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Reverend Ioann Barbus Reverend Ioann Barbus

DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS!

We are glad to welcome you to the official website of the Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church, located in the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, USA. The church belongs to the original Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and has as its goal the preservation of the spiritual traditions and the treasure of church services of ancient Russian Orthodoxy.

We invite you to acquaint yourself with our church and our parish, to see our small but wondrous iconostasis, to hear our modest choir. When visiting our online Orthodox library, you will be able to acquire deeper knowledge of the Orthodox faith through the spiritually-enlightening materials that are contained therein. These materials are printed in our church bulletins, which are issued monthly in both Russian and English. You are also very welcome to visit our church in person.

  View our current schedule of services.
With love in Christ,
Reverend Ioann Barbus and the church council.

HOMILY FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

Transfiguration of our Lord

The Lord took His beloved disciples: Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor and was transfigured before them – His face became bright like the sun and His clothing white like snow. Moses and Elias also appeared with the Lord and conversed with Him, and a cloud descended upon the Lord’s disciples, and a voice was heard from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, hear Him.” Peter exultantly (for he knew not what he was saying) asked the Lord that three tabernacles, or tents, be erected: one for the Lord, one for Moses, and one for Elias.

The Transfiguration of the Lord is an image of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ. What is the meaning of this mystical event on Mt. Tabor?

The Transfiguration of the Lord revealed the glory of the Lord before His journey to Golgotha – His glory was revealed to the disciples to strengthen their faith. They saw the glory of the Saviour on Mt. Tabor before they were to see His suffering, His Crucifixion and death.

The everlasting light of Mt. Tabor also enlightens the life of every believing person and it enlightens the life of the whole Church.

Man is weak in this world; upon this earth he is frail. Living in his carnal, corrupt shell, his faith is tested, and his spirit is weakened. But, with God’s help and with His Grace, everyday trials are overcome, and man is able to walk upon the path of the cross, upon the path of spiritual life, and the glory of the Transfiguration of the Lord is revealed to him. For being that we are participants in Christ’s sufferings on Golgotha, we are, therefore, also participants in His Transfiguration.

The glory and victory of our spiritual nature is revealed on Mt. Tabor. This spiritual nature of ours will overcome the corruption of our physical nature in the General Resurrection, and as a promise of this the Divine Body of the Lord is revealed, being already glorified and enlightened like the sun and snow.

This mystical event affirms our faith in the coming transfiguration of the whole universe and each one of us in the General Resurrection. But this affirmation comes not in the form of a covenant, but in the actual body of the Lord transfigured on Mt. Tabor.

Furthermore, all of this relates to the very life of our Church. If each individual believing soul is weakened and needs confirmation of its faith and spiritual path, then the entire Holy Church is even more in need of this, for the Church journeys on the same path which the Saviour walked on earth, it walks the path to Golgotha. For the external trials which trouble the Church and all her many internal sorrows are able to trouble the hearts of men, just as Christ’s sufferings troubled His disciples.

The Transfiguration then reveals a promise of the future glorification and victory of the Church, when our Lord Jesus Christ will come in His glory. However difficult our trials may be, they must all be dissolved in the mystical light of Mt. Tabor. If a faithful person, a member of the Holy, Orthodox, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is overcome with despondency at the sight of divisions in the Church or the apostasy of separate individuals, or their deviation from the true path of Christ, and is overcome with doubt, thinking that the spirit of Antichrist is creeping into the Church, let the unwaning, mystical light of the Transfiguration embolden him, for the Transfiguration is the promise of the victory of Christ’s Church. Amen.

THE HOLY THEOTOKOS — IMAGE OF AN IDEAL WOMAN

One of the most terrible manifestations of our times is the complete distortion of the image of an ideal woman. The ideal image depicted for us by the mass media shows a sort of attractive witch, unashamedly half-naked, with loose and disheveled hair, impudent glance, business-like, energetic, fearless, unfettered by moral laws or conscience. In consequence, unfortunate young girls and women – mothers, wives, daughters, – striving to imitate this devilish image, corrupt their souls, ruin their families, and hopelessly destroy their own and others’ lives.

Yet at the same time we – Orthodox Christians – always have before our eyes the image of the One Who was more beautiful and wondrous than all the people on earth and even all the celestial denizens, the cherubim and the seraphim, the One Whom the Pre-eternal Council chose to become the Mother of God. As St. Dimitry of Rostov says: “After Adam’s transgression the Word of God did not forthwith come down to earth to be incarnated and save fallen mankind,” because “there was not yet a single maiden on earth who was pure not only in body, but also in spirit.” Thus the Theotokos’s major characteristic is Her virginal purity.

Another characteristic of this greatest Handmaiden of God is Her humility. Of all the personages in the Gospel, there is no one about whom we know so little as the Holy Virgin; Her entire life is shrouded in mystery, and yet She was undoubtedly the spiritual center of the first Christian Church after Her Divine Son’s Ascension; however, under the cover of modesty, She preferred to remain in the shadows.

Dormition of the Theotokos

The third characteristic of the Holy Virgin, according to St. Dimitry of Rostov, was Her all-encompassing and boundless love for God, which is mentioned in the following spiritual song: “O Mother-Virgin, miracle of chastity! Thou art daughter of the heavenly Father, the bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ – the Son of God.”

There was not a single one among the Holy Fathers who did not laud the Theotokos! Foretold and presaged by the Old Testament prophets, She is glorified by all the ancient and contemporary Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.

As St. Gregory of Neocaesaria says, what amazes us in the Holy Virgin is not only Her chaste and pure physical beauty, but above all the beauty of Her soul. She was holy both in body and soul. Her garments were modest, Her gait was dignified, Her speech was brief, pouring out of a humble heart; all Her thoughts and all Her desires were turned only towards God.

The Church historian Nikiforos Kallistos adds: in conversing with others She retained Her modesty, did not laugh immoderately, did not express indignation, did not argue, never thought of Herself, and was characterized by total humbleness.

More than anything else in the world She loved Her Son, loved Him so much that She was ready to die with Him, yet with what courage and firmness She accompanied Him when He went on His path of suffering, was present at Golgotha when He was being crucified, stood at His Cross and attended His burial. “She wears the crown of martyrs, – says Leo the Philosopher, – because as She stood at the Cross, with Her soul pierced by the greatest anguish, She suffered more than all the martyrs.”

She loved and respected Her family members, but also loved and welcomed all strangers. St. Ambrose of Milan says: “She never offended anyone, never denigrated anyone, even the poorest person. Her modest belongings, consisting of two robes, She gave away before Her death to the two widows who served Her.”

Each person’s death sums up his life and brings recompense from the Lord – either reward or punishment. The most-glorious Dormition of the Mother of God revealed Her in all Her majesty and glory. Three days before Her death the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, announced Her repose and gave Her a shining branch from paradise – symbol of victory over death and corruption. On the third day after Her Dormition, the Mother of God appeared to the apostles in indescribable glory, surrounded by a multitude of angels, and said: “Rejoice, I am with you forever.” The apostles, filled with joy, instead of saying their usual “O Lord Jesus Christ, help us!”, exclaimed: “O Holy Mother of God, help us!”

And thus all Christians pray to the Holy Mother of God to help them. Help us then, O Most Holy Theotokos, grant our children the enlightenment to see in Thee the purest and most beautiful example of behavior, save and protect them from the vices and temptations of these evil times!

(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 16, 2003.)

HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY EQUAL-TO-THE-APOSTLES PRINCE VLADIMIR

(Given on July 15, 1899 by the holy Patriarch Tikhon the Confessor, during his tenure as Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska)

By God’s Providence my visit to you, dear brethren, has coincided with the day when our Russian Orthodox Church gloriously commemorates the equal-to-the-apostles Prince Vladimir, the Enlightener of Russia. In keeping with the apostle’s commandment to remember them which have the rule over you (Heb. 13:7), I will offer to you, brethren, for your instruction a discourse on who precisely was Prince Vladimir and why the Holy Church venerates him.

Holy Prince Vladimir

Holy Prince Vladimir was the prince of all Russia over 900 years ago, when Russia was not yet an Orthodox nation, when our ancestors did not yet know the true God, but were pagans and worshipped idols. Prince Vladimir also worshipped the idols. However, gifted by God with a bright mind and a heart sensitive to the truth, he could not but see that the idols were not God, that people worshipped them in vain, and that the pagan religion was a lie and a fallacy. And so the prince began pondering how to get to know the true God and find the true faith. When various peoples heard that the Russian prince wished to change his religion, they began to send their ambassadors to him, each praising his own faith. The Jews came, the Moslems came, and Germans came from the Pope; but Vladimir did not like their religions, while to the ambassadors of the Pope, who had strived even earlier to convert Russia to the Roman faith, the prince said: “Go away; our fathers did not accept you.”

Engrave upon your minds and hearts, dear brethren, this wise reply of St. Vladimir. Although you possess the true faith and have no need or thought to change it, yet we live in a country where there are many religions and where some of them publicize themselves widely. I know that even in these parts representatives of various sects are not loath to spread their heresies among the Orthodox, especially young children, whom they take into their homes and orphanages. Not all of you will naturally be able, upon meeting them, to refute their heresies and prove the superiority and genuineness of the Orthodox faith; in such cases reply to them with the words of holy Prince Vladimir: “Go away; our fathers did not accept you.” If the sectarians wish to talk about the faith, let them go to your spiritual father, while you should listen only to his voice and not to the false teachers.

Among those who came to Prince Vladimir there was also a Greek monk who spoke to him of the true faith, and Vladimir’s soul inclined towards his words, but on the advice of his boyars (courtiers) he decided to first send a chosen delegation to the various peoples, to see how different people pray to God, what kind of lives they lead, and whose faith seemed the best. The delegates visited many different countries, but did not like any of the faiths therein. However, when they came to Constantinople and attended an Orthodox service there, it so captivated and enraptured them that they thought they were in heaven and not on earth; and so they immediately decided that the Orthodox faith is the only true faith.

This shows you, dear brethren, how important to faith are God’s church and the services therein. The church is God’s home, His primary abode on earth. Here a Christian learns the Lord’s commandments and is enlightened by the light of belief in Christ; here he is sanctified by the sacraments and receives an abundant outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which heals his spiritual and physical maladies; here his prayers are intensified by the prayers of a multitude of believers, clergymen, and the Heavenly Host itself, which serves together with us invisibly. In view of this, there is little need to urge you with many words to come to church as often as possible; in this matter you should follow the example of the Old Testament righteous one (King David), who rejoiced when summoned to the church, whose soul rushed towards it like a deer to a pure stream of water, and who asked God for one thing only: to live in God’s home, and gaze upon the Lord’s beauty, and visit His holy temple.

While coming to church, dear brethren, you should also concern yourself with its adornment. It is sinful before God, shameful before other people, and damning for our souls if we allow God’s churches to be in a poor state. King David did not wish to live in a rich palace made of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant stood in a tent. The Lord loves those who love the magnificence of His home, and will bestow His great mercy and rich boons upon them. Whoever is concerned for his church and donates towards its decoration, to such a one the Lord sends earnings which can easily satisfy all daily needs. Furthermore, by giving some of your bounties to God’s church, you also prepare for yourselves treasure in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not steal” (Matt. 6:20).

When the delegates told Vladimir about the Orthodox faith and services, he decided to convert to Orthodoxy, was baptized himself, and baptized his people. Moreover, the Prince did not become Christian in name only, but became an entirely different person, changing completely from the way he had led his life as a pagan: he restrained his sensual passions, abandoned his former sinful habits, became abstinent, meek, merciful, and only thought of how to please God by means of his new life, which he was able to achieve with the help of God.

Thus we, too, dear brethren, having been baptized in Christ, must put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, leave off sinful thoughts, feelings, and actions, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephes. 4:22, 24), and live strictly according to Christ’s commandments. But do we always do so? Do we always fulfill our Christian duties? Towards what are our cares, efforts, and thoughts directed: towards glorifying God through our good works and serving Him alone, or exclusively towards our earthly needs, such as food, clothing, housing? We are Christians, but what kind of life do we lead? Do we not sometimes commit deeds for which our faith and the name of Christ are reviled?! Let us not try to justify ourselves by blaming the weakness of human nature, or the fact that man is not an angel and cannot be sinless: the example of Saint Vladimir shows us that even a sinner with grey hair, i.e. with long-ingrained habits, can with the help of God leave off his worldly deeds and become adorned with the royal mantle of good deeds.

Having become a Christian, the holy Prince Vladimir concerned himself with the enlightenment of the Russian people: to this end he established parish schools and commanded his subjects to enroll their children therein, in order to have them instructed in the law of God.

Dear brethren! Your school has a wise saying written on the wall: “Knowledge is light, while ignorance is darkness.” This applies especially to the knowledge of the truths of faith. Can someone who knows nothing of God, of the salvation of the world, of eternal life, of the soul be truly called a Christian? In order to believe, one must first know what to believe in, while in order to know, one must first study. Thus, if you desire true benefit and good for your children, send them to the parish school: here they will learn the fear of God, which is the beginning of all wisdom, and from here they will come out good Christians and true believers.

Saint Vladimir peacefully reposed in the Lord on July 15, 1015, and the Church glorified him as a saint for his God-pleasing life and for his great and holy work of baptizing Russia, from whence 100 years ago the light of Christianity illuminated these countries, too. Thus we now celebrate his repose, being his people (from the troparion to St. Vladimir), and we pray to the Lord, Who has chosen Vladimir as a second Paul (from the troparion), – we pray in the words of St. Vladimir himself, spoken at the baptism of Russia: “O great and wondrous God! Look down upon Thy new people; grant them, O Lord, to know Thee, the true God, and establish among them the right and unaltered faith!” Amen.

THE HOLY ROYAL MARTYRS IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY AND GOD’S PROVIDENCE

Behind all wars, revolution, downfall of kingdoms, – all the political events of external history – we see the hidden working of spiritual laws and, in the final analysis, God’s Providence concerning the fates of peoples and nations. Any other explanation of the reasons for the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 would be incomprehensible and inaccurate. One thing is certain: the Russian society’s apostasy from God and the Church brought down God’s wrath upon Russia. As in the many cases of ancient Israel’s apostasy from God, about which we read in the Bible, Russia’s malady could not be cured by ordinary measures. For the sake of instruction and correction God would hand the Jews over into the hands of infidels; the very same fate befell Russia in the beginning of the 20th century.

Emperor Nicholas II

Through Tsar Nicholas II – an irreproachably pure and wonderful person – God’s will was made manifest in the world. His fate, in essence, was deeply tragic. He was born on the day of St. Job the Long-suffering and was keenly aware that his life was similar to Job’s martyric path. His knowledge of his fate was truly prophetic. “I have more than a presentiment, – he used to say, – that I am doomed to terrible trials, and that I will not be rewarded for them in this world.” Beginning with Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, which was followed by the revolution of 1905-1907, which diminished the Tsar’s power and freed the forces of anarchy and outright evil, the foundations of Russian sovereignty tottered more and more. “I am unsuccessful in all my undertakings, – the Tsar bitterly concluded, – I have no luck. However, man’s will is so powerless anyway.” He realized that he was not subjectively to blame for Russia’s misfortunes; the good of the motherland meant more to him than anything else, and he did everything he could for this good. Tsar Nicholas’s conscience was clear before God, but his moral suffering, nevertheless, reached extraordinary proportions. Thus once, – this was during the first Russian revolution, – from the depths of his inner anguish the Tsar uttered prophetic words which indicated with absolute accuracy the role he was invisibly assigned to play in Russia’s fate by God Himself. “Perhaps a sacrifice is needed for the salvation of Russia, – said the Sovereign. – I shall be that sacrifice. May God’s will be done.” In saying this the Tsar was like the martyrs of ancient times, who freely and without coercion gave themselves up to suffering for Christ. Nicholas II was murdered in July of 1918 not simply as a helpless and defenseless person: the extraordinary courage of his behavior as he descended into the cellar of the Ipatyev house with his sick son in his arms, and even earlier, when he and the Empress refused to emigrate or flee the country, – all this speaks of the fact that their souls were ready for sacrificial and Christ-like suffering, which fulfilled the prophetic words spoken by him 10 years before.

Princesses Olga and Tatyana

When Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia came to the aid of this small Slavic state. This event still lives in the historic memory of the Serbs; and if among European nations there is still anyone who loves Russia and Russians – it is the Serbs. However, their greatest love was for Tsar Nicholas II, who had sanctioned Russia’s participation in the war. It was the Serbs who began venerating the Russian Tsar as a saint, placing him on a par with their great Saint Savva of Serbia. And it was among the Russians in Serbia that the issue of canonizing the Royal Family was brought up for the first time in 1938.

The beginning of the war brought success to the Russians at the front, and the country was gripped by patriotic fervor. The rear provided immense aid to the front; the Empress and the Princesses took an active part in it. After learning the art of nursing, they daily spent many hours in the hospitals. The Empress and her daughters Olga and Tatyana tended the wounded and sat with the dying, providing great comfort to the sufferers. The Empress and Tatyana also worked as surgical nurses; it is not hard to imagine their courage, patience and truly Christian love: assisting the doctors in numerous amputations of injured limbs required, besides training, great moral strength. The Winter Palace was likewise turned into a huge hospital. This enterprise also included the preparation of undergarments, warm clothes, and other items needed by the soldiers at the front; the entire work was organized by the Empress. She also sent to the front a multitude of Gospels, icons, and crosses, which were handed out to the soldiers. One can imagine the joy of a soldier who had received such a blessing from the Empress!

Soon, however, our armies’ offensive stopped, while our losses began to increase. Discontent arose in the top circles of society – both in the capital and at military headquarters. The revolutionaries made use of the lack of success at the front, in order to disseminate their propaganda at the front and in the rear. The Germans quickly moved toward the heart of Russia; in these conditions, wishing to raise the spirit of the troops, the Tsar took upon himself the supreme command and moved to General Headquarters, deployed at Mogilev. Prince Alexis went with him to the front.

However, making use of the Tsar’s absence from the capital, oppositional aristocracy increased its activity. The court discussed the advisability of a coup d’état, placing Grand Duke Nicholas (the Tsar’s uncle) on the throne. The opposing faction asserted that the Tsar and the Empress stood in the way of Russia’s victory in the war; Grand Duke Nicholas sent the Tsar a telegram, entreating him to abdicate the throne. Similar telegrams were also sent by the majority of the commanding officers at the front. And when a revolution occurred in February 1917, the Tsar’s entourage took the side of the provisional government. The Tsar was assured that only his abdication from the throne could save Russia. And in the face of such betrayal the Tsar sacrificed himself, heeding these voices. After a fervent prayer during the night in front of an icon, he abdicated the throne; this took place on March 2nd. “There is no sacrifice that I would not make for the true good and salvation of Russia. For this reason I am ready to abdicate the throne” – such is the telegram he sent to the chairman of the Duma.

However, after the abdication everything turned out contrary to what the opposition was expecting: the people began to fall prey to their basest passions and moral decay set in; with unbridled speed Russia rushed towards destruction. The Tsar’s sacrifice was accepted by God, but not in the way that the architects of the abdication had in mind: there was no immediate outward benefit from it. The Tsar had been that mystic principle which had restrained the forces of evil; now nothing prevented anti-Christian elements from entering into the world.

A new era began for the Sovereign and his family: their worldly life ended and their saints’ life began, together with their Christian labors. The Tsar and his entourage were kept under guard at Tsarskoye Selo. The prisoners pinned their hopes only on God’s will, and the Lord helped them retain their inner peace until the very end. The Tsar and his family were subjected to humiliation and mockery from the guards and the other “new” people who now surrounded them. On July 31st the martyrs’ path to Golgotha began: they were taken from their palace and sent on to Siberia.

Empress Alexandra

On August 6th the Royal Family arrived in Tobolsk on the ship “Rus’.” “My heart bleeds inexpressibly for the dear homeland,” – these words of the Empress in a private letter describe the inner state of the entire family. But its members were cheerful: they were fortified by their faith, the Church, and God’s grace. They faithfully participated in church services; the Empress and the children sang in the choir. Through their suffering the Royal Martyrs’ spirit grew stronger. “God’s way is a daily cross,” – the Empress wrote these words of St. Isaac the Syrian in her notebook. “Christians must undergo sorrows and external and internal warfare, in order to conquer these blows through patience. Such is the path of Christianity,” – another of her excerpts (from St. Mark the Great) reveals to us the inner state of the sufferers.

On the eve of Pascha of 1918 the Royal Family was parted. A commissar arrived from the Bolsheviks in Moscow and announced to the Tsar that he would be taken away. The Empress decided to accompany her husband despite great inner agony, since she was thus being forced to part from the sick Prince Alexis. Princess Maria went together with her parents…This parting was a torment for the entire family.

The royal couple was detained by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg. In early May the other members of the family came here, together with several loyal servants. The martyrs had two and a half months to live. They were tormented with increasing subtlety, but even among the brutal guards there were those who bowed down before their Christian meekness and humility.

Royal Martyrs

During the night of July 17th the greatest crime was committed: innocent, holy people, together with God’s anointed, were heinously murdered. Three days before this villainy a church service was served for the Royal Family. When the prayer “Grant repose with the saints…” was sung, the martyrs unexpectedly got down on their knees. As though sensing their imminent end, they sang a funereal hymn for themselves… That fatal night the guards came for them, saying that they were being taken out of the city. Instead, they were taken down to the cellar; several chairs were placed there, and the Tsar sat in the middle, holding the Tsarevich in his arms. Together with the Royal Family were Doctor Botkin and their loyal servants. They waited for a sign of departure, but instead a commissar entered the cellar accompanied by soldiers. The commissar – his name was Yurovskiy – announced the forthcoming execution. The Empress only had time to make the sign of the cross; she was killed instantly, at the same time as the Emperor. Prince Alexis and Princess Anastasia suffered longer than the rest; the first bullets did not bring them death, and so the soldiers killed them off with bayonets. The doctor and the three servants died also, sharing the fate of the Royal Family out of love for them. This sacrilegious murder was not simply a private crime of the political revolution: it was a universal sin. The burden of the sin of regicide still continues to lie upon Russia.

Tsar Nicholas II and his family were the carriers of the ideals of Holy Russia, of the ideals of Orthodoxy. In contrast to many people of that era – Christians in name only – they treated Orthodoxy with all seriousness. They were God’s elect and, therefore, people not of this world; they were alien to the society of those times. As true Christians, they were persecuted in this world; their sorrowful path was crowned by martyrdom. Now, together with all the other Russian saints, they stand before Christ in prayer for Russia.

CHRISTIAN TEACHING

Children of the kingdom

“And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12).

I would like to focus your prayerful attention on these two verses from the Gospel.

Who are these “children of the kingdom” who shall be cast out into outer darkness? In church parlance, “outer darkness” refers to the state of hell, both before and after passing from this life.

In order for the concept of the children of the kingdom to become clearer to us, I will remind you of the following event in the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The saint once said about two abbesses, that they were not nuns, but black cinders, and that they would not inherit the heavenly kingdom. Being clairvoyant, he was able to see the state of their souls, their inner make-up, and that these abbesses were unworthy of such a high rank. But St. Seraphim would not have said this to anybody, had it not brought benefit to them.

Thus, due to this live example, we begin to understand the Gospel better: it becomes clear to us that outwardly one may be worthy of respect, but inwardly – because of one’s spiritual make-up – one may be slated for the fiery Gehenna. Did those above-mentioned abbesses appoint themselves as the superiors of convents? Of course not! That means that the one who appointed them found them worthy of such a high rank and honor. But that person obviously judged only by appearance!

In the Old Testament the “children of the kingdom” were the Jews, but in the New Testament in which we live, these are children of the kingdom through grace. These are the ones who have received the grace of holy baptism and other holy Christian sacraments. In other words, the children of grace are all of us – Christians.

Virtues alone, without inner spiritual coordination, are not yet everything. For example, is not chastity sacred to us? And yet pure virgins were refused entrance into the heavenly bridal chamber, as we heard in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:12), and instead of the virgins it is the fallen women, who came to repentance as though from the west, who have entered the heavenly kingdom.

Do we not highly esteem those who keep fast or who are abstinent? Even the Pharisee said: “I fast twice a week” (Luke 18:12). However, to them and all those like them the Lord replies through the prophet Isaiah: “Is it such a fast that I have chosen – a day for a man to afflict his soul…? Is not this the fast that I have chosen – to loosen the bands of wickedness… (Isaiah 58:5-6).

Do we not highly esteem those who are outwardly devout and spend their time in prayer? But of such the Lord says through the holy King David: “Let his prayer become sin” (Psalm 109:7).

These are only a few examples of so-called virtue, engaged in by the children of the kingdom, which does not lead to salvation. According to the word of God, such “children of the kingdom shall be cast out…” It would not be surprising if people were cast out for murder, fornication, deceit, thievery, and other major sins, yet in this case they are being cast out for a supposedly virtuous life.

Why is that?

Only because they have engaged in virtue either hypocritically, or vainly and pridefully. Therefore, they shall be cast out either for hypocrisy or for vainglory.

Dear brethren! Do not rely on appearances, do not judge only on the basis of what you see or hear! And do not think in regard to yourself that if everything is outwardly going well for you, then the matter of your salvation, i.e. your spiritual life, is in good order. Beware of receiving the title of “children of the kingdom” only for outward things! Outward rectitude and the outward orderliness of our lives according to God’s commandments and church canons must be accompanied by inner disposition.

In order to make the words of the Gospel relevant to our lives, look carefully at those around you, and you will see many examples of tender Christian souls concealed behind obscure exteriors. I saw many such examples during the Second World War, and such examples abound even now.

Thus, let us not judge either ourselves or others by appearances. Let us remember that salvation begins already here on earth, and that those who aspire to it do not fear any earthly misfortunes, for nothing can shake their spiritual peace when God is with them. Amen.

  Protopriest Igor Hrebinka

 

 

On suffering

Much is being said about the suffering of innocent people. This consists primarily of accusations against the Lord God not only for being unmerciful, but also for being unjust and even cruel. The Lord – an innocent Sufferer for all of us – is being reproached for our own maladies.

Every instance of suffering, be it someone else’s or one’s own, forces a person to identify and hone his qualities. It is for this reason that people’s natures are defined in the process of dealing with misfortunes; they exhibit both positive and negative facets of character, which up to then the person himself, perhaps, has not even suspected. Each one of us, wishing to correct his deficiencies, clearly sees in such cases what he must do with God’s help, and what he must combat within himself.

There is a great difference between manifesting love, faith, hope, patience, and humility during merited suffering and showing all these qualities when suffering blamelessly. And what a difference between being able to restrain oneself and one’s passions during merited suffering and doing the same when suffering innocently! Thus innocent suffering, when accepted properly, makes a person purer and elevates him along the ladder of perfection.

At the same time, what is said about an individual applies to entire peoples… The Lord chastises those whom He loves. In other words, whomever He loves, He places in such circumstances, in which the person willy-nilly comes face-to-face with his shortcomings, and after working on himself, improves with God’s help, in order to later have the possibility of bringing as much benefit as possible to others and to his own soul.

In truth, people who understand these things properly are greatly benefited by suffering, especially when they are innocent. For this reason misfortunes more often befall good people and nations, who have the possibility of becoming better. And, by the same token, bad people often have easier lives on this earth than good ones.

This leads us to conclude that each one of us should joyously accept innocent suffering and be troubled by long periods of well-being, during which it is so easy to be loyal to God, so simple to be good to people, yet at the same time, due to our instability, we can slip unnoticeably into the pit of egoism, vanity, and all other vices.

This applies to us, adult sinners, and is one aspect of the meaning of innocent suffering.

Now, to go on… If we try to take a totally unprejudiced view of innocent suffering, we will see that there are no totally innocent sufferers among us. All of us in this case are guilty of something, and even if we have not done anything sinful at the present, in the past we definitely transgressed the commandment on love, some to a greater and some to a lesser degree. It is only infants not yet touched by sin who truly suffer innocently.

Through His salvation of mankind the Lord Jesus Christ pointed out the significance of innocent suffering. While remaining always with His Father as the Son of God, through innocent suffering as man He has become enthroned at the right side of the Father’s glory. And, of course, all those suffering infants and the adults who have correctly undergone innocent suffering, will be glorified together with the Lord in the Heavenly Kingdom and will live with Him in eternal rapture. The similarity between the chalices from which innocent sufferers drink and the Lord’s chalice leads to a similarity in the glory they receive in the Heavenly Kingdom, in preparation for which we actually live here on earth.

(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 13, 1983.)

 

 

On love

There are various forces in the universe which operate in it and control it: for example, the force of gravity, electricity, magnetism, etc. But there is one force, the most important in the world, which is much greater than all the others, which not only controls the universe, but which actually created the universe. This force is love. Because of God’s overflowing love, the universe and everything that is in it was created, so that all could enjoy and delight in the life that God had given. Because of God’s love for His creation, man was created, so that he could enjoy and delight in love and all creation, so that in his love for God and fellow beings he could feel this great and wondrous force. This force is so wondrous and so great that because of His love for His fallen creation – man, God the Father did not spare His Only-begotten Son, but gave Him up as a sacrifice to atone for man’s sin.

Here is what the Apostle Paul tells us about the importance and the significance of love (1 Cor. 13:1-3):

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love, I am as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and have all knowledge and all faith, so that I could move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Then Apostle Paul explains to us the qualities and the manifestations of true love as a divine force (1 Cor. 3:4-8). Only those who experience in their hearts and in their souls these precise qualities, who develop these qualities in their feelings and relations with the people around them, will be able to feel a spark of that Love which had created the universe and opened the gates of paradise for mankind:

“Love suffers long, and is kind.

Love envies not.

Love does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up.

Does not behave unseemly, does not seek its own;

Is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;

Does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.”

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

ORTHODOX VENERATION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD

(Continuation)

IV. The heresy of Nestorius which declared the Mother of God to be only the Mother of Christ, and the 3rd Ecumenical Council.

When even those who dared to speak out against the sanctity and chastity of the Most-holy Virgin Mary were silenced, an attempt was made to destroy the veneration of Her as the Mother of God. In the 5th century, the Archbishop of Constantinople Nestorius began to preach that Mary only gave birth to the man Jesus, in Whom divinity dwelled as in a temple. Nestorius first allowed his priest Anastasius, and later began to openly preach in church himself, that Mary cannot be called the Mother of God, since She did not give birth to the God-man. He considered it degrading for himself to worship an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

These sermons caused general agitation and concern for the purity of the faith, first in Constantinople and then in all the places reached by rumors of the new teaching. Saint Proclus, a disciple of St. John Chrysostome, at that time the Bishop of Kizil and later Archbishop of Constantinople, preached a sermon in church in the presence of Nestorius, in which he confessed the Son of God being incarnate from the Virgin, Who is truly the Mother of God, for already in Her womb the Infant conceived in Her by the Holy Spirit was united with Divinity, and this Infant, although born from the Virgin Mary due to His human nature, was already born as true God and true man.

Nestorius persevered in his obstinacy and refused to change his teaching, saying that one must differentiate between Jesus and the Son of God, that Mary should not be called the Mother of God but rather the Mother of Christ, since the Jesus Who was born of Mary was only a man – the Christ (which means Messiah, the anointed one), similar to the previous anointed of the Lord – the prophets, only surpassing them in the fullness of His contact with God. Nestorius’s teaching thus negated God’s entire divine design, for if it was only a man who was born from Mary, then it was not God who suffered for us, but a man.

Saint Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, hearing of Nestorius’s teaching and the church’s reaction to it in Constantinople, wrote a letter to Nestorius, in which he tried to convince him to keep to the teaching which the Church confessed from its inception and not introduce anything new into it. Moreover, St. Cyril wrote to the clergymen and the faithful of Constantinople, urging them to stand firm in the Orthodox faith and not fear persecution from Nestorius of those who disagreed with him. St. Cyril also informed Pope Celestine in Rome, who at that time stood firm in Orthodoxy together with his flock, about the entire affair.

St. Celestine on his own part wrote to Nestorius and urged him to preach the Orthodox faith and not his own. Nestorius remained deaf to all persuasion and replied that what he was preaching was the Orthodox faith, and that his opponents were heretics. St. Cyril wrote to Nestorius again and composed 12 anathemas, i.e. detailed in 12 articles the major differences between the Orthodox teaching and that preached by Nestorius, and excommunicated from the church all those who rejected even a single article.

Nestorius completely rejected all that was written by St. Cyril and detailed his own teaching, also in 12 articles, excommunicating all those who did not accept it. The purity of faith continued to be threatened. St. Cyril wrote letters to the reigning Emperor Theodosius Minor, his wife Eudocia, and his sister Pulcheria, asking them to involve themselves in church affairs and restrain the heresy.

It was decided to convene an Ecumenical Council, at which the hierarchs, assembled from all corners of the earth, would decide whether the faith preached by Nestorius was Orthodox or not. They chose Ephesus as the site for this 3rd Ecumenical Council, because the Most-holy Virgin Mary had once sojourned there with Apostle John the Theologian. St. Cyril assembled his fellow bishops in Egypt, and together with them sailed by ship to Ephesus. Archbishop John of Antioch, together with the Eastern bishops, set out from Antioch by land. The Roman bishop St. Celestine was unable to travel and asked St. Cyril to defend the Orthodox faith and, moreover, he sent two bishops and the clergyman Philip from the Roman church on his behalf, instructing them in what to say. Nestorius and the bishops of the Constantinople district, and the bishops of Palestine, Asia Minor, and Cyprus also arrived in Ephesus.

Nativity of our Lord

On June 22, A.D. 431 the bishops assembled in the Ephesian church of the Virgin Mary, headed by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria and Bishop Memnon of Ephesus, and took their places. A Gospel was placed in the middle of the church as a symbol that Christ Himself was invisibly presiding over the Ecumenical Council. First of all the Creed composed by the 1st and 2nd Ecumenical Councils was read, and then the participants began reading the documents, going over the prior epistles of Cyril and Celestine to Nestorius and Nestorius’s answers to them. The Council deemed Nestorius’s teaching to be iniquitous and condemned it, depriving Nestorius of his cathedra and his clerical status. Thus the Council’s resolution clearly expressed its belief that Christ, born of the Virgin, is the true God incarnate, and since Mary gave birth to a perfect man Who at the same time was perfect God, She should rightly be venerated as the Mother of God.

After the end of the session the Council’s resolution was immediately announced to the expectant populace. All of Ephesus rejoiced, learning of the defense of the veneration of the Holy Virgin, Who was especially honored in this city whose resident She had been during Her life on earth and whose intercessor She had become after Her entry into eternal life. Joyous glorification of the Holy Virgin and laudation of the Fathers who had defended Her name from heretics were heard everywhere.

The Council had 5 more sessions, during which it affirmed its condemnation of the Pelagian heresy, which taught that a person can be saved by his own efforts, without the need to acquire God’s grace. The Council also confirmed that the teaching of the Universal Orthodox Church was fully and clearly set out in the Creed approved by the 2nd Ecumenical Council, and for this reason it did not compose a new Creed itself and forbad the composition of new creeds or alteration of the existing one.

This latter point was transgressed several centuries later by Western Christians, when the schismatic Church of Rome made an addition to the Creed, stating that the Holy Spirit issues “also from the Son,” which addition has been approved by all the Popes since the 11th century, although until that time all their predecessors, beginning with St. Celestine, firmly kept to the resolution of the 3rd Ecumenical Council and followed it.

Thus the church peace disturbed by Nestorius was restored. The true faith was defended, and heresy was denounced. The 3rd Ecumenical Council firmly and clearly confessed the Church teaching on the Mother of God. Previously the Holy Fathers had denounced those who defamed the chaste life of the Virgin Mary, while now they declared the following about those who diminished Her honor: “Whoever does not confess Emmanuel as the true God and, consequently, the Holy Virgin as the Mother of God, since She gave birth in the flesh to God the Father’s Word, Who became incarnate: anathema to him” (i.e. such a person is excommunicated from the church – St. Cyril of Alexandria’s 1st anathema).

 

V. Attempts on the part of the iconoclasts to diminish the glory of the Queen of Heaven,
and their shameful defeat.

 

After the 3rd Ecumenical Council, Christians in Constantinople and in other parts of the Empire began with increasing fervor to appeal to the Mother of God for help, and their trust in Her intercession was not in vain. She showed Her aid to a multitude of the sick, the helpless, and the unfortunate. Many times She proved Herself to be Constantinople’s defense from external enemies, once even visibly showing to St. Andrew the fool-for-Christ Her wondrous protection over the people praying in the church at Vlachernae.

Protection of the Theotokos

The Queen of Heaven granted victory to the Byzantine Emperors in battle, and for this reason they had the habit of taking along Her icon into battle. She fortified the ascetics and the fervent adepts of Christian life in their struggle against human passions and frailties. She enlightened and instructed the Church fathers and teachers, including St. Cyril of Alexandria himself, when he vacillated on whether to acknowledge the innocence and holiness of St. John Chrysostome.

The Holy Virgin placed hymns into the mouths of the composers of various church chants, sometimes creating famous singers out of those who were incapable or had no talent for singing, but were pious church laborers, such as St. Romanus the Melodist. It is not surprising, therefore, that Christians tried to magnify the name of their customary Protectress. Feast days were established in Her honor, wondrous hymns were dedicated to Her, and Her images were venerated.

The wrath of the “prince of darkness” provoked the “sons of apostasy” to once again rise up against Emmanuel and His mother in that very Constantinople which now venerated the Mother of God as its Intercessor, just as Ephesus used to do. Unable at first to speak out openly against the Champion Leader, they wished to diminish Her glorification by forbidding the veneration of Christ and His saints, calling it idolatry. Here, too, the Mother of God supported the adepts of piety in their struggle for the veneration of icons, manifesting a multitude of miracles from Her icons and healing the chopped off hand of St. John Damascene, who had written in support of icons.

The persecution of worshippers of icons and saints once again ended with the victory and the triumph of Orthodoxy, for the veneration accorded to icons ascends to those who are depicted in them; and God’s saints are honored as friends of God for the sake of the grace of God that dwells within them, according to the psalm: “Thy friends are exceedingly precious to me, Lord.” Special honor in heaven and on earth has been accorded to the Holy Mother of God, Who even in the days of the icons’ desecration manifested so many wondrous miracles through them, that even now we lovingly remember them. The hymn: “All creation rejoices in Thee, O Grace-filled One” and the icon of the Mother of God of the Three Hands remind us of the healing of St. John Damascene in front of this icon; the image of the Iveron Mother of God reminds us of the miraculous deliverance of this icon from the enemies, after it was thrown into the sea by a widow who was unable to protect it.

None of the persecutions of those who venerate the Mother of God and all that is related to Her memory were able to diminish the love of Christians for the Intercessor. A rule was established, whereby each series of church hymns ends with a hymn in honor of the Theotokos. Many times throughout the year Christians in all corners of the world gather together in church, in order to laud Her, thank Her for assistance received, and ask for Her intercession.

But could the Christians’ enemy the devil, who “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8), remain an indifferent observer of the glory of the Most-honorable Theotokos? Could he acknowledge his defeat and cease battling against truth through the people who do his will? And thus, when the entire universe was filled with the glad tidings of the Christian faith, when the name of the Most-holy Mother of God was being called upon everywhere, when the world became filled with Her churches, while the homes of Christians became adorned with Her icons, then a new heresy in regard to the Mother of God appeared and was disseminated. This heresy is dangerous primarily because many people are unable to understand right away the extent to which it undermines genuine veneration of the Mother of God.

(To be continued)

Saint John of San Francisco

LIVES OF THE SAINTS

Saint John of San Francisco in Shanghai

(From the memoirs of Maria Aleksandrovna Shakhmatova,
matron of
 St. Tikhon’s Orphanage in Shanghai.)

St. John in Shanghai

M.A. Shakhmatova witnessed the saint’s ascetic labors in Shanghai almost from the very moment of his arrival there in 1934, on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. She saw Archbishop John crucify himself in both founding and managing the orphanage. Living conditions were terrible, and the needs of the children, whose parents had escaped Communism, were overwhelming. The young Bishop, almost from the start, gathered concerned ladies from his parish, asked them to found a committee, rented a house, and opened up a hostel for orphans or children whose parents were in need. The children would often be underfed, abused, and frightened, until Archbishop John would come and personally take them into his orphanage and school. Each child – and there were over three thousand who went through the orphanage – had a traumatic story.

There was, for example, a boy named Paul who had witnessed his father and mother being killed and chopped into pieces by the Communists right in front of his eyes. Because of the trauma the boy had become mute and could not even pronounce his own name. He was like a trapped animal, afraid of everyone, and trusted only his fists and spitting. He was brought into the orphanage at a time when it was packed and had no place for him. Due to the fact that Paul was so frightened, the ladies there thought that he was abnormal and refused to accept him lest he scare the other children. When Archbishop John found out about him, he insisted on immediately dropping everything and going to meet the boy personally. They did not even know that he was a Russian boy and spoke Russian, for he only mumbled and hissed like a caged animal. When Archbishop John arrived, he sat down before the boy, who was still trembling, and said to him the following: “I know that you have lost your father, but now you have found another one – me,” and he hugged him. This was said with such power that the boy burst out in tears and his speech returned to him.

In the slums of Shanghai there were instances where dogs would devour baby girls who had been thrown into garbage cans. When the newspapers announced this, Archbishop John told Mrs. Shakhmatova to go and buy two bottles of Chinese vodka – at which she cringed in horror. But her horror increased when he demanded that she accompany him into these very slums, where it was common knowledge that grown-up people would be murdered. Fearless as ever, the young Bishop insisted on going there, walking through dark alleys in the worst neighborhood. She recalled the horror that seized her heart when, in the darkness of night, they walked and encountered only drunkards, shady characters, and growling dogs and cats. She held the bottles in her hands, following him with trepidation, when suddenly a growl was heard from a drunken man sitting in a dark doorway, and the faint moan of a baby was heard from a nearby garbage can. When the Bishop hastened towards the cry, the drunkard growled in warning. Then the Bishop turned to Mrs. Shakhmatova and said, “Hand me a bottle.” Raising the bottle in one hand and pointing to the garbage can with the other, Blessed John, without words, conveyed the message of the proposed sale. The bottle ended up in the hands of the drunkard, and Mrs. Shakmatova saved the child. That night the Bishop returned to the orphanage with two more babies under his arms. This fearlessness, however, had not been acquired without a deep inner struggle.

Even then he was already known as a miracle-worker, because he prayed for whoever would ask him, and often his prayer would be answered immediately. The Bishop never slept at night, but only dozed off sometimes, sitting in a chair. Once Mrs. Shakhmatova, in the middle of the night, chanced for some reason to climb up into the belfry. The door to it led from the top floor of the vicarage. It was cold and windy. As she opened the door, she saw that Blessed John was in deep, concentrated prayer, freezing, shivering in the open air, wind sweeping through his robe, and that he was blessing the houses of his parishioners from above. St. John of ShanghaiShe thought, “While the world is asleep, he keeps watch like Habakkuk of old, guarding his flock with his fervent intercession before God, so that no harm can steal his sheep away.” Deeply shaken, she withdrew. Thus she had a clue as to what he was doing during the long winter nights when all the people take their normal rest in their comfortable beds. “Why was it needed?” asked Mrs. Shakhmatova. “Who asked him to do it? Why such self-sacrifice, when his presence was needed everywhere?” And she answered her own question: “He had an unquenchable love for God. He loved God as a Person, as his Father, as his closest Friend. He longed to talk with Him, and God heard him. It was not some conscious self-sacrifice. He just loved God and did not want to be separated from Him.”

“Once during the war,” she continued, “the poverty of the orphanage reached such immense proportions that there was literally nothing with which to feed the children, and there must have been at least ninety of them at that time. Our staff was indignant, because Archbishop John kept bringing in new children, some of whom had parents, and we were having to feed someone else’s children. Such were his ways. One evening when he came to us – worn out, tired, cold, and silent – I could not resist telling him off. I said that we women could not tolerate this any longer, that we could not bear to see hungry little mouths and not be able to put anything into them. I could not control myself and raised my voice in indignation. I not only complained, I was full of wrath at him for putting us through this. He looked sadly at me and said, ‘What do you really need?’ I said, right off the bat, ‘Everything, but at least some oatmeal. I have nothing to feed the children with in the morning’.”

Archbishop John looked at her sadly and went upstairs. Then she heard him making prostrations, so vigorously and loudly that even the neighbors complained. Pangs of conscience bothered her, and that night she couldn’t sleep. She dozed off in the morning, only to be awakened by the doorbell. When she opened the door, there stood a gentleman of English extraction who said that he represented some cereal company, and that he had a surplus of oatmeal; and he wanted to know whether they could use it, since he heard that there were children here. They began to bring in bags and bags of oatmeal. While this was going on, with the commotion of banging doors, Blessed John began to descend the staircase. Hardly could Mrs. Shakhmatova utter a word to him when she saw his glance. He did not say anything, but with his eyes, with one single glance, he reproached her for her unbelief. She said she could have fallen on her knees and kissed his feet, but he was already gone to continue his prayer to God, now of thanksgiving.

(Reprinted from “The Orthodox Word)

THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN…

Attempts by anti-Christian forces to create a sensation out of blasphemies directed at our Lord Jesus Christ are never-ending. Currently, on a par with the so-called Gospel of Judas, an all-out effort is being made to popularize a book called “The Da Vinci Code,” which contains flagrant blasphemy about Christ’s supposed progeny from St. Mary Magdalene.

This particular blasphemy is not new; it is simply being presented in a new “wrapping” in accordance with the tastes and state of mind of modern society. The first attempt to introduce this blasphemy was made over 30 years ago, but since the average society of those times possessed a higher degree of intelligence than the current one, the whole matter was presented in the form of a serious historical investigation, titled “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” written in the early 80s of last century by three correspondents. At that time, however, the affair met with a marked lack of success. Now, after a brief waiting period, another attempt has been made, but adapting to the fact that in the meantime society has mentally degenerated, the blasphemy has been presented in the form of an adventurous thriller; moreover, an analogous film has been produced, featuring one of America’s leading actors. Both the book and the film are aggressively being propagandized and imposed upon the general public.

The blasphemy in its current “wrapping” can simply be written off as so much trash, but the earlier attempt – the so-called historical investigation – merits some attention, for it incorporates a typical ruse used by the evil forces: to present falsehood preceded by truth, in the hopes that the falsehood would then automatically also be accepted as truth. The writers of the book themselves were equally deceived: they were led towards the blasphemy by way of being offered various archives which partially lifted the veil of secrecy from the truth of world history, from the true moving forces behind various historical events. It is this partially unveiled truth that is of interest to us.

It turns out that after the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman forces in circa A.D. 70, there occurred a massive emigration of the Jews to France via the port of Marseilles, resulting in a dense settlement of France and dispersion throughout all of Europe, particularly England (which explains the Judophilia of these two countries to this day). By the early Middle Ages the Judean elders were already influencing the course of European history through their role as “kings’ advisors.” Various secret societies began to appear. Thus, for example, official history mentions the medieval society of the Albigensians, members of one of the Cathar sects, who are usually regarded as enlightened, progressive, religiously tolerant people whom the Catholic Church unjustly persecuted for difference of belief. The three correspondents uncovered materials relating to the Albigensians’ last stand against the church authorities: the Albigensians shut themselves up in their city-fortress of Albi in the south of France, which was persistently besieged by royal troops. For a long time the Albigensians resisted, then suddenly gave up, the fortress was completely razed, and all its inhabitants were killed. The journalists investigated the reason why the Albigensians resisted until a certain moment and then inexplicably gave up. It turned out that they were waiting until the day of one of their major religious feasts, after which their leaders secretly escaped with their prime sacred object… the head of the idol Baphomet (i.e. Satan), abandoning the remaining inhabitants of the fortress to the mercy of the besieging forces. Thus this “religiously-enlightened” society turned out to be none other than a cult of Satanists!

Perhaps one of the most interesting moments of behind-the-scenes history uncovered by the journalists concerns the true motivation for the Crusades. In school we were always taught about this seemingly glorious period of medieval history, wherein the Christian knights of Europe nobly went off to liberate the Holy Land from the Saracens. However, the question arises: why were there eight Crusades, and why did they all end in failure? The amazing answer is presented to us by the three journalists, who discovered the real reason among the archives they had obtained: it turns out that when Jerusalem was being destroyed by the Romans, and the Jews were forced to flee, the high priests of the temple buried deep down under it the untold treasures, mainly gold, which they had amassed throughout the centuries from the temple donations they collected from the people. Centuries later, after becoming firmly established in the various European nations, they decided to free these treasures and transfer them to Europe. A special secret society of so-called Knights Templar was set up, whose mission was specifically to achieve this goal, (although official history again presents the Templars to us as guardians of the holy sites in the Holy Land). Through the European kings and rulers that were beholden to them, the Judean elders raised an outcry about the supposed need to go and save the holy city of Jerusalem from the infidels. The Europeans of those times were still deeply religious, and so the guileless Christian knights, together with their retinues, responded sincerely to this call and went off to shed their blood for Christ. At first Jerusalem would be taken by the Christian forces, and while the city was in the hands of the Crusaders, the order of the Templars engaged in digging out the treasures from beneath the temple and then taking them out of the city. After a while the Saracens would grow stronger and would regain the city from the Crusaders. This is the reason why several Crusades were needed to ensure the retrieval and transfer of all the riches. When the Templars took everything out, the city was given back to the infidels for good.

Such was the reality behind the official façade of history, turning out to be a much more fascinating detective story than all the fabrications of “The Da Vinci Code.” The three journalists who, according to their lights, conducted an objective investigation, but in the final analysis fell for the bait of blasphemy, nevertheless did us a service by uncovering the truth of some historical events.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FORMATION OF THE RELIGION OF THE FUTURE

(Continuation)

6. UFOs in the Contemporary Mind

In the area of UFOs, Fr. Seraphim’s conclusions have also been borne out by new developments. Now there is a growing consciousness, not only on a scientific but on a popular level as well, that the UFO phenomenon is not just a matter of beings from other planets in spaceships, that it is somehow involved in the psychic and occult realm, and that the “aliens” are somehow inhabiting the earth with us. Also, the image – promoted by director Steven Spielberg in his films Close Encounters and E.T. – of benevolent and even “cuddly” aliens, is now being replaced by an image closer to the truth. With the experiences described by Whitley Strieber in his book Communion: A True Story (1987), the public has been shown that these so-called “visitors” are in fact cruel, malicious beings who wreak psychic havoc on those who contact them. (This aspect of the phenomenon also corresponds very closely with the evidence amassed by the scientists Vallee and Hynek.) “I felt an indescribable sense of menace,” Striber writes. “It was hell on earth to be there, and yet I couldn’t move, couldn’t cry out, and couldn’t get away. I lay as still as death, suffering inner agonies. Whatever was there seemed so monstrous and ugly, so filthy and dark and sinister…” Strieber also describes peculiar smells associated with his “visitors” – among them, a “sulfur-like” odor such as is mentioned when the ancient Lives of Saints speak of demonic encounters.

Since the publication of Communion, hundreds of thousands of UFO “abductees” have come forward with accounts of their contact with aliens. Today they have formed a substantial network, sharing their views and experiences through the internet and call-in radio shows.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this UFO network has found itself segueing into the New Age movement. Whitley Strieber is himself an indication of this. Now one of the leading spokesmen of the UFO network, he has in more recent books offered reflections on how contact with aliens can help usher in a New Age. As one UFO “abductee,” Col. Philip J. Corso, writes in his endorsement of Strieber’s latest book, Confirmation (1999): “During an ‘alien encounter,’ the message that they were offering mankind, ‘A new world – if you can take it,’ was conveyed to me… It took an intellect like Whitley Strieber to give this message’s meaning to me and the world.”

Setting forth the evolutionist view that “we are passing into a great change of species,” Strieber writes: “As we express ourselves into the next age, we will come to a prime moment of this species, when mankind gains complete mastery over time and space and lifts his physical aspect into eternity, inducing the ascension of the whole species into a higher, freer, and richer level of being… As mind frees itself from time and thus approaches singularity of consciousness, nations as we know them – directed by power politics, greed, and lies – will end.”

Strieber sees this utopian dream being realized as mankind leaves behind the “old hierarchies” of the past: “The absolute blackness of the past symbolizes the rigidly authoritarian nature of the past civilization. Indeed, its customs have echoed forward all the way to the present, where they persist still in our governments, out ritual-encrusted religions, and our moral lives with their emphasis on sin.” As humanity abandons the “religious mythology” of those who “identify aliens with their version of demons,” it will become open to the “new world” offered by the visitors: “As we move into the Age of Aquarius, we do indeed see authority weakening in almost every human culture and institution. The new willingness to entertain notions like the presence of visitors and to largely reject the refusal of the old authorities to deal rationally with such matters signals a new eagerness to form opinions outside the traditional control mechanisms. As those mechanisms fade, the unknown uses their weakness to attempt to break through into the conscious world, and we find ourselves inundated with reports of UFOs, aliens, and all sorts of weird and wonderful things.”

In order to reconcile the obvious contradiction between the apparently sinister nature of the visitors and his own utopian ideas about aliens helping to usher in a New Age, Strieber attempts to blur the distinction between good and evil: “We live in an ethical and moral world that is like the ethical context of the UFO phenomenon, full of ambiguities, a place in which plain good and plain evil are rare.”

Strieber’s view, which is shared by many in today’s UFO network, is that the visitors are highly evolved beings which want us also to evolve – for their sake as well as ours. He speculates that, in their often terrifying encounters with humans, the visitors are exploiting us and at the same time “tempting” us to advance further in our evolution, to “close the gap” between us and them, so that we may “join them as a cosmic species”: in other words, that we may become like them. This, he says, “explains why many people are taken to an evolutionary edge in their experiences” of aliens.

Strieber notes that “In all the past fifty years, there has been no instance of the visitors directly adding resources. Nobody gets the plans to a starship. Nobody gets a map back to the home world. What we get instead are fear, confusion, cryptic messages, and a feeling of being pushed around – and the sense of something beyond price, lying just out of reach… Rather than satisfying us, they are likely to tempt us further and further – with outrages, with dazzling displays, with promises – with whatever it takes.”

Perhaps the saddest “sign of the times” in our post-Christian age is the fact that great numbers of spiritually impoverished people now find it preferable to be in contact with these monstrous “visitors” than to feel all alone in what seems to them an impersonal universe. As a journal called The Communion Letter states, “People all across the world are encountering strange beings in their homes and even in the streets… along the roads of dream and night.” The journal asks people to “learn to respond usefully and effectively to the visitors if they appear in your life. Discover the mystery, the wonder, and the beauty of the experience… the things that ordinary media will not reveal… the strange and wonderful truths that are rushing up out of the darkness.”

In the face of all this, the Christian believer can hardly doubt Fr. Seraphim’s words that “Satan now walks naked into human history.” Whitley Strieber is likewise correct when he observes that, with the decline of the “control mechanisms” of traditional Christian civilization, the “visitors” are attempting more and more to “break into the conscious world.” But instead of leading us to the New Age that Strieber envisions, these attempts will help to usher in precisely what he described of his first encounter with aliens: “hell on earth.”

7. The Plan for the New Age

It is interesting to note that 1975, the year that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future came out, was a banner year for the “new religious consciousness.” This was the year which the deceased occultist Alice Bailey (1880-1949) – one of the major builders of the present New Age movement and an avowed enemy of our Orthodox Christianity – had designated for her disciples to publicly disseminate hitherto secret teachings to all available media. During that year David Spangler and a host of other New Age spokesmen and organizations began their public work.

The goals of today’s New Age movement were mapped out well in advance in the writings of occultist and medium Helen Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875, and later by Alice Bailey, Nicholas Roerich (author of the Agni Yoga writings), Teilhard de Chardin (the evolutionary thinker and paleontologist), and H.G. Wells. In the words of Teilhard, these goals include a “convergence of religions” in tandem with a “confluence” of political and economic forces toward World Government. Today, some New Age circles speak of “The Plan” for a “New World Order,” which would include a universal credit system, a universal tax, a global police force, and an international authority that would control the world’s food supply and transportation systems. In this utopian scheme wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty will end. All forms of discrimination will cease, and people’s allegiance to tribe or nation will be replaced by a planetary consciousness.

According to some of the major architects of the New Age movement, this “Plan” can be traced back to the fall of Lucifer and his angels from heaven. Alice Bailey wrote that the revolt of the angels against God was part of “the divine plan of evolution,” for by it the fallen angels “descended from their sinless and free state of existence in order to develop full divine awareness on earth.” In this total reversal of Christian theology, the Fall of man was really an ascent to knowledge, for by it man’s eyes were opened to good and evil. Thus, wrote Helen Blavatsky: “It is natural…to view Satan, the Serpent of Genesis, as the real creator and benefactor, the Father of Spiritual mankind. For it is he who was the ‘Harbinger of Light,’ bright radiant Lucifer, who opened the eyes of the automaton created by Jehovah… Indeed, mankind was taught wisdom and the hidden knowledge by the ‘Fallen Angel’.” As man’s “benefactor,” Lucifer continues to assist man’s evolution. In the words of David Spangler, a disciple of the writings of Blavatsky and Bailey, Lucifer is “the angel of man’s evolution.”

Within New Age esoteric societies it is taught that, for the furtherance of “The Plan,” mass “planetary initiations” will occur. According to Benjamin Crème – another follower of Blavatsky and Bailey – “revitalized” Christian churches and Masonic lodges will be used for the purpose of giving these initiations. And as we have seen, David Spangler has stated that these initiations will be Luciferic at their core. Reiterating the teachings of Alice Bailey, who “channeled” them from a discarnate entity called “Djwhal Khul,” Spangler writes: “Lucifer works within each of us to bring us to wholeness as we move into the New Age… each of us is brought to that point which I term the Luciferic initiation… Lucifer comes to give us the final… Luciferic initiations… that many people in the days ahead will be facing, for it is an initiation into the New Age.”

As “The Plan” approaches fulfillment, the one-world religion acquires its final shape. “The day is dawning,” wrote Alice Bailey, “when all religious will be regarded as emanating from one great spiritual source; all will be seen as unitedly providing the one root out of which the universal world religion will inevitably emerge.” Helen Blavatsky said that this universal religion was “the religion of the ancients,” the memory of which was “the origin of the Satanic myth” of Christians. “The religion of the ancients,” Blavatsky wrote, “is the religion of the future.”

“The Plan” reaches its apotheosis with the coming of the New Age Messiah: the so-called “Maitreya–the Christ.” David Spangler speaks in anticipation of this event: “From the depths of the race a call is rising for the emergence of a saviour, an avatar, a father-figure… who can be for the race what the ancient priest-kings were in the dawn of human history.” According to Alice Bailey, “angels” will appear with this false Christ in order to convince people that they should follow him. Thus, the final stage of the “New Age” reversal of Christianity will be the worship of the Antichrist, whose coming is after the power of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders (2 Thess. 2:9).

It should be pointed out that many New Agers today would not be aware of, much less subscribe to, all the points of “The Plan.” As we have seen, the movement incorporates a diverse array of groups, ideas, and practices. If it can be called a “conspiracy,” this is certainly not because all New Agers are working together secretly, on an organizational level, toward fulfillment of “The Plan.” Ultimately, “The Plan” is being orchestrated not on a human but on a demonic level, and the architects of the New Age movement are, to a large degree, only mouthpieces of ideas that are not their own.

(To be continued)

Hieromonk Damascene

SPIRITUAL POETRY

TO THE ONE GOD

To see the world — how great that is!

What never-ending joy!

To see the world and see the Lord,

The unfathomable Father.

 

To live by faith — how great that is!

Avoiding not the Cross,

To live by faith and glorify Christ —

The holy crucified Son.

 

To be in prayer — how great that is!

To welcome the heart’s new spring,

To be in prayer and hear the Lord,

The silence of His Spirit.

 

 

— Alexander Solodovnikov

— Translated by Natalia Sheniloff

 

 


Urgent Appeal

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

We appeal to you with a heartfelt request to help our small church in the enormous difficulties that have befallen it.

In view of emerging malfunctions and the deterioration of our more than a 100-year-old church building, we are forced to simultaneously replace both our entire antique electrical wiring system and our heating system, as well as renovate whole sections of the building. All this work will cost $30,000 — a sum that is entirely beyond the means of our modest church; however, these repairs are absolutely essential.

We will be grateful to you for any and all assistance, and may the Merciful Lord Himself grant you the ineffable joy of His forthcoming Resurrection for your care for His holy abode.

Checks may be made out and sent to the church. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Donations from outside the U.S. can be sent as follows:
Swift code: HIBKUS44
Recipient bank: Capital One N.A. 5552 Norbeck Road Rockville, Maryland 20853 USA
Recipient: Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church 2201 E. Baltimore Street Baltimore, Maryland 21231 USA
Recipient’s account: 2084303087

With gratitude and love in Christ,
Rector Protopriest Ion Barbus
Treasurer Matushka Natalia Sheniloff


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