THE GREAT LENT
With God’s help we have now reached the beginning of Great Lent, dear brethren. Whenever we embark upon something in our lives, we first prepare a plan of action, a program of what we must do and in what order. But in this case we do not need to do anything. Today’s Gospel presents us with such a program. The preceding three Sundays the Church simply instructed us, but now it requires us to take action. If we listen attentively to today’s Gospel reading, we will see how simple and easily accessible are the guidelines which the Church presents to us.
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Thus, what is the purpose of the Great Lent? The purpose is to gain our Heavenly Father’s forgiveness of our trespasses. And how do we attain such a goal? By forgiving others their trespasses. Let us begin with that, for that is the first step.
Secondly: “Moreover, when you fast, be not like the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces, so that they may appear fasting before people. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, in order to appear fasting not before men, but before your Father…” And so, dear brethren, let us not be hypocritical. Let us fast not for the sake of showing off before other people, but for the sake of pleasing God. Let us fast not sadly, but with spiritual joy.
And thirdly: “Do not amass treasures upon earth… but amass treasures in heaven…” This point of our Lenten program defines our entire course of action, guides our entire life. Let us make use of the time of the Great Lent, in order to distract ourselves not only from earthly concerns, but primarily from earthly desires, from the desire for and the acquisition of earthly material goods. Let us rather concern ourselves with the spiritual, with the acquisition of spiritual treasures: love, charity, repentance, cleansing of the soul, communion with God.
And lastly: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Such is the aim of our life: for our heart to be in God, to be filled with God, for God to be our treasure! And this last is so important, that it is an incentive for us to work harder, to keep stricter fast, to stay in church longer, to pray more at home. For only then, having God in our purified and enlightened hearts, will we be able to cry out joyously:
“Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!”
THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS
Sixth week of Great Lent - Saturday of Lazarus
Friday of the sixth week of Great Lent marks the end of the 40 days of preparatory lent, during which the Church taught us about repentance, inner prayer, the bearing of one’s cross, ascending the ladder of virtues; taught us to supplicate the Mother of God, in order to obtain the most powerful aid in the matter of penitence; and finally, as the supreme example of its teaching, the Church offered us the image of Saint Mary of Egypt, a great sinner, who, by means of penitence, fasting and obedience to the Holy Virgin, attained the angelic state in which man was originally created.
Now the Church turns to a direct commemoration of the historic events of almost 2,000 years ago, which were instrumental in achieving the salvation of mankind. The Jewish feast of Passover was approaching, and with it the last days of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life on earth. The rage of the Pharisees and the Jewish elders against Christ was extreme, and they waited for an opportune moment to seize the Lord and put Him to death.
Already at the start of the sixth week of Lent, church hymns begin to mention the illness of Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, from the town of Bethany. The Lord loved this pious family and often visited it. But Christ was not in Judea at this time, and the sisters sent word to Him of Lazarus’ illness. Then the Lord said to His disciples: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” The Lord then deliberately stayed in place for two more days and finally said to His disciples: “Let us go into Judea. Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go to awake him.” Jesus Christ was telling them about Lazarus’ death, but the disciples thought that He was talking about ordinary sleep, which is often beneficial during an illness, and so they said: “Lord, if he sleeps, he shall do well.” Then Jesus said to them plainly: “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. However, let us go to him.”
In one of the holiday hymns the Lord is called “the conqueror of death.” There have been many conquerors in the history of mankind: talented physicians conquered illness, military leaders conquered huge armies; there are conquerors of space and conquerors of distance. But the world does not know any other “conqueror of death” except Jesus Christ. None of the most prominent men in the world have ever aspired to that title. He alone could do so - our Lord and Saviour. During His life on earth He showed His power in three cases: the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, the resurrection of the son of the widow from Nain, and the resurrection of Lazarus.
The death of the daughter of Jairus was a very recent death. She died while Christ and her father were on their way to her. Even Christ called her death “sleep,” but everyone laughed at Him, knowing that she had died. But He sent everyone out and, taking her by the hand, said: “Maiden, arise!” And her spirit returned and she arose.
In the case of the son of the widow from Nain, death had taken a stronger hold: the deceased had already been placed on a bier and not only carried out of the house, but was already being carried out of the city gates for burial. The Lord stopped the procession, touched the bier and said: “Young man, I say unto thee - arise!” The dead youth sat up and began talking. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
And now - Lazarus. Here the triumph of death was final and complete. Lazarus had already been dead for four days. There was weeping all around, but no one had absolutely any hope of resurrection. And when the Lord said to Martha, the sister of the deceased: “Thy brother shall rise again,” even she answered: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And here the Lord spoke wondrous and remarkable words, which are a pledge of eternal life also for all of us, Orthodox Christians: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, even though he were dead, shall live again. And whosoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die.”
Then the Lord, seeing Martha and Mary weeping, and all the Jews who came with them also weeping, in His humanity felt grief Himself, and wept. Finally He said: “Take away the stone.” At this point even the deceased’s sister could not contain herself and said to Him: “Lord! He rots already, for he has been dead four days.” And so the stone was taken away from the cave where the dead man lay. And Christ cried out in a loud voice: “Lazarus! Come forth!” And the dead man came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. And Jesus said to them: “Loosen him, and let him go.”
Then many of the Jews who were there and had seen the incredible miracle, came to believe in Jesus Christ. But others went to the Pharisees and told them of what Jesus had done. Christ’s enemies became worried, and fearing that the entire populace might come to believe in Christ, they convened a council and decided to kill Him. But news of the great miracle spread all over Jerusalem. Many Jews came to the house of Lazarus to see him, and having seen him, believed in Jesus Christ. Then the Jewish elders decided to kill Lazarus, too. But Lazarus lived for a long time after his resurrection, and later served as bishop on the island of Cyprus.
ENTRANCE OF OUR LORD INTO JERUSALEM
On the day following the resurrection of Lazarus, and six days before the Jewish Passover, the Lord Jesus Christ made a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, in order to show that He was truly a King, and that He was going to His death voluntarily. There was a great deal of bustle and agitation among the Jews when Christ entered the capital. Millions of people annually came to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and the city already overflowed with people when the ceremonious welcome of the long- awaited Messiah took place. Moreover, news of the extraordinary resurrection of Lazarus spread like wildfire among the populace, and everyone joyously glorified God. The Apostles were waiting for the moment when their Teacher would come to Jerusalem to be glorified as an earthly king. They believed that this moment had finally arrived, and so they cried out exultantly: “Hosannah, blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the Lord!” So great was the enthusiasm of the populace, that people spread their clothes along the Lord’s path, cut off palm branches and spread them before Him, or held them as a symbol of triumph and celebration. In ancient times, green branches were used to welcome kings who were returning victorious from battle. Thus we now have the custom for the faithful to receive blessed willow branches during the all-night vigil, to hold as a symbol of Christ’s victory over death.
Great was the enthusiasm of the apostles and the populace. But the One Who was the cause of this celebration did not Himself take part in the general rejoicing. The Lord knew how unstable was the populace and how changeable was the crowd. He foresaw that even a week would not pass, and the cries “Hosannah to the Son of David” would be replaced with the shouts “Take Him, take Him and crucify Him,” and that these terrible words would be shouted by the same crowd which was now greeting Him so exultantly. This filled His saintly soul with great sadness. But one thing was of great comfort and joy to the Lord as He entered the capital - and that was the innocent voices of children, who cried out to Him from their pure souls and hearts: “Hosannah to the Son of David!” The Lord was filled with gladness as He witnessed this pure childish delight, and the children rejoiced and celebrated with all their hearts, expressing their love for Him spontaneously.
Immediately following upon the feast of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (or Palm Sunday), we embark upon Passion Week, which commemorates the passion of our Lord and brings us to the feast of feasts - the glorious Resurrection of Christ.
On meekness, humility and love
In order for us to become one with the God, we are first and foremost required to exhibit meekness, as the Lord Himself says: “Come unto Me…and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). This rest is precisely the rapture of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom. It is clear that without meekness we will never come to Christ, we will never become one with Him, and consequently, instead of experiencing bliss, we will be most wretched.
Only the meek are under God’s special protection. And this protection is the source of all the indescribable bounties which God showers upon us, of all our happiness and bliss, both temporal and eternal.
This leads us to understand why the Holy Fathers say: “Do not seek miracles, but rather seek a meek person, who is the supreme miracle.” Therefore, let us seek meekness above all and strive to attain it. But to this end we must understand, what exactly is meekness? Meekness is the mildness of a tender age, and not only tender age, but angelic mildness, and not only angelic, but Divine mildness. The most prominent and essential characteristic of saints was precisely such meekness.
St. Seraphim of Sarov possessed this meekness. When three robbers fell upon him in the forest of Sarov, he threw down the axe which he held in his hands, folded his arms over his chest and meekly said to them: “Do with me what you will.” The robbers beat up the holy elder nearly to death with his own axe. But when these robbers were caught and stood trial for their crime, St. Seraphim pleaded with the authorities for their release. And even that was not enough. Through the intercession of St. Seraphim, the robbers were released from prison. They then came to the holy saint to beg his forgiveness, and he forgave them whole-heartedly, as a father would forgive his errant sons.
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk possessed this meekness. Once, when a haughty and cruel landowner slapped him in the face, St. Tikhon fell at the feet of the landowner and asked his forgiveness.
This wondrous meekness was possessed to the fullest measure by our Saviour. When He was hit over the head and the crown of thorns, when He was spat upon, the Lord did not turn His face away, but silently and meekly gazed upon His tormentors. And when the Lord was being crucified, He prayed for His executioners. To such a grace, to such a supreme and wondrous possession we must aspire with all our hearts. If we attain this meekness, we will attain the rapture of the Heavenly Kingdom of Christ.
The great Optina elder Ambrose looked upon his offenders as his greatest benefactors. Elder Ambrose used to say: “Whoever slanders us - showers us with gifts, and whoever praises us - robs us .”
The saints fully embodied the Lord’s words: “Upon whom shall I gaze? Only upon the meek, and the silent, and the one who trembles at My words.” Why does the Lord, speaking of meekness, also mention silence? In order to show that our meekness should be expressed through silence.
But one can keep silence with one’s lips, yet hold great malice and hate in one’s heart against those who offend us. The Lord wishes our heart to participate in this time of silence, too. Therefore, let Christ’s silence during His trial be a constant example to us in this case, and may the words of the Gospel: “But Jesus held His peace” (Matt. 26:63) serve as the basic guideline of our spiritual life. Let us always remember St. Seraphim’s injunction to one of his monks: “Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.” This means - with one’s lips, with one’s heart, while being insulted, in order to attain meekness or supreme love.
One may ask: how can one attain this meekness, this supreme love, when we are so weak, so frail, and unable to do any good on our own? Yes, we are weak and frail, but within us is omnipotent the grace of the Holy Spirit, which even the impossible makes possible and attainable. For this reason the Lord demands from all people without exception to model themselves in perfection on God Himself, saying: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). And be ye merciful, even as your Father which is in Heaven is merciful.
Let us strive to attain meekness and supreme love, which is the pinnacle of all Christian virtues. But it is impossible to reach the top of the mountain without climbing the entire mountain. Therefore, let us strive towards the acquisition of all the virtues, and first of all the attainment of their foundation - Christian humility.
It is easy to be humble in terms of being aware of one’s sinfulness. It is easy for us also to humble ourselves before God, realizing all our frailties and all our insignificance. But it is most difficult for us to humble ourselves before our neighbors. We are impeded by a consciousness of our supposed superiority to them, for we believe ourselves to be better than others, even when we have great shortcomings. We always justify and whitewash these shortcomings. But rarely do we forgive the shortcomings of our neighbors. Almost always we accuse and judge them for sins which do not exist in their lives, but exist only in our sinful and haughty imagination.
Let us humble ourselves before our neighbors not out of fear, but out of love for them, as the Lord enjoined us during His Mystic supper. And thus let us not consider our moral state to be higher and better than that of others. Let us bring the attention of our hearts and minds only upon our own sins, and not upon the sins of others, for love is expressed in a mutual and forgiving participation in the carrying of the burden of others, i.e. our neighbors’ shortcomings. Blessed Augustine says: “Nothing makes us as pleasing in the eyes of the Lord as our forgiving attitude towards our neighbors’ shortcomings.”
Unfortunately, our mutual relationships exhibit completely the opposite: not love towards one another, but cruelty; not a forgiving, but a judgmental attitude towards the imperfections of others. This condemnation is the favorite topic of our conversations, and is often accompanied by slander and a feeling of malice.
May the Lord help us acquire great love for our neighbors, and a forgiving attitude towards their imperfections. As Apostle Paul witnesses, in acquiring such love we will fulfill the entire law of God, all His saving commandments. Then the grace of the Holy Spirit, as manifested in the Epiphany, will shine its divine light upon us. Then we will become the embodiment of the wondrous church hymn: “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” and the grace of baptism will become the vestment of Christ for us.
This vestment of Christ, or the grace-filled divine light, will shield us from all demonic attacks when our souls will be passing through the celestial toll-houses after death.
This vestment of Christ, this baptismal grace, made available to us by our fulfillment of God’s commandments and the endurance of sorrows, will cover us at the Last Judgment. Like a wedding garment, this grace will lead us into the celestial chamber of our Saviour, and will be the source of our eternal and continuous joy in the Heavenly Realm of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(From the sermons of the newly-canonized Saint Seraphim (Sobolev),
wonderworker of Sophia)
THE PEOPLE’S TSAR
In commemoration of the sorrowful anniversary on 11 (24) March
The 24th of March (the 11th by the old calendar) marks the 210th anniversary of the murder of the Russian Emperor Paul I. There were four maligned rulers in Russian history: Tsar Boris Godunov, Emperor Paul I, Emperor Nicholas I, and Emperor Nicholas II. The vicissitudes in the fate of Tsar Boris Godunov were instigated by the political interests of the boyars, especially the Shuysky clan. The history of Emperor Nicholas I was created by the Russian intelligentsia, which could not forgive him the failure of the revolutionary coup of December 1825. The fate of the reign of Emperor Nicholas II was decided not only by the Russian intelligentsia, which belonged to various secret societies, but also by foreign behind-the-scenes machinators. The fate of the heinously murdered Emperor Paul lies heavily on the conscience of the majority of the Russian aristocracy and nobility of those times, united in secret masonic societies, with the financial aid and instigation of perfidious England, to whose political interests the Russian Emperor represented a great obstacle.
It should be noted that the concept of the “intelligentsia” and the word itself appeared in the Russian language in the 19th century, denoting people of the educated class who were liberal or even further leftist in their views, and who were infected with the “progressive” ideas of Western European secret societies. This was the distinguishing characteristic of the so-called “intelligentsia” as opposed to the rest of the educated class, and this concept was introduced precisely by the carriers and disseminators of Western ideas. Real Russian minds – scientists and intellectuals – never thought of themselves as belonging to the “intelligentsia.”
The personality of Emperor Paul I occupies a unique place in Russian history. He represents a turning point in this history by steering the government back towards Russian national tracks. And all that was best in subsequent Russian history has its roots in the personality of Emperor Paul and in his reforms, which have been deliberately hushed up by prejudiced liberal historians. The tragic fates of the emperors Paul I and Nicholas II are very similar in that both these Tsars were profoundly religious, noble, and honest, deeply loved their country and their people, and were surrounded by a society poisoned by liberalism and apostasy.
Emperor Paul I, the son of Empress Catherine the Great, was born in 1754 and was brought up in a religious and national spirit by his grandmother, Empress Elizabeth. This immediately determined his future opposition to the spirit of liberal and atheistic Westernism which flourished in the reign of Catherine the Great. At that time many secret societies had sprung up in Russia, and many of the future Emperor’s friends belonged to masonic orders. Pressured by his friends, Emperor Paul at first also entered a masonic order, considering the Freemasons to be virtuous people. Later, however, when he learned of the Freemasons’ active involvement in the French Revolution, he rejected them completely. Thus the Freemasons’ and the nobility’s hopes for Paul’s support were not realized. The Emperor did not fall under their influence and did not become a “nobles’ tsar,” dependent on them, but in full conscience and in accordance with his principles he became the Tsar of the entire Russian people, proving this by passing a series of laws and measures which benefited precisely the common people, – and thus signed his own death warrant. Then, in order to eliminate the hateful Emperor who had constrained their personal interests, the Russian aristocracy and the Freemasons made use of an old and tried method – the spreading of lies and calumny: Paul was represented everywhere as being unsound of mind and unfit to rule, dangerous to the people and even to his own family. Even the Emperor’s oldest son – the future Emperor Alexander I – was caught in the enemies’ treacherous nets.
Paul I became emperor during very difficult times for Russia: in France a revolution was raging, spreading its toxic ideas into neighboring countries; the Russian government was in a state of complete disarray; through the efforts of Catherine the Great the Church was humiliated and ruined; the aristocracy was infected with the ideas of Voltaire, Freemasonry, and atheism; the finances were in absolute shambles; soldiers and new recruits were being stolen by officers and pressed into servitude; the serfs had no rights and were mistreated. Emperor Paul put forth an incredible effort to correct all the injustices. He was the kindest Sovereign before whom all were equal – the poor and the rich, the nobles and the peasants. Through a series of reforms he ameliorated the physical and moral condition of the peasants. Being deeply religious, he curtailed the government’s harassment of the Church, gave it back all its lost estates, ameliorated the material situation of the clergy, and showed great concern for raising the clergy’s spiritual authority among the masses.
But the enemy was not sleeping… Pouring buckets of dirty lies and calumnies over the Emperor, they attempted to present him as a gloomy, severely irritable, and harsh person, psychologically unbalanced. In reality Paul I was full of life, wit, and humor; he was virtuous and shunned debauchery; he was strict in regard to the national economy, trying to ease the burdens which lay on the people’s shoulders; the mainspring of his character were magnanimity and nobleness. He occupied an absolutely unique position in Russian history: having become the tsar of all the people, he did his best to get the government back on the tracks of national and Church interests, and away from blind mimicry of the West. By doing so he made many enemies among the leading class of Russian society, which was characterized by its loose morals.
Moreover, towards the end of his very brief reign Emperor Paul saw the perfidy of England’s foreign policy and signed a military treaty with France. With this change in his foreign policy Emperor Paul definitively aroused in his enemies, both internal and external, an overwhelming desire to remove him from the political arena. A conspiracy was established against the emperor. He was slandered and provoked in an attempt to show supposed signs of insanity. By means of treachery his loyal followers were removed. English gold poured into the pockets of the masonic conspirators, who gained support from the embittered nobility. The number of conspirators, headed by the Governor-General of St. Petersburg, Count Palen, totaled about 60, primarily from the ranks of the military. The actual perpetrators of the regicide were military officers: the Zubov brothers, Argamakov, Skaryatin, Yashvil’, Tatarinov, and Benigsen.
On the fateful evening of March 11, 1801, the conspirators held a general meeting at which they finalized their plans and liberally fortified themselves with libations. The final act began… The drunken conspirators penetrated into the royal palace. Entry into the emperor’s bedroom was barred by two hussars on duty, one of whom fell, stabbed to death, while the other, though heavily wounded, managed to escape and ran for help to the guards. Bursting into the bedroom, Benigsen asked the Emperor whether he would agree to sign an abdication. The Emperor, fully aware of why these people had come, asked them: “What have I done to you?” “Shut up!” – Nikolay Zubov rudely shouted in reply and slapped the Emperor on the hand. Paul instinctively pushed him away, and then the drunken villain struck the Emperor’s temple with all his might with a massive gold cigar box. Moaning loudly, the Tsar fell to the floor. Like wild beasts the entire gang – the Zubovs, Yashvil’, Skaryatin, Tatarinov – fell upon the one to whom they had sworn an oath of loyalty on the cross and the Gospel. Grinding their teeth and letting forth a stream of the most vile curses, these traitors stabbed the Tsar-Martyr with their swords, beat him with their fists, trampled upon him… and finally Skaryatin threw his officer’s scarf around the Emperor’s neck, while Yashvil’ tightened the scarf until they saw before them a lifeless body… Meanwhile, in response to the hussar’s cries, the Semenovsky regiment of guards ran towards the Emperor’s bedroom, but Benigsen restrained them by announcing that Emperor Paul had died of a stroke.
With such a martyric death ended the brief reign (1797-1801) of the slandered Russian monarch, whose actions fully earned him the name of the People’s Tsar.
Thus also was fulfilled the prophecy made personally to Emperor Paul by the clairvoyant monk of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, Abel, called “the Prophetic”: “Thy reign shall be brief and I, sinner, see Thy cruel end. On Sophronius of Jerusalem at the hands of unfaithful servants Thou shalt receive a martyric end, in Thy bedroom Thou shalt be suffocated by the villains. On Holy Saturday Thou shalt be buried… They, these villains, trying to justify their great sin of regicide, shall proclaim Thee insane and shall revile Thy good name. But the Russian people with their truthful soul will understand and appreciate Thee, and will carry their sorrows to Thy grave, asking for Thy intercession in softening the hearts of unjust and cruel judges.” For his prophecy monk Abel the Prophetic was incarcerated in the Peter-and-Paul fortress by order of Count Palen. In this fortress he saw his prediction come true, and was set free by Emperor Alexander I as soon as the latter was informed of this case.
Yes, truly the Russian people have understood and appreciated their kind Tsar-Martyr, an intercessor for them in heaven just as he had been on earth, and have expressed this in the following prayer:
“Repose, O Lord, the soul of Thy murdered servant, Emperor Paul I, and through his prayers grant us in these evil and terrible days – wisdom, patience in suffering, and the salvation of our souls. Heed, O Lord, Thy faithful intercessor for the orphaned, the needy, and the poor, Emperor Paul, and through his holy prayers grant, O Lord, quick and sure aid to those who entreat Thee through him, O our God! Amen.”
(Compiled by V.G. Glinin from various sources)
Tsar-Martyr Paul I
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
(see beginning here)
XII. The Mystery of the Union of the Divine and Human Nature
in the One Person of our Lord Jesus Christ
The humanity of Jesus Christ does not have a separate individuality in our Saviour, does not constitute a separate hypostasis, but has been incorporated by His Divinity into the unity of His Divine Hypostasis or Person.
“The Hypostasis of God the Word became incarnated, taking on from the Virgin the foundation of our nature, i.e. flesh, animated by a vocal and rational soul, and through this assimilation of flesh the Hypostasis of God the Word also became the hypostasis of the flesh,” – says St. John Damascene. “The Hypostasis of God the Word,” – continues to reason St. John Damascene, – having become the hypostasis of two natures, does not allow one of the natures to become hypostasis-less, but at the same time it does not allow the two natures to be hetero-hypostatic. The Hypostasis of God the Word does not become the hypostasis of first one and then the other nature, but remains the inseparable and indivisible hypostasis of both natures. Jesus Christ is a single Divine Person, unilaterally perceiving Himself in the duality of His natures. Christ is the true Emmanuel, the God-man.”
This is why the Holy Scripture calls the single Person of Jesus Christ sometimes God, sometimes man, sometimes the Son of man, sometimes the Son of God. It now becomes understandable why human traits are sometimes attributed to Christ as God, or Divine traits attributed to Him as man.
In speaking of Christ as God, Apostle Paul has in mind His human nature, while in speaking of Him as man, he has in mind His Divinity: “But we preach the wisdom of God, which is a mystery, which is hidden, which God ordained before the world unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). In the Acts of the Apostles (3:14-15) we read: “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of life, Whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses.”
Since God cannot be crucified, nor the Prince of life, i.e. God, be killed, the Lord God, our Saviour, being at the same time man, acquired His Church by means of His blood. All of this speaks of the unity of two natures in the single Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only by positing the organic integrity of the two natures – Divine and human – in the single Person of the Lord may one understand how God – the Absolute Spiritual Origin – was able to acquire His Church by means of His blood. Only by positing the unity of the Hypostasis or Person in Jesus Christ does it become understandable how the Son of man (the Saviour), Who was born in the reign of the Roman Caesar Augustus, existed “even before Abraham was.”
The fact that the Divine and human natures in Christ remain an indivisible and single Hypostasis has been clearly confirmed by the Word of God:
The Evangelist John the Theologian says: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we beheld His glory, the glory as the Only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).
In his epistle to the Philippians (2:6-8), Apostle Paul attests that “Christ, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but 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.” Commenting upon these words, St. Cyril of Alexandria says that they represent a clear teaching of the idea of the perfect unity of hypostasis in Jesus Christ. The Apostle would not have said that the Same One Who is in the form of God, i.e. has a Divine nature, has taken upon Him the form of a servant, if there had been two persons in Christ.
Commenting upon Apostle Paul’s words: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4), St. John Damascene and St. Cyril of Jerusalem say: “It is not said ‘made through a woman,’ but ‘made of a woman,’ i.e. God did not enter a man created in advance, but Himself in essence and in fact became man; He Himself became the hypostasis for His flesh.”
Thus, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the humanity in Christ did not receive a special hypostasis, did not constitute an independent person, but was received by His Divinity into the unity of His Divine Hypostasis, so that even after incarnation He remained the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Even from the point of view of common sense one simply cannot agree with the heretic Nestorius who divided Christ into two persons, because if the Son of God, God the Word, united Himself with the man Christ only mentally and not physically, and dwelled in Christ as He had previously done in Moses and the other prophets, then strictly speaking the incarnation of the Son of God would not have occurred, and then it could not be said that “the Word became flesh,” as the Evangelist John the Theologian confirms; it could not be said that God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.
However, despite the obvious truth of the unity of the Divine and human natures in the single Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, there appeared people who in their desire to philosophize about God more than man is allowed to philosophize, and being carried away by the proof that Christ had two natures, began to assert that Christ also had two persons. There emerged the heretic Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who tried to prove that it was a plain man who was born from the Virgin Mary, and that God the Word became united with him only mentally and not physically.
Having condemned the heresy of Nestorius at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431, the Church Fathers composed a hymn of glorification in honor of the Most-holy Theotokos, and anathematized all those who called Her not the Birth-giver to God, but Birth-giver to Christ or man.
Against the heresy of Nestorius, who posited two persons in Jesus Christ, took up arms Archimandrite Eutyches from a monastery in Constantinople, and became so carried away in proving the unity of hypostases in Christ that he also merged the two natures (Divine and human) into a single nature, thereby laying the foundation for the heresy of Monophysitism, which taught that Christ’s Divinity had engulfed His humanity, i.e. that Christ only had a single Divine nature, and that it was only His Divinity which had been crucified and suffered on the cross under the seeming appearance of flesh.
In order to put an end to such a terrible fallacy, the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451 clearly formulated the teaching on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ in the following words: “Following the Divine Fathers, we unanimously enjoin you to confess the One and Only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, absolute in Divinity and absolute in humanity; true God and true man; One-in-essence with the Father in Divinity and one-in-essence with us in humanity, and like unto us in all but sin; born before all ages from the Father in Divinity, and in the last days, for the sake of us and our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary Theotokos in humanity; the One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, having two unmerged, immutable, indivisible, and inseparable natures; not separated or divided into two persons, but One and the Same Only-begotten Son, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the ancient forefathers taught of Him, and as the Lord Jesus Himself taught us.”
Thus despite the fallacies of those who divided Jesus Christ into two persons, the two natures in the single Person of Jesus Christ are joined indivisibly and inseparably, while despite the fallacies of those who taught that Divinity engulfed humanity in Jesus Christ, the Church teaches that the two natures are joined unmerged, immutably, and unalterably.
Even from the point of view of common sense, Divinity cannot change, while human flesh is too weak and limited to subordinate Divinity to itself. Only their absolute integrity, preservation, and immutability could effect our salvation: God could suffer on the cross only through His humanity, while infinite value to His suffering could only be imparted by His Divinity. The Divine and human natures were joined in the Saviour’s single Hypostasis from the moment of His inception in the womb of the Most-holy Virgin Mary. From then on these two natures were never separated and will never be separated. Christ arose with His flesh, ascended into heaven with His flesh, and will once again appear as the Son of man to judge the world, as the Word of God tells us: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory” (Matt. 25:31).
In what manner the two natures became conjoined in the single Person of the God-man, in what manner Jesus Christ, absolute God and absolute man, remains a single Divine Person – that is, of course, the greatest supernatural miracle of miracles, unable to be comprehended by the limited human mind, and before which the holy Apostle Paul exclaims with all due humility: “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On March 9th (February 24th by the old calendar ), the Church celebrates the first and second findings of the precious head of Saint John the Baptist.
When St. John the Baptist was beheaded at the iniquitous feast of King Herod, the daughter of Herodias took the precious head upon a salver and carried it to her mother. The sinful Herodias pierced with a needle the tongue of the saint who had so often denounced her evil deeds, and after treating the precious head sacrilegiously, she forbad its burial together with the Baptist’s body: Herodias was afraid that if John’s head were buried together with his body, he would arise from the dead and would again denounce her. St. John’s disciples secretly took his body and buried it during the night in the city of Sebastia in Samaria. The Baptist’s head was deeply buried by Herodias in Herod’s palace. Only one of her maids knew of the burial place, and sorrowing over the murder of the great prophet and the sacrilegious treatment of his head, she secretly dug it out during the night, put it in a clay vessel, and hid it in one of Herod’s estates on the Mount of Olives.
After a long time had passed, a certain nobleman by the name of Innocent bought this place on the Mount of Olives, which had formerly belonged to King Herod, built a cell for himself there, and became a monastic. Afterwards, wishing to build a small stone church for himself, he began to dig the earth to lay a foundation for the church, and found this clay vessel with the head of the Baptist, which began to manifest many wonders and miracles. Monk Innocent took care of this treasure with great reverence, but just before his death, seeing how paganism had once again become widespread all around him, he buried the Baptist’s head anew, in order to preserve it from further sacrilege.
During the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great, two monks, who had come to Jerusalem to venerate the holy tomb of Christ, found the Baptist’s head on the Mount of Olives. Subsequently it was passed hereditarily from one Christian family to another, until it came into the possession of a certain Arian heretic by the name of Eustace, who hid it in a certain cave, where later a monastery was founded. By the will of God, the abbot of this monastery, Marcellus, guided by a miraculous vision of the Baptist himself, once again found this sacred treasure in 452 A.D., and the precious head again manifested great miracles.
Homily about two feasts
One of the feasts, described in the parable of the feast of the chosen, was given by the King in a spirit of goodwill and mercy. However, when the feast was ready, those who were invited did not come. Some preferred to take care of business, others of family matters; some, seizing the messengers, insulted them and even killed them. In great wrath the King punished the offenders, and then once again sent His servants to summon to the feast all those whom they met. This time many came to the feast, and when the King came in to look at them, He found one who was not dressed in festive raiment. The King asked him why he was not dressed properly, but the latter remained silent, thus showing disdain for the King and an unwillingness to participate in the feast, for which he was cast out. Thus, many were invited to the feast, but few were chosen to participate.
The other feast was not a parable but reality. That was the feast of the iniquitous Herod. Apparently none of those who were invited refused to come, all were dressed festively and had a merry time. The feast progressed with much drunkenness and lechery, unhampered by shame or conscience, and ended with one of the greatest crimes in history - the beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
These two feasts are the symbols of two ways of life, two kinds of delight. The first is the symbol of a spiritual feast, of spiritual pleasure. It is given by the Lord, and this feast is the Church of Christ. We are invited to this feast when we are summoned to attend church services, especially the Divine Liturgy, and to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, to do good, to be spiritually attentive to ourselves. We refuse to attend this feast when we do not come to church, when we do evil instead of good, when we prefer temporal affairs to divine life. We come in improper garments when we bring a dark sinful attitude into our life. Each one of us is invited to this feast many times daily, and we refuse each time we prefer the carnal and the sinful to the spiritual and the divine.
We are also invited to the feast of Herod many times daily. We often do not notice right away that we are being tempted by evil. Sin begins with small things. Even Herod initially listened to St. John the Baptist with great pleasure, was acutely aware of the sinfulness of his own actions, but did not struggle against his sins and finally ended up with murdering this greatest of Saints. We attend this iniquitous Herod’s feast each time we choose evil over good, each time we choose carnal, sinful delights, mercilessness, inattentiveness to our souls, etc.
Having begun with small things, it is hard to stop in time, and if we do not make an effort to come to ourselves, we can end up with the greatest sins and crimes, which will be followed by eternal damnation.
And even now St. John the Baptist cries out to each one of us: “Repent, for the Heavenly Kingdom is at hand.” Repent, in order to rejoice in the bright and eternal realm of the Lamb, Who has been sacrificed for the sins of the whole world, and not to share with the devil the feast of evil and torture in the outer darkness of hell.
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
(see beginning here)
The Nature of Man
Where does the Orthodox Christian turn if he wishes to learn the true doctrine of the creation of the world and man? St. Basil tells us clearly: “Let us examine the structure of the world and contemplate the whole universe, beginning not from the wisdom of the world, but from what God taught His servant (Moses)” (Hexaemeron, VI, 1).
We shall now see that the evolutionary views on the origin of man in reality not only do not teach us anything about the origin of man, but present us with a false picture, as you yourself prove when you are forced to expound this teaching in order to defend the idea of evolution.
Expounding your view on the nature of man based upon an acceptance of the idea of evolution, you write: “Man is not an image of God by nature. By nature he is an animal, an evolved beast, dust from the ground. He is an image of God supernaturally.” And again: “God’s breath of life transformed the animal in man without changing a single anatomical characteristic of his body, nor a single cell.” And: “I would not be surprised if Adam’s body were not in all respects the body of an ape.”
Now, before examining the patristic teaching of man’s nature, I will admit that this word “nature” can be a little ambiguous, and that one can find passages where the holy Fathers use the expression “human nature” in the way it is used in common discourse, as referring to this fallen human nature whose effects we observe every day. But there is a higher patristic teaching of human nature, a specific doctrine, given by Divine revelation, which cannot be understood or accepted by one who believes in evolution.
The Orthodox doctrine of human nature is set forth most concisely in the Spiritual Instructions of Abba Dorotheus. This book is accepted in the Orthodox Church as the basic textbook of Orthodox spirituality. It is most significant that the Orthodox doctrine of human nature is set forth in the very first page of this book, because this doctrine is the foundation of the entire Orthodox spiritual life.
What is this doctrine? Abba Dorotheus writes in the very first words of his First Instruction: “In the beginning, when God created man, He placed him in Paradise and adorned him with every virtue, giving him the commandment not to taste of the tree which was in the midst of Paradise. And thus he remained there in the enjoyment of Paradise; in prayer, in vision, in every glory and honor, having sound senses and being in the same natural condition in which he was created. For God created man according to His own image, i.e. immortal, master of himself, and adorned with every virtue. But when he transgressed the commandment, eating the fruit of the tree of which God had commanded him not to taste, then he was banished from Paradise, fell away from the natural condition, and fell into a condition against nature, and then he remained in sin, in love of glory, in love for the enjoyments of this age and other passion, and he was mastered by them, for he became himself their slave through the transgression. (The Lord Jesus Christ) accepted our very nature, the essence of our constitution, and because a new Adam in the image of God Who created the first Adam; He renewed the natural condition and made the senses again sound, as they were in the beginning.”
The same doctrine is set forth by other ascetic Fathers. Thus Abba Isaiah teaches: “…In the beginning, when God created man, He placed him in Paradise, and he had then sound senses, which stood in their natural order; but when he obeyed the one who deceived him, all his senses were changed into an unnatural state, and he was then cast out from his glory.” And the same Father continues: “And so let him who desires to come into his natural condition cut off all his fleshly desires, so as to place himself in the condition according to the nature of the mind.”
The holy Fathers clearly teach that, when Adam sinned, man did not merely lose something which had been added to his nature, but rather human nature itself was changed, corrupted, at the same time that man lost God’s grace. The Divine services of the Orthodox Church, which are a foundation of our Orthodox dogmatic teaching and spiritual life, also clearly teach that the human nature which we now observe is not natural to us, but has been corrupted.
It can also be noted that our whole Orthodox conception of the incarnation of Christ and our salvation through Him is bound up with a proper understanding of human nature as it was in the beginning, to which Christ has restored us. We believe that we will one day live with Him in a world very much like the world that existed here on this earth, before the fall of Adam, and that our nature will then be the nature of Adam – only even higher, because everything material and changeable will then be left behind.
And now I must show you further that even your doctrine of human nature as it is now in this fallen world is incorrect, is not according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. Perhaps it is a result of error on your part that you write: “Apart from God man is from his nature nothing at all, because his nature is dust from the ground, like the nature of the animals.” Because you believe in the philosophy of evolution, you are forced either to believe that human nature is only a low, animal nature, as you indeed state; or, at best, you divide human nature artificially into two parts: that which is from “nature” and that which is from God. But the true Orthodox anthropology teaches that human nature is one, it is that which we have from God; we do not have some nature “from the animals” or “from the dust” which is different from the nature with which God created us. And therefore, even the fallen, corrupted human nature which we have now is not “nothing at all,” as you say, but it still preserves in some degree the “goodness” in which God created it. Behold what Abba Dorotheus writes of this doctrine:
“We have naturally the virtues given to us by God. For when God created man, He sowed virtues in him, as also He said: ‘Let us create man in Our image and likeness.’ It is said: ‘in Our image,’ inasmuch as God created the soul immortal and with authority over itself, and ‘in Our likeness,’ referring to virtues. For the Lord says: ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’; and elsewhere: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy’. Consequently, by nature God gave us virtues. But passions do not belong to us by nature, for they do not even have any substance of composition; just like darkness of itself has no substance, being, as St. Basil says, but a state of air created from the absence of light, so passions are not natural to us, but the soul in its love of pleasure, having inclined away from virtues, instills the passions in itself and strengthens them against itself” (Instruction XII).
Further, these God-given virtues still exercise themselves even in our fallen state. This is the extremely important teaching of St. John Cassian, who thus refuted the error of Blessed Augustine, who indeed believed that man apart from God’s grace was “nothing at all.” St. Cassian teaches in his Thirteenth Conference: “That the human race after the fall actually did not lose the knowledge of good is affirmed by Apostle Paul. And even to the Pharisees the Lord said that man can know the truth. He would not have said this if they could not have discerned what is just by natural reason. Therefore, one should not think that human nature is capable only of evil.”
Likewise, with regard to the righteous Job, St. Cassian asks whether “he conquered the various snares of the enemy in this battle apart from his own virtue, but only with the assistance of God’s grace,” and he answers: “Job conquered him by his own power. However, the grace of God also did not abandon Job; lest the tempter burden him with temptations above his strength, God’s grace allowed him to be tempted as much as the virtue of the tempted one could bear.”
Again, with regard to the Patriarch Abraham: “God’s righteousness wished to test the faith of Abraham, not that which the Lord had instilled in him, but that which he showed by his own freedom.”
Of course, the reason why Augustine (and Roman Catholicism and Protestantism after him) believed that man was nothing without grace, was that he had an incorrect conception of human nature, based on a naturalistic view of man. The Orthodox doctrine, on the other hand, of human nature as it was created in the beginning by God and is even now preserved in part in our fallen state, prevents us from falling into any such false dualism between what is man’s and what is God’s. To be sure, everything good that man has is from God, not the least his very nature. Man has no “animal nature” as such and never did have; he has only the fully human nature which God gave him in the beginning, and which he has not entirely lost even now.
Is it necessary to quote for you the multitude of clear patristic evidence that the image of God, which is to be found in the soul, refers to man’s nature and is not something added from without? Let it suffice to quote the marvelous testimony of St. Gregory the Theologian, showing how man by his constitution stands between two worlds, and is free to follow whichever side of his nature he will:
“I do not understand how I became joined to the body and how, being the image of God, I became mixed up with dirt! What wisdom is revealed in me, and what a great mystery! Was it not for this that God led us into this warfare and battle with the body, that we, being a part of Divinity, might not be haughty and exalt ourselves because of our dignity, and might not disdain the Creator, but might always direct our gaze towards Him, and so that our dignity might be kept within bounds by the infirmity joined to us? So that we might know at the same time we are both immensely great and immensely low, earthly and heavenly, temporal and immortal, inheritors of light and darkness, depending upon which side we incline towards? So was our constitution established, and this, as far as I can see, was in order that the earthly dust might humble us if we should imagine to exalt ourselves because of the image of God” (Homily 14).
This image of God which man possesses by nature was not completely lost even among the pagans, as St. John Cassian teaches; it has not been lost even today, when man, under the influence of modern philosophy and evolutionism, is trying to turn himself into a sub-human beast, – for even now God awaits man’s conversion, awaits his awakening to the true human nature which he has within him.
(To be continued)
BENEATH THE DEEP SEA WAVES
The Damascene's exalted canon
Was sung at this day's evening vigil.
With tenderness my heart was filled,
The wondrous words did warm my soul.
“The Lord miraculously saved the people,
The deep sea waves He did dry out...”
O, I believe He'll come in our days as well
And other miracles perform.
O God! It's not the people, but a humblest man
Calls out Thee, so full of anguish...
In my heart, too, there are such turbulent waves
Of reminiscences and passions.
O, dry them out with Thy almighty hand!
Illumine as the sun the darkness of my thoughts...
O, do descend to Thy most worthless creature,
O, do Thou help my lack of faith!
– A.N. Apukhtin
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff