HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF CHRIST’S NATIVITY
I greet you, beloved brethren, with God’s indescribable gift of love and mercy to us sinners – with the coming to earth of the Son of God, Who descended from heaven by the all-benevolent will of God the Father for the sake of our salvation, and Who became incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and took on the form of man. Christ was born – glorify Him; Christ came from heaven – meet ye Him; Christ is on earth – be ye exalted. Thus, Christ is on earth, while you should ascend to heaven with your thoughts and hearts, because Christ came for us, in order to lift us up from earth into heaven, into the eternal paradisiacal dwellings, as our holy Mother – the Church – tells us. O people, sing with joy the Nativity of Christ the Saviour! But in order for our joy to be loftier, clearer, and stronger, let us ponder, brethren, the majesty of the One born of the Virgin, and let us add to this our thoughts on how to welcome Him in a worthy manner.
Thus who is this Infant, Whom the holy Virgin Mary is holding in Her arms? It is God, the Supreme Being, Who created everything out of nothing, Who maintains all creation with His power, and builds the whole world by His providence. It is the supreme Artist, Who, having created all visible matter out of the four elements, made up an annual cycle of four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. It is the Creator and God of spirits and all flesh; all the angelic hosts tremble before Him; the sun hymns Him; the moon glorifies Him; the stars attend Him; light obeys Him; all abysses of the sea, air, and the netherworld tremble before Him; all springs of water serve Him. He has stretched out the sky; He has founded the earth; He has restrained the sea with sand; He has decorated the earth with flowers; He grows all grains and fruits of the earth; He has diffused air for all creatures to breathe; He forms infants in their mothers’ wombs; He is the nourisher of all creatures! The angelic hosts serve Him; hosts of archangels worship Him; the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, who stand and fly around His throne, cover their faces in fear of His unapproachable glory… It is this indescribable, pre-eternal and inexpressible God Who has now come down to earth for us, taking on the form of a servant. O wondrous miracle! God has taken on the nature of enslaved man and has become entirely like unto us in all but sin.
What is the reason for such compassion, such absolute self-abasement? It is for the sake of our salvation (replies the Church). We were languishing under the dark power of the devil; we were sitting in the shade of death; we were being kept in the fetters of hell… And then the all-merciful Master, Who had originally created us after His image and His likeness, unable to watch the devil torture mankind by separating it from God, by obscuring its mind and heart, by making it attached to all worldly things, to various sins, iniquities, and idol-worship, – came to deliver us from servitude to the enemy.
O, God’s immeasurable benevolence! O, God’s indescribable wisdom! O, wondrous miracle, awesome not only to the human mind, but also to the angelic one! Let us give glory to God! With the coming down to earth of the Son of God in the flesh, with His offering Himself as a sacrifice for sinful mankind, instead of the damnation that had been announced by God in the beginning, the faithful are now granted the Heavenly Father’s blessing; they are made sons of God and inheritors of eternal life; through the sacrament of renewal, i.e. through baptism and repentance, the Heavenly Father is once again being returned to the mankind that had been orphaned by sin. Mankind is being delivered from the most tormenting and lethal power of the devil, from the anguish of sin and passion; man’s nature is being deified by the Son of God’s immeasurable charity, and man’s sins are being forgiven seventy times sevenfold; sinners are granted absolution, the impure are purified, the defiled are sanctified, the frail are healed, the dishonored are granted supreme honor and glory; the obscure in mind are enlightened by the divine light of grace and reason; human reason is deified by divine reason; the human heart is granted Christ’s heart; all that is corrupt and wounded by sin and passion is decorated with divine glory; all that hungers and thirsts becomes sated with the word of God and the Most-holy Body and Divine Blood of Christ; the sorrowing are comforted; those violated by the devil are delivered.
What is required of us, brethren, in order that we may make use of all this grace that has been brought to us from heaven by the Son of God? First of all, we must have faith in the Son of God and in the salvific teaching of the Gospel; we must genuinely repent of our sins and rectify our lives and hearts; we must communicate with God through prayer and the sacraments; we must know and fulfill Christ’s commandments. We are in need of virtues: Christian humility, charity, abstention, purity and chastity, truthfulness, simplicity, and goodness of heart.
Let us offer these virtues, brethren, as gifts to the One Who was born for our salvation, in place of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that were brought to Him – as King, God, and Man, – by the magi. This will be our most favorable offering to God and the Infant Jesus Christ. Amen.
SYNAXIS OF THE MOST-HOLY THEOTOKOS
The second day of the feast of Christ’s Nativity is called the Synaxis of the Mother of God, and we pray to the One through Whom salvation has come to us. She loved God more than did anyone else. She loves Christ more than does anyone else, loves Him as Her Only-begotten Son, born without a husband, in sacred mystery, from the Holy Spirit and Her everlasting virginity. And with all Her thoughts, all Her heart, all Her strength She loves God. And thus it is that we glorify Her. God Himself glorifies Her, because there is no one He loves more than His Mother. The One Who was born on earth without a father, Who was pre-eternally born from the Heavenly Father without a mother, comes into our world in order to fulfill the law, as He says Himself. And He naturally fulfills the law – the commandment on honoring one’s mother – to an immeasurably greater degree than is prescribed by the law itself.
First and foremost in the Synaxis of the Most-holy Theotokos is the participation of the Divine Son, glorifying the Mother of God. On this day each one of us should ponder the fact that just as the unseen God revealed Himself, came to earth through the Virgin Mary and lived among men, so does each gift of light, our every spiritual enlightenment, our every contact with grace occur through Her. This is the mystery of all the saints, this is the mystery of the Church, because the Mother of God has received the fullness of life from God, and grants this new life to everyone, wishes everyone to partake of these gifts. She did not receive these gifts, these priceless treasures to keep them only for Herself, but to fill with grace all who are capable of encompassing this grace, all without exception. And just as there are no limits to the riches which She has received from God, so are there no limits to the generosity of Her giving them out to God’s inheritors.
Let us pray to the Mother of God to deliver us, first of all, from all the terrible danger that threatens our lives. Let us pray to Her, Who sees everything that happens to us, Orthodox Christians, to manifest Her power and disperse all our enemies, both visible and invisible.
Mother of God, Thou seest how the enemies hate our Church and Christ! Mother of God, Thou knowest that millions of human souls are bound today by sin and do not have the strength to shake off tons of lies and seek the truth. And we pray to Thee to send us Thy aid by Thy great mercy and in keeping with our tribulations, and to grant us Thy grace, in order for us to be able to encompass as much of Thy charity as is necessary to change our lives and promote our ability to withstand all sin. And if we turn out to be incapable of worthily accepting and preserving the merciful gifts received from the Mother of God, let us pray to Her to not abandon us anyway, but to strengthen our faithfulness to Her Divine Son.
Let us pray to the Most-holy Virgin to deepen our understanding of all that is happening to us, so that we, fortified and saved by the grace of Christ, could glorify the name of God in these holy days not with our lips only, worshipping the pre-eternal God Who has come through Her for the sake of our salvation, but could also make our own this divine life which the Lord brings to us in His Nativity, both now and for ages. Amen.
Christ is born…
The gladsome light of the star that showed the way to the divine Infant Christ is already drawing near. “Christ is born – glorify Him; Christ comes from the heavens – meet ye Him; Christ is on earth – be ye exalted”… sings the holy Church.
The world now prepares to glorify once again the Nativity of Christ. And each year, as we prepare for this joyous meeting, the Christian heart is wrung with pain. How much evil, how much progressive injustice is revealed to us by contemporary life.
On the other hand, the star of Christ’s truth and love continues to shine brightly. Christ’s truth is not dimmed by the darkness of this world. It remains within Christ, while Christ is eternal and invincible. To believe in the power of Christ’s invincible goodness – such is the task and the endeavor of a Christian’s life.
“Such is the victory that has conquered the world – our faith.” This victory is not a victory of fire and sword, not a triumph of visible good. This victory is invisible. And the labor of faith consists of believing, of seeing this victory through the eyes of faith, and of carrying its banner throughout our lives.
Our primary illness is lack of faith, little faith, the frailty of meager faith. We believe only in that which can be seen with our physical eyes, only in that which can be touched with our hands. The reason for this lies in our spiritual limitation, in the lack of the humility that always reveals the inadequacies of our spirit.
Let us pray to God to increase our faith. Let us pray to the Holy Virgin to teach us the humility that shone in Her so brightly.
Only then will the triumphant light of the star of Bethlehem remain undimmed for us, only then will we understand not only through hearsay, but through our life’s experience the words of Christ: “Ye shall be sorrowful in the world, but be of good cheer, for I have vanquished the world.”
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 22, 2007)
A garden in winter
In 1829 I spent the winter in the Ploshchansk Hermitage. On clear sunny days, when all around was quiet, I would go out to the porch, sit on a bench, and look at the spacious garden. Its bareness was covered with a blanket of snow; everything was quiet and serene; there was a feeling of majestic tranquility. I began to admire this scene; my pensive gaze would involuntarily be attracted to it, as though searching for some inner mystery.
One day I sat there and stared at the garden. Suddenly it was as though a curtain fell from the eyes of my soul, revealing to me the book of nature. This book, which had been given to the first-created Adam to read, contains the words of the Holy Spirit just as does the Holy Writ. What lesson did I read in the garden? A lesson on the resurrection of the dead! This lesson was made more profound by being shown in action. If we had not become used to seeing the reanimation of nature in spring, it would have seemed quite miraculous to us, quite incredible. But we are no longer amazed, simply because we are used to it: seeing the miracle, we no longer see it! I gaze upon the bare branches of the trees and they speak to me quite convincingly in their mysterious tongue: “we will come to life again, we will be covered with leaves anew, we will once again be fragrant, decorated with flowers and fruit; will not dry human bones come to life again in their own time?”
They will come to life, they will be covered with flesh; with a new look they will enter a new life and a new world. Just as the trees which did not withstand the severity of cold weather, which wasted their sap of life are cut down when spring arrives and are taken out of the garden to be burned, so will the sinners who had wasted their lives be gathered together on the last day of time, and on the first day of eternity will be thrown into everlasting fire.
If we could find a person who was unfamiliar with the transformation that occurs with the change of seasons; if we could bring this stranger into the garden which sleeps majestically during wintertime; if we could show him the bare trees and tell him about the luxurious foliage which will cover them in the spring: this stranger would only look at you and smile – your words would seem to him like such an extraordinary fable! Thus the resurrection of the dead seems just as incredible to the intellectuals who wander amid the darkness of earthly wisdom, who have not yet grasped that God is omnipotent, that His incredibly varied wisdom can be observed but not comprehended by the mind of His creation. For God all is possible: miracles do not exist for Him. Man’s comprehension is very frail: what we are not used to seeing we regard as an unbelievable miracle. But the works of God, upon which we look constantly and already with absolute indifference, – they are works of wonder, the greatest of miracles, truly incomprehensible.
And every year, before the eyes of mankind, nature repeats its lesson on the resurrection of the dead, visually demonstrating this lesson with such a mysterious performance, such an incomprehensible transformation!
AN ORTHODOX PERCEPTION OF THE NEW YEAR
In congratulating each other with the New Year, people wish each other happiness. But what is happiness? How can it be defined? An average civilized man’s conception of happiness does not differ too greatly from the primitive conception of the Hottentots: happiness is when I have more possessions than my neighbor; unhappiness is when someone steals my possessions.
Meanwhile, even leaving aside the moral aspect of such a conception, it is fallacious even in essence: however many possessions, power, glory, delights we may have, we would still not be happy. Material objects cannot bring true happiness, but only cause satiation, after which a person is overcome by greater longing than before.
It is interesting to note that in the Holy Scriptures we rarely come across the word “happiness,” and in the New Testament – not a single time. This word is too arbitrary, too vague, meaningless in itself. Instead of it the Holy Scriptures use another word that is unambiguous, more concrete, that indicates the meaning of happiness, – the word “joy.”
Christ Himself speaks of joy: “My joy shall remain in you, and your joy shall be full,” – indicating also the source of this joy: “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10-11). Such is true happiness, true joy – in possessing God’s love, in being with Him.
This is also clearly confirmed by the holy Apostle Paul, who says: “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). “And your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:22), no man and not anything: neither torture, nor deprivation, nor exile, nor death itself. This was and is well-known only by the people whose lives show that they have resolved mankind’s eternal question and have found happiness – righteous Christians, God’s saints of ancient and new times. Their example remains a mystery to other people.
Why are these people so joyful? – was a question asked not only by Roman pagans about their Christian contemporaries. This question, in one form or another, sounds even today, from the lips of the new pagans, our contemporaries, who to a large extent still formally call themselves Christians. There is a widespread answer to this question that has been suggested to us by various sentimental Western European concepts: that the ancient world supposedly did not know anything about the hereafter, and for this reason people feared death, while the Christians brought along glad tidings that there is life after death, that Christ redeemed us all, forgave us all, promised resurrection, eternal life, and paradisiacal bliss to us all. This answer is prevalent in one form or another, but it is absolutely inaccurate.
The fact is that Christ did not promise automatic paradisiacal bliss at all. Apostle Peter, speaking of the terrible danger of eternal torment that hangs over us, reminds us that if the righteous are scarcely to be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:18). Among liberal Christians there prevails an opinion, issuing from Protestant circles, that the gloomy conception of one’s fate after death and of the difficulty of salvation is a product of the later times of “gloomy joyless monks-ascetics,” and that in early Christian times there reigned “a bright mood, a realization of one’s being saved simply by the fact of believing in Christ.” Those who think thus are creating their own Christianity, having no foundation or confirmation anywhere in the Holy Scriptures.
Read the early Christian book “The Shepherd” by Hermas, a 1st century writer, and you will see how demanding of themselves and of others were the early Christians in the issue of salvation of the soul, and how clearly they understood that the slightest hint of moral impurity places a man under the threat of eternal damnation.
Thus the Christian worldview may seem even less bright than the pagan worldview with its “Elysian fields” – a kingdom of the blessed, quite easily attained. Compare this to the terrible image of eternal torment, eternal hell, and you will see that the liberal view of the cause of the early Christians’ joyfulness is quite erroneous. Nevertheless, this Christian joyfulness did and does exist. It shines brightly from every word of the lives of saints and ascetics, and shines in the lives of the monastics, in the lives of Christian families. And the more spiritual a person, the brighter and more absolute is his joy. This joy, this brightness of worldview did not leave the first Christians even among tortures, even at the threshold of death. What is the key to it?
Faith, of course. But not the kind of faith that is understood by the Protestants. Not a formal, lifeless, endeavor-less faith (since even “demons believe and tremble”), but a life-giving, active faith that lives in a pure heart and is warmed by the grace of God, a faith that burns with love for God and strengthens hope in Him. A contemporary church writer has stated very correctly: “It is not enough to believe in God, one must also believe God.” “Let us commit ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God.” Such is the complete, trusting, filial commitment of oneself into the hands of God that opened and opens the doors of true joy, true happiness.
If a Christian trusts in God, he is ready to accept everything from His hands, for he believes that God is infinitely good. When He punishes us, it is for our own benefit. He loves us so much, that He will turn the world over just to save us. He will invariably save us, if there is even the slightest chance of it. “From God’s wrath one can run away only to God’s mercy,” – teaches the blessed Augustine. A Christian believer should not fear death, just as the many ascetics and martyrs did not fear it. And such fearlessness will not mean carelessness or negligence of his salvation, because the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, frees him from earthly fear.
With such an attitude, joy and light firmly embed themselves within the Christian’s heart, and there is no longer any place for darkness: the world – the immense universe – belongs to my God, nothing from the smallest to the largest thing in this universe can happen without His allowance, and He loves me immeasurably. He allows me, while still on earth, to enter within the bounds of His Kingdom – into His holy Church. He will never exile me from this Kingdom, so long as I do not betray Him. Moreover, even if I fall, He will raise me again, as soon as I come to myself and bring Him tears of repentance. Therefore, the entire matter of my salvation and the salvation of my nearest I entrust into God’s hands. Death is not to be feared: it has been vanquished by Christ. Hell and eternal torment are only for those who have consciously and of their own free will rejected God, who have preferred the darkness of sin to the light of His love. For the faithful, on the other hand, have been prepared joy and eternal bliss: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
May the All-merciful Lord grant us the attainment of full trust in Him. O Lord, renew us who are praying unto Thee!
HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON
Homeward to the Heavenly Father
This month, dear brethren, we celebrate the great feast of the Meeting of our Lord, and simultaneously we commemorate the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, in which the Church teaches us the second step of preparation for the Great Lent – repentance. These two events, seemingly so different from one another, are yet symbolically joined in a wondrous manner.
Central to the feast of the Meeting of our Lord is the righteous Simeon, who was one of the seventy learned Jewish elders who were knowledgeable in the Holy Scriptures and were called upon to translate the Old Testament for the Egyptian king Ptolemy. This took place some hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The righteous Simeon had to translate the book of the prophet Isaiah, which contains the following words: “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and He shall be given the name Immanuel, which means – God is with us.” When Simeon came to these words, he wanted to replace the word “virgin” with the words “a young married woman,” since She was due to give birth. But an angel stayed his hand and said to him: “Believe in what is written and you shall see it happen.” Simeon then translated as was written and, having received the promise, he waited.
270 years passed. And finally, moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon goes to the temple, where he sees a young Mother with a 40-day-old Infant in Her arms. And here the Lord revealed to Simeon that this Infant, Who had been brought to the temple in accordance with the Jewish law that all the first-born must be consecrated to God, is the One Whom Simeon has long awaited with such strong and ardent faith. The righteous old man took the Infant in his arms and proclaimed that in Him lies the salvation of all men.
Simeon uttered his prophecy in moving words which are now repeated at every evening service: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace (into the next world), according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”
But the prodigal son at first ran away from salvation. As long as he lived with his father, he had all that was needful. The only thing he lacked was faith, faith in that the life he had would lead him to salvation. He turned away from true life and went far away into the realm of sin and despair. And it was only after experiencing grief, hardship, and suffering that he finally came to his senses, came to an awareness of what he had lost. And then, through humility and through repentance he set out on the long and arduous journey of return to his father, a return to bliss, to salvation, to true life. And what do we see? His return journey was not all that long, because the father himself hurried out to meet him, hurried out to shorten and alleviate the way back, hurried out to embrace his lost son.
We, too, dear brethren, are like the prodigal son, we lack faith in God’s providence, we distance ourselves from God through our sins. Let us look at the two wondrous examples which the Church now offers us. Here is the prodigal son – poor, ragged, starving, hurrying back to his kind father. And here is the righteous Simeon – firm in his faith and hope, hurrying to the temple to see the promised salvation – the God Who has become man.
Let us, too, dear brethren, hurry back to God, to our merciful Father. Like the father who came out halfway to meet his lost son, so the Lord came out to us – lost mankind, – came down to earth and became a man, in order to save us all.
Let us hurry to church, in order to receive salvation through the Holy Mysteries, through union with God Himself. Let us repent wholeheartedly and let us say to the Lord in the words of the righteous Simeon: “Lord, now Thou absolvest the sins of Thy servants in peace, according to Thy word, for we have repented and our eyes have seen the salvation which Thou hast prepared for all people.” Amen.
“SURROUNDED BY TREASON, AND COWARDICE, AND LIES”
100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution
The Red Terror
The Red Terror was officially declared by a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars, dated 05.09.1918. The concept of the Red Terror encompasses the entire repressive policy of the Soviet power and is a logical continuation of the October Revolution. It was inevitable, since the Bolshevist violence was aimed not against the existing opposition, but against entire social classes, which were declared to be outside the law: aristocrats, landowner, officers, the clergy, kulaks, Cossacks, scientists, industrialists Or, according to Trotsky, “terror is a weapon used against a class doomed to destruction, but which does not want to be destroyed.”
Karl Marx wrote that there is only one means to lessen “the bloody pangs of the birth of a new society, only one means – revolutionary terrorism.” Lenin proposed the method of conducting terror by declaring morality to be a deceit and stressing that everything useful to the revolution was moral. Lenin and the leadership of the Communist Party encouraged mass terror, calling it a “quite proper revolutionary initiative of the masses.” Technically the Red Terror was terminated on November 6, 1918. But with the establishment of Soviet power in Crimea, for example, the Red Terror continued until 1921. According to various data, in 1918 alone 31,000 people were repressed, 6,000 of which were executed. Dzerzhinsky, for example, proposed to the local Cheka (secret police) committees to “accelerate and terminate, that is, liquidate unresolved affairs.” In the spring of 1922, having repelled external threats, the Bolsheviks turned to an active struggle against religious institutions. Using the pretext of the confiscation of Church treasures, Lenin wrote: “The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing on this pretext, the better. This public must be taught such a lesson that for several decades they would not even dare dream of any resistance…”
Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom), a secret revolutionary society that emerged in Russia in 1861, gave rise to the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) organization and to the terrorist group “Freedom or Death,” which set themselves the goal of forcing the government to adopt democratic reforms, after which a struggle could be conducted for the social transformation of society. The attainment of these goals included both organizing means (propaganda and agitation among the peasants and other classes and groups) and disorganizing means (individual terror against government officials and Okhrana agents). Terror became one of Narodnaya Volya’s primary methods of political battle. In particular, members of the Narodnaya Volya’s terrorist faction counted on promoting political changes by the assassination of Emperor Alexander II and, unmollified by the government’s concessions, carried it out on March 1, 1881. This assassination caused not only a government reaction, but a public reaction as well, and to a much greater degree than anticipated by the Narodnaya Volya. Nevertheless, the following years the party continued its activities (assassination of General Strel’nikov, assassination of the Lieutenant Colonel of Gendarmerie Sudeykin). The names of the groups changed, but the means employed against the “pillars of the government” remained the same – terror. The Narodnaya Volya program concisely formulated the dual function of the Red Terror: on the one hand – to disorganize the government, and on the other hand – to incite the popular masses, in order to subsequently incite the agitated population against the disorganized government. Thus the terror was viewed by the authors of the program as a prelude to and a catalyzer of the people’s revolution. Counting from the assassination of the Minister of Public Education N. Bogolepov by the Socialist revolutionary militant Karpovich, from 1901 to 1911 approximately 17,000 people became the victims of this early revolutionary terror.
Mission of the Russian People
“The disaster that has struck Russia is a direct consequence of onerous sins, and its renaissance is possible only after being cleansed of them. However, to-date there has been no real repentance, and the crimes committed have clearly not been condemned, while many active participants in the revolution continue to assert even now that it had been impossible to act otherwise at that time. By not expressing direct condemnation of the February revolution and the uprising against the Anointed Sovereign, the Russian people continue to participate in the sin, especially when they try to vindicate the fruits of the revolution. In punishing Russia the Lord simultaneously indicated to the Russian people the path to salvation, having given it the mission of preaching Orthodoxy to the entire world. The Russian diaspora has acquainted all the ends of the world with Orthodoxy, since the mass of Russian refugees (to a considerable degree unconsciously) has become a preacher of Orthodoxy. Russians abroad have been tasked with projecting the light of Orthodoxy over the entire world, so that other peoples, seeing their good deeds, would glorify our Father who is in heaven and would thus attain salvation… The diaspora should step onto a path of repentance and, by entreating forgiveness for itself and being spiritually reborn, become capable of helping our suffering Homeland to its renaissance.”
“Shake off the sleep of despondence and idleness, ye sons of Russia! Contemplate the glory of its suffering and be purified, be cleansed of your sins! Be strengthened in the Orthodox faith, in order to be worthy of dwelling in the abode of the Lord and of settling on His Holy Mount! Take heart and arise, O Rus’, thou who hast drunk from the hands of the Lord the chalice of His wrath! When thy torments end, thy truth will go with thee, and the glory of the Lord will accompany thee. All people will come to thy light, and kings to the halo around thee. Then look around with thine eyes and see: for thy children will come to thee from the West, and the North, and from the sea, and the East, blessing Christ in thee for ages.”
(Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco)
Excerpted from the Martianoff calendar for 2017
HOW TO BE ORTHODOX TODAY
It is clear to any Orthodox Christian who realizes what is happening around him that the world is gradually coming to its end. The signs of the times are so obvious that one could even say that the world is collapsing.
What are these signs?
(1) The abnormality of the world. Never have such bizarre and unnatural manifestations and behavior been accepted as something absolutely natural as in our days. Just look at the surrounding world: what the newspapers are writing, what films are being shown, what is running on television, what people find interesting and amusing, what they laugh at, – it is just terrible. And there are people who expressly promote all of this, for their own profit of course, and because it is fashionable, and because there is a perverted desire for such things.
(2) War and rumors of war, one crueler and more horrifying than the other, and all of them overshadowed by the threat of an unthinkable nuclear war that can be unleashed by pressing a button.
(3) Widespread natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, the appearance of new volcanoes, – which are also changing the character of the world’s weather.
(4) A growing centralization of information and control over individuals, represented, for example, by the gigantic new computer that has been established in Luxemburg, which is capable of maintaining a file on each person living on earth; its code number is 666, and those who work with it have nicknamed it “The Beast.”
(5) The proliferation of false Christs. In 1982 one such candidate spent millions of dollars advertising on world television his imminent appearance and promising to issue a “telepathic message” at that time to all the inhabitants of the earth. Besides all the occult powers that could be involved in such an event, we already know of the possibility of transmitting subconscious signals over radio and especially over television, as well as the fact that any person possessing technical capabilities is quite able to break into normal radio and TV signals, despite all the laws that exist against such actions.
(6) The ominous appearance of new films such as “E.T.,” which everyone in America talks about and watches, and which made literally millions of outwardly normal people express their loyalty and love to the hero, “a savior from space,” who is obviously a demon, – and this clearly represents a preparation for worshipping the coming Antichrist. (And, by the way, it should be noted that one of the editors of the official newspaper of the Greek Archbishopric in America, an Orthodox priest, wholeheartedly recommended this film to the Orthodox faithful, saying that it is a wonderful film that can teach us all about love, and that everyone should see it.)
Many more such examples could be given. It is truly later than we think. The apocalypse is already in action. And how sad it is to see Christians, and especially young people, the Orthodox youth, over whose head hangs this unbearable tragedy, who think that in these terrible times they can continue living what is called “a normal life,” i.e. fully participating in the caprices of this insane, self-deluding generation. A generation that has no suspicion whatsoever that this “fool’s paradise” in which we are living is headed for collapse; a generation that is totally unprepared for the desperate times that await us. It is no longer a question of being a “good” or a “poor” Orthodox Christian, but a question of whether our faith will remain at all. Many will not preserve it; the coming Antichrist will be too attractive, too much in accord with the spirit of the times, that worldly spirit to which we are aspiring, and the majority of people will not even understand that in venerating him they will have lost their Christianity.
But Christ’s appeal is still directed towards us; let us begin to heed it, let us become true members of the Church of Christ, of the Orthodox Church. Outward membership is not enough; there must occur within us a shift that will make us different from the external world, even if this world calls itself Christian. Let us preserve and nourish these qualities of a true Orthodox worldview, of which we have spoken above: a lively normal attitude towards others, loving and forgiving, not egocentric, preserving our innocence and not-of-this-worldliness even while we fully and humbly realize our sinfulness and the power of the worldly temptations that surround us. If we truly proceed to live with such an Orthodox worldview, our faith will withstand the blows that await us, and will serve as a source of inspiration and salvation to all those who will still be looking for Christ amid the already beginning downfall of humanity.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On January 4th (December 22nd by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the holy great-martyr Anastasia, the deliverer from bonds.
Saint Anastasia was born in the city of Rome. She was distinguished by her nobility, meekness, and both spiritual and physical beauty. Her father was a Roman senator, a pagan; her mother was Christian. At a young age Anastasia was entrusted for education to a certain learned man names Chrysogonus, who was a Christian, well-versed in the Scriptures, and who later became a martyr. Chrysogonus not only taught Anastasia her letters, but also true faith and piety.
Upon the death of Anastasia’s mother, her father forced her into marriage with another Roman senator, also a pagan. The saint tearfully appealed to God to preserve her chastity, and the Lord helped her: Anastasia pretended to have an incurable feminine illness which prevented her from being a wife to her husband; however, when the latter still attempted to forcibly satisfy his lust, her guardian angel protected Anastasia, and her virginity remained undefiled.
Often, taking off her rich garments and secretly putting on beggar’s rags, Anastasia would leave her home and would go around to all the city prisons, bribing the guards with gold to let her enter; once inside, she visited the suffering Christians there and ministered to them with all her heart: she bathed the hands and feet of those who were incarcerated, wiped off their blood, bandaged their wounds, gave them food and drink. Afterwards, having fully taken care of them, she would return to her house.
However, Anastasia’s husband soon learned of her visits to the imprisoned Christians and became even more incensed with her. After cruelly beating her, he imprisoned her in a separate room and placed guards outside the door to make sure she could not go out. This was what grieved Anastasia most: that she could no longer visit the prisoners and take care of them, especially her teacher Chrysogonus, who by that time had been in prison for two years.
When Anastasia’s father died, her husband began persecuting her even more, because she was the sole inheritor of her father’s wealth; the husband schemed to do away with her, in order to inherit her wealth and live on the money with another woman. One of Anastasia’s letters to Chrysogonus revealed that her husband treated her as a prisoner and a slave, beating her and torturing her daily. In response, Chrysogonus urged Anastasia to patiently endure all her suffering and woes, stand firmly in her faith, and prophesied the imminent death of her cruel husband. And, in fact, the latter was soon sent as ambassador to Persia and was drowned during the journey by sea. St. Anastasia simultaneously received both her freedom and her inheritance, which she now proceeded to spend without impediment on ministering to imprisoned Christians.
At that time the Roman emperor Diocletian increased his persecution of Christians, martyring a great many of them, including Chrysogonus. St. Anastasia continued to minister to them until their end and then buried them with honor. Afterwards she began traveling from city to city and from country to country, tending Christian prisoners everywhere and bringing them comfort, and sometimes even freeing them from bonds. For this she became known as the deliverer from bonds. Furthermore, wishing to help the sick and the poor as much as possible, she learned the physicians’ art and treated the wounded herself.
St. Anastasia was staying in Macedonia at the time when the iniquitous Diocletian embarked upon yet another harsh persecution of Christians, ordering all prisoners to be killed. Coming one morning into the prison and not finding any Christians there, Anastasia began to weep loudly. Learning that she, too, was a Christian, the prison guards seized her and took her to the regional administrator. The latter could not do anything to her, since she was an honorable Roman citizen, and so he sent her directly to Diocletian. Upon questioning Anastasia in great detail, Diocletian was mostly saddened by her spending her wealth on Christians, since the emperor loved riches more than idols. However, seeing that Anastasia firmly confessed her faith and would not bow before idols, and wishing to get his hands on at least the remainder of her wealth, Diocletian ordered her to be tortured, which she endured with great courage. Between the tortures the saint was thrown into prison, where previously martyred Christians, whom she had tended earlier, appeared to her. Anastasia asked them: “How can you come to me after death?” The holy martyrs explained to her that to the souls of martyrs, even after they have left the earth, God grants the special grace of being able to return to see whomever they wish, talk with them, and bring them comfort.
Seeing that he was unable to break St. Anastasia by means of torture, her persecutor ordered her to be stretched out between four pillars and burned. Afterwards her holy body, untouched by fire, was taken by Christians and buried with honor.
On February 18th (the 5th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the icon of the Mother of God “Seeker-out of the Lost.” The name of this icon, given to it by the Russian people, expresses a deep and grateful awareness of the Holy Virgin as the last resort, the last hope of those who are spiritually lost. As we have already seen, even at the Last Judgment the Mother of God has been granted the power to intercede for sinners up to the very end.
In Russia, icons of the Mother of God “Seeker-out of the Lost” already appeared many years ago, and one of them became well-known. In the mid-18th century, in the village of Bor in the Kaluga region, there stood a very poor wooden church. One of the parishioners, the peasant Feodot Obukhov, did his best to help this poor church out by donating icons and church vessels. During one intensely-cold winter, Obukhov was caught in a terrible ice storm on his way to a neighboring village and lost his way; his exhausted horse could go no more and stopped at the edge of a precipice. It was impossible to drive further, while the cold continued to intensify. Finding himself in such an absolutely hopeless predicament, the unfortunate Obukhov prayed to the Mother of God with all his heart, and vowed to order a copy of Her icon “Seeker-out of the Lost” and donate it to his church. Then he unharnessed his horse, tied it to his sledge, covered himself and lay down in the sledge, and slowly began to freeze. A few more minutes and he would have been gone. But his faith was not shamed by the One Whom he had entreated so earnestly. Something totally inexplicable occurred: the sledge with the unharnessed horse, which had stood at the edge of a precipice, suddenly found itself at the gate of a peasant’s hut in the neighboring village! Sitting inside his hut, the peasant heard a voice outside the window, saying: “Take him in.” Coming out to the gate, he saw the unharnessed horse and Feodot Obukhov in the sledge. Obukhov was carried into the house, thawed out, and returned to life.
When Obukhov got well, in accordance with his vow he ordered an icon of the Mother of God “Seeker-out of the Lost” and brought it to his church. This icon, painted in honor of the miraculous salvation of a man from death, became itself renowned for its miracles. Each year a multitude of people gathered from all over Russia to venerate the icon, and the pennies which the pilgrims donated were used to eventually build a wonderful stone church in place of the poor wooden one.
The Bor icon “Seeker-out of the Lost” worked a great miracle in 1871. This was the year of a cholera epidemic, and the inhabitants of the city of Serpukhov wished to have the icon brought over. There was a young boy in the city who was mute and without the use of his legs. Upon seeing the icon, he suddenly said: “Here is the Seeker-out of the Lost” and immediately stood up on his legs. After the arrival of the icon in Serpukhov, the cholera epidemic ended. Afterwards in other places, too, icons of the Mother of God “Seeker-out of the Lost” brought deliverance from cholera.
BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST PEOPLE
“And God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
The external material world has been created and formed, the dwelling has been prepared. Earth – the physical world – is no longer chaotic or shapeless, but it is still empty, since it still has no moral value, not being yet morally liable or responsible.
And so, in order to fill the vacuum, in order to give moral meaning to the whole of creation, in order to call into being creatures who would be capable like the angels of the same absolute enjoyment of being that is inherent in God, the creative word of God is heard: “Let us make man.” In order for this new creation to be truly good, it must be like its Creator, and thus the Lord says: “Let us make man in our image.”
Here, in this most important and most solemn moment of creation, in the moment of calling into being a godlike creature who gives moral meaning to the entire material world, we once again see the sacred seal of triunity: “In Our image,” not Mine, says the Lord. Triune Himself, united into a single Divine Being by the absolute Divine love of the Three Persons, He makes His creation as He formerly did the angels, in the same image, not in one person, but in two persons, so that afterwards a multitude of persons would come from them, but all would be a single being.
“And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.”
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them: be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”
In all these verses of the 1st chapter of the Bible which speak of the initial creation of man, the Hebrew word “bara” is used – to create out of nothing. Consequently, paraphrasing the first Biblical account of the creation of man, we could say thusly: God, one in essence but triune in Persons, created man in His image and likeness out of nothing, man and woman simultaneously – two persons in a single being, and blessed them to multiply the number of persons and to have dominion over the visible world.
But the Bible speaks of the creation of man not once, but twice: the first time in the 1st chapter and the second time in the 2nd chapter, in verse 7. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” Both these accounts are diametrically opposite: in the first it says that God “bara,” i.e. created man in His image and likeness out of nothing, and in the second that He “assa,” i.e. created him out of the dust of the ground just like all the animals, of whom it says that “out of the ground the Lord God formed (the same Hebrew verb “assa” is used) every beast of the field and every fowl of the air” (Gen. 2:19). And it says in the 2nd chapter of Genesis about man, just like it does about animals: “and man became a living soul.” Furthermore, in the first account the Lord creates man and woman simultaneously – two persons, potentially many persons like unto the multidinous host of angels, in one being, while the second account speaks only of the creation of man – Adam, and a while later from his rib is created (“assa”) his wife – Eve.
This duality and this great difference in the account of the creation of man was naturally used by enemies of Christianity as proof of the Bible’s inconsistency and the different origin of the Biblical accounts. Meanwhile, if we keep in mind the basic truth about man being a dual spiritual/physical entity, we will clearly see the ecclesiastical understanding of the duality of the Biblical account of man’s creation as an exposition on the different aspects of man’s nature – spirit, soul, and body: the 1st chapter speaks of the creation of man’s spirit, while the 2nd chapter speaks of the creation of his body and his animalistic soul. The word of God created man’s spirit in the image and likeness of God out of nothing, the male and female persons simultaneously, each with its own personal qualities but a single nature, a single essence, just as the Persons of the Divine Trinity have individual unmixable qualities, yet constitute a single Being. Man’s body, however, animated by an animalistic soul, was formed (“assa”) from previously-created material, from the dust of the ground, i.e. out of dust, out of elements, out of earthly atoms and molecules, just as out of the same material the Lord created the animals, whom the Lord also gave a living soul, created out of nothing, but did not make in His image, and they were thus without liability.
In his work “On the formation of man,” St. Gregory of Nyssa points out the duality of the creation and formation of man and says: “God created (i.e. “bara”) the inner man and shaped (i.e. “assa”) the outer one; it was the flesh that was formed and the soul that was created.”
This is why in his bodily nature man is entirely and absolutely a part of the external animal/material world. In his body, just as in the body of animals, there is not a single particle, not a single atom of substance that is not of the surrounding world. Everything that there is in us is also in the world that surrounds us, up to the most remote nebulas and stars, attesting to the Single Creator Who created all these so very different manifestations of the external world and to our physical affinity with the entire universe created by God. We are even closer to the animal world, animate just as we are, with living souls created by God. Therefore, a Christian may very tranquilly agree to the observation that man and the chimpanzee are very close in their physical nature. Speaking of man’s physical nature, we are in no way embarrassed by the possibility of placing man, according to modern classification, in the class of mammals.
But a Christian cannot believe that our place in the gamut of creation is limited only to this. To such an – alas! – widespread notion the psalm-writer replied back in ancient times: “Man was in honor and realized it not; he became like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12). No, in spirit we are godlike creatures, minimally below the angels, and between us and the rest of the animal world there is an immense abyss; in realizing our likeness to God, we can recognize both the animals of the earth and the farthest worlds in the universe, but no one in the entire immense physical world except us can comprehend us, or himself, or the outer, or the inner world.
St. Anthony the Great says the following about the interrelation between the human and the animal worlds: “With his mind man comes in contact with the indescribable power of Divinity, while with his body he is akin to the animals.”
And again: “Every growing thing may be considered to be living, because it grows and lives, but one cannot say that everything like that has a soul. Plants have a physical life, but do not have souls. Man is called a spiritual (sentient) animal, because he has a spirit (mind) and is capable of acquiring knowledge. All the other animals are animate and have a soul. There are four different kinds of living beings: some are animate and immortal, such as angels; others have a spirit, a soul, and are alive, such as humans; still others are alive and have a soul, such as animals; and the last are only living, such as plants.”
“And God said (to the humans): have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every beast, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
“And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is a fruit yielding seed; to you it shall be for food” (Gen. 1:28-29).
Having filled the earth and having introduced into it the one who was the bearer of moral value, of a godlike spirit, God subordinates to this bearer of the spirit all the material that He had previously created and shaped, thereby realizing and developing his likeness unto God. Being Himself the Master of the universe, the Lord makes man the master of the material and animal world, at the same time making this material and animal world, which in itself has no moral value, a participant in man’s godlike and morally-valuable life: the inanimate world as space for man’s dwelling, the plant world as food for man’s body, the animal world to serve man, and this latter world, as being of the greatest affinity to him, man recognizes, learns, understands, gives a name to (Gen. 2:20).
“And it was so” (Gen. 1:30).
In this world there was not even a trace of evil, everything was wisely set up, everything was absolutely good, in accordance with God’s will, with God’s design.
The creation of the world was completed. Through man’s godlike spirit the Lord joined to Himself the enter material and animal world that He had created, making it a participant in a godlike, bright, joyous, sentient, just, and good life. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”
“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work” (Gen. 2:2).
This seventh day, in which God rested from all His work, i.e. on which was finished the creative act of bringing forth and establishing new creatures, according to the teaching of the Church continues to this day and will continue until the end of time.
(To be continued)
Archbishop Nathaniel (Lvov)
THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
Night is calm. On the celestial dome
The southern stars do softly tremble.
The Mother’s eyes peer with a smile
Into the quiet peaceful manger.
No excess ears, unnecessary glances,
Just now the roosters crowed the morn –
And with the angels in the heavens
The shepherds glorify the Lord.
The manger quietly glows in answer,
And Mary’s face is radiant with joy.
The starry chorale to another choir
Is listening with awe and wonder.
And over it so highly glitters
That star of faraway distant lands:
And with it come the kings of Orient,
Bearing gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
– A. Fet
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff