The contemporary Christian world has almost lost its conscience and feeling of sin. Few people in our days judge their personal behavior, actions, and intentions from the perspective of righteousness or sinfulness. All of us have somehow become used to regarding ourselves as “sinners” not in terms of a humble realization of our unworthiness before God, but in terms of our not being “saints” and, consequently, neither being able to, nor obliged to be righteous. The horror of sin is rarely exposed in all its vile hideousness before our spiritual sight. Our sight is too clouded, too “entranced” by life’s temptations, too used to wandering among vanity.
At the same time, the enlightened Christian consciousness finds horrifying and vile those of our “petty” (as we often call them) sins that have become the constant companions of our daily life. Those insignificant, in our opinion, transgressions of the Gospel commandments, which actually make us feel that even Gospel law itself is not mandatory for us.
Yet our Christian morality is revealed to us in love.
God is Love… The one who stays with God for the sake of love must bear the yoke of moral law, the law which is born of love, lives by love, and leads into the kingdom of love. For this reason a sin against the Christian moral law is not simply a formal violation of higher authority, but is a sin against love. Therefore, in the words of one of the prayers before communion, to sin means to “sadden” the Holy Spirit.
A loving son who has not fulfilled his father’s commandment does not so much fear the non-fulfillment itself, as the fact that he has sinned against the union of love, that he has introduced insincerity and deceit into this union, that he has defiled a pure and sincere relationship.
When Adam sinned, he first of all hid from God’s sight, for he had defiled the bonds of love and was ashamed to present himself before the eyes of Divine Truth.
This is also the source of the blind naivete of modern Christians, who wish to unite service to God with accommodation of their own whims: “The Lord is kind… He will forgive all… He will cover all… I have not killed, neither have I robbed, and the rest are trite sins.”
Remember, O Christian… The Lord is a fiery God… He will often crush you, throw you between hammer and anvil, in order to test the strength of your love. But He will never reveal Himself to you, if you proceed to serve Him with complete indifference, with a cold heart and a cold soul; if you proceed to look for a way of serving Him that will be more comfortable and advantageous for you.
Guard yourself against sin… Know that sin is, first of all, a defilement of sacredness, an expulsion of God from the human soul, and the sorrow of “saddening” the Holy Spirit.
The Lord’s Cross brings human conscience to judgment.
It gathers around itself pure hearts who are searching for God, in order to tell them of the mystery of Divine Love, but it also rises to condemn those who are unable and do not wish to open up their hearts to this mystery. The Cross is truly “set up for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel, and as a subject of controversy.”
To understand the Cross means to feel and realize God’s love. To accept it means to aspire towards this love by means of “active elevation,” by means of lifelong spiritual labor. Anyone who has truly experienced in his heart the tragedy of Golgotha cannot remain indifferent. He must either love the One who loves and sacrifice himself to the One who has become a sacrifice, or take truth in abhorrence and depart from it forever.
This reaction to the Cross is revealed to us in the image of the two thieves. One of them understood and felt the mystery of Love, rejected sin, and came to full repentance. The other did not understand and did not feel, and thus died with the burden of blasphemy upon him.
The Lord’s Cross will judge the world. According to the Evangelist’s testimony, before the Second Coming there will appear in the heavens “the sign of the Son of Man.”
And now, in the middle of the Great Lent, the holy Church brings out this sign of the Son of Man.
The Great Lent is a time of repentance. And repentance is primarily a striving towards God’s Truth and God’s Love. A striving towards the foot of the Golgotha.
Here everything appears to be revealed to the faithful and loving heart. Here is the Lamb of God, Who takes upon Himself the sins of mankind. Here is the force of self-sacrificing Love and the enormousness of Divine forgiveness. Here is deliverance from sin and the source of new and grace-filled life. And all of it is here between the two thieves, all of it is in the hands of the One who was crucified and killed on the Cross.
“Today the Master of the creation and the Lord of Glory,” sings the Church, “is nailed to the Cross and His side is pierced; and He who is the sweetness of the Church tastes gall and vinegar. A crown of thorns is put upon Him who covers the heaven with clouds. He is clothed in a cloak of mockery, and He who formed man with His hands is struck by a hand of clay. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is smitten upon His back. He accepts spitting and scourging, reproach and buffeting; and all these things my Deliverer and God endures for me that am condemned, that in his compassion He may save the world from error.”
In this hymn the Church paints for us a very moving and vivid picture of the Saviour’s labor on the Cross. The Lord accepted suffering and death, “that He may save the world from error,” from the demonic enticement that had subjugated it.
This enticement lies in the substitution of deceit for truth, evil for good, ugliness and vileness for beauty. This is the temptation of sin. And the strength of the Cross is that it saves from temptation those who offer their open hearts to its sacred and divinely-crimsoned foundation.
Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross
“O come, ye faithful, let us worship the Life-giving Cross”…
At the half-mark of the Great Lent, the holy Church triumphantly brings out the precious Lord’s Cross to the middle of the church, in order for its faithful members to venerate it with piety and awe.
Day by day, week by week passes the time of the Great Lent, which the true Christian tries to use as a time for purifying, renewing, and sanctifying his soul.
But alas, not all who call themselves Christian make use of this salvific time. Many continue in a state of spiritual somnolence, spending the brief days of their earthly endeavor in a careless manner. And so the holy Church, which always shows concern for all its members, both fervent ones and those who neglect their salvation, urges all to focus their devout attention upon the life-giving Cross of the Lord…
If you are a true adherent of Christ and are worthily engaged in your salvific Lenten endeavor, and are beginning to falter in this endeavor because of your frail human nature – come up to Christ’s Cross, bring to its foot all your frailties, venerate the Crucified One with faith and tenderness, boldly kiss the wounds of your Saviour, and abundantly draw from the font of salvation the necessary strength and grace for further advancement in your salvific penitential endeavors. And may the Lord reward you for your small endeavors, here on earth, with the joy of Christ’s Pascha, and in the age to come may He grant you eternal bliss in the “never-setting day of His kingdom.”
But if you are spending the days of Lent in your customary idleness and disregard for the salvation of your immortal soul, if your sins hang upon you like a heavy burden, – do not step away from the foot of Christ’s Cross, but stop and fasten your gaze upon the One Who has so widely opened His salvific embrace to every penitent sinner. Regard how Christ loves you: it is for your salvation that He is suffering on this Cross; it is for your sake that He has assumed these terrible wounds and sores; it is for your sake that streams of His innocent and most-pure Blood are pouring forth.
Thus do not increase and augment the sufferings of your Lord and Saviour by your customary deceits, sins, and iniquities; prostrate yourself before the Crucified One with humility and penitence, venerate with awe and wonder His wounds, suffered for your sake, and may the merciful Lord help you throw off your heavy burden of sin and instead take on His light burden and His easy yoke.
And even for the smallest endeavor undertaken by you for the salvation of your own soul, the Lord will open to you the doors of His mercy, and by the grace of God you will experience in this life the joy of the Resurrection, and in the coming eternal age you will enter into the never-ending joy of your Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Supper
Thus, by the grace of God, brethren, we have arrived at the moments of remembrance of Christ’s salvific passion. “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” the Lord says to His disciples at the Mystic Supper.
The end of the earthly endeavor of the Son of man is approaching, and this Supper will remain for all ages in Christ’s Church in remembrance of Him. The world offers many repasts, but only one repast gives us true food and true nourishment – and that is the Lord’s Supper. Under the guise of bread and wine the Saviour Himself mysteriously and indescribably unites with His faithful followers in the sacrament of Communion. And this grace-filled source is open to all. With fear of God and with faith draw nigh… Receive ye the Body of Christ; taste ye of the fountain of immortality.
Yet one must remember that every person who approaches the Lord’s Chalice takes a great responsibility upon himself. “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.” But what self-worth can any man offer before God? Only profound humility can endow us with the daring to come up to the great sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Humble thyself, O human soul, and recognize the fact that there is no greater happiness for thee than to be a guest at the Divine Supper of thy Lord and Saviour.
Repent, open up thy depths to God, Who knows all thy deeds, and may thy penitence be wholehearted… And only then approach the sacrament with hope in God’s mercy.
“Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief do I confess Thee: remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom.”
The Lord’s Passion
The twelve Gospel readings tell us of the Saviour’s suffering. And each time we hear these readings, they are ever new and vibrant in their divine simplicity. How great and wonderful seems to us the act of an individual who sacrifices himself for others…
Here we see revealed a love that does not seek its own glory, as the Apostle says. What can we say of the deed of the Son of God, Who voluntarily gave Himself up for the life and salvation of the world. It may be said that it is easier to suffer voluntarily. But is that so, brethren? When circumstances place a man in a situation wherein he must sacrifice himself, he does it for the sake of moral duty, which forces him to such self-sacrifice.
But when a man is faced with complete freedom of choice – to suffer or not to suffer, – is it not the greatest deed to choose voluntary suffering? Moreover, when we suffer, our suffering always has a redemptive value. This suffering cleanses us of our sins. But Christ was without sin. He took upon Himself the burden of all our sins, being like unto us in all but sin.
In this sacrifice of Divine love took place the mystery of salvation. The Lord saved the world by means of His suffering. And in the holy days of remembrance of His Passion, He summons us to participate in the deed of salvation, to love Him, to aspire toward Him with all our heart. The wise thief repented and received absolution. O, if only we too, brethren, knew how to repent and be spiritually renewed! Then the Lord’s Passion would truly sanctify us, would open the gates of paradise for us while here on earth, would give our lives the genuine joy of being the sons of God.
We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ, show us also Thy glorious resurrection!
At the Tomb of the Son of God and the Son of Man
Probably many of you, brethren, had to stand at the casket of a beloved relative or dear person. What does one feel in such a case? First of all, one feels exactly what the dear departed one meant to him. And as one realizes this “what,” the heaviness of the loss is revealed to him.
Now we stand before the tomb of Christ. Fellow-Christian, think on it – what does the Lord mean to you in your life? What does your conscience now tell you as you stand at this tomb?
In order to endow you with genuine and absolute happiness, your Saviour came down to earth mysteriously and indescribably. He taught, suffered, and died for you. He left you His Gospel. His commandments “are not burdensome.” Within them is revealed true life. One does not have to be wise or learned in order to understand the Gospel. One must simply have a pure heart, a heart turned towards God and keeping its hope for salvation placed in Him.
And what about us? Have we ever thought of establishing the Gospel as the cornerstone of our lives, our conduct, our relationships? Always and in everything we keep to our own, human considerations. The Lord is distanced from us, because we ourselves are keeping far away from Him and often do not even wish to approach Him.
But even in such circumstances of spiritual frigidity, how terrible and nightmarish it is to think of life without God, a life deprived of His truth, His holiness, His perfection…
This is what we must feel as we stand at the Life-giving Tomb… And no matter to what extent our ways deviate from God’s ways – we always have the possibility of returning to the Father, if the image of God lives within us and has not disappeared completely from our hearts.
Come up to this Tomb, then, with all that you have in your heart. Pour out your prayer before God, tell Him your sorrows, and – above all – try to be conscious of what exactly the Lord means to you in your life. If He lives in your heart, you will love Him even more, and you will give Him your heart even more. If you are filled with despondency and spiritual frigidity, perhaps your standing at the Lord’s Tomb will revive you.
But, in any case, remember one thing: God’s love shines for you from the Divine Tomb, and it is your free choice whether to accept it or reject it.
Homily for the sunday of the paralytic
I have no man…
This Sunday’s commemoration is dedicated to the paralytic in the Gospel, who was healed of his long-term illness by the Saviour at the pool of Bethesda.
For thirty-eight years this unfortunate man lay near the healing waters of the miraculous pool and sharply felt his bitter loneliness, since he had no man who could immerse him in the pool in the rare moments of the miraculous troubling of the water.
And now the Saviour of the world, Who had come to illuminate the world with the rays of truth and love, personally stretched out His mighty hand to the exhausted paralytic, healed him of his burdensome illness, and proved to be for him that “man” whom the latter could not find for such a long time.
The Gospel is the book of life that reflects our life on its holy pages. In this lies its power, its viability, its eternal and living instructiveness. Everything that is written in the Gospel has been taken from life. And especially significant in this sense is the story of the presently-commemorated paralytic at Bethesda. “I have no man…” How often, and particularly in the current conditions of our spiritually and materially exacerbated life, do we hear this complaint, this cry.
Man remains alone… Life has gone ahead in some other direction. Scientific progress and its practical application in life have not brought happiness to mankind. Naturally we see both children and stepchildren in life, – and there are more of the latter of course. At a time when serums and inoculations that are able to save mankind from physical ills and maladies are being created in the world’s laboratories, millions of people perish both morally and physically, abandoned by all, rejected by all, finding themselves outside the boundary of scientific benefits. Moreover, man’s creative genius has lost the comprehension of true good, and the hour is approaching when all human achievements will be used to wreak horror and destruction. (This was prophetically spoken on the eve of World War II.) Such is the world that has been left “without a man.”
And in these days, when the shepherds are being smitten and the sheep are being scattered, the holy Church firmly offers for our edification the image of the paralytic, who lived in bitter solitude for thirty-eight years and who finally found a “man” in the person of the Saviour of the world – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ’s flock is not large or numerous, but it has remained faithful to the Heavenly Bridegroom and serves Him in spirit and truth. And it is these loyal sheep of Christ who today should remember the words of the Divine Lamb: “Fear not, little flock! For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what ye have, and give alms. Provide yourselves a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34).
Thus, O Christian, always try to be a man for other men and then, being loyal in small things, you shall be placed over many, and even here in life will enter into the joy of your Lord.
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.”
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 1, 2007)
The judgment of the Cross
Have you ever placed, O Christian, your life and your conscience before the judgment of Christ’s Cross on the Golgotha? Have you ever thought of what kind of answer you should give to the Son of God Who has suffered for your sake?
There is a story of how a certain unbeliever, entering the dilapidated hut of a fisherman, saw a holy Crucifix there and read the following inscription over it: “This is what I have done for thee, and what hast thou done for Me?” These words changed the unbeliever’s life. He felt in them the summons of God’s truth and sacrificial Love, and followed Christ.
Thus now, too, as the life-giving Cross of Christ lies before us, it appeals directly to the life and conscience of each one of us. Let us place ourselves before its judgment… with all our constant frailties and weaknesses, with all our constant service to sin.
The sacrament of Love was realized upon Golgotha: the Lord ascended the Cross in order to save the world from delusion, from enticement with sin. And in the continuous labor of struggling with sin, loyalty to Golgotha is revealed in a Christian’s life.
Let us place our life and conscience before the judgment of the Cross, not in order to fall under condemnation, but in order to condemn the sin that lives within us and to cease being the slaves of sin.
For in the Cross there is not only condemnation of evil, but also the strength for combating it, and the joy of victory, and the rapture of eternal serenity in God, prepared for all who have served the Cross in their lives.
Homily for the Meeting at the Temple
In today’s wonderful feast the holy Church revives in our memory the Gospel event in which Christ our Saviour was brought by the Mother of God and the pious elder Joseph to the temple of Jerusalem as a 40-day-old infant, according to lawful custom.
But it was not only the bringing to the Old Testament temple of the One Who created a new and most perfect tabernacle that took place on that day; a sacrifice was offered not only for the One Who subsequently became the great and sole sacrifice of the New Testament. Something much more wondrous and mysterious took place here: the old Testament, in the person of its best representatives – the righteous God-receiver Simeon and the prophetess Anna – met the promised Redeemer Who had come into the world, and offered thanksgiving to God for the thousand-year-old course it had just concluded.
“There was a man in Jerusalem, – the Evangelist tells us, – whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25-26).
Church tradition has preserved more detailed information on the righteous Simeon than is given to us by the Evangelist.
In the year 271 B.C., the Egyptian king Ptolomaeus Philadelphus, who was engaged in establishing the great library of Alexandria, wished to have in it the holy Jewish books translated into Greek. In order to have his wish fulfilled, Ptolomaeus applied to the Jewish high priest Eleazarus with a request for assistance in translating the books of the Holy Bible. Fulfilling the king’s request, Eleazarus assigned this task to 72 interpreters/translators. Among them was the righteous Simeon.
While translating the book of the prophet Isaiah, Simeon came to the place where the Old Testament evangelist says: “Behold, a Virgin will conceive in the womb and will bear a Son”… Simeon was cast into doubt: how can a virgin become a mother… And suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to him and foretold him that death would not come to him, Simeon, until the day when he would see with his own eyes the Lord’s Christ, born of a Virgin.
And so the years passed … But God did not send death to Simeon. He lived and waited for the fulfillment of all that the Lord’s angel had foretold him. And finally that day arrived… The prophecy came to pass: the Virgin Mother came to the temple, holding the Divine Infant-Son in Her arms. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon came there as well. Joyfully he took the Infant into his elderly arms and on behalf of the entire Old Testament gave thanks to God in a solemn and ardent prayer: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
The Old Testament had fulfilled its mission. It had prepared the world for receiving the Saviour and could now freely repose. All that had been foretold to the forefathers now came to pass. The seed of the Woman had bruised the head of the serpent. A Virgin gave birth to a Son and called Him Emmanuel, which means: “God is with us.” The Old Testament could say its “now lettest Thou depart.”
But in giving thanks to God for the fulfillment of His promises, in thanking Him for the “glory of the people of Israel,” the righteous Simeon goes farther than the majority of his contemporaries, who believed that salvation was the exclusive lot of the Jews. He openly testifies that a new grace-filled kingdom will open up for all, both the Jews and the Gentiles. The Divine Infant Who had been brought to the temple will open His fatherly embrace to the entire universe.
And in finishing his prayer of thanksgiving, the righteous Simeon prophesies the New Testament fate of his dearest Jewish people: “Behold, this child (Christ) is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against.”
He testifies that the coming of Christ will divide the people of Israel into two halves: God’s Israel and the rejected Israel, and then, turning to the Mother of God, Who was standing amazed by all that was happening, and foreseeing the anguish of Her maternal heart at the foot of Golgotha, Simeon says: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through Thy own soul also.”
Commemorating now this sacred event, glorifying the Lord Who had so graciously appeared on our sinful earth, lauding His Most-holy Mother and the guardian of Her virginity – the elder Joseph, and venerating the righteous Simeon and the prophetess Anna, we should remember that sooner or later in the life of each one of us will come the hour of this “now lettest Thou depart.”
For if the sons of the Old Testament lived by their faith in the coming Christ, we, the new Israel, live and attain salvation by our faith in the arrived Redeemer. If their duty was to believe in the forthcoming Saviour, then our duty is to love the arrived Saviour, Who has redeemed the world with His blood and Who summons all of us to repay love with love. The righteous Simeon fulfilled his duty of faith to the very end, and faith did not put him to shame: he could say with joy and relief: “Now lettest Thou depart.”
May the Lord grant that all of us fulfill our duty of love and preserve Christ’s commandments to the very end. Only then, finishing our life’s course, each one of us will be able to utter with a pure conscience, bravely and daringly, the New Testament “now lettest Thou depart,” spoken erstwhile by the apostle Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”
Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 21, 2007)