For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work; only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one… (II Thes. 2:7 )
That which restraineth the appearance in the world of the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness and anarchy, the last and most powerful enemy of Christ and His Church, is – in the teaching of St. John Chrysostom and others Fathers of the Church – lawful authority, as represented and symbolized by the Roman Empire. This idea was incarnated supremely in the Christian Empire: first in Byzantium, when Constantinople was the Second Rome, and then in the Orthodox Russian Empire, when Moscow was the Third Rome. In 1917 the “Constantinian Age” came to an end, the Orthodox Empire was overthrown – and the world, beginning with Moscow, has been thrown into an age of lawlessness and atheism (and in Christian life, of apostasy) such as has not yet been seen.
Tsar Nicholas II was the last representative of this ideal of lawful Christian authority, and the age of lawlessness began appropriately with his murder. For Orthodox Christians, however, the new age begins with a martyr: a witness to the Orthodox Church, faithful to the end to his Church and his sacred calling.
Job the Much-suffering, on the day of whose commemoration the Tsar was born, said in his grievous suffering concerning the day of his conception: As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year (Job 3:6).
Terrible was the night of the murder of the Tsar and his family.
But the ancient Christians profoundly called the days on which martyrs were commemorated, the days of their birth. And the night of the murder of the Tsar shines in our consciousness as the birth in heaven of the Tsar-Martyr – a sacrifice for the sins of his people.
This view is clarified by a vision seen in 1917 by the great elder, Metropolitan Makary of Moscow:
The Dream of Metropolitan Makary
I saw a field. The Saviour was walking along a path. I went after Him, declaring, “Lord, I am following You!” And He, turning to me, replied: “Follow Me!” Finally we approached an immense arch adorned with stars. At the threshold of the arch the Saviour turned to me and said again: “Follow Me!” And He went into a wondrous garden, and I remained at the threshold and awoke.
Soon I fell asleep again and saw myself standing in the same arch, and behind it with the Saviour stood Tsar Nicholas. The Saviour said to the Tsar: “You see in My hands two cups: one which is bitter for your people, and the other sweet for you.”
The Tsar fell to his knees and for a long time begged the Lord to allow him to drink the bitter cup together with his people. The Lord did not agree for a long time, but the Tsar begged persistently. Then the Saviour drew out of the bitter cup a large glowing coal and laid it in the palm of the Tsar’s hand. The Tsar began to move the coal from hand to hand, and at the same time his body began to grow light, until it had become completely bright, like some radiant spirit.
At this I again woke up.
Falling asleep yet again, I saw an immense field covered with flowers. In the middle of the field stood the Tsar, surrounded by a multitude of people, and with his hands he was distributing manna to them. An invisible voice said at this moment: “The Tsar has taken the guilt of the Russian people upon himself, and the Russian people are forgiven.”
The significance of the Tsar is first and foremost, of course, for the Russian people. But his position as an Orthodox Tsar, that which restrains the appearance of the Antichrist, and especially as an Orthodox Martyr, gives him meaning and importance for all Orthodox believers.
The Serbian people loved the Russian Tsar with all their heart. On March 30, 1930, there was published in the Serbian newspapers a telegram stating that the Orthodox inhabitants of the city of Leskovats in Serbia had appealed to the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church with a request to raise the question of the canonization of the late Russian Emperor Nicholas II, who was not only a most humane and pure-hearted ruler of the Russian people, but who also died with the glory of a martyr’s death.
Already in 1925 there had appeared in the Serbian press an account of what happened to an elderly Serbian lady who had lost two sons in the war and whose third son, who had disappeared without a trace, she considered also to have been killed. Once, after praying fervently for all who had been killed in the war, the poor mother fell asleep and saw in a dream the Emperor Nicholas II, who told her that her son was alive and was in Russia, where he had fought together with his two dead brothers. “You will not die,” – said the Russian Tsar, – “until you see your son.” Soon after this dream, the old woman received news that her son was alive, and within a few months after this she joyfully embraced him alive and well when he returned from Russia.
In August 1927 the newspapers of Belgrade printed an account of how the renowned Russian painter S.F. Kolesnikov had been invited to paint the new church in the ancient Serbian Monastery of Saint Naum, which stands on Lake Ochrid. The painter was given complete freedom to create the frescoes adorning the inner dome and walls. While executing this project, the painter decided to paint the faces of fifteen saints, placed in ovals, on the walls of the church. Fourteen of those saints were done quickly, while the fifteenth oval remained empty for a long time, an inexplicable inner feeling impelling Kolesnikov to wait. One evening Kolesnikov came into the church during twilight hours. It was dark below and only the dome was lit by the sharp-edged rays of the setting sun. Everything in the church seemed mystical and unearthly. At that moment the artist saw that the empty oval came alive, and that from it, as from a frame, looked down the sorrowful face of Emperor Nicholas II. Struck by the miraculous vision of the martyred Russian sovereign, the artist stood for some time as if rooted to the spot, feeling benumbed. Then, as he himself describes, feeling a rush of prayer well up in him, he leaned a ladder against the oval, and without marking with charcoal the outline of the wondrous face, with brushes alone he made the layout. He could not sleep the whole night, and as soon as the first rays of the sun appeared, he was already in church, sitting high on the ladder and working with such fervor as he had never known. As he himself writes: “I painted without a photograph. I had previously seen the late Emperor on several occasions, and his face became indelibly etched in my memory. Now I finished my work and placed an inscription on this icon-portrait: ‘The Russian Emperor Nicholas II, who received the crown of martyrdom for the freedom and the happiness of the Slavs’.” Soon afterwards General Rostich, commander-in-chief of the army of the Bitol military district, visited the monastery. Coming into the church, he looked for a long time at the face of the late Emperor painted by Kolesnikov, and tears ran down his cheeks. Then, turning towards the painter, he softly said: “For us, Serbs, this will be one of the greatest and most venerated of all saints.”
The very phenomenon of the Tsar-Martyr is a source of inspiration to Orthodox Christians. But this is only part of the Orthodox significance of Nicholas II. His personal piety and Christian character, and his active role as Tsar in promoting a veritable Orthodox renaissance, make him the last and one of the greatest representatives of the tradition of Orthodox monarchy, with whose collapse (as we are witnesses) the reign of lawlessness has indeed entered the world.
O, Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas, pray to God for us!
THE GLORY OF THE LORD’S TRANSFIGURATION
We know from the holy Gospel that a great trembling, a great awe seized the holy Apostles on Mount Tabor when they were overshadowed by a cloud, and from this cloud they heard the voice which creation cannot hear without trembling, the voice of its Creator, the voice of God the Father, Who bore witness to His Son.
But it was not only awe the Apostles felt; in the Gospel narrative about the holiday we hear Apostle Peter’s words: “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”
These words issued from the depths of the Apostle’s heart, which was overcome with spiritual rapture and joy, and at this moment Apostle Peter did not even think of what would actually happen if they remained on the mountain; moreover, the Gospel points out that Peter did not know what he was saying, i.e. he did not fully realize the import of his words, but only expressed his spontaneous feelings and joy. It is that blessed feeling of God’s presence, which was attested to by the two whom the Lord had summoned – one from the netherworld and the other from the mysterious world beyond – the prophet and God-seer Moses and the prophet and God-seer Elias.
Do you remember how the prophet and God-seer Moses saw Him? The Lord conversed with him as with His friend, and said to him: “I know you better than all the rest,” – you are closest of all to Me. And then Moses dared to ask: “Show me Thy glory.” And the Lord responded kindly to this request. He only pointed out to His faithful servant that man cannot stand face to face with the glory of God, cannot see the face of God and remain alive (because man would be so overcome with rapture, and joy, and awe, that his mortal being would crumble, would melt like wax in the presence of fire).
For this reason the Lord said: “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me and live; but – said the Lord, – there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock, and while My glory passeth by, I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand when I pass by, and thou canst stand and look after Me (see the reflection of My glory) – but thou shalt only see Me from behind, as I pass by.”
And so it was: the Bible says that when Moses looked after the departing Lord, his face afterwards always shone like the sun, so that it was impossible to look at him, and when he was among people, he always covered his face and took off the cover only when he prayed to God or was alone. Moreover, according to the Holy Fathers, the One Who appeared to Moses there on the mountain, the One at Whose back he had looked, was the Lord God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity – the Son of God. Thus Moses saw Him, and later he was honored to see Him face-to-face on Mount Tabor, where Moses himself appeared in glory.
And the prophet and God-seer Elias was worthy to feel the blessed presence of God. He had achieved a great feat: he had led Israel to the true faith, but the evil Queen Jezebel hated him and began threatening him with death. Then Elias became frightened and fled. But it would be wrong to think that he fled because he feared for himself personally and was afraid of death.
When Elias fled into the desert, it was for death that he asked the Lord, – consequently, he did not fear death, but he was afraid that if Jezebel seized him and executed him, it would seem that his work did not end well; the impression would be created that he had committed some crime for which he was justly punished.
And in order for those whom he had brought to God not to be left with such an impression, – Elias hid from the wrath of the evil queen. But there in the desert the angel told him to come out in the morning from the cave in which he was hiding and to stand at its entrance.
Elias is in the cave. He hears the stormy elements pass by: a great and strong wind, a mighty earthquake, a searing fire – “but the Lord was not there,” says the Bible succinctly. And when after all that wafted “a thin voice of coolness,” – a quiet, peaceful and refreshing breeze – it was there that Elias sensed the mysterious presence of God – “and there was the Lord”… Thus he, too, was worthy to stand before His creator and converse with Him; and now, on Mount Tabor, he, together with Moses, stood face-to-face with the transfigured Lord.
For creation in general, and especially for man, there can be no greater bliss than to be worthy to stand directly before the face of God, – to the degree to which he can stand it without having his mortal essence fall apart.
Therefore, the Church sings on the feast of the Transfiguration that the Lord showed His glory to the disciples “in so far as they were able to bear it.” Not all of His awesome and unbearable glory, before which even the angels tremble and are unable to gaze upon, but only a part of His glory, as much as the prophets and the apostles were able to bear.
But the first-created people in paradise possessed this bliss: the Lord appeared to them like a Father, talked with them in paradise as with His children. And only then did they understand what they had had and what they had lost, – just as the Russian saying laments: “We do not treasure what we have, but we weep upon losing it”…
But remember that the Lord calls each one of us to eternal life. There, when the human soul passes into the region of eternity, it will earn this bliss as much as it merits it, for eternal bliss, the bliss of the Heavenly Kingdom, will consist of man being always with God and in God’s realm. And this naturally reminds us, as it should always remind us, of our sins and our imperfection.
Nothing impure or foul will enter the Kingdom of God, and for this reason each one of us has to cleanse himself of all impurity of body and soul here on earth, as the Holy Scriptures tell us, else we will not see the glory of God and our souls will remain in eternal darkness and alienation from God, from which may the Lord deliver us, sinners. Each one of us is greatly sinful, but still we hope that by His mercy the Lord will not deprive us of His Heavenly Kingdom.
THE SAVIOUR NOT-MADE-BY-HANDS
In these modern times our young people, who are poisoned in the schools with the venom of unbelief and apostasy, often begin to doubt the authenticity of the Gospel and demand proof that it is not simply a figment of man’s imagination, and sometimes even doubt whether the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth at all. But in response to all these doubts, the wonderful feast of the Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands serves as vivid confirmation of our faith.
In church parlance this feast is called the “Third Saviour,” i.e. the third holiday in the month of August dedicated to the Saviour. (The First Saviour is the feast of the presentation of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of the Lord, celebrated on August 14th [the 1st by the old calendar], while the Second Saviour is our church feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration.)
The Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands appeared under the following circumstances: during Christ’s life on earth, there lived in the Syrian city of Edessa a certain Prince Augarus. He suffered from an incurable illness – leprosy, so that his entire body was covered with terrible sores, while internally he suffered from a complete paralysis of the body.
Rumors of Jesus Christ and His great miracles reached Augarus, who became filled with a fervent desire to see Christ and be healed by Him. However, being unable to travel to Judea himself, he wrote a moving letter to Jesus Christ, in which he wrote the following:
“Rumors have reached me about You and Your glorious miracles, how You heal illness without medicine or treatment, – You make the blind see, the lame walk, You expel demons, cleanse lepers, heal paralytics with a single word, and resurrect the dead. Hearing of You, that You perform such wondrous miracles, I came to the following two conclusions about You: You are either God Who has descended from heaven, or You are the Son of God. For this reason I humbly appeal to You, to make the effort to come to me and heal my incurable illness from which I have suffered for so many years. I have also heard that the Jews hate You and wish to harm You. I, however, have under my rule a city, though small, but beautiful and having everything in abundance; come to me then, and live with me in my city, in which both of us will find all that we need.”
Together with this missive Augarus at the same time sent a talented artist to the Palestine, commissioning him to paint the face of Christ on a wooden board. So great was Augarus’ love for Christ, which was inspired by his faith in Him, that he wished at least to see His image.
The painter arrived in Jerusalem and found Christ, but despite his best efforts, by the will of God he was unable to depict the face of Christ. Then Jesus Himself called the painter to Him, received Augarus’ letter from him and, after reading the letter, sent Augarus the following reply:
“Blessed are you, Augarus, not having seen Me and yet having faith in Me, for you shall inherit life eternal! You ask Me to come to you, but I must accomplish that for which I have been sent, and then I must return to My Father Who had sent Me. And when I ascend to Him, I will send you one of My disciples, who will completely cure you of your illness.”
After writing the letter, the Lord washed His face in water and dried it with a cloth, leaving a miraculous imprint of the Divine face on this cloth. Then the Lord sent this image to Augarus together with His letter.
The Lord’s promise to Augarus was fully fulfilled after His ascension, when the Apostle Thaddeus came to Edessa and baptized Augarus, who came out of the baptismal font completely cleansed and renewed, both in body and soul.
Let us, too, have this guileless and absolute faith in Christ which Augarus had; let us invite the Lord into our souls through the partaking of the Holy Mysteries; and may the Lord send us His grace and His mercy, cleanse us of the leprosy of iniquity and passion, and lead us into eternal life.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
“For every idle word that men shall speak, they shall
give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36).
In the snowy mountains of Switzerland there are regions where the guides warn travelers not to utter a single word, because the slightest vibration of air can cause the overhanging snow to move and create an avalanche, carrying everything along with it into the abyss. Who would think that one word could have such terrible consequences? However, the moral effect of our words is far greater. The thoughtless words which we so often and so easily throw to the winds can affect events for centuries, and the great day of judgment will reveal the terrible consequences of our words.
On that day we will answer “for every idle word.” Is it not awful to think of the multitude of words which we have uttered and which will confront us with implacable clarity? “Idle words” are those which spring from an idle life, they are words which are unnecessary, thoughtless, often harmful. Such empty words, passing in idleness from mouth to mouth, often blacken a person’s moral character, inflict wounds, gloat over the misfortune of others, and from idle become cruel. “Idle words” also include talk which intrudes into the privacy of family life, which under the guise of a flat joke or inappropriate remark can shake the foundation of a family’s happiness.
One can never be careful enough in the use of words. May our words be truthful, plain and sincere, may they be good-natured and loving. “May your word always be with grace,” says Apostle Paul. The thought of God’s judgment should serve to curb our tongue. We would speak with greater wisdom, if we would constantly remember that our words are heard in heaven, and that they will serve to either acquit us or condemn us on the final day. How sacred, how pure, how truthful would be each word we utter, if we would remember that one of the appellations of Jesus Christ Himself was – “the Word.”
(From “Day by day” – a book of spiritual reflections)
UNBELIEVABLE FOR MANY, BUT ACTUALLY A TRUE OCCURRENCE
One night I felt especially badly; I tossed about from fever and breathing was extremely difficult for me, but towards morning I suddenly felt so much easier that I was even able to fall asleep. Upon awakening, my first thought as I recollected the suffering of the night was: “Well, this must have been it, the crisis is past. And now finally there will be an end to this gasping and this unbearable fever.”
And having seen a very young doctor’s assistant entering a neighboring ward, I called him over and asked to have my temperature taken.
– Well, my good sir, now things have taken a turn for the better, – he said joyfully, removing the thermometer at the appointed time, – your temperature is normal.
– Really? – I asked joyfully.
– Take a look for yourself: thirty seven and one tenth. And it seems your cough did not bother you so much.
Here I realized that since midnight I actually had not coughed until morning, and that although I tossed about and drank a few gulps of hot tea, I also did not cough as a result of this.
At nine o’clock the doctor came. I told him that I had felt badly at night and had made the assumption that evidently this must have been the crisis, and that now I did not feel badly and had even been able to sleep for a few hours before morning.
– Well, that certainly is fine, – he said and walked up to the table and looked through some sort of tables or notes that were lying there.
– Do you want to take his temperature? – the doctor’s assistant asked him. – His temperature is normal.
– What do you mean by normal? – the doctor asked, quickly raising his head and looking at the assistant with perplexity.
– That is exactly what I said, I just took it.
The doctor had the temperature taken again, and this time even looked himself to see if the temperature was properly taken. But this time the temperature did not even reach thirty-seven: it turned out to be two tenths below thirty-seven.
The doctor took his own thermometer out of the side pocket of his jacket, shook it, checked it and, evidently certain of its correctness, again took my temperature.
The second thermometer showed the same as the first.
To my surprise, the doctor did not evince any sign of happiness with respect to my condition, not showing, even for the sake of politeness, the slightest expression of satisfaction on his face and, having turned around in a somewhat fidgety manner, he left the ward, and a minute or two later I heard a telephone begin ringing in the room.
Soon the head physician appeared; they both listened to me and examined me – and had practically my entire back covered with leeches. Afterwards, having prescribed some medication, they did not place my prescription with the others, but sent an assistant separately to have it filled before the others.
– Listen here, now that I do not feel bad at all, what have you thought up for me, to burn me with leeches? – I asked the head doctor.
To me it seemed that my question confused or dismayed the doctor, and he answered impatiently:
– Oh, my God! Why, you cannot be abandoned like this to the sickness just because you feel somewhat better. We have to draw out of you all that mess that has accumulated inside you during this time.
Three hours later the younger doctor again came to see me; he examined me to see how the leeches were placed on me, asked how many spoonfuls of medicine I had taken. I said – three.
– Did you cough?
– No, I answered.
– Not once?
– Not once.
– Please tell me, – I turned to the assistant doctor who was continually present in my ward, – what kind of loathsome stuff is mixed in this medicine? It makes me throw up.
There are various expectorants here, also a little bit of ipecac, – he explained.
In this case I acted exactly as contemporary negators of religion often act, i.e. understanding exactly nothing of what was taking place, I mentally judged and upbraided the doctor’s procedure: they give me expectorants when I have nothing to expectorate.
In the meantime, an hour and a half or two after the doctors’ visit, all three of them again appeared in my ward: two of ours and a third, bearing an air of importance, who did not belong to our ward.
They thumped me and listened to me for a long time; then an oxygen tank appeared. The latter astounded me somewhat.
– Now, what is this for? – I asked.
– Well, we have to filter your lungs a little. They are almost backed up in you, said the third doctor, who was not from our ward.
– But tell me, doctor, what is it about my back that has fascinated you, that you are so concerned about it? It is now the third time this morning that you have thumped it and covered it all over with leeches.
I felt myself so much better compared to those previous days and, therefore, in my thoughts I was so far away from anything pessimistic in nature, that evidently no medical accessories were capable of getting me to surmise my true condition; even the appearance of an important, strange-looking doctor I explained away to myself as a change in the staff or something of a similar nature, in no way suspecting that he was specially called in for me, because my case demanded a concilium. I asked the last question with such an unconstrained and happy tone that evidently neither of my physicians had the heart to at least hint at the oncoming catastrophe. And, in truth, how can one tell a man who is full of the happiest hopes, that he has perhaps only a few hours more to live!
– It is precisely now that we must thump you carefully, – the doctor answered me in an indeterminate manner.
I remember that at about 4:00 I felt a mild chill, and wanting to become warm, I covered myself snugly with the blanket and lay in bed, but suddenly I felt very dizzy.
I called the assistant doctor; he came over, lifted me from the pillow and raised the bag of oxygen. Somewhere I heard the ringing of a bell, and in a few minutes the head physician hurriedly walked into my ward, and shortly thereafter, one after the other, both of our physicians.
At another time such an unusual and rapid gathering of the entire medical staff would have astonished and confused me, but now I felt entirely indifferent to it, as if it had no relation to me.
A strange change suddenly took place in my mood! A minute before I was full of optimism, but now, although I saw and fully understood everything that was taking place around me, I suddenly felt such an incomprehensible indifference, such a remoteness, which is clearly alien to all living beings.
All my attention was concentrated on myself, but in this case there was also an astonishing and peculiar quality, a certain state of division within me: I felt and was conscious of myself with complete clarity and certainty, and at the same time I experienced a feeling of such indifference to myself, that it seemed as if I had lost the ability to perceive physical sensations.
For example, I saw how the doctor extended his hand and felt my pulse, – I saw and understood what he was doing, but did not feel his contact with my body. I saw and understood that the doctors, having raised me, continued to do something and were making a fuss over my back, where the edema had evidently started, but as to what they were doing – I felt nothing, and not because I had actually lost the ability to perceive these sensations, but because this did not catch my attention in any way, because, having withdrawn somewhere deep into myself, I did not listen to or observe what they were doing to me.
It seemed as if suddenly two beings or essences were manifested in me: one – concealed somewhere deep within, and this was the main part of me; the other – external and evidently less significant; and now it seemed that whatever bound these two together had either burned itself out or had melted, and these two essences separated, the stronger of them being felt more vividly and with greater certainty, and the weaker becoming a matter of indifference. This weaker part or being was my body.
I can imagine how only a few days ago I would have been struck by the manifestation within myself of this internal being which was hitherto unknown to me, and the realization of its superiority over that other part of me, which, according to my previous beliefs, made up the whole being of man, but which I now did not even notice.
This state was most astounding: to live, see, hear, and understand all, and at the same time seemingly not to see or understand anything, to feel such alienation in regard to everything.
Thus, for example, the doctor asks me a question; I hear and understand what he asks, but I do not reply; I do not give an answer because I feel there is no reason for me to speak to him. And yet he fusses and worries over me, but he is concerned with that half of me, which has now lost all meaning for me, and with which I feel I have nothing to do.
But suddenly the other half asserted itself, and in so striking and unusual a manner!
I suddenly felt myself being drawn somewhere downward with irresistible force. During the first few minutes this sensation was similar to having heavy, massive weights tied to all the members of my body, but shortly thereafter even such a comparison could not justly describe my feelings; my description of the attraction now paled into insignificance.
No, here some kind of gravitational law of attraction of a most tremendous power was obviously in action.
It seemed to me that not only I as a whole, but every member, every strand of hair, the thinnest tendon, each cell of my body was separately being drawn somewhere so irresistibly, as a strong magnet attracts pieces of metal to itself.
And yet, no matter how strong this sensation might be, it did not prevent me from thinking and being conscious of everything. I was also conscious of the strangeness of this phenomenon; I remembered and was conscious of reality, that is to say, that I lay in bed, that my ward was on the second floor, that there was an identical room below me; but at the same time, according to the strength of the sensation, I was certain that if below me there were not one, but ten rooms piled one on top of the other, this would suddenly give way before me, in order to let me pass… where?
Somewhere further, deeper into the earth.
Yes, namely into the earth, and I wanted to lay on the floor; I exerted myself and began tossing about.
– Agony, – I heard this word pronounced over me by the doctor.
Since I did not speak, being completely concentrated within myself, and my glance expressed a complete absence of impressions from the surrounding world, the doctors evidently decided that I was in an unconscious state, and spoke about me audibly without restraint. Yet I, meanwhile, not only understood everything perfectly, but it was even impossible for me not to think and to observe.
“Agony, death!” – I thought, having heard the doctor’s words. “Am I really dying?” – turning to myself, I spoke out loud; but how? why? I cannot explain it.
I suddenly remembered a learned discourse which I had read long ago, dealing with the question of whether death is painful or not, and now, having closed my eyes, I examined myself with regard to what was taking place in me at this time.
No, I felt no physical pain whatsoever, but undoubtedly I was suffering, I felt heavy within and weary. Where did this come from? I knew of what sickness I was dying; so what was happening here: was the edema choking me, or was it depressing the activity of the heart and this was making me weary? I do not know; perhaps such was the explanation of my forthcoming death according to the ideas of those people of the world, which was now so alien and remote to me. I, however, only felt an insurmountable striving towards somewhere, an attraction towards something of which I have already spoken.
And I felt that this attraction increased with each moment, that I had already come very close, almost in contact with that magnet which was attracting me, which – should I touch it – would cause me and my whole body to become fused with it, to grow into one with it in such a manner that no force would then be capable of separating me from it, and the more strongly I felt the proximity of this moment, the more fearful and depressed I became, and this was so because I simultaneously felt a resistance to this with increasing clarity. I felt more clearly that I, as a whole, could not unite, that something had to separate within me, and that this something was striving away from the unknown object of attraction with the same intensity that the something else within me was striving towards it. It was this struggle that was causing me weariness and suffering.
(To be continued)
(Reprinted from“Orthodox Russia,” Nо.4, 1976)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On August 9th (July 27th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the Great-Martyr and Healer Panteleimon.
St. Panteleimon was born in Asia Minor, in the city of Nicomedia, of wealthy and noble parents. His father was a devoted pagan, while his mother was a Christian. His initial upbringing he received from his mother, who instructed her son in the true faith and Christian piety. Unfortunately, the mother soon died and the youth was left in the care of his father, who sent him to pagan schools. Being tremendously gifted and possessing a clear mind, Panteleimon graduated from school with honors. In accordance with his father’s wishes, he studied the art of medicine and was groomed for the position of court physician. But then, by God’s providence, the saint encountered a certain elderly priest, Ermolas, who began having daily spiritual discussions with Panteleimon, so that the latter would come to know the One True God.
Once, as Panteleimon was on his way to medical school, he found a dead child on the road, who had been bitten by a poisonous snake, and the snake itself lying coiled nearby. At first the saint moved away in fear, but then he thought to himself: “Now is the time for me to test the truth of all that the elder Ermolas told me.” Then the saint prayed to God, saying: “O Lord Jesus Christ, although I am unworthy to call upon Thee, but if Thou wishest me to become Thy servant, show Thy might, that by the power of Thy name this child would arise and the snake would die.” And immediately the child arose, as out of a deep sleep, well and alive, while the snake cracked in half. Then Panteleimon came to believe in Christ absolutely and, giving thanks to God, immediately went to Ermolas to be baptized. From that day St. Panteleimon gave himself and all his knowledge over to the service of mankind: he treated the sick, helped the poor, and never took any payment for it. Gradually he tried to urge his father away from idol worship and lead him to Christ. Once, a blind man, who had been to see all the famous physicians in the city, and who had spent all his wealth on them without getting any help, was brought to Panteleimon as a last resort. Panteleimon’s father, Eustorgius, advised his son not to accept the case at which even the best physicians had failed, in order to avoid ridicule, but Panteleimon said to his father: “Wait a while, father, and you will see the power of my healing.” With these words he touched the blind man’s eyes with his fingers, saying: “In the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the light of all the blind, open your eyes.” Immediately the eyes of the blind man opened, and he could see. At that same moment Panteleimon’s father, together with the blind man who could now see, came to believe in Christ and were later baptized by Ermolas. And all rejoiced over the grace and the power of Christ. Afterwards Eustorgius threw out all the idols in his house and, after a brief time, departed from this world. Panteleimon, having received a rich inheritance from his father, gave it away to the poor, widows, and orphans. He visited those who suffered in prisons and comforted them while offering them healing and charity. In his medical practice he was aided by the grace of God, because he received from above the power of healing; and he cured illnesses not so much with medications as by calling upon the name of Jesus Christ. Thus the saint fully justified his name of Panteleimon, which means all-charitable.
However, the other physicians, envious of the saint’s medical successes, denounced him as a Christian to Emperor Maximian, and the heartless persecutor ordered the saint to be cruelly tortured: his body was burned by tar torches, he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling water, he was beaten, tortured with wheels, thrown to wild animals. But the grace of God helped him endure all the tortures and to perform miracles, which caused a multitude of people to believe in Christ. Thus, for example, the wild animals became meek and tame when the saint appeared in their midst, and came up to lick his feet while Panteleimon patted their heads; moreover, each animal tried to approach the saint in such a way as to have his head patted! Afterwards, the enraged emperor, seeing the steadfastness of Panteleimon’s faith and all the miracles he performed in the name of Christ, ordered the saint to be beheaded.
THE ORTHODOX TEACHING ON THE MOTHER OF GOD
The Holy Gospel does not speak of the parents of the Mother God, but rather presents the righteous Joseph as the guardian of Herself and the Infant Son of God. This is because the Holy Virgin’s parents, having produced such a precious fruit in their very old age, died soon afterwards. “God, – says St. John Damascene, – had arranged it so that the Maiden was affianced by the priests to Joseph. This arrangement protected Her.” The righteous Joseph was 80 years old when the 14-year-old Maiden was affianced to him. In accordance with Jewish law She was affianced to him because he belonged to the tribe of Judas and to the ancestry of King David, to which the Mother of God also belonged. After being in his house for four months, She heard the glad tidings from the lips of the Archangel and conceived the Son of God. The humble Mary did not dare tell her fiancé that She had been visited by the great Archangel and that She had become the wondrous temple of God. When Joseph learned from the angel, who appeared to him in a dream, of the great importance of the Virgin affianced to him, – he understood the significance of his responsibility towards Her, became Her servitor, performing his holy service with piety and awe, as St. Theophylact of Bulgaria tells us. He became filled with a feeling of deep respect for Her, similar to the feeling experienced and expressed by St. Elizabeth, whom the Mother of God came to visit. And whence is this to me, she cried out, whence is this greatest honor, this greatest happiness, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? Not only righteous people were filled with reverence for the Mother of God, but the Archangel Gabriel himself, announcing the glad tidings to Her, stood before Her with reverence. His manner was quite different when he brought tidings to Zacharias concerning the birth of John, the greatest among prophets.
Thus, both the holy angels and holy people revere the Ever-virgin; arrogant and blasphemous judgments about Her are inherent only to the rejected spirits, who have filled the heavens and paradise with their blasphemy, and are inherent to the corrupt people who have united themselves with the rejected spirits. St. John Damascene correctly observes that not only the action, but just the thought of the Theotokos’ virginity being corrupted can belong only to the most immoral, the most corrupt minds. How could the righteous Joseph, who had heard the greatest words about the Mother of God from the angel, who had seen the wondrous miracles that occurred during the nativity of the Son of God, be tempted to perform the vile iniquity attributed to him by the Protestants! No, no, such a vileness was impossible for him. The righteous Joseph was granted divine revelations of which only those who are pure in heart and body are worthy. When he was distressed over the Mother of God, – the angel appeared to him in a dream and said: Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife. The angel directly responded to Joseph’s thoughts. Joseph, suspecting Mary of infidelity, wished to secretly let Her go from him, but the angel, bearing witness to Her chastity, commanded him to keep Her with him, without entertaining any doubts, as one who had not violated Her marital duty; and then the angel revealed that She had conceived from the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, when the Son of God had to escape to Egypt from Herod’s murderous hand, the angel once again appeared to Joseph, but now he no longer called Mary his wife, but the Mother of the Child. Twice more the Gospel tells us of the angel’s appearance to Joseph, and each time the angel again calls Mary simply the Mother of the Child.
The Gospel mentions the brothers of the Son of God; the Virgin’s detractors point to this circumstance as confirmation of their point of view. But the genuine tradition of the Orthodox Church tells us that the name “brothers of the Lord” was given to the sons of the righteous Joseph from his first wife. They were called the Lord’s brothers in the same exact sense as Joseph was called His father. Contemporary Jews, who had no knowledge of conception from the Holy Spirit and nativity from a Virgin, considered Jesus Christ to be Joseph’s son, while the Mother of God, His disciples and intimates concealed the great mystery from the hardened Jews, who did not hesitate to criticize even obvious miracles. What a blasphemous howl they would have put up had conception by a Virgin and birth from a Virgin been revealed to them! This miracle remained unknown to them, and since popular opinion considered Joseph to be the father, consequently his sons were considered to be the Lord’s brothers. In years they were much older that Christ, Who, subsequently, could not have been first-born in relation to them.
Accusing the righteous Joseph of making an attempt on the Mother of God’s virginity turns out to be senseless; even more incongruous is such an accusation of the Mother of God Herself. Thousands and thousands of virgins became the brides of Christ, kept their virginity inviolate: could not the greatest of virgins, the Bride and also the Mother of God, have done so? Thousands and thousands of virgins kept their virginity by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the delight given by this grace: was not the greatest of virgins, in Whose womb the omnipotent God settled not only by the action of grace but with His entire being, able to do so? Did not the One Who was constantly in the most intimate contact with God do so? If the cherubim and the seraphim, being closest to God, constantly strive with their minds and hearts towards Him, – did not the One Who is incomparably greater that the cherubim and the seraphim, Who conceived God in Her womb and bore Him, Who painlessly gave birth to God, Who carried Him in Her embrace, Who spent Her entire earthly life with Him, – have Her mind and heart attached to Him? Of course She did! To think otherwise is to grovel in the passions of the flesh. May blasphemous thoughts keep away from us and be condemned to the darkness of hell and the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels! We confess our Sovereign Lady, the Mother of our God, to be a Virgin before birth, a Virgin in birth, a Virgin after birth, an Ever-virgin. Knowing and confessing the majesty of the Mother of God, we direct our hearts towards Her with indubitable faith, with deepest reverence, and appeal to Her in prayer: “O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”
In some parts of the Gospel it seems that, according to human judgment, the Lord replies to His Mother coldly and severely; this again serves as an impediment for mortal minds. The injustice of such a view is denounced by a spiritual analysis of the Lord’s actions and words. You should judge the spiritual spiritually, – said the holy apostle Paul. The Lord’s parents – so the Gospel calls the Mother of God and Joseph, speaking in this case from the point of view of contemporary society – observed the pious custom of annually coming to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. When the Lord was 12 years old, they came to Jerusalem together with the Youth. After spending two days in the holy city, Mary and Joseph set out on the return journey to Nazareth, while the Lord remained in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph did not notice this at first, thinking that the Lord was walking among the other pilgrims. But later, not seeing Him and not finding Him among relatives and friends, they returned to Jerusalem. Here, three days later, they found the Lord in the temple among the religious instructors, who were dismayed and fearful at hearing the word of God issuing from the lips of the Divine Youth. Mary, seeing Him, said: Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. To this the Lord replied: How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? The Lord’s reply reveals that the mind, the will and love are dedicated entirely to one’s responsibility towards God, while responsibilities towards fellow men have their own proper place. When a person does not arrange his responsibilities correctly, does not give each its proper measure, – then their accomplishmentwill not bear good fruit; their fruit will be sins and errors, the more dangerous the more they appear to be outwardly pious.
At the time when the Lord was already preaching the Gospel, there was a marriage in Cana, a small city in Galilee, to which the Lord, His disciples, and His Mother were invited. By His presence the Lord sanctified the marriage and the wedding feast. In the midst of the feast a shortage of wine was discovered. The Mother of God said to the Lord: They have no wine. The Lord replied to Her: Woman, what have I to do with Thee? Mine hour is not yet come. What a wondrous reply concerning the fruit of the vine, which has such a strong effect on people. This is the reply which Adam should have given to Eve, when she offered him to taste the fruit forbidden by God, the lethal tasting that infected the entire humanity with the poison of death. “Woman, what have I to do with thee? – such could have been Adam’s words; – you have been created to be my helpmate: do not be a hinderer. I have been joined with you through the ties of marriage into a single entity; but if you have disobeyed God, – I will separate myself from you, since I have been joined with you to serve God and not to go against Him.”
The second half of the Lord’s answer has a deep and mysterious meaning. The Mother of God shows concern for the wedding couple and their guests, who in the midst of the feast had no more wine, and wishes to correct this shortage by the divine power of Her Son; but God the Word, Who by his ineffable mercy has come down in the form of man to fallen mankind, which was perishing on earth from a shortage of spiritual food and drink; Who has brought down to mankind daily bread and new wine – His body and blood, His own self; Who was ready, in His love for mankind, to grant this sustenance immediately; hinting at the feast prepared by God, which is already quite imminent, He says: Mine hour is not yet come. Mine hour is not yet come! The hour of suffering for the salvation of mankind is not yet come; the hour of shedding life-giving blood, which is to heal mankind from the embrace of eternal death, is not yet come. The Lord thirsted for this hour as the hour of salvation for mankind, as the hour in which He would manifest the abundance of His love, as the hour for which He came down to earth. The Mother of God’s request did not contain anything prejudicial in itself, and so was granted: from this we can see that by the initial rejection of the New Testament Eve’s merciful entreaty, it was Adam’s acceptance of the offer of the Old Testament Eve that was being expiated. The meaning of the Lord’s words can be interpreted as follows: “You show concern for the mortal food of men, while I love them with indescribable divine love. Moved by such love, I am ready and willing to give them for food and drink My very body and My very blood; but this will take place in its own time, i.e. the hour determined by God’s incomprehensible counsel.”
(To be continued)
THE MAJESTY OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
O, benevolent Intercessor!
Seest Thou, Most-holy Virgin,
All the sorrows of my soul.
Grant me tears of tender feelings,
Deep contrition in my heart,
Calm my agitated passions,
Their tempestuous storm disperse.
Grant me power of renewal,
Chasteness, purity, and patience,
Grant my heart Thy inner peace.
Do destroy with sovereign power
Vanity's corrupting idol
In my desolate, malicious,
Avid, egoistic soul.
Do obtain my sins' forgiveness,
Reconcile with the Almighty,
Cover me with grace,
So that, keeping His commandments,
The right path I now would follow,
And arrange my life eternal
With the saints in Glory's Kingdom!
– Elder Barsonuphius of Optina
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff