THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD
Forty days before He was delivered to an ignominious death for our sins, our Lord revealed to three of His disciples the glory of His Divinity. “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart; and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light” (Matt. 17:1-2). This was the event to which our Lord was referring when He said: “There will be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). By this means the faith of the disciples was strengthened and prepared for the trial of our Lord’s approaching passion and death; and they were enabled to see in it not mere human suffering, but the entirely voluntary passion of the Son of God.
The disciples saw also Moses and Elias taking with our Lord, and thereby they understood that He was not Himself Elias or another of the prophets, as some thought, but someone much greater: He Who could call upon the Law and the Prophets to be His witnesses, since He was the fulfillment of both. The three parables of the feast concern the appearance of God to Moses and Elias on Mount Sinai, and it is indeed appropriate that the greatest God-seers of the Old Testament should be present at the glorification of the Lord in His New Testament, seeing for the first time His humanity, even as the disciples were seeing for the first time His Divinity.
The Transfiguration, counted by the Church as one of the twelve great feasts, had an important place in the Church calendar already in the 4th century, as the homilies and sermons of such great Fathers as St. John Chrysostome, St. Ephraim of Syria, and St. Cyril of Alexandria attest; its origins go back to the first Christian centuries. In the 4th century also, St. Helena erected a church on Mount Tabor, the traditional site of the Transfiguration, dedicated to the feast. Although the event celebrated in the feast occurred in the month of February, 40 days before the Crucifixion, the feast was early transferred to August, because its full glory and joy could not be fittingly celebrated amid the sorrow and repentance of the Great Lent. The sixth day of August was chosen as being 40 days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14th), when Christ’s Passion is again remembered.
Orthodox theology sees in the Transfiguration a prefiguration of our Lord’s Resurrection and His Second Coming, and more than this – since every event of the Church calendar has an application to the individual spiritual life – of the transformed state in which Christians shall appear at the end of the world, and in some measure even before then. In the foreshadowing of future glory which is celebrated in this feast, the Holy Church comforts its children by showing them that after the temporary sorrows and deprivations with which this earthly life is filled, the glory of eternal blessedness will shine forth; and in it even the body of the righteous will participate.
It is a pious Orthodox custom to offer fruits to be blessed at this feast; and this offering of thanksgiving to God contains a spiritual sign, too. Just as fruits ripen and are transformed under the action of the summer sun, so is man called to a spiritual transfiguration through the light of God’s word by means of the Sacraments. Some saints (for example, St. Seraphim of Sarov), under the action of this life-giving grace, have shone bodily before men even in life with this same uncreated Light of God’s glory; and that is another sign to us of the heights to which we, as Christians, are called and the state that awaits us – to be transformed in the image of Him Who was transfigured on Mount Tabor.
THE SAVIOUR NOT-MADE-BY-HANDS
In these modern times our young people, who are poisoned in the schools with the venom of unbelief and apostasy, often begin to doubt the authenticity of the Gospel and demand proof that it is not simply a figment of man’s imagination, and sometimes even doubt whether the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth at all. But in response to all these doubts, the wonderful feast of the Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands serves as vivid confirmation of our faith.
In church parlance this feast is called the “Third Saviour,” i.e. the third holiday in the month of August dedicated to the Saviour. (The First Saviour is the feast of the presentation of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of the Lord, celebrated on August 14th [the 1st by the old calendar], while the Second Saviour is our church feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration.)
The Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands appeared under the following circumstances: during Christ’s life on earth, there lived in the Syrian city of Edessa a certain Prince Augarus. He suffered from an incurable illness – leprosy, so that his entire body was covered with terrible sores, while internally he suffered from a complete paralysis of the body.
Rumors of Jesus Christ and His great miracles reached Augarus, who became filled with a fervent desire to see Christ and be healed by Him. However, being unable to travel to Judea himself, he wrote a moving letter to Jesus Christ, in which he wrote the following:
“Rumors have reached me about You and Your glorious miracles, how You heal illness without medicine or treatment, – You make the blind see, the lame walk, You expel demons, cleanse lepers, heal paralytics with a single word and resurrect the dead. Hearing of You, that You perform such wondrous miracles, I came to the following two conclusions about You: You are either God Who has descended from heaven, or You are the Son of God. For this reason I humbly appeal to You, to make the effort to come to me and heal my incurable illness from which I have suffered for so many years. I have also heard that the Jews hate You and wish to harm You. I, however, have under my rule a city, though small, but beautiful and having everything in abundance; come to me then, and live with me in my city, in which both of us will find all that we need.”
Together with this missive Augarus simultaneously sent a talented artist to the Palestine, commissioning him to paint the face of Christ on a wooden board. So great was Augarus’ love for Christ, inspired by faith in Him, that he wished at least to see His image.
The painter arrived in Jerusalem and found Christ, but despite his best efforts, by the will of God he was unable to depict the face of Christ. Then Jesus Himself called the painter to Him, received Augarus’ letter from him and, after reading the letter, sent Augarus the following reply:
“Blessed are you, Augarus, not having seen Me and yet having faith in Me, for you shall inherit eternal life! You ask Me to come to you, but I must accomplish that for which I have been sent, and then I must return to My Father Who sent Me. And when I ascend to Him, I will send you one of My disciples, who will completely cure you of your illness.”
After writing the letter, the Lord washed His face in water and dried it with a cloth, leaving a miraculous imprint of the Divine face on this cloth. Then the Lord sent this image to Augarus together with His letter.
The Lord’s promise to Augarus was fully fulfilled after His ascension, when the Apostle Thaddeus came to Edessa and baptized Augarus, who came out of the baptismal font completely cleansed and renewed, both in body and soul.
Let us, too, have this guileless and absolute faith in Christ which Augarus had; let us invite the Lord into our souls through the partaking of the Holy Mysteries; and may the Lord send us His grace and His mercy, cleanse us of the leprosy of iniquity and passions, and lead us into eternal life. Amen.
Comforting truths inherent in the feast of the Dormition
Blessed is God for having granted us this great day, in which from ancient times and with triumphant hymns the universal Church accompanies heavenward into supreme Zion the incorruptible body of the Mother of God together with Her soul, and allows us to take pleasure in the spiritual fragrance of Her indescribable holiness and in all the virtues with which She was endowed by the Holy Spirit and by the Son of God, Who had issued from Her by taking on human nature! With what tenderness, joy, and piety did the apostles and all the other elect enjoy the wondrous vision of the reposing Theotokos’ visage, all shining with heavenly light, and the indescribable heavenly fragrance of Her God-bearing body, and the contemplation of the brightest visage of Her Son and God, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who had come to take His holy Mother’s soul into His hands! O, this was a celestial vision on earth, never seen before! Even the heavenly angels were visibly present here together with their King and Master. Only three days did the Most-pure body of the Theotokos, buried by the apostles in Gethsemane, remain in the tomb, only three days did it stay there, and afterwards it was resurrected by the Lord and united with Her soul, and She was taken up together with Her body into heaven. For only three days was She fated to repose in the sleep of death, just as the Lord Himself remained in His tomb for three days and afterwards arose to confirm the universal resurrection of mankind. Death, having been vanquished by the resurrected Christ, became for the faithful a dormition, a passage, a step towards immortality and eternal life, provided we die in faith, repentance, and virtue.
Let us venerate the Most-glorious Mother of God, higher than the heavens and purer than sunlight, Who delivered mankind from its curse, i.e. from God’s damnation. But what exactly is God’s curse? It is the consequence of God’s righteous wrath upon criminal, sinful mankind, so ungrateful to its Creator and Benefactor, for which it had been deprived of God’s mercy, eternally rejected from the face of God, condemned to the eternal torment of hell or to eternal death with the fallen angels, the evil spirits. Eve, our progenitor, was responsible for this damnation together with Adam through the sin of disobedience – and even to this day its consequences continue to overshadow sinners who do not know God, their Saviour. But the Theotokos, through Her humility, obedience, meekness, God-like purity, acceptance of the Archangel’s tidings, and above all through Her wondrous bearing of the Son of God in Her womb, attracted God’s blessing upon the world by giving birth to the Saviour of the world and obtaining the benevolence of the Heavenly Father towards all the faithful. Another consequence of God’s damnation of mankind was death, but Christ, the Son of God, Who was born of the Theotokos in flesh, Who suffered and died for the sins of mankind, took upon Himself our damnation, vanquished our death by His death, and removed the curse from us by crucifying our sins on the cross and granting us incorruptibility, resurrection, and immortality.
Such are the comforting truths which the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos brings to us: it assures us that Christ the Saviour, born from the Most-pure Virgin Mary, removed from us the curse of our sins and granted to all of us resurrection from the dead on the last day of the world. Is this not comforting for every Christian believer?
And having such an expectation of a general resurrection from the dead, let us try throughout our entire life to become worthy of the glorious resurrection into eternal life by means of constant repentance, let us combat our passions and the temptations of the flesh and the world, and strive for success in all virtues, in order to eternally enjoy the blessings of the Heavenly Kingdom – infinite, incorruptible, surpassing all understanding, all feeling, and all expectation, – together with God, the Mother of God, the holy angels, and all the saints. Amen.
ON DEMONIC POSSESSION
The Gospel tells us of how the Lord, after quieting the tempest on the Sea of Galilee, sailed across it to the eastern shore, to the land of the Gadarenes, named after the city of Gadara. He was met on the shore by a man possessed by evil spirits. The essence of possession is that the demons, depriving a man of his personal consciousness and suppressing his own reason, take command of his body and greatly torment him through his own actions. This particular possessed man had almost lost his human aspect, lived in burial caves, and terrorized the people who lived in the vicinity by his actions and his howling. Many times they tried to put him in chains, but he tore the chains apart like cobwebs, and for this reason no one passed by that way out of fear. With wildly wandering eyes, divested of all clothing, he loudly cried out from afar: “What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most-high God? I entreat Thee, torment me not!” The unclean host obviously understood that the Lord had not come there randomly, and that they would be forced to leave the man. However, since the inability to do evil is a veritable torment for the demons, they asked Christ to allow them to at least enter a herd of swine that was feeding nearby, which was permitted them. Immediately the entire herd, numbering up to two thousand swine, went berserk and threw itself into the sea, where it drowned, while the possessed man felt himself completely healed and, covering up his nakedness, sat listening to Christ’s teaching.
We learn a great deal from this Gospel narrative.
First of all, we learn of the existence of evil spirits as a reality. According to the Holy Fathers, whoever believes in God and the Divine Revelation also believes in the existence of evil spirits and their influence upon man. Only those who reject a personal God likewise deny the existence of the devil. But this belief in the evil spirits should not frighten us, since we see from the Gospel that despite all their apparent power, the evil spirits cannot do anything, even enter a swine, without God’s allowance. The Holy Church teaches us to look upon life as a reality and not as an abstract idea. For example, Protestant Christianity is a belief in an abstract God, and for this reason the belief in evil spirits also takes on abstract and not real forms. A perfect example is the so-called modern psychology that has sprung from it. If a person does not believe in the reality of evil spirits, he does not have to battle against them; as a result, all the consequences of their actions will not be recognized and will thus not be eliminated.
Secondly, why does the Lord, having freed one from wicked demonic actions, allows evil to be done to another? Is it for our perdition? Of course not! Our Lord Jesus Christ allows the evil in order to preserve us from carelessness and to spur us on to spiritual vigilance. According to holy Apostle John the Theologian, “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). There are temptations and lures everywhere, so that one must either depart from this wickedness or take great care, otherwise the mire will suck us into the abyss of sin. An Orthodox Christian must fear sin above all.
On the other hand, we should bear in mind that according to the Holy Fathers, evil provides a Christian with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his faith, love, and hope. If you are mocked and called a hypocrite, if you are hindered in fulfilling your Christian duties, do not be upset by it, but show that you are a Christian not only in words, but in deed. During the years of terrible persecutions the Christians bore great tribulations, but many of them were thereby able to show their faith, hope, and love.
After being healed, the formerly possessed Gadarene attached himself to the Lord and wished to go everywhere with Him, but after hearing Christ’s will, he went and preached all over the city of the mercy he had received from the Lord. Thus the healed man immediately showed us the example of what must be done upon receiving boons from God.
However, the denizens of the land of the Gadarenes did not have this feeling of gratitude. The Lord had delivered them from the fear that the possessed man had raised in them, but they were more concerned with the loss of their swine than rejoiced over the healing of a man. Their material side was of far greater interest to them and stood in the center of their lives. Moreover, they asked Jesus Christ to go away from them and not hinder them in living their own way and engaging in their worldly matters, not bother them with His sermons. These sermons shook up their accustomed life of sin, stirred up their mire of indifference and sinfulness, reminding them of God and His law. They did not wish to change their sinful habits even for God. This is already reminiscent of theomachy.
This is an eternal situation, endlessly repeated in life, changing only its forms. And how many “Gadarenes” there are now in our times, for whom true Christianity is an impediment, and so they make up their own religion, sometimes even with a Christian name, just so that it would not hamper them in “raising swine.”
The life of a Christian is very difficult and is becoming more and more difficult, because the world in which we live is becoming more materialistic. It has now become a true spiritual feat to live a Christian life. St. Ignaty Bryanchaninov said that what used to be customary would later be regarded as a spiritual feat. And this “later” has already become the present.
Let us labor according to our strength, let us take into account the above-mentioned Gospel narrative, and let us try to live according to faith, let us be grateful to God for all His mercy to us, and – above all – let us not despair in our battle against mankind’s enemy the devil, for we are with Christ in His Church, which no gates of hell will ever prevail, and without the Church we are nothing. Amen.
“SURROUNDED BY TREASON, AND COWARDICE, AND LIES”
100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution
Destruction of the Royal Family
The murder of the Royal Family by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918 forever severed the bond of times, the bond of generations. The Bolsheviks were building their own and new society, in which there was no place for the former Tsar and his family. But in order to build this society it was necessary to finish with the old one – it was necessary to destroy the monarchy, to kill the Royal Family. The Bolsheviks physically liquidated the monarchy by killing all possible pretenders to the Russian throne, as well as other members of the Romanov dynasty who had fallen into their hands. In consequence, in 1918-1919 the Bolsheviks killed eighteen members of the royal dynasty. The Provisional Government was quite aware of the Tsar’s innocence, but this had no influence on his fate. To this was also added the obvious indifference of England and Germany to the fate of the Tsar and his family. Moreover, the monarchists likewise did not have any plan for freeing the Tsar. Thus a chain of betrayals was formed, which subsequently led to the tragedy in Yekaterinburg. The historian Pavel Milyukov speaks of the inevitability of the destruction of the Royal Family: “If not in July, then in the following terrible days of the bloody debauchery of the “Red terror” their death was practically inevitable, since members of the dynasty remained in the power of the Bolsheviks’ unbridled violence.” The American historian Richard Pipes, who widely used sources available not only abroad, but within Russia as well, in studying the reasons for the murder of the Tsar and his family, comes to the following conclusion: “The Bolsheviks had to spill blood, in order to bind their wavering adherents with the bonds of collective guilt. The more innocent were the victims on the Party’s conscience, the more clearly the average Bolshevik had to understand that retreat, vacillation, or compromise were no longer possible… The murder at Yekaterinburg signified the beginning of the “Red terror”…” Together with the Royal Family were executed the members of its retinue.
In the night of July 18, 1918, under the guise of transferring the imprisoned members of the Romanov dynasty from Alapayevsk to the Verkhnyaya Sinyachikha plant, a group of workers from the Nevyansk and Verkhnyaya Sinyachikha plants, headed by Petr Startsev, arrived at the school building. The prisoners were taken out of town to one of the abandoned shafts of an iron ore mine, and after being struck on the head with an axe, they were thrown down into the shaft. The shaft was then filled with grenades, stakes, and logs, and covered with earth. Much later, when the bodies were recovered from the shaft, it was discovered that some of the victims had died practically instantaneously, while others remained alive even after their fall, dying from hunger and wounds. The wound of Prince Ioann, who had fallen on a ledge of the shaft next to the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fedorovna, was dressed with part of her wimple, while the body of Prince Paley was found in a sitting position. The neighboring peasants recounted how for several days the singing of prayers could be heard from the shaft. On September 28th Alapayevsk was occupied by the army of Admiral Kolchak. A search was begun in the environs of the Sinyachikha shaft and mine, and in the space of four days the bodies were recovered from the shaft. After their discovery the bodies were washed, dressed in clean white clothes, and placed in caskets in the Alapayevsk cemetery church. With the advance of the Red Army in June 1919, it was decided to remove the remains first to Chita, then to Harbin, and finally to Beijing, where they were buried in the cemetery of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission outside the city limits. In November 1920, in fulfillment of her personal wish to be buried in the Holy Land, two caskets (those of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and nun Varvara) were transferred from Beijing to Jerusalem. In 1938, after China’s occupation by Japan, the caskets of the Alapayevsk martyrs were transferred to the crypt of the church in honor of All Holy Martyrs on the territory of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, which in 1954 came under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Embassy. In 1957, on orders from Soviet Ambassador Yudin, the church was demolished, and a children’s playground was built on the site.
Excerpted from the Martianoff calendar for 2017
(A talk given by priest Andrew Phillips after the Divine Liturgy on the day of commemoration of the Holy Royal Martyrs, 4/17 July 2005, in London)
This very day, 87 years ago, the Russian Royal Family and their servants met martyrs’ deaths. If the world is still here in 2018, perhaps all of us present here will be alive for the centenary of their martyrdom. As I look around, I see Romanians, English, Ukrainians, French, Bulgarians, and, of course, Russians. Although only a minority of us is Russian, and the vast majority of us are under fifty, since we are all Orthodox, we have all been profoundly affected by the martyrdom of 4 July 1918.
We have come a long way since the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors by our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, nearly 25 years ago. At that time this mystical act was mocked by the rest of the world (including certain supposed Orthodox) as some political act to be scorned and condemned. Today in Russia, icons of the Royal Martyrs are commonplace, the faithful name their children after the members of the Imperial Family, churches are dedicated to them, the site of their martyrdom has become a place of pilgrimage, and Orthodox radio and television stations preach on the significance of these tragic events.
There are historians who consider that the martyred Tsar was a poor ruler; others consider him to have been one of the best of rulers. I do not wish to talk about this; my business is not politics, although I do know that Tsar Nicholas II was much slandered. Let us leave politics to academicians. The last Russian Tsar and his family are not holy confessors, but holy martyrs. In other words, all the human errors and sins they had committed in their lives (and only One is without sin, Christ our God) were washed away by the blood of martyrdom. Moreover, in case some should confuse politics with the Orthodox faith, in human, legal, and political terms the New Martyr Nicholas was not the Tsar of Russia at the time of his martyrdom: he had abdicated over a year before this, in the noble, if mistaken, hope of avoiding bloodshed. Of course, spiritually and mystically, Nicholas was still Tsar, for he had been anointed Emperor, receiving the sacrament of God’s Anointed.
Let us avoid politics and keep to facts:
We know that Tsar Nicholas and his family were very pious. He was probably the most pious of all the Russian Emperors since the 17th century. Certainly it was he who ordered the glorification of St. Seraphim of Sarov and several other saints, despite the opposition of even some bishops.
We know that he loved peace. Hence his moves in 1898-1899 to convene the Hague Peace Conference in Holland, establishing conventions whereby nations which were in dispute could negotiate, avoiding bloodshed. This conference was at the root of the League of Nations and later the United Nations.
Finally, we know that when the Austrians, pushed by Berlin, which was very anxious to conquer France according to long-held plans, finally began World War I, Tsar Nicholas’s motives in responding were noble. First of all, he sought to protect the Serbs, the Galicians, and the Carpatho-Russians from Austro-Hungarian persecution. Secondly, he sought to push the Turks out of the territory that they occupied, and still occupy, in Eastern Europe and in the Holy Land. The aims of the Crimean War, which had, ironically, been frustrated 60 years earlier by the new Russian allies, the British and the French, would now be realized. Thus, after over 450 years, Russia would at last liberate Constantinople and the Greeks of Asia Minor, allowing the restoration of the East Roman Empire and also freeing Jerusalem. Finally, Tsar Nicholas hoped to relieve the Armenians from Turkish oppression, opening up the Middle East for its Christian peoples.
Alas, none of this happened and, as we know, Russia fell. Russian military reverses began only a few months after the war broke out in August 1914. The first non-Russian victims were the Armenians, one million of whom were massacred in the terrible Turkish genocide in 1915, which occurred exactly 90 years ago. However, all the nations who conspired to bring about the Russian Revolution, directly or indirectly, then suffered for it.
The Austro-Hungarians lost their Empire. The Habsburgs, terrible oppressors of the Orthodox, were deposed. The final Austrian humiliation was to be invaded by Nazi Germany – becoming through the Anschluss a German colony, ironically, under the leadership of an insane Austrian called Hitler. As regards Hungary, it was to become a small and impoverished nation-state, with a much reduced territory.
The Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm, humiliated and deposed, disappeared into anarchy and humiliation. World War II was born directly out of the first debacle of Germany, bringing yet another terrible punishment on the German people.
The Jews, who formed the core of the Bolsheviks and who had largely financed the Russian Revolution from New York, also suffered. Not only were the Jewish Bolsheviks to be massacred by Stalin, but at least one million Jews, who had once lived relatively well in Tsarist Russia, were massacred by Hitler.
By 1917, the allies of Russia, France and Great Britain, who had at first disloyally welcomed the Revolution, and for whom so many Russian soldiers had died, were faced with defeat by Kaiser Wilhelm’s reinvigorated Germany. Great Britain had gone bankrupt and was forced into signing the Balfour Declaration, in order to borrow money from Jewish financiers to continue the war against a Germany now fighting on only one front after the fall of Russia. The Balfour Declaration was to establish the State of Israel and begin the Near East problem, causing a strong grudge on the part of the illegally-dispossessed Palestinians and unleashing Islamic fundamentalism, which to this day haunts the entire world.
Even the Balfour Declaration was not to be enough. France and Great Britain and their colonial Empires were so exhausted by World War I that they were obliged to call on the USA to save them. It was the end of European world domination, the end of European colonial Empires, and the beginning of a world dominated by the USA. Indeed, a generation later, the same USA had to be called on by Western Europe yet again, in order to save it from its latest bout of insanity: World War II.
The USA, keen to see American-style democracy in Russia, therefore encouraged the Revolution. It soon regretted it, having created for itself the Soviet enemy. Thus, there later began a Cold War lasting some 45 years, during which the world cowered from the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
As for the other inhabitants of Imperial Russia, at first many, like the Ukrainians or the Latvians, welcomed the Revolution, but these minorities were soon to regret it. The Latvians suffered, first from Hitler and then from Stalin. Ukraine was depopulated by the terrible artificial famine of Stalin, in which 20th century Europeans were reduced to cannibalism. However, few suffered as much as the Poles. Having re-established Poland, they began oppressing the minority peoples in the new Poland, having learnt nothing from their own sufferings. Notably, after the Russian Revolution, the Polish State dynamited some 400 Orthodox churches before their own nemesis came, in 1939, in the shape of Hitler from the west and Stalin from the east. For the Poles, World War II was to end as it had begun, occupied and ravaged by a murderous dictator.
As regards the liberals and freemasons who had fomented the Revolution of February 1917 and forced the Tsar to abdicate, they, too, were punished. By November 1917 they were being forced into exile. The majority of the Orthodoxy-hating aristocracy and liberal intelligentsia, often with German names, went into exile, mainly in Paris, where their only comfort was the freemasons’ lodges they founded there.
The list of suffering resulting around the world from the Russian Revolution could continue, and we could speak of the Communist genocide in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Africa, and among all the other naïve victims of the Communist delusion around the world. The point is, however, that whatever the faults of Tsarist Russia, and there were many, they were as nothing when compared to the faults that were to follow under the satanic regimes of Lenin and Stalin and their followers. From this we can, at least, learn never to destroy something, if we do not first have something better to put in its place.
Recently, seeing the greatly humbled position of modern Russia on the world stage, President Putin suggested that the greatest catastrophe in the recent history of Russia was the fall of the Soviet Union. Had he extended his timeline, then surely he would have had to say that the greatest catastrophe ever in Russian history was the overthrow of Imperial Russia, which made the horrors and tragedies of the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union, World War II, and all subsequent world events inevitable.
Some 75 years ago Metropolitan Antony, the great hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, wrote that the roots of the fall of Russia went back to 1666. It was then that the holy Russian Patriarch Nikon was deposed and already foretold the collapse of Russia as an Orthodox land. After this, there inevitably followed the complete abolition of the Russian Patriarchate by Peter I in 1721, and in 1797 the proclamation of the Emperor as the head of the Russian Church. The Church became a mere department of the State, as in the Protestant model – as indeed in the Soviet model. Quoting Genesis 6:3, which foretold the Flood, “And the Lord said: My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh, yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years,” Metropolitan Antony wrote of how 1917 was exactly 120 years after 1797. Thus, 120 years after 1797 there began the all-destructive Flood of 1917.
The tragedy of the Russian Royal Family was that they were to die not for their own human sins, but for the sins of their dynasty and all of Russia. They were in fact prisoners of a system, a system into which they were born, a system whereby the whole of the Russian Empire was governed not by a symphony of Church and State, but by the State and a decapitated Church. With the spiritual principle of the Church subverted, the Russian State was unbalanced, and sooner or later the Revolution had to happen. The State needed the Church, just as the Church needed the State.
In today’s Russia Communism no longer officially exists. We know, of course, that it continues to exist in the people’s mentality. In today’s Russia the putrefying corpse of Lenin still lies in the Red Square, organized crime and violence are widespread, and two million abortions occur every year. However, those émigrés who are still living in the Cold War past, believing that Russia has not changed at all in the last fifteen years, and demanding that Russia return to what it was before 1917, are wrong on both counts.
First of all, they are wrong because great changes have taken place in Russia in the last 15 years. 20,000 churches and 600 monasteries have opened. Here in the West, the only thing that is talked about in religious circles is the closure of churches and monasteries. And here I am not only talking about non-Orthodox. I have seen countless parishes of our Church die out and close, both in England and in France, as Russians are assimilated and refuse to do missionary work. For example, our church in London only exists today because of the presence of new Russian immigrants. During the period of stagnation in Soviet Russia in the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn said that when you are at the bottom, there is only one way to go – upwards. Today, Russia is going upwards, perhaps slowly, perhaps with great difficulty, but nobody ever said that repentance was easy.
Secondly, such nostalgic émigrés are wrong in wanting to return to pre-1917 Russia (which is impossible anyway), because if ever Russia is restored, it should not return to pre-1917 errors. And the main error was that its administrators, those who so often did not so much carry out the wishes of the Russian rulers as prevented them from being carried out, confused two things. They confused the narrow and provincial political interests of Russian nationalism with the calling of Orthodox Russia. And the calling of Orthodox Russia, as figures like Patriarch Nikon, Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), and the writer Dostoyevsky knew, was to protect and defend the Universal Orthodox Commonwealth. The pre-1917 Russia was to a certain extent not Orthodox at all. That is, after all, why the Revolution happened.
The Orthodox calling of Russia is what the noblest souls in Russia knew about before the Revolution. It is what the Tsar knew and reacted accordingly, once the Austrians had started the war in 1914. It is what pious Russian peasants knew when they went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is what Orthodox Bulgaria knew, it is what Orthodox Carpatho-Russians in Czechoslovakia knew when they gave shelter to Russian refugees after 1917, it is what the Serbs knew when they began venerating the martyred Tsar as early as the 1930s. But the Westernized Russians – the apostate aristocrats, the liberal professors, – they did not know it, and so brought upon their heads their own misfortunes and the misfortune not only of all Russia, but of all Orthodox lands and peoples.
Without the support of a benign Orthodox Emperor, since 1917 the Russian Church has experienced Golgotha, as have the Georgian and Serbian Churches. Without the support of a benign Orthodox Emperor, since 1917 all the other Orthodox Churches, in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans, in Constantinople, and in the Middle East have been the victims of either Communist, Fascist, Muslim, or Masonic political regimes. And Orthodox minorities in Western countries, like ourselves, have suffered and suffer because we have no support, we sit and weep in our little churches as by the rivers of Babylon.
Let no one say that the events of 1917 and the martyrdom of the Russian Royal Family in 1918 only concern Russians: they concern all who are Orthodox. Some 25 years ago I remember a Russian friend visiting Moldova. There he spoke to an old peasant woman. On telling her that he was Russian but now lived in England because of the Revolution, the old woman crossed herself and said: “Ah, it was when they killed the Orthodox Tsar in Russia that all our troubles in Moldova began.”
Russia’s destinies? The world’s destinies!
THE WORD OF GOD
A marvelous picture, dear brethren, is presented to us by Saint Luke the Evangelist in one of his Gospel narratives. The Lord is standing on the shores of the lake of Gennesaret, surrounded by a great multitude of people. Each one tries to approach Him, each one tries to be as close to Him as possible – for what? in order to hear the word of God. Those people of long ago lived just as we do – that is, they were tied to the world in various ways; they had their human dreams and vanities; they wanted more than was necessary. Then suddenly there appeared a chance to hear the word of God, and a different kind of desire was kindled within their hearts. They pressed upon the Lord so closely that He was forced to step into a boat, distance Himself from the shore, and from that point preach the word to all those eager to hear His teaching.
Why is it then, dear brethren, that we, in our times, spend so little time listening to the word of God – the word that is so necessary to our salvation?
Perhaps the word of God is so familiar to us that we hardly need to hear it? That is quite unlikely. It is doubtful that we would be able to exhibit even the most superficial knowledge of the Scriptures. Many of us, perhaps, really do know a lot of things, are knowledgeable in a great many subjects, but at the same time we find ourselves in an unfortunate situation indeed, if we do not know the only thing that is needful, i.e. the word of God. Apostle Paul tells us: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” because all worldly treasures, including treasures of the mind, will not follow us into eternity.
Some people say that they do not listen to the word of God because it is boring to them. However, the word of God is a source of comfort for the soul, a source of joy for the heart, and a source of true light for the mind. The word of God enlightens and sanctifies us, – how can it be boring?
The reason for our idleness, dear brethren, lies in ourselves, in our passions, in our negligent attitude towards the salvation of our souls. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life,” – so did the Lord describe His own word. His words give life without which we cannot live. His words infuse us with His spirit, without which our own spirit is only earth and flesh.
Let us follow those multitudes who listened to the Lord on the shores of the lake of Gennesaret, let us proceed to God’s church, so that our hearts, too, would be kindled with the sweetness and the tenderness of the salvific word of God. Amen.
God allows misfortunes and sins for the good of man
In truth, the saints ascribed everything that came upon them in life, both pleasant and unpleasant, to the will and action of God, because they did not pay attention to the sins of others, but evaluated all human actions as either a gift from God or as having been allowed by God for their own sins. The saints reasoned thusly: the all-benevolent God would never have allowed anything evil, if He did not know that from this evil He would produce a multitude of great blessings.
The blessed Augustine expressed the same idea: “God acknowledged it more profitable to turn evil into good than not to allow it at all, because, being all-benevolent, He would never have allowed evil in His acts, were He not so omnipotent and good as to be able to turn evil into a blessing.” And again, Theophylus rightly says: “God incomprehensibly interferes in our errors and our sins not in order to participate in them, but, despising them and correcting them, God produces much good out of evil, just as though He were turning fire into water.” In another homily he says: “All those who insult us in some manner or other combine two persons within themselves, one acting consciously, the other unconsciously. Firstly, each such person, out of malice towards us, wishes to act against us with hostility, with the intent to insult us, deprive us of our property, etc., although he is not always necessarily successful in his intent; but in case of success, through God’s allowance he unconsciously becomes a second person who is now acting as a tool in God’s hands, punishing or rectifying our conduct, and thus he unconsciously serves God.” Such unconscious servants of God were the following historically famous people: Nebuchadnezzar, Attila, leader of the Huns, Totila, king of the Italian Ostrogoths, Tamerlan, and other scourges of God.
Dear brother Christian, allow me to ask you who so often rends heaven with your sorrowful complaints. Tell me: what insults you the most – the will and intent of the offender, or only his power, his ability to realize the insult, or both one and the other? You answer: “I am offended by both the one and the other.” In response to this I will tell you that neither offensive will, nor the execution of it (power) can insult you: offensive intent (will) is nothing without the power and does not harm you in any way, while the execution of the intent depends on the allowance or the will of God, which is holy and just. You know that all power is from God, – so why do you sorrow and complain about the offender for having done to you only that which was allowed him by God? Otherwise, without God’s allowance, he could not have offended you. You will say: “My adversary has offended me greatly.” – “Tell me – in what way? – for God is either punishing you for your sins, or teaching you patience, or multiplying your reward for being an innocent victim, – and yet you consider yourself offended?” – “I hate this malicious person and his evil will,” – you say. – “But you always pay attention to other people’s actions, while I advise you to rather raise your eyes towards God and your conscience. Human will, even though it is evil and wicked, what could it do to you? in what lies its success? You do not regret the fact that your adversary wished to harm you as much as the fact that he did harm you. From whence did this come and how could he harm you? Was it not by the power and will of God? And if it was by the power and will of God, then it was always in accordance with just and righteous providence. Consequently, either you keep quiet or turn your complaints toward Divine providence, – and at this point bear firmly in mind that God would never allow the evil will of another to harm you in any way that would not be to your benefit, unless you harm yourself.”
And who can harm us if we engage only in good things? Blessed Augustine has put it very well: “Do not fear the enemy: he is able to harm you only to the extent of the power given to him by God. Fear rather the One Who is able to do whatever He wants, and Who never does anything unjust, but whatever He does is always just; and should anything, in our opinion, seem unjust, if it undoubtedly occurred by the will of God, we must believe that it is just and true.” You may ask: “If someone killed an innocent person, is that just or unjust?” – “There is no doubt that it is unjust and deserves punishment.” – “Then why, – you will ask, – “has God allowed such injustice?” – “You wish to argue with God before you have become worthy to ask God: for what reason, O God, hast Thou allowed this? – I am unable, dear brother, to explain to you God’s intentions or the reasons for His allowance, because God’s Wisdom is too infinite for the human mind, but I can only assert that, on the one hand, the murderer of the innocent man has acted unjustly, and on the other hand, this murder would not have occurred had God not allowed it for a reason that is unknown to us, but just. In other words, the murderer committed an iniquitous act, deserving punishment, but God’s allowance is just and wise, for a just reason that is concealed from us for the time being.”
In the same manner blessed Augustine regards the putting to death of Christ our Saviour. “Judas, that iniquitous betrayer of Christ, – says Augustine, – and all Christ’s persecutors are all lawless, all iniquitous, all unjust, all damned; however, the Father did not spare His Son, but gave Him up (allowed Him to be put to death) for the salvation of us all.” Such is the mystic reason for God’s allowance of His Only-begotten Son’s being put to death by malefactors, – a reason that was incomprehensible at the time. Thus do not be surprised that God allows evil. He allows it according to His most-just judgment, and allows it only to a certain measure, number, and weight. There is no injustice in Him, and you only have to put you entire trust in Him.
There is only one sure means of calming oneself when being offended: if someone has insulted or offended you, do not pay attention to the offender’s malice, but turn to the righteous God Who has allowed your adversary to insult you, and do not avenge with evil the evil that has been done to you, for it has been allowed by God for the attainment of good and just aims, even though they are unknown to you for the time being. All of God’s saints kept to this custom: they did not try to analyze who had offended them and for what, but always turned their hearts to God, humbly acknowledging the justice of God’s allowance; for this reason they regarded the offenses given them as a boon for themselves, and their adversaries as benefactors, saying: here are our true benefactors, for they do not flatter us; those who praise and exalt us to our face are flatterers and damage our inner perfection. Thus the saints always inwardly turned to God and in all matters placed their trust in God’s Providence and expected only good things from God.
On the other hand, one can see from all of the above that the sin committed against one’s neighbor by God’s allowance does not yet merit any mitigation of the sinner’s guilt only because his unlawful action gave God cause to produce great good out of evil. For the sinner had only given cause for good, and not of his own accord, but by the grace of God; the sinner’s intent was still evil and remains evil. Thus even the good that God produces from the commission of evil does not in any way mitigate the guilt of the sinner.
The incomprehensibility of God’s judgments
Throughout the course of our entire life we must often repeat King David’s utterance: “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains, O Lord; Thy judgments are a great deep” (Psalm 36:6). This depth is illustrated in the Bible in the example of the two high-ranking servants of the Egyptian Pharaoh: the cupbearer and the caterer. Both were servants of the same king, both came under his displeasure, both were arrested and imprisoned, and both were remembered by the king during a palace feast; the Pharaoh could have pardoned them both, if such were the will of God, or could have condemned them to execution. However, he ordered the caterer to be hanged, while the cupbearer he returned to favor and his former position. Such was the will of God; some He removes from His presence in accordance with His righteous judgment, while others He covers with great mercy. “And who can search out His mighty deeds? Who can measure His majesty’s power? And who can fully recount His mercies?” says the son of Sirach (18:3-4).
Equally mysterious and unfathomable was God’s will in regard to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the Pharaoh of Moses’ time. The blessed Augustine has rightly said of them: “Nebuchadnezzar was punished by God for his countless iniquities and in this way was brought to salvific and very beneficial repentance. The Pharaoh, on the contrary, became hardened even despite God’s scourges, disdained them, and perished in the Red Sea together with his entire host.” Both of them were pagan kings and both were punished. Why did they reach such an unequal end? – One of them comprehended God’s punitive hand, repented, and rectified his conduct; the other did not submit to the will of God that was announced to him, remained in his sinful obduracy, – and perished.
Here is another example of the incomprehensibility of God’s judgment: one of the best Judean kings was Asa, who did good in the eyes of the God and fortified his kingdom, destroyed the idols in the entire Judean land, and eradicated idol-worship. However, this glorious king, who for a long time reigned admirably, lost his initial glory at the end of his reign, having changed for the worse. King Menaces, on the other hand, being most wicked and evil throughout his entire life, and having brought the Jewish people to the very edge of iniquity, recognized the hand of God in his misfortune, returned to God, repented of his iniquity, and was granted forgiveness and God’s mercy. O Lord! Thy judgments are truly a great deep, a deep without measure!
At this point questions such as “why is this so?” and “how is this so?” are inappropriate. Such questions arise at the instigation of the evil spirit and have spiritually destroyed many people. “So, did God truly say: do not eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden?” – the most cunning of all creatures once asked Eve. To this question Eve should have replied thus to the wicked creature: “We know that God commanded us not to eat only the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but why and for what purpose He commanded thus – it is not our place to ask Him.” Such was His holy will, and we must not question the reasons for His willing thus. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, for Him to recompense again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:34-36). I am sure there will be people who will assert that it is not forbidden to sometimes ask the reason for one or another commandment. Ask whom? Do they mean God, Who alone knows everything, knows what is good and what is only tolerable? If a servant from his master or a subordinate from his superior demand the reason for such-and-such an order or directive, then the first will look upon it as an insult to himself, while the second will regard it as rebellion and insubordination, and yet you dare to exhibit even greater insolence towards God? God’s Providence needs no other reason except His holy will.
St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, describes the following event in the life of St. Anthony the Great: two monks undertook a journey to visit St. Anthony in his desert. However, traveling through the arid and hot desert, they became completely exhausted from thirst, and one of them already died, while the other was on the threshold of death. St. Anthony was several miles away from them. Sitting on a rock in his monastery, he hurriedly summoned his two monks and said to them: “Run as fast as you can to such-and-such a place in the desert, taking vessels with water with you, for one of the two brothers who were coming to visit us has already died of thirst, while the other is still breathing, but is suffering and has become very weak; if you delay, you will not find the other one alive either: this has been revealed to me by God while I stood in prayer.” Having received such instructions, the messengers immediately and willingly went off, and after finding the travelers, they buried the body of the deceased one, while the other one they revived with water and fortified with food, and then brought him back with them to St. Anthony. In describing this event St. Athanasius wisely remarks that someone may very well ask: “Why did St. Anthony not send his monks earlier to save the travelers, before one of them died?” Such a question is quite inappropriate for a Christian, because it was not St. Anthony’s affair, but God’s judgment: God Himself pronounced a fair verdict in regard to the dying man and the thirsty living one; and He likewise revealed to St. Anthony His will concerning the saving of one of the travelers.
St. Anthony the Great, being in a state of contemplation, was amazed at God’s hidden and unfathomable mysteries and humbly called out to God: “O Lord my God! Thou art sometimes pleased to grant a long life to people who seem useless and immersed in an abyss of iniquity, and yet sometimes Thou deprivest of life people who are very beneficial to society” During such reflections Anthony heard a voice saying: “Be attentive to thine own self. That upon which you are reflecting is God’s judgment, and it is not your place to analyze or question it.”
In the year 1117, when the whole of Italy was being shaken by earthquakes, some of the residents of the city of Milan assembled at a certain home to discuss public affairs. Suddenly a voice was heard from outside, calling upon one of the people present in the house to come out. The person being summoned was unsure of who was calling and for whom, and thus delayed in going out, waiting for a repeat call. Unexpectedly a stranger came up to the door and asked that the person being called come out quickly; no sooner had the latter moved several paces away from the building than the house fell down and destroyed all who were within. This begs the question: why was only one person from all those within the house saved from death, while all the others perished? The Lord’s judgments are a great deep! Who cannot clearly see in this event a repetition of ancient miracles? Thus did the angel of the Lord lead Lot and his children out of Sodom, leaving all the other inhabitants to become victims of fire. In a similarly miraculous manner other people are left unharmed amid multitudes who perish in general catastrophes.
We often see extraordinary upheavals and changes in the universe, unexpectedly-occurring events, and of each of them we say: “Let us see how this will end.” Occasionally we ourselves experience events that amaze us by their unexpectedness, and then we grumble in vain and say: “I could never foresee or think of such a thing happening.” We are poor illiterates in the matter of foreseeing future events! Even in currently occurring events we cannot always easily understand their true cause, except the one that is operative in all events and, moreover, is a genuine and undeniable cause. Such-and-such happened strictly because such was the will or tolerance of God according to His benevolent Providence. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, – saith the Lord. – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
There are many things in our earthly life which we will never comprehend by means of our intelligence. It is sufficient for us to know, be convinced, and believe implicitly that God is not unjust, and that on the last day of judgment there will not be a single person on trial saying anything to the Lord except the following words: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments” (Psalm 119:137). We must put off gaining complete understanding of the unfathomable judgments and purposes of God’s most-high wisdom until the future life!
Thus, let us cease expanding the wings of our curiosity and judgment of subjects that are above our heads. The waves of the boundless ocean of the Supreme Mind exceed the quick reasoning of all wisdom, not only human, but also angelic. And how could we ever hope to understand the end purposes of God’s profoundest destinies? Who can comprehend God’s determination in the following: why does God’s punishment for sin temporarily pass by some people and strike others? Why are those who are innocent of crime sometimes put on trial, while the sins of some people fall upon the heads of their children and descendants? Why do some die in infancy, while others live to a ripe old age? Why does one person, having sinned only slightly, perish without repentance, while another, mired for a long time in the bog of iniquity, finally rectify himself and become worthy of a Christian end? Why does one person wallow in wealth and luxury, while another does not have a single morsel of bread or a single penny?
O restless and overly curious mind! Why should you brood over this? The Lord allowed, the Lord wished, the Lord created all. We should look upon God’s will as the ultimate truth, and a willing and tranquil adherence to it as the ultimate wisdom.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On August 23rd (the 10th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the holy martyr archdeacon Lawrence.
The holy martyr Lawrence came from Spain and was brought up in the Christian faith from childhood. He grew up in Rome, where he entered into God’s service, becoming an arch-deacon under Pope Sextus. When Emperor Decius (reigned in A.D. 249-251) triumphantly returned to Rome after a victory over the Persians, the Roman ruler Valerian imprisoned Pope Sextus and a group of clergymen and lay Christians. St. Lawrence also wished to join his hierarch and embrace martyrdom for Christ, but St. Sextus ordered him to first distribute the church property among the poor and the needy, and then forecast an even more glorious martyrdom for him. St. Lawrence took all the church treasures and gave them to needy Christians. At the same time he healed many of them of various illnesses, especially blindness. He was then seized and thrown into prison, where he likewise healed a number of blind prisoners and converted the prison warden Hippolyte and his family to Christ. Soon the saint was brought before the persecutors Decius and Valerian, who gave him over to many harsh tortures. St. Lawrence fearlessly confessed Christ, and by his courage he put the tormentors to shame, receiving a crown of glory from the Lord for his martyric feat.
A pillar of sobriety
(July 19th/August 1st)
On this day the holy Orthodox Church glorified one of its greatest saints – the venerable Seraphim, wonderworker of Sarov.
Varied and complex are the different ways of spiritual life. The human spirit returns along winding paths to the abandoned dwellings of the Heavenly Father, to the holiness that had been lost through sin. And often, at the last abysses of perdition, at the brink of the yawning chasm of sin, a person feels the whole horror of rejecting God and begins to search for salvation from eternal perdition. This is the way of the last-hour arrivals (as in the Gospel parable of the laborers hired at different times), the way of the publicans, the prodigal sons, the adulterers and the sinners, who at a certain moment in their unclean lives become aware of their sinfulness and rush towards purity and a holy life in God. This is the bitter path of sinful experience, which either spiritually destroys a person or, on the contrary, sobers him up.
But there is yet another way, a path of sobriety, a path of spiritual purity, a life spent in chastity from beginning to end and enhanced by spiritual labors. This is the way of saints who from their early years have loved the Lord not outwardly, but wholeheartedly, and who have placed all their joyous hopes of salvation in Him exclusively.
The venerable Anthony the Great heard the summons of the Gospel to reject the cares and worries of the world, and without seeking advice from his flesh and blood, abandoned all and followed Christ. Hosts of God’s saints came to regard all the delights of the world as dust and ashes compared to their mighty aspiration towards the temple of genuine and supreme heavenly beauty.
Such was the way of Saint Seraphim.
“From a tender age thou hast loved Christ, O blessed one,” – sings the Church, glorifying the great wonderworker of Sarov.
From his very youth he loved, and until the end, until his repose at a ripe old age, the venerable saint retained this love. His image is the wholesome image of genuine spiritual sobriety, foreign to all wavering and deviations from the right path. In this sense St. Seraphim is primarily a pillar of sobriety. He is an embodiment of spiritual health and genuine spiritual simplicity.
In our times the example of his life is especially instructive, and his prayerful intercession is especially needed. The world has become lost in complexity, has drowned in contradictions, has deviated from simplicity in Christ. And it is being called back to the abandoned path of God by the entire life’s labor of the great saint of Sarov… To love Christ, to turn one’s heart to Him, to serve Him and not oneself and one’s whims – such is the path of Christian life…
Brethren, how fearful it is to realize (and often we are forced to do so) that we love ourselves more than God. It its final development this is a spiritual dead end, this is the second death… And the only way out here is to strive towards simplicity, reject one’s own self, take up one’s cross (no matter how hard it may be), and follow Christ.
O venerable Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
A bear’s prayer
Once in summertime, after all-night prayer, St. Seraphim came out of his self-hewn cell and went into the forest. The mists were still swirling among the trees, clinging to the pine needles and the leaves like a transparent curtain. The wild hyacinths continued to stream their nighttime incense-like fragrance. Behind the forest the golden sun was rising.
St. Seraphim walked along in his old greenish cassock, all white-haired, almost unnoticeable in the forest, and no one was afraid of him: neither the birds, nor the animals, nor the plants. He walked quietly, whispering his favorite verses from the Book of Daniel…
“Bless the Lord, dews and rime, praise and exalt Him above all forever!”
“Bless the Lord, nights and days, light and darkness, heavens, mountains, and hills, all winds, springs, seas, and rivers… all birds of the air”… “Bless the Lord, ye who are holy and humble at heart, praise and exalt Him above all forever!”…
There was a certain wild forest path here, and always at this spot an old bear came out of the forest – an enormous brown bear, who knew and loved the elder for many years, – and joined him, waddling along at St. Seraphim’s right leg. In this manner they walked together through the forest glades, and the elder sometimes picked wild raspberries and blackberries for his companion, or gathered red and black whortleberries for him.
This morning the bear also came out and went along with the elder, touching his leg with a furry ear. And suddenly St. Seraphim’s heart was overwhelmed with great joy and ardent gratitude to the Lord. And he cried out loudly, placing his hand upon the bear’s muzzle:
– Bless the Lord, ye bears, praise and exalt Him!
And the huge, black, clumsy bear then stood up on his hind legs facing the sun, stretched his hairy sharp-clawed paws upward, and roared throughout the entire forest. And responding to the voice of the fearsome chief bear, all the other forest bears, large and small, blacks and grizzlies, roared towards heaven…
And the moved elder cried tenderly…
SCIENCE AND RELIGION
The first days of creation
According to biblical teaching, God directly brought into existence not the world per se, but an amorphous chaos of universal elements. But the almighty power of divine creation instilled into the essence of this chaos an immutable law of systematic development; thus, as soon as the chaos appeared, there sequentially began to be accomplished within it that which God said about it (Genesis 1, 2), i.e. in the necessary processes of its mechanical creation blind nature gradually began to carry out that which was pre-eternally comprised within the divine design for the world. Therefore, at each step of its sequential development nature invariably turned out to be worthy of its Creator, and God Himself invariably praised it as “good’; moreover, He enhanced its creative activity by creating the first people on earth. The biblical narrative tells us that man was created by God not through the mechanical forces of nature, but by a direct act of divine power, which formed man’s physical organism out of the earth and imparted to him a special soul in the image of God’s personal being, and so in this, too, was quite obviously realized God’s design, which served as the pre-eternal foundation for the existence of the world and in which is expressed the eternal purpose of this existence. The biblical narrative further assures us that in the initial period of its existence the world truly accorded with this purpose of creation.
The Bible definitely indicates that the creation of the world was achieved over the course of six days. But if these days bear any likeness to our days, then it is only in terms of the periodic alternation of evening and morning, and certainly not in terms of the duration of time from morning to evening, because the duration of our day is defined by the time it takes for the earth to make one revolution around its axis, while on the first day of creation, according to the Bible’s description of the process of universal creation, our earth did not yet exist. From the point of view of biblical cosmology, the primeval chaos at first undoubtedly organized itself into a dense indivisible mass and formed a single material body of matter, because the break-up of universal matter into a multitude of individual planetary worlds, by biblical indication, occurred only on the second day of creation, our earth was formed only on the third day, while the entire matter of our planetary world fashioned itself into a solar system only on the fourth day of creation, and thus only on this fourth day of creation was finally achieved the 24-hour alternation of our day and night. Thus the first days of creation could under no circumstance be like our days, and thus there is no doubt that they were days of a totally different kind. What kind of days were they?
On the basis of the universal laws of physics and mechanics, we can picture the initial process of universal creation as a complex process of the joining and the breakup of the chaotic mass in a continuous redistribution of matter and motion. Due to just the mutual attraction of the material elements of chaos, there inevitably had to occur within it a mechanical formation of stable masses of matter, and the greatest of these stable masses inevitably had to become the central point of universal gravitation. In other words, all dispersed elements of the chaos, as well as linked groups of these elements, inevitably had to fall upon this greatest mass and specifically upon the center of this mass, and thus out of their mobile totality there invariably had to emerge a spherical material body. However, it is obvious that a multitude of elements falling upon one and the same center and along one and the same straight line in reality cannot fall on one and the same point in space. Therefore, when the chaos became organized into a material body, its farthest elements had to be discarded, and thus their relation to the center of universal gravitation in reality had to be expressed in terms of repellence. Consequently, despite the cohesion of the primeval globe, by the law of centrifugal motion a powerful stream of matter had to be rushing towards its equator, and this powerful movement would have constituted a limitless source of the physical energy of light, even though our sun did not yet exist. In this case the single revolution of the universal globe around its axis naturally had to produce a change of evening and morning at its poles, and thus form a single day. But exactly how long was the duration of this firstday of creation we will never know of course, because we will never know the entire planetary world of the universe and, therefore, we will never be able to calculate the entire mass of matter in the universe. However, to provide some satisfaction to human scientific curiosity, we may at least illustrate the enormity of this issue through existing attempts to calculate the duration of the second day.
According to the biblical narrative, the universal globe in its universal unity had time to make only one revolution around its axis and to create only one day, and then the centrifugal force in the mobile masses of matter around the equatorial belt overcame the force of centripetal motion, so that on the second day of creation these masses were dispersed into space along the tangents of their movement, and in this manner a myriad of individual world bodies emerged, united among themselves, of course, by a single center of universal gravitation and invariably subordinate to the same law of physical evolution that had just been realized in the activity of the universal globe. On that same second day of creation the material mass of our solar system also emerged, but this mass existed in its complex enormity likewise only one day, because in the subsequent period of the third and fourth days it similarly broke up, in turn, into a system of individual bodies of our planetary world. This world is known to us to a certain extent, and we may propose certain scientific hypotheses concerning it. Knowing the mass of each individual planet of our solar system, and allowing the density of matter in the past to have been such that the mass of our entire system occupied a space equal to the current orbit of the Earth, astronomer Babinet calculated that in terms of the present measurement of time it took 3,181 years for this mass to make one complete revolution around its axis. Of course this calculation cannot in the least degree pretend to be an exact astronomical measurement of the actual duration of the second day of creation, but as a conditional hypothesis it can still provide us with a certain understanding of how long the second day of creation may have lasted.
And this same calculation may also give us a certain understanding of the length of the first day of creation, the duration of which was to be measured by one complete revolution of the mass of all the planetary worlds in the universe around its axis, since at that time there could be no other measurement of time. In any case, when some astronomers and geologists speak of thousands of years that were needed for the formation of the world, although such calculations cannot be absolutely reliable, at the same time there is nothing unbelievable in them, and at least there is nothing in them that contradicts biblical teaching.
The biblical days of creation
The days of creation described in the Bible by the prophet Moses have been considered for a long time and by a great number of theologians as being periods of great duration. And this is not without foundation.
Firstly, one should not forget the well-known words of the Old and New Testaments: “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalms 90:4).
Secondly, one should bear in mind that in describing the creation Moses lists not six days, but seven, and naturally all the days in this cosmological week should be regarded as being so-to-speak equal and typical.
The last day, however, the seventh day, when in God’s relation with the world creation was replaced by nurture, continues to the present time, for of all other days it was said: and there was the evening and the morning of such-and-such a day, i.e. a completely finished cycle was presented, while the seventh day is not so indicated. Thus the seventh day is continuing and will continue to the very end of time, which for this reason is called the eighth day.
Thus, if the seventh day should be properly understood as a period of time lasting millennia, then the days that preceded it should be regarded accordingly.
And finally, let no one think that to understand these days in terms of long periods of time is a new thing. A number of Church Fathers, some of them quite authoritative, understood them in a similar manner – as, for example, Saints Clement of Alexandria (2nd century), Athanasius the Great (4th century), Basil the Great (4th century), blessed Augustine (4th-5th century), and others.
(To be continued)
(Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, “Brief collection of articles on apologetics”)
I stand before Thy Sovereign Icon,
Enveloped in a prayerful daze;
Thy heavenly Visage, royally crowned,
Attracts my deeply-moved gaze.
In times of strife, ignoble cowardice,
Deceit, and treason, and unbelief,
Thy Sovereign Icon Thou hast given us.
Thou came to us and gently said:
“The scepter and orb I take upon Me,
I’ll give them to the Tsar Myself,
I’ll give the Russian realm new glory,
I’ll nourish, comfort, and make peace.”
Repent then, Rus’, thou miserable sinner,
And cleanse thy desecrated shame with tears;
The Heavenly Queen, thy Intercessor,
Does pity and guard thee all these years.
– Sergey Bekhteyev
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff