The People of God are the Light of the World

19 July 2020

Today our Church celebrates the Fathers who took part in the Fourth Ecumenical Synod which deliberated and concluded definitively concerning the two natures of Christ. The Gospel extract which is read in churches is dedicated to them and is from our Lord’s sermon on the mount. Christ, as God and human, calls his disciples the light of the world. Let us look at Christ’s words more closely.

What does the example of light imply?

The Lord used the example of salt (Matth. 5, 13) and light for His disciples. The example of light is more sublime. According to Saint John Chrysostom, when He talks about the city on the hill, which can’t be hidden, He means ‘a strict way of living, a pure life’. He’s training them to be battle-ready in their life, to have the eyes of all trained upon them and to fight against the whole world.

Christ has kindled the light of His grace within us. Our own contribution is to keep that light alive. The brightness of our lives should affect others. Christ is absolute light and actually says about Himself that He is ‘the light of the world’ (Jn. 8, 12). By the same token, the faithful and the saints are light and luminaries. Saint Paul writes: ‘For you were once in darkness, but now you believe in Christ you must live as people who belong to the light’ (Cf. Eph 5, 8). And in another epistle he writes, concerning Christians, that ‘you will shine among them like stars in the world as you hold firmly to the word of life’ (Phil. 2, 15-16).

The Church is the light of the world.

The Lord is, indeed, the light Who guides people from delusion into the truth, from sin to virtue, Who illumines our mind. The faithful also do the work of Christ.  As one contemporary theologian puts it: salvation in not a matter of individual concern nor is it limited to a narrow circle of ‘the elect’. Rather, it is offered to the whole world. Salvation is not a kind of spirituality, but is the antithesis of a demonic regimen, of darkness and of decomposition.

The Church is the light of the world. This means it has a universal, world-wide responsibility, which each of us shares. We don’t live for ourselves, nor for any particular national, ideological or religious circle. We live for our brothers and sisters all over the world, no matter how different they are from us nor how much they oppose us. Christ gave His disciples this important command:  ‘and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts, 1,8). We have to raise the light of Christ in the uttermost reaches of the earth Isaiah refers to the Father Who addresses the Messiah, saying: ‘behold, I have given you for the covenant of a race, that your being should be a light of the Gentiles, for salvation to the ends of the earth’ [49, 6]. Christ is the light of the Gentiles and, through the faithful, the Church has the obligation to transmit it to the ends of the earth. Spiritual people who constantly purify themselves with efforts for the love of God, who humble their flesh through various ascetic exercises, who fill their minds with light through prayer and study, who have come to know ‘the raisons d’être’, and have overcome every worldly emotion, are able to preach Christ and transmit the light of the Gospel, says Saint Nikitas. These are the people Christ is addressing when He says: ‘You are the light of the world’ (Matth.5, 14).

The obligation of the faithful

The spiritual leaders of our Church have a great responsibility, as do ordinary people, as regards the transmission of the Gospel message.  Bishops, clergy and lay people who know and live the light of the Gospel, transmit their experience to others. On the other hand, if those who are charged with standing ‘on the lamp’  show dereliction towards the faith, then the evangelization of others is deferred and, indeed, their souls may be scandalized. Our sins and our unacceptable personal life act negatively on people who have yet to know Christ.  Let us take care to be steadfast in word and deed so that the saving light of the teaching of the Lord may burn continuously throughout the world.