THE RIGHT TIME
Homily for the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos
In the service for the feast of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos there are the following words: “In the sorrow of their barrenness, the wise parents of the Mother of God cried out unto the Lord, and they gave birth to Her unto all generations, for universal salvation and glory.”
Let us ponder this moment, my dear brethren. We see before us the righteous Joachim and Anna – venerable and pious, faithful spouses, issuing from an ancestry of kings and priests, God-fearing, keeping all God’s commandments, known for their humility and charity. And yet this model couple is the object of scorn and humiliation on the part of their neighbors! How can that be? It is because the years go by and by, and they have already reached old age, and still the Lord has not given them any children.
In those times every Jew hoped, through his descendants, to participate in the kingdom of the Messiah. Therefore, every Jew who was childless was scorned by others, because barrenness was considered to be God’s great punishment for sins. This was especially hard for Joachim to endure, being a descendant of King David and knowing that Christ the Saviour was to be born of his ancestry. And so what do the righteous Joachim and Anna do? Despite being mocked by others for so many years, they do not grumble against the Lord, they do not abandon their virtuous life, but humbly continue to endure, to endure and hope, to hope and – despite their very old age – to have faith in God’s mercy. As the church hymn tells us, in the sorrow of their barrenness they cry out unto the Lord, i.e. they tearfully pray to him.
And what is the result of this humility, patience, faith, hope and prayer? Once again we receive the answer in the church hymn: they, the wise parents, receive a heavenly gift from God – the One Who is higher than the cherubim, Who is birth-giver to God the Word, – and they give birth to Her unto all generations, for universal salvation and glory.
Such is the extraordinary gift earned by the righteous Joachim and Anna – they give birth to the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin Mary, and in Her nativity they themselves are glorified for all ages!
But why did they have to wait so long? The Lord was not punishing them for their sins – they were already righteous and pure; the Lord was not testing their patience and humility – they had already exhibited these virtues abundantly. No, dear brethren, they had to wait for so long until the time was right. Herein lies the key – they had to wait until the time was right.
The Holy Virgin, as the future Mother of God, had to be the purest vessel possible in humanity. Because of this She had to come from the purest parents possible: for this reason the righteous Joachim and Anna had to wait until they were purified of all human passions by means of humility, patience and old age. And then, when the right time came, they – who had so meekly accepted God’s will and the fate which the Lord had meted out to them – now received such wondrous comfort.
Does not the same happen in our lives, dear brethren? We often find ourselves in a state of spiritual barrenness: we are subjected to sorrows and hardships, and we pray to God without apparently receiving any comfort, or we ask for the fulfillment of some spiritually-beneficial wish – and it is not fulfilled. And so we begin to think that this is punishment for our sins – and we fall into despair, we begin to lose hope, we even begin to grumble against the Lord.
No, dear brethren! The Lord often tarries with the fulfillment of our wishes not because He does not hear our prayers or punishes us for our sins, but because the right time has not yet come. We do not know God’s will for us, while the Lord sees our entire life, knows what we need and when we need it, knows what is best for us and when.
Therefore, let us follow the example of the righteous Joachim and Anna: let us patiently wait and patiently pray, let us meekly accept the will of God, let us have absolute hope of God’s mercy and absolute faith in His providence, let us have faith in that the Lord hears all our prayers, all our cries, sees all our sorrows, knows all our needs, and that He will send us what we need when we need it. Amen.
ON THE THREE COMPONENTS OF THE LIFE-GIVING CROSS
AND OUR OWN CROSS
We are now glorifying the Life-giving Cross of our Lord. On this occasion it would be quite fitting, dear brethren, to remember how the Church and the Holy Fathers and spiritual instructors teach us to look upon the Life-giving Cross and the bearing of our own cross.
The great spiritual instructor in faith, Saint Theophanus the Recluse, said that the Cross of Christ was threefold. The cross which each Christian must bear in his life is also threefold, similar to the Life-giving Cross which, according to prophecy, was composed of three tree varieties (cypress, pine and cedar). Thus, in bearing our own cross, we see three sides to it, three crosses which merge into one.
The first of these crosses is the cross of fallen mankind. This cross was described briefly but accurately and powerfully by the Apostle Paul, who said of himself: “I know not what I do: the good which I wish to do – I do not; the evil which I do not wish to do – I do.” And man is a captive of his sin; this is the sin of fallen mankind from which no one can escape, and of which the same Saint Theophanus said: “Imagine a man who has a rotting and foul-smelling corpse firmly attached to his back: wherever he goes, wherever he runs, he is unable to escape from this horrible foul decay. It follows him persistently, pursues him relentlessly.”
The second cross is the one which we usually understand as being our own cross: this is the combination of all the sorrows, all the misfortunes, all the difficulties of which our lives are composed. This, precisely, is what is meant by bearing one’s cross. But that is not yet all.
The holy fathers say: here is a man surrounded by affliction, illness, misfortune. As soon as he gives himself up completely into the will of God, saying that the Lord does everything well and, therefore, whatever may be sent to him on this path of the cross, he accepts it all as being good – as soon as he says this in his heart (says Saint Theophanus) – everything will disappear as if by magic. Everything around him remains the same: the same afflictions, the same worries, but it is he who has changed and sees everything differently. Thus must a man have the firm conviction that the Heavenly Father will not give him a stone in place of bread.
If God sends us difficulties, that means they are needed and are for our benefit. The elder Ambrose of Optina said: “Whatever will be, will be, and what will be, will be whatever God gives us, and God gives us everything for our good.”
The last component of our cross is such that Saint Theophanus spoke of it with his usual deep humility. He said: “That cross is known only to those who have attained a high spiritual level. Such a person has already overcome all temptations, has easily overcome all difficulties. But there are higher temptations – the temptations of pride, the temptations of vainglory, the temptation to consider oneself, through one’s spiritual labors, as being better and higher than others. This cross is the heaviest to bear and is known only to those who, albeit with great difficulty, have overcome it.”
Saint Theophanus says that each Christian must be a cross-bearer. The life of each Christian begins with a cross: he is baptized and a cross is placed around his neck at the very moment of his entering the bright sacrament of baptism. When he is buried, the cross remains with him, and a cross is also placed over his grave, indicating that a faithful Christian is buried there.
Let us keep that in mind, my beloved, and let us always wear a cross, which strengthens us and saves us in difficult circumstances. Do not forget, Christian soul, of the strength of the cross, and that with the power of His Cross the Lord will always save you from all possible misfortune. Amen.
In one of the Sunday Gospel readings we hear of how the Lord healed a blind man in the city of Jericho. This blind man had such strong faith in that the Son of David, as he called Jesus Christ, would heal him of his blindness, that when in response to his cry: Son of David, have mercy on me! – those who were passing by told him to keep quiet, he started crying even more loudly: Son of David, have mercy on me! But he cried loudly because the Lord was at some distance away from him. The Lord stood and commanded that the blind man be brought to Him, and when the latter was near He asked him: what do you want from Me? The blind man said: Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said: Receive thy sight, thy faith hath saved thee. And the blind man immediately received his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.
This blind man, dear brethren, serves as a shining example for us. He never saw anything around him, just sat each day by the road and begged for alms, thus being occupied solely with the worldly concern of making a living. And we, too, spend each day like the blind man, in worldly concerns and vanity; we, too, are spiritually blind, we do not see the world of God around us, full of daily miracles. And our sins keep us at a great distance from God. So how can we approach the Lord, how can we receive His bounty?
Let us look at the blind man: in his heart he kindled a strong flame of faith. With this faith he began to cry out to the Lord, not paying any attention to impediments from those around him. And behold – what a great miracle! With the words: receive thy sight, the Lord delivered him from blindness, made his eyes totally clear. The blind man is happy now; he, who was unable to see yet believed, is blessed now, for his faith has saved him. The Gospel reading indicates to us that this blind man regained sight not only physically, but also spiritually. After being healed, he immediately followed Christ, glorifying God. Thus the first path which his own eyes showed him was to follow in the wake of Jesus Christ. The first use of the bounty which he had received was to offer it to the One Who had granted him this bounty.So will it be for us, dear brethren, if we fill our hearts with strong faith, if we turn to God with fervent prayer, not paying any attention to impediments from people or circumstances surrounding us, and the Lord will not tarry in granting us His bounty. Whosoever is sick, call upon the Lord, and you shall be healed; whosoever has fallen into misfortune, turn to the Lord, and you shall be saved; whosoever is in grief, fall down before the Lord, and you shall be delivered. We must only turn to God with faith and with hope, we must walk in the way of the Lord, and we must not forget to thank God for all His blessings. For the Lord says to us through the psalms of King David: “Because you have set your hope upon Me, I will deliver you; I will protect you, because you have known My name. You will call upon Me, and I will hear you; I will be with you in time of trouble, I will deliver you and honor you.” Amen.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE RIGHT HAND OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
After the beheading of St. John the Baptist by the iniquitous Herod, the Forerunner’s precious body was buried by his disciples near the grave of the Prophet Elisha in the famous Samarian city of Sebaste. When the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, in the course of preaching Christ and going through many countries and cities came to Sebaste, having in mind to return from there to his homeland – Antioch, he entertained the idea of taking back with him to Antioch the body of St. John the Baptist. It was whole and incorruptible, but it was impossible to take it, because the inhabitants of Sebaste greatly venerated the relics of the Baptist and guarded them carefully. The holy Evangelist Luke was able, therefore, to detach from the Baptist’s precious body only his right hand, which had baptized our Lord Jesus Christ; but he brought it with him to Antioch as some precious treasure with which he wished to thank his city for the upbringing it had given him. From that time the Baptist’s holy hand was preserved with great piety by the Christians of Antioch, since it worked quite a number of miracles.
After the passage of a long period of time, the throne was taken over by Julian the Apostate (reigned A.D. 361-363), who openly renounced Christ and worshipped the idols. He began to persecute the Church of Christ just as had the Roman emperors, who had persecuted Christians before him, and he not only put live Christians to death, but also furiously rose against the dead: he took the remains of holy martyrs who had suffered for the faith out of their graves and burned them, and he destroyed God’s churches and numerous holy relics. At one point he also came to Antioch, partly to persecute Christians there and burn those of their relics which he could find. The Antiochian Christians, hearing of his imminent arrival, hurriedly hid the Baptist’s hand in one of the city towers, so that the persecutor could not commit sacrilege and burn it. After arriving in Antioch and inflicting great harm upon the local Christians, Julian began to search for the Baptist’s hand, and when his search turned out to be in vain, he sent an order to the Palestinian city of Sebaste to have the body of the Baptist that was kept there except for the head and the right hand, as well as the Baptist’s church and sarcophagus, destroyed and burned, which was done, according to the historians Nicephorus and George Kedrin. However, the blessed Simeon Metaphrastes reports that it was not the Baptist’s body that was burned, but another, for the Patriarch of Jerusalem, learning of Julian’s order in advance, secretly took the holy relics of the Baptist out of the sarcophagus and sent them for safekeeping to Alexandria; in their stead he placed the bones of a dead man, and it was these latter which, according to Metaphrastes, were burned instead of the Baptist’s relics, together with his sarcophagus and church.
When that iniquitous emperor perished and true faith shone forth in the world, then the hand of the holy Baptist was removed from the tower in which it had been concealed. Once again Christians began to venerate it, and once again it began to work miracles as before. Of these miracles let us describe the following.
Within the bounds of Antioch there nested a great and fearsome serpent, whom the pagans deified and to whom they made an annual sacrifice as to a god. For this sacrifice there was usually assigned a specially chosen chaste maiden, who was given to the serpent to be devoured in the presence of all the people, who watched this spectacle from special platforms built near the cave where the serpent lived. The serpent slithered out of the cave and frightened everyone terribly with his fearsome appearance, hissing, and widely open jaws, and then he grabbed the maiden presented to him, and tearing her to pieces, devoured her. For such a sacrifice the daughters of Antiochian citizens were chosen by lot. One year this lot fell upon the daughter of an Antiochian Christian. This Christian tearfully prayed to God and His holy Baptist to deliver his daughter from a cruel death. When the day of that abominable feast approached, the father entreated God with tears and laments, and appealed to Saint John the Baptist for help. At that time he came to the church of the Baptist, where the precious hand was kept, and asked the sacristan to unlock the doors of the church for him and let him in to venerate the holy hand. This he did with a secret purpose, to achieve which he hid several gold coins in his back pocket. As he began to kneel before the chest in which the holy hand was kept, he let some of the gold coins fall out of his pocket, as though inadvertently. The sacristan, who loved money, rushed to pick up the coins, while at that same time the Christian, in kissing the holy hand of the Baptist, secretly bit off one of the joints of the little finger, hid it, and walked off praying and carrying with him the finger joint. When the day arrived in which the innocent maiden was due to be subjected to death, and when all the people gathered together at midnight for the spectacle, the father also came there, leading his daughter to be devoured by the serpent and in his heart offering prayers to God for deliverance. Then the terrible serpent slithered out of his cave, hissing with his open jaws, and began crawling towards the victim that was prepared for him – the maiden, – in order to devour her. But the father did not step away from his daughter, appealing to Christ and His Baptist for help. When the serpent crawled up very close and opened his jaws even wider, the father threw the joint of the Baptist’s holy finger right into the serpent’s open throat, and the serpent immediately expired. Thus the maiden was delivered from death, while her father, with tears of joy, loudly expressed his gratitude to Christ and His Baptist, describing to all the people the great miracle which the Lord God had performed. The people who attended the spectacle, seeing the serpent dead and the maiden alive and lauding God with her father, were at first greatly amazed and fearful of such a glorious miracle, but afterwards they rejoiced and began to glorify the One True God. And a great feast and celebration began in Antioch, for many pagans converted to Christianity, coming to believe in Christ. Later a great and beautiful church in honor of Saint John the Baptist was built at the site where the great miracle had occurred. It is said that in that church, on the day of the feast of the Elevation of the Cross, the bishop also elevated the precious hand of the Baptist; furthermore, sometimes this hand stood up straight, and at other times it was bent: the former foretold an abundant harvest of bread and all kinds of fruits and vegetables, while the latter portended a crop failure and famine.
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
VIII. Transfer of the Forefathers’ Original Sin to All of Mankind,
and the Coming of the Saviour into the World
The need for the salvation of mankind through means chosen by God Himself is closely tied in with the Orthodox teaching on the depth of the fall of our forefathers Adam and Eve and on the transfer of their original sin to all of mankind. This is why from the times of the holy apostles Church practice established the requirement to baptize infants, who do not yet have personal sins, but are cleansed of original sin in the holy sacrament of baptism.
And thus it was that the restoration of man’s nature, which had been damaged by original sin, required the redeeming sacrifice on Golgotha of God the Son Who had come down to earth. One may well ask: why was it specifically the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and not another of the Persons, Who had to come down to earth, become incarnate, and suffer for mankind’s sins, in order to restore the original union between God and man that had been destroyed by Adam and Eve? The holy Church Fathers reply to this question thusly: (1) “The personal characteristics of the Holy Trinity are immutable. The Son is the Pre-eternal Son and not the Father. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit and not the Son or the Father, and, therefore, it is precisely the Son of God Who becomes the Son of man, in order that the personal Divine characteristic remain unchanged” (St. John Damascene, St. Gregory the Theologian); (2) “It behooved not another Person of the Holy Trinity to deliver men from the damage that had occurred, but God the Word Who had created them” (St. Athanasius the Great); (3) “The coming of the Son of God into the world for the salvation of mankind accorded with the very order of the Persons of the One-in-essence and Indivisible Trinity: just as the Father had created all through the Son in the Holy Spirit, so did the Heavenly Father restore all through the Son in the Holy Spirit” (St. John Chrysostome, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Blessed Augustine).
To all those who ask why the Omniscient God created man knowing that our forefathers would sin, the holy Church Fathers reply that even before the creation God naturally knew that our forefathers would lose their blessedly innocent and immortal existence by abusing the freedom of will they had been granted by God, and, therefore, on the basis of this prescience, it was predetermined in the pre-eternal and supreme council of the Holy Trinity to send into the world the Only-begotten Son of God, incorruptly born of the Father before all ages, immaculately incarnate from the Virgin, the Lord Christ, for the salvation of mankind from original sin, damnation, and death. The entire profoundness of this history of the wise management of the salvation of mankind is wonderfully depicted in the third and fifth hymns of the canon for Nativity. Only in the light of the Divine plan for the wise management of the salvation of man are we able to understand and correctly interpret both man’s proper place in the universe and the ultimate significance or rational purpose of man’s existence on earth. Let us not forget that the Benevolent Creator and Provider also gave us all the necessary qualities of the soul for our being able to gradually approach the greatest ideal: to be as perfect as our Heavenly Father.
Even the first people in paradise, when they were crying and lamenting over their Fall, before their expulsion from paradise were promised by the Benevolent Creator that “the seed of the Woman will bruise the serpent’s head,” i.e. into the world will come a Saviour to restore fallen mankind.
This joyous promise, given to the first people after their fall, was not implemented right away. Many, many centuries passed from the moment of the glad tidings of the coming to earth of the Saviour of the world. How many human generations went by during this time! How many of our forefathers and fathers, who lived with faith and hope in the coming of the Saviour into the world, passed into their graves without ever arriving at a joyous meeting with the Saviour. However, their faith in the promised Saviour shone amid the darkness of human fallacies like a guiding star, and like the Burning Bush it flamed, but did not burn out in the hearts of all who had partaken of the life-giving spiritual sweetness of this faith. The ancient patriarchs and prophets cherished this faith in the coming of the Saviour into the world as their greatest treasure, as their only reliable anchor of salvation, passing on before their death this light of hope in the forthcoming salvation of mankind to new chosen guardians of the forefathers’ faith, until there finally arrived the “fullness of time,” i.e. the time blessed by God for the coming of the Saviour into the world.
IX. The Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God
The great and unfathomable miracle of the incarnation of the Son of God is one of the most amazing mysteries of the wise management of mankind’s salvation. “Great is the mystery of holiness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) – exclaims the holy Apostle Paul.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Saviour of the world did not come down to earth for such a long time after the fall of the forefathers. It behooved mankind over the course of many centuries, say the Holy Fathers, to gradually prepare itself to the perception and possible comprehension of this mystery. A great deal of time was needed for people, after they came to a realization of this mystery, to simultaneously empirically appreciate the full depth of the harmful consequences of the forefathers’ original sin that had passed on to them. It behooved the mankind whose fallacies had led it to a terrible impasse to realize the need for the coming down to earth of a Heavenly Deliverer of mankind from sin, damnation, and death. It became imperative for the infection of sin that had penetrated deeply into the spiritual and physical nature of man to be gradually brought out into the open, in order to be completely and perfectly healed by an artful Physician.
“Would it be reasonable to lead into a brightly-lit room right way a person who had grown up in darkness and had never seen light? – asks St. Basil the Great. – Of course not. Such a person must be introduced to light gradually, made to first see the shadows of objects and to first look at the reflection of the sun in water, so that this person would not lose his sight by coming to an immediate vision of pure light. In like manner the Heavenly Caretaker of mankind gradually led it to a perception and comprehension of the mystery of deliverance by the incarnate Son of God.”
Behold, say the Holy Fathers, with what wise fatherly caution did God prepare men for the realization of this great mystery! Elaborating upon His promise, God calls the Saviour of the world either “the seed of woman that will bruise the serpent’s head” or the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Whom would be blessed all nations in the world, and Who would become the conciliator and restorer of the disrupted union between God and man.
After such a lengthy preparation for the coming of the Saviour, says Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians, “when the fullness of time was come (for fulfilling the long-awaited promise on the salvation of mankind), God sent forth His (Only-begotten) Son, born of a woman, subjected to the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Receiving the right to once again be called the sons of God, through the redeeming sacrifice of Christ the Saviour people once again received the right to call to God: “Abba, Thou art our Father!” And since out of slaves people once again became the sons of God, this means that people also became the inheritors of God.
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On September 17th (the 4th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the day of the glorification of Saint Joasaph, the wonderworker of Belgorod. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the blessed saint’s glorification.
St. Joasaph was born on September 8, 1705 in the city of Priluki in the Poltava province of what is now the Ukraine. Born on the day of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin, he was given the name of Joachim. His parents were noble and pious people. His father came from the ancient and renowned Gorlenko family, which faithfully served the Russian sovereigns. His great-grandfather, the Cossack Lazarus Gorlenko, even ended his life martyrically for his faithfulness to the Tsar, being hacked to pieces by rebel Cossacks. The saint’s mother was the daughter of the famous Cossack military leader Daniel Apostol. But from his early childhood young Joachim knew grief and deprivation due to the vicissitudes of life, because his father, who served under Peter the Great, often became the victim of calumny, as a result of which the Tsar would favor him and exile him in turn. Due to this the Gorlenko estates would often be either taken away by Cossack officials, or rapaciously seized by malicious people in power. Only when Empress Elizabeth I came to the throne was the Gorlenko family able to start living a calm and peaceful life.
Throughout all the long years during which the saint’s father, Andrey Dmitriyevich, lived in exile, the management of the home in conditions of near-poverty and the education of the children rested entirely upon the shoulders of their mother, Maria Danilovna. She was a true Christian, and she ruled over the despoiled estates so artfully, that she even found means of offering widespread charity to the poor and to pilgrims. The Gorlenko house was always home to all pious wanderers and beggars.
The righteous pair, Andrey and Maria, had eight children, who early on realized the illusory nature of deceptive earthly happiness, and who learned to seek comfort and help in prayer. Joachim was the first-born and was chosen by God from birth. This was revealed in a vision seen by his father. At the age of seven Joachim was sent to study in the Kiev Academy, while his father stayed at home, pondering how best to arrange his first-born’s future. It was evening, and the sun was setting. Suddenly at the edge of the sky Andrey Dmitriyevich saw the Mother of God in the air, and in front of Her his Joachim, praying on his knees. The Holy Virgin, looking down kindly upon the boy, said: “Thy prayer finds favor with Me.” At that moment an angel flew down from heaven and covered the boy with a bishop’s mantle…
While studying at the Kiev Academy, Joachim received a general and a theological education in the spirit of strict Orthodoxy and love of the homeland. All the directors and instructors at the Academy were learned monks. Upon graduating from the Academy, Joachim became a monk with the name of Joasaph, living in various Kievan monasteries and also teaching at his native Academy. In 1737 he was transferred to Moscow and first appointed abbot of the Lubensky Monastery, and then in 1745 – of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. St. Joasaph spent eleven years in hard monastic service, which served as excellent preparation for his future hierarchal duties. He found both monasteries in a run-down condition and, as a good manager, worked hard to make them flourish, both in the repair of old buildings and in the revival of internal monastic life. There was total lack of discipline among the monks, but the saint, being a strict observer of fasting and prayer, by his own example soon influenced the brothers, at the same time treating them with love and mercy.
So great were the labors of St. Joasaph that he soon became known to Empress Elizabeth I, who summoned him to court and listened to his homilies with great attention, later calling him to hierarchal service. In 1748 St. Joasaph was consecrated bishop of Belgorod and Oboyan. From that moment and until the end of his days, the saint was quite literally a good shepherd of his flock and knew each sheep by name. He constantly traveled through the diocese which had been entrusted to him, and everywhere he put things in order: he was concerned with the condition of churches and church vessels, with the beauty of services and icons, with the following of church rules; he made sure that his priests treated all sacred things with great awe, especially the Holy Gifts; he corrected various shortcomings among the clergy, especially pride, haughtiness and avarice. The Lord was well-pleased with such ardent zeal on the part of the saint for putting the house of God in order. The following event was a visible manifestation of God’s favor:
In 1754 St. Joasaph made one of his frequent journeys through his bishopric. In the city of Izyum he paid great attention to the main church. Upon entering the church, he immediately looked with amazement at a large icon of the Mother of God standing in the corner of the narthex, behind which the altar boys shook out charcoal from the censer. Getting down on his knees before the icon, the saint exclaimed: “O Heavenly Queen, forgive the negligence of Thy unworthy servitors!” Then, turning to the eldest priest, he said: “Why is this icon not put in a better place? God’s special grace rests upon this icon. It is a sign of the Holy Virgin’s particular intercession for us here and for our entire country.” Then St. Joasaph ordered the icon to be placed in the left-hand choir, and came daily to pray before it. There was a very special reason for such an order.
When St. Joasaph was on the point of departing from Belgorod, he saw in his dreams a certain church and in it, on a pile of rubbish, an icon of the Mother of God. The icon shone with a radiant light and a voice said: “Look at what the priests of this church have done with My image! My icon is intended to be a source of grace for the entire land, while they have thrown it on a pile of rubbish.” Astounded by such a dream, St. Joasaph examined each church in the course of his travels, checking whether it matched the one seen in the dream. When he entered the above-mentioned church and saw the icon which he had seen in his dream, he ordered everything to be done as described above. The Theotokos did not delay in showing Her favor: the icon, called the Peschan Mother of God, soon began to work many miracles and attract many pilgrims from all over Russia.
While rectifying the various shortcomings in his diocese and punishing those who were truly to blame, St. Joasaph at the same time attempted to lovingly cure human weaknesses. The Lord endowed him with the ability to see deep into the hearts of men, to which the following extraordinary case bears witness. While traveling through his diocese, St. Joasaph noticed a very ancient priest. Learning that the latter was 130 years old and living with great difficulty, St. Joasaph advised the priest to think back whether there was some forgotten and unconfessed sin on his conscience, which bound him to such an unbearably long life. After pondering a while, the old priest did remember a forgotten sin and told St. Joasaph of how, in fear of an evil landowner, he had served two liturgies on the same day, despite having heard an unearthly voice say to him: “Stop! What are you doing? Do not dare, lest you suffer damnation!” And the priest even compounded his sin by replying: may you be damned yourself. Upon hearing this, and realizing that the old priest had cursed the angel of that church, St. Joasaph brought him to an awareness of the enormity of his sin, and then blessed him to serve a liturgy, during which the saint earnestly prayed on his knees. After the liturgy the saint absolved the priest of all his sins, and immediately the old man began to weaken, and falling at the foot of the altar table, died peacefully.
St. Joasaph’s administration of the Belgorod diocese was quite brief. In 1753 he became ill of consumption, from which he died on December 10, 1754. The relics of St. Joasaph were found incorruptible and worked many miracles. St. Joasaph was canonized on September 4, 1911, in the reign of the Tsar-Martyr Niholas and with the active cooperation of this most pious Sovereign.
Daily, at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour in which our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, St. Joasaph said a special prayer to the Saviour, which he has also bequeathed to us:
Blessed is the day and hour in which my Lord Jesus Christ was born, suffered on the cross, and died for my sake. O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, in the hour of my death welcome the spirit of Thy servant, an earthly wanderer, by the prayers of Thy Most-holy Mother and all Thy saints, for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
(see beginning here)
The state of nature before and after the fall
Now I come at last to the two most important questions which are raised by the theory of evolution: the nature of the first-created world, and the nature of the first-created man Adam.
I believe you express correctly the patristic teaching when you say: “The animals became corrupted because of man; the law of the jungle is a consequence of the fall of man.” I also agree with you, as I have already said, that man, on the side of his body, is bound together with and is an organic part of the whole of the visible creation, and this helps make it understandable how the whole creation fell together with him into death and corruption. But you think that this is a proof of evolution, a proof that man’s body evolved from some other creature! Surely if this is the case, the God-inspired Fathers would have known about it, and we would not have had to wait for the atheist philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries to discover this and tell us about it!
No, the holy Fathers believed that the whole creation fell with Adam, but they did not believe that Adam “evolved” from some other creature; why should I believe differently from the holy Fathers?
Now I come to a very important point. You ask: “How is it that the fall of Adam brought corruption and the law of the jungle to the animals, since animals have been created before Adam? We know that animals died, killed, and devoured one another since their first appearance on earth and not only after the appearance of man.” How do you know this? Are you sure that this is what the holy Fathers teach? You explain your point, not by quoting any holy Fathers, but by giving a philosophy of “time.” I certainly agree with you that God is outside of time; to Him everything is present. But this fact is not a proof that animals, who died because of Adam, died before he fell. What do the holy Fathers say?
There is a very significant hint about this in the commentary on Genesis of St. Ephraim the Syrian. When speaking of the “skins” which God made for Adam and Eve after their transgression, St. Ephraim writes: “One may suppose that the first parents, touching their waists with their hands, found that they were clothed with garments made of animal skins – killed, it may be, before their very eyes, so that they might eat their meat, cover their nakedness with the skins, and in their very death might see the death of their own body.”
I will discuss below the patristic teaching of the immortality of Adam before his transgression, but here I am only interested in the question of whether animals died before the fall. Why should St. Ephraim suggest that Adam would learn about death by seeing the death of animals, if he had already seen the death of animals before the transgression (which he certainly had according to the evolutionary view)? But this is only a suggestion; there are other holy Fathers who speak quite definitely on this subject, as I will show in a moment.
But first I must ask you: if it is true as you say that animals died and the creation was corrupted before the transgression of Adam, then how can it be that God looked at His creation after every one of the Days of Creation and “saw that it was good,” and after creating the animals on the Fifth and Sixth Days He “saw that they were good,” and at the end of the Six Days, after the creation of man, “God saw all the things that He had made, and behold, they were very good.” How could they be “good,” if they were already mortal and corruptible, contrary to God’s plan for them? The Divine services of the Orthodox Church contain many moving passages of lamentations about the “corrupted creation,” as well as expressions of joy that Christ by His Resurrection has “recalled the corrupted creation.” How could God see this lamentable condition of the creation and say that it was “very good”?
And again, we read in the sacred text of Genesis: “And God said, Behold I have given to you every seed-bearing herb sowing seed which is upon all the earth, and every tree which has in itself the fruit of seed that is sown, to you it shall be for food. And to all the wild beasts of the earth, and to all the flying creatures of heaven, and to every reptile creeping on the earth, which has in itself the breath of life, even every green plant for food; and it was so” (Gen. 1:29-30). Why, if the animals devoured each other before the fall, as you say, did God give them, even “all the wild beasts and every reptile” (many of which are now strictly carnivorous) only “green plants for food”? Only long after the transgression of Adam did God say to Noah: “And every reptile which is living shall be to you for meat; I have given all things to you as the green herbs” (Gen. 9:3). Do you not sense here the presence of a mystery which so far has escaped you, because you insist on interpreting the sacred text of Genesis by means of modern evolutionary philosophy, which will not admit that animals could ever have been of a nature different from that which they now possess?
But the holy Fathers clearly teach that the animals (as well as man) were different before the transgression of Adam! Thus St. John Chrysostome writes: “It is clear that man in the beginning had complete authority over the animals… But that now we are afraid and terrified of beasts and do not have authority over them, this I do not deny… In the beginning it was not so, but the beasts feared and trembled and submitted to their master. But when through disobedience he lost boldness, then also his authority was diminished. That all animals were subject to man, hear what the Scripture says: ‘He brought the beasts and all irrational creatures to Adam to see what he would call them’ (Gen. 2:19). And he, seeing the beasts near him, did not run away, but like another lord he gives names to the slaves which are subject to him, since he gave names to all the animals… This is already sufficient proof that beasts in the beginning were not frightful for man. But there is another proof not less powerful and even clearer. Which? The conversation of the serpent with the woman. If the beasts had been frightful to man, then seeing the serpent the woman would not have stopped, would not have taken his advice, would not have conversed with him with such fearlessness, but immediately on seeing him would have been terrified and run away. But behold, she converses and is not afraid; there was not yet then any fear” (Homilies on Genesis, IX, 4).
Is it not clear that St. John Chrysostome reads the first part of the text of Genesis as it is written, as an historical account of the state of man and creation before the transgression of Adam, when both man and animals were different from what they are now?
Similarly, St. John Damascene tells us that “at that time the earth brought forth of itself for the use of the animals that were subject to man, and there were neither violent rains upon the earth nor wintry storms. But after the fall, ‘when he was compared to senseless beasts and was become like unto them,’ then the creation subject to him rose up against this ruler appointed by the Creator” (On the Orthodox Faith, Book II, chapter 10).
Perhaps you will object that in the same place St. John Damascene also says, speaking of the creation of animals: “Everything was for the suitable use of man. Of the animals, some were for food, such as deer, sheep, gazelles, and the like.” But you must read this passage in context; for at the end of this paragraph we read (just as you have noted that God created man male and female foreknowing Adam’s transgression): “God knew all things before they were made, and He saw that man in his freedom would fall and be given over to corruption; yet for man’s suitable use He made all the things that are in the sky and on the earth and in the water.”
Do you not see from the Holy Scriptures and the holy Fathers that God created creatures so that they will be useful to man even in his corrupted state; but He does not create them already corrupted, and they were not corrupted until Adam sinned.
But let us turn now to a holy Father who speaks quite explicitly about the incorruptibility of creation before Adam’s disobedience: St. Gregory the Sinaite. He is a holy Father of the highest spiritual life and theological soundness, who attained the heights of the Divine vision. In the Russian Philokalia he writes: “The presently-existing creation was not originally created corruptible, but afterwards it fell under corruption… He who renewed and sanctified Adam has renewed the creation also, but He has not yet delivered it from corruption.”
Further, the same Father gives us remarkable details about the state of the creation (in particular, Paradise) before Adam’s transgression: “Eden is a place in which there was planted by God every kind of fragrant plant. It is neither completely incorruptible, nor entirely corruptible. Placed between corruption and incorruptibility, it is always both abundant in fruits and blossoming with flowers, both mature and immature. The mature trees and fruits are converted into fragrant earth which does not give off any odor of corruption, as do the trees of this world. This is from the abundance of the grace of sanctification which is constantly poured forth there.” (This passage is expressed in the present tense, because the paradise in which Adam was placed is still in existence, but is not visible to our normal sense organs.)
The Holy Scripture teaches us that “God made not death” (Wis. 1:13), and St. John Chrysostome teaches that: “Just as the creation became corruptible when your body became corruptible, so also when your body will be incorruptible, the creation also will follow after it and become corresponding to it” (Homilies, XIV, 5). And St. Macarius the Great says: “Adam was placed as the lord and king of all creatures… But after his captivity, there was taken captive together with him the creation which served him and submitted to him, because through him death came to reign over every soul…” (Homily 11).
The teachings of the holy Fathers, if we accept it as it is written and do not try to reinterpret it by means of our human wisdom, is clearly that the state of creatures before the transgression of Adam was quite different from their present state. I am not going to tell you that I know precisely what this state was; this state between corruption and incorruptibility is very mysterious to us who live entirely in corruption. Another great Orthodox Father, St. Simeon the New Theologian, teaches that the law of nature we now know is different from the law of nature before Adam’s transgression. He writes: “The words and decrees of God become the law of nature. Therefore also the decree of God, uttered by Him as a result of the disobedience of the first Adam – that is, the decree to him of death and corruption – became the law of nature, eternal and unalterable” (Homily 38).
What the law of nature was before Adam’s transgression, which of us sinful men can define? Certainly natural science, bound up entirely with its observation of the present state of creation, cannot investigate it.
Then how do we know anything at all about it? Obviously because God has revealed something of it to us through the Sacred Scripture. But we know also, from the writings of St. Gregory the Sinaite (and other writings which I shall quote below), that God has revealed something besides what is in the Scriptures. And this brings me to another extremely important question raised by evolution.
(To be continued)
ST. JOASAPH OF BELGOROD
Wintry night, the moon is shining,
Peacefully the candle flickers,
In the room where lies the hierarch,
Visions quietly are floating:
Childhood in father’s orchards,
Mother’s tenderest caresses,
Sacred, dreamy, golden Kiev,
Deep blue waves of Dniepr River.
Shining youth all full of daydreams,
Innocent Elysian visions,
Joy of fasting, tears, repentance,
Sacred feat of midnight prayer.
Far away the Lavra shimmers,
Brightly shine the abbot’s relics,
The monastic choir chanting,
Bells melodically ringing.
Belgorod ’mid cherry orchards,
Radiance of midday’s sunlight,
Heavy hierarchal labors,
Full of sweetness and compassion.
Fervent service, fearless sermons,
Blackest sins’ denunciation,
Words of truth like swords of angels,
Yet forgiving true repentants.
All is quiet in the village,
In the house the candle flickers,
In the lonely forest abode
An old monk is softly weeping.
He has heard a voice from heaven:
“Hark! Thy son is now departing.”
He looked up into the heavens –
A bright ring of stars was forming.
Forty years ago it happened,
He remembered his own vision:
In the sky the Queen of Heaven,
And his son before Her, kneeling.
Flying down from heaven, an angel
Covered the young boy with a mantle,
“I do hear thy prayer, child,” –
Said the Mother of God benignly.
Now remembering the vision,
The old monk weeps with abandon,
Quietly he whispers, trembling:
“Gone is our kind intercessor.”
Wintry night, the moon is shining,
Distant stars are palely flickering,
In the sky a holy soul now
To the Lord is gladly flying.
– Archdeacon Roman (Tamberg)
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff