In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel is the parable of the vineyard. An owner built a vineyard, hedged it around, built a winepress and a tower and then let it out to tenants. When he sent servants to take the rent, they were beaten and stoned. He sent others, but they did the same. And when the owner sent own his son, they killed him.
In this parable, the vineyard is Israel. The owner is God. Israel is hedged around with natural borders. The winepress is the altar, the tower is the Temple. The tenants are the Jews. The servants are those sent by God, the prophets and holy ones who reminded the Jews that Israel was not theirs but God’s. But what did the Jews do? They beat and stoned and killed first the servants and then the heir, the Son of God. Why? Because they wanted everything for themselves. And so they ceased to be God’s people, they ceased to be Israel and were cast out of their land and scattered over all the face of the earth. Israel was given to others: the New Israel, the Church, was born.
However, this parable is also addressed today to us Orthodox of the New Israel. The vineyard is the planet where we Orthodox Christians live. It is hedged around by the presence of the Church. The wine-press is the altar. And the tower is the Church. And the servants are the saints. And we Orthodox should ask ourselves what we have done with God’s saints who have been sent twice for our repentance?
When the remnant of the Roman Empire in Constantinople was under threat, God sent one of His servants there, St Mark of Ephesus, to warn the Orthodox to keep faith with the Church. Many did not, and so the Empire fell.
When the mighty Russian Empire was under threat at the beginning of the last century, God sent another servant and prophet, St John of Kronstadt, to warn the people to repent. Many did not, and so that Empire too fell.
Always those who have denied Christ and His Church have thought that the world belonged to them and that therefore they could do what they wanted with it. Always they have wanted to replace Christ with their own philosophies and ideologies and politics, their own religion. God has sent servants to us Orthodox of the New Israel twice; the next time He will send His Son and that will be the Second Coming, the Coming of the Heir.
This parable is also addressed to each of us today in a personal sense. The vineyard is our own soul. It is hedged around with prayer, our guardian-angel, our patron-saint. The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ. The tower is our inner church where we pray to God. We are tenants of our God-created souls. The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world.
And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we too beat and stone and kill the servants of God. We are warned: the Heir is coming.
At the end of the parable of the vineyard, Christ says: ‘The stone that the builders rejected is become the head of the corner, and it is marvellous in our eyes’. The stone rejected is of course the Rock of Faith, Christ Himself, for He was rejected and crucified. And yet He became the head of the corner and it is marvellous in our eyes. Let us too be rocks of faith then, and though the world will reject us, we too shall become heads of the corner, and it will be marvellous in the eyes of God and men. Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee!