A CONTEMPORARY LOOK AT THE MYRRH-BEARING WOMEN
On the second Sunday after Pascha the Church commemorates the holy Myrrh-bearing Women – those extraordinary women whose burning love and devotion to Christ surpassed even that of His closest disciples, who fearfully sat behind locked doors while the women, bearing aromatic myrrh, fearlessly went out early in the morning, while it was still dark outside, to the tomb of Christ, where they were the first to hear the joyous news of Christ’s Resurrection and later to see the risen Christ Himself.
At first glance it may seem that this narrative concerning the myrrh-bearing women simply describes a historical moment in Christ’s life on earth, while the women themselves are presented to us by the Church as a symbol of love and devotion to Christ. But that is only partly true. In reality the holy women are a most concrete example to us of how to live and act in our own times.
You may well ask: what is there in common between our time and that of the myrrh-bearing women? Nearly 2,000 years have passed, and the world has seemingly changed to such an extent that it is unrecognizable: from a fairly simple life in the time of Christ we have evolved into a veritable maze of progress and technology. What can there be in common?
However, if we look closely, we will see that only the outward form of life has changed, while the inner form of our modern life is amazingly similar to those days of which we hear in the Gospel. Just as then, 2,000 years ago, Jerusalem was ruled by pagans, so now we see the whole world ruled by neo-paganism, which exhibits itself in all the manifestations of the human spirit: culture, morality, the arts, interpersonal relations. Just as then the scribes and Pharisees kept the Jewish people fettered and distanced from God by means of an elaborate system of rituals supposedly prescribed by the law of Moses, so now the descendants of these Pharisees fetter all people and keep them away from God by the force of so-called public opinion, which mocks and denigrates religion and morality.
Just as then the scribes and Pharisees abused, reviled, and spat at Christ, so now their descendants abuse and revile Christ through unspeakable blasphemy in the arts and literature, through mockery of Christ in print, through the brainwashing of young minds into godlessness and atheism. Just as then the pagan Roman soldiers crucified Christ, so now all peoples, having embraced neo-paganism, crucify Christ with their horrible sins, especially apostasy and sodomy.
Just as then the Apostle Peter renounced Christ “for fear of the Jews,” as the Gospel tells us, while the other disciples ran away and hid, so now many timorous Christians renounce their faith, while Christian churches, for the same fear of the Jews, betray Christ by becoming modernized and embracing ecumenism, where they give up their positions and negotiate with Christ’s persecutors and with the pagans.
Then, at the dawn of Christianity, small groups of faithful followers of Christ, who were the very first Christians, gathered in Jerusalem: these were all who had been healed by Christ; these were the newly-resurrected Lazarus with Mary and Martha and all who had witnessed the great miracle; these were all who believed in Christ as the Messiah. In our times, too, in the twilight of Christianity and human history, in our world lying in iniquity, there are similar small groups of Christ’s faithful followers: these are all true Orthodox Christians who have not embraced modernism, who have not perverted their faith, who have not entered into dealings with heretics and apostates.
And against this background we see before us the shining example of the myrrh-bearing women, indicating to us a specific course of action, indicating to us concretely how we – the last Christians – should live within the environment of apostasy which surrounds us.
Like the myrrh-bearers, we should not be afraid to step out into the darkness of the surrounding world, carrying with us the fragrance of good deeds, faith, love, and devotion to Christ. Like the myrrh-bearers, we should hurry to the tomb of Christ, which in our case is the church, and we should openly confess our faith without fearing mockery from those around us.
The myrrh-bearers were undaunted by the great stone which barred the entrance into the tomb; so should we cast off the great stone of worldly busyness which prevents us from going to church. The myrrh-bearers were undaunted by the thought of the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb; so should we disperse all our sinful passions, which tie us down to worldly vanities and bar our way to church.
In this manner, if we follow the wondrous example and the actions of the myrrh-bearing women, – we too, coming to church as they once came to the tomb of Christ, will hear the joyous news that…
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Father Rostislav Sheniloff
HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC
I have no man…
This Sunday’s commemoration is dedicated to the paralytic in the Gospel, who was healed of his long-term illness by the Saviour at the pool of Bethesda.
For thirty-eight years this unfortunate man lay near the healing waters of the miraculous pool and sharply felt his bitter loneliness, since he had no man who could immerse him in the pool in the rare moments of the miraculous troubling of the water.
And now the Saviour of the world, Who had come to illuminate the world with the rays of truth and love, personally stretched out His mighty hand to the exhausted paralytic, healed him of his burdensome illness, and proved to be for him that “man” whom the latter could not find for such a long time.
The Gospel is the book of life that reflects our life on its holy pages. In this lies its power, its viability, its eternal and living instructiveness. Everything that is written in the Gospel has been taken from life. And especially significant in this sense is the story of the presently-commemorated paralytic at Bethesda. “I have no man…” How often, and particularly in the current conditions of our spiritually and materially exacerbated life, do we hear this complaint, this cry.
Man remains alone… Life has gone ahead in some other direction. Scientific progress and its practical application in life have not brought happiness to mankind. Naturally we see both children and stepchildren in life, – and there are more of the latter of course. At a time when serums and inoculations that are able to save mankind from physical ills and maladies are being created in the world’s laboratories, millions of people perish both morally and physically, abandoned by all, rejected by all, finding themselves outside the boundary of scientific benefits. Moreover, man’s creative genius has lost the comprehension of true good, and the hour is approaching when all human achievements will be used to wreak horror and destruction. (This was prophetically spoken on the eve of World War II.) Such is the world that has been left “without a man.”
And in these days, when the shepherds are being smitten and the sheep are being scattered, the holy Church firmly offers for our edification the image of the paralytic, who lived in bitter solitude for thirty-eight years and who finally found a “man” in the person of the Saviour of the world – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ’s flock is not large or numerous, but it has remained faithful to the Heavenly Bridegroom and serves Him in spirit and truth. And it is these loyal sheep of Christ who today should remember the words of the Divine Lamb: “Fear not, little flock! For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what ye have, and give alms. Provide yourselves a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34).
Thus, O Christian, always try to be a man for other men and then, being loyal in small things, you shall be placed over many, and even here in life will enter into the joy of your Lord.
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 15, 2007)
THE SYMBOL OF FAITH – PRECIOUS LEGACY
OF THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL
“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3), – said our Lord to God the Father. These words we hear in the Gospel reading of the sixth paschal Sunday – the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council. Christ’s disciples also heard these words and carried them throughout the entire world, “even unto the ends of the earth.” These words indicate to us that eternal life and the salvation of the soul of each individual depend on knowing the one true God and His Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Church has always tried to pre-serve the purity of such knowledge of God, since it is for this very reason that our Church exists – for the salvation of man.
But the enemy of mankind, Satan, struggling against the Church, has tried in every way to distort this knowledge of God by means of diverse heresies and false teachings, which have torn and continue to rend the robe of Christ. Such was the infamous Arius, who dared to call Jesus Christ a created being, i.e. unequal to the Father in divinity. This heresy, which first appeared in the early 4th century, began to threaten the Church, and in order to oppose it a Council of Bishops, as the supreme body of church rule, was convoked. The Holy Fathers who took part in this Council, which later acquired universal significance, are commemorated by the Church on the sixth Sunday after Pascha.
Who were these Holy Fathers, whom our Church calls “the divine host, the brightly-shining stars of the spiritual firmament, the myrrh-scented flowers of paradise, the all-golden lips”? There were 318 bishops present at the Council which was convoked in A.D. 325, and among them we find such names as St. Osiah of Cordoba, the wise organizer of the council; St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who, unable to bear Arius’ blasphemy, slapped the latter’s cheek in a surge of spiritual fervor; St. Athanasius the Great, who was still a deacon at the time, and about whose writings his contemporaries used to say that if one came across a book by Athanasius and had no paper at hand to copy it, one should copy it onto one’s clothes; and St. Spyridon of Trimethus, whose miracles were comparable to those of ancient prophets. Such were the divine fathers who took part in this council and who denounced the blasphemous Arius.
However, the most important legacy which these holy fathers left us is the Symbol of our Orthodox faith. We sing this Symbol of faith at every liturgy, read it during our evening prayers and at compline. In his rule of prayer for the layman, St. Seraphim of Sarov suggested reading it three times daily.
What thoughts and feelings arise within an Orthodox Christian when reading or singing the Symbol of faith? First of all, it is a personal confession of faith on the part of each one of us. Even when we stand together with other faithful and say the Symbol, the first words are very personal – “I believe.” The Lord said that we will be held accountable for every word we say; thus we must look profoundly at the meaning of the words which we utter, so that they would not be empty sounds issuing from our mouths. The Symbol of faith is actually a concise summary of the Bible, from the creation of the world to the second coming of Christ.
We say that we believe in one God the Father Almighty. Can there be place for lack of faith and depression due to daily cares and sorrows within our heart, if every day we confess our faith in God Who created this world? Do we not become fainthearted if we fall into despair?
We go on to confess our faith in the Only-begotten Son, one-in-essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made. The words “one-in-essence,” to the great displeasure of Arius, were included in the Symbol of faith at the suggestion of the Holy Emperor Constantine, who not only offered his Nicean palace in which to hold the council, but also personally paid for all the bishops’ traveling expenses. This is a case in which we clearly see the symphony of Church and state for which we constantly pray at our services.
We also say that the Lord “came down from heaven for us men, and for our salvation.” If God so loves and treasures man’s soul, then we, too, should love and treasure this soul in ourselves and in those around us, in order to do all that is favorable for the salvation of this soul.
The Lord became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. It is very important to understand that the Lord truly became a God-man. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: “If the incarnation was a phantom, then salvation is a dream.”
Then we remind ourselves that this salvation was achieved at a great price, that the Almighty God was crucified most shamefully, that He suffered for each one of us and was buried. But here we immediately go on to the glorious Resurrection of Christ, as described in the Scriptures, thus reminding ourselves of the importance of reading these Scriptures. Then the Ascension – the Lord ascended into heaven and sat on the right hand of the Father, taking human nature up with Him into a supernatural state. As the Holy Fathers say: “God became man in order for man to become god.”
We speak of the glorious second coming of Christ, and this coming presages the Last Judgment, at which all of us will be either condemned or justified according to our deeds, as the Apostle James says: “Faith without works is dead.” Therefore, let us hurry to confirm our faith with works favorable to the Lord, in order that we may not be shamed on the Day of Judgment.
We also believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord Giver of Life. On the day of the Pentecost we appeal to this Heavenly King, this Comforter, this Spirit of truth, to take up His abode within us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls. St. Seraphim of Sarov always said that the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the main goal of our Christian life. It is in accordance with the presence or the absence of this Spirit that the Lord will judge us, placing us either on His right or on His left.
We likewise believe in the One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church. And if we believe – that means we obey, as St. Cyprian of Carthage said: “For whom the Church is not a Mother, for such a one God is not a Father.”
We also say that we believe in one baptism, which procures for us the clean-sing of our sins, but let us not forget that this baptism also places upon us the responsibility of renouncing Satan and all his pride.
We await the resurrection of the dead, and yet it is often difficult for us to bear the decease of our dear ones, even though their souls have not died, while their bodies will be resurrected at the second coming of Christ. This expectation of the resurrection of the dead reminds us to pray for our departed ones, because only the prayers of the Church can help ease their temporary fate in the other world, and also reminds us to look upon our bodies as temples of God and thus guard them from sinful defilement.
And, finally, we confess our belief in the life of the world to come as being the primary goal of our existence – the attainment of communion with God, for which man was created and in the face of which all temporal things must fade away, leaving only a concern for the immortal soul.
Such is our faith. The Symbol of this faith was composed with pastoral wisdom and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit at the 1st Ecumenical Council, was augmented at the 2nd Ecumenical Council, and confirmed by all subsequent Ecumenical Councils – this is our prayer, our confession. We know that when we read a prayer written by a certain saint, that saint prays together with us. When we read the Symbol of the Orthodox faith, hundreds and thousands of Holy Fathers of all the Ecumenical Councils pray with us, all the saints pray with us!
May the Lord fortify us in our faith, and may He grant us life in the world to come by preserving within us the purity of the knowledge of God and the Orthodox faith, which was revealed to us by the Lord through His Church and His saints, in whom He is glorified for all ages! Amen.
CHRIST ON TRIAL BEFORE PILATE
(see beginning here)
It was noticeable that all those who had come to seize Jesus were in the grip of an unusual kind of fear, for they knew with whom they were dealing – with the greatest of Miracle-workers! There had already been examples where fire from heaven burned up the military commanders and their detachments that had been sent to seize the prophet Elias; therefore, although they saw Judas’s kiss and knew well whom to seize, they were still bewildered as to how to proceed, – no one wished to become the first to be subjected to heavenly wrath, and so all stood immobile. Then the Lord Himself approached them and asked: “Whom do you seek?” – “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied to Him. “It is I,” the Lord said to them in a louder voice, and all those who stood before Him ran backward and fell to the ground. Such was the extraordinary power present in even the meekest words of the Lord! And it is not to be wondered at. If even His disciples sometimes felt such power within themselves that they once wished to bring down fire from heaven to burn whole villages for not accepting their Teacher, then what could not have been done to those who had come to take Him to His death, had not the Lord been merciful to His enemies. And now He simply wished to show them that He Himself was giving Himself up, and that without His will they could not have done anything to Him at all. For here was only a word from Him: it is I, – and all enemies were thrown down to the ground.
After that the Lord’s power, which had thrown His enemies down to the ground, left them, in order for them to be able to do what they wished. The armed soldiers, together with the more insolent servants, began to surround Jesus and His disciples, intending to seize them also. Then the Lord asked once again: “Whom do you seek?” – And again they replied to Him: “Jesus of Nazareth.” – “It is I,” the Lord again said them meekly; “if you are looking for Me, let them be, let them go.” And thus was fulfilled a prophecy that had been said on His behalf: “Of those whom Thou had given Me, I have not lost a single one.”
The Scriptures also mention the assembly of high priests and elders, who had apparently arrived some time after their servants. The Lord, holding out His hands to be bound, says to the high priests surrounding Him: “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves to take Me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on Me, but now this is your hour and the power of darkness. All this was done that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” With these words the Lord, like a light shining in a dark place, still tried to illuminate with the light of God’s truth the hearts of those who were obscured by evil. And this shows how the Saviour was always concerned with the salvation of all, even His enemies. But the darkness of disbelief covered the hearts of those who hated the light of truth, and neither the power of the Lord’s words, nor His instruction, nor anything else made them come to their senses and instilled the fear of God in them.
The disciples, seeing their Teacher already bound, became frightened and decided to all run away. The soldiers and the servants then led their Prisoner into the city of Jerusalem, which had erstwhile slaughtered its prophets and was now preparing to add to the measure of its bloodshed.
Accompanying our Lord now in spirit, we must weep and thank Him Who so loves us and has given Himself up for us. For who can have greater love than the one who gives up his soul for his friends? Let us also think of His enemies, of why they, even seeing all the great miracles that He had worked before them, did not believe in Him? All those who think that the Lord establishing His kingdom on earth are far from His kingdom. The Jews serve as the foremost example of this, since their general belief about Christ was that He would be their Saviour not from sins and eternal torment, but from temporal misfortunes. They imagined Him as a king and a great conqueror on earth, who would rule over all the people on earth; they expected Him to shower the sons of Israel with immeasurable riches, endow them with grand estates, and make them the happiest people on earth. With such a false belief, what were they to think when the Saviour of the world arrived not with a sword in hand, but with great meekness preaching to them of repentance, of abandonment of sin, and at the same time of renunciation of worldly goods which lead people to sin? Could they accept as king the One Who brought comfort only to the poor, the weeping, the persecuted, Who taught endurance of insult, deprivation, and sorrow? This is why they began all together to reject the kingdom of Christ, as the Lord said to them in the parable. At the same time, their leaders decided to seize Christ as Someone Who taught people not in accordance with their concepts and Who destroyed the well-being of their earthly lives. Such was the source of their enmity towards God and His Christ!
The Lord on trial before the Sanhedrin
Let us now direct our spiritual gaze toward the Divine Prisoner, Who was first brought to the old high priest Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, who headed the Sanhedrin at that time. The decrepit old man was pleased to see in fetters the One Whom for such a long time they had tried to capture. As though knowing nothing at all about His teaching, Annas demanded an explanation from Him – for what reason did He gather His disciples and what did He teach them? – wishing to condemn Him for this as an agitator and disturber of civil peace. But the righteous Lord replied to the unjust judge: “I spoke openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou Me? Ask them which heard Me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I sad.” Such an answer, based upon absolute truth, should have served as the best response to the lawless judge; however, it was quite abhorrent to Him. Seeing this, one of the servants immediately struck Jesus on the cheek, saying: Answerest Thou the high priest so? But the One Who taught people to love their enemies could have endured an even greater insult, for our Lord is long-suffering and most-merciful, as the Scriptures say of Him. And here He showed this in reality, having refrained from commanding the earth to open up and swallow the iniquitous one, as the meek Moses had done in a similar case; nor did He destroy him with heavenly fire, as the prophet Elias had done many times. But – O, greatest of miracles – the Son of God endures being struck by His most iniquitous creation and merely asks the wicked servant meekly: why smites thou Me? If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well, why smites thou Me? – It would seem that such words, full of peace and truth, could have touched even petrified hearts, but here they had no effect whatsoever; after the interrogation Annas sent the bound Jesus to the high priest Caiaphas, where by this time the entire Sanhedrin had already gathered.
This iniquitous assembly of 70 members was looking for false testimony against Jesus that could serve to put Him to death, since the impious ones wanted to give their trial an appearance of lawfulness, and for this reason the hypocrites immediately began searching for perjurers who could say at least something against Him that would warrant His execution. At the same time, another event took place in the courtyard of the high priest Annas that was just as unpleasant for a soul which loved truth and abhorred lying. When the Lord was being led to Annas, Simon Peter and John followed Him from afar to the high priest’s courtyard. John was known to the high priest and therefore entered the courtyard, while Peter stood outside the gates. Afterwards John came out and spoke with the gatekeeper, who let Peter into the courtyard, but asked him whether he was one of that man’s disciples? Peter replied simply: no, and quickly stepped away into the courtyard. There, at the back of the courtyard, the Jewish servants and slaves had a fire going, because the night was cold, and some were standing, while others were sitting at the fire and warming themselves. Peter then approached them, not only to warm himself, but also to learn of what was happening to his Teacher and how this entire affair would end. At this point he found himself in a rather dangerous situation: his timidity, curiosity, and troubled spirit soon made him an object of suspicion. Soon afterwards another of the high priest’s servants came up the fire, and seeing Peter warming himself, looked at him and asked: were you not also with Jesus of Galilee? Woman, said Peter, I do not know Him and do not understand what you are talking about. And he went out into the front courtyard; and the cock crowed. It was exactly midnight.
So what do the viper’s offspring do, as they seek the death of Jesus Christ? They gather false witnesses from all sides, they accept anyone who can slander the Righteous One; and the sought for witnesses hastily appeared, but no matter what they said, no matter what guilt and crimes they imputed to Him, they could not bring Him under the law of execution: even in their court of injustice they could not find deeds or words that would merit His being put to death. Many pointed out His violation of Saturday as a day of rest, others spoke of His disregard for ancient customs, still others made up obvious falsehoods, but the slander could not stand up to examination. Then two more false witnesses appeared and said: we heard how He used to say: I can destroy this hand-made temple of God and in three days I will erect another one, not made by hand. The Lord had oftentimes said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple, and I will resurrect it in three days.” This He said concerning His body, calling it a temple, since Divinity did in truth reside within it, and in this manner He indicated that when they would crucify Him, after three days He would resurrect His body from the dead. Although these words of the false witnesses were not enough for a death sentence, they still showed the way for discovering something in Jesus that was rebellious and disrespectful towards the temple of God. Therefore the high priest, standing up immediately, angrily said: why dost Thou not reply? Dost Thou not hear what they are testifying against Thee? But the Lord stood silently and did not say a single word in response to all the accusations. Besides, did He need to justify Himself before those who had paid out pieces of silver not to find out the truth, but only to accuse Him and put Him to death?!
Neither was there any reply to the strict command to defend Himself. Then the irritated Caiaphas undertakes extreme measures to force the Accused to say something in reply. Such a right – to force an accused person to speak and, moreover, to strictly speak the truth – belonged only to the power of the high priest, and it consisted of invoking the name of God, so that it would be impossible to stay silent without violating one’s obedience to the authorities and to God. In his role as high priest, Caiaphas pompously said: I adjure Thee by the living God – tell us, art Thou Christ, the Son of the blessed God? “Thou hast rightly said,” was the reply of the Son of God. – “I truly am that; and I will even say unto you: hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God’s power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
This is precisely the confession that the head of the Sanhedrin Caiaphas wished to hear, but in order to hide his inner satisfaction, the hypocrite immediately pretends to be shocked – he clutches his chest and rends his satin robes, as though in great fervor on behalf of the glory of God, showing thus that he is hearing intolerable blasphemy. At the same time he cries out in a loud voice: “He is blaspheming! What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy!” All of them, sharing the pretended horror of their master, looked upon the bound Son of man, Who called Himself Son of God, with genuine astonishment. “What think ye?” – added the cunning Caiaphas. And everyone replied with one voice: He is guilty of death.
Ah, what can falsehood do! And what evil deeds are committed by iniquitous people! These people who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him; and the servants beat Him on the cheeks, and shutting His eyes, struck Him in the face and asked Him: guess, Christ, who struck Thee? And they said many other abusive words to Him and tormented the Innocent One as their victim.
They could not sleep in these dark, cold hours of the night, and they vent on His innocence all their servile infamy and baseness; with His arms twisted behind Him, the lonely Saviour stood in silent torment among this wild and savage crowd. This was the first humiliation of the Son of God: Christ was humiliated, the Judge was condemned, the Holiest One became a criminal, the Deliverer was fettered!
Peter’s second and third renunciation. All that was now happening to the Lord was being witnessed by His two disciples, standing in the high priest’s courtyard and looking with anguish upon His torment. And others who were there came up to Peter and said: truly thou art one of them, for thou art a Galilean, and thy speech sets you apart. Then one of the servants, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said: did I not see thee with Him in the garden? At this point the timid disciple began to swear, saying: “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And when he said those words, the cock suddenly crowed for the second time; and the Lord, turning around, glanced at Peter. And Peter remembered the Lord’s words, which He had said to him: before the cock crows twice, thou willst renounce me thrice. And, going out, Peter began to weep bitterly.
It was dark and cold at the end of that night, and a sad gloom and joyless chilliness lay in Peter’s soul. Tears unwillingly rolled from the eyes of the one who had renounced Christ: and with a sorrowing soul, all in tears, he went along the way that had been taken by his Teacher at the beginning of that night. The Lord’s conversation at supper and His invitation to pray with Him during the night – all reminded Peter of his fault; but infinitely most painful for him were his own words that he did not know that man. – O, how can I not know Thee, my Lord, – said Peter to himself, – Thee, Who saved me when I was drowning in the tempestuous sea?! How can I not know Thee, Whom I acknowledged as the Son of God, Who called us His friends and preached to us the words of eternal life? Could I not know the One with Whom I was to ready to go to prison and to death? And now… o, most miserable hours of my life! My soul has been overcome by fear and trembling, and darkness has enveloped my villainous self; and now I cry, I cry over Thee, Lord! Without Thee I wish for nothing on earth; may tears be my soul’s nourishment throughout all my days.
Ratification of the death sentence. The night in which so many terrible events had taken place came to an end. There dawned the morning of the day in the evening of which the sons of Israel were to sacrifice the paschal lamb; everyone’s minds were occupied with preparation for the ceremonious feast. But that was not what the Jewish elders – the scribes and the high priests – were thinking about; early in the morning they gathered at Caiaphas’ place and held a second council, in order to put the Lamb of God to death.
According to the law, a criminal could not be condemned to death at a single council; thus the iniquitous ones, pretending to do everything according to the law, once again bring Jesus Christ to the Sanhedrin and ask Him: art Thou Christ? Tell us! He said to them: “Even if I tell you once more, you will not believe Me; and if I ask you anything, you will not reply to Me or let Me go. From now on the Son of man will sit on the right side of God’s power.” These words were said with the following meaning: you are unable to be convinced of anything, and you do not wish to understand any of My words; moreover, My death is inevitable, for the Son of man has to die in order to attain the glory which He had with His Father before the existence of all creation. – And so Thou art the Son of God? – they said to Him; and to this He still replied: “You speak rightly that I am.” Then they all began saying: what other testimony do we need, for we ourselves have heard from His own lips. And, passing the sentence, they once again bound Jesus, and the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to the praetorium (house of the ruler), in order to turn Him over to Pontius Pilate. And it all came to pass as the Lord Himself had foretold: the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and scourge, and to crucify Him (Matt. 20:18-19).
(To be continued)
Seeking the Kingdom of God
In one of the Sunday Gospel readings we hear key words about what constitutes the goal of our life and how we should organize our life in accordance with this goal. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” – says the Lord, – “and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
What exactly is it that shall be added unto us, i.e. shall be simply given to use, shall be provided as something of little importance? That which shall be added unto us is everything that is essential for our earthly existence: food, drink, clothing, etc. Certainly all of this is essential for us, but in the same manner as it is essential for all other earthly creatures. And the Lord Himself said that God, our Creator and Provider, knows very well that we have need of such attributes of earthly existence and, therefore, as our heavenly Father, provides us with all such things. God has created our earth in such a manner that we and all other creatures are fully provided with all that is necessary for our existence on earth.
But in view of the fact that these essentials of earthly life are already being provided by God, they should not become the purpose of our life on earth. Yet this is precisely what we see all around us: people are primarily preoccupied with a mad race for the acquisition of earthly goods, for the attainment of material advantages, completely forgetting – and oftentimes expressly disregarding – the insignificance of these things in our life. In the Gospel we hear the Lord’s words: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek” (Matt. 6:31-32). With these words the Lord divides Christians from pagans. Today the entire world, held in the power of neo-paganism, reflects this exclusive concern for material things and complete disregard for spiritual things. But we, Orthodox Christians, should live in an entirely different manner. We must concentrate our attention on the true purpose of man’s life on earth: to seek the Kingdom of God.
But how should we seek this Kingdom of God? The answer is quite simple, though difficult to accomplish. Leaving all concern for the needs of our body – food, drink, clothing – the hands of God’s providence, we must concern ourselves with these selfsame needs of our soul, i.e. we must seek food, drink, and clothing for our souls.
Food for the soul is prayer. Prayer satisfies the soul’s hunger, fortifies the soul with grace, ensures spiritual growth. Just as earthly food contains different elements – vitamins, minerals, etc. – essential for the health of the body, so prayer contains essential elements for the health of the soul: communion with God, spiritual tenderness, repentance, the quieting of passions, attainment of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Drink for the soul is the word of God. The Lord Himself, in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, said: “Whosoever drinketh of this (i.e. earthly) water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him (i.e. My words, My teaching) shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14). In other words, the word of God is to our soul like a purest spring, a source of living water, and as we absorb the word of God into our soul, – and not only absorb it, but also live by it, – it will gradually lead us to eternal life, to that very Kingdom of God which we are seeking.
And, lastly, the clothing of the soul are virtues. We clothe our earthly body not only in order to conceal its nakedness, but we also try to adorn it: we put on multicolored garments, we adorn ourselves with precious jewelry. We must do the same for our soul: attire it in the most beautiful virtues of humility, temperance, chastity, meekness, generosity, soberness, love, and adorn it with the precious jewels of charity and good deeds.
In this way, by spending our earthly life concerned primarily with the acquisition of food, drink, and clothing for our soul, we will find the Kingdom of God, enter it, and find ourselves among the chosen of God. Amen.
The life of a Christian in our modern world
The Christian world nowadays presents a terrifying and cheerless picture of profound religious and moral decay. The servants of Antichrist do their utmost to completely displace God from people’s lives, in order that mankind, content with its well-being, not feel any need to turn to God in prayer, not think of God at all, but live as though God did not exist. Thus the entire structure of contemporary life in the so-called “free” world, where there is no open and bloody persecution of faith, where everyone has the right to believe as he wishes, represents a far greater danger to a Christian’s soul by drawing the Christian wholly down to earth and making him forget heaven.
The entire modern culture, which is aimed at purely worldly achievements, and the resultant whirlwind of everyday life keep a person in such a state of constant busyness and absent-mindedness that he has no opportunity to do any soul-searching, and spiritual life within him gradually dies out. Everything that is now happening at the summit of mankind’s religious, national, and social life, particularly since the fall of Orthodox Russia, is nothing else but an intense preparation by the servants of the coming Antichrist for his future reign.
All those who wish to remain loyal to Christ our Saviour must especially guard themselves from becoming attracted to material things, from being tempted by them. It is extremely dangerous to allow oneself to be lured into making a career, making a name for oneself, attempting to gain power and influence in society, acquiring great wealth, surrounding oneself with luxury and comfort.
Now is the time for confessing Christ, for standing up firmly, even unto death if need be, for our Orthodox faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and secret assault, persecution, and oppression by the servants of the coming Antichrist. We must remain true Christians, not succumbing to the spirit of the times, and making the Church the center of our lives. We must be true and faithful children of our Orthodox Church, and at the same time we must be its missionaries, combatants for the true faith of Christ, both within the non-Orthodox environment that surrounds us and among those who have fallen away or are falling away from the Church.
Despite the false promises of modern progress, the path which lies before us is the path of suffering. The Lord has clearly said that it is not “progress” which awaits us but ever increasing trials and tribulations, resulting from “increasing iniquity” and the “scarcity of love,” and that when He comes, He shall hardly find any faith on earth (Luke 18:8).
The power of true Christians in present and forthcoming times lies in the anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The spirit of constant waiting for the second coming of Christ is the spirit of early Christianity, which prayerfully cried out to the Lord: “Yea, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). And the opposite spirit to this is undoubtedly the spirit of Antichrist, which tries in all ways to distract Christians from the thought of the second coming of Christ and the subsequent universal judgment. Those who succumb to this spirit are in danger of not recognizing the Antichrist when he comes and of falling into his nets. It is this which is most terrifying in our modern world, full of all kinds of temptations and delusions. The servants of Antichrist, as the Lord warned us, will attempt to deceive, if possible, even the chosen ones (Matt. 24:24). However, the thought of this should not depress us, but, on the contrary: “Look up, – says the Lord, – and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).
THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
(see beginning here)
The Husband’s Responsibilities
The husband is the head of the wife… We know that every organization, every institution – whether it be the Church, a parish, a monastery, or, in the world, a bank, a corporation, a school – must have a head, a leader. The same is true of a successful marriage, for the family is also a unit, a spiritual and physical organization. According to the Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the leader in a marriage is the husband. Again, the words of St. Paul: The husband is the head of the wife… He is the leader. He represents the principle of authority in the family, just as the priest is the spiritual leader of the parish, and responsible to God for the parishioners, and thus the spiritual authority in the parish; and so too the husband is the priest in his family, responsible for setting the tone of family life.
This does not mean that he is superior to his wife. In Christ’s sight, all are equal, there is neither male nor female. In fact, marriage is a partnership of equals. Let there be no mistake: there is no room for chauvinism of any kind in Orthodoxy. Nor does being the head give a husband any kind of dictatorial, tyrannical, arbitrary or absolute authority over his wife and children. But, as with every position of importance, certain responsibilities go with this one, and they are very heavy, very difficult, but also very challenging and potentially creative responsibilities.
Scripture tells us that the husband must love his wife even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). Most Christian husbands have little idea of what this kind of love means. In the world, “love” usually refers to physical love or sentimental, romantic love. This has nothing to do with the Christian concept of love. Just recall Christ’s words to His followers: Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend. Love, then, from the Christian standpoint, means sacrifice and self-denial. A husband must take as much care, concern, thoughtfulness, attention, regard, and precautions for his wife as Christ takes for the Church. And just as Christ was put to death for His love of the Church, so too the Orthodox Christian husband must yield all things – even his life, if necessary – for his wife. Again, St. Paul says: The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church… We know what kind of head Christ was: He washed the feet of His disciples. According to our Saviour, to be head, to be first, means to serve – to be the first in giving love, in giving understanding, in giving patience, in providing his family with protection. This is the kind of leader, or head, that the husband is called to be. And when he is this kind of leader, he is a real man, a true man, faithful to his divinely ordained nature.
A wise wife will encourage her husband to be this kind of man; she will not try to take on the position of authority herself. Psychologists tell us that the anger a woman feels towards a man who has allowed her to take over the leadership of the family is the deepest anger of all. And we are now discovering that many cases of delinquency come from homes where the father has ceased to be the leader, the source of compassion, love, and protection.
A husband’s duty to give love to his wife and family does not allow him to intimidate his wife. He must not treat his wife as a hired servant – which many men do. Here is what St. John Chrysostome has to say about this:
“A servant, indeed, one will be able to perhaps bind down by fear; nay, not even for him, for he will soon leave you. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and threats, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, when the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband have, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave? Yea, even though you suffer everything on her account, do not scold her; for neither did Christ do this to the Church.”
Men, husbands, true love begins for us when we give of ourselves to others. We first really begin to love – in a Christian sense – when we first give. A husband once complained to St. John Chrysostome that his wife did not love him. The saint replied: “Go home and love her.” “But you don’t understand,” said the husband. “How can I love her when she doesn’t love me?” “Go home and love her,” the saint repeated. And he was right. Where there is no love, we must put some love, and we will find it.
Often husbands complain to a priest that their wife doesn’t love them. Then the priest discovers that the husband isn’t going out of his way at all to give love; he’s merely sitting back and waiting to be loved, like some kind of idol, waiting to be served and worshipped. Such a husband needs to discover that the only way to receive lasting love in a marriage is to give it, for in life we usually receive what we give: if we give hatred, we receive hatred; but if we give love, we receive it back in return.
The Church Fathers tell us that Christian husbands must love their wives more than their secular jobs, for there is no success greater than a happy home, and no other success that we men achieve in life will have meaning if we fail at home. Our families deserve the best. There are altogether too many of us men today who are at our best out in the world, and at our worst at home. For this reason, the Church Fathers tell us to set the highest possible value on the company of our wives, and be more desirous of being at home with them than being in the market place. Husbands would do well to take to heart these words by the twentieth-century Frenchman, Andre Maurois: “I bind myself for life; I have chosen; from now on my aim will be not to search for someone who will please me, but to please the one I have chosen…”
The Responsibilities of the Wife
Saint Paul says, Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord… As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands in everything (Eph. 5:22-24).
Today’s society, especially here in America, and particularly in public media – movies, television, magazines, books – despises the spirit of obedience. We are instead exhorted at every turn to “do our own thing,” to look after “number one,” to satisfy our every whim and desire. But an Orthodox Christian marriage, as we have said, is not part of secular or worldly society. Its goals and the goals of society are not merely at variance; they are diametrically opposed. The aim of Christian marriage is eternal life in Heaven with Jesus Christ; the aim of worldly society is pleasure, enjoyment of the here and now, and, especially, self-indulgence and self-will.
But it has been revealed through Scripture and Tradition that obedience is actually a catalyst for Christian perfection – that is, obedience actually helps to speed the process of the struggle to acquire virtue in our lives. On the other hand, self-will greatly increases the passion of pride and eventually alienates an individual from a Christian way of thinking and living. It is for this reason that the wife – as the pivot which holds together the entire family, and the teacher of virtue to her children – has been entrusted with this most difficult responsibility – obedience. Christ Himself is the most perfect example of obedience, for it was through His obedience to the will of His Father that He went unto suffering and death for our sakes, and led us from sin to freedom and salvation.
We have all, at one time or another, seen examples of families where the wife “wears the pants.” And what do we usually mean by that crude expression? We mean that the wife has taken over the position of leadership in the family and has tried to become the head of the husband. This may happen because the husband is very weak, or perhaps too selfish and preoccupied to assume his proper responsibilities; or it may be because the wife herself has a spiritual or emotional problem that causes her to desire authority and power. In such cases the woman often has a pushy and aggressive personality that manifests itself in her relationships outside the family as well. Such a wife lacks the most basic qualities of womanhood – gentleness, modesty of mind, and kindness. In such a situation there are only feelings of despair, frustration, discontent, and even anger among family members. One of the first things a priest must do when he is counseling a husband and wife who are in such a situation is to try and persuade the husband to begin assuming a true leadership role in his family, and he must also somehow persuade the wife to relinquish some of the authority that is not hers by right.
It should be said that these roles are not exclusive: there are times when it is appropriate for a wife to show strength, or for a husband to be obedient to his wife. In the most mature, highly developed, and spiritual marriages, the relationship of a man and a woman evolve into one of mutual obedience.
(To be continued)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox America,” No. 154)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On June 9th (May 27th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates Saint John the Russian.
St. John the Russian was born of pious parents in a small village of southern Russia in 1690. From his childhood he loved God and the Holy Church, and cared only to fulfill God’s commandments and be pleasing to Him. When he grew up he entered the military and was a soldier in the army of Emperor Peter the Great. While taking part in the Prussian campaign of 1771, St. John was taken prisoner by the Turks. The latter tried by every means of torment and cruelty to force the Russian prisoners to renounce Christ and convert to Islam. Many were terrified of torture and gave in, but St. John remained steadfast. Then the Turks sold him as a slave to a Moslem cavalry officer from the city of Procopion in Asia Minor. At first St. John’s Moslem owner tried by various means of cruelty to force him to convert to Islam, but St. John invariably replied to him: “I am your prisoner, you have power over my body, but not over my soul which belongs to Christ. I am ready to serve you, but neither threats, nor torture, nor death itself can separate me from Christ my God. I was born a Christian, and I will die a Christian!” These words finally had an effect on the master, and he left St. John in peace. John took up abode in a cave where horses were stabled, and so he looked after the horses and began leading a life of spiritual labors. During the night he often went to pray to the nearby church of the Great-martyr St. George, and helped the poor and the sick. The local inhabitants, for the most part Orthodox Greeks, revered him greatly.
Once, when the Turkish officer went to Mecca on a pilgrimage, John served his family at the table. During dinner, when the master’s favorite dish was brought out, the mistress expressed regret that her husband was away and could not taste it. John said to her: “Give me this dish, and I will deliver it to our good master!” The mistress thought that he simply wished to feed some poor Greeks and gave him the dish. Taking the dish into his cave, John became engrossed in prayer. At that same moment the Turkish officer, returning from the mosque to his locked room, found there a dish of hot rice pilaf. With great amazement he recognized his own china from home. Thus he and his family finally understood that John was a man of God and began to revere him. They wanted him to move into their house, but he refused and continued to lead an ascetic life in his cave.
When he felt his end draw near, John invited an Orthodox priest to perform the last rites, and after partaking of the Holy Mysteries, St. John peacefully reposed on May 27, 1730. Three years after his death, one of the local priests received a revelation concerning the incorruptibility of St. John’s relics, which were then translated to the church of St. George, where they wrought many miracles. In 1924, when Turkish Moslems drove out the Orthodox Greeks from their homeland in Cappadocia, the faithful, leaving Procopion for Greece, took with them their most prized treasure – the holy and incorruptible relics of St. John the Russian. They settled on the island of Euboea in the Aegean Sea, where they established the village of New Procopion, and in 1930 they built there a magnificent church in honor of St. John. To this day the shrine of St. John the Russian is one of the most popular shrines in Greece and is visited by thousands of pilgrims annually.
Once, a Greek ship with cargo on board sailed on one of the northern seas. A terrible storm came up. The members of the crew struggled valiantly, although death was imminent. The ship’s navigational system and radar equipment went out of commission. The ship lost its course. There was no hope left of their being saved. Then they heard the captain’s voice. He gave no more commands, but simply urged the crew to pray for salvation. He himself went to the ship’s chapel, which contained a revered icon of St. John the Russian, stood on his knees and prayed: “O Saint John! I pray to you now not for the salvation of my life, but for these poor sailors, who live outside their homeland and who struggle earnestly to earn bread for their families. Now they are perishing – Saint John, save them!”
The whole night, to the accompaniment of the churning waves and the whistling northern gale, the fervent prayer to St. John did not cease. In the early hours of the morning the ship miraculously found itself in the quiet harbor of Rotterdam. The captain, shaken by all that had occurred, put his ship in dry dock and went to Greece. There he made a pilgrimage to the relics of St. John the Russian, served a moleben of thanksgiving, and donated precious vessels to the church.
On July 9th (June 26th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God.
This icon of the Holy Virgin, holding the Infant Christ on Her left hand, appeared in Russia in 1382 under the following circumstances. In the region of Great Novgorod, a group of fishermen were fishing on Lake Ladoga. Suddenly a glittering ray of light illuminated them from above… Gazing up into the sky, they saw a wondrous miracle: an icon of the Mother of God, shining like the sun, glided in the air above the waters. The fishermen were terrified at first, but subsequently were overcome with great joy. Abandoning their nets, they ran after the icon, wishing to see where it was going and where it would rest. But the holy icon soon disappeared from view and became invisible.
Afterwards this wondrous icon of the Mother of God made a miraculous appearance in various other places in the Novgorod region, coming down to earth and staying with people for a while, healing the sick and performing many other miracles. In all the places blessed by the visitation of the miraculous icon, the faithful at first built chapels and later replaced them with churches. Thus the holy icon went from place to place, carried on air as a light cloud, until it finally rested on the Tikhvinka River near the city of Tikhvin, where the faithful immediately gathered and built a chapel for the icon. Later, with the blessing of Archbishop Alexis of Novgorod, they began to build a church, which was finished for the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin. Intending to consecrate the church on the day of the feast, the clergy sent their sexton into the neighboring villages, to inform the faithful of the impending celebration and encourage them to prepare themselves for it by means of prayer and fasting.
The sexton, whose name was George, was a pious man. As he was returning to the church after having fulfilled his mission, and was passing near the site where the holy icon had originally descended, he suddenly sensed an extraordinary fragrance. George was surprised and began wondering where such a fragrance could be coming from in this wilderness. Suddenly he saw the Holy Virgin, sitting on a fallen pine tree, and standing before Her a shining man, similar in appearance to St. Nicholas. Seeing this miraculous vision, the sexton became frightened and fell on the ground as dead. Then St. Nicholas came up to him and said: “Arise and do not be afraid.” George arose and stood on his knees. The Mother of God, still sitting on the pine, said to him: “George! Go to My church and tell the clergymen and all the people not to place an iron cross on the top, as is their intention, but to place a wooden cross instead: such is My will.” The sexton cried out: “My Lady! They will not believe me!” But St. Nicholas said to him: “If you are not believed, a sign shall be given to reassure them.” After that the Holy Virgin and St. Nicholas became invisible.
Arriving at the church, the sexton recounted to the clergy and the people all that he had seen and heard, but they did not believe him and ordered the workers to place an iron cross on top of the church. However, when the workers climbed onto the roof, a great storm suddenly came up, together with high winds. The worker who held the cross was suddenly swept up by a strong gust of wind and carefully placed on the ground without suffering any harm. Seeing this miracle, the clergy and all the people were awed and began to exalt the Theotokos and St. Nicholas. Afterwards, constructing a wooden cross straightaway, they placed it atop the church and with great joy proceeded to consecrate the church and celebrate the feast of Dormition. The icon of the Mother of God began to work many miracles, particularly healing those whose eyes ailed them and returning sight to the blind.
Like other well-known icons of the Theotokos, the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God many times played a direct role in Russian history, defending the Novgorodian lands from Swedish invasions. Thus, during one such enemy attack on the Tikhvin monastery, when the Swedes surrounded it and began tunneling under the walls, the Holy Virgin appeared in a dream to two pious monks and commanded them to chase the enemy away from Her house. That same night the Lord sent the enemy an awesome vision: they saw a great multitude of armed warriors coming from the direction of Moscow, carrying shining banners. Thinking that these were the Tsar’s regiments coming to the aid of the besieged monks, the Swedes became frightened and decided to flee. However, hoping to bring some measure of destruction to the monastery through their wall tunnels, they delayed slightly. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the monastery, fortified by the vision seen by the two monks, and after earnestly praying to the miraculous Tikhvin icon, came out of the monastery and fell upon the enemy. They were supported by invisible aid from above: helping the Orthodox, the Lord caused complete disarray among the enemy host. In great fear they began to run and jostle each other, pursued not so much by the small number of visible warriors, as by the great multitude of invisible warriors. Then the Orthodox pursued their fleeing enemy with renewed force and gained a resounding victory. Captured Swedes afterwards told the monks how the night before they had seen a mighty host arrive to aid the besieged monastery, and how that same host had later come out of the gates and pursued them with great force. Listening to the enemies’ description of events, the Orthodox tearfully thanked God and His Most-pure Mother. This glorious victory took place on the feast day of the Elevation of the Cross in 1614.
Concerning the provenance of the wondrous Tikhvin icon, the ancient chronicles tell us that this icon miraculously came to Russia from Constantinople. At the time that the icon began to gain renown in Tikhvin through its many and great miracles, it so happened that several merchants from Novgorod traveled to Constantinople. In talking to them, the Patriarch of Constantinople mentioned a certain miraculous icon which had previously been in the capital of the Empire, but had then departed from the city and disappeared. The Patriarch asked the merchants whether they had heard anything about such an icon. Then the merchants told him of how a miraculous icon of the Theotokos had come to Russia by air, appearing in various parts of the territory of Great Novgorod until it came to rest with great glory on the Tikhvinka River. Realizing from the description of the icon that it was identical to the one about which he had been inquiring, the Patriarch deeply sighed and sorrowed over the fact that the miraculous icon had left Greece because of the pride and other sins that had proliferated among the people. The merchants from Novgorod were greatly amazed by everything they had heard from the Patriarch and, returning to their native land, they joyously spread the news of the miraculous icon throughout all of Russia.
BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST PEOPLE
(see beginning here)
However, the fall into sin of every person is essentially the same kind of catastrophe, the same kind of tragedy, and each one of us knows from his personal experience how outwardly simply and insignificantly such catastrophes occur. If we were to need confirmation of the genuineness of divine truth in each word of the holy Divine Revelation, this simple and outwardly unremarkable description of the catastrophe of the fall of the first people would be one of the best and most striking testimonies to the fact that we are not dealing with a myth. Human mythology would be unable to describe this event in such a manner.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”
The poison of the fall immediately impacts upon Adam and Eve in many ways. Up to that time, communion with God was the primary joyous content of their life, encompassing everything else. For this they had been created, and this was the source of their greatest bliss, for it comprised within itself all the subsequent pure delights of man: both artistic delights, because God is the fullness of Truth and Justice, and the delights of scientific creation, which is the study of the laws of nature, whose Law-giver is God. But now, when God appears after the fall, for the first time Adam and Eve try their utmost to avoid communion with Him. “And Adam and his wife hid.” For the people who have sinned and who are no longer like unto God, but are like unto His adversary with whom they have just been in contact, communion with God becomes unbearably tormenting.
And they immediately lose the knowledge of God that had been inherent in them. Prior to the fall they knew God with an inner consciousness of their Godlike soul, and with a knowledge stemming from a communion of spirit with Spirit, a knowledge that was not fixed, not formulated, and therefore immediately lost as soon as communion was lost. Sin had interrupted this communion and had destroyed their likeness unto God: in God there is no sin, but in man it has appeared. Therefore, man has ceased to know God. This is straightaway seen in the fact that Adam and Eve have forgotten about God’s omnipresence and omniscience. They naively tried to hide from the All-seeing Eye among the trees. In this erroneous image of God in the very first moments of the fall lies the seed of all subsequent false teachings, idolatry, and heresies, for all of them are essentially the same: attributing non-existent traits to God or taking away those that are inherent to Him.
And the Lord called unto Adam and said unto him: Where art thou?”
The Lord exhibits the greatest paternal forbearance towards the first people’s sinful folly. He does not hurry to censure them. With the most delicate care He wishes to summon them to repentance. He pretends not to uncover the sinners’ childishly naïve hiding-place, but summons them to acknowledge their guilt, calls man by his name.
Adam says: “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
The first barest sign of a small turn for the better in Adam can be seen in that he responded to God’s summons and did not continue to hide in his place of concealment. But even this scant improvement he immediately spoils by his attempt to deceive God: “I was afraid, because I was naked.”
The Lord waits, but man does not acknowledge his sin, does not confess it, does not repent of it, and yet it would have been so simple and easy. What depth of subtle human drama, known to us from our personal experience, is described to us in the few sparing words of the holy Bible.
“And God said: who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”
Adam does not offer confession, does not express repentance. God’s forbearance goes even further. Like a considerate spiritual confessor dealing with a penitent sinner, God Himself states Adam’s guilt for him, names his sin, leaving for the sinner himself to say only a brief penitent “yes.” The merciful Father goes out all the way towards the prodigal son.
But adding towards the already committed sins of trampling upon God’s love and His commandment, of the attempt to hide from God and deceive Him, Adam commits yet another sin, and this time not only against God, but also against his unfortunate accomplice in crime, his one-in-essence spouse. “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
Piling crime upon crime, with these words Adam breaks the tie of love – the pledge of unity between himself and Eve, and intensifies his rebellion against God, striving to place upon Him a portion of the blame for his own crime: “the woman whom Thou gavest to be with me…”.
The Lord then leaves Adam, in order to prevent him from increasing his sins, and turns to Eve. Up to now He did not address her, because, bound together in essence, she and Adam represented a unity, and to address one of them was the same as to address both. But in placing the blame upon his wife, Adam broke up this unity and, therefore, the Lord turned to Eve separately, so that perhaps Eve herself would repent.
“And God said unto the woman: What is this that thou hast done?”
But Eve, too, continues the same line of behavior as Adam.
“And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat…”
The Lord does not address the serpent – the ancient dragon, called devil, slanderer, deceiver, “which deceiveth the entire universe” (Rev. 12:9) – at all. Not a single action, not a single word does the Lord do or say in vain. And it is useless to speak with a slanderer: there is no hope for his repentance.
Without asking him anything, the Lord places a curse upon him, which ends with a promise that is terrible for the devil and joyously comforting for the people who have sinned heavily, but are not hopeless: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
These words of God, which gave hope immediately after the fall to the people who had sinned, the Church calls the first Gospel, the first glad tidings.
“Therefore the Lord God sent Adam forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken, and He drove out the man.”
God’s expulsion of the sinners, like all of God’s acts, is a multifaceted action. One of the reasons is pointed out by the Bible directly: “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and live forever.” The stay in Eden was tied in with eating from the tree of life, with eternal life. Meanwhile, for the sinful people with their newly-corrupted nature such eternal life in a lasting sinful condition and in the resulting continuous alienation from God would truly have been a hellish existence, a source of interminable anguish and torment. The sinners had to be exiled from Eden for their own good.
The paradisiacal state was tied in with communion with God. Meanwhile, in accordance with the spiritual law which we see especially vividly in children who have committed an offence against their parents, the communion that was previously a source of the greatest and most complete bliss, from the moment of the fall became a source of unbearable suffering. A child who feels his guilt towards his parents will try to never stay in the same room with them. The sinful people had already tried to hide from God among the trees of paradise. Out of pity for them, they had to be expelled from Eden.
Also from the example of children who feel guilty towards their parents and suffer from this guilt, we know how harmful it is for the soul to allow them to overcome this burden without repentance, since then the sinning child falls morally and acquires arrogance, impudence in sin, and shamelessness in regard to the offended parents. From this further fall, which may be prevented by either repentance or expulsion, when the repentance that was in the people’s will did not occur, the Lord delivers them with that which is in His will, i.e. expulsion.
Furthermore, the expulsion was the implementation of God’s original plan for man, whom, in contrast to the immutable angels, the Lord had made as a creature subject to continuous changes. St. Basil the Great remarks on this: “Of all sentient creatures we humans are subject to daily and hourly changes and transformations. We never remain the same, neither in body, nor in inner disposition. On the contrary, our body continuously flows and disperses, is in constant movement and transformation… There is not a single moment in which man is not changing.” The entire man changes, both his physical and inner composition, but this change depends not on man’s soul, which is immutable like the angels’, but on his body, which is closely tied in with time and, therefore, like time flows continuously. And only then the bodily composition, being closely tied to the soul in each human individual, changes the soul. But the greatest impact upon man’s external physical nature is to be had from external changes. Therefore, in order to take man out of his sinful tormenting impasse after the fall, he had to be subjected to a harsh external change, and for this reason, along with those mentioned above, he is expelled from paradise.
Before the expulsion the Lord gives Adam a commandment on work: in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground from which thou wast taken.” This commandment of God, like the majority of God’s acts, is multifaceted. It contains both a punishment for sin and a treatment for it.
In paradise the people were free from all work and cares related to their physical nature, for the earth that was subordinated to them obediently did all the work for them as regards their nourishment and accommodation, seeing in this its own purpose and by this service to man being bound to God. And as long as man remained righteous, he morally required such freedom from work and cares, in order to have the opportunity to be continuously engaged in communion with God.
But from the moment when man transgressed his duty to God, nature rebelled against him. Having transgressed his duty to God, he also transgressed his duty to nature, ceasing to serve as the tie between the external world and God. From that moment the plants and the animals ceased to freely serve man without any care on his part.
And man himself, having earlier needed all his free time for communing with God, from the moment of the cessation of such communion began to need to have his time filled up. Without such filling up of time, his life in alienation from God would be unbearable. When our soul is tormented, the only balsam is work. And for this reason, expelling him from paradise, the Lord gives man the commandment on work.
(To be continued)
Archbishop Nathaniel (Lvov)
HE IS RISEN!
The day has come, the dawn’s aflame,
The drowsy steppe is glowing red;
The jackal’s sleeping, the bird awoke…
They came to look – the tomb was bare!
The myrrhbearing women then ran off
To tell the miracle of miracles:
That He was gone, should not be sought,
He said: “I will arise!” – and did!
They run in silence… unbelieving…
That death’s no more, that time will come –
Their tombs will also become bare,
Alit with a celestial fire!
– K. Sluchevskiy
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff