HOMILY FOR THE ENTRY OF THE HOLY THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE
Ancient Jews had the custom, in exceptional cases in their family life, of dedicating their children to God’s service. Those who were dedicated were usually brought to the temple, where the priests blessed them, made sacrifice to God, and took care of the children’s upbringing until the latter came of age. All the children dedicated to God lived at the temple in special chambers, exercising themselves in prayer, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and various activities appropriate to their gender and age.
The righteous Joachim and Anna, having attained a venerable old age, did not have children and earnestly asked God to grant them a child, whom they promised to dedicate to His service. The Lord heeded their prayer, and so a daughter was born to them, named Mary. When the Virgin Mary became three years old, Her parents hastened to fulfill their vow. Although the law did not require such haste, it was obvious that the young Maiden even then felt Her high calling, exhibiting a tendency towards piety. It was naturally hard for the parents to part with their daughter, but they appeared to divine that She was destined for some extraordinary service.
There is a moving account which Holy Tradition passes on to us concerning the entry of the Holy Theotokos into the temple, in commemoration of which today’s feast has been established.
On the assigned day, all the relatives of Joachim and Anna gathered in Jerusalem, and a solemn, yet at the same time humble procession of the future Mother of God set off towards the Lord’s house. In front of the Virgin Mary, Who was led by Her parents, walked Her maiden friends in white garments, with lit candles and prayerful hymns, while all the relatives and family friends came after them. A high staircase consisting of fifteen steps led up to the doors of the temple. Placed on the first step, to everyone’s amazement the Virgin Mary easily and without anyone’s support went up higher and higher, until She was met on the upper landing by the priests and the high priest. Everyone was even more amazed at the fact that the High Priest Zacharias, father of St. John the Baptist, guided by the Holy Spirit, led the Most Blessed Virgin into the Holy of Holies, which he himself could enter only once a year, on the feast of purification. Even the angels were astounded at how the Virgin entered the Holy of Holies.
Soon afterwards Joachim and Anna reposed in the Lord, while the Holy Virgin, remaining at the temple, went from strength to strength, being an angel in the flesh. She daily came to the temple and prayed unimpeded in the Holy of Holies, conversing with the angels, who brought Her heavenly food, while the food She received together with the other children She gave away to the poor. Despite all this, She never exhibited any pride, but humbly fulfilled all the tasks that were assigned to Her, being obedient to Her instructors, the priests.
At that time chastity was not regarded as such a high endeavor, and for this reason the virgins who were brought up at the temple, upon coming of age, were usually given away in marriage. The Virgin Mary, however, standing at the boundary between the Old and the New Testaments, was the first to promote this virtue by giving a vow of chastity. The priests could not oppose such an unusual decision by their pupil, yet at the same time they did not know what to do. After some deliberation they got out of their difficulty by betrothing Her to a certain pious elder Joseph, who was of King David’s ancestry, but lived anonymously. He dwelled in the small Galilean city of Nazareth and worked as a carpenter. After settling in the home of Her presumed husband, the Virgin Mary helped him with housework and continued to engage in divine contemplation.
The story of today’s feast provides us with many edifying lessons, and first of all demonstrates the love which we must have for the Lord’s temple, i.e. the church. For the Mother of God the temple of Jerusalem was the dwelling in which She wished to stay day and night, in order to be in constant prayerful communion with the Lord. One thing have I desired of the Lord, – cries out the holy prophet David, – that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to visit His holy temple (Psalm 27:4). For Her the temple was a school, a source of joy, spiritual nourishment, a path by which She rose above all creation and became more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. How can we not cry out with the psalm-writer: How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord (Psalm 83:1-2). Therefore: For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psalm 84:10). And if the house of our parents beckons us with its love and affection, and if we find a quiet refuge under its roof, how can we not seek the house of the Lord?!
Let us follow the example of the Mother of God, dear brethren, and let us regard church attendance as our first and foremost duty. Amen.
THANKS BE TO GOD FOR EVERYTHING!
On gratitude to God
A certain Protestant minister, while visiting the sick, once came to a psychiatric hospital. One of the patients there, experiencing a moment of lucidity, came up to the minister and asked him: “Have you ever thanked God for being in full possession of your faculties?” The minister was dumbfounded by such an unexpected question. No, it had never entered his mind to thank God for such an obvious gift. Only here in this hospital, seeing such a great number of unfortunate mentally-ill people around him, did he realize that reason is a great gift from God! Then and there the minister decided that he would daily thank God for his sanity.
This example characterizes mankind’s general attitude towards life’s gifts: people have become accustomed to accepting everything as their due, as a matter of course. Seldom does anyone thank his Creator, Who constantly takes care of us and endows us with boundless material and spiritual gifts.
“Wherever you look with your spiritual eyes, – writes St. John of Kronstadt, – either inside yourself, or around yourself, everywhere you will see great cause for thanking and glorifying God!”
Certainly our entire life is an uninterrupted chain of God’s benevolence! He has created our body, which is more perfect than any mechanism or computer. He has breathed into us an immortal soul, which animates our perishable body and is more precious to us than anything else. He has endowed us with reason, which elevates us above animals; a free will, by means of which we can excel physically and spiritually, and can guide our life towards goodness; and feelings that enable us to enjoy the gifts of God’s grace, to find happiness and joy in life.
Although we are unable to see God with our eyes, we know that He constantly takes care of us better than the most caring mother. He commands the sun to shine upon us. He showers us with the bounties of rain and the earth’s fruitfulness. By His will all nature and all creatures serve our well-being and enjoyment. His divine power supports and preserves our life among all that is hostile and dangerous in the world. Each moment of our life is a gift of His boundless benevolence, our every breath is a sign of His fatherly concern, every beat of our heart is the result of His great love and mercy.
But that is not all! When through transgression of God’s commandments mankind subjected itself to all possible misfortunes, became unworthy of life and bliss, God the Father did not allow it to perish. On the contrary, due to His endless love, He “gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The Only-begotten Son of God, pitying us prodigal children, came down to earth and took upon Himself our mortal being. He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” He taught us to live righteously and showed us the way into the Heavenly Realm. He took upon Himself the sins of all mankind, suffered humiliation, mockery, beating, suffering on the cross and a shameful death for our sake, shed His blood for us and gave up His life for us, “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
The Holy Spirit – one-in-essence with the Father and the Son – descends upon us for the sake of the Son’s sacrifice, cleanses our conscience of sinful deeds, enlivens and sanctifies our being, gives us His divine power which we need for a righteous life, and makes us children of God.
Despite all this we often forget God, we grieve His charity by our stubbornness, stupidity, malice! But God not only does not destroy us, but continues to forgive us and have mercy upon us, patiently waiting for our rectification. Despite our frequent falling into sin, with great care and wisdom He guides our life to salvation, to endless joy in the heavenly abodes. Seldom do people think of how many impediments they create for God in the matter of their salvation!
In times of trials and tribulations many people despair and grumble against God. But we must understand that the Lord sometimes does allow misfortune and sorrow to visit us, but not because He has forgotten us or wants to punish us. Not at all! He allows it as a bitter yet necessary medicine, which cures us of pride, thoughtlessness, conceit, egoism, and other shortcomings. Realizing this, the great hierarch St. John Chrysostome used to say at the end of his days: “Thanks be to God for everything, and especially for sorrows!”
We, Orthodox Christians, must especially thank God for having granted us the honor of being members of His true Church, which by the power of the Holy Spirit preserves the pure teaching of the Gospel, and which sanctifies and fortifies us with its grace-filled sacraments. It is the same Church to which belonged the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the saints who reside in the heavenly abodes and who make up, together with us, their lesser brethren, the one great family of God. It is the very Church in which we receive the sacred gifts of the life-giving Body and Blood of our Saviour, which grant us immortality.
Thus, when we ponder the path of God’s providence in our lives, we see that it is not so much our duty, as our entire being, our entire present and future life that demand our constant awareness of God’s benevolence towards us and constant gratitude to God for everything. It must be added that it is not God Who needs our gratitude, but we ourselves. When we thank God, we remember His love for us, His constant care for us, and that boundless stream of material and spiritual gifts which He daily showers upon us. Such a remembrance clears up our reason and allows us to comprehend with greater clarity the purpose of our lives.
Moreover, gratitude to God disperses dejection, gets rid of sorrow, brings back cheerfulness and joy. Gratitude to God may be compared with the warm rays of the sun, which penetrate the dark cellar of our soul. From contact with the spiritual Sun the soul warms up, becomes kinder, and opens up to love. Thus let us try daily, and especially on Sundays, to thank our Creator and Saviour: thanks be to God for everything!
PARADISE AND HELL
Homily on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus
There are people, dear brethren, who doubt the existence of hell. Their doubts are based on the fact that no one has ever come back from there to bear witness to the existence of hell. And it is not only people of various faiths who believe so, but also many Orthodox. And all of them are absolutely wrong.
Recently we have heard the Gospel reading about the good seed and various types of soil. We heard about the rocky soil, which, having had the good seed planted in it, rejected it. Today the Gospel gives us a concrete image of a man with such a rocky soil in his heart, rejecting the good seed, i.e. the word of God. And hearing today the existence of paradise and hell being confirmed, we are able to understand what happens to those who hear the word of God, but deliberately reject it.
Today we see two people – the merciless rich man and the poor Lazarus. The rich man lives it up: he eats, drinks, and makes merry, without thinking about death and the future life. The sick Lazarus patiently lies at the gates of the rich man and does not ask to share his wealth, but only hopes for some small crumbs from the rich man’s table. However, he does not get even those, because the rich man’s heart is made of stone. But time passes, and they both die: first Lazarus and then the rich man. And at this point the existence of paradise and hell is revealed to us.
Look at who finds himself where. Lazarus, who suffered so terribly on earth, was taken to Abraham’s bosom, that is, into paradise. And the rich man, whose earthly life was comprised of excessive enjoyment, went into hell. And what a difference between them now: Lazarus lives in the eternal joy of paradise, while the rich man suffers the torture of the flames of hell. The rich man himself tells us about it, as he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to wet his finger in water and cool the rich one’s tongue. This means that hell is not only a place of darkness and despair, but of flaming torment. This is an eternal fire which burns all the sinners who come there.
If anyone doubts the existence of hell, that person should remember that it is the Lord Himself Who tells us about it. The Holy Gospel and everything that is written in it – these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Vigil prokimenon in the first tone tells us that “the words of God are pure words,” – i.e. everything that the Lord tells us is the absolute truth.
Thus, in today’s parable the Lord Himself confirms to us the existence of paradise and hell, and the fate which awaits every one of us in accordance with the soil of our hearts. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus adds to the parable of the good seed by showing us a concrete example of its action on people. Let us listen further: the rich man, finding himself in such horrible conditions and realizing how gravely he had miscalculated in life, belatedly feels a surge of charity towards his fellow-man. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his remaining brothers on earth, in order to save them from eternal perdition by warning them of the dire fate that awaits them. And what does Abraham say in reply? He says: they have Moses and the prophets, – that is, he clearly points out that the rich man’s brothers were also provided with the good seed, they heard the word of God spoken through Moses and the prophets. But what did they do with this good seed? Obviously – nothing, obviously their hearts contain the same rocky soil as the rich man’s, and nothing can help them now. If they do not have faith in the word of God, they will be unable to believe even in the Resurrected Christ.
This situation applies not only to the Jews of Christ’s time, whom the Lord had in mind as He said His parable, but it applies equally to us, dear brethren. We have been given so much more than the rich man’s brothers. We now have not only Moses and the prophets, i.e. the Old Testament, but also the entire New Testament, all the divine words of the Lord Himself and of His apostles, and all the divinely-inspired writings of the Holy Fathers. All of this has been given us… but what we do with this treasure depends solely on us, as does our future fate.
The Lord has revealed to us that there is paradise and there is hell; has given us some idea of the two places; has told us which kind of life leads where; has described to us the types of soil which pave these two different paths… but the Lord does not force us: we must choose the way ourselves, we ourselves must want to attain paradise, we must come to the Lord voluntarily.
Let us heed the pure words of the Lord, dear brethren, let us receive these good seeds into the good soil of our faithful hearts, let us follow the example of Lazarus’s patience and humility, in order to escape the bitter and tormented fate of the rich man, and instead of barren merriment on earth – let us rejoice in the eternal bliss and joy of paradise. Amen.
The days preceding Nativity
The days of the feast of the Nativity are approaching… Very soon – by the grace of God – we will hear the Church solemnly glorifying the Divine Infant Christ Who has come into the world, commemorating His birth in the flesh.
There are three nativities of Christ. The first was pre-eternally from the Father, the second was two thousand years ago in Bethlehem of Judea, and the third – until the end of time – is in each Christian soul that has come to love the law of the Gospel.
In the Gospel reading of the Sunday before Christ’s Nativity, St. Matthew presents us with the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ and tells us of the Angel’s appearance to the righteous Joseph the Betrothed and of the Nativity of Christ.
“Joseph, thou son of David! Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in Her is of the Holy Spirit; and She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus (Yeshua – physician, healer), for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying: behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Such is the mystery of the third nativity. The mystery of the union of a human soul, delivered of its sins, with God.
Let us, too, open our hearts to the Emmanuel Who is coming into the world. And if not a cave and manger, then let us give the Divine Infant the gift of our heart cleansed of sin.
In the words of St. John Chrysostome, God “welcomes even intentions.” O, if only we, too, would wish to serve and worship Him wholeheartedly! Then so would He hear us in our appeal to Him and give us the joy of true life in Him.
The Joy of All Who Sorrow
(November 6th / October 24th)
The Orthodox veneration of the Mother of God is a mystery within church life. Those who are outside the Church do not venerate or glorify Her most-blessed name. But within the Church all are alive, all live a common united life.
When we come to church, the faces of saints who are distanced from each other by millennia, but who are united in one common holy Synaxis of Christ’s Church, gaze upon us from the walls.
And the first place among all these saints has always been occupied by the Mother of God. “The Queen stands on Thy right side” (from a psalm).
But it is not only in this solemn glorification that the Church knows the Mother of God. It also knows Her in its daily life, as a prayerful intercessor, as “a warm protector in a cold world.”
And the names with which Her icons have come into Church history bear witness to the fact of how close the Mother of God always was to Her true Christian sons, who appealed to Her quick intercession in decisive and difficult moments of their life.
Which one of us has not had in his life some bright and joyous memories connected with the image of the Mother of God? Therefore now, on this feast day of Her icon “The Joy of All Who Sorrow,” let us turn to Her our hearts and our prayers.
The prayer of faith always enlightens and purifies a person, snatches him out of life’s busyness, opens up for him the horizons of the Kingdom of God. Prayer dares, prayer does not know the impossible. Prayer never demands, but asks; it is always humble, meek, and ready for everything.
And the best image of genuine prayer is the image of the Most-holy Virgin, Who bore in Her heart both love, and humility, and meekness, and thus attained the supreme grace of prayerful intercession before God.
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 22, 2007)
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
(see beginning here)
X. THE DIVINITY OF JESUS CHRIST
Let us carefully trace the loving and pious way in which the Orthodox Church approaches the interpretation of the amazingly wise teaching on the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, based upon the entire fullness of the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. Both the holy Apostles and their closest disciples, as well as the holy Church Fathers of all ages, accepted and sacredly preserved in all their purity and inviolability these Divine words of the Saviour about Himself and the Church He had founded. Only through such complete faithfulness to the Saviour’s Divine teaching did the holy Church Fathers and the Orthodox ascetics and teachers of all ages maintain amazing concordance on this issue. This is why our great Saint Seraphim believed in and understood Christ’s teaching in the same way as it was understood in the first century A.D. by the holy Apostles, who had heard these celestial truths from the lips of the Divine Teacher Himself.
For a better comprehension of the teaching on the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us follow the example of the holy Fathers, who divided this teaching into four parts: (1) The Divinity of Jesus Christ; (2) The human nature of the Son of God; (3) The unity of the Hypostasis (Person) in Jesus Christ; (4) The consequences of the union of two natures in the One Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the True God, eternally being born of the Essence of the Father, the One-in-Essence and Only-begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Most-holy, Life-giving, and Indivisible Trinity, God the Word. According to the testimony of St. John the Theologian: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:1-3, 14). He is specifically and clearly named Lord in the New Testament (John 1:23); Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matt. 1:23); Founder of earth and heaven (Heb. 1:10); Heir and Creator, by Whom also all worlds were made (Heb. 1:2). Being made so much better than the angels, Jesus Christ also inherited a more excellent name than they, for to none of the angels did God say: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Heb. 1:4-5).
Jesus Christ Himself testified numerous times about Himself as being equal to God the Father in Divinity. The Jews were after the Saviour precisely because He, “calling God His Father, made Himself equal with God”; or “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”; “For as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will”; “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father”; “For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:17-26). “I and My Father are one”; “The Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:30, 38).
Jesus Christ, as God, is: (1) Omnipresent: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, the Son of man, Which is in heaven”; (2) Eternal: To the Jews’ question of how hast Thou seen Abraham, when Thou art not yet fifty years old, the Saviour replied: “Before Abraham was, I am.” When proceeding to His voluntary suffering, the Saviour prayed to the Father: “And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was”; (3) To the Saviour is inherent knowledge equal to God the Father’s knowledge: “All things are delivered to Me of My Father, and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.”
All the Evangelists begin their Gospels with the Divine nature of Christ: the Evangelist Matthew calls the Saviour Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” The Evangelist Mark testifies that after the baptism, when the Saviour came out of the water, John the Baptist saw “the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him. And there came a voice from heaven, saying: Thou art My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” The Evangelist Luke calls the Saviour the Lord God, to Whom John the Baptist will turn many sons of Israel. The Evangelist John the Theologian says: “No man hath seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, Which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”
The holy Apostle Jude in his general epistle calls the Saviour “the only Lord God.” Apostle Paul calls the Saviour “the Lord of glory, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” because the Saviour is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature; for by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him.” And after all that was said, how pitiful seem the insinuations of the heretics who reject the Divinity of Christ.
It is for this reason that the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea, in A.D. 325, condemned the heresy of the Alexandrian priest Arius, who taught of Christ as a creation, i.e. that Christ was created by God, and although He was above men and angels, He was lower than God. At this council 318 hierarchs unanimously formulated the dogma on the Son of God’s being One-in-Essence with God the Father: “The Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by Whom all things were made.”
When another heretic – Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople, drawing a conclusion from the heresy of Arius began to teach that the Holy Spirit was also created, being a creation of the Son and a servitor of the Father, the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, in A.D. 381, to the Nicean Creed on the Divinity of the Son added the teaching on the Divinity also of “the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life; Who proceedeth from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets.”
Being the True God, Jesus Christ after His incarnation also became the perfect man, like unto us in all but sin.
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
PASTOR OF ALL RUSSIA
(Commemorated November 1st / October 19th, and January 2nd / December 20th
Those times were called “the 19th century, the iron century.” In accordance with this epithet, iron logic should also have been manifest throughout it. And initially this expectation was being fulfilled. Indeed, was it not clear where Russia was heading in that century – towards materialism and atheism? But how to combine with the theory of the progressive godlessness of Russia the phenomenon of Saint John of Kronstadt, who was born on October 31, 1829?
Initially he did not understand his mission. He dreamed of going off as a missionary to the Aleuts, to soften the coarse customs of pagans. However, having been appointed priest to Kronstadt, here, too, he discovered enough pagans. Batyushka visited their homes, shared his last with them, sometimes returned home without his outer garments. The church administration was upset with him over this and began to pay out his salary not to him, but to his wife, in order that he not give it away to the poor. Once a certain pious old woman asked him to pray for the healing of a very sick person. “You just ask God directly to heal him.” – “How can I show such daring?” – thought St. John, and suddenly felt that he was given permission to do so. And he almost demanded from the Lord to heal the unfortunate sick man. The next day he was told that the latter was fully recovered. From that moment the miracles gushed forth in a powerful stream as was probably never seen in the history of Christianity from the times of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The blind began to see, the lame began to walk, the dead came back to life. With great delay some of St. John’s miraculous healings began to be recorded, with an indication of time and place, the name and address of the person who was healed, and with documents confirming the occurrence, particularly physicians’ testimonials. This selective chronicle took up several tomes. The miracles reached an absolutely unprecedented level: people were healed from a note to him, from a submitted photograph, from a telegram!
However, the greatest miracle was St. John of Kronstadt himself. By all laws of nature no man could have survived the daily regimen that he followed, yet he remained in good health until nearly the age of eighty. Every day he served the liturgy, which meant constant fasting and getting up at 3:00 in the morning to prepare for the service. Thousands of people took communion from him, so that the duration of this sacrament was often up to three hours. After that St. John preached a sermon, to which people reacted as to the words of Christ Himself. Afterwards batyushka saw visitors, and then went out to serve privately-requested needs. He returned home late at night, and it is absolutely unfathomable where he still found the time to write his homilies and his thoughts that were published under the name of “My Life in Christ.” He obviously lived in an extended dimension of time, and time can be extended only by the One Who created it. His superhuman burden was made more difficult by frequent travels all over Russia, thanks to which hundreds of thousands of people were able to touch upon his holiness. How much he was loved and venerated is attested to by the following: whenever he sailed somewhere on a steamship, crowds ran after him along the shore. And throughout the entire land thundered his appeal: “Learn, O Russia, to believe in the Almighty God, Who rules the fate of the world, and learn faith, wisdom, and courage from your holy forefathers!”
The main theme of his appeals to the people was the intolerability of revolution. “Cease your insanity! Enough, enough!” – thundered his voice all over the world. And with the uncompromising directness of a prophet he presaged: “If things in Russia proceed in this manner, and if the godless and the insane anarchists are not subjected to the just punishment of the law, and if Russia does not cleanse itself of its multitude of chaff, it will fall into ruin just like the ancient kingdoms…”
The great pastor was unable to prevent the revolution. Does this mean that he suffered defeat? It would undoubtedly seem so: the godless and the madmen did take over. But this is what must give us pause: Russia did not fall into ruin! Moreover, it was able to live through the Civil War and the subsequent destruction, and to restore itself, becoming a mighty power. In pondering this and analyzing the facts, one comes to an amazing conclusion: the post-revolutionary development of Russia, which was renamed the USSR, did not go the way the revolutionaries had intended, and in this sense they did not turn out to be the victors. The Russian people exhibited such unyielding resolve in striving to remain Russian, that the Bolsheviks became exhausted in their struggle against the people’s tenacity. And in our attainment of such strong immunity to godlessness and madness, the help and service of St. John of Kronstadt was simply invaluable. The Lord Himself sent him to us, in order to breathe into Russia, on the eve of its great catastrophe, a reserve of spirituality that allowed it to survive under satanic rule.
(Reprinted from “Argumenty i fakty,” No. 44 for 2009)
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
(see beginning here)
Science and Divine Revelation
What is the source of our true knowledge of the primordial world, and how does it differ from science? How does St. Gregory the Sinaite know what happens to mature fruits in paradise, and why is natural science unable to discover it? Since you love the holy Fathers, I believe you already know the answer to this question. Nevertheless, I will set forth an answer based not on my own reasoning, but on the unarguable authority of a holy Father of supreme spiritual life, St. Isaac the Syrian, who spoke of the soul’s ascension to God on the basis of personal experience. Describing how the soul is elevated at the thought of the future age of incorrupti-bility, St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “And from here the mind already rises to that stage which preceded the creation of the world, when there was no existing matter, neither heaven, nor earth, nor angels, nor anything which was brought into existence, and to the stage when God, solely by His goodwill, suddenly brought everything from nothingness into existence, and every single thing appeared before Him in a state of perfection” (Homily 25).
As you can see, St. Gregory the Sinaite and the other holy Fathers of the highest spiritual life were able to comprehend the primordial world, being in a state of divine contemplation which surpasses the limits of natural knowledge. St. Gregory the Sinaite himself asserts that the “eight major subjects of contem-plation” in a state of supreme prayer are as follows:
(1) God, (2) the rank and the standing of the heavenly host, (3) the compo-sition of visible things, (4) the blueprint for the descent of the Word, (4) universal resurrection, (5) the terrible second coming of Christ, (7) eternal torment, and (8) the Heavenly Realm.
Why should he include “the composition of visible things” together with other objects of divine contemplation, relating to the sphere of theological know-ledge and not science? Is it not because there exists such an aspect and state of creation which is outside the sphere of natural knowledge and can be seen, as St. Isaac the Syrian himself saw God’s creation, only in contemplation and by the grace of God?
In another place St. Isaac the Syrian clearly describes the difference between natural knowledge and the faith which leads to contemplation: “Natural know-ledge is the limit of nature, while faith proceeds over and above nature. Know-ledge does not dare tolerate anything destructive to nature, but avoids it; by faith many entered fire, suppressed the burning power of fire, and passed through it unscathed, and walked on the crest of waves as on firm earth. And all of this is above nature, is contrary to the ways of knowledge, and has shown that the latter is deficient in all its means and its laws… There is no knowledge which is not circumscribed by paucity, no matter how much it is enriched, while the treasures of faith cannot be contained neither by earth, nor heaven” (Homily 25).
Now you understand what the stakes are in the argument between the patristic understanding of the book of Genesis and the evolutionary teaching? The latter attempts to comprehend the mysteries of God’s creation by means of natural knowledge and worldly philosophy, not even allowing that there is something in these mysteries which places them beyond the possibilities of this knowledge; while the book of Genesis is a narrative of God’s creation, seen in divine contem-plation by the Prophet Moses, and what he has seen is confirmed by the personal experience of the later Fathers. And although revelation is higher than natural knowledge, still we know that there cannot be any contradictions between true Revelation and true natural knowledge. There is no disagreement between the knowledge of creation contained in the book of Genesis, as it is expounded to us by the holy Fathers, and truthful knowledge of creation obtained by modern science through observation; but, of course, there is an insoluble conflict between the knowledge contained in the book of Genesis and the empty philosophical speculations of modern scientists, who are not enlightened by faith, concerning the state of the world during the course of the Six Days of creation. Therefore, since there is a genuine conflict between the book of Genesis and contemporary philo-sophy, if we wish to know the truth we must accept the teaching of the holy Fathers and reject the false opinions of scientific philosophers.
Concerning the genuine patristic vision of the primordial world, I believe that I have shown you enough of these visions, which at first glance seem amazing to the Orthodox Christian whose understanding of the book of Genesis has been obscured by modern scientific philosophy. The most amazing is probably the fact that the holy Fathers understood the text of the sacred Scripture “as written,” and they do not allow us to interpret it freely or allegorically. Many contemporary “educated” Christians are used to associating this interpretation with Protestant fundamentalism, but it is clear how much more profound is the genuine patristic interpretation in relation to that of the fundamentalists, who have never heard about divine contemplation and whose interpretation only accidentally coincides at times with the patristic one.
The modern Orthodox Christian can understand how the incorruptibility of the primordial world remains beyond the scope of scientific research if he examines the fact of incorruptibility as it is represented through God’s action even in our present corrupt world. We cannot find a more supreme manifestation of this incorruptibility than in the Most Holy Theotokos, of Whom we sing: “Who without corruption bore God the Word…” St. John Damascene points out that this incorruptibility is beyond the laws of nature in two ways: “…for without a father – that is above the natural laws of birth… and painlessly – that is above the law of birth.” What should an Orthodox Christian say when a modern unbeliever, under the influence of modern philosophy, insists that such incorruptibility is impossible and demands that Christians believe only that which can be proved or observed scientifically? Should he not keep to his faith, which is knowledge through revelation, and tell the pseudo-scientist that it is impossible to know or understand this act of incorruptibility other than as a supernatural action of God?
There is another question relating to the state of the primordial world which may arise in your mind: and what about those “millions of years” of the existence of the world which science “knows as a fact”? My letter is already too long, and I cannot discuss this question here, but in another letter I could examine this question too, including the shortcomings of the radio carbon method and other “absolute” systems of dating, and show that these “millions of years” are also not a fact but again a matter of philosophy. This idea itself did not arise until, under the influence of naturalistic philosophy, people began to believe in evolution, and if evolution is true, then the world must be millions of years old (since evolution has never been observed, it is imagined only within the supposition that countless millions of years could produce processes which are too “slow” for modern scientists to be able to observe them). If you examine this question objectively and dispassionately, separating genuine proofs from suppositions and philosophy, you will see that there is no factual data which could make us believe that the earth is more than 7,500 years old.
In summing up the patristic teaching on the primordial world, I can find nothing better than to quote the divine words of a holy Father who so excelled in prayer that the entire Orthodox Church calls him a “Theologian.” And that is St. Simeon the New Theologian. In his 45th Homily he says the following based on patristic tradition: “In the beginning God, before planting Eden and giving it over to the first-created, in the course of five days created the earth and all that is on it, and the heavens and all that is in them, and on the sixth day He created Adam and placed him as master and king over all visible creation. Paradise did not yet exist at that time. But this world of God was like a paradise, though material and physical. And God gave it into the hands of Adam and all his descendants… ‘And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden… And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food’ (Gen. 2:8-9), with different fruits which never spoiled and never ceased to be produced, but were always fresh and sweet and gave great pleasure to the first-created. For it was necessary to bring incorruptible delight to those bodies of the first-created which were incorruptible… Adam was created with an incorruptible body, though material and not yet spiritual, and was placed by God the Creator as an immortal king over the incorruptible world, not only over Eden but also over all creation under the heavens…
After Adam’s transgression God did not condemn Eden… but He con-demned the rest of the earth which was also incorruptible and produced every-thing by itself… The one who had become corrupt and mortal through trans-gression of the commandment, in all justice should live on a corrupt earth and eat corrupt food… Afterwards all the creatures too, when they saw that Adam had been expelled from Eden, no longer wished to obey him, a criminal… But God restrained all these creatures with His power, and by His mercy and goodness did not allow them to rush at man, but commanded all creation to remain in servitude to him and, having become corrupt, to serve corrupt man for whom it had been created, so that when man would be renewed and would become spiritual, incorruptible and immortal, then all creation, placed by God in servitude to man, would become free from this servitude, would be renewed together with him and would become incorruptible and spiritual in a way…
The bodies of men should not be the first to be clothed in the glory of resurrection and become incorruptible; all creation was first made incorruptible, and afterwards man was taken and created from it, thus once again all creation should be the first to become incorruptible, and only then should the bodies of men be renewed and become incorruptible, so that the whole man would once again be incorruptible and spiritual, and would dwell in an incorruptible, eternal, and spiritual abode… Do you see that all creation was at first incorruptible and created by God to dwell in paradise? But afterwards it became corrupt and was placed by God in servitude to mankind.
You should also know how all creation will be glorified and brightly shining in the next age. For when it is renewed, it will not be the same as it had been created in the beginning. But it will be, according to the divine Paul, just like our bodies… By God’s command all creation, at the time of universal resurrection, will not be as it had been created – material and physical, but shall be re-created and made into a great immaterial and spiritual dwelling, surpassing all sensual perception.”
Can there be a clearer teaching concerning the state of the primordial world before Adam’s transgression?
(To be continued)
DO NOT DESPAIR
When times of suffering and adversity arrive,
And over thy head a tempest does befall, –
Do not despair, my friend! In moments of trial
Do let thy tears fall down before the Lord.
Not bitterly grumbling, but with ardent prayer
Restrain the impulse of an obdurate complaint;
With heartfelt faith that over thee He watches,
Place all thy sorrows and thy hope in Him.
And in the trying hour of thy earthly struggle,
He'll come in time to lend a helping hand,
And He Himself will be thy Simon of Cyrene,
And He will help thee carry thy life's cross to the end.
— M. Rosenheim
— Translated by Natalia Sheniloff