On Sunday, January 11th,after the Divine Liturgy we will have a festive lunch and a traditional Christmas pageant in our newly renovated and spacious church hall. Our children will give a performance, receive presents, and we will also have special guests at our pageant — Santa Claus and the Snow Maiden. We invite all our parishioners and their friends to this wonderful Christmas event.
SYNAXIS OF THE MOST-HOLY THEOTOKOS
On the second day of Christ’s Nativity, the Church unites its joy over the newborn Saviour of the world with a fervent glorification of the Mother of God. And throughout all the days of the cel-bration of Nativity, this joy is indivisible for us. In venerating the Lord, we venerate His Mother. In worshipping the Sun of truth in the Orient from on high, we glorify the One Who, like the dawn, precedes this sun. And not only precedes, but carries within Herself and bears into the world this Divine life and light. Heaven and earth gaze in awe upon the incomprehensible honor of the Virgin Who is called the Mother of God – the Mother of the One Who created heaven and earth. “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord,” – says the Holy Virgin, but God calls Her His Mother. She is the Mother and a handmaiden at the same time, always the Mother and always a handmaiden, just as Her Son – God and Man – is always God and always Man.
Just as She attains Her majesty through humility, so She attains Her motherhood through virginity. She retains virginity and becomes a mother, uniting two mysteries of life that never exist simultaneously. Mankind stands before these two mysteries, unable to comprehend them without Her. In Christ’s Nativity Her virginity is not only preserved, but it is elevated, it is crowned, it blossoms through Her motherhood. And Her motherhood is sacredly prepared, blessedly attained, and divinely perfected by Her virginity. All virgins and mothers participate to some degree in this mystery – sacred motherhood is attained only through chastity, while chastity is affirmed by motherhood, not to mention the fact that true chastity is revealed in spiritual nativity and spiritual motherhood. It is written: “More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife” (Isaiah 54:1).
Today we celebrate the feast of Nativity in a world where motherhood is desecrated and virginity is derided, where the routine killing of one’s own unborn children – a Bethlehem-type massacre of infants on a planetary scale, – and the everyday commonness of depravity attest more clearly than the most terrible prophecies to the fact that man without God cannot be man. There are many people who welcome the Lord and the Holy Virgin, beginning with the manger at Bethlehem (where, as the Gospel tells us, one can see the Infant and His Mother) and ending with the Cross, from which the Saviour of mankind says to His disciple: “Behold thy Mother!” (John 19:27). And yet there are many people who pass by, trampling upon everything! To be chosen as the Mother of God signifies the bearing of a cross. No one knows the mystery of birth, life, and death of each person as She does. And no one can pray for mankind with such compassion and such love as She, because She is the Mother of all living persons and the Mother of the Living God.
Let us try today to ponder as deeply as possible the mystery of the Mother of God’s intercession. Here, in the manger of Bethlehem, for Her He is simultaneously the Saviour of the world and a growing infant. An infant similar to others, yet at the same time the pre-eternal Son – the One Who, at the Pre-eternal Council, chose to take upon Himself the burden of the world. Thus She carried Her infant like any other mother carries her firstborn. However, She had to be prepared by the Holy Spirit for the burden of the world’s sins, which Her Son was due to carry.
Through Her faith She can clearly understand what it all means. She, Who never sinned even in Her thoughts, according to St. Siluan the Athonite, knows what sin means. She knows exactly the degree of insult to God that sin represents, and from the moment when She began to carry Her Son within Her, sin became more than just an outward manifestation for Her, because He Who would take upon His shoulders the sins of all men was living inside Her. It was as though She carried within Herself the penitence of the whole world. In every sin She came across, She saw and knew: for this He had come, this would be the cause of His suffering, because of this He would die.
And on the day of Christ’s Nativity, when in a gladsome light the power of Divine forgiveness was revealed to Her, She stood before this ocean of grace in a totally different manner. Up to now She carried grace concealed within Herself. Although She was surrounded by the breath of the Spirit, She did not know Him before as well as She did now. She saw God with Her own eyes and touched Him with Her own hands, and She prayed for everyone. And the satanic depths of sin were bared before Her as never before in the spiritual light of Nativity, and Her prayer became invincible like the weapon of the cross, which even at that moment pierced Her heart.
Christian mothers, Christian maidens, and all Orthodox Christians! Among the terrible temptations of the world, when almost everyone cedes without any resistance to insolent and shameless sin, the Church repeats over and over again the words of St. John Chrysostome: “All tasks in life should retreat before the task of rearing children,” and the words of the Holy Optina elders: “To preserve chastity in our times is to preserve everything.” And when your hearts despair from the hopelessness of doing something good, – turn to the Mother of God. Her prayer truly performs the impossible. Amen.
THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI
Nine months before the Nativity of Christ, during the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary of God’s incarnation within Her, a new star of the east appeared in the heavens. This was an extraordinary star indeed. According to the Holy Fathers (Sts. John Chrysostome and Theophilactus), this star was not one of the regular celestial bodies, but a certain divine and angelic power which appeared in the form of a star. All other stars have their own place in heaven, while this star could also be seen in the air; all stars usually move from east to west, while this star moved unusually from east to south, in the specific direction of Jerusalem; all stars shine only in the night, while this star shone like the sun even during the day; all stars are in constant movement, while this star sometimes moved and sometimes stopped, i.e. when the magi traveled, then the star traveled with them, and when they rested, then the star stood, too.
This extraordinary star was seen by three magi, or wise men, in three different countries – Persia, Arabia, and Ethiopia. Being learned men, they knew astronomy and studied the stars, and thus, seeing such an unusual phenomenon in the skies, they realized that something supernatural had taken place in the world. Then, inspired by God, they remembered the ancient prophecy of another stargazer, Valaam, who had said: “A star will shine forth from Jacob, and a man will arise from Israel.” The magi realized that the time had come for the Lord and King of the universe to be born, and that this was His star, foretold ages ago. Then each one of them left his own country and embarked upon travel to Judea, in order to worship the newborn God. During their travel they met one another and continued on their way in unison.
Traveling thus for several months, the magi finally came to Judea and reached its capital – Jerusalem – on the very day of Christ’s Nativity. However, when they approached Jerusalem, the star that was leading them suddenly disappeared from view. This happened so that King Herod and the envious Jewish priests would not be able to find the Christ-Child and kill Him prematurely, and also because the Jewish populace was not worthy of seeing the wondrous star: the magi were pagans, and yet had come from afar to worship Christ, while the Jews had Him right beside them, and yet disdained Him.
Upon entering Jerusalem, the magi began asking: “Where is the newborn King of Judea? We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” This news amazed the populace and shook up King Herod and all the Jewish leaders. Deciding to kill Christ, in Whom he saw a future rival, Herod summoned the magi, questioned them about the appearance of the new star, and cunningly sent them to discover the location of the newborn Child and subsequently pass on the information to Herod.
When the magi left Jerusalem, the familiar star again appeared right away and went before them. It led them all the way to Bethlehem, to the cave, and stopped over the Christ-Child. And then an extraordinary event took place: the star left the firmament and came down to earth, and showed the magi the exact location of Christ. Here was further indication that this was not an ordinary star, but a special divine power.
Finding Christ in the cave, the magi knelt down to the ground before Him, worshipping Him as God, and gave Him their gifts. What gifts did they bring? Gold, incense, and myrrh: gold for Him as King, incense for Him as God, myrrh for Him as a mortal man. The first magus – Melchior, old and grey, with long hair and beard, – brought the gold. The second magus – Gaspar, young and beardless, with a rosy face, – brought the incense. The third magus – Balthazar, with a dark complexion and a long beard, – brought the myrrh.
Several church canticles movingly describe this wondrous moment, depicting the Virgin Mary as though speaking to Her newborn Son: “Having recognized Thee as a King just born, the oriental kings have come, bringing gifts to Thee, My Son, – incense, myrrh, and gold. And now they are standing at the entrance. Bid them enter and look upon Thee, an Infant in My arms, yet more ancient than Adam.” “Come and enter carefully, – said the Virgin to the magi – and ye will see the Unseen One, Who can now be seen as a Child.” And they entered assiduously and knelt down, and presented their gifts, fulfilling the divine prophecy.”
Afterwards, being instructed by an angel not to return to Herod, who was planning to kill Christ, the magi went another way and returned each to his own land, and there became teachers and preachers of Christ. They taught people to believe in Christ as the Son of God, just as they believed in Him themselves, and after their repose they became numbered among the saints.
THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
Along with Pascha, the feast of the Baptism of our Lord is one of the oldest Christian holidays. It is dedicated to the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. From ancient times this holiday was celebrated by Christians with great enthusiasm, because it reminded them of their own baptism and promoted within them a deeper awareness of the power of this sacrament.
The event itself of the baptism of our Lord was as follows: when the time came for the Lord Jesus Christ to embark upon His public service, God sent the prophet John the Baptist to preach repentance, in order to prepare the Jewish people for the coming Messiah. According to the holy Evangelist Luke, John the Baptist began preaching in the 15th year of the rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. This was approximately in the 779th year from the founding of Rome or the 30th year of the Christian era. At that time the Lord Jesus Christ was still living in His city of Nazareth, in the northern part of the Holy Land – the region called Galilee, where the Holy Family settled since the time of the massacre of the Bethlehem infants by Herod.
John the Baptist’s teaching was simple, but it penetrated the very soul of his listeners:“Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” – said the prophet. The site of John’s preaching was the Judean wilderness – the sparsely populated area comprising the western shores of Jordan and the Dead Sea, dotted with rocky hills and dried up streams, with very sparse vegetation, which is why it was called a wilderness. The prophet John, son of the righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth, became orphaned very early and grew up in this wilderness. There he became accustomed to an extremely harsh way of life. He wore a garment made out of camel’s hair, girdled with a leather belt, and ate locusts and wild honey.
After the boring sermons of the Jewish scribes, discoursing primarily on the correct performance of various religious rites, the preaching of John the Baptist swept the entire Judea as a breath of fresh air. The inhabitants of Jerusalem, Judea, and even Galilee and Samaria thronged to him to hear the living and inspired words of this prophet of God.
Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the famous prophet Isaiah foretold in his book of the preaching of John the Baptist. Isaiah calls the prophet John “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,” who was to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His steps.” The Old Testament prophet Malachi, who lived about 400 years before the birth of Christ, also foretold of John the Baptist. He calls John an angel of the Lord (“angel” means messenger in Greek), saying on behalf of God: “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me.”
With his appeal for repentance the prophet John impressed upon the Jews the need to profoundly realize the error of their ways, to condemn their sinful life, and to begin a new one based upon God’s commandments. The word “repent” – metanoin in Greek – means “to change one’s worldview,” to look upon life in a new way. Moreover, the prophet John insisted upon the repentance being sincere, wholehearted, and accompanied by self-correction and good deeds. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” – the prophet told the Jews. To the frequently asked question “what to do?” the prophet replied: “Whoever has two pieces of clothing, give to the one who has not”– in other words, do good and help the needy. The prophet persuaded the publicans (tax collectors) not to extort more taxes than was legally required. He taught the soldiers not to offend anyone, not to slander anyone, and to be content with their earnings.
However, not all Jews came to the prophet with the desire to hear the living word of God and with the intention to correct their lives. Some came out of idle curiosity or to find fault with an incautious word on the prophet’s part, in order to accuse him before the authorities. Among the prophet’s ill-wishers were the Jewish scribes and the Pharisees, who envied the prophet his glory and feared to lose their authority among the people. They prided themselves on their knowledge of the law, on their ritual “righteousness,” and looked with disdain upon simple and illiterate folk. The prophet John, seeing the hypocrisy and malice of the Jewish leaders, their unwillingness to turn to God, denounced them openly and quite strongly, saying: “O generation of vipers! Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
However, the ones who repented and confessed (i.e. openly declared) their sins, the prophet John baptized in the Jordan River. The baptism consisted of the repentant’s prayerful immersion in water, which symbolized the cleansing of sins. The prophet John’s baptism was not yet the grace-filled Christian baptism, but a preparation for it.In calling the forthcoming Kingdom of the Messiah a heavenly one, the prophet John gave to understand that the Messianic kingdom would not be what many Jews incorrectly imagined it to be – a powerful and rich state. In reality, the Kingdom of the Messiah would be heavenly and spiritual, summoning people to God and granting them moral renewal.
Looking at John, some of the Jews asked themselves whether it was he who was the awaited Messiah? But the prophet John decisively declined such an honor, explaining to them that his task was only to prepare people for the coming Messiah. He, John, was baptizing them in water as a sign of repentance, while the Messiah would baptize them “with the holy spirit and fire.” In other words, the new baptism would not simply be a symbolic cleansing like John’s baptism, but would be a grace-filled renaissance of the person. In the Messianic baptism the Holy Spirit Himself, acting as fire, would burn away people’s sinful impurity and would kindle within their hearts an ardent desire to serve God. Those who accept the Messiah will be gathered by God into His Kingdom, like wheat is gathered into a granary, while those who oppose Christ will be burned by God like straw in an inextinguishable fire.
The Evangelists continue their narrative by saying that “then” – during one of John the Baptist’s sermons on the shores of the River Jordan – “cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” Why did the sinless Jesus come to be baptized? The answer to this question we receive from John the Baptist himself, who several times before this event explained to the members of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish supreme religious council): “For this I have come to baptize with water, in order that He (Christ) be made manifest to Israel,” in other words, that the baptism reveal who He really is. Up to that time Jesus Christ lived in the solitude of Nazareth, known only to the inhabitants of his small hometown as the son of Mary and the carpenter Joseph. Now Christ had reached the age of thirty and, according to Jewish law, received the right to instruct people and call Himself a “rabbi” – teacher. The time had come for Him to reveal Himself to the people, and for the people to hear witness of Him as the long-awaited Messiah. This is what happened now on the shores of Jordan.
However, when the Lord approached John, the latter sensed His great and divine holiness, and he said to Jesus: “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” To this the Lord replied: “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” By the word righteousness Jesus Christ means the will of God. It was the will of God that all who wished to become members of the grace-filled Messianic Kingdom should be baptized. Baptism took on the meaning of a “door” into the Kingdom of God. As the progenitor of the new mankind that was restored by Him, Jesus Christ was due to enter first into the Kingdom which He was establishing, to open the way to salvation for people, and to teach them to fulfill the will of God. Simultaneously, the Saviour’s immersion in water at the moment of His baptism also had the aim to sanctify baptism, to turn this symbolic rite into a grace-filled, restorative Christian sacrament.
All those who came to John first confessed their sins and then immersed themselves in the water. Jesus alone, being sinless, came to John to be directly baptized. After being baptized, Jesus came out of the water immediately and began praying on the shore. At this point He, as the Son of God, was asking His Heavenly Father to bless the beginning of His public service. Suddenly, while Jesus was still praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus from there in the form of a white dove. At the same time the voice of God the Father was heard from there, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased.” These words of God the Father were an indication to John and all the people present of the Divine dignity of the Messiah, Who was not only a Man, but also the Only-begotten Son of God.
The triple miracle which took place here – the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the witness of God the Father – fully convinced the prophet John that Jesus Christ was indeed the awaited Messiah. The prophet John was actually waiting for this visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Messiah, because in the very beginning, sending the prophet out to preach, God had said to him: “Upon whomever thou seest the Spirit descend and remain upon Him, He is the one Who shall baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Thus, from this time on, John the Baptist unhesitatingly bore witness to all that Jesus was the Messiah and the Lamb of God Who had taken upon Himself the sins of the world. Soon after the Lord Jesus Christ’s baptism, the prophet John ceded to Him several of his own disciples: the brothers Andrew (the First-called) and Peter, and the brothers James and John (the Theologian). Adhering to the Saviour, they became His first disciples and apostles.
SYNAXIS OF THE UNIVERSAL TEACHERS AND HIERARCHS BASIL THE GREAT,
GREGORY THE THEOLOGIAN, AND JOHN CHRYSOSTOME
On the mystery of theology
The synaxis of the universal teachers and hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostome is a feast of theology, in whose hymns we hear how the three hierarchs in their prayers call upon the Holy Trinity. These ecclesiastical teachers, whose church service, in the words of Apostle Paul, comprises the special calling of instructorship, instruct us in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
On this day all of us are called upon to realize the importance of a true confession of faith in our spiritual life. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, good works without dogmas have no value, and the confession of dogmas without good works likewise has no value. All of us have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. During the Divine liturgy we confess our creed before we embark upon the Divine Eucharist. And before partaking of the Holy Mysteries, we confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God – a mystery which is not revealed to man by flesh and blood, but by the Heavenly Father Who is in heaven.
This is the key to understanding the precise significance of the holiness of Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostome. Their instructorship is united with their holiness and their attachment to God, since without cognizance of God a person cannot engage in theology.
“The mystery of theology, – teaches the venerable Siluan – lies in that a person who has attained perfection never says anything of his own, but only that which God says through him.” The mystery of theology also consists of a person saying not what he has heard from other people, but what, by the grace of God, he has learned from his own spiritual experience. In the final analysis, it is only this precise theology which is genuine, but the path to it consists of our entire life being spent in obedience to the Church and of our aspiring towards the divinely-revealed mysteries that are given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The mystery of instructorship is tied in with the mystery of prelacy. The universal teachers Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostome are also hierarchs, who pray to God and compose their own prayers and services to Him. This is not because they possess a special gift of oratory (although they do happen to have it), but because the Lord sanctifies this gift and guides it toward supreme service. They themselves are the composers of the Divine Liturgy in which the Holy Eucharist is performed, and this signifies knowledge of the Living God which they pass on to us. This also signifies their stance for truth and their deflection of all false teachings which infringe upon the holiness of faith.
In resolving the most complex issues of spiritual life, the hierarchs respond to them by simply quoting the Holy Scriptures. St. Basil the Great has instructive discourses in the form of questions and answers that are composed entirely from the Holy Scriptures, without a single word of personal commentary. This is the kind of verbal depth at which these people lived. They lived by the word of God, and the Word of God spoke through them. “Golden lips” (Chrysostome), – we say. And, in truth, these are lips through which God speaks. The holy Fathers taught us: “You have received gold, you must pass this gold on to others.” All of us have received gold, i.e. our Orthodox faith, and we should pass it on to others.
In contemplating the hierarchs’ spiritual labor, we should be amazed at how theology fed their prayers, while their prayers were a continuation of theology. Their prayers and their theology were united and nourished each other. We cannot but be amazed at the way genuine theology is filled with the poetry of supreme beauty. The three hierarchs possessed the gift of oratory. We read the hymns of Gregory the Theologian, and we realize that they represent the contemplation of Divine, not created, beauty. We hear the paschal homily of St. John Chrysostome, and we realize that these are truly superhuman words. These are the words which the Lord gave to him in what is the holiest moment for every person, in order to appeal to all of mankind with these words until the end of time – a moment in which is revealed the most important thing that man has to know: that Christ is risen! Through the lips of St. John Chrysostome, in words filled with supreme power and beauty that far exceed the ability of regular words, the Church thus appeals to us and to all of mankind. And consider St. Basil the Great: his prayers, his Liturgy, his mystic prayers! The power and beauty of his words are higher than anything known in human oratory or verbal achievements.
Because of its relation to God, theology should be fiery, inspired, filled with living power. We know, for example, that iconography is theology in color. In genuine theology the gift of painting is not simply a delineation of certain truths, but beauty issuing from the Creator of heaven and earth, from the Holy Spirit. This kind of theology breathes with divine truth and love.
Of great danger is dead theology. It is the cause of many catastrophes in the Church and among mankind, when faith is confessed only verbally, while people have stopped experiencing it as life itself. In any confession of faith one should not chase after beauty, because truth is already beautiful in itself. But our faith should issue from our very life, from our stance for truth. We should stand up for truth both in personal endeavor, just as all the saints have done, and in our concern that the Church retain this truth forever. Such is the basic sign of genuine God-related inspiration.
When the Antichrist comes, he will amaze everyone with his false inspiration. Any word can be inspired and vivid, but we know that the Antichrist will attract a great multitude of people with his inspired but empty words. We should know that one of the outward signs that a word is genuine is when it is simultaneously reasonable and knows its measure. A genuine word is concerned with everything that is going on externally. It is not by chance that all three hierarchs were greatly concerned with church establishment. They participated in all external events: in the establishment of monastic life, in the writing of canons, in the building of churches. The vision of that which takes place in the external world is one of the signs of a genuine word, because the external is not abolished by the existence of the internal, but on the contrary, is enhanced and shown in its true light. Similarly little things do not become insignificant because of the existence of great things, but each has its own importance. Only the one who is faithful to the Lord in little things is also faithful in great things.
In our times, when there is so much disbelief and false belief around us, when iniquity in the external world (and even in the world of the Church) is attacking truth more and more aggressively, let us pray to the hierarchs of Christ and ask them for the help which we so greatly need. Let us pray that false ecumenism – an attempt to unite truth with falsehood without dividing them – and all the apostasy in faith which is one of the major signs of the triumph of Satan and the coming of the Antichrist, not overcome our Church. Let us pray that the gates of hell not vanquish it, for all the holy Fathers are with us; their holy faith, which also belongs to us, is with us; the thousands of saints who paid with their blood for the confession of Orthodoxy are with us.
May the Lord grant that we be worthy of the faith of these great saints. May the Lord grant each one of us, on this day which glorifies the theology which leads to knowledge of God, the realization that we are called upon to fulfill the primary commandment – to love God, not only with all our heart, not only with all our strength, with also with all our mind. Amen.
THE OPTINA HERMITAGE
Optina elder hieromonk Macarius was born Mikhail Nikolayevich Ivanov on November 20, 1788 in a noble family distinguished by its piety. The family lived in the environs of Kaluga, in a very beautiful place near the Lavrentyev monastery, from which the ringing of bells was heard daily, summoning the monks to prayer. At the age of five Elder Macarius lost his mother, who had loved him ardently, sensing that he would be an unusual person. Due to his mother’s illness the family had to move frequently. He graduated from school in the city of Karachevo, and in 1814 took on the job of accountant, which he did well, gaining favorable notice. However, he continued to live in his own inner world. He read a lot, searching for answers to the most important questions in his mind and heart. He loved music and was an excellent violinist. At the age of 24, after the death of his father, he retired and settled down to live on his village estate. He was a poor estate manager. One time the peasants stole a large amount of buckwheat. Mikhail counseled them at great length, citing the Holy Scriptures. As a result the peasants fell to their knees in repentance, to the shame of Mikhail’s relatives, who had laughed at his spiritual efforts. An attempt was made to marry him off, but since he was unattractive in face and stuttered, besides having no inclination in that direction,– the matter was abandoned. He buried himself in religious books and from time to time went to a woodworker’s shop, where he worked to the point of exhaustion, thus subordinating his young flesh to the spirit.
In 1810 he went on a pilgrimage to the Ploshchansk Hermitage, where he remained, sending his brothers a document renouncing his rights to the estate. Here, under the guidance of Arseny – a disciple of Paisius Velichkovsky, he received proper initial instruction and also studied church canons and singing. He helped with letter writing and other secretarial work. In 1815 he was tonsured with the name of Macarius. 1824 was the year of his first visit to Optina. The following year his elder died, and Macarius was appointed father confessor to the Sevskiy convent. Thus began his work as confessor. He had a hard time without an elder, but in response to his prayers the Lord sent him Father Leo, who visited the convent with his disciples. In this manner Father Macarius once again acquired an instructor. Soon Father Leo was sent to Optina. The two of them corresponded, and after a while Father Macarius also moved to Optina.
Father Macarius remained with Father Leo until the latter’s death. From Father Leo he learned to treat with great love all the poor people who came to him in physical and spiritual distress, to heal their illnesses, and not to disdain anything except sin. The elder often saw clairvoyantly where evil lay, denounced it, but afterwards treated the person with such loving warmth that the latter remembered for the rest of his life the joy of reacquiring a clear conscience.
Father Macarius was of a gentler disposition than Father Leo and was exclusively modest. He and Father Leo together “nurtured” the great elder Ambrose. After Father Leo’s death the entire burden of spiritual guidance fell upon Father Macarius, who was always full of tranquility and joy in the Lord.
The elder was a huge man, with an unattractive pockmarked face, but with shining eyes full of quiet modesty. He had an extremely lively and energetic nature and an excellent memory: after a first confession he remembered the person for the rest of his life. However, his stuttering and shortness of breath in speaking was an embarrassment to him throughout his entire life. He was also always dressed poorly. But he had the gift of clairvoyance: seeing a person for the first time, he often called him by name before the latter introduced himself. Sometimes he replied to letters even before receiving them, so that the sender received a reply to a letter sent only an hour before. The elder’s life was full of pastoral concerns. In church he established the singing of the Kievan chant and instituted good reading and the singing of special melodies. Father Macarius himself, though a hieromonk, did not officiate at services, primarily due to his modesty, but he often sang with fervor and tears of tenderness. The elder spent 20 years in his humble monastic cell, which consisted of a waiting room and a very small bedroom, the furniture of which comprised a narrow cot, a writing desk covered in an orderly manner with piles of letters waiting to be answered, spiritual magazines and the writings of the Holy Fathers, and an armchair with a pillow. The icon corner contained a specially-venerated icon of the Vladimir Mother of God, with an ever-burning lampada before it and a wooden triangular shelf with the Gospel and other books for reading the monastic prayer rule. The walls were covered with views of monasteries and portraits of ascetics. Everything attested to his secret aspirations and to a spirit which had renounced the worldly lot. Here the elder often spent sleepless nights and got up, as a rule, at the ringing of the skete bell at 2:00 A.M.; often he himself woke up his cell attendants. The morning prayers were read. At 6 A.M. the hours were read for him, and he drank one or two cups of tea. Afterwards he received visitors. Here he listened to human sorrows. He clearly possessed the gift of spiritual discernment, as well as the strength of humility and love, which made his words especially powerful and effective. After speaking with him, people felt themselves renewed. By anointing people with oil from his ever-burning lampada, he brought great benefit to the sick. There were numerous healings, particularly of those possessed by demons.
At 11 A.M. the bell rang for lunch and the elder went over to the refractory, after which he rested and then once again received visitors. At 2:00, with a crutch in one hand and a prayer rope in the other, the elder went to the pilgrim’s inn, where hundreds of people awaited him, each with his own need, both spiritual and worldly. The elder lovingly heard each person out, instructing some and pulling others out of the rut of despair. Exhausted, barely able to breathe, he went back after his daily labor. The time came to hear the evening rule. The bell rang for the evening meal, which was sometimes brought to him. But he made use even of this time to receive the monks of both the monastery and the skete. Often he visited their monastic cells personally, and always in time, leaving behind him tranquility and joy. He also gave out an obedience: to read the writings of the Holy Fathers according to each monk’s level of spirituality. He did not tolerate idleness and for this reason established craftwork in the skete: bookbinding, lathery, etc. Each of the brothers knew and felt that his burden of labors and sorrows was shared by his loving and wise spiritual father, and this made monastic life easier.
At the end of the day they listened to the evening prayers and the remainder of the evening rule, after which the elder blessed everyone and dismissed them. It was already very late. The elder went into his monastic cell. His body ached from exhaustion and his heart from the impressions of all the human suffering that had been revealed. His eyes filled with tears… and yet on the table lay a pile of letters awaiting a reply. He sat down and began to write. When the candle burned down, the elder got up and stood to pray. Prayer never ceased within him, whether he was among a throng of people, at a meal, engaged in conversation, or in the quiet of the night.
Besides all that, to Father Macarius belongs the inestimable merit and labor of publishing the writings of the Holy Fathers. For this work he sacrificed his brief time of rest. This work united all spiritually aspiring intellectual forces, but all those individuals, besides their literary relations with the elder, also made use of his spiritual guidance.
The elder foretold the time of his death. A week prior to his repose he made his farewells, gave away his modest belongings, and gave out final instructions. People thronged to his cell to have a last look at him at least through the window. At around midnight he called for his confessor and asked him to read the prayers for the departing soul. At 6:00 in the morning he took Holy Communion, and an hour later, fully conscious and with tenderness of spirit, the great elder Macarius peacefully and painlessly departed for the Heavenly Kingdom. This was on September 7, 1860.
COUNSELS OF THE OPTINA ELDERS
Counsels of the venerable Elder Macarius
…To your question as to what constitutes happiness in life – whether it is grandeur, glory and wealth, or a quiet, peaceful family life, – I will tell you that I agree with the latter, and I will also add that a life spent with a pure conscience and with humility brings peace, tranquility, and true happiness, while wealth, honors, glory, and high position are often the cause of many sins and do not bring happiness.
People for the most part desire and seek well-being in this life, and tend to avoid sorrows. This seems to be good and pleasant, but constant well-being and happiness are harmful to a person. He falls into various passions and sins and offends the Lord, while those who lead a life of sorrow attain salvation, and for this reason the Lord has called a merry life the broad path: “the wide gate and the broad path lead to destruction, and many there are which follow it” (Matt. 7:13), while the life of sorrow He called “the strait gate and the narrow way which lead unto eternal life, and few there are that find it” (Matt. 7:14). Thus, out of His love for us and seeing its possible benefit for those who are worthy of it, the Lord leads many people away from the broad path and places them on the narrow and sorrowful path, in order to arrange their salvation through their endurance of illnesses and sorrows, and to grant them eternal life.
…You not only wish to be good and not do anything bad, but you also wish to see yourself as such. The desire is laudable, but the wish to see one’s own good qualities provides food for vanity. Even if we acted sincerely and correctly in all things, we still would have to regard ourselves as unworthy servants. However, being faulty in all things, we must not consider ourselves to be good even in our thoughts. For this reason we are embarrassed instead of being humble. In consequence, God does not give us strength for the execution of things, in order for us not to have pride in ourselves, but to attain humility. And when we do attain it, then our virtues will be strong and will not allow us to be vain.
… We, weak-minded people, thinking to arrange our possessions, bustle around, despair, deprive ourselves of rest, only in order to leave our children a good estate. But do we know whether it will be of benefit to them? A foolish son is not helped by wealth – it only serves to lead him into immorality. We must concern ourselves with leaving our children the good example of our lives and rearing them in the fear of God and His commandments – that is their primary treasure. When we seek the Kingdom of God and His truth, all that is needful here will also be added (Matt. 6:33). You will say: but we cannot do this, the modern world requires different things now! All right, but have you borne your children for this world only, and not for the hereafter? Comfort yourself with the word of God: if the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you (John 15:18), while the carnal mind is enmity against God: it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Rom. 8:7). Do not desire earthly glory for your children, but that they may be good people and obedient children, and when God grants it – kind spouses and tender parents, concerned for those serving them, loving to all, and tolerant of their enemies.
… You wish to get nearer to God and attain salvation. That is the responsibility of all Christians, but it is done only through the keeping of God’s commandments, which consist entirely of love for God and neighbors, and even stretch to love for one’s enemies. Read the Gospel and there you will find the way, the truth, and the life; preserve the Orthodox faith and the canons of the Holy Church; study the instructions contained in the writings of church pastors and teachers, and arrange your life according to these teachings. However, rules of prayer alone will not help us do good… I advise you to pay as much attention as possible to works of love for your neighbors, to your relations with parents, spouses, and children, and try to bring up your children in the Orthodox faith and good morality. The holy Apostle Paul, enumerating the different type of virtues and labors of self-sacrifice, says: “Even if I do such-and-such, but have no love, there is no benefit to me.”
