“A TSAR GLORIFIED BY GOD”
The history of the Royal Family was tragically intertwined with the history of Russia. The tragedy began long before Russia’s cataclysm. The Royal Family became the object of slander, and this malicious defamation enveloped it so thickly, that literally the whole of Russia became the victim of poisonous disinformation. Were it not for this, the country would not have been so easily swayed by the revolution and would not have deserted its Tsar.
Truth was reinstated at a harsh cost when the Royal Family was imprisoned and kept under strict watch. The Family’s private life was investigated until its last day and was bared to the bone, having been placed under a microscope of odious surveillance. And what did these activists and protégés of the revolution, burning with malice and anticipating the pleasure of uncovering intimate family scandals, finally see?
They saw shining spiritual beauty.
What usually happens to prominent people decades after their death, when historians, rummaging through archives, gradually uncover the truth of their real lives, happened to the Tsar while he was still alive. Everything in his life became general knowledge, everything became the object of surveillance and investigation by prejudiced and suspicious observers.
And what appeared before the eyes of these observers?
A patriarchal Orthodox family, finding complete happiness in its mutual existence, even in conditions of the most terrible oppression.
This God-fearing family had lived a full life of family happiness while bearing the weight of royal power. It continued to live the same full life, perhaps even fuller because isolated from external events, with the same loving care for each other, with the same burning thought for Russia, with the same devotion to it, – in humiliating conditions of imprisonment. In what lay the meaning of life? In the fulfillment of God’s commandments. In what did one find support? In prayer, in an awareness of God’s providence extending over oneself. Perhaps the only family in the entire territory of the Russian land, swept up in the burning flames of an ungodly revolution, the only family experiencing inner peace and family bliss was the imprisoned Royal Family: so great was its supply of spiritual power, so pure was its conscience, so close was it to God. It was truly a “home church.”
More than one member of the ungodly host surrounding the Royal Family bowed his head before the indescribable beauty of the Family’s spiritual and moral visage. This was a miracle perhaps no less incredible than when wild beasts, let out to devour the Christian martyrs, licked their hands instead…
The martyric end of the Tsar and his family was not a sacrifice of atonement for their own sins, but rather for o u r s, for the terrible sin of apostasy of the entire Russian people. It is not by chance that the Lord has shown us the spiritual purity and sublimity of the Royal Martyrs. The Lord calls us to something far greater than the usual indignation against Bolshevik terror, one of whose victims was the Royal Family.
In his own day St. John of Kronstadt divided Russian society into two camps according to one’s attitude towards Tolstoy, who was clearly a forerunner of the godless regime. Nowadays a vivid marker of society’s division into two spiritually-different camps is one’s attitude towards the Royal Family. Was it simply a victim of terror among many others, or does it represent something qualitatively different? O, if only all of Russia could kneel in repentance before the spiritual beauty of the martyred Royal Family! This would signify the resurrection of Russia to a new and spiritual life, this would signify the deliverance of the entire world from the terrible nightmare which now hangs over it, clouding the Sun of Truth. We can pray for it. But everyone answers for himself. And there is hardly another question of personal conscience that has such great social impact than the question of the attitude of each one of us towards the Royal Family, of how each one of us evaluates the sublimity of their spiritual sacrifice.
It would be difficult to imagine the terrible state of depression in which we would find ourselves, and the power of darkness which would envelop Russia, were this Russia not symbolized by the last Tsar and his family – a symbol not only of true Orthodox Christians who were able to enlighten their souls through suffering, but of the royal heads of Russia, representing it, facing the world on its behalf, and interceding before God for it.
Their martyric death, being the crowning point of their lives, helps us to cope with life in this modern world. Even more than that, it teaches us how to live properly. The question of whether Orthodox Russia is still alive, whether the Orthodox world still lives, is essentially a question of whether there lives within us, as a life-giving source of all our activity, the image of the Tsar-Martyr and his Family, who have sacrificed themselves for historic Russia and for the entire Christian world.
Russia needs a sacrifice.
I shall be that sacrifice.
Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II
In 1906 Stolypin’s government prepared a decree on granting full liberties to the Jews. This protocol was signed by all members of the government, all members of the National Council, was obviously approved by the National Duma as well, and only remained to be signed by the Sovereign. And now – here is Tsar Nicholas II’s letter to P.A. Stolypin:
Petr Arkad’yevich, I am returning the protocol on the Jewish issue to you without approving it. Far in advance of your presenting it to me, I can tell you that I thought about it and agonized over it day and night. Despite the most convincing arguments on behalf of making a positive decision on this matter, more and more insistently my inner voice urged me not to take such a decision upon myself. Up to now my conscience has never betrayed me! Therefore, in this case I intend to follow its dictates as well. I know that you, too, believe that “a king’s heart is in God’s hands.” May it be so! For all the power given to me I bear an awesome responsibility before God and am ready to give an account to Him at all times. I regret only one thing: that you and your colleagues have worked very hard over a matter whose decision I have rejected.
By rejecting this decision the Sovereign signed his own death warrant, which was put into effect on July 17, 1918. But even this is not the very essence of this incredible, this historic act… The obvious is incredible, but the essence is that in refusing to sign this protocol, the Sovereign was well-aware of the cost of such a refusal. In other words, he was accepting voluntary martyrdom! And today, when the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas is placed at the head of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, this is the explanation for his leadership.
As is customary nowadays, one can, of course, look upon such a spiritual feat on the part of the Tsar as simply a fact. But this is not simply a fact! This is the embodiment of that incredible confession of faith in Christ which in his own time was declared to the world by Maximus the Confessor: “Even if the entire universe follows the path of this insanity, I alone will not follow them!”
But it seems that even this is not all that is contained within the fact of the absence of the Tsar’s signature where everyone else had signed. This is unparalleled firmness on the part of the Sovereign, unparalleled by any other head of state, as they are now called.
And thus now – attention! – the following question arises: who else among the leaders in the 20th century and even more so in the 21st century would dare not approve this protocol, for fear of the Jews? Who else could have such exceptional strength, such decisiveness, such courage to refuse to sign this protocol?
Attention! Here is the right answer: NO ONE! No one except the Russian Sovereign, Emperor Nicholas II. And if Tsar Nicholas II, like Maximus the Confessor, turned out to be the only one in the whole world who unflinchingly rejected the protocol which, for fear of the Jews, had been signed by all the highest-ranking officials in Russia, including Stolypin, then another question arises, a question for the entire liberal world: so, gentlemen Liberals and all your atheist supporters: Tsar Nicholas II – was he a weak person? Was he indecisive? Was he cowardly? Could a weak person reject this protocol? Could an indecisive person fail to approve it? Could a cowardly person even dare write such a letter?
The simple truth is that the Orthodox Tsar ascended the Golgotha, and the Russian people ascended the Golgotha after him. And thus this action on the part of the Sovereign, this fact which the liberal atheists wish to suppress, has for each one of us, for each coming generation, the importance of the Tsar’s urging us to steadfastness, which must be demonstrated even now, without waiting for the time when the Russian elder will declare: “My little ones, the Antichrist is come!”
HOMILY ON THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John,
his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain
apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face
did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the
The men whom Christ had said would not taste death until they should see the form and the foreshadowing of His Coming are these three Apostles, whom, having taken with Him, He brought to a mountain and showed them in what manner He was to come on the last day: in the glory of His Divinity and in the body of His Humanity.
He led them up to the mountain that He might also reveal to them Who this Son is, and Whose Son is He. For when He asked them: “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” they said to him: “Some Elijah, some other Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And so He led them up into a high mountain, and showed them that He was not Elijah, but the God of Elijah; nor was He Jeremiah, but He that sanctified Jeremiah in his mother’s womb; nor one of the prophets, but the Lord of the prophets and He that had sent them.
And He showed them also that He was the creator of heaven and earth, and the Lord of the living and the dead; for He spoke to the heavens, and they sent down Elijah; He made a sign to the earth, and raised Moses to life again.
He took the Apostles up into a high mountain apart, that He might also show them the glory of His Divinity, and that He might declare Himself the Redeemer of Israel, as He had foretold by the prophets, and so that they would not be scandalized in Him in the passion He had taken upon Himself, and which for our sakes He was about to suffer in His human nature. For they knew Him as the son of Mary, and as a man sharing their daily life in the world. On the mountain He revealed to them that He was the Son of God, and Himself God.
He took them, therefore, up to the mountain that He might show them His Kingdom before they witnessed His suffering and death, and His glory before His ignominy; so that when He was made a prisoner and condemned by the Jews, they might understand that He was not crucified by them because of His own powerlessness, but because it had pleased Him of His goodness to suffer for the salvation of the world.
He brought them up to the mountain that He might also show them, before His Resurrection, the glory of His Divinity, so that when He had risen from the dead, they might then know that He had not received this glory as the reward of His labor, but that He had had it from all eternity, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The disciples upon the mountain beheld two suns: one to which they were accustomed, shining in the sky; and Another, to which they were unaccustomed, which shone for them alone – the face of Jesus before them. And His garments appeared to them white as light: for the glory of His Divinity poured forth from His whole body, and all His members radiated light.
And there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with Him.
And this was the manner of their speech with Him: they gave thanks to Him that their own words had been fulfilled, and together with them the words of all the prophets. They worshipped Him for the salvation He had wrought in the world for mankind, and because He had in truth fulfilled the mystery which they had themselves foretold. The Prophets therefore were filled with joy, and the Apostles likewise, in their ascent of the mountain. The Prophets rejoiced because they had seen His Humanity, which they had not known. And the Apostles rejoiced because they had seen the glory of His Divinity, which they had not known.
HOMILY FOR THE DORMITION OF THE MOST-HOLY THEOTOKOS
The story of today’s feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God is so instructive, that it would suffice to present just a brief synopsis of it, in order for each person to learn a lesson from it afterwards.
After the ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven, the Mother of God continued to live for a great number of years in Jerusalem, in the home of St. John the Theologian, who had been affiliated to Her as a son at the Cross by the Lord Himself. She loved to visit the temple of Jerusalem, the garden of Gethsemane, the Golgotha, the Mount of Olives, and other places that had been sanctified by events in the life of Her Divine Son. This was abhorrent to the enemies of Christ, and so they sent out soldiers with the order to hinder Her from going to these places, but the Lord miraculously concealed His Mother, and She went unimpededly wherever She wished.
When the time came for Her departure from this world, She earnestly prayed to the Lord to take her up to Him and free Her from passing through the demonic frights. Three days before Her repose, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her and brought Her glad tidings about Her imminent repose, giving Her a wondrous paradisiacal branch as a token. As She prepared for Her imminent repose, the Mother of God wished to see the holy apostles, who had dispersed throughout various lands to preach Christ’s Resurrection, and so, miraculously brought back by angels, they gathered together in Jerusalem. Bidding them farewell and issuing Her last requests, She asked them not to weep, but to rejoice in Her departure for the heavenly dwellings. Suddenly the roof of the room opened up, and Jesus Christ appeared, surrounded by hosts of angels and saints. The Virgin Mary bowed before Him and lay down on Her bed. Christ took into His hands Her Most-pure soul, which is depicted on the icon of the feast as an infant, and ascended into heaven together with Her. Thus peacefully and painlessly ended the earthly life of the Mother of God, for death, according to the Word of God, is evil only for the wicked (Psalm 34:21). This was not even death as we are used to seeing it, but rather a light and pleasant sleep after righteous labors. For this reason the Mother of God’s repose is called not death, but dormition.
The apostles raised the body of the Theotokos upon their shoulders and, accompanied by a multitude of the faithful with censers and lighted candles, proceeded towards the garden of Gethsemane where the Theotokos had asked to be buried. St. John the Theologian strode in front of the procession, carrying the paradisiacal branch brought by Archangel Gabriel, while overhead there appeared a cloud in the form of a crown, from whence angelic singing was heard, which blended in with the singing of the people. Such honor accorded to the Mother of the Jesus Christ Who was so hated by the scribes and the Pharisees agitated them and made them send out soldiers to disperse the people, kill the apostles, and burn the body of Mary. However, the overhead cloud descended upon the crowd and concealed all those who were accompanying the bier, while the soldiers themselves were struck blind. By God’s allowance only one Jewish priest, Athonius, was able to approach the bier, which he arrogantly tried to overturn. Straightaway an angel of the Lord cut off his hands with an invisible sword, so that they remained hanging from the bier. Bleeding heavily, Athonius fell to the ground in fear and entreated the apostles to help him. “The Lord Himself cannot help thee, if thou dost not repent from the bottom of thy heart and comest to believe in Him,” – said the holy apostle Peter. “I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, before Whom I have sinned heavily, and I worship His Most-holy Mother, the Virgin Mary,” – cried out Athonius in tears. Then apostle Peter ordered him to apply his wounded stumps to the cut-off hands, and immediately they became attached again, leaving just a thin ribbon-like trace.
The slightly delayed procession, which now included the newly-converted Athonius, proceeded further. The apostles buried the Virgin Mary in the cave where Her parents and Joseph the Betrothed had been buried earlier, sealed the entrance with a large boulder, and remained there for three days, passing the time in continuous prayer.
On the third day after the most glorious Dormition of the Mother of God, there arrived the apostle Thomas, who had not been present at Her repose by God’s special providence. In order to comfort Christ’s bitterly weeping disciple, the apostles pushed away the boulder from the entrance to the tomb, in order to allow Thomas to venerate the body of the Most-holy, but great was their amazement when they noticed that the Theotokos’ body was no longer in the tomb, but only Her burial sheets remained. Then they looked upwards to heaven, as though seeking there an answer to their bewilderment, and suddenly they saw the Mother of God amid the clouds, surrounded by hosts of angels and saints. “Rejoice,” – She said to them. – “I will always be with you.” Bowing before Her, the holy apostles cried out: “O Most-holy Theotokos, help us!” It was clear to all that the Lord, having Himself arisen on the third day, had also resurrected His Mother, and that She now stands before the throne of Her Son and our God, praying for all Christians.
With great joy the apostles bid each other farewell and were again miraculously transported on clouds back to the lands from which they had come. No one can take away from us, too, this joy of prayerful communion with the Most-holy Theotokos, and for this reason the church sings: “In giving birth Thou didst preserve Thy virginity; in Thy Dormition Thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. Rejoice, O Joyful One, Who in Thy Dormition hast not forsaken us!” Amen.
CHRIST ON TRIAL BEFORE PILATE
(see beginning here)
Death of the betrayer
Jesus Christ’s sentencing to death strongly affected the soul of Judas the betrayer. He was overcome with such great remorse that, not knowing what to do, he decided upon the following course of action: he came to the judges and, giving them back the 30 pieces of silver, said: I have sinned by betraying innocent blood. But no one wanted to talk to him about it; – to the unjust judges such a confession was like an unbearable reproach, and they only replied to him: what is it to us? Look to yourself if you feel you have done something poorly.
Distressed by such indifference, Judas immediately turned his full attention towards himself, and all his dishonesty presented itself to his mind; at this point his soul became filled with despair, and taking the money, he went and threw it onto the floor of the temple. But Satan, who had entered into him the day before, whispered to him over and over again: great is your guilt; you can no longer live in this world. And so the miserable one hurried outside the city, and there at the stream of Cedron, near the garden of Gethsemane, he hanged himself in despair. The judgment of the Almighty punished also Judas’s body hanging on the tree: the corpse fell to the ground and his belly burst open.
It was not in vain that the Lord said: woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; it had been good for that man if he had not been born (Matt. 26:24). But why – someone may well ask – was he born then? Why did God give him life? Obviously not for him to perish in such a terrible way. This we can also see from the fact that the Lord, Who always knew who would betray Him, chose him as one of His disciples, and even one of the closest ones. Although the Lord said to His disciples: one of you is the devil; but He did not choose Judas to have him turn from an apostle into the devil; no, there was no such intention on the part of the Saviour, Who wishes all people to be saved and come to know the truth. The Lord called Judas to Him also in order to instruct him, to teach him God’s truth; and for this reason He had him by His side for three years and even gave him the power to work miracles, so that he could come to believe in the truth of Christ’s teaching. Many means were given to Judas by the Lord to become pious and virtuous; however, he had in his soul a certain illness – that love of money, which, according to Apostle Paul, is the root of all evil. This passion continued to become more and more deep-seated, continued to grow within his soul; and finally he became so attached to money, that for the sake of it he was ready to commit all possible villainy. The merciful Lord naturally used all possible means to treat the soul of the wretched disciple; this is attested to by the Last Supper: how many warnings, appeals, how many friendly words and most intense encouragement to repentance! But the heart of the money-lover was unable to absorb even a single vital and significant word; the Lord’s words were repulsive to Judas’s soul and produced only internal pain. Losing all patience, Judas finally decided to abandon the company that had become impoverished for the sake of their Teacher and was only a source of ennui to him. And so, after three years of service, he decided to sell the Teacher of this company; this hellish idea was accepted by the money-lover most willingly.
The 30 pieces of silver that had been acquired by Judas unjustly were not accepted into the temple treasury; the high priests took them and said: it is not meet to put them into the temple treasury, for they are the price of blood. After holding a council, they decided to use them to buy land for the burial of strangers; and they bought a potter’s field, as though on purpose to fulfill the prophetic words which they usually read each Saturday. And they took thirty pieces of silver – said the prophecy – the price of the appraised one, whom the sons of Israel had appraised; and they gave them in payment for the potter’s field, as the Lord had revealed to me (Zechariah 11:12-13).
It is wondrous how each prophetic word is fulfilled so exactly! Even today one can see in the environs of Jerusalem the site which was bought with Judas’ villainous recompense, as though in fulfillment of prophecy: may his homestead be empty, and may not a single living being reside in his dwelling. And thus the site has become a silent abode of the dead! The place is called Akeldama, i.e. field of blood, even to this day.
The Lord on trial before Pilate
After deeming Jesus Christ’s declaration to be false, the members of the Sanhedrin decided that His guilt warranted His being put to death, but they themselves did not have the power to execute anyone without the ruler’s permission. At that time the Jews, as well as many other peoples, were under the rule of the Roman Emperor (Caesar), who always retained power over the life of his subjects and handed it to the military commander whom he sent to rule over the country. At that time the ruler of the Judean province was Pilate, a man by no means well-disposed towards the repellent Jewish people, especially their Sanhedrin. In order to exert greater influence upon him, the members of the court decided to appear before Pilate in person, and thus Jesus was followed to the home of the ruler by all the high priests, scribes, and elders; however, because Pilate was a pagan, they did not wish to enter his house, in order not to defile themselves and to be able to partake of the paschal lamb that evening. The representative of the imperial rule, though disdained by the sanctimonious Jews as a vile pagan, came out to them onto the balcony; they informed him of the reason for the coming of the Jewish judges before him and of their request to execute the Prisoner Who had been brought to him. The Roman nobleman now had the chance, none better, to show his power over the Jewish leaders, and therefore, pretending not to notice how pressed for time they were, he took on the mien of an objective judge and asked them: of what are you accusing this man? – “If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him unto you,” – replied the elders, upset because their judgment and personal bias was not proof enough for Pilate. With this reply they indicated to him that he should not question the judgment of the entire Sanhedrin, but Pilate was not at all disposed to serve as a blind weapon of this Jewish assembly’s malice, and so he said to them: if so, then take Him yourself and judge Him according to your law. To this they replied: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, while His crime demands execution. And then they began to slander Him, shouting: we have established that He is corrupting the people and forbidding them to pay tribute to Caesar, calling Himself Christ the king.
Pilate returned to his place, ordering the Prisoner to be brought to him. Such a gathering of Jewish elders and their hypocritical concern for Caesar’s rule over them – all seemed quite strange and made Pilate mistrust their words. On the other hand, the importance of the accusation concerning misappropriation of kingly rank did not allow him to put off the trial, and so Pilate began his inquest: “Art Thou a Jewish king?” – he asked Jesus. And the Latter asked him in turn: “Art thou saying this of thine own accord, or have others told thee about Me?” – i.e. do you think that I am planning to become king of the Jews, or are you asking because you have heard such libel about Me? Pilate haughtily replied: “Am I a Jew, that I would share their dreams of the appearance of a kingly conqueror from amongst them? Thy people and the high priests have delivered Thee unto me, and there must be some reason for this: what hast Thou done?” – with what actions did You cause them to think that You intend to become their king? Jesus replied to this: “My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is My kingdom not from hence.” – My kingdom is not of this earth, it is not that dominion over all people which the Jews are expecting, and I have not promised them such. If it were so, where is My military might? I am not surrounded by anyone and, therefore, being defenseless, I was straightaway taken by the Jews.
Pilate, having no understanding about a kingdom not from hence, was quite astonished by such a confession, which he heard from the Prisoner standing before him, and Whose condemnation now depended on His reply – did He acknowledge Himself a king or not? And in his amazement Pilate repeated his question: “Thou art a king then?” And the One Who had come into this world to bear witness to the truth replied to him: “Thou sayest that I am king. To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice.” Pilate asked at this point: “What is truth?” and immediately arose, as though not wishing to accuse himself of not knowing the truth. At that time Roman noblemen were already studying philosophy, which deals with the search for truth, and they even had a saying: you are a king, – referring to anyone who acted justly. It was in this sense that Pilate understood Jesus Christ’s royal pretensions, and for this reason he did not wish to hear any teaching on truth or justice. And going out to the Jews, he said to them: I find no fault at all in this man.
When Jesus Christ was brought out after him, Pilate, pointing to Him, repeated: I do not find any blame in Him.
Even if the members of the Sanhedrin were not short of time, this being the last day before Passover, and were not trying to hurry with the execution of the One Whom all the people venerated as a prophet, Pilate’s announcement would have still given them the greatest offense. To say that there was no blame to be found in the One Whom the Sanhedrin had condemned to death meant to declare that there was no truth in the judges, that they were capable of slandering an innocent man. One can imagine the rage into which the members of the Sanhedrin now fell! However, not wishing to reveal their displeasure to Pilate, they began to accuse Jesus even more fiercely and condemned Him for many things. They represented to Pilate the danger of His remaining alive, in view of all the followers He had; they described the chasing of the moneychangers out of God’s temple; and all of this they presented in the form of revolt against the authorities and disturbance of civil peace. According to court law, the accused was supposed to defend him-self, but Jesus Christ did not utter a single word in His defense. “Why dost Thou not say anything in reply?” – Pilate asked the silent Prisoner. – “Dost Thou not hear how many witnesses there are against Thee, how many accusations?” But Jesus continued to keep silent, so that Pilate was quite amazed at such indifference to one’s own defense. And his amazement was not surprising in view of such humble silence from the One Who could have said much in His own defense! A certain tranquility in Him and inexplicable majesty of spirit did not allow one to think that He could not defend Himself; so how could one exonerate the One Who so clearly disdained Him own exoneration? – thus thought Pilate, and suddenly he thought of a way if not to save, at least to deflect from himself the judgment and the sentencing of the Innocent One to death.
When the high priests accused Jesus of being a disturber of peace and said, among other things, that He was agitating the people, teaching all over Judea, beginning with Galilee, then Pilate, hearing of the province of Galilee over which he did not rule, asked: Is He not a Galilean? And learning that He came from the province ruled over by Herod, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time, – as though wishing to show that he was not usurping the rights belonging to another ruler.
(To be continued)
In celebrating the blessed Dormition of the Most-holy and Most-blessed Virgin Mary, our mind, brethren, turns to the awesome and inexplicable sacrament of death.
Death is a door before whose mystery we all stand in bewilderment, but which sooner or later will open for each one of us.
Fearful is the moment of human death. Fearful not only because it is often accompanied by physical suffering. There is something more in it. There is the mystery of man’s departure from this life into some kind of other life.
To explain death in terms of a simple cessation of physiological processes is too biased and simplistic. It is not only these processes which cease. Man does not only cease to walk, eat, control his bodily members. In death man leaves this plane of existence, leaves with his entire individual, different from others, inner world.
“In the world everything begins, but nothing ends,” – Dostoyevsky once said. And we especially feel this when we stand beside a body whose soul has just left.
How much remains unfinished here, remains incomplete. And now it will never be completed on earth. Life has ended. Another existence has begun. “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes,” – sings the church over the newly-deceased one. At the bier and in the bier is the end of human justice; here God’s justice and God’s ways take over.
In death the heavenly and the earthly are intertwined into a wondrous pattern. The lifeless body is surrounded by the “honor of celestial rank.” The symbol of a heavenly crown is placed on the cold forehead. The last kiss is given to “darkened beauty, hideous, inglorious, formless.” And all of this is not only a form, a blind and insensible rite, but the fulfillment of the apostle’s words: “For this corrupt body shall be vested in incorruptibility, and this mortal being shall be vested in immortality.”
Such is Christian death. And the purest example of this death, of this blessed Christian dormition is revealed to us in the Dormition of the Theotokos. The Lord Himself takes up Her soul, “purer than the shining sun,” and carries Her into the eternal palaces of His Kingdom. And these are not only words, but the blessed, real, actual life of Christ’s Kingdom.
The time will come when we, too, will come to a realization of our death.
In what way? Let us remember the sacred words of the Gospel: Be ye like unto those who are awaiting the return of their master from the wedding, so that when he comes and knocks, you will open the door to him right away; and let us always be ready, “for ye know neither the day, nor the hour in which the Son of man shall come.”
THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
(see beginning here)
Characteristics of a Successful Marriage
Experience tells us that when two people get married, they immediately begin to discover how very different they are. The fact is, we do not really even beginto know ourselves until we are married. We live too close to ourselves. It really does take someone else to see ourselves as we really are. One of the fringe benefits of a good marriage is that one acquires a built-in psychiatrist: a good spouse who cares enough to listen without having to be paid for it! We know that many emotional illnesses are a result of a person having some inner burden weighing on him which he had never been able to really share with someone else. In a good marriage, husband and wife share their burdens with one another, and this sharing is without reservation, without having to worry about how the other person will react, without having to keep up a front.
A marriage is not a missionary enterprise! It has enough problems and difficulties of its own without each partner trying to thoroughly change and remake the other. One of the most common and most serious illusions young marrieds have is that of marrying someone in hope and expectation of changing that person.
True love does not force itself on anyone, and it does not force change; it evokes growth. How? First, by accepting one’s spouse as he or she is. When we marry, we do not sign up to change the other person; we just agree to love him as he is. The best thing a husband can do to change his wife, or vice-versa, is to change himself, to correct his own faults – in keeping with Christ’s instructions to His followers.
We think of disloyalty in a marriage as being when one spouse commits adultery. The fact is, we can be disloyal and unfaithful just as thoroughly by putting business, or parents, or hobbies, or someone else before our spouse. That, too, is disloyalty. And anyone who is not ready to place his spouse ahead of career, ahead of parents, ahead of friends, ahead of recreation, is not ready for marriage – and such a marriage will fail. Marriage is for adults, not for children.
If you fit the first button into the first hole of your suit, all the other buttons will fall in their proper place. But if the first button is placed in the second hole, nothing will come out right. It’s a matter of putting first things in first place, of keeping priorities straight. Likewise in marriage. Husbands, if you put your wives first – and wives, if you put your husbands first – everything else will fall into its proper place in the marriage relationship.
There are many characteristics that a successful marriage has, but in my view the three most important are these:
1. Praise. No marriage can prosper if there is no praise. Everyone in life needs to feel appreciated at some point by someone. And nothing can kill love faster than continual criticism. When we husbands and wives praise each other – in small ways as well as in big ways – we are also saying to one another: I love you; I value you. Praise nurtures a good marriage. And it is the one characteristic that is most lacking in modern marriages.
2. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential for a happy marriage. When couples ask me, “Do you think our marriage can survive?” my answer is always, “Yes, providing you are willing to forgive each other.” And this forgiveness should not be just after a major crisis in a family. It should be every single day. In a successful marriage, a husband and wife are constantly asking forgiveness of each other. When we do not do this, wounds do not get healed. We grow apart from each other. We grow cold towards one another, and we do not obtain the blessings that God sends down on husbands and wives that mutually forgive one another.
3. Time. A successful marriage takes time. It does not happen overnight. It must grow. It is a long and difficult process; like all good things in life, it comes through considerable effort and struggle. Those of you not yet married, or on the verge of marriage, should remember this: we live in a society of instant gratification – we want what we want when we want it, and that when is now. And this impatience on our part has had a very destructive effect on marriages, even in the Orthodox Church. If we have no patience with each other, and are not willing to give many years to working out a successful marriage, then our marriage is doomed.
The Royal Martyrs – perfect example of an Orthodox marriage and family
No marriage is so good that it cannot be better, and no marriage is so bad that it cannot be improved – provided that the persons involved are willing to grow together by God’s grace towards the maturity of Christ, Who came “not to be served but to serve.”
An absolutely essential requirement for a good marriage is the capacity to grow up. Emotional immaturity is one of the greatest causes of failure in marriage. Of course, we all come to marriage with our private assortment of immaturities and hang-ups. But we have to learn to outgrow them. When I was a child, observed St. Paul, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. How essential it is to a happy marriage to put away childish things: irresponsibility, insisting on one’s own way, egotism, lack of empathy, temper tantrums, jealousy. How important it is to pray every day: “O God, help me to grow up… to look beyond myself… to realize the needs and feelings of my wife/husband, and to accept the responsibility God has laid upon me.”
The Orthodox Christian Home
What is an Orthodox Christian home? To answer this question we must go back to square one and talk about the three main ingredients of true love. Our Faith teaches us that love is composed of three parts – not all of them of equal importance:
- The physical
- The mental
- The spiritual
The physical is obvious: a man is naturally attracted to a woman physically. This is the part of love which is very dominant early in a relationship. But there must also be a mental attraction between a man and a woman if they are going to have a successful marriage: by that I mean that they should have many interesting things to talk about, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company, being interested in each other’s total personality. This is an aspect of love that must last for the duration of the marriage, until death. Sadly, it is often the first part of love that dies; and it dies simply because it has not been nurtured by both spouses. Thirdly, love consists of spiritual attraction – when two young people can talk about God and agree. They must be able to talk about the goals of life and agree; no wall should exist between them when they talk about the purpose of life. In other words, they have common goals. If they do not have common goals, if they believe differently about God, how can they seriously travel the path of life together? So, the most important ingredient of true love is this spiritual oneness.
What most often happens, however, is this: the spiritual attraction of love is completely overlooked or ignored by two people contemplating marriage. They experience a physical and mental attraction, and they get married. They have never really dealt with the spiritual aspect, so that it does not exist in their marriage, and soon, because of a lack of hard work and nurturing, the mental attraction that had originally existed begins to fade and finally dies. Then they are left with the physical attraction. And if there is nothing more substantial to base a marriage on than a physical attraction, then the first time a third person comes along to whom one of the partners is strongly attracted, the marriage dissolves, and we have the tragedy of adultery being committed by one of both spouses and, ultimately, divorce.
Our society completely ignores the spiritual side of love, and is hostile even to the importance of a mental compatibility between a man and a woman; but the physical, the sexual – that’s another matter: that is one aspect of love that our society exalts above all others. You have only to walk into a bookstore and count the number of sex manuals to get the point.
Orthodoxy, on the other hand, seeks to keep all three ingredients in a state of harmony, with the spiritual aspect governing the other two. If we remember that the primary purpose of a marriage is the same as that of the Church: the attainment of eternal salvation, then we can see why the spiritual part of a marriage must not only govern the physical and mental, but must be nurtured and encouraged to grow.
Sex, Children, Birth Control, Divorce
Now we come to a delicate issue: sex. It must be stated at the outset that the commandments and prohibitions concerning illicit sex in the Old Testament do not mean that there is something sinful about sex in itself. These commandments are like a fence that God has built around sex in order to protect it, because it is something unique, something reserved by God for a special relationship – the marriage relationship – within which He gives the gift of life to our race. And there is some-thing else: we know from revelation that our first parents in the Garden of Eden did not have sex. The sexual relationship between a man and a woman came into existence when Adam and Eve fell; for when they fell, their bodies took on the curse of suffering, sickness, and ultimately death, and it became necessary to reproduce their kind so that the race would continue until the time that God would send the Messiah. Sex, then, is a function of our fallen human nature, just as hunger is a function of our fallen human nature. Neither the appetite for sex nor the appetite for food are in themselves sinful, but both can be abused and even perverted, and so God gave laws for us to use in governing these appetites (and others), so that they would not get out of order and cause harm. The sexual function of our nature, then, is something that dies when our bodies die, – and that is why the New Testament says that there will be no marriage or giving in marriage in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our sexual nature is not eternal, and it ceases when we die. In the same way, in Eden Adam and Eve did not hunger for food, nor were they sexually attracted to one another.
This is important to remember, because we have all grown up in a society which exalts sex and the sexual side of our nature to a very high degree, making sexual fulfillment the sign of the “good life,” and despising celibacy or a controlled sexual appetite as being somehow Victorian, puritanical, or even mentally and emotionally unbalanced and unhealthy.
Furthermore, we know that at the time woman was created, God said: It is not good that the man should be alone. Let Us make for him a help suitable to him (Gen. 2:18). This “suitable help,” woman, is of course much more than a helper; she is also bone of man’s bone, and flesh of his flesh, and when a husband and wife come together in sexual intercourse, there is the coming together – the fulfillment and consummation – of two halves of a human person, two which become one; as Scripture says, “and they shall be one flesh.” This is the mystical side of our sexual nature. And this is why adultery is such a serious sin.
Just as we cannot give free rein to our appetite for food without doing severe damage to ourselves, undermining our health, and eventually even killing ourselves, so the sexual appetite must also be subject to control. Thus, even in the Old Testament we learn that married couples underwent times of abstinence from each other – usually during Lenten times, or before going to the Temple in Jerusalem. And this practice was affirmed in the New Testament. St. Paul speaks of it in his first epistle to the Corinthians (7:5), when he recommends that man and wife abstain from each other at certain times of prayer and preparation. Consequently, to this day in the Orthodox Church, fasting days and fasting periods – such as Great Lent – are times not only of abstinence from certain foods, but of abstinence from each other as man and wife. Unfortunately, this ancient practice of our Faith is being neglected by more and more people today, who seem to think that the rules having to do with sexual activity are simply quaint old-world customs that have nothing to do with spiritual laws. Furthermore, it is the consistent teaching of the Church from the time of the Apostles, that a man and a wife abstain from one another for three days before receiving Holy Communion and for a whole day after. Why? So that each individual can give himself over to prayer and preparation before partaking of the Holy Mysteries, and prayer and thanksgiving after Communion. This is a standard that we should be striving to attain; those of you who are not yet married should be aware of this now, and understand why the Church has these rules – not in order to be stuffy and puritanical, but in order to show us how to control and properly use our appetites and maintain harmony between the body and the soul in the marriage relationship.
We see, therefore, that just as the Church prescribes rules of fasting to keep in check our appetite for food, it similarly imposes restraints upon our sexual appetites, so that we do not ruin the delicate balance between soul and body.
(To be continued)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox America,” No. 154)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On August 17th (the 4th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the holy Seven Youths of Ephesus (also known as the “Seven Sleepers”).
During the persecution of Christians by the iniquitous Roman Emperor Decius (A.D. 249-251), there lived seven youths in the city of Ephesus: Maximilian, Jamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodian, and Antoninus. They were the sons of respected city officials and served in the Emperor’s army. Although they were not related to each other by blood, they were linked by a spiritual kinship of faith and love for Christ. Together they prayed, fasted, preserved their chastity.
One time Emperor Decius came to Ephesus and ordered all its citizens to offer a sacrifice to the idols. The Christians were then sought out everywhere, forcibly dragged out of homes and caves, and forced to worship the idols. Those who courageously refused were harshly tortured. There was such a great multitude of martyred Christians that rivers of blood flowed onto the ground, while their bodies lay everywhere in heaps. Seeing such a terrible persecution and torture of Christians, the holy seven youths grievously sorrowed and prayed in church. Very soon they were betrayed to the Emperor, who became angry and ordered them to be brought before him. Standing before the Emperor, the youths fearlessly confessed their faith in Christ, for which they were stripped of their military honors. However, seeing their youth and beauty, Emperor Decius did not order them to be tortured right away, but took pity on them and gave them time to decide to worship the idols. Then he departed for another city, intending to return to Ephesus. The holy youths spent the time granted them by the Emperor in doing good deeds, and then decided to leave the city for a while and go up to a large cave situated in a mountain near the city, and there, spending their time in prayer and silence, to prepare themselves for the forthcoming martyrdom.
Having thus agreed among themselves, the youths went to Mount Ochlon, taking with them some silver coins to buy food for several days. Arriving at the cave, they spent quite a while there, praying to God continuously. Saint Jamblicus, being the youngest of them, was entrusted with the task of going to the city to buy bread. Each time he went to the city, the holy youth changed into rags, in order not to be recognized; a portion of the money which he took with him he gave to the poor and used the remainder to buy bread.
After a while, during one of his regular trips to the city, St. Jamblicus saw the royal procession of Decius returning to Ephesus, and heard his command that all city officials and citizens offer a sacrifice to the gods on the following day, and that the seven youths be found and brought to him. After buying some bread, the frightened Jamblicus returned in haste to the cave, where he informed his brothers-in-arms of all that had happened. Falling on the ground in tears and prayer, the seven youths entrusted themselves to God’s mercy. Then St. Jamblicus prepared an evening meal for them from the bread he had bought, because the sun was already setting, and the holy youths fortified themselves with this meager repast in anticipation of their forthcoming torture. Then they conversed among themselves, supporting and encouraging each other to stand firm and bravely suffer for Christ. During their conversation they fell asleep, because the merciful Lord sent these seven youths a wondrous and extraordinary sleep, in order to show a great miracle in the future and dispel doubts concerning the resurrection of the dead. The saints fell into the sleep of the dead, during which their souls were with God, while their bodies lay incorrupt and unchanged, as of those who are simply asleep.
On the following morning the Emperor commanded the noble youths to be brought to him, but when they could not be found anywhere, their parents were summoned to the Emperor instead. The terrified parents replied that they had no knowledge of their sons’ whereabouts, and had only heard that the latter were hiding on Mount Ochlon. In great wrath the Emperor then ordered the mouth of the cave to be blocked, counting on destroying the holy youths in such a manner.
Soon afterwards the iniquitous Decius died. He was followed by many other wicked rulers, until Constantine the Great came to power, and Christian emperors began to reign. In the days of the pious Emperor Theodosius the Younger (A.D. 408-450), when a long time had passed since the death of Constantine, there appeared some heretics who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Despite the incontrovertible fact of Christ’s Resurrection, not only many laymen, but also some bishops and noblemen fell into this heresy, which gave rise to a persecution of the Orthodox faithful. The heretics created great strife in the church and brought great sorrow to Emperor Theodosius, who prayed to the merciful Lord to openly reveal to those who had gone astray the mystery of the awaited resurrection of the dead and eternal life.
Then, in accordance with the will of Divine Providence, the following occurred. The contemporary owner of Mount Ochlon decided to build an enclosure for sheep on it. While building the enclosure, the laborers used the stones which were blocking the mouth of the cave where the seven youths slept, thinking that these stones were a natural part of the mountain. Thus gradually an opening was formed through which a man could crawl freely. At that time, in accordance with Divine command, the holy youths were resurrected as though awaking from sleep. Arising, they first of all prayed to God, after which they greeted each other as was their wont. It seemed to them that they had simply awakened after a night’s sleep, because there were no changes in them: their clothes remained completely undamaged, their external appearance had not changed in any way, they bloomed with health and beauty as ever. They thought that they had fallen asleep yesterday, and now, upon arising, were sure that Decius was looking for them in order to torture them. Then they decided to once again send Jamblicus to the city to buy bread, because they felt exceedingly hungry, and then, having fortified themselves with food, to leave the cave and willingly give themselves over to martyrdom for Christ.
St. Jamblicus took one silver coin and went to town; it was still quite early and dawn was just appearing. Upon leaving the cave, Jamblicus was amazed to see the stones which, as far as he could remember, had not been there the day before. Arriving at the city gates, he was thunderstruck to see the precious Cross upon them. Then he walked around all the city gates and say crosses everywhere. And all around him, wherever he looked, he saw different building, walls, and houses. He could not come to himself from sheer amazement. Then, taking heart, he entered the city. However, here he heard many swearing by the name of Christ. Jamblicus became frightened, thinking: yesterday no one dared to utter the name of Christ openly, while today I hear it everywhere; this appears to be not Ephesus, but some other city; moreover, even the buildings are different and people are wearing totally different clothes. Continuing on his way, he asked a passerby: “What is the name of this city?” “Ephesus,” – replied the latter. St. Jamblicus did not believe him and continued to think: undoubtedly I have come to a different city; I must buy some bread immediately and hasten to leave before I become completely lost. Drawing near the bread seller, he took out his silver coin and gave it to the merchant, waiting to receive his purchase and change. The silver coin was quite large and had an inscription and engraved images of ancient kings on it. The amazed merchant took the silver coin and showed it to another, and the other – to a third, and soon a whole crowd gathered. Looking at the silver coin, everyone wondered at its antiquity and whispered to each other: “This youth has probably found a treasure that had been hidden in ancient times.” But St. Jamblicus, seeing their whispering, became fearful, thinking that they had recognized him and were about to seize him and take him to Emperor Decius. “I beg of you,” – he said, – “please take the silver coin; I do not want any change.” But the merchants seized Jamblicus and demanded that he reveal to them the whereabouts of the treasure. St. Jamblicus was bewildered by their words and remained silent. He was even further amazed by the fact that no one seemed to recognize him, and that he himself did not see a single familiar face in the surrounding crowd.
News of Jamblicus soon reached the governor of the town, who at that very moment was sitting together with the local bishop; both ordered that the youth with the silver coin be brought to them. Along the way Jamblicus still continued to think that he was being led to Decius. When he was brought before the governor and the bishop, the latter examined the silver coin at length and then asked Jamblicus: “Where is the treasure which you found and from which you took this coin?”
“I do not know of any treasure” – replied the saint; – “I only know that the coin has been taken from my parents and does not differ in any way from the usual coins used in this city. I am amazed and bewildered by what is happening to me.”
“Where are you from?” – asked the governor.
The saint replied: “I believe I am from this city.”
The governor then said: “Whose son are you? Give us the names of your parents or relatives, and we will let you go.”
Jamblicus then gave the names of his father, mother, grandfather, brothers, and other relatives, but the governor angrily said: “You are lying, giving us strange and unusual names which we have never heard. You are pretending to know the Emperor Decius, from the time of whose death nearly 200 years have passed! It would be better for you to reveal to us the location of the treasure you have found; otherwise, I shall throw you into prison.”
Jamblicus, both terrified and bewildered by such words, fell on his knees and asked to be told precisely – was Emperor Decius still alive, and was he in the city?
The bishop replied: “In present times, my son, there is no emperor by the name of Decius in this land. Many years ago, in ancient times, there was such an emperor; now, however, it is the pious Theodosius who reigns.”
Then St. Jamblicus said: “I beg of you, come with me, and inside the cave on Mount Ochlon I will show you my friends, from whom you will learn that I am speaking the truth. Several days ago, fleeing from Decius, we hid in that cave; I saw Decius yesterday as he was entering Ephesus, and now I do not know whether this is Ephesus or some other city.”
Hearing this, the bishop said to the governor: “God wishes to reveal to us some kind of mystery through this youth. Let us go with him and see: something miraculous is about to happen.”
Then the bishop, together with the city officials and many townspeople, followed Jamblicus to Mount Ochlon, where at the entrance to the cave they discovered a sealed copper chest. This chest had been left there by Christians after the entrance to the cave had been filled up by order of Decius. Now this chest was opened and found to contain two tablets, upon which was written that seven holy youths – Maximilian, Jamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodian, and Antoninus – had fled from Emperor Decius and had hid in this cave; by order of Decius the mouth of the cave had been blocked with stones and the youths had died a martyric death for Christ there. After listening to what had been written on the tablets, everyone was greatly amazed and openly gave glory to God.
Upon entering the cave, they found the holy youths, blooming with health and beauty; their faces shone with the radiance of God’s grace. Then the bishop, the governor, and the people fell at the saints’ feet, glorifying God Who had allowed them to witness such a miracle. The bishop immediately sent a letter to Emperor Theodosius, informing him of the miracle which the Lord had revealed in his reign, saying: “In our days, through the resurrection of the bodies of these holy youths, the Lord has shown us an image of the future resurrection not only of the soul, but also of the body.”
Upon receiving this message, Emperor Theodosius was overjoyed and went immediately to Ephesus, accompanied by his noblemen and a great many people. Arriving at the cave, he bowed before the holy youths and lovingly embraced them, thanking God for revealing to the faithful, through these youths, the truth of the resurrection of the dead. Afterwards, for an entire week the Emperor shared repasts with the youths and served them, while all the people joyously listened to their salvific discourses. After a week passed, in front of everyone’s eyes the youths bowed their heads to the ground and fell into a final sleep, glorified by all the faithful.
BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST PEOPLE
(see beginning here)
The first human generations
The fifth chapter of Genesis opens with a brief repetition of the account of the creation of the first people (and here once again the word “bara” is used – i.e. to create out of nothing) as a unity in plurality, in the image and likeness of the unity in Trinity that exists in the Divine Being.
“In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name ‘adam’ (generic name for humans), in the day when they were created.”
After that Genesis gives the number of years of Adam’s life and speaks of the birth of the righteous son of Adam and Eve – Seth: “and he begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth.”
The Lord had created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness, and retaining this image and this likeness (though corrupted by sin), Adam passes them on to his descendants.
“And he (Adam) begat sons and daughters.”
If in the previous chapter we remarked upon the Holy Fathers’ exclusively loving attention to each word of the Bible, here we must comment upon the blindness, sometimes even non-deliberate, of the most recent unbelieving or little-believing critics and researchers of the Holy Writ.
In the Book of Genesis, in verse 4 of chapter 5, it is clearly stated that Adam begat sons and daughters, and yet the great majority of contemporary critics of the Bible wonder: how does the Bible imagine the propagation of mankind, if only three sons of Adam and Eve are mentioned? Whom did they marry?
Of course the majority of such critics were dishonest people, consciously and deliberately maligning matters of faith. At the same time, they counted upon their readers’ not noticing the slander, being certain that these readers had not read the Bible and at best knew of its contents only from various and often vulgarized so-called “Holy Stories,” in which in fact only the names of Cain, Abel, and Seth are usually listed as sons of Adam, and there is no mention of the others sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
The sons of Adam and Eve naturally married their sisters, without falling into incest in doing so, for at that time such marriages were dictated by simple and natural necessity and not by perversion. Moreover, mankind was young and fresh then, and marriages between close relatives could not yet bring those elements of degeneration into it that invariably accompanied later incestuous liaisons.
This same freshness in young mankind may also explain the exclusive longevity of people in those times. Originally created for eternal life, people of the first human generations did not yield for a much longer time to the unnatural for humans power of death. Adam lived for 930 years and Methuselah – with the longest lifespan – for 969 years.
Of the ten names of Adam’s descendants prior to the world Deluge, let us stop at the name of Enoch, seventh after Adam. Enoch means “dedication.”
“And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
It is said of the righteous Enoch in the Book of Sirach: “Enoch pleased the Lord, and was taken up to heaven; he was an example of repentance to all generations” (Sir. 44:16).
And the holy Apostle Paul says of him: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him” (Heb. 11:5).
The holy Apostle Jude has preserved for us even the original words of the righteous Enoch, testifying in his epistle: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
Blessed Theodorite teaches that the Lord allowed Enoch to bypass death, in order to attest even to the early antediluvian mankind that “the sentence of death is temporary and will be rescinded.” Blessed Theodorite ends his commentary on Enoch with words that may be very aptly cited: “Thus we know that he was translated alive, and we know that he lives even to this day, but how and where –remains unknown, since the Scriptures say nothing about it.”
There is a very important church tradition connected with Enoch, of which the blessed Jerome and Augustine speak in great detail. This tradition is especially important for our fiery times. The righteous Enoch did not die. However, according to God’s command: “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” all humans must pass through the gates of death, and we know that even the One Who is more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim – the Mother of God – passed through the threshold of death, in order to be resurrected by Her Son and God. Of two people only do the Holy Scriptures say that they did not die: the righteous Enoch and the prophet Elias. To both of them apply the words of Blessed Theodorite: “They live even to this day, but how and where – remains unknown.”
And church teaching tells us that in the end times, when human iniquities increase and love disappears, so that all manifestations of fervor for God among people become exhausted, there will appear “these two witnesses, two olive trees, two guiding lights” (Rev. 11:4), who will preach God’s truth among the fainthearted mankind. By God’s allowance these two guiding lights will be killed by the Antichrist and will arise on the third day. Church teaching says that these two guiding lights/witnesses will be the holy Enoch and Elias, those righteous ones of the Old Testament who had never died, specifically in order to do God’s work at the end of time, when human strength becomes depleted.
As Blessed Theodorite points out, the righteous Enoch’s prophesy applies much more to the end times than to antediluvian times: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His angels, to execute judgment upon all.”
The fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis is also tied up with the problem of Biblical chronology. It is well-known that in Byzantium and in Russia before the reign of Peter the Great, the years were counted “from the creation of the world” and not from the birth of Christ. Even now this count still obtains in our church calendars: we are now in the 7517th year from the creation of the world (A.D. 2009).
This count of years is unfailingly mocked by opponents of faith, and its brevity sometimes throws into doubt even some of the faithful, whom scientific research forces to imagine the history of our earth as being of far greater duration.
There are two responses that may be given in interpretation of this problem.
First of all, what exactly should we understand to be the date of the creation of the world? In the word of the holy prophet Moses himself, and the holy apostle Peter, and the greatest church interpreter of the Holy Scriptures St. Basil the Great, we may, and even should, imagine the epoch of days of creation to be long and even exceedingly prolonged periods of time, because the Church names the seventh day that follows in the series of the six days of creation as the period of time, still continuing now and due to last no one knows how long yet, from the end of creation to the end of the world, when the seventh day will be replaced by the shining eighth day, which will be never-ending.
Consequently, in church terms we may pose this question in the following manner: when did the sixth day end and the seventh one begin? According to the Biblical narrative we may say: at the time when the creation of man in his present spiritual form was achieved. But when exactly did this moment occur in the external historical process – we do not know. And it is important to note that not a single clear historical testimonial of man’s spiritual life, like a written testament or a religious monument, goes back beyond these 7517 years.
Secondly, God’s immutable word – the holy Bible – does not give us chronological tables. It only gives us the years of life of the patriarchs – Adam’s descendants – from the beginning of mankind to the Deluge and then from the Deluge to Abraham. Counting up these years, a certain pious medieval monk – Dionysius the Minor (the same one who calculated the year of Christ’s Nativity) – calculated the years from the creation of the world, and this epoch was accepted in Byzantium solely for the sake of convenience, and was later taken over from Byzantium by Russia.
However, if we look closely at the text of the Bible, we will see that it does not provide a key to chronology.
What does the Bible say? “And Adam lived 230 years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth. And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were 700 years; and he begat sons and daughters. And all the days that Adam lived were 930 years.” And likewise for every descendant of Adam, the days of his life are given until the birth of his offspring, whose name is provided, and then after that.
But, in fact, the Biblical expression “so-and-so, son of so-and-so” and “so-and-so begat so-and-so” does not always mean that a particular someone was the direct son of someone else. In the Old Testament we see that it is said of almost all the Jewish kings: “he did (or did not) like his father David did (or did not).” And in the New Testament Christ the Saviour is called the Son of David, Son of Abraham, and Son of Adam. And in the Lord’s genealogy, presented to us by Apostle Matthew, we see that when the evangelist says: “Ozias began Joatham,” he leaves out four generations.
Consequently, when the Bible says that X is the son of Y, we must only understand that X is a direct descendant of Y, but we do not know how many generations there are between them. Ozias begat Joatham, but there are 4 generations between them; Christ the Saviour is the son of David, but there are over 30 generations between them; Christ the Saviour is the son of Abraham, but there are almost 50 generations between them; Christ the Saviour is the son of Adam, but between them there is an immense number of generations that cannot even be calculated. But at the same time there is one thing we know indisputably and absolutely: if the Bible calls someone the son of so-and-so, he is undoubtedly his direct descendant. Christ the Saviour is called the son of David, Abraham, and Adam because He is their direct descendant. And this is what the Holy Scriptures underline and confirm, because this is what we need to know in order to recognize Christ as the Saviour of the world, announced by God to the first people at the beginning of their earthly history, to Abraham during his resettlement to the promised land, and to David after his repentance, – recognize the One Whom the prophets foretold as being precisely the son of David and the son of Abraham.
Thus the calculation of chronology is not one of the purposes of the holy Bible. That, just like all external scientific research that is not “the one thing needful” for the eternal salvation of human souls, the Lord leaves to the independent research of human scientific creativity.
(To be continued)
Archbishop Nathaniel (Lvov)
When the Sovereign Emperor Tsar
The throne abdicated so humbly,
He prayed to the Mother of God
To take over the land and the crown.
Deceived by the traitorous boyars
And mocked by the jeering crowd,
Foreseeing the future, he wept
Over Russia’s most bitter lot.
He prayed as he thought of past glory,
And as before the icon he knelt,
He sought not his sorrow to utter,
But pleaded for Russia instead.
Forgetting his wife and his children,
His precious and ailing Alexis,
The forthcoming torments and murder,
He pleaded for Russia instead.
The February tempest howled,
An accordion drunkenly wailed,
Beyond the windows the Empire
In mortal agony writhed.
The generals battled for power,
The Germans of victory boasted,
The bloodthirsty mob was on rampage,
And only the Emperor prayed:
“Such terrible years are coming,
Inconsolable times are arriving.
Who will endure all these sorrows?
Who will carry the burden?
The people will not have a father,
The land will be ruled by vampires,
The people will renounce the Saviour,
And God in His wrath will discard them.
But Thou, O Most-merciful Mother,
Do pluck from the grasp of Hades
Thy fallen, misguided children,
Recover their souls, lost and straying.
Do save them, O Mistress, show mercy
When they abandon the Saviour.
Do save them when they are in peril,
And can’t save themselves any longer.
They anger Thee with their sinning
And bring only anguish and sorrow.
Do save them when they no longer
Appeal for their own salvation.
To God do return my homeland,
Deliver it from Satan’s fetters,
The hearts that are clouded with evil
Do mollify and guide to repentance.”
In exhaustion his eyelids were drooping,
But sorrow awoke him from sleeping.
His hope struggled against depression,
And love called him to be sacrificial.
And again on his knees for the people –
No longer their ruler or tsar –
For the great Russian homeland now prays
The holy servant of God Nikolay.
-- Archdeacon Roman (Tamberg)
-- Translated by Natalia Sheniloff