Fr. Luke A. Veronis serves as the Director for the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, pastors Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, MA, and teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at both Holy Cross and Hellenic College. He also taught at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2005-2008). Fr. Luke has been involved in the Orthodox Church’s missionary movement since 1987. Together with his family, he served as a long-term cross-cultural missionary in Albania more than 10 years (1994-2004), and as a short-term missionary in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana for 18 months (1987-91). Since 2010, he teaches a summer missions class which he takes to Albania for two weeks every year. He has led four mission teams from his church to build homes for the desperately poor through Project Mexico. His published books include Go Forth: A Journal of Missions and Resurrection in Albania (2010); Lynette’s Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe’s Life and Death (2008); and Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (1994). Fr. Luke teaches the Preaching course at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as numerous classes in Missiology and World Religions. His weekly sermons since January 2013 can be found at http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/ Fr. Luke is married to Presbytera Faith Veronis, and they have four children.
President Harry Truman was the object of an assassination attempt in which two secret service agents were killed while protecting him. In recounting the experience of that terrible day, the President said, “You can’t imagine how a man feels when someone else dies for him.”
The Old Testament recounts the story in which a similar feeling caused David to worship God. When David had expressed a longing to drink the water from the well of Bethlehem that he had enjoyed as a youth, three brave men, Adino, Eleazar, and Shammah, broke through the fortified Philistine camp and risked their lives in order to get him water from that well. Deeply devoted to their leader, they gladly did whatever necessary to fulfill his wish. This so moved David that, rather than drinking the water, he offered it back to God, saying “Lord I could never drink this! It would be like drinking the blood of these men who risked their lives!” (2 Samuel 23:17). This water had become sacred to David because it had been consecrated by the sacrifice of those three noble and gallant men.
The same could be said for our own freedom in this country. Throughout history, oppression and enslavement always threaten the world. How many people today still live without the freedom and opportunities that we have? Liberty and justice are something that countless men and women have risked their lives for, in order to defend and preserve this ideal. It is precisely for this reason that our nation has a special reverence and honor for our veterans.
Today in this Church, we are honored to warmly welcome the veterans of Webster and the surrounding towns – men and women who have faithfully served our country and who join us today in our worship of the One True God. We who enjoy the freedom and life that this country offers have much to thank you who have served and sacrificed in our armed forces.
When we think of veterans, we can think of many virtues that we Christians hold dear. The imagery of the soldier is one that we find in the Bible, and even St. Paul used it to teach particular lessons. Today, I’m going to focus on only one significant virtue of veterans that we all can imitate.
In veterans we can see a love for something beyond themselves. This love begins with a love for one’s country, but takes concrete form in the love one develops for their friends and companions in the armed forces, a love so great that many have willingly given their lives in order to save the others. Our Lord Jesus taught us “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for another.” Think about how many veterans of war have done exactly that, laid down their lives in order to save others, and to save the freedom of this country.
Today we all pause and lift up, with deep gratitude, the memory of such brave and selfless men and women who died for others, as well as the many veterans who didn’t die, but who suffered injury, disability and other physical, emotional and psychological wounds from their service. This commitment to something beyond oneself, this selfless love for the other, offers a powerful witness and reminder to every Christian. For we Christians are called to live out and imitate this same virtue in our own lives.
Our Faith reminds us that life is not about me, it’s not a self-centered pursuit of our own egocentric desires and goals. Life from a Christian perspective is supposed to be Christ-centered, which means other-centered. Life is about learning to live with sacrificial love for the world around us. Life is about glorifying God and fulfilling His will, not fulfilling our own. “Your will be done, O Lord, not mine but Your will be done!” is a prayer we are all called to repeat continuously.
A significant lesson that veterans teach us is about sacrifice. A soldier quickly learns in the military that the “I” is replaced with the “we.” The good and safety of the platoon is placed in front of the desire of the individual. Soldiers are in it together, not individually. This spirit of humble and willing sacrifice and service for the other is one we Christians can fully identify with.
We have a saying in the Church that one can never find salvation alone, but only in community, only with the other. Our Church Fathers would often say “the other is my salvation.” In this identification with the other, we never lose our own self identify, but we clearly understand that our brother and sister are a part of us, and only together can we journey towards the Kingdom of Heaven. Only through humble service to and sacrifice for others can we make any progress on that journey.
So today in this Church, as we lift up and honor the men and women who have faithfully served our country, let us also reflect upon the ideals which they have tried to emulate in their service, and let us thank them. Thank you, dear veterans, for your service and for your lives!
Let me conclude with a prayer on your behalf:
O Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ, and All Holy Spirit, in every age You call certain people to defend the human family from oppression, tyranny, and evil. Since our founding as a nation “conceived in liberty,” countless men and women have stepped forward to defend our country and many others from aggressors, to liberate those held captive, and to promote freedom and justice.
Today we honor our veterans: those who rest in revered glory, those who still suffer from the wounds of war, those who enjoy the blessing of living in the land of the free, as well as our soldiers who are presently serving and facing danger.
O Lord, thank You for the selfless sacrifice of these veterans and of their families. Help us to remember them, to pray for them, and to care for them. May the souls of our departed veterans find eternal peace in Your Kingdom, and may we comfort their families with Your unfailing love.
Please heal our wounded veterans through the grace of Your Holy Spirit, and grant your “peace that passes all understanding” to comfort those who continue to experience emotional, physical and psychological trauma. We also pray for healing and peace to all the people who live in the regions in which our veterans have fought.
We ask for an end to wars and the dawn of a new era of peace. Give us the creative vision to see a world which, grown weary with fighting, moves to affirm the life of every human being and thus moves beyond war. Help us not to exclude other nations and peoples of the world, but to include them in a loving and harmonious global family. Turn the hearts and minds of our leaders and those of our enemies to the work of justice and peace, of love and harmony for all people.
Hear our prayer, O Prince of Peace and may the peace you left us, the peace you gave us, be the peace that sustains us and the peace that saves us. For to You belong all glory, honor and worship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and to the ages of ages. Amen.
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