HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY ARCHANGEL MICHAEL
AND ALL THE HEAVENLY BODILESS POWERS
Today, dear brethren, we celebrate the glorious feast of the lightning-like Archangel Michael and all the heavenly bodiless powers. On this day let us talk of the boundless world of the angels; of their nature, of their hierarchy, and of the infinite mercy of God which has added us, Orthodox Christians, to this angelic host and has a formed a single Church made of angels and men; and subsequently of our responsibility to venerate them in a worthy manner and try to emulate them as our future compatriots in the celestial homeland; for which we earnestly pray to God, our common Creator.
St. Cyril of Alexandria says: If our earth, which serves as a focal point between two worlds, carries upon itself such a countless multitude of people and various other creatures, then how many times greater is the number of denizens inhabiting the immaterial heaven, which is so immense and incomprehensible to the mind?
The angels have a spiritual, immaterial, subtle, and immortal nature, free of all corruptibility, but limited, not like that of the Lord Himself, the Spirit – existing everywhere and unique, without beginning, and all-encompassing. He brought forth the angels from nothingness into being, sanctified them with His word, and for their steadfastness against evil confirmed them in the Holy Spirit (i.e. they can no longer fall into sin); their nature is full of wondrous, ever-shining light, holiness, goodness, beauty, wisdom, power, immortality, and an ardent love for their Creator, for each other, and for mankind, over whose salvation they rejoice, and whom they wish to have as their eternal compatriots in the kingdom of eternal light and incorruptibility, peace and joy. St. Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of the Apostle Paul who had been raised by the Holy Spirit to the third heaven, heard from him the mysterious teaching on the angelic world, recorded it, and passed it on to the Church.
The angelic world is divided into nine orders, and these are divided into three ranks each. The leading radiant angels (Michael and Gabriel), as the shining dawn of the Most-holy Trinity, stand directly before the fiery throne of God, are illuminated by His light, and pass on the illumination and the knowledge of God’s mysteries to the lower ranks, and the lower ranks are ruled by the higher ones. This heavenly citizenry, this universal, holy, radiant, and blessed assembly of celestial denizens is known as the heavenly hierarchy.
Let us contemplate with wonder God’s all-benevolent and wise providence, His immeasurable bounty, which has destined us for eternal co-habitation and bliss with the angels in our future homeland, and has established a single Church composed of radiant and incorruptible angels, and chosen and worthy humans. What humanly indescribable bliss awaits Christians who are loyal to God, if they remain true to their Christian calling to the very end. In order for us to be worthy of eternal co-existence and blissful life with the angels in heaven, we must honor them, follow their example of holiness, modesty, love, absolute loyalty to God, and loftiness of thought; and we must live in abstinence, prayer, fasting, charity, compassion for one another, and ardent mutual love.
The holy divinely-inspired observers of God’s mysteries and angelic visions – the prophets and the evangelists – saw the angels constantly turning to one another and with one accord singing the praises of the Holy Trinity. This teaches us, too, to treat each other with ardent love and to live in concord, earnestly serving our mutual Creator.
Glory to God’s immeasurable bounty, which prepared for us an eternal kingdom, a kingdom of radiant light, peace, and immovable bliss, together with the countless hosts of angels!
Let us use the small amount of time that we have here on earth to progress in Christian virtue, in order to inherit that boundless rapture, and may the Lord grant it to us by the prayers of the Most-pure Theotokos and the intercession of the honorable celestial bodiless powers, especially the radiant, lightning-like Michael and Gabriel, and our holy guardian angels. Amen.
THE ENTRY OF THE HOLY THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE
Today the Church celebrates the Most-holy Virgin Mary’s glorious entry into the temple. This event was foreseen and predestined by God before the ages – before the creation of the angelic world, before the existence of heaven and earth, – as was the fall of one third of the angels and of all mankind foreseen by God and allowed to happen, for – as the Apostle says – all God’s deeds are known to Him from the beginning of the ages. Through God’s infinite goodness and by His word countless bright angels, of various ranks and orders, were brought out of nothingness into being, were endowed with wondrous, God-like beauty and immortality, and one of them was distinguished from all the others by a greatly superior mind, brightness (for this reason he was called Lucifer, i.e. morning star), power and beauty; because he was especially close to God, this bright angel began to think too highly of himself and of his perfections, and instead of being grateful to God, from Whom he had received everything he had, – he fell into great pride and desired to be equal to God and to establish his own renegade kingdom, enticing one third of the angelic world to follow in his wake.
He was blinded by pride: he became resolved and unrepentant in his intent, as were those whom he had lured along with him, and so God’s grace left him and all the renegades, and they turned into a force of evil, pride, and eternal rebellion, and declared war on – whom? – on God Himself and on all the other faithful and good angels; and when man was created and was subjected to a test of loyalty and obedience to God, – the fallen Lucifer, appearing to the first woman, Eve, in the form of a serpent, tempted her and her husband, and made them rebel against their Creator and Benefactor. Thus through the first people occurred the fall of the entire mankind.
God is true to Himself and remains eternal and immutable in His holiness, truth, and goodness, while His loyal, God-like and blessed creation was transformed into a willful, disloyal, malicious and evil entity, which turned away from Him and for this became subject to God’s wrath, damnation, and death.
Man was pitifully robbed by the serpent, deprived of his divine image, left with only some poor, distorted, and pitiful remnants of God’s likeness, and became a slave to the devil, being subjected to all manner of depravity, especially paganism. But even in the fallen mankind, in its subsequent generations, there were concealed great treasures, as witnessed in some of its future descendants, such as Enoch, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, David, and first and foremost among them – the Virgin Mary, whom God foresaw from eternity and whom He chose to accomplish His divine plan for the salvation of mankind.
What does God’s grace do for the salvation of perishing mankind? To save man, one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity Himself became man, in order to fulfill the obedience of Adam, Eve, and all of mankind, in order to satisfy God’s justice, to take upon Himself all of mankind’s sins, damnation, and death, in order to trample upon death by means of His own divine death, to overcome death’s sting, arise from the dead, and grant resurrection and eternal life to all. Wondrous are Thy deeds, O Lord, our Saviour!
Thus it was decided in God’s pre-eternal council that the Son of God Himself would become man without ceasing to be God, and would fulfill the will of His Father concerning the salvation of mankind. But who could serve as the means of incarnation? All people were sinful, while the All-just could not be born from sin. What communion is there between light and darkness, between truth and iniquity?
The incarnation takes place supernaturally, for wherever God so desires – the order of nature is superseded. According to the will of God the Father, a Most-pure Virgin, purified by the Holy Spirit, is chosen for the incarnation of the Son of God, is brought up from childhood in the Holy of Holies, and upon Her coming of age a messenger is sent to Her – a holy Archangel – to give Her glad tidings of the conception of the Son of God in Her virginal womb. The Holy Virgin accepts the tidings with obedience, – and so the Son of God is conceived within Her and in due time is born.
Here is the miracle of miracles, – the supreme, unfathomable, salvific, and at the same time awe-inspiring sacrament of the incarnation of God the Word, Who still continues to create mankind with His Word.
It is for this that out of all generations a pure Virgin was chosen, was ceremoniously brought into the temple as a three-year-old child, and was brought up by the Holy Spirit to be the Mother and the abode of God the Word.
Rejoice, faithful Christians, in such leniency on the part of God towards fallen mankind! Let all celebrate with a pure heart the entry of the Mother of God into the temple, and let all glorify and laud the Theotokos, Protector of all faithful Christians, and our Intercessor before Her Son and God!
Be loyal to God’s Church and come to it to be reared for the Heavenly Kingdom. Take into abhorrence all sin, which is the cause of both temporary and eternal perdition, and instead do deeds of truth and holiness, walking in the fear of God. Amen.
SUNDAY OF THE HOLY FOREFATHERS
On this Sunday the Church commemorates the Holy Forefathers, i.e. the earthly ancestors of our Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with the first man, Adam, and on through Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, and others. These ancient people, separated from us by millennia, nevertheless have a direct and close bearing upon us, contemporary Orthodox Christians.
What connection is there between them and us? In general, the Church brings them to our attention now, right before Christmas, largely because of their faith – their belief in the promise given by God to Adam during his expulsion from the Garden of Eden, that in the end a Saviour will come into the world and will redeem mankind from original sin. All the forefathers – who lived on earth long before the birth of Christ – lived and burned with this faith, never allowing it to be extinguished. They are a shining example to us, who are living on earth after the incarnation of our Lord. Just like those ancient people we, too, have never actually seen Christ: they only knew that He would come into the world, while we know that He did come into the world. But they firmly believed in His coming, and their faith was justified.
We are expected to have even greater faith. We must believe that the Lord was, and is, and will be; that He lived on earth as a man; that through His Church He remains with us constantly; and that He will again return to earth to judge mankind. But for such a faith the Lord Himself promises us eternal bliss. When Jesus Christ appeared before the doubting Apostle Thomas, who could not believe in the Lord’s resurrection unless he actually touched Christ’s wounds, and upon touching them cried out: “My Lord and my God!”, then the Lord said to the apostle: “Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
But apart from faith there is something else that binds us closely with the ancient forefathers – and that is their faithfulness to the awaited Messiah. They lived surrounded by a pagan world – a world which did not yet know Christ, but which had already rejected God. We too, dear brethren, live in a similar and even worse situation. For nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ the world lived with Christ and the Christian culture, but in the 20th century an abrupt change took place. We now live in a post-Christian era, in a world that has once again become totally immersed in paganism.
We often hear mention of the arrival of a “new age.” However, there is nothing new in this “new age” except for its more modern form. It is the same old rejection of God and even negation of God, and moreover – a complete rejection of Christ and profanation of Christ. Most Christians do not even see how they are perverting their Christian faith in trying to modernize it, and how they are betraying Christ in attempting to unite with the religions of His persecutors and abusers.
And so, dear brethren, against the background of this horrifying world, let us remember not only the faith of the Holy Forefathers, but also their faithfulness to Christ the Saviour; and as we prepare very soon to celebrate His Nativity, let us turn away from the paganism that surrounds us, and let us witness our total devotion and loyalty to the One Who said: “Lo, I am with you until the end of time.” Amen.
WHY THE NATIVITY FAST HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED
The Orthodox Church prepares its faithful to welcome the Nativity of Christ in a worthy manner by means of a 40-day Nativity fast, which lasts from November 28th to January 6th (by the new calendar).
Besides generally known reasons, the Nativity fast is also undertaken by Orthodox Christians in order to venerate the suffering and sorrow undergone by the Holy Mother of God at the hands of the scribes and the Pharisees just prior to the sacred event of Christ’s Nativity.
Holy Tradition tells us that shortly before the righteous Joseph and the Holy Virgin set off for Bethlehem, they were subjected to the following tribulation. A certain scribe by the name of Ananias, entering their home and seeing the Virgin pregnant, was severely distressed and went to the High Priest and the entire Jewish council, saying: “Joseph the carpenter, who has been regarded as a righteous man, has committed an iniquity. He has secretly violated the Virgin Who was given to him from the temple of God for safekeeping. And now She is with child.” Then the High Priest’s servants went to Joseph’s house, took Mary and Joseph, and brought them to the High Priest, who began to denounce and shame the Most-blessed Virgin Mary.
But the Holy Virgin, crying in deep sorrow, replied: “The Lord God is My witness that I am innocent and have known no man.” Then the High Priest accused the righteous Joseph, but the latter swore on oath that he was not guilty of this sin. Yet the High Priest did not believe them and subjected them to the trial that was customary in those times, (when a woman suspected of violation was given to drink bitter water that had been cursed by the High Priest). However, the trial just served to confirm the innocence of the Holy Virgin and the righteous Joseph. All those present were amazed at this, unable to understand how a Virgin could simultaneously be with child and yet remain inviolate.
After that the High Priest allowed the holy couple to go home in peace. The righteous Joseph took the Virgin Mary and went to his house, joyously glorifying God. But this was not the end of the Holy Theotokos’ trials. It is well known that afterwards she shared with Joseph the toil of a three-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And in Bethlehem there was no place for the Holy Virgin either in an inn, or in some home, and since night was already approaching, She was forced to seek shelter in a cave which served as a resting place for cattle. In this humblest of shelters the Most-blessed Virgin remained in prayer and divine contemplation. It is here that She painlessly gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world.
We can see from all of the above that the days immediately preceding the Nativity were not days of rest and comfort for the Holy Mother of God. In those days She suffered various sorrows and trials, but did not leave off her prayers and contemplation. The Holy Church appeals to the faithful to participate, at least to some small degree, in the Holy Theotokos’ spiritual labor, constraining one’s flesh during the Nativity fast and nourishing one’s soul with prayer. However, the Church warns us that external fasting only is not enough. We must also apply ourselves to internal fasting, which consists of shunning malice, deceit, wrath, worldly bustle, and other vices. During this fast, as at all times, we must show works of love and mercy to our fellow beings, doing all we can to help those in need and in sorrow. Only then will our fasting be genuine and not hypocritical, only then will it be God-pleasing, and only then will we know the true joy of the bright feast of Christ’s Nativity.
(Precepts of Saint Seraphim of Sarov)
Whoever wishes to be saved should always have a penitent and contrite heart: “The sacrifices of God are a contrite spirit; a contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17). In such contrition of spirit a man can easily and harmlessly pass through the cunning wiles of the devil, whose entire efforts are directed at agitating man’s spirit and sowing chaff under the cover of this agitation, as the Gospel says: Sir, did not Thou sow good seed in the field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them: An enemy hath done this (Matt. 13:27-28). When man tries to have a humble heart and to preserve his thoughts in peace, then all the enemy’s snares become ineffectual, for God Himself abides wherever there is peace of mind.
Penitence is engendered by the fear of God and attentiveness to oneself: the fear of God is the father of attentiveness, while attentiveness is the mother of inner tranquility. The fear of God awakens the sleeping conscience which, in turn, makes the soul view itself as though reflected in some pure and calm pool of water and see its own ugliness, and thus are born and grow the roots of penitence. Throughout our entire lives our sins offend God’s majesty, and for this reason we must continuously ask God to forgive us our transgressions.
Can man arise through repentance after having fallen? He can: when the holy Prophet Nathan denounced King David’s sin, the latter, upon repenting, was immediately forgiven.
Another example is a certain desert dweller, who went to get water and fell into sin at the spring. However, upon returning to his monastic cell, he recognized his sinfulness and continued to lead an ascetic life as before. The enemy attacked him, pointing out the heaviness of his sin and denying the possibility of his ever receiving forgiveness, and thus tried to deflect him from an ascetic life. But the soldier of Christ stood firmly on his path. God revealed all of this to one of the blessed fathers and directed him to honor the sinning brother for such a victory over the devil.
When we repent sincerely of our sins and turn to our Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts, He rejoices in us and holds a feast, to which He invites His precious host of angels, showing them the drachma He has found anew, i.e. His kingly image in man. Placing the straying sheep on His shoulders, He carries it to His Heavenly Father.
Thus, let us not neglect to appeal to our Merciful Master, and let us not be overcome by negligence and despair over our heavy and countless sins. Despair is supreme joy to the devil. It is a mortal sin according to the Scriptures. Moreover, the repentance of a sin means not repeating it. Just as there is some medication for every illness, so there is repentance for every sin. Thus approach repentance without hesitation, and it will intercede for you before God.
On guarding the heart
We must continuously guard our heart from indecent thoughts and impressions. Attentive guarding of the heart engenders purity within it, which is then worthy of receiving a vision of the Lord, as the eternal Truth assures us: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
We should not needlessly reveal all that is best in our heart, for all that has been gathered there remains secure against visible and invisible enemies only when it is guarded as a treasure in the inner recesses of the heart. Do not reveal the secrets of your heart to everyone.
On the light of Christ
In order to accept and feel the light of Christ within one’s heart, one must distance oneself from visible objects as much as possible. Having pre-cleansed one’s soul by means of repentance and good deeds, and with sincere faith in the crucified Christ, we should close our eyes and submerge our mind in the heart, at the same time continuously calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Jesus prayer). Only then, according to the measure of his earnestness and ardor of spirit, will a man find delight in the summoned name, which will kindle within him the desire to seek higher enlightenment.
When the mind remains in this exercise for a long time and becomes established in the heart, then the light of Christ will shine within, illuminating the abode of the soul with divine light, as the Prophet Malachi tells us on behalf of God: But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise (4:2). This light is at the same time life, according to the Gospel: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4).
When a man contemplates the eternal light within him, then his mind stays pure and does not have any sensual images within itself, but being totally immersed in the contemplation of uncreated goodness, forgets all sensual things, does not even want to see its own self, but wishes to hide in the core of the earth, so as not to be deprived of this greatest blessing – the Lord God.
On our responsibilities and love for our fellow beings
We must treat our fellow men with affection, giving no offense either by word or deed. When we turn away from someone, or offend someone, it is as though a heavy stone lies down upon our heart.
We must try to comfort the spirit of a despondent person with words of love. We must cover up for our sinning brothers, as St. Isaac the Syrian advises: “Spread thy mantle over the sinner and cover him.” In regard to our fellow men we must be pure in word and thought, and treat everyone equally, otherwise our life will be in vain.
We must love our fellow beings not less than ourselves, as the Lord commands: “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27). But not to such an extent that love for others, going beyond the bounds of moderation, would distract us from fulfilling the first and foremost commandment, i.e. love for God, as the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). St. Dimitri of Rostov expounds upon this subject quite well: “We see false love for God in Christians wherever creation is compared to the Creator; and we see true love wherever the sole Creator is loved and preferred above all creation.”
Why do we judge our brethren? Because we do not try to know our own selves. Whoever is engaged in getting to know his own self has no time to notice anything about others. Judge your own self and you will cease to judge others.
On active and contemplative life
Man is composed of soul and body, and so the path of life should be composed of physical and spiritual deeds – of action and contemplation.
The path of active life consists of fasting, abstinence, vigil, kneeling, prayer, and other physical labors that comprise the narrow and sorrowful path which, according to the word of God, leads to eternal life.
The path of contemplative life consists of elevating one’s mind towards the Lord God, being attentive to one’s heart, inner prayer, and contemplation.
Whoever wishes to lead a spiritual life must first begin with an active life, and afterwards move on to the contemplative one, because it is impossible to proceed to contemplation without prior activity.
The active life serves to cleanse us of sinful passions and elevates us to the level of active perfection, and in this manner opens up for us the way to a contemplative life. Only those who have been cleansed of passion and have attained some degree of perfection can approach contemplation, as we can see from the words of the Scriptures: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God,” and of St. Gregory the Theologian: “Only those who are spiritually highly experienced can safely approach contemplation.”
One approaches contemplative life with fear and awe, with a contrite heart and humility, with a lengthy examination of the Holy Scriptures, and under the guidance of an experienced elder, and never with arrogance and willfulness, as St. Gregory the Sinaite says: “Whoever dreams of attaining heights without having attained truth – such a one the devil comfortably catches in his nets as his slave.”
If it is impossible to find an elder who can guide one to contemplative life, then in that case one must be guided by the Holy Scriptures, for the Lord Himself commands us to learn from the Scriptures, saying:“Search the Scriptures, for in them ye shall have eternal life” (John 5:39).
We must also attentively read the writings of the Holy Fathers and try as much as possible to do what they teach, and thus, little by little, to pass from an active life to the perfection of a contemplative one. But we should not leave off the active life even when we have had some measure of success in it and have gone on to contemplation, because the active life assists the contemplative life and perfects it.
Having moved onto the path of a contemplative life, we should not falter or leave this path only because other people around us, who have attached themselves to external and sensual things, try in every way to distract us from the inner path, putting up all kinds of impediments; for according to the Church Fathers, contemplation of spiritual things is preferable to knowledge of material things. For this reason we should not be swayed by any opposition in our passing along this path, being affirmed in it by the words of God: “Their fear shall not frighten us or make us tremble, for God is with us. We shall sanctify the Lord our God, and He shall be our awe” (Isaiah 3:12-13).
The reasons for the coming of Jesus Christ into the world
The reasons for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the world are as follows:
(1) God’s love for mankind: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son to the world” (John 3:16).
(2) The reconstruction of God’s image and likeness in fallen man.
(3) The salvation of human souls: “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Thus, following the aim of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, we must lead our lives in accordance with His divine teaching, in order to thereby achieve the salvation of our souls.
ST. DEMETRIUS’ COMMEMORATIVE SATURDAY
The Church commemorates the dead at every Liturgy. However, there are also special days on which the Church prescribes a commemoration of the dead. One of these special days is the Saturday before the feast of St. Demetrius of Thessalonika, for which it is known as St. Demetrius’ Saturday. For what reason does our church commemorate the dead on this day?
Medieval Russia went through very hard times in the 11th - 13th centuries. Because of the intestine strife among the Russian princes who had divided the land into petty principalities, Russia was so weakened that when it was attacked by the Tatars it could not resist and was conquered by the infidels. For more than 200 years the Russian people were ruled by the Tatars and paid tribute to their khans. But the time came when the Russians decided to rid themselves of the harsh Tatar yoke. When the Tatar khan Mamai found out about this, he gathered all his Tatar forces and also invited the Lithuanian King Yagailo to join him, and decided to erase the Russian people from the face of the earth and to convert Orthodox churches into Moslem mosques. But the Lord did not allow the evil intentions of the infidels to materialize. At that time the Great Prince of Moscow was Dmitri Ioannovich. Not relying only upon his own forces, he asked for help from the divine saint, Sergius of Radonezh. St. Sergius blessed the prince and foretold his victory.
Placing his faith totally in the help of God, Prince Dmitri Ioannovich moved with his forces against the Tatars. A decisive battle took place in the Kulikovo field near the Don River. The Tatars were roundly defeated. Mamai himself fled with a few surviving warriors. This took place in 1380. Having vanquished his enemy at the expense of losing more than half of his army, Prince Dmitri Ioannovich commemorated his dead warriors in the Holy Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius, and decreed that a similar commemoration be held annually on the Saturday before October 26th (the feast day of St. Demetrius). Later the Church began to commemorate on this day not only all those who had fallen on the battlefield, but all Orthodox Christians.
THE FUTURE OF RUSSIA AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Having just finished publishing the lecture given by Father Seraphim Rose in 1981 on contemporary signs of the end of the world, we would like to bring to your attention an essay by the same author on a similar subject, written around the same time as the lecture. Much time has passed and many unexpected world events have occurred since then, but the ideas set forth in the writings of Father Seraphim remain as topical as ever.
We live in times of which the Lord forewarned us in the Gospel, saying: And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matt. 24:12), in those end times when the Christian teaching that was welcomed so ardently by the first Christians now occupies an insignificant part of our daily lives, instead of being its center, its meaning, and its goal. Orthodoxy – our treasure, our flaming faith which we should not be ashamed to confess, – is in complete decline in our times. However, due to the unfathomable ways of providence, Russia, in which Orthodoxy seems to have been relegated to the back burner, has now become a leading power in the world. For this reason everything that takes place there unwillingly draws the attention of the entire world.
It is interesting to note the fact that what is now happening in the Soviet Union is to a certain degree related to life in old Russia, Orthodox Russia, and it can be added that the renaissance of Orthodoxy there is to a certain degree related to the future of the Russian land. In the 19th century and in the early 20th century, before the revolution of 1917, prophecies were made by spiritually gifted people in Russia dealing with the coming of atheism and the era of bloodshed and slavery there, and also with the future of Russia, but only if the Russian people repent of their sins and acknowledge their guilt in all that happened.
Let us, therefore, examine these prophecies and all the ways in which they are connected with events in contemporary Russia; and what can be expected, according to these and other, more general, prophecies, from the events that will occur at the end of the world.
The end of the world
But why should we speak of the end of the world at all? Are we really living in the end times? And why should we link the future of Russia with the end of the world?
Now even Soviet writers speak of “end times,” apocalyptic times. And, in truth, examining the problems which concern the world in our times, – such as the depletion of water and food reserves, overpopulation, race against time, – we must not lose sight of the general picture of all that is happening.
It has already become impossible to deny the fact that all these problems indicate the approach of an immense crisis in human history, which can put an end to all living beings on earth.
At the same time contemporary religious philosophers point out the flourishing of non-Christian religious movements and prophesize the beginning of a “new age,” in which a “new religious consciousness” will possess human thought and will put an end to the 2000-year reign of Christianity. And the very fact of the approach of the year 2000 inspires many people to think that a new epoch must soon arrive, totally different from the previous one. Astrology calls this epoch the “Age of Aquarius.” Among many non-Orthodox Christians these ideas have created a teaching called “chiliasm” or “millenarianism,” i.e. the belief that Christ will soon come down to earth and will reign with His saints for a thousand years until the very end of the world.
This teaching is a heresy condemned by the Church Fathers; it stems from an incorrect interpretation of the Apocalypse. The Christian Church teaches that the reign of Christ and His saints, during which the devil will be chained for a thousand years, is precisely the time in which we are now living (the number 1000 symbolizes completeness), i.e. the time between the first and the second coming of Christ.
During this period the saints reign together with Christ in His Church, but this is a mystical kingdom of course, which should not be understood literally in a political sense, as is now being interpreted by the chiliasts. The devil is, in truth, tied up during this time, because he is restricted in his actions against mankind, and the faithful who live in the Church and partake of the Holy Mysteries live a grace-filled life which prepares them for the eternal Heavenly Kingdom.
The non-Orthodox, on the other hand, who do not take communion and do not participate in the true life of the Church, cannot understand this mystical kingdom of Christ and try to explain all events in a political sense.
Thus the future of the world, in which Russia will undoubtedly occupy a central place, is closely linked to the idea of its end – both in the physical and in the cultural meaning of the word.
Several contemporary philosophers have interpreted the place which Russia will occupy in the new age from a chiliastic point of view. And, in fact, if we acquaint ourselves more closely with the philosophy of Communism, which has been holding Russia’s social consciousness completely in thrall for the past 60 years, we will see that this teaching is actually a secular version of the idea of chiliasm; it also teaches of the forthcoming new historic era of Communism and of the fact that when Communism finally takes over the world, happy mankind will be freed from all the fetters of the past. Now, after 60 years of the Communist experiment in Russia and a briefer one in other countries, we see how insane were the Communists’ beliefs.
Communist reality turned out to be not a paradise on earth, but the Gulag; and mankind was not freed, but completely enslaved. However, Russia, which was the first enslaved country to experience this heavy yoke, will also be the first to awaken from sleep; despite all the measures employed to oppress the Church, atheism could not enslave the Russian soul, and the religious renaissance there can also become a sign of something immense and spontaneous, indicating the recovery of the people’s soul from the plague of atheism. All of this can serve to indicate the fact that Russia is able to bring special tidings to the world which is under the threat of falling into the same atheistic trap from which Russia is freeing itself. And this fact is precisely the reason why in a religious sense the future of Russia is so closely linked with the future of the entire world.
The coming end of the world in Christian prophecies
Before paying special attention to the prophecies dealing with Russia, I would like to sum up the Orthodox teaching on what will happen at the end of the world. This will give us the opportunity to make a logical deduction and to determine the future place of Russia according to these prophecies.
The events preceding the end of the world are described in many places in the Holy Scriptures: chapter 24 of Matthew’s Gospel and parallel places in the other evangelists; the major part of the Book of Revelation, particularly chapter 8 and further; chapter 2 of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; chapter 3 of the Second Epistle of Peter; several chapters in Daniel, and other places.
The Apocalypse describes these events as a series of visions, some of which are clear and positive, placing hope in God’s justice and in the salvation of the elect, while others are gloomy and negative, indicating the plagues and the famines that will appear on earth as a result of mankind’s sins. Often, seeing the increase in evil all around us, we pay too much attention particularly to these gloomy visions; but this is due to our lack of faith and worldliness – we must not let out of our sight the overall picture of all that is happening.
When the end of this world comes, then truly there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be, and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, wars, persecutions, false prophets and false Christs, and the love of many shall wax cold. But at the same time this Gospel shall be preached in all the world, and he that shall endure until the end, with the help of Christ shall be saved. Evil and false religions will reach their apogee during the reign of the Antichrist, master of the world, who, promising to bring peace to the troubled earth and imitating the coming of Christ, will rule the entire world from the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
But there will be those whom he will not be able to deceive. Among them will be two Old Testament prophets who had never died and who will return to earth: Elias in order to convert the Jews, and Enoch in order to preach to all the other peoples. The Antichrist’s brief reign (three-and-a-half years) will end in war and unrest, and then Christ will come amid all these trials and tribulations, preceded by the sign of the Cross; then the entire world will be engulfed by flames and renewed, while the bodies of the dead will arise from their graves and will become joined with their souls in order to stand before God’s tribunal.
Such, briefly, will be the events of the end times of human history. And now let us turn to the prophecies dealing with the future of Russia.
The future of Russia
In the 19th century many prophets were known in Russia, among them even some laymen such as Dostoyevsky, who foresaw the coming of the revolution as a result of disbelief, worldly vanity, and a purely outward performance of rites which lacked the ardent and sacrificial faith required by Orthodoxy.
Some of them looked upon this as a disaster that befell the Russian land. For example, watching the lack of true faith among so many people, Bishop Theophanus the Recluse exclaimed: “What will remain of our Orthodoxy in a hundred years?”
Others believed that this lack of faith would result in a terrible revolution which would then spread throughout the entire world. In a sermon given in 1905, St. John of Kronstadt said: “Russia, if you fall away from your faith, as have already fallen away from it many members of the intelligentsia, you will no longer remain Holy Russia. And if there will be no repentance from the Russian people – the end of the world is near. God will deprive you of your righteous Tsar and will send a scourge in the person of iniquitous and cruel rulers, who will flood the entire land with blood and tears.”
And in truth, we now see a great deal of the world flooded with blood and oppressed with the tyranny that began in Russia with the revolution of 1917. At the same time the question arises: is there any hope of liberation, or will atheism devour the entire world, preparing it for the kingdom of the Antichrist?
However, we have sound reasons to doubt that future events will develop in such a simple manner, at least from the fact that the country in which the dominion of Communism began is at the present moment undergoing a religious renaissance that is impeding the spread of atheism in the world. Moreover, according to Orthodox prophecies, the Antichrist will not be a common tyrant such as Stalin, but will be a more “spiritual” individual, who will at first attempt to seduce people, not make them accept him by force.
The holy men of Russia who were alive at the beginning of the revolution realized that this event was, in essence, an apocalyptic one, and knew that many years of tribulation were to be expected. But they also foresaw that an end to this tribulation would come. The elder Alexis of the Zosima Hermitage, attending the election of the Patriarch at the Chudov Monastery, heard people crying and loudly exclaiming: “Our Russia is lost, our Holy Russia is lost!” But the elder replied in a loud voice: “Who is saying here that Russia is lost, that it has perished? No, no, it is not lost, it has not perished, neither will it be lost, nor will it perish, but through great trials the Russian people must be cleansed of sin. You must pray with heartfelt repentance.”
Shortly before the beginning of the revolution, the elder Barnabas from the skete of Gethsemane prophesied that Russia would be subjected to severe tribulations and that a cruel persecution awaited the Orthodox faith. He said: “The persecution of faith will increase continuously. Unheard of sorrow and darkness will envelop everyone and everything, and the churches will be closed down. But when there will be no more strength to endure, liberation will come. And a time of renaissance will arrive. The churches will again be re-opened. There will be a renaissance before the end.”
The hieroshemamonk Aristoclius said shortly before his death in 1918: “We are now living in pre-Antichrist times. But Russia will be saved. There will be much suffering, much martyrdom. All of Russia will become a prison, and we must entreat the Lord at great length for forgiveness. We must repent of our sins and be afraid to commit even the slightest sin, and we must try to do good, even the very slightest good. For even the wing of a fly has some weight, while God’s scales are very precise. And when the smallest bit of good will tip the scales, then God will show His mercy to Russia.”
In 1920 Elder Nektarius of Optina said: “Russia will arise and will be poor materially, but rich in spirit, and in Optina there will be seven more luminaries.”
In 1930 Archbishop Theophanus of Poltava summarized the prophecies he had received from the elders who were able to foresee the future: “You ask me about the immediate future and about the coming end times. I am not telling you anything from myself, but only that which was revealed to me by the elders. The coming of the Antichrist is approaching and is already very near. The time dividing us from his coming can be measured in decades. But before his arrival Russia is destined to be reborn, at least for a short while. And there will be a Tsar there, chosen by the Lord Himself. He will be a man of ardent faith, profound mind, and iron will. That is all that has been revealed to us about him. And we will await the fulfillment of this revelation. Judging from many manifestations, the time is approaching, unless because of our sins the Lord revokes His promise. According to God’s word, this can also happen.”
Thus we see that all the prophecies of these divinely-inspired men in the beginning of last century speak of the expectation of a renaissance of Holy Russia and even of an Orthodox Tsar shortly before the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. But this event will be more of an extraordinary/miraculous nature rather than a regular historic event. And at the same time it will depend to some degree on the Russian people themselves, since in such a case God acts through man’s free will.
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On November 8th (October 26th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonika.
St. Demetrius was brought up as a Christian from early childhood by his pious parents, but secretly, because his father was the military governor of Thessalonika at a time when the cruel Roman Emperors were in the process of persecuting Christians (end of 3rd / beginning of 4th centuries A.D.). After the death of his father, St. Demetrius was appointed ruler of the entire province and received an order from Emperor Maximian to rid Thessalonika of Christians. However, when St. Demetrius returned to his native city, he began to preach Christ and convert pagans to the Christian faith. Then the incensed Maximian came to Thessalonika himself, threw St. Demetrius into prison, and began to persecute the Christians.Maximian had a famous wrestler named Lius, who wrestled with Christians for the Emperor’s amusement and threw them down from a great height onto spears below, causing them painful death. Among the Christians there was a youth named Nestor, a friend of St. Demetrius. Seeing the Christians so mortified, Nestor was unable to bear it and decided to challenge the Emperor’s wrestler himself. But first Nestor went to visit St. Demetrius in prison and receive his blessing to combat Lius. Then, loudly confessing Christ and glorifying St. Demetrius, Nestor began to wrestle with Lius and vanquished him, and then threw him down onto those same spears. The Thessalonians, seeing such an unexpected and glorious victory, started shouting loudly: “Great is the God of Demetrius!” The Emperor was incensed by the death of his favorite, Lius, and immediately ordered St. Nestor to be beheaded and St. Demetrius to be pierced with spears. The holy martyr Nestor is commemorated on the following day after St. Demetrius.
Later aromatic myrrh began to flow from the incorrupt relics of St. Demetrius, which performed many miracles. Moreover, the saint miraculously saved his native city of Thessalonika many times from various disasters. Thus, for example, in the 6th century Thessalonika was attacked by the Avars, who appeared at the city walls with a huge army which far exceeded the city’s defense force. Ten days before the enemy’s arrival, St. Demetrius appeared to the Thessalonian archbishop in a dream and warned him of the grave danger that threatened the city. The Thessalonians then rushed to the church and began to pray earnestly to their heavenly intercessor. When the enemy forces came and began to scale the walls, everyone saw St. Demetrius appear on top of the wall as an armed warrior who pierced the first enemy soldier with a spear and threw him off the wall, and as the latter fell, he took down with him all the other attackers. The enemy was overcome with fear and retreated. However, afterwards they continued their siege of the city, while the Thessalonians, having few means of defending their city, continued praying earnestly to St. Demetrius, placing all their hope in his aid. On the seventh day of the siege, without any apparent reason the enemy suddenly began a chaotic retreat, leaving behind all their tents and weapons. Some of the enemy soldiers were captured and told the following story: “From the very first day of the siege we saw you with such a great army of defenders, that we realized your forces were far superior to ours, and we thought that your army was concealed behind the city walls. Yesterday this great host suddenly rushed upon us, and so we ran away.” The amazed Thessalonians asked: “And who led our army?” “We saw, – replied the enemy. – a fiery and shining warrior in glittering armor, sitting on a white horse.” Hearing this, the Thessalonians immediately realized who had routed the enemy. In this manner St. Demetrius saved his city.
Soon after the enemy retreated from Thessalonika, a new disaster struck the city. During the siege, the enemy had wasted the city’s entire grain reserves, so that the inhabitants began suffering from famine, and many died. Seeing his native city suffering from famine, St. Demetrius appeared several times on various ships sailing the nearby seas with cargoes of grain, and ordered them to carry this grain to Thessalonika, thereby saving the city from famine.
CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN THE LIGHT OF ORTHODOXY
The next possibility which is available to today’s pregnant women is special medical analyses. The main one, over which there is a large moral question mark, is amniocentesis.
What does it consist of? A long syringe is inserted into the womb of the mother, piercing the embryonic sac and drawing out a small quantity of embryonic fluid in which the infant swims while in the mother’s womb. This fluid contains cells of the infant which are genetically analyzed.
What is the goal of this analysis? By this method illnesses of defects which might be genetic in nature (such as Down’s Syndrome) are revealed. One must realize that the analysis itself is of considerable risk to the fetus, for the infant can be injured or killed in the process.
What is the moral question involved in this test? The dilemma is that if an illness is discovered, abortion is nearly always suggested as the only solution. Doctors in the United States are obliged to suggest such an analysis, and abortion as a solution under such conditions. A doctor is liable to be tried for not having suggested the test. Therefore, it is our duty to warn young couples of the abominable results of such testing.
One should add that this examination is sometimes performed to determine the sex of the child. One part of the test is a genetic analysis which reveals the sex of the child. If the gender is not the one that the parents desire, they can kill the unborn son or daughter in the hopes that the next conception will be more to their liking. In this situation the sin of child murder is combined with the most terrible sin of pride.
Artificial Methods of Conception
Modern medicine offers a variety of artificial methods of conception for couples unable to conceive naturally. One such method is artificial insemination. Other possibilities include surrogate parenting, embryo transfer, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
It would not be necessary to speak of any of these methods if they were not so widespread. Since these are very possible options that are offered to our young couples, it is important to define briefly their nature.
The most common method is artificial insemination. Over 20,000 children are born in America as a result of this process. There are two types of artificial insemination. The first is artificial insemination by the husband. Here the husband’s sperm is artificially planted in the wife’s uterus. In the second type of artificial insemination, called AID, or artificial insemination by a donor, the sperm of an anonymous man is artificially planted in the uterus. This cannot even remotely be considered as an option, and is absolutely unacceptable for an Orthodox Christian.
Surrogate parenting is a method introduced to compensate for the inability of the woman to conceive. The uterus of a surrogate mother is artificially inseminated with the sperm of the father. After the birth the surrogate mother turns the child over to the father and his wife. This process is in its essence adulterous, and therefore totally unthinkable for Christians.
Yet another option is embryo transfer, which is the very latest technical development, advancing the technique even further. In this procedure the artificially inseminated embryo of a surrogate mother is transferred to the wife of the father, who then gives birth to the child. Again such an experiment is unthinkable for Christians.
The final common practice is in-vitro fertilization or IVF. There the sperm of the man and the eggs of the woman are fertilized in a test tube, or, more likely, a saucer. This results in the production of a number of embryos, with the most healthy one being chosen and implanted in the mother’s or the surrogate mother’s womb. The embryos not selected are either simply discarded or frozen, in case the embryo chosen is rejected once implanted in the mother’s womb.
So far these methods have not been fully perfected, and it is still necessary to introduce the embryo into a woman’s womb to develop. However, the time is not far off when the embryo will grow and be born entirely from a test tube. It is very clear that medicine has invaded an area of decision-making that belongs to God alone.
The Moral Upbringing of our Children and Youth
Let us now examine those moral questions which touch upon the moral upbringing of our children and youth.
Some years ago Archpriest Vladimir Glinsky made the following observation about the contemporary moral state which surrounds our youth. He wrote: “The ‘Tree of Knowledge’ has completely obscured the ‘Tree of Life’ from view. The conception of sin is abolished. Morals are based on godless principles. The understanding of human personality has been perverted: it exists somehow independently, for itself, without any connection with God. Mankind’s replacement is in an unhealthy state; the majority of the younger generation feels welded together due to an extreme oversimplification of their inner world, but without any ideal to justify this bond.
On the Sexual Revolution
The inner state of youth’s emancipation is reflected in the struggle against nobility of appearance in all things: behavior, taste, entertainment, fashion, etc. An absence of shame and aesthetics are accentuated. Slavish obedience to what is in fashion is the vogue.”
This lack of principles is especially evident in the contempt for the Seventh Commandment. It is an accepted fact that a “sexual revolution” took place in the ’50s and ’60s. All “old-fashioned” prohibitions against animal-like behavior were discarded. Humanity entered into an era of “liberated morality” and “free love.” The result of these changes was the obvious obliteration of normal human existence. Mankind stepped away from the divine and became totally immersed in the carnal, the bestial, the demonic. Social scientists avidly rummage through this dirt, and even the most sincere Christians, living amid such corruption, cannot help but be affected to some degree by contemporary moral conditions.
Statistics which describe the moral picture of contemporary humanity are abundant. We offer only some of these statistics in order to illustrate the depth of the abyss into which contemporary morality has fallen. According to the most conservative figures, by the age of 15, 51% of boys and 31% of girls in America have lost their virginity; by the age of 18 the numbers have risen to 80% of boys and 56% of girls. Every year around 1.5 million girls, still minors, become pregnant; 50% of these pregnancies end in abortion. 55% of men and 45% of women in this country have committed adultery.
The dissolution extends further. Now homosexuality, bestiality, child molestation, and even incest, have become the norm. The magazine Newsweek writes in its Dec. 30, 1991 issue that in its rules for the 1990-1991 academic year, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst forbade discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national background, physical defect, veteran status or sexual orientation, which shall not include minor children as the sex object.” In the 1991-92 statement the last 15 words were deleted. In effect, this means that Amherst, a respected institute of higher learning, will now no longer discriminate against fornicators who have minor children as the object of their activity.
Many hold that the sins common to modern society always existed. Indeed, if one were to look into the Book of Needs, almost all of the contemporary sins are listed. The modern era differs from others in that sin, in spite of its diffusion, was always considered sin. Now all concepts have been reversed. Sinful behavior is considered completely acceptable, even healthy.
The merciful and long-suffering Lord Who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they should turn to Him and live, sends corrective punishment to fallen humanity. The epidemic of AIDS is nothing less than the corrective wrath of God. The chief means of infection by this illness are fornication and the use of dirty needles to inject drugs. Here it is obvious that the unquestionable result is the product of sinfulness. Does anyone in the press or in a prominent position speak of this? Does anyone call them to repentance? No. Indeed, just the opposite. Even the most innocuous claims that this might be allowed by God for sins is met with indignation and exasperation. And worse, liberal forces exploit the epidemic of AIDS in order to implement a program of sex education in the earliest grades. The state of New York recently recommended that its schools begin education on AIDS prevention with nine-year-olds. In the older grades the school administration can distribute prophylactics to students, which will supposedly prevent the spread of AIDS. Yet many sensible doctors know that there is absolutely no proof that prophylactics lessen the risk of infection. Nevertheless children are instructed on “safe sex,” which serves as a blessing by the school authorities on such behavior.
It is no surprise that in America, among believers, the practice of home schooling is becoming more widespread. There are already many Protestant, Catholic, and simply conservative organizations who, for a fee, distribute full home education programs and materials to those who order them. This is a big task for a mother, who is mainly responsible for home education. Of course, not everyone is capable of teaching, but due to the irreverent atmosphere that more and more pervades our schools, it is becoming the only alternative.
(To be continued)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Life,” No. 1, 1992)
THE FIRST PEOPLE ON EARTH
Beginning of the article, click here
(in the light of most recent excavations)
LIFE AFTER THE DELUGE
The election of Abraham.
Conclusion of the history of the original Old Testament Church
Part 1 (continued)
The sons of Jacob yielded to the influence of the surrounding environment and, in consequence, found themselves in Egyptian captivity. How touching was Abraham’s concern not only that his son Isaac, out of love for his fiancée but in violation of the Lord’s commandment, not go back to Mesopotamia, to the blessed land of his fathers, but that his son’s wife be as Urian as Abraham and Sarah themselves, and from a family loyal to God, since their own family was descended directly from Seth.
Abraham and Sarah were born and spent half of their life in Ur, during the period of the original Old Testament Church; their son Isaac was a pure-blooded Urian, as was Rebecca. From them we can judge what the worshippers of the true God in Ur, Eridu, Obeid, and the other cities where islands of true knowledge of God were preserved, were like.
The meek, serene, and blessed Abraham, full of boundless faith and obedience to the will of God, beloved of the Lord, glorified by Christ the Saviour, lovingly hymned by the Most-holy Virgin Mary: “As the Lord said to our fathers, Abraham and his seed unto the ages” (the present). Truly the godly generation, the generation of God’s elect, always lived by the legacy and blessing of the fathers.
And Isaac – the pre-image of Christ the Saviour, as he is designated by the Holy Church, the meekest of the sons of God, a lamb prepared for sacrifice, was in all aspects submissive to his father’s will: both when he was lying tied down on the altar and when his father appointed him a bride whom he had never seen, but was so eager to see, knowing that by the will of God everything would turn out well. “It should not be what I want, – Isaac said, – but what God sends me through my father’s will.”
Did not the same apply to the beautiful bride Rebecca herself, who was a true God-elected Urian? Did she not just as obediently fulfill the will of God and the blessing of her father to go she knew not where, to the ends of the earth, to leave her beloved homeland where Adam and Noah had lived, where Paradise had been located, and go to an unknown country, to an unknown man, to undertake a long and hazardous journey with a servant of Abraham whom she did not know, but to go in accordance with God’s command? Was that not truly a spiritual feat?
Was not this trait also characteristic of the other Urians who are well-known to us: Abraham and Sarah? Their entire life until extreme old age, when Isaac was already 180 years old, they lived together, full of love and respect for each other.
When sending his servant Eliezer to the land of the fathers, Abraham said: “Swear to me by the Lord God of heaven and earth that thou willst not take for my son a wife from the daughters of Canaan, among whom I reside. But thou willst go into my land, into my homeland and my kindred, and willst take from there a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him: “Perhaps the woman will not wish to come with me to this land? Should I return thy son to the land from which thou hast come?” Abraham said to him: “Beware, do not return my son there; the Lord God of heaven and earth, Who had taken me from the home of my father and from the land of my nativity, Who spoke with me and Who appeared to me, saying: to thee and thy descendants shall I give this land, – He will send His Angel before thee, and thou willst take a wife for my son (Isaac) from there. If the woman will not wish to go with thee to this land, thou shalt be free from this oath of mine; only do not return my son there.”
Eliezer “got up and went to Mesopotamia, to Nahor’s city.” The Bible does not indicate to which specific city, but from the context of Abraham’s speech it is clear that he was sending his servant to his native city of Ur or to the nearby small homestead of Nahor. From the description of Eliezer’s conversation with Rebecca at the well it may be assumed that this was Nahor’s out-of-town estate, which was called by his name – Nahor. Rebecca said to Eliezer: “We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in” (Gen. 24:25), confirming that this was apparently Nahor’s homestead. In those times the word “city” simply meant a settlement, an enclosed place, but sometimes meant a city in our sense as well.
Half-a-century later, when Isaac sent Jacob to take a wife for himself from the house of Laban, Rebecca’s brother, Laban moved to the upper reaches of the Euphrates, to the city of Harran, where Farrah, the father of Abraham and Nahor and the great-grandfather of Laban, had been buried.
Near the city (village) of Nahor Eliezer stopped his camels behind an enclosure, at a well, in the evening, at a time when the women come out to draw water, and said: “O Lord God of my master Abraham! I pray Thee, send her to meet me today” (Gen. 24:12). “Before he had done speaking in his mind, behold, Rebecca came out, who was born to Behuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, and neither had any man known her.” And Eliezer asked her who she was. She told him. Then Eliezer bowed down to the Lord and said: Blessed is God, Who has brought me directly to the home of my master’s brother. The damsel ran and told all those in her mother’s house about it. Rebecca had a brother by the name of Laban. Laban ran out to Eliezer, to the well.
All the details speak of the fact that this was a private homestead and not a large town. And when Eliezer told everything to Rebecca’s father, he then asked whether the latter intended to show mercy to his master Abraham.
Her father and brother replied: “This thing is from the Lord. Behold, Rebecca is before thee, let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord said” (Gen. 24:50-51).
“As the Lord said” – such was the law in the life of the last blessed Urians.
“And they called Rebecca and said unto her: Wilt thou go with this man? And she said: I will go” (Gen. 24:58).
Laban, Rebecca’s brother, also believed in the One God. Afterwards, having moved to Harran, he engaged in the craft of making pagan idols, but in no way does this mean that he himself became a pagan. Laban wrathfully says to Jacob: “Why did you steal my idols?”, but they, as it turned out, had been taken by his daughter Rachel, Jacob’s wife, who hid them under the saddle and sat on them. Such disrespect reveals that for them these were just pieces of jewelry made out of gold, and nothing more, just some merchandise which Rachel intended to sell in the lands of Canaan for “a rainy day.”
Thus when Rebecca and Eliezer neared Abraham’s home, Isaac came out to meet them. Seeing him, Rebecca became shy and covered her face with a veil: four thousand years have passed, yet to this day Christian brides, setting out for church to be wed, continue to cover their faces with a veil (bridal veil), following Rebecca’s example and in honor and memory of her – that beautiful and God-fearing maiden of Ur.
Yes, we can get a live image of the Urians through these wondrous customs.
Many things have come to us from the Sumerians: calculation of time, the principles of astronomy, the sciences and the arts, and to this day we have kept their system of measurements and weights (see Turyayev, “History of the Ancient Orient,” p. 148), and even such customs as the bridal veil.
Having looked at Abraham’s life in Ur, where he spent half of his life, 75 years, and his Urian provenance, and having compared Abraham’s image with other Urians, his relatives and children, as the last members of the original Old Testament Church, let us now consider Abraham as the father of the chosen people, let us look from a spiritual viewpoint upon his majestic image, which towers on the border of the two great periods of the Old Testament Church.
“Abraham was ninety-nine years old when the Lord appeared to him and said: I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect, and I will make My Covenant between Me and thee, between thy seed after thee in their generations. An everlasting Covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:1-7).
Thrice throughout the ages, from the creation of Adam to the coming down to earth of the Son of God, God made His covenant with mankind. The first time God promised, in comfort to the fallen Adam, that from his descendants would come the One Who “will destroy the head of the serpent” (the devil), that Adam’s Descendant would become the Conqueror of hell and death, the Redeemer of original sin – and then the lost Paradise would be returned to Adam.
The second covenant was with Noah: “And the Lord said to Noah and his sons with him: Behold, I shall make My covenant with thee and thy descendants, that never again shall all flesh be destroyed by the waters of the Deluge,” and this was a covenant to preserve mankind until the end of the world, no matter how sinful it may be.
And, finally, God’s third covenant – with Abraham – that from him will issue a God-chosen people that will preserve faith in the True God, and the Lord will preserve this people and, by sending them His prophets, announce His will to them until the arrival of the “Mediator, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be,” as was prophesied by Abraham’s grandson Jacob (Gen. 49:10).
(To be continued)
TO A DOUBTING HEART
Divine nature’s vivid colors
Atop mighty mountain crests
Are entrancing and caressing
To thine eyes’ external view.
But thy heart’s pure inner vision
Do thou lift above the peaks
And the blue celestial veil
Pierce with contemplative thought.
Dazzling light will suddenly blind thee,
God Himself will thus appear –
Nature’s King, all things’ Creator,
Haven of repentant souls.
Then abandon all the musings
Which are human wisdom called;
Turn thy heart to fervent prayers,
Which to eternal Wisdom lead.
Princess N.V. Ourousoff
Translated by Natalia Sheniloff