captors the treasury of the Church, which he had hidden before his arrest. The holy martyr refused to yield the money and also refused to deny Christ, yielding instead his body to torture. He was placed on a griddle, and roasted alive; calling to his tormentors at one point, “This side is cooked; turn me over, so that the other side may be roasted, as well!” He entered into his reward – the Kingdom of heaven – in the year 258 A.D.
Most of us, God willing, will never be tested in our faithfulness as was the holy martyr Laurence. We would do well, however, to examine ourselves, and consider the reward for which we are laboring, to which we devote the majority of our time and energy and resources. In all probability, we will find that we do very little when it comes to laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and that the vast majority of our labors are devoted to acquiring the means to obtain ease and comfort for ourselves and our families. Isn’t it amazing that we will go deeply into debt in order to purchase worldly comforts, but give no thought to the debt that we owe for our offenses against God, against others, and even against ourselves? We often say, as a form of ironic humor, that we are “slaves to our employers”; and yet we do not consider that we were bought at a price: the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the Cross to set us free from our captivity to sin and death. It is through this act of giving that the debt we owe because of our sins, a debt we cannot possibly repay, is canceled – forgiven – because of God’s love for us. Think about this: Adam and Eve became the slaves of the enemy of our salvation because of their disobedience in the Garden of Eden; and each of us has done the same by our own actions, choosing to sin rather than to do what is pleasing to God. He might very well have abandoned us for our wickedness; but He did not leave us in such a wretched state. He came to us, and became one with us, joining His divinity to our humanity, so that we could be restored to Him, and delivered from death, which is the wages paid for sin. We cannot do this by ourselves; but the good news is that it has already been done for us. Now, we have a choice to make: to continue to live as slaves to sin, or realize that, having been redeemed by the sacrificial offering of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are now called to be slaves to righteousness. Remembering the love that has saved us, let us show our love for God by drawing near to Him each day in prayer, confessing our sins and asking for grace to overcome them; praying for those in need; and above all, praising and thanking the Lord for all He has done, and is doing, for us. Let us fast, and so teach our flesh to be obedient to our will. Let us give from what God has given to us, for the benefit of others and to set our souls free from attachments to our possessions. Let us be humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving – and in this way allow the life of our Lord Jesus given to us in baptism to be seen in what we say and do, in who we are. No earthly reward can approach the value of this gift we have been given; and any earthly suffering, whether it is as little as keeping the fasts or as great as that endured by the martyr Laurence, is treasure we set aside for ourselves in heaven. May the God Who loves us and Who has saved us grant us the grace to follow Him faithfully, as did the holy martyr Laurence, so that we may show Him to the world while in this life, and join the choir of heaven to sing His praises!