HOMILY FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD
Although Apostle Peter had confessed Jesus Christ as Messiah, he and the other apostles were still far away from understanding that the promised Messiah was not only to be a King from the seed of David, but also a suffering servant Who would take upon Himself an ignominious death. For Peter such a thought was so unbearable, so incompatible with everything he knew of Christ, that he began to berate Christ for revealing it, and in response received from Christ an incredibly harsh rebuff, in which the Lord stated with complete certainty that all attempts to make Him turn aside from His service, suffering, and death come from hell and have the prince of darkness as their origin. Moreover, the Lord speaks not only of the fact that He must die, but also says that everyone who wishes to be His follower must follow the same course.
During the time of Christ’s life on earth crucifixion was a death intended for slaves, hardened criminals, and traitors. No Roman citizen could be crucified without special sanction from Caesar. The cross was a universal symbol of ignominy, torture, and death, and when Christ said that his followers must carry this instrument of execution with them through life, such words elicited horror and protest among His disciples. Speaking of the cross, Christ did not mean that all the small difficulties which we encounter in life represent such a cross. He spoke primarily of the fact that we have to die within ourselves. This is most difficult, more fearful than all suffering, and seems impossible to man. Now, as in those times, many come to Christ to have Him fulfill all their needs and desires, but the Lord turns out to be the Messiah Who requires us to die an ignominious and torturous death within ourselves, killing off our selfish interests. In order to fulfill oneself, one must reject one’s own ego and follow Christ.
And today the Lord shows us what it means to confess Him as the Messiah and to follow Him, what it means for a person to fulfill himself through self-denial. His Face dazzled, because He became transfigured in front of His three disciples. He revealed His glory, which He had had “before the world ever was,” as Apostle John the Theologian tells us. And then they saw that there was no one there except Jesus. The Lord was the Divine center from which all rays issued, and He infinitely surpassed both Moses and Elijah – the Law and the prophets, although He was united with them. It was revealed to the disciples that the commandment on love, upon which, as the Lord says, “hang the entire Law and the prophets,” was not simply the most perfect morality, but Divine life itself, without which a person cannot become a person, and for the attainment of which he joyously desires to die within himself, to become dead to the darkness contained within each sin, and to become dead to the egoism which comprises the darkness of the entirety of all sins. It is this Christ’s love which shone forth on the Mount of Tabor, because He was the first to love us even to hell and the horror of death.
The Transfiguration occurred not so much for the sake of the Lord as for the sake of His disciples: He became transfigured before them, and a voice from heaven spoke to them. Even if they did not fully understand Him then, nevertheless, this was a decisive moment in the revelation to them of the mystery of God and the mystery of man, and although they had to be silent on this subject until by means of His death on the Cross came His Resurrection, for them this always remained the foundation of their preaching of the joy that would envelop the entire world, and which they announced on the basis of “having witnessed His grandeur.”
We celebrate this feast so that our faith would not be incomplete, so that hearing the words of Apostle Peter: “Lord, how good it is for us to be here!” – we would not forget what is good and what is bad, so that seeing this extraordinary light we would always distinguish light from dark. Never yet has it been so bad in the world, never yet has it been as dark as at present. How dark it becomes all around! With each passing year we see with greater realism how the world lies in iniquity, and how darkness thickens in the world. But “the light shines in the darkness,” and no darkness can overcome it. Christ, the Sun of truth, shines as before in the darkness of our life, and sending us today the sweetness of earthly fruits, as though from the Garden of Eden, He speaks to us of the fact that the world must be transfigured by love, which none of us has within himself, but which He is offering to us. And we understand that the mount of Transfiguration is always sweeter than the daily service, sweeter than the cross. However, the mount of Transfiguration is given to us precisely to imbue us with strength for our daily service, to make us capable of following the way of the cross. This is the radiant light with which the Lord wishes to encompass the entire world. The Holy Church tells us that present suffering is incommensurate with eternal glory, and that our brief and light suffering produces eternal glory in abundance. For our present temporary suffering is worth nothing in comparison with the glory which will be revealed within us, if only we suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him.
DORMITION OF THE HOLY VIRGIN
The feast of the Dormition is the last great feast in the Church calendar year. It is preceded by a two-week fast.
The glorious lot of the ever-blessed Virgin in the work of God’s salvation of the world made Her whole life wonderful and exemplary. After the Crucifixion of Christ, the Mother of God was taken to live in the house of Her adopted son, the Apostle John. Tradition notes than even after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, the Mother of God remained in Jerusalem, visiting those places where the Saviour of the world had preached, suffered, and died. She did not want to leave the country that was dear and holy to Her. When King Herod Agrippa began to persecute the Church, both the pagans and the Jews, indignant of the respect that the Mother of God was receiving from the Christians, wanted to kill Her. It was during this time that She traveled with Apostle John to Ephesus. Church tradition also has this as the time of Her visit to Cyprus to Bishop Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead after four days, and to Mount Athos. When the persecution ended, the Mother of God returned to Apostle John’s house at Zion in Jerusalem.
Once, when She went to the Mount of Olives to pray, Archangel Gabriel appeared and spoke of Her approaching departure from this world. Upon returning home, She told Apostle John all that the Archangel had said to Her, and started preparing Herself for Her final day on earth. Friends and relatives gathered, and eleven of the apostles were miraculously transported from various parts of the world to Her deathbed. They were all amazed to see each other there. When Apostle John explained that the Mother of God would soon be departing this world, they understood why God had brought them together and became sad. But She comforted them, saying: “Do not cry and darken My happiness with your sadness. I am going to My Son and your God, and you will bury My body and return each to your work.” As the time of Her death approached, the room shone with a divine light, the roof disappeared, and a wondrous sight appeared before all: the Lord Jesus Christ descended from heaven surrounded by many angels. All looked upon this wondrous sight with awe and reverence, and when they approached Her bed, the holy body of the Mother of God shone radiantly, and the fragrance of incense pervaded the room.
The apostles carried the body of the Mother of God through the city to Gethsemane, to be buried at Her request in the tomb of Her family and Joseph. They buried Her body, sealed the tomb with a stone, and remained there at the site in prayer for three days. On the third day Apostle Thomas arrived and was very saddened that he did not find the Mother of God alive. To make him feel better, the other apostles rolled away the stone to let him pay his respects to the body. But on entering the tomb, they found that the body was not there – only the winding sheet. They returned home to partake of a communal meal, at which they always left a place for the Resurrected Lord. After the meal, they raised aloft the bread left for Christ and exclaimed: “Lord, Jesus Christ, help us.” And they heard a choir of angels, and when they looked up, they saw the Holy Virgin surrounded by angels. She greeted them, saying: “Rejoice, for I am with you through all the days.” Then the apostles were filled with joy, and instead of using the usual words, they exclaimed: “Most Holy Mother of God, help us.” And now they understood and believed that upon the third day after Her dormition, the Mother of God had been resurrected.
Thus, the dormition of the Mother of God is not a sad event, but a joyous one. Her death was but a short sleep, after which followed Her resurrection and ascension to heaven. From the very beginning the Church saw the Mother of God as the Intercessor for all of mankind. She is the haven of all the mothers in the world. She teaches us how to live in total faithfulness to the will of God. She, Who amid all trials preserved in Her heart the words of Divinity, is an example to us of faithfulness, love, and service.
ON PASSING THROUGH DEATH INTO ETERNAL LIFE
(From a discourse on the day of the Dormition of the Theotokos)
As man approaches death, eternity already begins to unfold before him; he already approaches its borders. He continues to see earthly objects, though dimly and hazily; he continues to hear earthly sounds, though indistinctly; he continues to experience some human feelings, though they are mixed: but he is already facing another existence. He sees objects and manifestations that are unseen to others, he hears extraordinary sounds, he foresees that which cannot be known to us in a natural manner. A few minutes more – and man steps over the threshold of eternity. Suddenly the form of his existence changes, his soul sees himself in his body; now he sees distant objects not with his physical eyes, but directly with his mind, and that which he formerly could see only in his mind’s eye, he now sees directly with his eyes; he speaks not with the articulate sounds of speech, but mentally, and that which he formerly could only imagine in his mind, he now articulates; he does not touch objects with his hands, but with his senses and feelings, while the most delicate objects that were formerly elusive and intangible to him, he now embraces as though with his hands; he moves not with his feet, but with his willpower, and that which he could formerly approach only with great difficulty, very slowly, across vast expanses of place and time, he now reaches instantaneously, and physical barriers no longer exist for him.
He now sees the past like the present, and the future is no longer concealed from him, and for him there is no more division of time and place, there are no hours, nor days, nor years, nor even centuries, there are no large or small distances – everything is fused together into a single moment that is eternity, an eternity which is never-ending and is always just beginning; everything is fused together in a single viewpoint, and this viewpoint is no longer subject to any change.
What does he see and feel? The unfolding eternity strikes him with indescribable terror; its boundlessness absorbs his finite being, and all his thoughts and feelings are lost in its infinity. He sees objects for which we have no names or concepts; he hears things which cannot be expressed by any voice or sound on earth; his experiences and feelings cannot be described by any of our words or in any of our languages. He sees light and darkness, but they are not the same as on earth: the light there is such that in comparison our brightest sun would seem as a candle shining before the sun; the darkness there is such that our darkest night would seem clear as day.
There man meets beings similar to himself, and recognizes in them other people who have departed from this world. But what a change! These are no longer earthly faces or earthly bodies; these are pure souls, fully developed, with all their inner traits clothing them in appearances that accord with these traits: by these appearances the souls recognize each other, while through strength of feeling they recognize those with whom they were intimate in this life.
Afterwards the soul meets beings who are also similar in nature, but at whose approach it feels their immeasurably greater power over it. Some of them come out of the depths of infinite darkness, and their entire being is dark and evil; they think, act, live in endless evil; they themselves undergo indescribable suffering and are the cause of it in others; affliction and perdition characterize their every movement and action.
But this is still in the lower regions of the spiritual world, closest to our Earth, while further on the soul sees an endless sea of incomprehensible light, out of which appear other, even mightier, beings; their nature and life are total goodness, unimaginable perfection, indescribable love; their entire being is filled with extraordinary light which accompanies their every movement.
Thus, in this wondrous world, man’s spirit – totally unfettered and powered by its spiritual nature and the irresistible force of attraction of a kindred world, – flies, flies onward and onward to the place, or rather to the degree to which his spiritual endowments can aspire, and there it becomes entirely transformed in an extraordinary manner. Is this the same spirit which lived in man on earth, a restrained spirit, bound by flesh, barely noticeable under the body’s mass, totally servile and enslaved to it, so that it seemingly could not even live or develop without the body?
Is this the same frail spirit which frequently and easily fell under the burden of sensuality and all the conditions of life on earth? Is this, finally, the same spirit in which goodness was for the most part only a seed, while evil was deeply hidden, so that the spirit was conscious neither of the one, nor of the other, and everything was so mixed up within him that goodness was often overcome by evil, and evil was often to be glimpsed behind the good? What has happened to him now? Now everything – both the good and the bad – is quickly unfolding with unrestrained force; his thoughts, feelings, moral nature, passions, and aspirations of the will are all developing to an extreme measure; he himself can neither stop, nor change, nor overcome them; the boundlessness of eternity is drawing them along to infinity; his failings and weaknesses turn into infinite evil, his afflictions and spiritual ills turn into endless suffering.
Can you imagine the horrors of such a condition? Your soul, not a bad one here on earth, but suppressing and concealing evil within it, over there will become infinitely evil; your bad feelings, restrained here somewhat, over there will turn into madness, if you do not expunge them on earth; if here you are somehow in control of yourself, over there you will not be able to do anything for yourself: everything that is within you will go with you over there, and will develop to the point of infinity. What will you become then? O, then you will recognize yourself much better than here. There will be no help from anywhere or anyone then, and your evil will carry you by the force of its own gravity towards the place where eternal endless evil lives – into the company of dark and evil spirits. And you will not be able to stop along this path or go back, and for ages of ages you will suffer and suffer – from what? From the madness of your own evil, which will not give you any hope for the better, nor any peace within yourself; you will also suffer from that evil environment which will be stronger than you, which will eternally surround you and torture you without end…
And what about the good soul – what will happen to it? Goodness will also unfold in all its fullness and force; it will develop with all the freedom it did not have here, will reveal all its inner worth, for the most part hidden, unknown, and unvalued in this world, all its inner light, entirely obscured in this world, all its bliss, unrecognized and suppressed in this world by the multitude of life’s sorrows. And so this soul will rush on, compelled by the force of its natural lofty aspirations, to the upper regions of the world where in endless light lives the Source and the Prototype of all good, into the company of the purest beings of light, and the soul itself will become a similarly pure, light, rapturous being. Infinite love will unite it with God, the angels, and kindred souls. Now it will forever stand firm in its goodness, and no evil – either internal or external – will be able to shake it, or change it, or damage its state of bliss.
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 15, 1999.)
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
(see beginning here)
VII. God’s Wise Management of Mankind’s Salvation
If previously we spoke of God as Creator and Provider in His overall relation to the spiritual and material world, now we will discuss the Orthodox teaching on God as a God primarily ours, i.e. our Redeemer, Saviour, Sanctifier, and Just Judge. After all, Christianity is the religion of God’s restored union with man, who in his fall had violated his original union with God.
For this reason the management of mankind’s salvation, for which there had been no need in man’s original blessed state, became the focus, essence, and primary subject of apostolic preaching: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). According to the same Apostle Paul, the preaching of the crucifixion, which seems foolishness to the damned, but the power of God to the saved, became the alpha and omega of the New Testament. Through the extraordinary depth and beauty of Divine Wisdom, the wise management of mankind’s salvation literally eclipsed the entire triviality of the pathetic fantasies and philosophies of the ancient pagan world, which had become puffed up with pride and had departed from the original source of Truth, and which had become all tangled up in contradictions (what is Truth?) and was undergoing a terrible religious and moral crisis prior to the Saviour’s coming into the world. The edifice of the wisdom of the human mind, darkened by sin, crumbled as though rotten, or founded upon the sand of human pride, when faced with the teaching on the wise management of the salvation of mankind, which opened up limitless and entire new horizons for a Christian-minded person in resolving such painfully difficult questions as the meaning and final purpose of man’s life on earth, that from time immemorial had agitated the curious human mind. In the light of Christ’s teaching, says Apostle Paul, even simplicity and foolishness in God’s universe appeared to the world wiser than men, and weakness in God’s universe appeared stronger than men. “For ye see, brethren, – declares the Apostle, – who ye are that are called, how that not many of ye are wise men in the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are… But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Thus according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:25-31).
In setting forth the teaching on God as Saviour of the world, the Church fathers divide this teaching into two parts: (1) on God as Saviour per se, i.e. on how the One Triune God manifested Himself in our salvation, and (2) on God the Saviour in His special unique relation to mankind.
Both in the Holy Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church fathers the task of our salvation is ascribed not only to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – the Son of God, but to God in general, as a joint task of all the Persons of the Holy Trinity. For this reason God is generally called our Saviour. Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle of Jesus Christ by commandment of God our Saviour, and the Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope (1 Tim. 1:1).
The Church also deals with the issue of the limits and value of human efforts in the task of our salvation. Although a person is unable to be saved through his own efforts, yet for salvation to take place he must show sincere effort and a thirst for such salvation with help from above. “The belief of those people who say that man is absolutely incapable of any good is quite unfair,” – says St. Macarius of Egypt. – “An infant, although unable to do anything and unable to go to his mother by himself, still moves about, cries and weeps, seeking his mother. The mother will take pity on him and is glad that he is crying out for her so earnestly. And although the infant cannot come to her, she herself goes to him, motivated by her love for the infant, takes him into her arms, presses him to her breast, and feeds him with great tenderness. So does the loving God do with the soul which turns towards Him and seeks Him” (Discourse 46). No matter how difficult the efforts to attain salvation on the part of man himself – that slave of vice and diverse pleasures, with his strength of will paralyzed by sin and his mind darkened, – he will be saved “not by righteousness which we had done, but exclusively by the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man” (Titus 3:4-5).
Thus all the Persons of the Holy Trinity participate in man’s salvation, which is quite in keeping with the very dogma that all the Persons of the Holy Trinity are one-in-essence and indivisible in all things except personal characteristics. Therefore, the salvation of fallen man is accomplished by the single will of the Triune Divinity. In particular, the relation of the Holy Trinity to the redemption and salvation of man is as follows: the Son of God came into the world and became incarnate of the Most-holy Virgin Mary, the Father sent His Only-begotten Son into the world, while of the Holy Spirit it was announced to the Virgin that “the Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow Thee; therefore also the Holy One which shall be born of Thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). All Persons of the Holy Trinity were also present at the Baptism of our Lord: here the Holy Spirit descended upon the baptized Christ, while the Father attested to His beloved Son (Matt. 3:16-17).
St. Dimitry of Rostov speaks thus of the participation of all the Persons of the Holy Trinity in our salvation: “The incarnation of God the Word was by benevolence of the Father, by the coming upon and action of the Holy Spirit, and with the consent of the Word Itself (the Second Person of the Holy Trinity).”
What was the significance of the means which God had chosen for our salvation? For the restoration of fallen man God had found a means so wise that, speaking in the poetic language of the psalm-writer King David, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have embraced each other” (Psalm 85:10). What does that mean?
It would be well for all of proud mankind which has reached an impasse, and especially for us who call ourselves Orthodox Christians, to remember how the harmony of the universe, once violated by the original sin of our forefathers, was once again renewed by the power of God’s Wisdom, with fallen mankind being granted full opportunity for salvation and regeneration. When the first people, created for immortal and blissful life, abused the freedom they had been given and fell into sin, God’s Justice then demanded the greatest punishment and even destruction of those ungrateful creatures. Yet God is not only Just, but also Loving and Merciful. And so, in the words of our limited language, it was as if a struggle occurred in God between the equally valid demands of just punishment and merciful forgiveness. From our human point of view it would seem impossible to find a form of reconciliation without compromise and mutual concessions, particularly since this was a confrontation between two values of absolutely equal validity in their right, but opposite in their demands, in the One, Holy, and Perfect God. But what was impossible for the human mind was possible for God. In aid to these two conflicting and contradictory values came a third, supreme value in God – God’s Wisdom. This Wisdom of the One Triune God foresaw man’s fall even before his creation. Before all ages, in the council of His One-in-essence Trinity, the Omniscient God foreordained the sending into the world of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – the Son and God the Word, so that by His suffering and death on the cross the Son of God would satisfy affronted Justice, while through His humiliation this Lamb of God, Who took upon Himself all the sins of the world, would manifest to the entire universe, both visible and invisible, the Divine All-forgiving Love. Thus prophetically contemplating such wise management of the salvation of mankind, King David rejoiced, for to his mind’s eye there presented itself the forthcoming feast of all feasts – the bright day of Christ’s Resurrection, the day of the appearance of God’s Wisdom in all Its fullness and beauty, the day when God’s mercy and truth met together, while righteousness and peace embraced, i.e. kissed each other in the moment of their absolute reconciliation in the Supreme God.
Could the created human mind, both limited and darkened by sin, arrive of its own accord at such an infinitely wise plan for salvation? Of course not. Only from Divine Revelation do we learn of this “mystery hidden from ages and generations, but now (with the coming of Christ to earth) made manifest to His saints” (Col. 1:26).
But why was it specifically the Son of God and not another Person of the Holy Trinity Who became incarnate and suffered for us? The holy Orthodox Church gives its authoritative answer to this question as well.
(To be continued)
Ascetic of Virtue
On this day (July 19th) the holy Orthodox Church glorifies one of its great saints – the venerable Seraphim, wonderworker of Sarov.
The ways of spiritual life are diverse and complex. Along winding paths does the human spirit return to the abandoned dwelling of the Heavenly Father, to His sanctity that was lost through sin.
And oftentimes at the very abyss of a sinful fall, at the yawning chasm of sin man feels the full horror of his rejection of God and begins to seek salvation from the eternal perdition of his immortal soul, to a realization of which he comes at the very last moment. This is the path of the eleventh-hour arrivals (the Evangelical parable of the laborers hired at different times of the day), the path of publicans, prodigal sons, adulterers, and sinners, who at some point in their unclean lives envision and aspire towards the purity and sanctity of a life genuinely established in God. In the final analysis this bitter path of sinful experience either spiritually destroys a person or, conversely, spiritually sobers him up.
But there is yet another path, the path of virtue, the path of spiritual purity, of a life preserved from beginning to end in chastity, a life revealed, marked, and augmented by continuous spiritual endeavor. This is the path of ascetics from youth, who have loved God not only outwardly, but wholeheartedly, placing their joyous hope of salvation in Him alone.
Saint Anthony the Great, hearing the Evangelical summons to discard all the cares and affairs of the world, did not take counsel with his flesh and blood, but left all and followed after Christ. Hosts of God’s saints regarded all the luxuries of this world as dust for the sake of a powerful and unshakable striving towards the Temple of true and supreme heavenly beauty.
Such was the path of Saint Seraphim.
“From the youth didst thou love Christ, O blessed one,” – sings the Church, glorifying the great wonderworker of Sarov.
He loved from his very youth, and the Saint preserved this love until the very end, until his repose at a venerable age. His image is the integral image of genuine spiritual virtue in the fullest sense of the word, alien to vacillation, alien to deviation from the true path. In this sense Saint Seraphim is primarily an ascetic of virtue. He is the embodiment of spiritual vigor, of genuine spiritual simplicity.
And in our times the example of his life is especially instructive, his prayerful intercession is especially needed. The world has become embroiled in complexity, is drowning in contradictions, has deviated from simplicity in Christ. And with the entire endeavor of his life the great wonderworker of Sarov calls us back to the abandoned path of God. To love Christ, to turn one’s heart to Him, to serve Him and not oneself or one’s passions – such is the path of Christian life.
Brethren, how terrifying it is to realize (and how often it happens) that one loves oneself more than God. In the final analysis this is a spiritual dead end, a second death. And the only way out here is to seek simplicity, reject oneself, take up one’s cross (no matter how heavy), and follow after Christ.
O venerable Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 17, 2007)
TSAR NICHOLAS II DID NOT ABDICATE THE THRONE
The famous Manifest is the forgery of the century
(Interview with the contemporary Russian historian and researcher into the epoch of Emperor Nicholas II, Peter Multatuli. Peter Valentinovich Multatuli was born in 1969 in St. Petersburg. His great-grandfather, the cook Ivan Kharitonov, died a martyr’s death in the Ipatyev house together with the Royal Family. Peter Multatuli is the author of several books on Emperor Nicholas II, the most recent of which is titled “Nicholas II. The abdication that never was.”)
– On March 4, 1917 practically all the newspapers published the Manifesto on the abdication of Emperor Nicholas of the throne in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich. However, no one saw the original until… 1928, when it was discovered in the archives of the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad. This was a machine-typed text, where the signature of Nicholas II was written in pencil (!). The Emperor’s title and his personal imperial seal were missing. It is this very document that is still regarded as the original of the Manifesto and is preserved in the RF State Archives! It is quite obvious that documents of state importance were never signed by the Sovereign in pencil. In 2006 researcher Andrey Razumov factually proved that the penciled signature was lifted off Nicholas II’s 1915 order to the army and fleet, and transposed through the use of special technology. The Manifesto also contains the signature of the Minister of the Royal Court, Count Fredericks. This signature is also written in pencil and outlined in ink. Yet when Fredericks was questioned by the Provisional Government’s extraordinary investigative committee, he declared: “I was not with the Emperor at that moment.” His questioning has been documented.
– What really happened?
– By February 1917 a year had already passed in which a conspiracy was being prepared for the overthrow of Nicholas II. This was being handled by the top echelon of the National Duma (its chairman Rodzyanko, the leader of the cadets Milyukov, the industrialist Konovalov, the representative of the Duma’s revolutionary wing Kerensky), the leadership of military-industrial committees (Guchkov), and members of the Stavka [Russian General Military Headquarters] (Generals Alekseyev, Ruzsky, Brusilov). They were motivated to push for Nicholas II’s overthrow by a conceited notion that they would be better able to rule Russia than the Tsar. The conspirators were supported by the ruling circles of several Western nations. The forces that aspired to abolish the monarchy gained the upper hand. For this they needed an abdication in favor of a candidate who, on the one hand, sort of had a right to the throne, but on the other hand, whose right could be disputed if necessary. Such a candidate was the Emperor’s brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich. After he was married in 1912 to the twice-divorced Natalia Wulfert, his descendants lost all right to the throne, and Mikhail himself – the right to become the country’s ruler in the event of Nicholas II’s death. Could Nicholas II voluntarily hand over the throne to such a person? Obviously not. In accordance with the law that was in effect, the Emperor could not abdicate at all!
– In what way then were the conspirators trying to effect the abdication?
– Chief of Staff General Alekseyev lured the Tsar into leaving St. Petersburg for the Stavka, in order to have his train seized en route. Contrary to established ideas, Nicholas II was imprisoned not on March 8, 1917 in Mogilev, but in the night of February 28 in Malaya Vishera. The Imperial train could not go on to Tosno and from there to Tsarskoye Selo not because “revolutionary troops” had taken over the railways, as we have been lied to for a long time, but because in Malaya Vishera the train was forcibly sent on by the conspirators to the city of Dno, and afterwards to Pskov. As of February 28 Nicholas II was completely isolated. Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich was isolated at the same time in St. Petersburg, in the home of Prince Putyatin on Millionnaya Street. In Pskov the Imperial train was placed under strict control by the active conspirator, aide-de-camp General Ruzsky, Commander-in-chief of the Northern Fleet armies. No one could see the Emperor without Ruzsky’s consent. It is under such conditions that the “signing” of the so-called “abdication” took place. According to the conspirators’ published memoirs, the Sovereign went into his cabinet and then came back with several “quarter sheets” (telegram blanks), on which the text of the Manifesto was subsequently typed. Can one really imagine the Emperor typing on a machine like a common typist? It has been said that the Emperor composed the Manifesto himself. In reality, the document was drawn up by Ruzsky and Rodzyanko several days prior to the event. The Sovereign did not even see it. The Emperor’s signature was faked. After the “writing” of the Manifesto on abdication, on March 8, 1917 the Emperor was arrested officially. The conspirators feared that if the Sovereign came out from under their control, he would immediately speak out and refute his abdication. Until his very end the Emperor was under the strictest house arrest.
– But there are the diaries of Nicholas II, in which he acknowledges his abdication of the throne.
– As far as the diaries are concerned, there are serious indications that the Bolsheviks had introduced forgeries into them. In her memoirs published abroad in the 1920s, the Empress’s friend Anna Vyrubova wrote that when the Tsar was brought to the Alexander Palace, he said to her: “These events at Pskov have so shattered me that I have been unable to keep up my diary.” The question arises: who then kept the diary? Moreover, from Nicholas II’s diaries it emerges that he did not know the time of his departure from Pskov for the Stavka, nor the time of his arrival in Mogilev, since the departure and arrival times indicated in the diary do not correspond to the times indicated in Stavka documents.
– Why did the Emperor not attempt to escape?
– Nicholas II was Orthodox. When he, after having refused to sign any papers on abdication, found out that a Manifesto in his name had nevertheless been published, he saw this as the will of God and did not fight for power. He and his family went on to carry their cross of martyrdom for Russia.
(Reprinted from “Argumenty i fakty,” No. 45, 2009)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On August 6th (July 24th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the holy martyr Christina.
Saint Christina lived in the 3rd century. She was born into a rich family. Her father Urban was the ruler of the city of Tyre. At the age of eleven the young girl showed extraordinary beauty, and many young men wished to marry her. However, Christina’s father wished his daughter to become a priestess. To this end he placed her in special chambers, where he also placed a multitude of gold and silver idols, and commanded her to burn incense before them. Two female slaves were assigned to serve Christina.
In her solitude Christina began to ponder the question of who had created this beautiful world. From her room she could see and admire the starry sky, and gradually she arrived at the idea of a Sole Creator of the entire world. She became convinced that the mute and soulless idols that were standing in her rooms could not have created anything, since they themselves had been created by human hands. Tearfully she began to pray to the One God, asking Him to reveal Himself. Her soul became enflamed with love for the Unknown God, and she continuously increased her prayers, uniting them with fasting.
One time Christina was honored by the visitation of an angel, who instructed her in true faith in Christ, the Saviour of the world. The angel called her a bride of Christ and foretold her future martyric endeavor. The holy maiden then broke all the idols in her rooms into pieces and threw them out the window. Christina’s father Urban, coming to visit his daughter, asked her about the disappearance of the idols. Christina was silent. Then Urban summoned the female slaves and learned the truth from them. In great wrath the father began to slap his daughter’s face. The holy maiden first kept quiet, but afterwards revealed to her father her faith in the One True God and the fact that she had personally destroyed the idols. Then Urban ordered all the female slaves attending his daughter to be killed, while Christina he ordered to be severely beaten and thrown into prison. Hearing of this, Christina’s mother came to her daughter in tears, asking her to renounce Christ and return to her forefathers’ beliefs. Christina, however, remained intractable. The next day Urban summoned his daughter to court and began to plead with her to worship the pagan gods and ask their forgiveness for her sin, but instead met with a firm and unyielding confession of faith on her part.
The persecutors then tied her to an iron wheel, under which they lit a fire. The martyr’s body, turning upon the wheel, was burned on all sides. Afterwards she was thrown into prison.
An angel of God appeared to her during the night, healing her wounds, and gave her sustenance. In the morning, seeing her unharmed, her father ordered her to be drowned in the sea. But the angel supported the saint, the stone to which she was tied dropped to the bottom, while Christina miraculously emerged from the water and appeared before her father. The horrified persecutor ascribed this to sorcery and decided to execute her on the following morning. During the night, however, he unexpectedly died. The new ruler sent to replace him, Dion, summoned the holy martyr and likewise attempted to persuade her to denounce Christ, but seeing her unshakeable firmness, he again gave her over to cruel torture. Saint Christina languished in prison for a long time. Many people began to make their way into prison, and she converted them to true belief in Christ. In this manner about 3,000 people were converted.
A new ruler, Julian, came in Dion’s place and began to torture the saint. After five different persecutions, Julian ordered her to be thrown into a flaming furnace and shut in. After five days the furnace was opened, and the saint was found alive and unharmed. Seeing such extraordinary miracles, many came to believe in Christ the Saviour, while the persecutors slew Saint Christina with a sword.
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
(see beginning here)
The patristic teaching on evolution
Before going on I will briefly answer one objection which I have heard from those who defend evolution: they say that if one reads all Scripture as it is written, one will only make oneself ridiculous. They say that if we must believe that Adam was actually made from dust and Eve from Adam’s rib, then must we not believe that God has “hands,” that He “walks” in Paradise, and the like absurdities? Such an objection could not be made by anyone who has read even a single commentary of the holy Fathers on the book of Genesis. All the holy Fathers distinguish between what is said about creation, which must be taken as it is written, and what is said about God, which must be understood, as St. John Chrysostome says repeatedly, “in a God-befitting manner.” For example, St. Chrysostome writes: “When you hear, beloved, that ‘God planted paradise in Eden in the east,’ understand the word ‘planted’ befittingly of God: that is, that He commanded; but concerning the words that follow, believe precisely that paradise was created and in that very place where the Scripture has assigned it” (Homilies on Genesis, XIII, 3).
St. John of Damascus explicitly describes the allegorical interpretation of paradise to be part of a heresy, that of the Origenians. But what, then, are we to understand of those holy Fathers of profound spiritual life who interpret the book of Genesis and other Holy Scriptures in a spiritual or mystical sense? If we ourselves had not gone so far away from the patristic understanding of Scripture, this would present no problem whatever to us. The same text of Holy Scripture is true as it is written and also has a spiritual interpretation. Behold what the great Father of the desert, St. Macarius the Great, says: “That paradise was closed and that a cherubim was commanded to prevent man from entering it by a flaming sword: of this we believe that in visible fashion it was indeed just as it is written, and at the same time we find that this occurs mystically in every soul” (Seven Homilies, IV, 5).
And here is another example of the same. The divine Gregory the Theologian, in his Homily on the Theophany, writes concerning the tree of knowledge: “The tree was, according to my view, contemplation, upon which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter.” This is a profound spiritual interpretation, of which our academic scholars might say that St. Gregory completely “allegorizes” the story of Adam and paradise. But now I am going to present an interpretation of the words of St. Gregory the Theologian by a great holy Father who lived a thousand years after him: St. Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonika. Against St. Gregory Palamas and the other hesychast Fathers who taught the true Orthodox doctrine of the “uncreated light of Mt. Tabor,” there rose up the Western rationalist Barlaam. Taking advantage of the fact that St. Maximus the Confessor in one passage had called this light of the Transfiguration a “symbol of theology,” Barlaam taught that this light was not a manifestation of the Divinity, not literally a divine light, but only a “symbol” of it. This led St. Gregory Palamas to make a reply which illuminates for us the relation between the “symbolical” and “literal” interpretation of Holy Scripture, particularly with regard to the passage from St. Gregory the Theologian which I have quoted above. He writes that Barlaam and others “do not see that Maximus, wise in divine matters, has called the light of the Lord’s Transfiguration ‘a symbol of theology’ only by analogy. In theology, which uses analogies and intends to elevate us, objects which have an existence of their own become also spiritual symbols; it is in this sense that Maximus calls this light a ‘symbol’… Similarly, Gregory the Theologian has called the tree of knowledge of good and evil ‘contemplation,’ having in his contemplation considered it as a symbol of this contemplation which is intended to elevate us; but it does not follow that what is involved is an illusion without existence of its own. For the divine Maximus also makes Moses the symbol of judgment, and Elijah the symbol of foresight! Are they too, then, supposed not to have really existed, but to have been invented ‘symbolically’?” (Triad II, 3:21-23).
Thus the patristic interpretation of the book of Genesis makes it quite impossible to harmonize the account of Genesis with the theory of evolution, which requires an entirely “allegorical” interpretation of the text in many places where the patristic interpretation will not allow this. The doctrine that Adam was created not from dust, but by development from some other creature is a novel teaching which is entirely foreign to Orthodox Christianity.
At this point the “Orthodox evolutionist” might try to salvage his position by trying to say that we now know more than the holy Fathers about nature and, therefore, we really can interpret the book of Genesis better than they. But even the “Orthodox evolutionist” knows that the book of Genesis is not a scientific treatise, but a divinely-inspired work of cosmogony and theology. The interpretation of the divinely-inspired Scripture is clearly the work of God-bearing theologians, not of natural scientists. It is true that in the book of Genesis many “facts” of nature are presented. But it must be carefully noted that these facts are not facts such as we can observe now, but an entirely special kind of facts: the creation of the heaven and the earth, of all animals and plants, of the first man. I have already pointed out that the holy Fathers teach quite clearly that the creation of the first man Adam, for example, is quite different from the generation of men today; it is only the latter that science can observe, and about the creation of Adam it offers only philosophical speculations, not scientific knowledge.
According to the holy Fathers, it is possible for us to know something of this first-created world, but this knowledge is not accessible to natural science. I will discuss this question further below.
(To be continued)
With bated breath he stands; his gaze pursues
The fiery chariot’s extended flight.
Upward as a mysterious bird it flies
Along the path that lies towards the stars.
The swiftly flying steeds, the fiery steeds –
Their glittering hooves cannot be heard at all,
But everything on earth and in the skies
Is glowing with a flaming rosy dawn.
And ever higher they fly, beyond the clouds,
Beyond the stars, beyond all unknown heights.
Far down below the human shadows live,
The world lies in iniquity and dark.
Elisha stands so utterly alone,
His gaze fixed solely on the glittering heights.
O, if to go the distance with Elijah
To that all-highest world where all paths meet!
And from the heights, to mortal eyes unseen,
Elijah’s gift descended onto him,
He’ll go into the world now all aflame,
To kindle hearts with fiery words of God!
Translated by Natalia Sheniloff