Counsels of the venerable Elder Anthony
Christians are animate images of Christ, and whoever is meek, humble of heart, and obedient, – resembles Christ most of all.
One must refrain from grumbling against God and have mortal fear of it, for by His great mercy the Lord tolerates all our sins, but His charity cannot put up with our grumbling.
Do not take upon yourself any vows or rules without the approval of your spiritual father, on whose advice a single prostration will bring you greater benefit than a thousand self-willed prostrations.
The Pharisee prayed and fasted more than we do, yet without humility his labor was all in vain, and for this reason you should rather follow the example of the publican’s humility, which is usually born from obedience, and that will suffice for you.
In all sorrows: in illness, in poverty, in need, in bewilderment, in all misfortunes, – it is much better to do less thinking and talking on one’s own, but appeal more frequently with a prayer, no matter how brief, to the Lord God and to His Most-holy Mother, as a result of which your spirit of bitter dejection will vanish, while the heart will be filled with hope in God and with joy.
Meekness and humility of heart are virtues without which not only are we unable to attain the Heavenly Kingdom, but we are unable to be happy on earth or experience inner tranquility.
Whatever disappointment may overtake you, whatever misfortune may befall you, – you should only say: “I will bear this for the sake of Jesus Christ!” Just say those words, and you will immediately feel lighter at heart, for the name of Jesus Christ is powerful. With it all misfortunes melt away, all demons disappear. Your frustration will also melt away, and so will your faintheartedness, whenever you repeat His sweetest name. Lord, grant me to see my sins; Lord, grant me patience, magnanimity, and meekness.
Counsels of the venerable Elder Hilarion
Do not be ashamed to bare the sores of your soul to your spiritual father, and be ready to receive an injunction from him for your sins, in order to have him help you avoid eternal shame.
The Church is an earthly heaven for us, where God Himself is invisibly present and looks upon those who are attending; therefore, one must stand in church in an orderly manner and with great piety. Let us love the Church and treat it earnestly: it is our solace and comfort in sorrows and joys.
In order to comfort the sorrowing, the elder often said: If the Lord is for us, who is against us? (Rom. 8:31).
You must begin every deed by calling upon the name of God for help.
The elder often spoke of keeping a clear conscience, of attentively monitoring one’s thoughts, actions, and words, and repenting of them. He taught that one must good-naturedly endure the frailties and shortcomings of subordinates. “You may offer criticism, – advised the elder, – without feeding your own egoism, pondering on whether you yourself could endure that which you are demanding from others.”
If you feel yourself in a rage, keep quiet and do not say anything, until by means of constant prayer and self-reproach your heart calms down.
It is better for the soul to feel itself totally to blame, rather than engage in self-justification, since the latter arises from pride, while God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
The elder often quoted the Apostle (Paul): “True love is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, never fails.”
Spiritual life according to St. Seraphim of Sarov
God is a spirit, and the life of the Divinity is spiritual. This spirituality is founded upon the essence of the Divine nature, in which unity is combined with diversity.
The Lord wished to have man, whom He had created, also live a spiritual life, and for this He gave him His own likeness as the basis of Godliness in spiritual life. The Lord created for man a body out of dust, but elevated it by life given through an act of creation. This body is essentially similar to the body of animals, but differs from it in its form and beauty, which are a symbol of perfection.
God gave man a soul, this conscious force that is like unto the soul of animals, which guides the instincts of nourishment and self-preservation, but is elevated above it by the capabilities of its vital manifestations.
Finally, the Lord gave man a spirit, one in essence with God’s spirit, but differing from It in its dependence and limitations.
This simultaneous unity and diversity of all parts permeated man’s entire nature. The body was subordinate to the soul and was tended by it, the soul was subordinate to the spirit which provided guidance for the soul, while the spirit was subordinate to the Lord God in His creative concern for all. Despite the diversity of his parts, man was nevertheless conscious of himself as a single entity. This unity in man’s nature was the first condition of his spiritual life. The diversity of the parts did not disturb this unity; on the contrary, it stimulated man to aspire upward to perfection for the sake of such unity.
The body, experiencing sweetness, found well-being and goodness in it, and thus aspired in its life to soulfulness and united with it. The soul found a certain spirituality in the pleasantness of life and thus elevated itself to the level of the spirit and united with it. The spirit, in its divergence from God, aspired towards Him and in the divineness of sensations elevated itself to union with Him. Aspiration towards perfection, founded upon diversity and motivated by a desire for unity, was the second condition of man’s spiritual life.
This aspiration was expressed in obedience to God. Man constantly had to coordinate his will with the will of God, which he knew directly from God and also from moral law. His accord with the will of God was always confirmed to him by his clear conscience. Necessary obedience to God was the third condition of spiritual life.
Finally, the Lord breathed into man the breath of life and animated him with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The power of Divine grace helped man maintain unity and accomplish this aspiration towards perfection through constant obedience to God. The state of being filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit was the last and major condition of spiritual life.
But, unfortunately, this spiritual life did not last long. Man sinned and in his sinfulness was deprived of the aid of the Holy Spirit, without which unity was destroyed, aspiration towards perfection ceased, and obedience vanished. Man fell, and in his fall he distanced himself from God, forgot Him, ceased to thank and glorify Him. Unity and obedience in nature were destroyed by the fact that the body ceased to be subordinate to the soul, the soul to the spirit, the spirit to God. Aspiration upwards, to perfection, was replaced by a pull downwards, to perdition. The spirit descended to the level of the soul, and the soul to the level of the body. Instead of aspiring towards God, the spirit took upon itself the functions of the soul and became worldly in its manifestations. The soul weakened in its awareness of its difference from animals and descended to their level. The body in its natural needs was reduced by a weakened spirit to a state of senselessness and was punished for natural and unnatural sins by grave illnesses.
Obedience was replaced by consistent defiance against God the Holy Spirit. Spiritual life ceased to exist and became replaced by spiritual distortion and physical depravity. Godliness also vanished, life became senseless and existence aimless. Man no longer wished for good, and even had he wished it, he did not do the good he wished, but committed the evil he did not wish.
Who could deliver him from such misery? Only the Creator, Who knew how much good was incorporated into man’s nature and how perfect man can be in union with Him. And thus this Creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, came down to earth, took upon Himself the image of man, and became like unto him in all but sin. He – the God-man – called people to repentance and to union with God, in order to return them once again to the Kingdom of God. Through personal example, miracle-working, and Divine teaching He enlightened their minds with the light of truth and filled their hearts with belief in Him as the Redeemer and Saviour. Inspired by such faith, people drew near to Christ, and from God’s enemies they turned into His children, brothers, and friends. Christ’s compassionate love penetrated their hearts and evoked love for Christ in response, uniting them with Him in a single community of believers.
Christ passed through His life’s path by combating evil and ended by vanquishing it, for He did not sin, but ascended into heaven. Together with Him He elevated human nature, still pure and unmarred by sin: the angels were amazed at such a transformation of humanity and worshipped it in the person of the God-man – Christ.
The people remaining on earth do not sever their connection with Christ. Ardent faith elevates them into heaven, too, while love unites them with Christ in one unbroken whole – a living organism – the one Holy Church headed by Christ, in which they all are members. This church is spiritualized by the grace of the Holy Spirit and through its sacraments offers a holy and immortal life in constant unity with God. By confessing his Orthodox faith in Christ and making use of these sacraments, each member of the Church becomes a participant in this grace-filled life and is spiritually reborn.
Thus, in cleansing himself of the original sin through the sacrament of baptism, man restores his spiritual purity, while in the sacrament of anointment with myrrh he receives strength for a virtuous life and the attainment of perfection.
Personal sinfulness on the path to such perfection is cleansed by the grace of penitence, while in the sacrament of Holy Communion man unites with Christ and emerges a new creation. The original desire for good is revived in him, and he gathers strength for the realization of this desire in a virtuous life. Man becomes Christian, and shining thoughts, pure feelings, and lofty desires reappear within him. A new spiritual life is revived, and unity in his nature and in his attitude towards God and others is restored. In his obedience he acknowledges the will of God, while in fulfilling it he gradually draws near to Him and spiritually improves.
His entire life revolves around God; he lives for His sake and is constantly sanctified by the Holy Spirit. This power of the grace of the Holy Spirit fills his entire being, and makes him, while he is still here on earth, a participant in celestial joy and spiritual bliss. Such was the salvific spiritual life led by all our hierarchs and ascetics, such was the life led by St. Seraphim, and to such a life he called all those who came to him for guidance.
St. Seraphim believed that every Christian should maintain within himself this internal unity and establish spiritual orderliness. This is best achieved by fasting. Lent tames the body’s sensuality, restrains the soul’s worldly busyness, and provides the spirit with the freedom to pray. In this manner the subordination of the body to the soul, the soul to the spirit, and the spirit to God, which had been initially established by God, is restored and maintained in man’s nature.
Unity with people is maintained by manifesting love through deeds of charity. In each person we must see a creation of God similar to ourselves, filled with grace through the gifts of God’s love and mercy, and thus meriting also our own love and charity. Such commonality of God’s mercy should unite us with other people, while the only difference we should find between us is that we are sinful, while they are more virtuous. This will encourage us to be humble and meek, and will lead to unity with others in following the example of their virtuousness.
Unity with God, on St. Seraphim’s advice, is maintained through constant remembrance of Him. We should become used to having the Lord in our thoughts, and then we will grow close to Him and will love Him, and in loving Him we will become capable of self-sacrifice for Him. Constant remembrance of God is stimulated by prayer, which encourages the growth of the fear of God in our hearts for the sake of our love for Him, so that sin does not separate us from the Lord. Sincere prayer brings forth tears of repentance and remorse, and illuminates the heart with the rays of Christ’s truth. When encountering distraction in prayer, we must humble ourselves and ask God for forgiveness. A prayerful mood also comprises genuine Christian hope, when a person seeks the Kingdom of God and is convinced that all that is needful for salvation in this earthly life will be given to him; this differs from the hope of vanity, in which a person believes in his own powers and turns to God only in case of failure.
Aside from unity, spiritual life also requires a striving for perfection. This striving, according to St. Seraphim, should be for the sake of Christ, because only such a striving brings us close to God and is salvific for us. Perfection without Christ is regarded by God benevolently, but does not bring salvation; in order to be salvific it should lead to belief in Christ and perfection for His sake, just as it did in the life of the centurion Cornilius. In like manner good deeds without Christ are simply pleasing to God, while if done for the sake of Christ – they bring salvation, for they fill a person with the grace of God. It is to such perfection that every person must aspire in his spiritual life. This aspiration should be expressed in constant obedience to the will of God.
St. Seraphim teaches us that there are three wills: one is Satanic – destructive, which encourages the doing of good for the sake of vanity and pride; the second is human – neither salvific, nor destructive; and the third is the will of God – salvific. We can know this will from reading the word of God. Such reading brings forth tears, warms the soul with tenderness, and fills the heart with the gifts of a spiritual, grace-filled life. Such a life finds its meaning only in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. The grace-filled power of the Holy Spirit maintains within us internal unity and spiritual purity, gives us strength for an unimpeded striving towards perfection through constant obedience to the Creator, fills the soul with the joy of being, and leads us to God, in order to live an immortal life together with Him.
Such is salvific spiritual life according to the teaching of St. Seraphim. If we were to ask ourselves – do we live such a life? – we would find an answer in the following example. If someone, standing and praying in church, is unable to overcome physical weakness and goes out, as an obedient servant of his body, for a smoke or idle talk, – such a one does not lead a spiritual life. If someone, getting up from sleep, is unable to overcome the soul’s attraction for material concerns and carelessly leaves his bed without the sign of a cross and a prayer to God, – such a one does not lead a spiritual life. If someone does good only for the sake of vanity and strives for perfection without Christ, – such a one does not lead a spiritual life. If someone has not acquired the habit of testing the will of God in his actions and making sure they are pleasing to Him, – such a one has not yet stepped onto the path of spiritual life.
And finally, whoever lives outside the true, holy, and orthodox Church, without confession and communion, without the grace-filled aid of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, – such a one cannot lead a salvific spiritual life. A salvific spiritual life is possible only within the church community and with the aid of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
This is the kind of life that our Lord Jesus Christ has restored to us, and the kind of life to which we are called by the glorified saint of God – St. Seraphim.
THE CALENDAR ISSUE
Against the background of all the world events of the 16th and 17th centuries, when Byzantium collapsed, when the Orthodox Russian Empire grew and became stronger, when Western Europe underwent reformation, there occurred yet another event that had extremely important consequences.
Pope Gregory XIII, having been persuaded that the solar calendar was inaccurate and required correction, decided to correct the calendar with the help of his two Vatican astronomers. By means of a narrow ray of sunlight, which fell across the floor of the so-called “calendar room” in the Vatican, it was proven to the Pope that the real length of the tropical solar year is not 365 and a quarter days, as it is counted in the Julian calendar, but slightly less. In reality, the tropical solar year is equal to 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and approximately 46 seconds. In the Julian calendar it is counted as 365 days and precisely 6 hours.
Impressed by such obvious inaccuracy, the Pope decided to correct a calendar that had been working perfectly for over 1,200 years. In the Julian calendar each fourth year is a leap year, i.e. there are three consecutive years of 365 days each, while in the fourth year an extra day is added at the end of February (February 29th). In order to reduce the average length of the year and have it approximate the tropical year, the Pope decided to abolish some of the leap years.
In the Gregorian reform the leap year is abolished in those century years whose centuries are not exactly divisible by 400, i.e. 1700, 1800, 2100, 2200, etc. In the century years that are exactly divisible by 400, the leap years are not abolished, i.e. in 1600, 2000, 2400, etc. Aside from this “correction,” nothing has changed in relation to the Julian calendar, i.e. every fourth year (besides those mentioned above) is a leap year just as in the Julian calendar.
Why has this “correction” been made and to what has it led? Let us look at the explanation provided by Pope Gregory XIII himself in his famous papal bull Inter Gravissimas, issued on February 24, 1582. In it he says: “It has been our concern not only to restore the equinox to its erstwhile appointed place, from which it has moved approximately ten days from the time of the Nicean Council (325 A.D.), and to return to the 14th Moon its proper place, from which it currently digresses by four or five days, but also to establish means and rules by which it could be achieved that in the future the equinox and the 14th Moon would never move from their places.” It is hard to imagine that Pope Gregory XIII did not know that what he had expressed in his bull was, firstly, absolutely impossible, secondly – totally unnecessary, and thirdly – extremely detrimental.
All the prominent scientists of those times, including the great Copernicus, decisively refused to participate in preparing this Gregorian reform. It was sufficiently clear to everyone that the length of the day, the length of the year, and the length of the month are magnitudes that do not divide among themselves exactly. That is, the result of their mutual division, or their quotient, always produces an irrational number. Therefore, one cannot speak of absolute accuracy in the matter of the calendar. And to secure something forever, to make sure, for example, that the equinox and the 14th Moon would never move from their places, is mathematically absolutely impossible. Even in the Gregorian calendar the equinox still moves a whole 24 hours in the course of every three thousand years or so.
Furthermore, no calendar has an essential value per se. Every calendar is valued only for the convenience of its applicability. A calendar’s most important value lies in its practicality and not in its abstract “accuracy.” No calendar can be “accurate,” and the accuracy of all calendars is always only relative. Fortunately, this circumstance does not prevent a calendar from being useful and applicable. The calendar which Pope Gregory decided to correct had been quite useful for more than 1,200 years, while the Pope’s “correction,” though it gave the solar calendar an extra degree of relative accuracy, made it totally unfit for use in the Church.
The question arises: what was that ancient calendar like and in what way was it useful? That calendar was and is the church calendar. It is one of the greatest achievements of ancient astronomy and one of the most glorious masterpieces of calendrical science. One must note that the church calendar is not simply the Julian calendar, and it uses the Julian solar calendar only partially in order to intertwine into a single whole, firstly – the tropical solar year, secondly – the monthly course of the moon, and thirdly – the weekly circle of days. This interweaving into a single whole of three magnitudes that are indivisible among themselves is what precisely constitutes the church calendar and is called the “Paschalion” (or paschal cycle).
In this church calendar one cycle comprises 532 years and one such cycle is called the “Concordant Circle.” In this brilliant Concordant Circle all errors in the interrelation between the year, the month, and the day of the week are mutually cancelled out in the course of each cycle, so that at the end of one Concordant Circle and at the beginning of the next one the year, the month, the lunar phase, and the day of the week fall exactly on the same dates. In other words, every 532 years the church calendar begins anew at the same point.
From this point, where the dates of the year, the month, the lunar phase, and the day of the week coincide, the calendar once again unrolls through the course of 532 years, in order to return to the same exact point, only in a different time. This amazing cyclicity describes a wonderful spiral through time and, from the point of view of astronomy, leaves nothing better to be desired. This calendar is the only calendar that provides the opportunity for uninterrupted chronology both into the past and into the future. For this reason astronomy could never accept and will never be able to accept any other calendar, including, of course, the Gregorian one. It was, therefore, absolutely unnecessary and quite ludicrous to “correct” a calendar of such a degree of perfection.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On February 16th (the 3rd by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the hierarch St. Nicholas of Japan, equal-to-the apostles.
On August 1, 1836, in the Beryoza village in the Smolensk province, a son was born to the poor family of Deacon Dimitry Kasatkin and was named Ivan. After losing his mother at the age of 5, the hierarch spent his youth in poverty and deprivation, which developed in him amazing willpower and purposefulness. It was these qualities which subsequently served him in good stead when, after graduating with honors from the seminary and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, he embarked upon his life’s work as the Apostle of Japan. In June of 1860 Ivan Kasatkin was tonsured with the name of Nicholas, and that same month he was ordained a hieromonk and became a missionary.
Arriving in Japan to take up the position of rector of the Russian Embassy church and to preach Orthodoxy, the hierarch was forced to overcome unimaginable difficulties in his missionary work: a ban on the preaching of Christianity under threat of death; the Japanese people’s hostile attitude towards foreigners; not knowing the Japanese language. Overcoming all impediments with God’s help and indefatigable work, the hierarch learned Japanese and translated church service books into that language; established the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission and an attendant seminary and school for women; built the magnificent Church of the Resurrection in Tokyo; converted to Christ a multitude of Japanese, from whose midst there issued the priests and confessors of the Japanese Orthodox Church, which toward the end of the hierarch’s life numbered 33,000 people.
One of the first Japanese converted to Orthodoxy by the saint was a certain Savabe. This new Saul, who turned into Paul, was a Shinto priest who enjoyed universal respect and lived an extremely comfortable life. One day he came to see the Russian priest only in order to express his disdain and hate for the Christian faith. Starting off in severe and mocking tones, he gradually became more and more pensive as the conversation progressed. On the following day Savabe came again, and at the end of the conversation he asked to be instructed in the Christian teaching. A year later Savabe brought his friend, the physician Sakai, to see St. Nicholas. Yet another year later they were joined by the physician Urano. Much later, when they were being baptized, they were given the names of the apostles: Paul, James, and John. In 1875 Paul Savabe was ordained a priest, and John Sakai became a deacon.
In 1880 St. Nicholas became the first bishop of Tokyo, while in 1906 he was elevated to the rank of archbishop for his hierarchical and ascetic labors. Despite these obvious signs of favor on the part of the higher church authorities, to the end of his days he served as an example of absolute humility.
On February 3, 1912 St. Nicholas peacefully reposed in the Lord, mourned by tens of thousands of Japanese believers. From the time of his death and up to the present, St. Nicholas is venerated in Japan as a great saint and a special intercessor before God. Moreover, he is only the third Russian saint – after the holy Princess Olga and the holy Prince Vladimir, – to be glorified as an equal-to-the-apostles.
SIGNS FROM HEAVEN
An Orthodox Christian understanding of unidentified flying objects (UFOs)
Explanation of the UFO Phenomena
Such true stories of demonic activity were commonplace in earlier centuries. It is a sign of the spiritual crisis of today that modern men, for all their proud “enlightenment” and “wisdom,” are becoming once more aware of such experiences – but no longer have the Christian framework within which to explain them. Contemporary UFO researchers, seeking an explanation of phenomena which have become too noticeable to overlook any longer, have joined today’s psychic researchers in an attempt to formulate a “unified field theory” that will encompass psychic as well as physical phenomena. But such researchers only continue the approach of “enlightened” modern men and trust their scientific observations to give answers in a spiritual realm that cannot be approached objectively at all, but only with faith. The physical world is morally neutral and may be known relatively well by an objective observer; but the invisible spiritual realm comprises beings both good and evil, and the objective observer has no means of distinguishing one from the other unless he accept the revelation which the invisible God has made of them to man. Thus, today’s UFO researchers place the Divine inspiration of the Bible on the same level as the satanically inspired automatic writing of spiritism, and they do not distinguish between the actions of angels and those of demons. They know now (after a long period when materialistic prejudices reigned among scientists) that there is a non-physical realm that is real, and they see its effects in UFO phenomena; but as long as they approach this realm scientifically, they will be just as easily deceived by the unseen powers as the most naïve “contactee.” When they try to determine who or what is behind the UFO phenomena, and what the purpose of the phenomena might be, they are forced to indulge in the wildest speculations. Thus Dr. Vallee confesses himself baffled whether the source of UFO manifestations might be a morally neutral “unattended clockwork,” a benevolent “solemn gathering of wise men” (as the extraterrestrial myth would have us believe), or “a terrible superhuman monstrosity the very contemplation of which would make a man insane,” that is, the activity of demons.
A true evaluation of the UFO experience may be made only on the basis of Christian revelation and experience, and is accessible only to the humble Christian believer who trusts these sources. To be sure, it is not given to man entirely to explain the invisible world of angels and demons; but enough Christian knowledge has been given us to know how these beings act in our world and how we should respond to their actions, particularly in escaping the nets of the demons. UFO researchers have come to the conclusion that the phenomena they have studied are essentially identical with phenomena that used to be called “demonic”; but only the Christian – the Orthodox Christian, who is enlightened by the Patristic understanding of Scripture and the 2000-year experience of Saints’ encounters with invisible beings – is able to know the full meaning of this conclusion.
The Meaning of the UFOs
What, then, is the meaning of the UFO phenomena of our time? Why have they appeared just at this time in history? What is their message? To what future do they point?
First, UFO phenomena are but one part of an astonishing outpouring of paranormal events – what just a few years ago most people would have considered as “miracles.” Dr. Vallee, in The Invisible College, expresses the secular appreciation of this fact: “Observations of unusual events suddenly loom into our environment by the thousands,” causing “a general shifting of man’s belief patterns, his entire relationship to the concept of the invisible.” “Something is happening to human consciousness”; the same “powerful force that has influenced the human race in the past is again influencing it now.” In Christian language this means: a new demonic outpouring is being loosed upon mankind. In the Christian apocalyptic view, we can see that the power which until now has restrained the final and most terrible manifestation of demonic activity on earth has been taken away (II Thess. 2:7), Orthodox Christian government and public order (whose chief representative on earth was the Orthodox emperor) and the Orthodox Christian world view no longer exist as a whole, and Satan has been “loosed out of his prison,” where he was kept by the grace of the Church of Christ, in order to “deceive the nations” (Apoc. 20:7-8) and prepare them to worship Antichrist at the end of the age. Perhaps never since the beginning of the Christian era have demons appeared so openly and extensively as today. The “visitors from outer space” theory is but one of the many pretexts they are using to gain acceptance for the idea that “higher beings” are now to take charge of the destiny of mankind. (Many of the reports of “Bigfoot” and other “monsters” show the same occult characteristics as UFO sightings, and often they occur in connection with such sightings.)
Second, UFOs are but the newest of the mediumistic techniques by which the devil gains initiates into his occult realm. They are a terrible sign that man has become susceptible to demonic influence as never before in the Christian era. In the 19th century it was usually necessary to seek out dark séance rooms in order to enter into contact with demons, but now one need only look into the sky (usually at night, it is true). Mankind has lost what remained of basic Christian understanding up to now, and now passively places itself at the disposal of whatever powers may descend from the sky. The new film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is a shocking revelation of how superstitious post-Christian man has become – ready in an instant and unquestioningly to believe and follow barely-disguised demons wherever they might lead.
Two other recently-discovered paranormal phenomena reveal how boldly the demons are now making use of physical means (in particular, modern technical devices) in order to enter into contact with men. One Latvian researcher (now followed by others) has discovered the phenomenon of mysterious voices which appear unexplainably on tape-recorders, even when the recording is done under clinical conditions in a totally soundless atmosphere, with results very similar to those of séances. The presence of a medium or psychic in the room seems to help the phenomenon. Metallic-voiced “space people” for some time have supposedly been using the telephone to communicate with both “contactees” and UFO researchers. The possibility of a hoax in such a phenomenon, of course, is high. But in recent years the voices of the dead, convincing to those who are contacted, have been heard in telephone conversations with their loved ones. It can hardly be denied, as the reporter of this phenomenon notes, that “the demons of old are marching among us again” – to a degree unheard of in the past.
Third, the message of the UFOs is: prepare for Antichrist; the “saviour” of the apostate world is coming to rule it. Perhaps he himself will come in the air, in order to complete his impersonation of Christ; perhaps only the “visitors from outer space” will land publicly in order to offer cosmic worship of their master; perhaps the “fire from heaven” (Apoc. 13:13) will be only a part of the great demonic spectacles of the last times. At any rate, the message for contemporary mankind is: expect deliverance, not from Christian revelation and faith in an unseen God, but from vehicles in the sky.
It is one of the signs of the last times that there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:11). Even a hundred years ago Bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov, in his book On Miracles and Signs, remarked on “the striving to be encountered in contemporary Christian society to see miracles and even perform miracles… Such a striving reveals the self-deception, founded on self-esteem and vainglory, that dwells in the soul and possesses it.” True wonderworkers have decreased and grown extinct, but people “thirst for miracles more than ever before… We are gradually coming near to the time when a vast arena is to be opened up for numerous and striking false miracles, to draw to perdition those unfortunate offspring of fleshly wisdom who will be seduced and deceived by these miracles.”
Of special interest to UFO investigators, “the miracles of Antichrist will be chiefly manifested in the aerial realm, where Satan chiefly has his dominion. The signs will act most of all on the sense of sight, charming and deceiving it. St. John the Theologian, beholding in revelation the events that are to precede the end of the world, says that Antichrist will perform great signs, and will even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men (Apoc. 13:13). This is the sign indicated by Scripture as the highest of the signs of Antichrist, and the place of this sign is the air: it will be a splendid and terrible spectacle.” St. Simeon the New Theologian for this reason remarks that “the struggler of prayer should quite rarely look into the sky out of fear of the evil spirits in the air who cause many and various deceptions in the air.” “Men will not understand that the miracles of Antichrist have no good, rational purpose, no definite meaning, that they are foreign to truth, filled with lies, that they are a monstrous, malicious, meaningless play-acting, which increases in order to astonish, to reduce to perplexity and oblivion, to deceive, to seduce, to attract by the fascination of a pompous, empty, stupid effect.” “All demonic manifestations have the characteristic that even the slightest heed paid to them is dangerous; from such heedfulness alone, allowed even without any sympathy for the manifestation, one may be sealed with a most harmful impression and subjected to a serious temptation.” Thousands of UFO “contactees” and even simple witnesses have experienced the dreadful truth of these words; few have escaped once they became deeply involved.
Even the secular investigators of UFO phenomena have seen fit to warn people against their dangers. John Keel, for example, writes: “Dabbling with UFOs can be as dangerous as dabbling with black magic. The phenomenon preys upon the neurotic, the gullible, and the immature. Paranoid-schizophrenia, demonomania, and even suicide can result – and has resulted in a number of cases. A mild curiosity about the UFOs can turn into a destructive obsession. For this reason I strongly recommend that parents forbid their children from becoming involved. Schoolteachers and other adults should not encourage teenagers to take an interest in this subject.”
In a different place Bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov recorded with awe and foreboding the vision of a simple Russian blacksmith in a village near Petersburg at the dawn of our present age of unbelief and revolution (1917). In the midst of the day he suddenly saw a multitude of demons in human form, sitting in the branches of the forest trees, in strange garments and pointed caps, and singing, to the accompaniment of unbelievably weird musical instruments, an eerie and frightful song: “Our years have come, our will be done!”
We live near the end of this fearful age of demonic triumph and rejoicing, when the eerie “humanoids” (another of the masks of the demons) have become visible to thousands of people and by their absurd encounters take possession of the souls of those men from whom God’s grace has departed. The UFO phenomenon is a sign to Orthodox Christians to walk all the more cautiously and soberly on the path to salvation, knowing that we can be tempted and seduced not merely by false religions, but even by seemingly physical objects which just catch the eye. In earlier centuries Christians were very cautious about strange and new phenomena, knowing of the devil’s wiles;but after the modern age of “enlightenment” most people have become merely curious about such things and even pursue them, relegating the devil to a half-imaginary realm. Awareness of the nature of UFOs, then, can be a help in awakening Orthodox Christians to a conscious spiritual life and a conscious Orthodox worldview that does not easily follow after the fashionable ideas of the times.
The conscious Orthodox Christian lives in a world that is clearly fallen, both the earth below and the stars above, all being equally far from the lost paradise for which he is striving. He is part of a suffering mankind all descended from one Adam, the first man, and all alike in need of the redemption offered freely by the Son of God by His saving sacrifice on the Cross. He knows that man is not to “evolve” into something higher, nor has he any reason to believe that there are “highly evolved” beings on other planets; but he knows well that there are indeed “advanced intelligences” in the universe besides himself: these are of two kinds, and he strives to live so as to dwell with those who serve God (the angels) and avoid contact with the others who have rejected God and strive in their envy and malice to draw man into their misfortune (the demons). He knows that man, out of self-love and weakness, is easily inclined to follow error and believe in “fairy tales” that promise contact with a “higher state” or “higher beings” without the struggle of Christian life – in fact, precisely as an escape from the struggle of Christian life. He distrusts his own ability to see through the deceptions of the demons, and therefore clings all the more firmly to the Scriptural and Patristic guidelines which the Church of Christ provides for his life.
Such a one has the possibility to resist the religion of the future, the religion of Antichrist, in whatever form it may present itself; the rest of mankind, save by a miracle of God, is lost.
(From the book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future)
All parched with spiritual thirst,
A gloomy desert I traversed,
And at a crossing of the roads
A six-winged seraphim appeared.
His fingers lightly as a dream
The pupils of mine eyes did touch –
And, like a startled eagle’s eyes,
The orbs flew open at his touch.
He touched my ears – and they were filled
With noise and clamor of the bells;
I heard the trembling of the skies,
The heavenly angels’ lofty flight,
The sea creatures’ underwater path,
The blooming of a distant vine.
And then he bent down to my lips
And tore from them my sinful tongue,
So full of malice, idle talk,
And in its stead within my lips
His bloody hand did then insert
A wise old serpent’s stinging tongue.
All corpse-like in the desert I lay,
Till summoned by the voice of God:
“Arise, O prophet of the Lord,
Regard and heed the Word divine,
Comply with My celestial will,
And traveling the seas and lands,
With words burn thou the hearts of men!”
–A. S. Pushkin
Translated by Natalia Sheniloff