FEAST OF THE KAZAN ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
Many different misfortunes, sorrows, and woes befall mankind, but one should always remember that “God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
If a misfortune occurs at home, say a child becomes sick, – no one can take care of him, calm him down, and comfort him like his own mother. But we all have a universal Mother in heaven Who is an earnest Intercessor for Christians. Countless times She has helped everyone who appealed to Her with faith and love, both individuals and entire cities, even entire nations. There is an especially great number of such examples in the history of Holy Russia. Among them is the event that led to the establishment of today’s holiday.
In the early 17th century tsars from the Rurik dynasty ceased to occupy the Russian throne, and the country was left without a ruler. A so-called Time of Troubles ensued, or, as the people called it, “the hard times.” Internally the country became subject to unrest among the populace, theft, murder; the treasury was empty; there was no law or order anywhere. Bordering regions were falling away from Russia one after another, and to top it all there was the issue of placing a foreign king on the Orthodox throne of Russia!
Making use of all this desolation, our enemies – the Poles – invaded Russia with their troops and easily conquered the heart of Russia – Moscow, took over the holy Kremlin. At that time it seemed that the very existence and sovereignty of our nation was threatened, but God judged otherwise. The moans and tears of the agonized and stricken native sons, the heartfelt entreaty of the faithful, together with the prayers of the saints and the Queen of Heaven and earth – the Mother of God Herself – reached the Lord. This was revealed to the people in a miraculous manner. In the dead of night the cell of Moscow’s hierarch Arseny, who was languishing in the besieged capital, being bedridden due to a severe illness, suddenly lit up with a wondrous light, and there appeared the venerable St. Sergius of Radonezh, who said to the hierarch: “Rejoice, father! Our and your prayers have been heard: through the intercession of the Theotokos God’s judgment upon our homeland has been changed to mercy; on the morrow Moscow will be in the hands of the besiegers, and Russia will be saved.” And as though in confirmation of the truth of these words the ailing elder was immediately healed of his illness.
The executors of God’s will in regard to the salvation of Russia were two prominent citizens: Kuzma Minin, a church warden from Nizhniy Novgorod, and Prince Dmitriy Pozharskiy. The first, after his famous speech in which he exclaimed: “Let us stand up for Holy Russia, for the house of the Most-holy Theotokos, let us liberate our homeland!” – amassed a magnificent treasury and assembled a militia, while the second stood at the head of this militia.
This holy army approached Moscow under extremely unfavorable circumstances, but it did not rely so much on its own strength as on aid from above, bearing within its ranks the miraculous Kazan icon of the Mother of God. And as soon as the Christ-loving army learned of God’s miraculously announced decision, influenced by the prayers of the Champion Leader, it bravely rushed forward and soon liberated Moscow from the Poles. Russia was saved. The hierarch Arseny came out of the city with a procession of the cross, in order to welcome the holy army. Great was the joy of the people and fervent was their prayer of thanksgiving to God and His holy saints, and above all to our universal Mother, the Queen of Heaven. In order to preserve for all time the memory of this glorious event, the Church established this yearly commemoration on 22nd October (4th November by the old calendar) in honor of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God. The icon itself remained in Moscow for a long time, and was later transferred to St. Petersburg, where it stayed in the specially-built Kazan Cathedral.
Thus it is obvious that in that terrible period of the hard times our homeland was saved by the protection and entreaty of the Christians’ earnest Intercessor. Therefore, each one of us, remembering the history of today’s holiday, should not become depressed if woes, suffering, disappointments, and all manner of deprivation befall him personally. Sometimes God’s Providence in its wisdom delays in delivering us from these temptations, allowing them in order to give us a chance to demonstrate more clearly our faith, hope, and love for God. In truth, how many times the Russian people appeared to be standing on the verge of destruction, but as soon as they acknowledged their sinfulness and returned to God, the Lord resurrected them as though from the dead and resurrected them with great glory. And how many times in the life of each one of us, if only we were able to see it, there was such a confluence of circumstances that we thought everything was ended, that there was no way out, and suddenly the tempest quieted down, the clouds dispersed, and the sun once again shone brightly upon us, warming us to the very core… We are naturally unworthy of such mercies, and our faith is weak, yet we are not alone, we can always receive the aid of our saints and above all the All-merciful Queen of Heaven, Who, attending to our tearful prayers, will Herself intercede for us before the throne of Her Son and our God, for the prayer of a Mother availeth much to the good will of the Lord.
Thus it was before, thus undoubtedly it will be always. We have no other aid, we have no other hope safe Thou, O Mistress. Do help us Thou, for in Thee we hope and Thee we glorify: we are Thy servants, may we not be shamed (Kontakion).
O Most-holy Theotokos, save us! Amen.
SYNAXIS OF THE HOLY ARCHANGEL MICHAEL
On the hierarchy of angels
We celebrate this day in honor of Archangel Michael and all the heavenly host. Who is this Michael and why is he also called the “Archistrategus” (i.e. chief commander)? The Heavenly King has many more hosts than all earthly kings put together. In the Scriptures the Lord is called Sabaoth, because thousands of thousands serve Him, and hosts of hosts stand before Him. When Christ was born, a great multitude of celestial warriors appeared before the shepherds of Bethlehem. Archangel Michael had been placed as the supreme commander over all these bodiless hosts, which is rendered by the Greek word “Archistrategus.”
In the beginning all the bodiless spirits were good. But when some of them were overcome by pride, fell away from the Almighty Lord, and became evil, Archangel Michael said to the remaining spirits, who were incidentally much greater in number: “Let us attend! Let us stand well before our Creator, and let us not have any thoughts against God.” All the good angels obeyed Archangel Michael and hymned: holy, holy, holy, the Lord Sabaoth, and now they are eternally rapturous, remaining loyal to their Creator, so that now they cannot fall and become evil, not because of their essence, but by the grace of God, just as all the holy saints, sojourning in heaven after their repose, will remain holy for ages and can no longer sin.
All the angels whom Archangel Michael commands are of unequal rank, some receiving instructions from others and being sent into service to help us, sinners, and intercede on our behalf. When a certain Angel was leaving the Prophet Zacharias after conversing with him, another Angel appeared before the first one and commanded him to return to the prophet, in order to announce to him the future fate of Jerusalem. St. Gregory the Dialogist comments on this: “There is no doubt here that one Angel is sending out another; the ones who are being sent are obviously lower in rank than the ones who are sending them.” In like manner a certain Angel ordered another one to explain to the Prophet Daniel the vision which the prophet had seen, but could not understand.
From these sacred testimonies we clearly see that the angels have their own hierarchy, that some of them command, while others obey, that some instruct, while others take orders. If such order exists among the angels who cannot sin, is it not even more necessary for people, who stumble at every step? Our very nature demands that those who are more capable, more informed, and more experienced take up the burden of command, while all the others remain subordinate.
Finally, scriptural accounts of angels assure us that they are our true helpers. We are often engaged in many difficult labors and are threatened by danger, especially because the evil spirits attempt to hinder all our good deeds. But whoever has a pure conscience has no need to fear. For a good Christian there are more helpers in heaven than enemies in the realm of darkness. Whoever refrains from sin is close to his heavenly intercessor. The Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear the Lord, and delivereth them (Psalm 34:7). O holy Archangel of God Michael with all the heavenly host, we pray thee, deliver us from our enemies! Amen.
THE GUARDIAN ANGEL
The day on which the holy Church glorifies the Archangel Michael and the bodiless host is close to every believing Christian soul, for on this day we also glorify our celestial friend and protector – the Guardian Angel.
The Scriptures themselves bear witness to the Guardian Angels. The Guardian Angel is a friend who never betrays a person, who is assigned to him from the day of baptism to the day of burial. The Guardian Angel is the only friend on whom a Christian can rely in his life, for everything that surrounds us here on earth is vapor, dust, and ashes – ever-changing impermanence.
In the awesome hour of death the Guardian Angel is our last helper, a faithful witness to all the good we had done on earth, to all that makes us worthy of our humanity.
But we are too remote in our lives from our Angels, just as we are too remote from all that is spiritual and invisible. We believe only in what we can perceive, what can be seen with the eye, touched with the hand. We have little belief and are weak in faith.
One of the goals of our spiritual life is to find the way to our Guardian Angel. This way can be found not through imagination and fantasy, which – alas! – often spoil our spiritual life, but through a continuous endeavor to purify our hearts. Only the pure in heart will see God, only the pure in heart are granted spiritual vision. And the true path to our heavenly helper and friend is the path of purifying the heart and combating sin.
O truly, according to the Apostle, sins are an impediment to us… How varied are the bitter fruits eaten by those who taste of sin. And if it were not for the power of Christ, what would a man do, who has become completely entrapped in evil deeds?
But man is saved by the grace of God and the help of the Guardian Angel. For if a man wishes with all his heart and does everything he possibly can to combat sin, the Lord will always stretch out His mighty hand to him and will deliver him from perdition, while the Guardian Angel will always be his constant helper and protector.
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 22, 2007)
ENTRY OF THE HOLY THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE
In ancient times, the Jews had the custom of dedicating their children to the service of God in unique circumstances of family life. The dedicatees were usually brought to the temple, where they were blessed by the priests, who offered a sacrifice to God and afterwards took care of the children’s further upbringing until they attained their majority. All the children dedicated to God lived at the temple in special quarters, engaging in prayer, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and in various activities appropriate to their gender and age.
The holy righteous Joachim and Anna, having reached a venerable old age and remaining childless, entreated God to give them a child, whom they promised to dedicate to the service of God. The Lord heard their prayers, and a daughter was born to them, named Mary. When the Virgin Mary reached the age of three, Her parents hastened to fulfill their promise. Although the law itself did not require such haste, it was obvious that the young Maiden already sensed Her high calling, exhibiting a tendency towards great piety. Naturally it was difficult for the parents to part with their daughter, but they apparently divined that some kind of unique service awaited Her.
Holy Tradition gives us a moving account of the entry of the Holy Theotokos into the temple, in commemoration of which today’s feast was established.
On the appointed day all the relatives of Joachim and Anna gathered in Jerusalem and there began a ceremonious yet at the same time modest procession of the Virgin into God’s tabernacle. In front of the Holy Virgin, Who was led by Her parents, came Her companions – girls in white attire, carrying lighted candles and singing hymns, and behind them came all the relatives and friends. A high staircase, consisting of 15 steps, led to the doors of the temple. After being placed on the first step, to everyone’s amazement the Virgin Mary began mounting the steps higher and higher, entirely on Her own and unsupported by anyone, until on the upper landing She was met by the priests, led by the high priest. All the people were even more amazed when the high priest Zacharias, father of St. John the Baptist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, led the Most-holy One into the Holy of Holies, where he himself could enter only once a year, on the feast of purification. Even the angels were amazed 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 in order to be brought up to serve the Lord, went from strength to strength, appearing as an angel in the flesh. Daily She came to the temple and prayed unimpededly in the Holy of Holies, conversing with the angels who brought Her heavenly food, while the food She received together with all the other children She gave away to the poor. Despite all this, She never put on airs, but humbly performed all the duties assigned to Her, living in total obedience to Her preceptors – the priests.
At that time maidenhood was not in very high standing, and for this reason all the maidens who were brought up at the temple were usually given away in marriage when they attained their majority. The Most-holy Virgin, however, Who stood at the border between the Old and the New Testaments, was the first to indicate the importance of this virtue by giving a vow of chastity. The priests could not oppose such a strange decision on the part of their ward, but they did not know what to do with Her. After some thought, they got out of their difficulty by engaging Her to a certain elder, the righteous Joseph, who came from the royal ancestry of King David, but preferred to remain unknown. He lived in the small Galilean town of Nazareth and worked as a carpenter. After settling in with Her supposed husband, the Holy Virgin helped him with housekeeping and continued to engage in divine contemplation.
We can draw many instructive lessons from the story of today’s feast, and it primarily draws our attention to the love which we should have for the Lord’s temple (church). For the Mother of God the temple of Jerusalem was the abode where She wished to remain day and night, in order to be in continuous prayerful communion with the Lord. One thing have I desired from the Lord, exclaims the holy prophet King David, – and 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 attend His holy temple (Psalm 27:4). For Her the temple was a school, a source of joy, spiritual nourishment, the path along which She rose above all creation and became more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. Seeing this, how can we not exclaim together with the psalm-writer: How desirable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord (Psalm 84:1-2). Therefore, 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 our parents’ house beckons to us with its love and affection, and we find a safe haven under its roof, how should we not yearn towards the house of the Lord?!
Let us follow the example of the Mother of God, brethren, and let us regard attendance of God’s church as our primary and necessary duty. Amen.
By the grace of God we have commenced the days of Nativity Fast. The fast is a time when each Christian must ponder his life, must think of the purpose of life and of how to achieve it in practice. The fast is a time when we are presented with an opportunity to work on ourselves, to shake ourselves up internally.
Human life is short. Day after day, month after month, year after year disappear without a trace, yet nothing has been done. It is often scary to look back on life. Time has passed, but there is a mountain of things still to be done.
A person’s death always seems untimely. Man always dies leaving something undone, something unfinished. And, of course, this “something” always varies. As one ascetic lay dying, he wept over the fact that he had not yet begun to repent. This was genuine humility, issuing from a deep realization of each person’s unworthiness in this life in the face of the task he must accomplish.
One of (the Russian writer) Turgenev’s heroes confessed with a bitter smile as he lay dying: “My life flew by unnoticeably.” This bitter confession may apply to many of us, alas, if the fearful hour of death comes upon us suddenly.
“Remember thy last,” O Christian! Fear death and the end of your earthly existence not with an animalistic fear, but fear it for the sake of the continuous remembrance of your future reckoning for all your deeds, for the talents that God had given you.
Remember that it is not the unknown and darkness that await you beyond the grave. On the contrary, there you may expect joy, light, and rest from the heavy burden you had borne in the name of Christ. All the good that you had sown and cultivated here on earth will develop within you there and will fill the content of your future life with rapture for eternity.
Remember the psalm-writer’s words: “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” The time for sowing is here on earth.
The time of each church fast is precisely the time in which we can sow the seeds of good in our souls.
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 22, 2007)
There is a certain moment in the Gospel, dear brethren, when a lawyer comes up to Christ and asks Him: Master, what should I do in order to inherit eternal life? The Lord then asks him in turn: What is written in the law about it? The lawyer replies: That we should love the Lord God with all our heart, all our soul, all our might, all our mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
It is to this key to attainment of eternal life that the Church leads us by means of sequential Sunday Gospel readings. One of the Gospel readings tells us of how Jairus, head of the synagogue, came to Christ: his only daughter was dying, and he could not find help anywhere. And so he ran up to Christ, fell at His feet, and begged: help… she is dying… my only one. Christ went with him.
And thus Jairus is going along with Christ. And this walk, perhaps a short one, appears to Jairus like a path of life. His daughter is dying, and yet he has hope… He has hope, because he has faith in that Christ can produce a great miracle, can accomplish the cure which no one else can achieve. And this walk with Christ is the entire path of Jairus’s life.
We all must have a similar path, dear brethren. All of us are traveling towards the moment of our departure from this life. Each one of us must await this moment. But if we have hope in Christ, if we hold onto Christ as Jairus did, if we do not abandon Christ no matter what disasters we encounter, then we will undoubtedly attain that which the lawyer asked about – we will attain eternal life.
But how should we proceed? How should we hold onto Christ? How should we make sure to remain with Him throughout the entire course of life? The course of life is usually a long one; for many it is often many years, sometimes 80, sometimes 90 or longer. How many dangers we face of being torn away from Christ! A veritable storm of disasters swirls around us: how many sorrows there are in our family lives between husband and wife, between parents and children; how many political crises we see in our society, how many horrible crimes, how the abandonment of God permeates all spheres of our earthly existence! Where should we turn? The answer is simple: we should emulate Jairus and attach ourselves to Christ, walk along with Him, hold onto Him.
And how can we hold onto Christ? The Gospel account of the good Samaritan reveals to us the secret of remaining with Christ. And the secret is: to be a good Samaritan always, everywhere, and towards everyone.
Let us examine ourselves as to whether we are truly good Samaritans. Here is our family around us, our children – have we taught them to be good? Here comes a person to us who is on the brink of moral disaster – have we supported him in his battle with sin? Over there our friend finds himself in difficult circumstances – have we helped him to the best of our ability? And how many people there are who need only a single word of encouragement, of attention, – and have we given them of ourselves as did the good Samaritan?
It is for this reason that the Lord provides us with this wonderful image of the good Samaritan, in order to teach us that only mercy can keep us at Christ’s side.
Children, for example, first grow baby teeth which fall out, giving way to other, permanent ones. The same must take place with our hearts. We are born with a coarse earthly heart, an egoistic heart. We would not be able to enter eternal life with such a heart. And, unfortunately, it will not fall out by itself. We must make a conscious effort to replace it with a new heart, no longer earthly, but belonging to Christ. And every time we help our neighbor, we make this effort, as though we were tearing off a piece of our heart and giving it to our neighbor, while in place of this little piece of earthly sinful heart the Lord places within us a piece of His own heart. And thus, throughout the entire course of our life, we must exchange our heart for a new, real heart, for the heart of Christ.
And at that point eternal life will open up for us. At that point nothing will tear us away from Christ, and we will obtain that about which the lawyer asked the Lord: eternal life. Amen.
(From Archbishop Andrew of Novo-Diveevo’s book, “The One Thing Needful)
On the importance of the word
The word as an image of the Holy Trinity
From the essence of a thinking mind the word is born, inherent in it, exemplifying the thought and equal to it; from the thought issues the spirit of it, which rests within the word and by means of the word is transmitted to the listeners; this spirit is absolutely equal to both the thought and the word, and is equally inherent in both of them. For example, in the word love you can see the loving origin (the thought), and the word born of it, and you can feel the tender breath of love.
For every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matt. 12:36). So you see how you will be held accountable and punished even for every idle word and not only corrupting word. Because there are not and cannot be any idle words in the eyes of our Lord, Creator of the Word: the word of the Lord shall not return unto Him void (Isaiah 55:11); for with God not a single word shall remain powerless (Luke 1:37); and we are created in the image of God, – therefore, our words, too, should not be uttered idly or in vain, but each word should have spiritual power: let your speech be always with grace (Coloss. 4:6). For this reason, both in prayer and in conversation, be extremely attentive not to utter words idly, to no purpose.
The power of the word
The words of prayers are like rain or snow, if they are uttered with faith and compassion: each word contains its own power and bears its own fruit. Raindrops or snowflakes, falling upon the ground continuously, irrigate the soil, which then bears fruit; thus the words of prayer – that spiritual rain – each one separately irrigate the soul, which then bears the fruit of virtue with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, especially if it is accompanied by the rain of tears.
(From the spiritual diary of St. John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ”)
HOW TO BE ORTHODOX TODAY
What can we do?
More specifically, what can we do to gain this realization, this understanding of true Orthodoxy, and how can we make it bear fruit in our life? Let us attempt to provide an answer to this question in two parts: the first deals with the proper comprehension of our surrounding world, which has become, as never before in the history of Christianity, our conscious enemy, and the second – with our comprehension of Orthodoxy, which the majority of us know much less than we ought to, much less than we should know if we wish to preserve it.
First of all, since we are living in this world whether we want to or not (and its influence is strongly felt even in the remotest places and monasteries), we must look upon it and its temptations firmly and realistically, but not give in to it; in particular, we must prepare our young people for the temptations that will face them, and we must inoculate them against these temptations. Every day we must be prepared to respond to the influence of the world with the principles of a healthy Christian upbringing. This means that everything a child learns in school must be checked and corrected at home. We should never think that what the child learns in school is just useful or worldly and bears no relation to his Orthodox upbringing. He can be taught many useful trades and facts (although many of today’s schools are failing shamefully in that, too; teachers tell us that all that they are able to do is maintain some order in class, and that there is no question of doing any teaching), but even if the child acquires this knowledge, he is taught many wrong viewpoints and ideas. The child’s basic attitude towards and evaluation of literature, music, history, art, philosophy, science, and of course life and religion should not come from the school, because at school you will get all of this mixed in with modern philosophy; this should primarily come from the home and church, else he will receive a fallacious education in today’s world, where public education is at best agnostic in nature, and at worst – atheistic or antireligious. Parents should be precisely aware of what their children are being taught in various general education courses that are widespread in today’s schools, and correct it at home, not only being quite open on this issue (especially between fathers and sons, which is quite rare in society nowadays), but also highlighting its moral aspect, which is completely lacking in public education.
Parents should know what kind of music their children are listening to, what kind of films they are watching (listening or watching together with them if need be), what kind of language they are hearing and what kind of language they are using themselves, and evaluate all of this from a Christian viewpoint. There should be even stricter control over television, making sure to avoid the poisonous influence of this machine, which has become the primary teacher of antichristian values and ideas in one’s very home, especially among young people.
It is specifically in the upbringing of children that the world strikes at Orthodox Christians and rears the children according to its own pattern; as soon as the child develops an erroneous attitude, the task of his Christian upbringing becomes twice as difficult.
However, it is not only the children but likewise all of us who face the world that is trying to make us antichrist’s through the schools, television, movies, popular music, and all the other means that overwhelm us, especially in big cities. We must understand that everything that is dinned into us comes from a single source – it has a definite rhythm, a definite ideological content: it is the idea of self-adoration, relaxation, nonchalance, enjoyment, refusal to have the least thought of the other world. This idea is imposed upon us in various forms. It is essentially a training in godlessness. We must actively defend ourselves, knowing precisely what the world is trying to do to us, defending ourselves by means such as formulation and proclamation of our Orthodox Christian response to it. In all honesty, watching how Orthodox families live in today’s world and pass on their Orthodoxy, it may seem that this battle is more often lost than won. The number of Orthodox Christians who preserve their religious face intact and do not change with the modern world is very small indeed.
At the same time we should not regard our surrounding world to be all bad. Actually, in order to preserve ourselves as Orthodox Christians, we must be reasonable enough to use for our own purposes all that is positive in this world. Let us look at various points which we can use in the interests of our Orthodox worldview, although they have no direct relation to Orthodoxy.
A child who from a tender age has been exposed to good classical music, whose soul developed under its influence, does not fall prey to the temptations of the vulgar rhythm of rock and other forms of contemporary pseudo-music to the extent to which does a child who grew up without any musical education. According to some Optina elders, such a musical education purifies the heart and prepares it for the reception of spiritual impressions.
A child who is accustomed to good literature, drama, and poetry, and who has felt their influence upon his soul, i.e. who has received genuine pleasure from it, will not so easily became a fan of modern television and cheap novels, which desiccate the soul and lead it away from the Christian path.
A child who has learned to see the beauty of classical art and sculpture will not be easily ensnared by the distortion of modern art and will not be attracted by the tasteless products of modern advertising and by pornography.
A child who knows something of world history, especially of Christian times, of how people lived and thought, of what errors and snares they fell into by abandoning God and His commandments, and of the glorious life they led when they remained faithful to Him, will be able to judge more wisely about the life and philosophy of our times and will not blindly follow the very first school of philosophy or way of life he encounters. One of the problems facing education in today’s schools is that children are no longer inculcated with a sense of history. This means that the child is deprived of the possibility of taking an example from the people who had lived in the past. Meanwhile, history essentially repeats itself. When you realize this, you want to know how people resolved their problems, what happened to those who rebelled against God and to those who changed their life, presenting a vivid example that has endured until our times. It is very important to have a sense of history, and it should be cultivated in children.
In general, a person who is well-acquainted with the best fruits of world culture – which in the West almost always had a definite religious and Christian context, – acquires many more opportunities to lead the normal fruitful life of an Orthodox Christian than someone who converted to Orthodoxy while being acquainted only with contemporary popular culture. The one who converted to Orthodoxy straight from “rock” and, in general, anyone who thinks he can combine Orthodoxy with popular culture will have to go through much suffering before he can become a truly serious Orthodox Christian who is able to pass on his faith to others. Without suffering, without this realization, Orthodox parents will bring up children who will be devoured by the modern world. The best of world culture, properly assimilated, purifies and develops the soul; today’s popular culture mars and deforms souls and prevents them from reacting appropriately to the call of Orthodoxy.
Therefore, in our battle against the spirit of the world, we may use the best that the world has to offer, in order to go beyond this best; everything that is best in the world, if only we have enough wisdom to see it, points towards God and Orthodoxy, and it is up to us to make use of it.
An Orthodox worldview
By adopting such a position – seeing all the good that is in the world, as well as the bad, – we will be able to acquire an Orthodox worldview, i.e. we will live with an Orthodox viewpoint on life entire and not only on strictly church issues. There exists an erroneous opinion which, unfortunately, has currently become too widespread, that it is enough to possess an Orthodoxy limited to the church building and to “normal” Orthodox activities, such as praying at set times or crossing oneself; as for the rest, according to this opinion, one can live like all the others, participating in the life and culture of our times without any problem, as long as we do not sin.
Everyone who has understood how profound Orthodoxy is and how profound are the responsibilities of a serious Orthodox Christian, and has also realized what kind of responsibilities, even totalitarian demands, are being placed upon us by the modern world, easily sees how mistaken is such an opinion. Either you are Orthodox at any time of any day in any situation of life, or you are not Orthodox at all. Our Orthodoxy is revealed not only in our strictly religious views, but in everything we do and say. The majority of us do not even realize the Orthodox responsibility that we bear for the worldly side of our life. On the other hand, a person with a genuine Orthodox worldview lives all the facets of his life in an Orthodox manner.
Let us, therefore, ask at this point: how can we, in our everyday life, nourish and maintain an Orthodox worldview?
The first and most obvious way is to be in continuous contact with the source of Christian nourishment, with everything the Church gives us for our enlightenment and salvation: the church services and the holy Sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, the lives of the saints, the writings of the Holy Fathers. One should naturally read the books that are on one’s level of understanding, and to adapt the teaching of the Church to one’s own life situations and circumstances, so that they would be fruitful, directing and changing us in a Christian manner.
But often these basic Christian sources do not have the requisite effect on us or have no effect whatsoever, because we do not take up the correct Christian position toward them and toward the Christian life which they should inspire. Let us try to understand what our position should be, if we wish to get true benefit from them, and if they are to become for us the beginning of a genuine Orthodox worldview.
First of all, Christian spiritual nourishment is essentially inspirational and beneficial; if our attitude towards it is purely theoretical and bookish in nature, then we will not receive from it the benefits which it is able to provide. Therefore, if we read Orthodox books or are interested in Orthodoxy solely in order to obtain information or boast of our knowledge before others, we do not see their essence; if we study God’s commandments and the law of His Church only in order to behave “correctly” and to judge the “incorrectness” of others, we do not see their essence. They must not only influence our ideas, but must also bear directly upon our life and change it. In the time of any great crisis in human affairs, those who depend upon a superficial knowledge of laws, canons, and rules, cannot endure. Only those will be strong, whom an Orthodox education has given the sense of true Christianity, whose Orthodoxy lies in the heart and is capable of touching other hearts.
There is nothing more tragic than to see a person who has grown Orthodox, who knows the catechism, who has read the lives of the saints, who has an understanding of the basic goals of Orthodoxy, who is proficient in some of the services, – and at the same time has no realization of what is going on around him. And he presents this life to his children in two categories: one – how the majority lives, and the second – how the Orthodox live in Sundays. When a child is brought up in such a manner, he will most probably not choose Orthodoxy; it will become a very small part of his life, because modern life is tempting, too many people are involved in it, it replaces reality, – if a person has not been taught how to defend himself from its harmful influence and how to take advantage of all the good that still remains in the world.
In this sense our position should be acceptable and normal, i.e. it should be applied to real-life circumstances and not be a fruit of some fantasy, evasion of life, or refusal to face the unpleasant manifestations of the surrounding world. A hothouse Orthodoxy that is too elevated and up in the clouds is incapable of helping people in their everyday life, since our world is rather cruel and wounds souls with its harshness; above all we must respond with sober Christian love and understanding, leaving isychasm and the higher forms of prayer to those who are capable of attaining them.
Our position should likewise not be egocentric, but should turn towards those who are seeking God and a spiritual life. Currently, in every existing Christian community there is a temptation to turn it into a mutual admiration society, lauding our virtues and spiritual achievements, the beauty of our church buildings and vessels, the splendor of our services, even the purity of our teaching. But, beginning with apostolic times, genuine Christian life was always geared towards sharing it with others. Orthodoxy is a living entity precisely because it shines for others and has no need of establishing any “missionary centers.”
At the same time, our attitude towards people must be an attitude of love and forgiveness. A certain cruelty has now seeped into Orthodox life: “That one is a heretic, do not be in contact with him,” “This one is possibly Orthodox, but there’s no saying with any degree of certainty,” etc. No one will deny that the Church is now surrounded by enemies, and that there are some who are not loath to abuse our trust. But so it was even in apostolic times, and in this practical respect Christian life was always risky. But even if we are sometimes made use of and should be cautious, we still cannot reject our basic position of love and trust, for without it we will lose the foundation of our Christian life. The world without Christ is distrustful and cold, but we Christians, on the contrary, should be loving and open, otherwise we will lose the salt of Christ within ourselves and will become like the rest of the world, fit only to be thrown out and stamped upon.
Regarding ourselves with more humility will help us be more magnanimous and forgiving of others’ mistakes. We love to be judgmental of others for the “strangeness” of their behavior, we call them “touched,” but which Orthodox Christian today is not a little bit “touched”? We are not in accord with the customs of this world, and if we are in accord with today’s world, then we are no longer genuine Christians. A genuine Christian cannot feel himself at home in the world and cannot but appear a bit “touched” to others. Therefore, let us not be afraid of being regarded by the world as “touched,” and let us continue to preserve Christian love and forgiveness, which the world will never be able to understand, but of which it has great need at heart.
Finally, our Christian position should be – for want of a better word – innocent. The world nowadays attaches great importance to complexity, to life experience, to “professionalism.” Orthodoxy assigns no value whatsoever to these traits; they kill off a Christian soul. Nevertheless, these traits consistently penetrate into the Church and into our life. How often can one hear, especially from enraptured converts, of their desire to go off to large centers of Orthodoxy, to cathedrals and monasteries, where thousands of faithful gather together, where the conversation always deals with church topics, and where one can feel the importance of Orthodoxy. This Orthodoxy is just a drop in the bucket if one looks at society as a whole, but there are so many people in these grand cathedrals and monasteries, that Orthodoxy does seem to prevail. And how often one sees these people in a sad state after having satisfied their desire, returning from these “great centers of Orthodoxy” dispirited and disappointed, having had to listen to much worldly church gossip, full of judgment of others, and concerned only with being “Orthodoxically-correct” and worldly-experienced in the subject of church politics. In other words, they have lost their innocence, their not-of-this-worldliness, they have been thrown off course because of their enchantment with the worldly side of church life.
In various forms this temptation stands before us all, and we must fight against it, not allowing ourselves a re-evaluation of Church externals, but always returning to the “one thing needful,” which is Christ and the salvation of our souls. We must not close our eyes to all that is going on in the world and in the Church, but we must know it simply for our own sake, with our knowledge being sober, simple, and straightforward, not complicated and worldly.
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On November 22nd (the 9th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates Saint Nektarios, wonderworker of Aegina.
St. Nektarios was born in 1846 in a poor family living in northern Greece. From childhood he was brought up in piety and fear of God. Becoming a monastic, St. Nektarios moved to the city of Pentapolis in Egypt, which had a cathedral and a school of divinity. There the saint spent many years, and there he was later consecrated as bishop. Becoming known for his saintly and pious life, he earned universal love and respect. But there were those who envied him and who maligned St. Nektarios before the patriarch. Not wishing to bring discord into church life, the saint humbly exiled himself to the far-off island of Aegina, where he settled in the ruins of an old monastery. The saint repaired the dilapidated monastic cells, and very soon monks began to gather around him. Thus a new monastery of about 30 brothers was formed.
Even during his lifetime St. Nektarios worked many miracles and became known and venerated by the poor people. He healed the sick, expelled demons, helped the needy. In October of 1920 he became ill and was taken to a hospital for the poor, where he peacefully departed this life at the age of 74. His body exuded an extraordinary fragrance which permeated the entire hospital. Miracles began to take place immediately. There were many miraculous cures of cancer, for which the saint became especially known. Many years later the relics of St. Nektarios were found fragrant and incorruptible, and to this day the wondrous saint helps all those who appeal to him.
After the saint’s repose a certain miraculous event took place, which made famous the so-called “fungus of St. Nektarios.” A young widow on the island of Aegina had a small boy who became ill with cancer. In sorrow and despair the mother turned to the saint with a fervent prayer, asking him to heal her son. Saint Nektarios appeared to the widow in a dream and instructed her to go down to the sea and gather a certain fungus-like plant which grew near the shore; afterwards to make an infusion of tea from this plant and give it to the boy to drink. At the same time the saint strictly forbad the widow to ever sell this plant for money. The widow followed the saint’s instructions, and to the absolute amazement of the doctors her son became completely well. From that time on, news of the healing fungus spread, and many people who pray to the saint and use this plant have been cured of cancer.
On November 6th (October 24th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the icon of the Mother of God “The Joy of All Who Sorrow.”
From ancient times this holy icon was kept in Moscow, where it became famous in the late 17th century during the reign of the princes Ioann and Peter, sons of Tsar Aleksey, by healing the Patriarch Adrian’s sister Euthemia.
The unfortunate woman suffered for many years from terrible sores on her skin. She was treated by many physicians, but they all acknowledged themselves powerless to cure her. After that, giving herself over to the will of God, the sufferer began to await healing only from the Lord. Once, after a fervent early morning prayer, she heard a voice saying to her: “Euthemia, go to the church of My Son’s Transfiguration; there is an icon there, ‘The Joy of All Who Sorrow.’ Call a priest and have a moleben served before this icon.” Euthemia did exactly as she was told, and on October 24, 1688 she was completely cured.
On this day was established the commemoration of this miraculous icon, which, in contrast to other icons of the Theotokos, is depicted in a special manner. The Most-holy Mother of God is shown in full height, usually with the Infant Christ in Her arms, but sometimes without Him. At the top of the icon, above the Theotokos’ head, the Lord is seen giving His blessing. The distinguishing feature of the icon is the images of people suffering from various illnesses and overwhelmed by earthly sorrows and misfortunes. Among these rows of human sufferers are depicted angels handing out various blessings on behalf of the Theotokos. The name of the icon and the images depicted on it reflect the deep understanding which the Russian people had of the Theotokos’ great charity and compassion towards mankind.
SCIENCE AND RELIGION
THE CREATION OF THE VISIBLE WORLD
The fourth day of creation
The Earth’s arrangement was followed by the establishment of the celestial bodies. “And God said: let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And it was so. And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, and He made stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven… and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day” (Genesis 1:14-19).
The creative command “let there be lights” is obviously on a par with the Creator’s previous commands: “let there be light… let the waters be gathered together,” and just as those do not signify original creation, but rather the creative formation of objects, so here, too, this must be understood not as a new creation, but only as a complete arrangement of the heavenly bodies.
How should one imagine the origin of the celestial bodies? With their inner and basic material the celestial bodies already existed before the fourth day; they were that water above the firmament, out of which were formed the countless spherical bodies on the second day of creation. On the fourth day some of these bodies were so arranged that the first-created light became concentrated within them to the highest degree and began to shine most intensely along their entire surface, – these are the luminescent bodies in the strictest sense; such, for example, are the sun and the fixed stars. The other dark spherical bodies remained dark, but were adapted by the Creator to reflect the light that shone upon them from the luminescent bodies; such, for example, are the planets that glow with borrowed light, e.g. the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and other planets.
The fifth day of creation
On the fifth day were created the creatures living in the water and flying in the air, i.e. the fish and fowl. “And God said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And it was so. And God created great whales… and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying: be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day” (1:20-23).
God’s creative command naturally forms these species of creatures out of earthly elements; but as everywhere else, so here, too, and here even more than in the preceding instances, the power of formation belongs to Him and not to material elements, because with the formation of these creatures there is introduced into nature a new and higher beginning of life: there now appear living, moving, and sentient creatures.
In granting the newly-created creatures His blessing to multiply, it is as if God turns into their own property that force through which they had received their existence, i.e. He gives them the capability of reproducing new creatures from themselves, each in his own kind.
A more detailed picture of the creative act of the fifth day may be imagined in the following manner:
The heavens were being adorned with celestial bodies, gigantic vegetation was developing on earth, but there were still no living creatures on earth who could enjoy nature’s gifts. Up to now there had not yet been the proper conditions for their existence, since the air was saturated with harmful vapors that could only promote the plant kingdom. The atmosphere still contained so many extraneous admixtures, and primarily carbonic acid, that it was still impossible for animal life to exist. The atmosphere first had to be cleared of admixtures that were harmful to life. This task was fulfilled by the gigantic vegetation under the influence of the sun which shone forth on the fourth day. Carbonic acid constitutes one of the most essential elements of plant life, and since the atmosphere was saturated with it, the created vegetation began developing quickly and grandiosely, absorbing the carbonic acid and clearing the atmosphere of it. The huge deposits of coal are nothing else but that same atmospheric carbonic acid, transformed by the vegetation into a solid body. Thus took place the purification of the atmosphere, and when proper conditions for the existence of life were prepared, it did not delay in appearing by dint of a new creative act.
“And God said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” By dint of this Divine command a new creative act was performed, not only formative, as in the preceding days, but creative in the fullest sense, as was the first act of creation of primordial matter – out of nothing.
Thus was created a “creature that hath life,” and there was introduced a creation that had not existed in primordial matter, and in fact for the second time the writer of Genesis uses here the verb “bara” – to create out of nothing. “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind.”
The most recent geological findings explain and add to this brief narrative by the writer of Genesis.
Descending into the depths of the earth’s layers, geologists have reached a stratum in which for the first time appears a “creature that hath life.” This stratum is consequently the cradle of animal life, and it contains the simplest animal organisms. The most ancient “creature that hath life” known to geology is the so-called Eozoon canadense (“the dawn animal of Canada”), which was found in the lowest limestone blocks of the so-called Laurentian period. Then came the corals and the infusoria, as well as various crab-like organisms, and in higher strata come the gigantic crawling monsters and lizards. The most well-known of these are the ichtiosaurus, the gilasaurus, the plesiosaurus, and the pterodactyl. All of them are awesome because of their gigantic size.
The ichtiosaurus was up to 40 feet long, looked like a lizard with the head of a dolphin and the teeth of a crocodile, while his tail was equipped with a leathery fish fin. The gilasaurus was up to 7 feet high and looked like a fearful lizard. The plesiosaurus looked like a gigantic turtle with a 20-foot long neck, a small snake-like head and a 6-foot long sting. The pterodactyl looked like a flying dragon, with wings, a long head, crocodile teeth, and tiger claws, – it generally looked like a huge-sized bat with an almost 10-foot wing span. Some of these monsters can be seen even now, but their modern representatives are insignificant dwarfs in comparison with their ancestors. So weak has become the productive force of aging earth!
The sixth day of creation
And finally the animals living on earth are created from the earth (i.e. from the earthly elements): cattle or large four-legged animals who are able to live with man and to serve him, the reptiles – the crawling animals, and the beasts – the four-legged wild animals who live freely on earth. “And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind. And it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind. And God saw that it was good” (1:24-25).
Just as the Lord turned to the waters to bring forth fish and amphibians, so He now turns to the earth to bring forth four-legged animals, as He had earlier turned to it to bring forth plants. This should be understood as follows: the bodily composition of the four-legged animals is only adapted to the nature of the earth as their abode and not, as some scientists think, that the earth itself produced the animals under the warmth of the sun’s rays. In the entire domain of nature there is not the least hint that any species of living creature could turn into another, – for example, a herbivore into a carnivore; even more unnatural is it to imagine animal life originating from non-organic elements (from gases, minerals, etc.). All scientific tests conducted to prove such a strange theory come up with inconclusive or negative results. “When God said: let the earth bring forth, – says St. Basil the Great, – this does not mean that the earth brought forth that which was already within it, but that the Giver of the command also gave the earth the power to bring forth.”
In accordance with recent scientific findings, the sixth day of creation may be pictured in the following manner: the waters and the air became filled with life, but a third of the earth still remained a desert – it was precisely the land, which presented the greatest comforts for the life of living creatures. But now came the time for it to become populated. “And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind. And it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind.”
Scientific research, ascending the ladder of the earth’s strata, after the stratum containing the above-mentioned monsters, fish, and fowl, comes across a new stratum in which it finds new organisms – the four-legged ones. The first to appear on earth were the gigantic four-legged species that no longer exist today – the dinosaurus, the mastodon, and the mammoth (kinds of elephants with huge and clumsy forms), then the more perfect animals and, finally, their present forms – lions, tigers, bears, cattle, etc.
Looking at this gradual appearance of species, science involuntarily poses the question: how did these species become formed? Do they represent unchangeable forms that received their beginning in an act of creative formation, or did they gradually develop one from another and all from a single primary species?
In the last century the well-known Darwin’s theory– the theory of so-called gradual evolution – became widespread. How does it relate to the Biblical account of creation?
The writer of Genesis says that the plants and the animals were created “after their kind,” i.e. not only a single plant or animal form, but many plants and animals. But this does not mean that all the species existing today owe their origin to the original creative act. The Jewish word “min,” translated in the sense of “kind,” has a very wide meaning that does not fit within the framework of the technically scientific meaning of the word “species.” In any case it has a much wider application, and without encompassing all current kinds and varieties of animals and plants, it does not deny the possibility of a gradual perfection of forms.
However, that an actual change in forms is possible has been proven by irrefutable facts. Many kinds of roses, carnations, and hydrangea, and many kinds of chicken and pigeons that can be seen in zoos, have developed not more than a century ago. Changes also occur under the influence of diverse climatic conditions, differences in soil, nourishment, etc. On the basis of this it may be assumed that the quantity of plant and animal forms in the primordial world was not as great and varied as it is now.
The Book of Genesis, in telling us that creation in its strict sense (“bara”) occurred only in the creation of the first beginnings of organic animal life, and afterwards there occurred simply formation, does likewise not deny the possibility of development of species within their own kind. However, this does not provide any foundation for accepting the theory of evolution in its entirety: the Bible clearly asserts that animals and plants were directly created “in their own kind,” i.e. in varied but definite forms.
The theory of evolution does not have a firm foundation in science either:
(a) As strict scientific observations and research show, changes within plant and animal forms are possible only within the most limited bounds. This situation obtains not only for the present, but also for the most ancient times, as far as it is possible to judge from ancient writings. The oldest images on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments show that their breeds of domestic animals were exactly the same as ours: the ibis is still the same as it was in the times of the pharaohs, as its preserved mummies show; the seeds of wheat and barley found in the Egyptian pyramids do not in any way differ from present ones.
(b) Further: if, according to the theory of evolution, species are formed as a result of a randomly-occurring change in a particular species that gradually continues to increase, then, in view of the full possibility of such changes occurring in all directions, one could expect to see a most variegated and unbalanced variety and mixture of forms in today’s plant and animal world. However, in reality there is a strict gradation of species that are clearly distinct one from another.
(c) The gradualness that can be observed in the development of plant and animal life also does not confirm the theory of evolution. An analysis of fossils in various earth formations does, in fact, show that lower classes of plants and animals generally come before higher ones. However, the strict gradualness and sequence of development that is to be expected according to the theory of evolution does not exist, since in the earliest formations, along with simple organisms one can already find considerably more developed ones belonging to higher classes.
(d) Neither does one find those transitional forms that are necessary for confirmation of this theory. Everywhere the species are strictly distinguished one from the other.
(e) But the greatest difficulty for this theory is represented by the question of the formation of new organs. This theory is built on the possibility of change in existing organs; but how could new organs be created by means of change, how could eyes have been formed in infusoria over the course of time, how nothing could have been changed into something – that the theory of evolution is incapable of explaining.
(f) And finally, the very reasons for the change, being supposedly random, do not in any way accord with the harmony and purposefulness that is to be observed in the plant and animal world.
All these facts very forcefully confirm the authenticity of the Biblical teaching that in their general forms the plant and animal organisms owe their being to a creative act.
On the sixth day of creation, all parts of the earth became populated with living creatures. The world of living creatures was like a stately tree, whose roots represented the simplest animals and whose upper branches were the highest ones. But this tree was not yet finished, it did not have a crown that would complete and adorn it, there was still no man – king of nature.
But finally he, too, appeared. “And God said: let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.” Here for the third time there occurred in the fullest sense a creative act (“bara”), for man in his essence again has something that did not exist in the nature created before him, and that is the spirit, which distinguishes him from all other creatures.
The theory of evolution, which attempts to place man on the level of a simply perfected species of animal, completely contradicts this Biblical teaching. However, at the present time this theory has been subjected to so many refutations by authoritative representatives of anthropology, that Darwinism’s inability to shake the clear teaching of the writer of Genesis becomes more and more obvious.
Thus, for example, the famous anthropologist Pritchard says of the correspondence between man and animals: “The organic world does not present a more wonderful simultaneous contrast and likeness than the ones we discover when we compare man with the highest animals. That these creatures are so close to one another in the features of their physical structures, and at the same time are so immeasurably far from each other in their abilities and talents, – is a fact very hard to believe, were it not for our being able to observe it.”
Thus ended the account of the creation and formation of the world. “And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.”
This was the beginning of the establishment of Saturday as a day of rest, and upon this establishment the proper succession of work and rest in human life is founded to this day.
(Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, “Brief collection of articles on apologetics”)
THE ROYAL MARTYRS’ PROCESSION
17 July 2017
(100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution)
Russia lives, and by the power of the Cross
It is invincible until the end of ages!
The Royal Family’s interceding prayers
Will free it from the fetters of its foes.
To see the wondrous Royal Tsar’s procession –
How emblematic of the people’s strength it is!
It is the mighty march of Holy Russia
Under the glorious ringing of the bells.
Now all around the enemies are raging
And watching how the people rally round,
How earnestly they honor the Tsar-Martyr
And follow his triumphant spiritual lead.
After Russia’s Golgotha will come the Resurrection,
And Holy Russia will arise anew!
A White Tsar will be granted to it by the Lord
For Russia’s fealty to the martyred Tsar and love.
– Natalia Zhenilova