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Reverend Ioann Barbus Reverend Ioann Barbus

DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS!

We are glad to welcome you to the official website of the Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church, located in the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, USA. The church belongs to the original Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and has as its goal the preservation of the spiritual traditions and the treasure of church services of ancient Russian Orthodoxy.

We invite you to acquaint yourself with our church and our parish, to see our small but wondrous iconostasis, to hear our modest choir. When visiting our online Orthodox library, you will be able to acquire deeper knowledge of the Orthodox faith through the spiritually-enlightening materials that are contained therein. These materials are printed in our church bulletins, which are issued monthly in both Russian and English. You are also very welcome to visit our church in person.

  View our current schedule of services.
With love in Christ,
Reverend Ioann Barbus and the church council.

THE HEAVENLY HOST AND OUR MODERN LIFE

On November 8/21 the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the holy Archangel Michael and the entire Heavenly Host. This celebration has great significance not only for Orthodox Christians, but for all of mankind. How is that?

First of all, this celebration teaches us how to view correctly the question of equality and inequality. Mankind, especially from the beginning of the 20th century, has been fervently searching for a certain equality which supposedly may be established on earth. Russia has become the primary victim of this idea, followed by other countries. The promised equality has never been established, of course, but traditional forms of government have been destroyed. Orthodox monarchy, which was the last mighty bulwark of universal Orthodoxy, was destroyed in Russia, and countless victims were sacrificed on the bloody altar of imaginary equality.

How does this tie in with the feast of the Heavenly Host? Very directly. If mankind were less attracted to transient earthly ideas, but instead gazed upward more often, it would notice that even in heaven, among the holy angels, there does not exist this senseless equality over which the godless rave so madly. In the world of the angels, as everywhere in God’s creation, there exists a definite hierarchy established by God. This hierarchical subordination and this blessed inequality cement the entire structure. If they were taken out, the structure would collapse.

In the case of the angels, such a partial destruction of their heavenly assembly occurred after the insurrection provoked by the highest and most powerful angel, Lucifer, who from that time on became the father of all those fighters for equality who actually fight against God.

If Lucifer had not fallen, then the Church would probably have established a feast in his honor, as it did in honor of the holy Archangel Michael. But Lucifer did not wish to subordinate himself to God. He dreamed of becoming equal to Him and lured away part of the angels to follow him in his struggle against God. Thus the brightest angel became the blackest devil – Satan.

Against Satan’s army there arose the Archangel Michael, one of the highest angels who had remained faithful to the Creator. Going into battle at the head of the bright angels, the Archangel cried out: “Who but God?” – thereby denouncing proud Satan and all the godless of the future.

Archangel Michael

The angels of God vanquished the dark forces of the first rebels, and Satan, together with the other demons, fell like lightning into the netherworld.

From that time on the Archangel Michael became the leader of the entire heavenly host. For his zeal in working for God he is honored by the Church even to this day.

However, the demonic forces continue their battle against the followers of Christ. God allows this, in order for us to be able to exhibit spiritual steadfastness and fealty to the Trinity.

We are surrounded by danger everywhere. But in this daily and hourly struggle we are provided by God with great defenders and helpers – the holy angels, headed by the seven highest archangels; their names are: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Salaphiel, Jegudiel, Barachiel.

Archangel Gabriel

We have already spoken of the Archangel Michael. Archangel Gabriel has been entrusted with the service of being messenger to mankind. He came with the Lord’s tidings of forthcoming miraculous events to the parents of St. John the Baptist, to the parents of the Holy Virgin Mary, and also to the Mother of God Herself, and to the righteous Joseph. Archangel Gabriel is the messenger of God’s Providence, the attendant of miracles and divine Mysteries. When we are over-come with doubts, when it seems to us that we have been abandoned by everyone and there is no help from anywhere, let us pray to Archangel Gabriel, that by his prayers the Lord would reveal to us His most holy will and would set our life upon the course of salvation.

Archangel Raphael is a merciful healer, sent by God to comfort the sick and the sorrowing. From the Holy Scripture we know that Archangel Raphael expelled demons from a woman. And how many people there are nowadays who are possessed by demons…. Alas, both they and their relatives often turn for help to sorcerers who nowadays hide behind the pseudo-scientific name of “extrasensorics.” But will sorcerers, these servants of the devil, expel demons? Obviously not. The power to expel demons and heal those who are possessed by them belongs to the holy angels and particularly to Archangel Raphael. Let us ask him to intercede for us before the Lord, Giver of all good things.

The name of Archangel Uriel means the light or the fire of God. This archangel enlightens the minds and the hearts of the faithful with the light of divine truths and the fire of divine love. All those who embark upon the study of knowledge can and should pray to this archangel to enlighten their minds and hearts, in order to avoid a destructive chasm between knowledge and faith.

Archangel Salaphiel is the patron of prayer. He is even depicted so on icons: with eyes gazing downward, with hands crossed on his chest, with an air of humility and deep inner concentration. He is our primary teacher of prayer. Prayer is the most difficult thing to achieve, and one must be instructed in it. Unfortunately, some people assiduously study various worldly subjects, but disdain the study of the most important subject in the world – the Jesus prayer. Let us pray to Archangel Salaphiel for the Lord to grant us this gift of divine prayer.

Archangel Jegudiel is the patron, defender, and helper of all those who toil. And we must all be such, for we have been commanded to eat our bread in the sweat of our faces. We toil not only physically, to earn our daily bread, but also spiritually, in order to perfect ourselves. Archangel Jegudiel is depicted on icons with a crown of victory in his hands. Such crowns will be earned by those of us who will endure to the very end, who will worthily bear the light yoke of Christ. We are faced with a complex task, so let us ask Archangel Jegudiel for help in our daily lives.

Archangel Barachiel is the angel of God’s blessings. While asking God to bless all our good efforts, let us also appeal to Archangel Barachiel for help. However, we must accept the Lord’s blessing not only for prosperity but also for our cross, i.e. for the sorrows without which there is no salvation. And may Archangel Barachiel give us strength to carry our blessed crosses.

In celebrating the feast of the angelic host, let us not forget the most important thing, – and that is the faithfulness to God, the zeal for the glory of God that was exhibited by the holy angels, together with Archangel Michael. May the Lord help us, too, be ready to sacrifice ourselves for Christ.

Following the example of the angels’ fealty, let us also remain faithful to true Orthodoxy. And nowadays this is more important than ever before, because Orthodoxy is attacked from all sides by the adherents of other religions and by the unfaithful, who demand that very same infamous equality, this time among all religions. We can never agree to such an equalization of Orthodoxy with religions which have distorted the true worship of God, because we know that there is no salvation outside of Orthodoxy. Let us appreciate our Orthodox faith, which teaches us true knowledge and true worship of God, for which, eons ago, the archangel of God Michael and his entire heavenly host battled in the heavens.

Monk Vsevolod (Filipyev)

(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” Vol. 22, 1999)

HOMILY ON THE ENTRY OF THE THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE

Entrance into the Temple

The feast of the entry of the Holy Theotokos into the temple represents a wondrous model of our entry into the Heavenly Kingdom. The church itself symbolizes the Kingdom of God on earth. In church we see the altar table, which is like a throne on which the Lord God sits, just as He does on His heavenly throne. In church, through the partaking of Holy Communion, we become united with the Lord Himself. In church, as in heaven, we are surrounded by hosts of angels and saints. In church, by means of the divine services we glorify God, as do the angels and the saints in heaven.

When the righteous Joachim and Anna brought the Holy Virgin to the temple, they offered to the Lord a gift that was supremely pure. So should we, in order to enter the Heavenly Realm, be absolutely pure, because the Lord Himself said that nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of God. But we can cleanse ourselves of our sins and all manner of spiritual impurity only through the sacrament of penitence, through confession and communion.

As the righteous parents of the Holy Virgin prepared to take Her to the temple, they first dressed Her in royal garments, adorned Her, and provided Her with an escort of maidens carrying lighted candles. So should we, in order to enter the Heavenly Realm, first clothe our souls in the garment of obedience to the Lord’s commandments, adorn our souls with virtues, and accompany them with the lighted candles of prayer and charity.

Upon arriving at the temple, the 3-year-old Infant Mary had to make an effort to ascend 15 high steps in order to enter the temple. So should we, in order to enter the Heavenly Realm, make the effort to ascend the ladder of virtues, to labor at fasting and prayer. The Holy Virgin went up the steps by Herself, without any help from others, but with the miraculous help of God. So should we, in our attempt to attain the Heavenly Realm, make the effort ourselves, but constantly asking God for help along the way.

Such is the lesson we receive from this wondrous holiday! By entering the temple, the Holy Mother of God clearly shows us the Way, and through the earthly temple lies the way into the heavenly temple, the Kingdom of God. Let us follow the Holy Theotokos into the temple, into the church. Now is the time of the Nativity fast, a time for preparing oneself to greet the Saviour on earth, a time for purifying oneself through fasting, prayer, and repentance, a time for increased church attendance. Let us not pass by this important period of time, for beginning with this holiday and throughout the entire Nativity fast we will hear in church the joyous tidings of our forthcoming salvation, we will hear the joyous appeal: “Christ is born – glorify Him!”

 

SUNDAY OF THE HOLY FOREFATHERS

On this Sunday the Church commemorates the Holy Forefathers, i.e. the earthly ancestors of our Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with the first man, Adam, and on through Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, and others. These ancient people, separated from us by millennia, nevertheless have a direct and close bearing upon us, contemporary Orthodox Christians.

What connection is there between them and us? In general, the Church brings them to our attention now, right before the Nativity, largely because of their faith – their belief in the promise given by God to Adam, as he was being expelled from the garden of Eden, that in the end a Saviour would come into the world and would redeem mankind from original sin. All the forefathers, who lived on earth long before the birth of Christ, lived and burned with this faith, never allowing it to be extinguished. They are a shining example to us, who are living on earth after the incarnation of our Lord. Just like those ancient people we, too, have never actually seen Christ: they only knew that He would come into the world, while we know that He did come into the world. But they firmly believed in His coming, and their faith was justified.

We are expected to have even greater faith. We must believe that the Lord was, and is, and will be; that He lived on earth as a man; that through His Church He remains with us constantly; and that He will again return to earth to judge mankind. For such a faith the Lord Himself promises us eternal bliss. When Jesus Christ appeared before the doubting Apostle Thomas, who could not believe in the Lord’s resurrection unless he actually touched Christ’s wounds, and upon touching them cried out: “My Lord and my God!”, then the Lord said to the apostle: “Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

But apart from faith there is something else that binds us closely to the ancient forefathers – and that is their faithfulness to the awaited Messiah. They lived surrounded by a pagan world – a world which did not yet know Christ, but which had already rejected God. We, too, live in a similar world and in perhaps an even worse situation. For nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ the world lived with Christ and the Christian culture, but in the 20th century an abrupt change took place. We now live in a post-Christian era, in a world that has once again become totally immersed in paganism.

We often hear mention of the arrival of a “new age.” However, there is nothing new in this “new age” except for its more modern form. It is the same old rejection of God and even negation of God, and moreover – a complete rejection of Christ and profanation of Christ. Most Christians do not even see how they are perverting their Christian faith in trying to modernize it, and how they are betraying Christ in attempting to unite with the religions of His persecutors and abusers.

And so, against the background of this horrifying world, let us remember not only the faith of the Holy Forefathers, but also their faithfulness to Christ the Saviour; and as we prepare to celebrate His Nativity very soon, let us turn away from the paganism that surrounds us and let us witness our total devotion and loyalty to the One Who said: “Lo, I am with you until the end of time.” Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

 

THE SACRAMENT OF PENITENCE

(see beginning here)

(Continuation)

 

Discourses on confession (2)

 

Preparation for confession consists not of attempting to remember one’s sins as fully as possible and even writing them down, but of trying to attain that state of concentration, seriousness, and prayer, in which our sins will become clear as daylight. In other words, one should bring to one’s father-confessor not a list of sins, but a feeling of penitence, not a detailed dissertation, but a sorrowing heart.

But to know one’s sins does not yet mean to repent of them. The Lord accepts our sincere and honest confession even when it is not accompanied by a strong feeling of repentance (if we bravely confess this sin, too – our “petrified insensibility”). However, a sorrowing heart, grief over one’s sins, is the most important thing which we can bring to the confession. But what can we do if our hearts, seared by the flames of sin, are not irrigated by life-giving tears? What if the feebleness of our souls and bodies is so great that we are unable to sincerely repent? This is surely not a valid reason for delaying our confession: God can touch our heart even in the course of confession; the very process of confessing, of naming our sins can mollify our heart, clarify our spiritual sight, sharpen our feeling of repentance. The very preparation for confession serves to overcome our spiritual indifference: fasting, which emaciates our bodies and disrupts the physical satiety which is so destructive to our spiritual life; prayer, thoughts of death; the reading of the Gospel, of the lives of saints, and the works of the holy fathers; our earnest struggle with ourselves; the doing of good deeds. Our indifference during confession is rooted primarily in our lack of the fear of God and in a hidden dis-belief. Thus our efforts must be directed towards this area. It is for this reason that tears are so important during confession – they soften our petrified condition, rock us from top to bottom, simplify our inner state, and remove the major impediment to penitence – our egoism. Those who are proud and self-centered do not cry. If tears come – that means we have become softer, humbler. After such tears there is meekness, tenderness, and peacefulness in the hearts of those to whom the Lord has sent such joy-bringing weeping. One must not be embarrassed by tears during confession, but one must let them flow freely, cleansing our impurities.

The third part of the confession is the verbal enunciation of one’s sins. One must not wait to be questioned, but must make the effort oneself: confession is the spiritual labor of self-coercion. One must speak precisely, without glossing over the ugliness of sin with general expressions (for example, “I have sinned against the 7th commandment”). When confessing, it is very hard to avoid the temptation of self-justification, of trying to explain to the confessor all the “extenuating circumstances,” of making references to third parties who had led us into sin. All of this is evidence of egoism, of a lack of deep repentance, of our continued wallowing in sin. Sometimes during confession people refer to their poor memory, which supposedly prevents them from remembering their sins. In fact, it often happens that we easily forget our sins; but is it only due to poor memory? For example, we long remember those times when our egoism was badly hurt or, conversely, when we were highly praised. Everything that makes a strong impression on us we remember clearly and for a long time, and if we forget our sins, does that not mean that we attach little importance to them?

The signs of successful repentance are: a feeling of lightness, purity, indescribable joy, when sinning appears to be just as difficult and impossible as was this joy a moment ago.

Our repentance will not be complete if, as we repent, we do not firmly resolve not to return to the sin which has just been confessed. But how is that possible? – you may well ask. How can I promise myself and my confessor that I will not repeat the sin? Will not the converse be truer – a certainty that the sin will be repeated? Everyone knows from experience that after a while one inevitably returns to the same sins; watching oneself year after year, one does not see any amelioration, it seems like one jumps and still remains on the same spot! It would be terrible if it were so. But, fortunately, that is not the case. As long as one has a sincere desire to become better, there is not a single occasion when consecutive confessions and communions do not produce favorable changes in the soul. Furthermore, we cannot be our own judge; a person cannot correctly judge himself, whether he has become better or worse. Moreover, the Lord, in His special providence, often closes our eyes to our spiritual successes, in order to protect us from the fiercest sins – vanity and pride. It often happens that although the sin remains, frequent confession and communion erode and weaken its roots. Moreover, the very struggle against sin, the suffering over one’s sins – are these not a gain for us? “Do not become afraid, – said St. John of the Ladder, – even if thou were to fall every day, and do not depart from God’s paths; stand bravely, and the Angel who guards thee will honor thy patience.”

If you do not experience a feeling of easing or renewal, you must find the strength to once again go back to confession, to fully free your soul of impurity, to cleanse it of its blackness and grime by means of tears. Only let us not ascribe our successes to ourselves, rely on our own strength, have faith in our own efforts. This would mean the destruction of all that we had acquired. “Collect my scattered mind, O Lord, and cleanse my frozen heart; grant me repentance like unto Peter, lamentation like unto the publican, and tears like unto the fallen woman.”

Priest Alexander Elchaninov

CHRIST ON TRIAL BEFORE PILATE

(see beginning here)

(Continued)

 

The sentencing and the leading to death

 

Christ before Pilate

Pilate finally had to pronounce a death sentence upon the Prisoner Whom he could not defend, but how to now defend himself, at least partially, from pangs of conscience? The bitter thought did not leave him that he was condemning an absolutely innocent person to death. Moreover, there was his wife’s plea, her extraordinary dream, his own conviction of the defendant’s righteousness. All of this was hard to bear for the soul of the pagan; and all that he did with the Innocent One seemed like a heavy sin to him. How and by what means could he pacify his conscience? The Jews had an official rite of washing their hands as a sign of their innocence in the shedding of the blood of a person found murdered; this custom was also spreading among the pagans living in Judea. And now the fainthearted judge decided to publicly turn to this rite – the washing of the hands – to show the people that he was not guilty of condemning Jesus Christ to death, and thus pacify his conscience. “I am innocent of the blood of this just person, – Pilate said to the people as he washed his hands in water; – see ye to it”; you are forcing me to shed it, and you will have to bear the responsibility for it! The rebellious crowd, demanding the holy blood with such impudence, did not fear to reveal at this point its rebellious spirit even against God, audaciously calling for His vengeance upon itself and all its descendants. All the people shouted: “His blood be on us and on our children,” and by this they simply wished to encourage Pilate in sentencing Jesus Christ to crucifixion, not realizing that God would really punish the children for their fathers’ sins. After this the death sentence was passed upon Christ by the fainthearted judge, who so well knew Christ to be innocent, that even in sentencing Him to death was forced by his conscience to call Him a just person.

Then Jesus was divested of the scarlet robe, dressed in His own clothes, and led away to be crucified. With every minute the crowd of people coming from the Praetorium grew; among the crowd marched the armed soldiers, leading the prisoners to be crucified. Everyone wanted to know and to see who was being led to such a shameful death, to which even a damnation from God applied, as it was said in the law: cursed be all who hang on a tree. Here and there malevolent voices could be heard, accompanied by shouts and curses; and all this together was like a chorus from hell, a triumph of hatred and malice. Here, together with the noisy crowd, proceeded the well-known members of the Sanhedrin – the scribes and the Pharisees. The identity of the extraordinary Prisoner, Who was being accompanied by these proud teachers of the law and elders, was becoming increasingly known to all the people. An astonishing spectacle now presented itself to all: the One Who several days before had resurrected a man already dead for four days, Whom thousands of people wished to see on a throne of glory as the son of David, and Who had just recently been welcomed with this joyous appellation, was now, beyond all expectation, appearing before everyone in a state of humiliation and suffering, condemned and being led to death.

Christ falls under burden of Cross

And who would not be astonished at this? Whose mind could ever expect such an event? This great Teacher, to Whom the Israeli people listened with delight, Who commanded nature, gave sight to those born blind, expelled demons, resurrected the dead, to Whom joyous hosannas were sung just a few days before, – this Jesus, beloved by all, was now passing through the city, carrying upon Himself the instrument of His death – a large wooden cross. Having suffered so much torture and beating during the night and day, and now oppressed by the weight of the cross, Christ was barely able to walk with slow steps towards the site of the crucifixion. Whose heart would not be filled with pity at such a sight? And many kindhearted people were inwardly distressed, but no one dared show compassion towards Christ, – all feared the prominent members of the Sanhedrin, who burned with hatred towards Him and to anyone who dared support Him. At this point a perfect example presented itself: when the multitude of people preceding and following Christ were coming out of the city gates, a certain Simon of Cyrene, either so named or being of Cyrenian provenance, was returning from the fields, walking towards the crowd of people, and seeing Christ among the armed soldiers, being led as a criminal towards execution, he stopped in great amazement and expressed commiseration over Him. This innocent expression of compassion towards the Innocent One, as well as Christ’s fatigue and complete exhaustion of all His strength, – for tradition tells us that Christ was so exhausted that He fell under the burden of the cross, – resulted in Simon being seized and, despite the fact that this could have been onerous and quite dishonorable for him, compelled to carry Christ’s cross. Not only crucifixion itself, but even the carrying of a cross was considered among the Jews to be especially dishonorable and humiliating, so that even to say to someone the words “you are a cross bearer” meant expressing great scorn towards that person. In order that people would not think, seeing Simon carrying a cross, that he himself was sentenced to death, Jesus Christ walked directly in front of him.

A sad and very piteous procession now trailed from Jerusalem to Golgotha. Jerusalem, the great city that during the Passover period accommodated several hundred thousands of people, was now seeing the widely honored Christ being led through its streets to crucifixion. The execution of the great Prophet amazed everyone and involuntarily drew people after Christ, and thus a vast multitude of all kinds of people followed after Him. Many were distressed and wept, inwardly remembering His benevolence to the Israeli people, how He gave sight to the blind, mobility to the crippled, hearing to the deaf, how He made the mute speak, and healed lepers, and even resurrected the dead; to all He did only good, and never did anything bad to anyone. Thus said those who wept over Christ, and nothing could restrain them from tears: neither the presence of the leading members of the Sanhedrin, nor apprehension over appearing to be an adherent of the One condemned to death, – they fearlessly wept and lamented over Him. And these were not Christ’s closest followers or His disciples, who at that time did not even dare approach Him, but primarily the women of Jerusalem and the mothers of those children who had sung hosanna to Him. As women, whose hearts were more sensitive, they could not refrain from tears, and at the sight of Christ being led to death, they gave themselves over to all the grief of which were capable their commiserating and inconsolable hearts.

On the way to Golgotha

Jesus Christ proceeded towards the site of execution in deep silence; nothing could disturb His courageous patience. Even when He was being disparaged, He did not say anything disparaging in return, and when suffering innocently, He did not threaten anyone; only the women’s pitiful lamentations drew Him out of His silence. Turning His glance towards the women weeping over Him, Christ said to them: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say: blessed are the barren, and wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: fall on us; and to the hills: cover us. For if they do these things with a green tree, what shall be done with the dry?” For Christ, Who had promised not to forget even a cup of water offered for His sake, the tears being shed over Him could not have been more precious; however, His death, so salvific for mankind, was above all weeping and usual human pity. Not only the women, but all the Jewish people should have been weeping, for the time of their punishment was nearing, the most disastrous days for Jerusalem were approaching. Christ, in His supreme love for His fellow men, could not conceal the terrible disasters that were about to befall His poor compatriots, and now with a feeling of sincere regret He revealed the forthcoming events to those who could still believe Him. With perfect knowledge of the disasters about to befall Jerusalem, Christ said to the weeping women: women of Jerusalem! do not weep over Me, but weep over yourself and your children, for such a time of adversity is coming, that even though barrenness is considered among you to be the greatest misfortune and punishment from God, people will say at that time: blessed are the barren, who have not borne children and have not reared them in such adverse times. For there will be such anguish then, that people themselves will wish for death, will summon it as the greatest relief: for they will prefer to be covered by the earth rather than live in those terrible days. Their end will be most distressing, for if a green tree is harshly cut down and deprived of life, then what will be done with a dry and barren one?

Usually it was iniquitous people whom the prophets compared to a dry tree, those who did no good deeds, and this is why Jesus Christ, without threatening anyone, only mentioned the green tree which His enemies were so mercilessly depriving of life. After this everyone was to understand the kind of cruel death that was coming to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who did no good whatsoever, but stoned the prophets who were sent to them by God. And this was said by Jesus Christ without any offense at those who had demanded His execution; not a single word was heard against His enemies, for there were none for the Saviour of this world, since both Himself and all of them He was committing to the will of His Father, the righteous judge.

 

The Crucifixion

 

One of the hilly elevations near the western gates of Jerusalem always served as the place of execution for those who were condemned to be crucified. Here, as on a scaffold, in plain view of all Jerusalem, the executions were performed to put fear into the city’s inhabitants. This mount was usually called the Calvary; in Jewish – Golgotha. It was to this mount that Jesus Christ was brought and the two malefactors with Him. The high priests and scribes who had demanded Christ’s death followed Him to the very site of crucifixion. They feared that in their absence the fickle crowd would change its mind about the Prophet beloved by all and would free Him from death. And for this reason, when Jesus Christ was brought to Golgotha, they stood right around Him. While the soldiers were engaged in setting up the crosses, Christ stood with inexpressible mildness, like a lamb brought to sacrifice. His extraordinary tranquility set Him apart from all the other people standing nearby. Around Him, together with the soldiers stood the Pharisees with an arrogant mien; their dreadful faces exuded a kind of implacable hatred, as though the flames of hell were reflected in their eyes.

Despite the inhumanity and horror of death by crucifixion, abolished 1,500 years ago in consequence of a universal feeling of disgust, even at that time both the Jews and the Romans had customs which showed some pity towards the condemned. According to Roman custom, the condemned man received a blow under the arm, which only hastened his death, while the Jewish custom consisted of the condemned man being given wine immediately after being crucified, this wine containing dissolved myrrh – a highly tranquilizing substance. And having brought Christ to execution, the hypocritical Pharisees, always wishing to seem merciful and compassionate before the crowd, now gave the victim of their hate some wine with myrrh, but Christ, tasting it, did not wish to drink it. The wine was sour as vinegar, while the myrrh was bitter as gall. Acting purely out of malice, Christ’s enemies did all of this without realizing that they were fulfilling a prophecy foretold of Christ by the prophet David: “They gave Me also gall to taste, and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).

Before the Crucifixion

Finally there came the moment – unique in all the centuries, both past and present, – the fearful moment when Christ, Son of the living God, was to be given over to terrible execution. The cross was set up on the mount, and the soldiers took off Christ’s clothes, for those who were crucified were divested of their garments; then they wrapped a wide towel around His middle and began to elevate Him onto the cross. After that two soldiers placed nails on His outstretched hands and hammered them into the middle of His wrists; blow fell after blow, and the blood of the God-man flowed in two streams from His most-holy hands. Afterwards nails were also hammered into His feet, causing excruciating pain. Now the entire body hung on the nails, and the body’s weight caused the wounds to tear more and more; blood streamed from the hands and the feet and flowed onto the ground. Thus came to pass King David’s prophecy about his great Descendant: “They pierced My hands and My feet” (Psalm 22:16).

And now this cross, with a man crucified upon it in excruciating agony, at the least movement suffering ever-increasing pain from the further tearing of the hands and the feet, was firmly placed by the soldiers in a previously prepared hollow, in such a manner that the feet barely missed the ground. In this way the victim was accessible to all who wished to express their hate through blows or other manner of humiliation. For many hours, hanging on the cross, the victim could suffer mockery and tormenting from passersby, who with coarse and indifferent hearts crowded around this terrible spectacle, which should not have been gazed at, but rather wept over with bloody tears.

The suffering of a crucified man is indescribable; it is often so agonizing and terrible that anyone who was to curtail his life would be doing him the greatest favor. Just imagine the agonized condition of a body hanging on crucified hands! The slightest motion, so inevitable in life, is always accompanied by unbearable pain, while every hour the heaviness of the body hanging on nails increasingly tears the wounds, which become ever more painful, ever more burning. The crucified man is forced to moan and beg for death, and thus be tormented for a long time and die gradually.

In fact, death from crucifixion combined all that was horrible in the agony of death: vertigo, spasms, hunger, fever, frenzy, indignity, duration of suffering, fear of oncoming death, paralysis of wounds, – and all this to such a degree, that a man could not reach a state of complete unconsciousness in which he could find some relief.

The unnatural position of the body produced unbearable pain at the slightest motion; the inflamed vessels and sinews twitched convulsively in continuous pain; the gaping wounds became affected with gangrene; the vessels in the head and the stomach became filled with blood, inflated and stressed; and to all this agony was added unbearable thirst. All this bodily suffering gave rise to an extreme anguish that even looked upon death itself, this mysterious enemy at whose approach man is usually overcome with dread, as its most desirable deliverer.

And it was to such a death that Christ was condemned! Despite the fact that He had earlier been tormented and, consequently, His death should have occurred more quickly, – His suffering nevertheless lasted from midday to almost sundown, when He “gave up the spirit.”

A commiserating heart could ask at this point: if death was inevitable, why were such diverse and long-lasting torments, humiliation, agonies, and such a shameful execution necessary? Did the Father, so merciful even to sinners, not find enough mercy only for His sinless Son? Let the word of God, not man, reply to this; and that word says that all this had to happen because He gave Himself up for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity (Titus 2:14). Diverse are our iniquities – diverse is the suffering for them. For each there is a special sacrifice, for each wound – its own treatment. The first iniquity, in the Garden of Eden, which engendered condemnation and death, was followed by fear and mortal anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. Just as it contained the seed of all future sins, so the chalice of the soul’s anguish was prepared for the sins of all people. All the sins committed all over the world from the beginning of the earth to its end, all the horrors and punishments prepared for sinners were at that point laid upon the shoulders of the Lamb of God, Who took upon Himself the sins of the entire world; it is for this that His soul was anguished even unto death, so that bloody sweat streamed down His face to the ground while He prayed. However, He did not gainsay God’s truth, which demanded His death for Adam’s transgression of the will of God, nor did He protest against it, being obedient unto death on the cross. Prophetic words had already been said on His behalf: “I delight to do Thy will, O My God” (Psalm 40:8). After that began the various torments for our countless iniquities: He was tied and bound – for our self-will; He was brought to judgment and at the first trial slapped on the cheek – for our hypocrisy before others; then He was again beaten on the face and mocked as a false Christ – this was for our pride and vanity, for our vaunting of ourselves.

Afterwards He was judged by a pagan judge, and although this latter did not find any blame in Him, yet in order to please sinful people he ordered Him to be scourged, and thus all manner of humiliation, the crown of thorns, the hitting, the spitting upon, the beating over the head, – all of this was for our countless iniquities, for our wickedness and hardheartedness. And, finally, He was given vinegar with gall to drink – this was for our lechery, for our intemperance in food and drink; and He was bared – this was for our excessive adornment of ourselves; and He was raised upon the cross in disgrace before the whole world, and His most-holy body was crucified with iron nails – this was for the shamelessness of our flesh, for all our sensual delights and lustful desires.

At this point we should stop and look at ourselves: are we not as unwise as those who gave Christ over to be crucified? Many of us are trying to gain as much knowledge as possible, but do not wish to know what everyone should know. And what is it that each one of us should know? What can be more important for us than the knowledge of how our Lord and Saviour suffered for us? How have we been saved from condemnation? Only through the suffering of Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us not disregard this salvific knowledge, let us ponder the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. I will contemplate Thy greatest miracle, O Lord, which Thou hast done for my salvation – Thy great suffering, especially since it reveals the extraordinary wealth of Thy love for humans, Thy divine meekness and absolute holiness, Thy sinlessness, O Lord.

Besides all the torments on the Cross, the Lord also suffered the agony of the crown of thorns, of which the high priests did not wish to relieve Him. O wonder-filled sight! The One Who could call upon hosts of angels for assistance, could even create them, – was being voluntarily subjected to such terrible torment! Unbearable torment due to the insufferable folly of man! Yet, instead of moans and complaints, to the amazement of all a prayer for His crucifiers issued from the lips of the Crucified One; they saw the suffering Christ, gazing from the cross up into heaven and asking forgiveness for His enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Hearing such words from a crucified man, who would not recognize in Him the Saviour of all men? But even now the high priests did not want to understand that Christ was the true Son of God, that He was asking God to forgive them and not destroy them as erstwhile He had destroyed Dathan and Abiram, who were engulfed by the earth for agitating against Moses. Without Christ’s prayer the earth would have engulfed these, too; for this reason the One Who was overflowing with love prayed, thus saving their lives.

Thus let us gaze with pure eyes upon the suffering Christ; let us know that not only the Jews, but all of us are pitiless tormentors of Jesus Christ. For the Father had given Him up, as it was said, for our sins; and He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). But whoever does not wish to come to his senses, watching Christ’s suffering, and continues to fearlessly commit sin, to live without fear of God: will not such a one be numbered among the crucifiers of Jesus Christ? For whoever transgresses does no more than sentence Christ to death in his heart or, as it said in the Scriptures, crucifies the Son of God a second time.

(To be continued)

Priest Gregory Dyachenko

 

CHRISTIAN TEACHING

Nativity fast

 

Now we have entered the Nativity fast, and we thank God that once again we are preparing to participate in the mystery of the coming to earth of our Saviour. In the words of St. Theophanus the Recluse, during this lent we must partake of the Blood and Body of Christ, in order to comprehend with our entire being that the Word has become flesh, and that the Lord has taken on our flesh and blood, becoming one of us.

Now, while the Church is reminding us of the necessity for fasting and prayer, it would be well to note that although the Nativity fast is not so strict in terms of external demands, it still requires a reasoning attitude towards it. First of all, we must keep this fast of course, but as Saint Isaac the Syrian says, there is a proper measure of fasting. We must understand that all church regulations should accord with the measure of each specific individual, depending on his bodily strength, age, health, and other characteristics.

St. Isaac says that inordinate fasting is more harmful than too little fasting. This refers primarily to those devotees of fasting who wish to quickly ascend to a very high degree, exhibiting outward abstinence which is, however, not counter-balanced by their inner spiritual state. Why is inordinate fasting more harmful than too little fasting? Because, says the holy one, from a state of inadequate fasting a man can still proceed to a correctly-established spiritual life, while the corruption of spirit that arises from immoderate fasting can lead to spiritual disorder which is much harder to rectify.

Lent, being a spiritual manifestation, always bares our perception of both good and evil, and so each one of us must remember that during lent there naturally arise special temptations, and we can either draw nearer to God or become alienated from Him as a result of the increase in the temptations we suffer. Saint Sincleticia says that external fasting which does not correspond to the measure of our spiritual state is more harmful than beneficial, because it primarily incites us to vanity and a feeling of superiority over others. That is to say, external fasting alone does not bring us closer to God and other people, but, on the contrary, alienates us from them. And all the other passions – irritation, anger, and every-thing else that is characteristic of us, can flare up very intensely during lent.

Thus, the main thing of which the Church reminds us during lent is that when we engage in bodily abstinence, our body, which separates us from the invisible world, becomes thinner and we become more sensitive to the spiritual world. And if our heart is not purified, then, naturally, our contacts with this spiritual world are primarily connected with the evil forces. This gives rise to all the temptations and passions which only proceed to increase during lent.

Let us ponder this. From year to year we are used to fasting too externally, too formally, often focusing only on keeping to a certain dietary regimen, without adding prayer and without delving deeper into a realization of our path to Christ, a realization of the mystery which is being revealed to us during this time. Christ truly approaches each one of us; therefore, let us realize that the worst thing that can happen to us is for us to be spiritually lukewarm, to be observing only a formal and external fast. Let us try to deepen our fast from the very beginning (and not only at the end), drawing nearer to Christ not only through the reading of the Holy Scriptures, not only through the reading of prayers and more frequent attendance of church services (although all of this is essential and necessary), but specifically through a communion with the most important thing that there is in Christ – His love, His unity with the suffering and fate of each individual, so that the mystery of Christ’s incarnation would become a living experience for us during this lent. Amen.

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

 

LIVES OF THE SAINTS

On December 22nd (the 9th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the conception of the Most-holy Theotokos by the righteous Saint Anna.

In the land of Galilee, in the city of Nazareth, there lived the righteous couple Joachim and Anna, who were descendants of kings and high priests. This couple so pleased God with their pious life, that He chose them to become the parents of the Holy Virgin, the fore-chosen Mother of God. But just as the Lord Himself was to become incarnate from a Most-holy Mother, so the Mother of God was to be born of holy and pure parents. By the will of God Joachim and Anna remained childless until a very old age, so that in the conception and birth of their Daughter from barren and aged parents the power of God’s grace would be manifest, and a divine sign would be given to mankind.

Holy Righteous Anna

For a long time the righteous Joachim and Anna sorrowed and wept over their childlessness, and were subjected to mockery and scorn from those around them, because the Jews of those times, who awaited the coming of the Messiah from the ancestry of David, looked upon barrenness as a sign of God’s punishment. The pious spouses, however, never lost hope in God’s mercy, and for their patience and unfailing faith in God their grief finally turned into joy, and their disgrace – into great honor and dignity.

Once, when Saint Anna in great sorrow prayed to God in her garden, the Lord sent an Angel who foretold her of the forthcoming conception and birth of a Maiden, which soon came to pass. The Church commemorates the conception of the Holy Virgin as being in accordance with God’s pledge, but at the same time springing from a physical union, thus pointing out that the Virgin Mary was born under natural human laws, and that in His incarnation the Lord Jesus Christ fully inherited from His Most-holy Mother the essence of mankind. The conception of the Holy Virgin Mary brought joy not only to Her parents, but to the entire world, because it was the first harbinger of God’s promise of mankind’s redemption through the coming of the Saviour down to earth.

 

 

On the same day the Church venerates the icon of the Mother of God “The Unexpected Joy”.

In the writings of St. Dimitri of Rostov there is an instructive narrative about a certain sinner who was granted the unexpected spiritual joy of repentance from an icon of the Mother of God. This event became so beloved of the Russian people that an icon was drawn depicting it, which came to be known as “The Unexpected Joy.” The icon shows a sinner standing on his knees, praying before an icon of the Theotokos and purifying his soul through tears of penitence.

This sinner had the habit of praying each day to the Blessed Virgin, often repeating the Archangel’s greeting: “Rejoice, O Virgin full of grace!” Once, before routinely going out to sin, he turned to the holy image and fearfully saw the Holy Virgin standing live with Her Divine Son in Her arms. The Infant had wounds on His hands and feet, and blood was flowing from a wound in His side, just as it had been on the cross. The sinner fell to his knees and cried out: “O Mistress! Who did this?”

– You and other sinners. Over and over again you crucify My Son by your sins, just as the Jews had done, – the Theotokos answered softly.

– Have mercy upon me, – tearfully cried out the sinner.

– You call Me the Mother of mercy, yet you offend Me and bring Me sorrow by your deeds.

– No, Mistress, – the sinner cried out in fear. – May my malice not overcome Thy indescribable kindness and mercy! Thou alone art the hope and safe haven of all sinners! Have mercy upon me, O benevolent Mother! Entreat Thy Son and my Creator on my behalf.

Icon “The Unexpected Joy”

Seeing a soul being purified by repentance, the most blessed Mother began to entreat Her Son: “My benevolent Son! For the sake of My love have mercy upon this sinner.” But the Son replied to Her: “Do not be angry, My Mother, if I do not obey Thee. I, too, entreated My Father to have this cup of suffering pass Me by.”

Over and over the Mother of God entreated Her Son, reminding Him how She had nurtured Him at Her breast, how She had suffered at His cross. But the Lord would not bend down to mercy. Then the Mother of God arose, put Her Son down, and was ready to fall at His feet. “What dost Thou wish to do, Mother?!” – cried out the Son. “I shall remain, – She replied, – lying at Thy feet together with this sinner until Thou forgivest him his sins.” Then the Son said: “The law requires a son to venerate his mother, while justice demands that the giver of the law be himself obedient to the law. I am Thy Son, Thou art My Mother; I am obliged to do Thee homage by fulfilling Thy request. Let it be as Thou wishest! His sins are now forgiven for Thy sake! And as a token of forgiveness, let him press his lips to My wounds.”

The sinner arose, with trembling and joy kissed the most holy wounds of the Infant, and came to himself. When the vision ended, he felt within his heart both awe and joy. His soul exulted; streams of tears ran down his face. He kissed the icon, filled with gratitude for having found repentance and forgiveness, and prayed that he be granted the gift to always see his sins and repent of them. His life changed completely and remained God-pleasing to the end of his days. “Regard how great is the Mother of God’s concern for us, and Her entreaty for the forgiveness of our sins!” – concludes his narrative St. Dimitry of Rostov.

 

TWO GREAT NICHOLASES

Homily for the feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker

(December 6/19)

 

St. Nicholas

Every saint of modern times has a predecessor, who with his influence, often hidden, prepared a future harvest. St. Theophanus the Recluse says that the commemoration of a saint means not simply attending divine services to him, but following the spiritual endeavor in which the saint had been engaged.

When we attempt to appreciate the endeavor of St. Nicholas, we think of how many Russian people (and not only those who bear the name of Nicholas) have been sanctified by his holiness, having learned charity and truth from him. Pondering the reason why the Russian Orthodox Church has chosen St. Nicholas as its favorite saint, among all the other saints connected with his life we single out the holy martyr Tsar Nicholas II.

The holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas is amazingly like unto his celestial patron St. Nicholas, wonderworker of Myra in Lycia. We can say of the Tsar that he, too, was “a rule of faith and an icon of meekness” (as it is sung in the troparion to St. Nicholas). St. Nicholas was a Greek saint, but he has become so beloved, so chosen in Russia, that the Russian people perceive him as a saint who belongs to the Russian Church, at the same time remaining a universal saint. Similarly the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, whose blood was more than half non-Russian, is fully symbolic of Russian Orthodoxy, at the same time being a symbol of Orthodoxy in the whole world.

I would like to say a few words of how the holiness of St. Nicholas is tied in with the holiness of the Tsar-Martyr. Our Tsar was totally unlike other European monarchs, and that form of government which existed in Russia under Emperor Nicholas II was entirely suited to the Russian people. The Tsar was a simplehearted person in the best sense of the word, just as simple-hearted as his subjects, and in this lay their mysterious alliance. In the same manner the simplicity and kindness of St. Nicholas wondrously unite him with the Russian people.

We know that Russia’s destiny is tied in with the veneration of both St. Nicholas the wonderworker and the passion-bearing Tsar. This is why for a long time many people opposed the canonization of the Emperor, saying ironically: “Why, do you miss our Father Tsar?” They were saying this as though those times were not the very best times for Russia. As soon as there was no more Father Tsar in Russia, such misfortune came upon the people! And not only during the first seventy years. A worse time has come for Russia now, when the mass media is spreading godless propaganda just as it did before, only today it is being called “democracy.” Radio channels pretending to be “public” and “Christian” do not cease round-the-clock broadcasting of the same calumny that had surrounded the Emperor during his reign. Our enemies are afraid of Russia becoming unique and are in a hurry to dismember it. They want everything in Russia to be like in Europe, in terms of having Europe engulf Russia.

The murder which took place in 1918 was not only the murder of an Orthodox Tsar, as we know, but the murder of all the members of his family and all the servants who were with the Emperor. In a certain sense this symbolized the destruction of Russia. All who were loyal to the Tsar, all who knew him had to be exterminated, so that no memory would be left in the people.

The family that can truly be called holy was eliminated. The aims behind this murder were varied and far-reaching, but one of the primary goals of the revolution was the obliteration of the Russian family. Trotsky wrote in the ’30s: “Russia is becoming bourgeois again. Once again the cult of the family is being revived.” And now we understand what that meant, and what is meant today, in the new revolution. At that time the major blow was directed at the obliteration of the family which upholds everything. And today the family is once more being obliterated, i.e. the Church is being destroyed at its depth, because each family, if it lives in Christ, represents a small church. The royal family was the supreme model of a Christian family, and for this reason its canonization has given hope that everything else that had been destroyed within the Church will now be restored. Something mysterious is taking place here, and we must hope that through the prayerful intercession of the passion-bearing Tsar Nicholas II and his holy family, the gathering of the Russian people into a single family will begin despite all obstacles, and that the long-suffering Russian people will be able, like the prodigal son, to return to their Heavenly Father.

Let us pray for this to occur and for God’s truth, which is being revealed before our very eyes, to materialize very soon. And the fact that this truth is being revealed to us is a good sign for Russia, no matter how hopeless everything else may appear. It attests to the fact that the Russian people, at least the better part of them, realize that they had a Tsar who is being returned to them as God’s saint and to the entire world – as God’s gift.

Holy Tsar Nicholas

We believe that St. Nicholas, the celestial patron of the holy Tsar-Martyr, is interceding for the Russian people, being a defender of the family, children, chastity, and a normal human life. We know that in all common daily needs he hastens to our aid. In a similar manner God has granted the holy Tsar-Martyr the gift to intercede for the people who had been entrusted to him during his reign on earth. We have many witnesses to the miraculous intercession of the passion-bearing Tsar Nicholas II before God for all the people and for our long-suffering Russia.

May the Lord grant that through this celestial intercession our homeland reach a turning point. No manner how much effort is expended to confuse them, the sheep nevertheless always seek a good shepherd, as it is written in the Gospel, and this is why the people flock to St. Nicholas. May our long-suffering people similarly flock to Tsar-Martyr Nicholas. If in the home of every Orthodox believer there were to be an icon of St. Nicholas, and if in the home of every Orthodox believer there were to be an icon of the holy Tsar-Martyr, then this would signal the beginning of great change. And as to the sole Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, may we all flock to Him through the prayers of St. Nicholas, the holy Tsar-Martyr, all the new martyrs and confessors of Russia, and all the saints who are now praying for our Russian Church and for our perishing people. Amen.

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

 

BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST PEOPLE

(see beginning here)

(Continuation)

 

After the Deluge

 

“And God remembered Noah… and the fountains of the deep were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. And the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.”

Here for the first time in the holy pages of the Bible there is mention of a province which much later would be destined to be part of the Russian state.

This is an important region in other aspects, too. Here was subsequently formed an important and powerful nation which the holy Bible calls the land of Ararat and modern science – the state of Urartu. This state performed a great service to mankind in the sphere of culture: here for the first time, in the 11th-12th centuries B.C., was discovered the art of obtaining iron from ore, and the Iron Age began with the mass production of various objects out of iron. (Up to that time mankind had used only the rare meteorite iron, which was chemically more or less pure, and to the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians iron was more precious than gold).

The state of Urartu fulfilled another, more spiritual service. With the appearance and wide expansion of the militant Assyrian kingdom, Urartu took the strongest blows of the Assyrians onto itself, and it turned out to be the only state bordering on Assyria which did not submit to the brutal conquerors. Throughout several centuries Urartu fought with Assyria, thus diverting the attention and powers of this predatory state onto itself and in this manner saving other nations from terrible Assyrian slavery. Does this not remind us of the role that many-many centuries later was played by Russia, which saved the Christian world from Asiatic conquerors?

Thus we may rightly say that the land of Ararat is a blessed land.

“And it came to pass at the end of forty days that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made… and he sent forth a dove. But the dove found no rest for the sole of its feet… And he stayed yet another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove. And the dove came in to him in the evening, and lo, in its mouth was an olive leaf. And Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.”

From that time the image of the dove with an olive leaf in its mouth became a symbol of God’s goodness, God’s mercy, of peace with God.

We may suppose that the Holy Spirit, appearing at the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ “in the image of a dove,” thus reminded people of the hour of God’s mercy after the Deluge. Hence outwardly differently, but inwardly similarly, in both cases the Lord “drowned sin in water,” and a dove was present at both events.

And it is such blasphemy that in our times this holy symbol has become the symbol of a hideous caricature of peace, the symbol of lying propaganda by the enemies of God.

“By the first day of the first month the waters were dried up from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry… And Noah built an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”

On the blessed land of Ararat, after the hour of God’s wrath there rose up to the Lord this first human offering in the hour of God’s mercy and blessing.

It is interesting to compare this short Biblical description of Noah’s offering after the Flood with the description, though the nearest one to the Biblical, but still a heathen narration, about the same event in the Babylonian epos.

The Babylonian Noah – Utnapishtim (or Noepishtim, which means “rescuer and savior of life,” whereas Noah simply means “rescuer”) narrates:

“When the seventh day came, I took the dove out and set him free, the dove flew away, flew in circles, there was no land, and he came back… I took a raven out and set him free, the raven flew and saw the water drying. He ate, cawed, and did not come back. I went into the four winds, and made a libation, I made a burnt offering on the peak of a mountain. I set up seven incense burners and spread under them reeds, cedar branches and brushwood. The gods sensed the odor, the gods sensed the fragrance, the gods, like flies, gathered above the altar… ”

We will disregard the repulsive image of gods, as flies, gathering above the altar. We understand that the Babylonians did not imagine their gods as flies, as we do not imagine the Holy Spirit as a dove. These are images. But what an attractive image is the one, and how repulsive is the other.

But in the very description of the offering of Utnapishtim our attention is drawn to the difference from the Biblical story. How many unnecessary details we see in the Babylonian story. They do not exist in the Biblical narration. Perhaps historically it happened the way Utnapishtim describes it: he put down reeds, cedar branches, and brushwood. But all these details do not serve the aim of the Bible to nurture human souls. And in this example, we can see how under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the hand of Moses, recording the history of mankind, purified the ancient legends, eliminating everything secondary and superfluous from them. When it is necessary, even for a limited historical period, the Bible is able to present the most minute details in its narrative, as, for example, further on, when recording the rules of Old Testament offerings. When this is not necessary, the Bible, passing over meaningless details, relates only the essence.

This example also clearly shows that we should not look in the Bible for anything that is foreign to its purpose or for any scientific, geographic, or ethnographic details, if such are unessential.

In this same example of the two narrations, close in their natural origin (let us remember that Abraham, an ancestor of Moses and the entire chosen nation, traced his ancestry from Ur of the Chaldees, i.e. Babylon), we see the difference between an account written under inspiration from the Holy Spirit and an account that is purely human.

 “And the Lord said in His heart: I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake… While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

(To be continued)

Archbishop Nathaniel (Lvov)

 

SPIRITUAL POETRY

BEFORE AN ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD

 

 

O, Queen of heaven and the earth,

O, Comforter of the grieving!

Hear Thou the anguished prayers of sinners,

In Thee are hope and our salvation!

We are bogged down in evil passions,

We wander in the dark of vice,

But – our Homeland!... O, upon it

Do Thou incline Thy all-seeing gaze!

O, Holy Russia! Thy bright Home

Is on the edge of annihilation!

To Thee, Protectress, we call out,

We know none other for salvation!

Do not abandon Thy poor children,

O, Comforter of the grieving!

Do not Thou turn away Thine eyes

From our sufferings and anguish!

 

– N.K.

– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff

 

Our Lady of Kazan

 

 



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