Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt: Part I. Children’s Faith, Chapter 1

This is the beginning of the serial publication of the book Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt by Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov) (1880-1961), an extraordinary bishop who wrote a number of directly autobiographical memoirs and other books that include many interesting facts from his life (concerning not only his own life but also different aspects of Russian culture), which was lived, according to his aptly-named autobiography, At the Turn of Two Eras.

Part I. Children’s Faith

Chapter 1

I have been accumulating material on faith and unbelief already for a long time. You could even say that almost all of my life was intertwined with these issues in one way or another. And even now I live in the atmosphere of these issues: everything else is revolving around them or intersects with them. I read lectures about these topics at the St. Petersburg Academy, the Paris Theological Institute, and in various public addresses. I also have notes and sketches, and now during this free week I will write down what I am able.

* * *

This will certainly not be a “lecture” but rather “autobiographical” notes. Since I have experienced questions about faith in my life and what I thought about them, this is like a “confession of faith.”

And I want it to be lively, for I really lived through it all. These are notes or observations of the heart then shaped in the mind.

* * *

And it will prove useful for someone, for people are similar.

* * *

I will begin from the time that I remember having faith.

* * *

Of course I do not remember how and when the first words and the thought of faith were cast into my heart by my mother… My memory already found me a believer, as were my parents, just like everyone around us, “simple” people, almost village class. My father, who had been a serf as a boy, was a clerk in the estate of B’s and my mother was the daughter of a deacon from the village of Sofinki [Footnote 1 (of editor of Russian text)]. My father as a boy had been a serf. I did not see any atheists in my childhood nor did I even hear about them. Everyone around me believed unequivocally, and God’s world, the supernatural, was as real as the earth. There was absolutely no difference. And I do not even remember when I first learned that there were atheists. I also do not remember the impressions of this new knowledge. But in any case, it evidently did not make any impression on me for the very reason that it did not remain in my memory as something peculiar… And thus, I always remember myself as a believer! And I can say that I have never been an unbeliever. However, I know about the states of doubt and unbelief; but I will write about that later.

[Footnote 1 (of editor of Russian text): After graduation from academy (1907-1908), Hieromonk Benjamin became a professorial fellow at the Department of Biblical History and then held the position of dean of students of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. Bishop Benjamin taught in 1925-1927 and 1929-1931 at the Paris Orthodox Theological Institute. Bishop Benjamin’s father, Afanasii Ivanovich Fedchenkov, came from serfs of Smolensk province; he was a servant for the Baratynskys, the descendants of the famous Russian poet E.A. Baratynsky. When he was 13-14 years old, he was sent as a clerk to the Tambov estate.]

… So as not to forget later, I will write down a conversation on this subject (in general, I will not concern myself with a “system” of notes, because it is not very important). One day I visited a friend in Moscow, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov, that I esteem [Footnote 2 (of editor of Russian text)]. He was a man of great erudition, an academic. His library contained thousands of books. He knew all the major European languages. He wrote several books on Buddhism (without finishing them)…

[Footnote 2 (of editor of Russian text): Vladimir Kozhevnikov (1852-1917) was the author of books and articles on the history of religion, theology, and moral issues and was a public figure. The following is a small list of his works on the subject of faith and unbelief: “The Philosophy of Feeling and Faith in Its Relationship to Literature and Rationalism of the 18th Century and to Critical Philosophy,” Moscow, 1897; “On Conscientiousness in Faith and Unbelief (For Young Students),” Moscow, 1908; “Confessions of an Atheist (On the Book of Le Dantec “Atheism”),” Moscow, 1911; “Modern Scientific Unbelief. Its Growth, Influence, and Changing Attitudes Towards it,” Moscow, 1912.]

Shortly before his death, he contracted a terrible type of fever that flung him around his bed like a feather… I went to see him. He completely peacefully carried on a conversation while he lay. And, by the way, he said, pointing to the thousands of books standing on the shelves (with irony, but innocently):

“I read all these fools, and yet I did not lose faith. I have always been a believer.”

He died peacefully. My your soul be granted the Kingdom of Heaven, servant of God Vladimir…

Among his books, he wrote several pamphlets on faith: they are simple in presentation, but very profound… I have now forgotten the exact contents. But I will look for them and write them down: they are worth reading for anyone interested in these issues; there would doubtlessly be use in reading them.

* * *

The first impression connected in my memory with faith was, perhaps, Pascha. All of our family was preparing for it, as everyone else, a still long way off. And this expectation grew and grew.

On Saturday evening, we were talking about the Matins of Pascha. I had still never been to it: I was too small… I was perhaps 4 years old at the time… And I really wanted to be at the service. And I began to ask my mother to take me also to the church… I was expecting something amazing. My small heart fluttered from the approaching joy. Mama (she was the mistress of the family) promised me, but she advised me to go to bed early. With hopefulness, I immediately fell asleep, but I woke up when it was already dawn. Our family had already come from the church (usually a horse was given from the estate for this occasion) …

It turned out that I was only comforted by the promise but was not taken. And my older brother, Michael, had already received this joy. It was painful, but I soon forgot about my sadness. Paschal joy took hold of me and carried me forward. Children’s grief, like the morning dew, is short-lived… But the next year I was together with all of our family… I do not remember everything, but the joy was extraordinary… And among other things, during the singing of “Christ is Risen” and the procession around the church, a cannon (with powder) preserved at the landlords, God knows from where, was fired [Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text)]. It was frightening but also breathtaking. Everything merged into total elation, and barrels of tar were even burned… which was beautiful at night… I remember how old women set “Pascha” (cheese), Kulich, and painted eggs in packages around the church, and penny candles were stuck in the Pascha cheese. “Batushki” (priest, deacon, and reader) walked, sang, and sprinkled them with holy water (after the liturgy); the old women immediately tied up their packages and hurried home… The fires became smaller and smaller. Bonfires were sleepily burning, as if exhausted by the night… Dawn was beginning to shine… We rode in the cart. Under the wheels and hooves of horses, ice crunched in places; it must have been an early Pascha. At home, father and mother sang Christ is Risen three times, and we began to joyously break the fast and with sweet Pascha cheese, kulich, and eggs… My little heart was filled with joy… Then we immediately went to sleep after an almost sleepless night. Around 11, we woke up for lunch. But already the same trembling joy was absent. Some kind of peaceful silence caressed my soul … Then there was a game of eggs on the street, where all the “gentlemen’s” [Footnote 1 (of translator)] servants gathered. There was, clearly, no thought about any “social” inequality: the heart was joyful, the food was delicious, the soul was pure, and everyone around was glad. What could be better? I was oblivious to the whole world! It was a happy time…

[Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text): In Russia, there was a custom (of secular origin) to accompany the procession on Pascha night with fireworks, illumination, and a cannon or rifle salute. Immediately after completion of the procession, when Paschal Matins began, the fireworks and shooting stopped.]

[Footnote 1 (of translator): Here he’s referring to the landowner.]

* * *

Much later, I turned my attention to the visit of the clergy to even our hut at Pascha… After the service at the landowners, the priest walked down the “court” [Footnote 2 (of translator)] and we waited. A green votive burned in front of the icons. Everything was neat and clean… We children watched for when the “icons” [Footnote 3 (of translator)] would appear.

[Footnote 2 (of translator)]: Metropolitan Benjamin explains this word and concept in more detail in his autobiographical work At the Turn of Two Eras: “Everyone called us ‘servants,’ probably from the word ‘court,’ ‘courtiers.’ [Translator note: The word used for servants, ‘dvornya,’ is derived from the word for ‘court’: ‘dvor.’] The landowner’s house was like the tsar’s palace in the middle, while we who surrounded it made up his ‘court’ or ‘servants,’ to speak more humbly. Neither we ourselves nor even farmer-peasants highly respected us, so that the word ‘servants’ was probably pronounced with contempt, although we really were an intermediate layer between the highest, inaccessible class of lords and peasants, muzhiks.”]
[Footnote 3 (of translator)]: This procession of the clergy was apparently called “icons,” which does make sense as they would probably be carrying icons.]

…They’re coming, they’re coming!… Bending in through the low door, the “batushki” sang a minute-long moleben, we exchanged Paschal greetings, papa quietly put something (probably a silver five-kopek piece), embarrassedly, into the priest’s hand and invited them to have a seat. We offered treats: they declined… Two or three words, and everyone left…

And only then I felt that the feast had “reached” even to our home. Something was particularly still lacking until the “icons.” What it was, I do not know, and I will not even explain; but that recollection was etched in my memory forever… And after I thought: how foolishly people behave that they refuse to receive “batushki” on this day! What joy they deprive themselves… Batushki probably do not even suspect what joy it is that goes with them, they are used to it. But to me it was like God visiting…

Maybe even now when we clergy visit people with a moleben at feasts they also feel joy from us or via us from God!

 

In Memory of Bishop and Confessor, Metropolitan of Almaty and Kazakhstan Joseph (Chernov) (1893-1975)

The below text is a memorial/introduction to a unique Russian bishop of the last century. It is also, perhaps, something on which to ruminate in regard to a recent council that took place. No judgements, however, on my part (and don’t give your opinion in the comments–I will delete it; I will scandalize some by saying that I paid absolutely no attention to the proceedings of said council). Just a “funny” and “Soviet” perspective…

This text was written by another unique bishop of recent times, Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine), also about whom there is little material in English (I hope to be translating more about him; here is a succinct article by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)). In the meantime, here is a short statement from Archbishop Basil’s nephew, Nikita Krivocheine.

In those years, my uncle, Vladyka Vasilii (Krivoshein), Archbishop of Belgium and Brussels, began to visit Moscow. He related to me well. One time (we were in private), I asked him directly about his reasons, considering he had a free choice, for why he, an emigrant and white officer, decided to remain in the Russian Orthodox Church. His answer was clear: ‘For the sake of the future. It is necessary to have the continuity of at least a part of people that are free, able to be a support for the better part of the hierarchy inside the country, and that want and are not afraid to speak the truth.’ This is particularly how Vladyka acted, both in Brussels and the Soviet Union. With certainty, he added that ‘if I didn’t, you would see how they would re-consecrate the cathedrals in the Kremlin.’ This was a prophecy, but at the time I thought that an old man is accepting the desire for reality!

By way of preface, here is a story about Metropolitan Joseph and outer space.

From the remembrances of Vladyka’s chauffeur, Zakhar Ivanovich Samoylenko.
April 1961. The first time that mankind completed a flight into space.
The [local] representative, Stepan Romanovich Vokhmenin, called in Vladyka and said, “Ivan Mikhailovich[1], you need to preach a sermon about this “miracle.”
I was driving Vladyka home and he was sitting in the back seat. I look in the mirror and see that Vladyka is twisting his fingers (he always did this when he was actively thinking). “Well,” he said, “Zakhar Ivanovich, let’s prepare. I need to preach a sermon about Yurii[2] Gagarin.” “Oh?!” I answered, “What are you going to say, Vladyka?” “I’ll say something.”
We arrived home and I observed how he was walking around the room. Usually, when he was preparing for a sermon, he walked around and talked to himself.
The day arrived when he had to preach the sermon. Vladyka came out, as usual, and began something like this:
“Brothers and sisters! You know in what times we live, what progress is being made in the world. Many scientists have invented much that is good! And have you heard what latest event happened: our young man, Yura[2] Gagarin, was in space! He was told by Nikita Sergeevich Khruschev when he took off: “Yurochka[2], take a look and see if God is there or not.”
And Vladyka continued: “Yurii[2] Gagarin didn’t see God…but God saw him! And He blessed him!”

[1] Ivan Mikhailovich was Metropolitan Joseph’s name and patronymic before monasticism.
[2] Yurii is the complete form of the name. Yura is a short form generally used among closer acquaintances or in a more informal setting. Yurochka is a tender form usually used in a close relationship and/or when addressing children.

Thus, without any further shenanigans:

In memory of Bishop Confessor Metropolitan Almaty and Kazakhstan Joseph (Chernov) (1893-1975)

Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine)

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Metropolitan Joseph (Chernov)

On September 4, 1975, Metropolitan of Alma-Aty and Kazakhstan Eminence Joseph (Chernov) died at the age of eighty-two. In his person, the Russian Orthodox Church suffered a heavy, irreparable loss. He was not only a man of holy life, outstanding hierarch, vivid, peculiar personality but a steadfast confessor of faith. Metropolitan Joseph spent a total of about twenty years in Soviet camps and exile. I would like to say a few words about this remarkable man, mainly concerning personal memories.

I had a chance to meet and converse with him a good deal at the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church at Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in May 1971. I, unfortunately, do not have sufficient data for a detailed and systematic biography, so my story of his life is based on personal conversations with Metropolitan Joseph.

The future metropolitan was born in 1893 in the city of Mogilev. It is hard to tell exactly from what society he came, but, judging by the fact that all of his secular and spiritual education was limited to a “model primary school,” we can assume that his parents were poor urban residents. However, if Metropolitan Joseph did not have a special theological education, this did not prevent him from subsequently making up for this lack by reading a great amount of both ascetic and patristic literature in general.

In 1906, at the age of thirteen years, the future metropolitan became a novice in the cenobitic monastery in Mogilev, where he was ordained a hieromonk in 1915.
In connection with the coming of the Germans in the First World War, the monastery was evacuated to the Don region, where the further church life of the future metropolitan began to proceed for several years. As a young hieromonk, Fr. Joseph was under the eldership of an experienced bishop known for his spiritual life, for whom he served as cell attendant.

In 1925, Hieromonk Joseph was arrested and exiled, where he spent two and a half years. In 1932, he was consecrated as vicar bishop of Taganrog and the deputy patriarchal Locum Tenens of Metropolitan Sergius. In the following years, he was arrested two more times and spent six and a half years in total in Stalin’s camps. By the beginning of World War II, he was released from camp and lived illegally in the Taganrog district with believers who sheltered him.

With the arrival of the Germans at the end of 1941, Bishop Joseph came out “of the underground” and served as bishop in the Rostov diocese, but he immediately had problems with the Germans. They could not forgive him for his loyalty to the Moscow Patriarchate and his commemoration of the name of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergius (the Patriarch of Moscow from September 1943) in prayers and worship.

As Vladyka Joseph told me at the council in 1971, the Germans informed on him and accused him of Bolshevism, repeatedly called him in for questioning, and threatened him with arrest and execution. “And I told them: Bolshevik atheists never spoke so rudely to me as you!” said Metropolitan Joseph. Before his departure from Rostov, the Germans took him to Uman, where he remained until the arrival of Soviet troops. Patriarch Sergius then appointed him bishop of Umansky.

However, in that same year, 1944, Bishop Joseph was arrested again by the GB and sent to terrible camps in the Chita oblast, where he stayed for eleven years, until 1955. This was his fourth arrest, and he spent a total of twenty years in camps and exile. Upon emerging from the camp in 1955, he was able to resume his episcopal ministry in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Some time later he was appointed as Archbishop of Alma-Ata and Kazakhstan, elevated to the rank of Metropolitan, and was awarded in 1972 the right to wear two Panagias on the occasion of his fortieth anniversary of service as a bishop. In the last years of his life, Metropolitan Joseph was the second in seniority bishop of the Russian Church (the first was Metropolitan Oryol Bryansk Palladii, ordained in 1930).

As I said, I personally met with Metropolitan Joseph at the Council in 1971 during the election of Patriarch Pimen. But even before that, during the, so to speak, “pre-election period,” when I visited Moscow in October 1970, I was able to hear many stories about Metropolitan Joseph. In particular, they spoke of him as a possible candidate for patriarch. They claimed that the Alma-Ata Commissioner for Religious Affairs strongly suggested to him: “Take up your candidacy for Patriarch. We will support you!” To which Metropolitan Joseph replied (which became a famous phrase): “I do not need your support!”

Later, I was told that a large group of clergy and faithful, led by the former rector of the Patriarchal Cathedral in Moscow Archpriest John Potapov, appealed to Metropolitan Joseph by letter. This letter was signed by nearly two thousand people and urged him not to refuse election to patriarch for the good of the Church. It was said in this letter that he, who had survived so much persecution and suffering, may be the most significant candidate for patriarch, adding that, otherwise, he will answer before God on the Day of Judgment. But Metropolitan Joseph continued to stubbornly refuse. I must say that the following opinion was very common among the Moscow clergy at the time: “Yes, of course, Metropolitan Joseph is a good bishop, steadfast, vibrant, and lives a holy life, but he is not suitable for patriarch. He is already 80 years old (actually he was 78), and, besides, he was under German occupation and was in the camps for a long time, and the authorities do not like that.”

At the Bishops’ Conference in the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow on May 28 before the opening of the Council, I did not have a chance to meet with Bishop Joseph personally. He was silent throughout the meeting, and I did not know what he looked like; to look for him among the many bishops was difficult, but I had a great desire to meet him. I thought that maybe I would run into him at the hotel “Russia,” where we had all been given a room before the opening of the council. As it turned out, this was not reasonable: the size of the hotel, the floors and corridors divided us. And then, quite unexpectedly, on Saturday, May 29, we were all at Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and there, at lunch, fate brought us together. I spoke with Vladyka Joseph, or, rather, he spoke to me. We had dinner at a small table, and there was no one at our table except for the two of us. “Yesterday, all the bishops,” he said, turning to me, “listened to you and agreed with what you said. All the bishops kissed your lips[1].” I must explain here that on the eve, at the Bishops’ Conference, I had to speak out a lot against the so-called “Resolutions of 1961 on Parishes[2].” I challenged these “resolutions” as contrary to the canons, violating the unity of church administration, transferring all power to the laity in parishes, and, in a word, as harmful to the Church. Now, I was happy to hear that Metropolitan Joseph fully endorsed my speech. “But why, then, were all silent?!” I asked Vladyka Joseph. “We, here[3], are gagged. We cannot speak. But you spoke on behalf of all. Thank you,” said Metropolitan Joseph.

In consequence of our meetings at the council, Metropolitan Joseph told me a lot about his life, about how he lived all those years in the Soviet Union. However, about his time in the camps, terms, and arrests, he avoided details. In general, he was more willing to talk about the present than the past. “I often ask myself,” he told me, “are we doing the right thing that we are silent and do not expose publicly is happening in the Church? And what difficulties she is experiencing now! Sometimes I feel disgusted, and I want to drop everything and go into retirement. And my conscience reproaches me for not doing that. But then my conscience tells me that I cannot abandon the faithful and the Church, they need me. For to make an accusation or even openly criticize ecclesiastical procedure in our country means, at best, to be immediately removed from all church activities. And what will change? Nothing will change… So I try, while I have the strength, to calmly work for the Church. I serve often and preach every time and go around the parishes, talking with the laity. I have forty-five parishes scattered over the vast area of Kazakhstan. Indeed, my diocese includes nineteen oblasts, so I have to deal with nineteen authorities. Distances are enormous, often more than a thousand kilometers…”

“How do you travel, Vladyka?” I asked.

“I have two cars. I try as much as possible to speak with the priests, to appoint the good and remove the bad. And, most importantly, to serve liturgy often and pray for all.”

“Tell me, how do you get along in your personal life? Do they treat you poorly?”

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Metropolitan Joseph with his dog, Jerry

“Not now,” he said. “I live in a nice detached house. I grow roses in my garden, and I have more than a hundred varieties. I have good relations with the authorities.”

“Is it true that he [referring to the authority*] even offered to put in your candidacy for patriarch?” I asked Metropolitan Joseph.

“Yes, it’s completely true. But I will never agree to that. Firstly, I am already too old, then I have no theological training…and very little secular education. I do not want them in the Synod to reproach me for ignorance, and to be forced to agree with their views on the grounds that they are theologians and that I’m illiterate and have to listen to them.”

In the days that followed the council, I had two more opportunities to talk with Vladyka Joseph. It so happened that I needed advice, and I turned to him for such spiritual advice. The problem was that some bishops, members of the council, in conversations with me, urged me not to speak about the issue of the “Resolutions of 1961,” and insisted that it will hurt the Church. I was completely at a loss as to what to do and decided to consult with Metropolitan Joseph.

“Vladyka,” I asked him, “Some here have dissuaded me not to speak more about the ‘resolutions.’ What do you think?”

Metropolitan Joseph’s answer was very energetic and determined: “Whoever discourages you is a scoundrel!”

“So, you think I need to keep insisting?”

“Yes, keep speaking and fighting for the Church, even if you have to suffer for it. I bless you in the name of the Church and the faithful for this podvig! I know that this is not easy and you will be attacked but continue.”

That is what Metropolitan Joseph answered me. I was touched by the directness of the words of the aged metropolitan and grateful for his moral support. On the day when there was a discussion of the papers presented, and those speakers that had signed up on the eve were speaking, during the lunch break, Metropolitan Joseph came to me.

I must say that all of these speeches were not novel or original and, for the most part, were conventional and reduced to a paraphrase of the papers presented. The papers avoided all the acute problems, church life was little reflected, and, therefore, there was little genuine interest in them. So Metropolitan Joseph came to me during the break, and, in his characteristic vivid expression, noted particularly that boredom and impersonality: “Once again we will be sick today from these discussions!”

Indeed, the afternoon speeches gave a reason for such characterization. I want to note that as a person, Metropolitan Joseph gave the impression of a cheerful man, inclined to joke and even act the fool-for-Christ. Of course, his age was evident, and it was obvious that he had experienced a lot. However, there was nothing broken, tragic, or even terrible that can be seen on the faces of people that had spent time in the camps. In him, one could see a rare combination of a clairvoyant elder and holy fool in the person of a bishop of the Church of Christ. This propensity of “fool-for-Christ” was even considered by some as one of the reasons why Vladyka Joseph was not suitable as patriarch.

And this is a strange remark I heard from a prominent and civilized bishop: “He looks at you, and then suddenly says so penetratingly…’but your eyes are so clear and bright’; for a patriarch, such reactions are no good, even embarrassing.”

This is what I can say about this blessed elder, bishop, and confessor of the faith of God who with his life proved his loyalty.

[1] Here, he seems to have in mind that the bishops were inspired by his speech and Bishop Joseph expresses this in them “kissing his lips” (as can sometimes be observed in traditional Russian culture during, for example, an excited meeting of friends).
[2] The Resolutions of 1961 on Parishes took authority in the parish out of the hands of the priest and basically made him an employee of the parish. These resolutions were in effect until 1988.
[3] Metropolitan Joseph could be referring to not being able to speak freely at the council itself or, in general, in the Soviet Union. Archbishop Basil, as he served outside of the Soviet Union (in Brussels), would probably have been less likely to have negative repercussions for speaking out more directly.

 

Uh! Ukazes (that will make your ears red)!

Here are three hardcore ukazes of St Luke of Simferopol. I, personally, see these ukazes as addressing particular issues he had at the time (and, mind you, these were Soviet times!)  and not as applying to all times and in all situations. I want to give an idea of the spirit in which St Luke addressed problems he had. I in no way, for instance, mean this to be a whippin’ stick to those priests who do not serve liturgy on Saturdays. To balance this picture, I’ll then  encourage you with a sermon at the end.

To all priests in the Simferopol and Crimea Diocese
May your zeal for God’s truth and the canons and decrees of the Church be firm. It has come to my knowledge that godparents at an infant’s Baptism are often people that do not know any prayers and don’t even know how to make the sign of the cross, women who have unbaptized children, and people not even knowing whether or not they’ve been baptized. Baptism of infants in the Orthodox Church is performed according to the faith of the parents and the godparents, upon whom lays the responsibility of teaching children the Law of God, prayers, and piety. This, of course, cannot be performed by godparents who themselves do not know even the simplest prayers, who do not know how to cross themselves, and who scoff at the exorcisms of satan during the baptism. In such a way the role of the godparents during Baptism becomes an empty formality. I strictly forbid the baptism of infants with such godparents. Godparents can only be true Christians who know the Law of God and prayers. If it is not possible to find such godparents, then the baptism of infants must be delayed until this is possible, or it might even be necessary to return to the times of the Apostles and early Christians, when people were only baptized at a conscious age and did not need godparents. I also remind you of my long-standing strict forbidding of baptizing by pouring and the necessity of three-fold immersion. Those priests who do not obey this requirement will be banned from serving for 6 months.
June 6, 1952

To all priests in the Crimea Diocese
It has come to my knowledge that most of our priests, when speaking about the Mystery of Baptism, incorrectly say “re-baptized[1],” and when speaking of the Mystery of Marriage say “re-crowned[2].” The word “re-baptize [or cross [oneself]” has two meanings: firstly, to make the sign of the cross and, secondly, to again perform a baptism on someone who was incorrectly baptized (for example, a heretic). Therefore, the word “re-baptize” must not be used speaking of the Mystery of Baptism, but one should say only “baptize.” It is the same regarding the Mystery of Marriage: you must not say “re-crowned” but only “crowned.” Exactitude of expression when speaking about great Mysteries has, of course, great importance, and priests, sinning against them must break the habit of the incorrect expressions “re-baptize” and “re-crowned.”

[1] perekrestil
[2] perevenchal

Exhortation of Archbishop Luke to all the priests of the Simferopol Diocese
The Prophet Ezekiel on behalf of God said: “When I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou hast not warned him, to give warning to the wicked, to turn from his ways, that he should live; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. But if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, and from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, and thou shalt deliver thy soul” (Ezekiel 3:18-19 LXX). I, of course, want to save my soul from God’s wrath for the negligence of wicked[1] pastors, in spite of my first exhortation sent in 1949. A priest is required without fail to serve the Liturgy every Saturday and on all middle feasts marked with a cross in the Menaion. With great anguish, I have found out that many priests did not give any attention to my exhortation and only serve on great feasts and on Sundays. And some man-pleasers and money-grubbers perform the Poliley service on those days and many name-days when, according to the rubrics, an everyday service is appointed. Serving on Saturdays is very important for the remembrance of the departed, and when there is no service and without services on middle-rank feasts, it is impossible to serve even a quite abbreviated 40-days-liturgy*[2]. Priest who do not wish to serve on those days when one should serve a Poliley service and on Saturdays usually justify themselves by saying that those services require extra expenditure for candles, oil, and wine and, particularly, that no one comes to the service. As a reproach, I will tell you about the French priest Jean Marie Vianney, who lived during the Napoleonic wars in the village of Ars, not far from Lyon, and who was later canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. The church in this village was without a priest for a long time, and the people became unaccustomed to the services and did not go to church. Jean Marie Vianney began to perform services everyday in solitude. The curious began to occasionally look into the church to see the strange priest. The inspirational serving of the good pastor drew more and more worshipers, and they soon did not fit into the church. Praise about the zealous pastor made it to Lyon and then throughout all of France, whereupon people came from everywhere desiring to confess before the good pastor and to listen to his simple though similar to Divine flame sermons that came forth from the depths of his heart. One well-known homilist from Paris who heard a sermon said that his own sermons were nothing in comparison. So may the lazy and negligent priests be shamed by my story. May they also be shamed by the fact that I have been forced to repeat my appeal with the exhortation to fear God and conscientiously fulfill their pastoral responsibilities. In my first letter I asked for even greater: daily services in church, even in solitude, at least Vespers for the daily saint. It’s shameful if a priest doesn’t even honor the daily saints. It is a great sin before God if he does not—at least with his zealous prayer and divine service—support people’s faith, which is dying out under the influence of anti-religious propaganda. I know the names of many zealous priests who heartily accepted my first letter. I also know the names of the particularly negligent, and I will not leave them without punishment.

[1] St Luke uses the same word as in the above Biblical quote.
[2] Referring to the “sorokoust,” meaning serving liturgy for 40 days straight, which is often done when entreating God for a particular purpose, for instance, for the reposed or before making a major decision.

My Strength is Perfected in Weakness
The Holy Apostle Paul had a thorn in his flesh. This thorn was Alexander the Coppersmith, who hated him, always and everywhere persecuted him, caused him every trouble, and blasphemed him with evil words. St Paul prayed to God three times asking to be delivered from this thorn in his flesh, but the Lord said to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Just how is it possible for a weak person to be strong? Surely it is not possible that an old man suffering from severe shortness of breath, barely moving on ailing legs, with shaking hands is strong because he is weak?
Thus will say with surprise and even ridicule a natural[1]  and not spiritual person who does not at all understand that everything is completely different with God that with us, people, His ways are special and holy and are often not understandable.
He does not realize this and fails to understand that Holy Scripture is not at all like books, even the wisest, written by people.
What, then, do we answer such a person?
O, you poor man! You only understand the purposes and affairs of this world, those aimed at the well-being of the physical, while you do not at all understand that which must be understood spiritually.
Well, how do you not understand that the words of St. Paul “when I am weak, then am I strong” and the words of God relate not to physical weakness but to spiritual weakness.
You have probably never heard that which the Apostle Paul said: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).
You have never heard this and do not understand it; however, this is a great revelation for us, for we know that through insignificant fisherman, His apostles, the Lord confounded all of the wisdom of the world and revealed to the world a completely new, never heard before teaching—the teaching not of a worldly kingdom but of a Heavenly Kingdom.
We, Christians, set as our task not the construction of an earthly kingdom but the acquiring of the Heavenly Kingdom, which is something completely different.
In the earthly kingdom, we live and we participate in its affairs, but our heart is attached to the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven.
What is spiritual weakness and what is spiritual strength?
Our Christian and secular understandings of spiritual strength are completely different.
Spiritual strength of worldly people has as its foundation self-confidence, conceit, and self-assertion, that is, pride.
This strength, often very great, truly can do great things, transforming human life, changing social and international relations for the better. It seems to us that this strength builds an earthly kingdom with unprecedented success.
However, at the foundation of this spiritual strength lies pride, the rejection of any help from God, self-assertion, and unconditional faith in one’s own human strength. Yet, God resisteth the proud and only gives grace to the humble.
They have not heard this and if they had heard it, they mocked it.
The words of the Holy Prophet Isaiah deeply strike us: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).
In another place the same prophet says “but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
O, how great are these words! Do you really not want for God Himself to live in your heart?
He says that He lives in those hears that are humble and contrite.
In the heart of man, God Himself lives…
And so only when God, who despises pride and self-exaltation, comes to dwell in a humble heart that is broken and trembling before His word will the great strength of God be manifest—only in such a feeble heart and not in any other.
What exactly is such spiritual poverty that God has established as a necessary condition so that His Divine strength would act in us?
For instance, there in the vestibule are poor beggars. They do not exalt themselves above anyone, stand with shaking knees and heads lowered, and consider themselves below all. They have nothing of their own and recognize this fact. They are fed by the alms that you give, are clothed with the second-hand clothes that they receive from you. These are the physically poor.
Such also should be the poor in spirit. They, similar to the physically poor, need to recognize themselves as not independently having anything good.
They consider themselves completely poor in the virtues.
They truly think and say that all good performed by them is not through their own strength, not by their own virtue but according to God’s grace.
They are not clothed or sheltered with luxurious clothes but under the sheltering wings of the Most High.
They seek only this kind of clothing and only want to live under the sheltering wings of the Most High, not in luxurious houses—they do not need this.
They humbly admit that they are below all. And the more righteous a man is, the more profound will be the consciousness of his sinfulness.
This seems strange to you. You will say, “What is this? How is it possible for a saint to consider himself more sinful than all?”
Believe it, believe that it is possible that saints absolutely sincerely consider themselves more sinful than all.
How is this possible? Here’s how.
If bright sunlight falls into a room through a window, you see a million specks of dust floating around.  When there was no light, you do not see the dust; you see it only when the sun shines on the dust.
The spiritual sight of saints is heightened to the extreme: they see that which normal people, people of this world, do not see.
Their heart and mind reflect the bright light of Christ, and they see in their own heart all the petty and small sins, which are many, by their acute sight.
Then a holy person (saint) will be horrified and say, “O, Lord, Lord! How sinful I am!”
And he will absolutely sincerely consider himself worse, more sinful than all.
Particularly this is humility, the foundation of all righteousness, for without humility all works of righteousness have no value in God’s eyes.
One can, when doing good deeds, perform them with pride and vanity. This is not righteousness before God, this is an abomination before Him. God awaits only true spiritual poverty, and He speaks through the words of St. Paul: “My strength is perfected in weakness.”
Only in broken and humble hearts is the great mystery of God’s strength performed.
In order to perform good deeds, truly good, we need to be humble. Our Lord and God Jesus Christ teaches us humility. Do you not, after all, remember His words “Learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart”?
Who was as humble as He? Remember what St. Paul said of Him in his epistle to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Phil. 2:5-10).
This is what we need to imitate: the humility of Christ, the humility of the saints. Never forget the terrifying words of the Apostle Peter: “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.” [1 Peter 5:5]
Let us be humble, let us be spiritually poor, let us be weak, and then the strength of God will be perfected in us, only then.
Thus, humble yourselves beneath the mighty arm of God, and He will exalt you in due time.
Amen.

[1] Term used in 1 Cor. 2:14; could also be translated worldly or emotional.

Stoke the Flames

This will be my attempt at a digital big tent revival for the blog. As much as I would have liked to do translations for the blog over the last 5 (!) years, I just haven’t had the time*. And now with three more children than then, maybe I don’t have the time now… But I’ve had an idea. I don’t have the possibility to do gratis translations, but would I be able to devote the time to translating precious incendiaries in proportion to monetary donations from my dear readers (if any of those faithful few are left)? Thus, I have decided to implement the following system. I will keep a running tally of donations received that I will apply towards the cost (per word (yes, that’s how it’s done)) of a translation. When I have enough funds to translate a piece, it will be translated and posted (I may, however, calculate according to a reduced rate if I end up having the time to translate something).

Suggestions for translations will be accepted; however, I will leave the final decision on translation up to my discretion. (I am also offering direct translation services for those who absolutely need to have something of their choice translated. Contact me for quotes on a translation.) I also will try announce the subject matter, author, etc. of upcoming translations.

You will now see a handy “donate” button in various places that you can click to donate (through Paypal) the amount you desire.

To give you an idea of what goes into a translation and an idea of how much you may feel compelled to donate towards this project, the following are the costs, at an average translation rate, for these pro bono translations that should whet your whistle.

The three ukazes of St Luke of Simferopol would total $78 and “My Strength is Perfected in Weakness” would be $120.

*I have, however, done quite a number of translations that were published in the magazine Orthodox Life.

On the Saints

The following are a few selections from Bozhii lyudi (Moi dukhovnye vstrechi) [God’s People (My Spiritual Encounters)] by Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov).

Of course they [remembrances] do not include every aspect of monastic life; they do not speak about the selfless struggle of monks, which only they themselves, their spiritual father, and God Himself knows. I will speak only about the more eminent personalities and  inspiring occurrences in Optina. It is understood that such a description will be one-sided. Correctly did a friend and fellow student at St. Petersburg Theological Academy, subsequently Archimandrite John (Raev), who would die early from consumption, one day remark that with such descriptions I am leading the reader, but foremost the listener, into some delusion. He then used the following comparison: If you look at a meadow or a flowerbed from above, then it will seem beautiful with its flowers and bright green color. But if you lower your eyes you will see a naked tube with shoots. Also here is not the source of life but lower, in the ground, where the rough and sinuous roots seek (in complete darkness) nourishment for the beautiful leaves and flowers. Here is nothing appealing for the eyes, but, on the contrary, it is ugly and dirty… And, what is more, various worms crawl around and even chew and kill the root and with it the leaves and flowers wither and die.

It is the same in monasticism, said Fr. John, which is only pretty on the outside (looking from above), but the very podvig of a monk is arduous, passes through uncleanness, and for the most part the monastic life is a battle of the cross with sinful passions. And this is what you, he said, do not show in your stories.

All of that is completely true, I said, but also in the lives of the saints more time is spent describing the inspiring moments of their lives and rare podvigs. But the battle with sin is usually remembered briefly and in passing; hardly ever is it recalled in detail. The only exception is the life of St. Mary of Egypt–from stinking sin to angel-like purity and perfection. But in this case, the writers comment that they tell of it as a necessity, so that with the example of such a change they could console and strengthen the weak and despairing strugglers in the world and in monasteries. So will we, generally, not dwell on the dark side–it is not instructive. And I do not even know about it in other people–what would I speak about? However, where it is necessary this also will be mentioned. For it is truly necessary and beneficial to remember that the height and holiness of God-pleasers is preceded and accompanied by a spiritual battle; sometimes it is not very easy or pretty.

By the way, the Fr. John mentioned should himself, in all justice, be counted among the ascetics. He lived for a short while and died while the inspector of the Poltava Seminary.

On Father Anatolii (St. Anatolii the Younger of Optina)

After two or three days, some news spread through the monastery: the Kaluga Icon of the Mother of God (September 2 [Church calendar]/ September 15 [secular calendar]). At the appointed time, many monks and pilgrims went out to meet the holy icon on the forest road and, taking it, started back for the monastery singing hymns. Suddenly I saw that several people were separating from the crowd and very hastily went to the right side. After a few moments a dense crowd had already gathered. They were surrounding someone or something in a compact circle. From simple curiosity I also headed over wondering what it was all about. To leave an icon of the Mother of God, there has to have been a good reason. Pushing a little bit to the center of the crowd I saw that everyone, with touching love and happy smiles, was looking at some small monk in a klobuk with a small unkempt gray beard. And he was also smiling at everyone a bit. The crowd was trying to receive a blessing from him. I saw how everyone around that small old man really did light up and rejoiced. It was just as darling children meet their own mother.

“Who is that?” I asked the one next to me. “It’s batushka Fr. Anatoly!” he affectionately answered, surprised, however, at my ignorance.

I had heard about him but had not happened to meet him yet, nor was there a particular need as I did not have any questions for him. But now the question about Fr. Anatoly himself appeared: what is this miracle? People even left an icon and rushed to a man. Why was this? And the answered just appeared: a holy man is also a miracle of God, just like an icon,  just a manifest miracle. A saint is an image of God, only personified in man. As in an icon, so in holy people, God Himself, by his grace, lives. Both by one and the other God Himself draws us to Himself with His gifts of joy, comfort, mercy, and spiritual light. It is like when the Savior, Moses, and Elias appeared on Mt. Tabor in the grace-filled, uncreated light to the disciples and Peter in delight exclaimed, “Lord! It is good for us to be here” (Luke 9:33). So also, through holy people, that transfiguring grace both shines and warms. Sometimes, as happened more than once with St. Seraphim of Sarov, it was apparent in a visible, although supernatural, light. It was the same in this case, through batushka (what a tender and respectful word!) shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God. And people warmed themselves and were comforted in that light.

I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul about Christians, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you…?” (I Cor. 6:19)

And another of of his sayings that every Christian must grow into a perfect image, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13)… This is the height given to the Christian: the God-Man Christ Himself!

And this is not boldness of robbing the unattainable (Phil. 2:6) but a command of the Savior given at his last conversation, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

This is the aim and task of the Christian life: communion with God through the grace of the Holy Spirit. And then grace-filled people will begin to shine their light, that is, God’s light, also on others.

O Lord, how great in and of themselves and how extremely important for other people are these holy people! There is no one higher than them!

I also happened to meet my own so-called “great” people but I never felt their greatness: a man is just a man, ordinary. But when I happened to stand before saints their true greatness was clearly felt. These are extraordinary people! And sometimes it is even frightful to stand before them-as I vividly experienced while serving with Fr. John of Kronstadt.

Then it becomes understandable why we venerate saints, write icons of them, prostrate before them, and kiss them. They are truly worthy of this! It also becomes clear why in church we incense not only icons of the Savior, the Theotokos, and saints but also generally all Christians: in incensing, we render worship and veneration to God Himself, who is apparent in his images: both in icons and in people.

For every Christian must be an image of God. One day I happened to ask a certain elder: “Generally, how should we relate to man?” “With reverence,” he answered. I was surprised at his words, “Why?” “Man is the image of God,” he said.

And when that image is restored in man, even people honor him; in paradise, even beasts obeyed Adam. In the lives of Gerasim of the Jordan and Seraphim of Sarov this is written about; and demons even feared them. But residents of heaven rejoiced over them. When the Mother of God appeared with the Apostles Peter and John to St. Seraphim, she said to the Apostles, “This is one of our kind!”

Fr. Anatoly was also of the very same kind. So much joy, love, and tenderness flowed from his face on all that gazed upon him in a sunny glade in the Optina forest.

On Bishop Innocent (Solotchin) of Kherson

Vladyka ate the most simple food: potatoes, schshi, porridge. But if some “important” guest showed up, he gave directions to serve the hidden salted fish, eggs, and milk products. He, however, did not touch such “luxuries.” I will write a detailed list later.

“Vladyka, why don’t you eat that yourself?” “It doesn’t agree with my stom-m-mach,” he answered slowly while showing the place where that capricious stomach was located. And he looks at us again with child-like, naive eyes. We were sure that he was only covering up his fasting. He not only did not eat, of course, non-fasting foods, but of fasting foods he picked out the most simple: this also is not at all easy or ordinary.

“Potatoes,” and he amicably pointed at a couple of potatoes, “they agree with my stomach.”

Homily on Forgiveness Sunday

I present to you a homily given on Forgiveness Sunday 2010 by Fr. Maxim Kozlov at St. Tatiana’s Orthodox Church in Moscow, Russia.

Entering into Great Lent, let us be faithful when we get down to business

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Today, dear brothers and sisters, it would be more correct to address this homily to you with a different greeting. Not simply “brothers and sisters,” nor “beloved in the Lord,” nor “my dears,” but in such a manner:

Soldiers of Christ our God!

Each of you, at some time received this name-soldier of Christ our God. It was received voluntarily-either by an adult who was baptized and agreed to be a faithful soldier of Christ our God or, even if someone was baptized in infancy, then their godparents made this promise. When we consciously and voluntarily accepted this name of Christian, we confirmed the promise and pledged ourselves to be faithful soldiers of Christ our God.

And today is one of those days, not simply of the liturgical year, but in the life of each of us when we can-and must!-confirm that these are not just words.

Many of us have probably heard that, before the beginning of Great Lent, people of our homeland (Russia-translator) were asked if they plan to fast. Those that said (not even having done anything yet, but just said) that they have an intention to observe the fast as the Orthodox Church teaches and as the Typicon proposes totaled four percent. A few more, around twenty percent, were those who thought about changing a little something in their lives during Great Lent. But those who had an intention to observe the fast as the Church teaches (of course it is understandable that they had in mind not strictly according to the Typicon but according to its essence) were four percent. Meanwhile, we know how many people today are inclined to call themselves Orthodox, to talk a little about Orthodoxy, and, of course, to judge a little about the Church, the hierarchy, and the priests. But when it comes to getting down to business, those who are ready turn out to be very few.

And thus, the fast is just the very time to get down to business, when not just some chatter, some conversations, or some sugariness but real effort is demanded of a person who has decided to call themselves a Christian. This is the first thing about which we have to remind ourselves.

When someone enters into a fast, they may have two incorrect dispositions from the start (there, of course, can be many more but we will focus on two).

There is, for example, the following incorrect disposition: someone from the very start dejectedly disposes themselves to the fast. “Well, here is the fast again. It is especially hard this year; the Nativity Fast just ended and here is Great Lent again. What kind of life is it for us Orthodox when it is one fast after another? We can’t have this or this or this.” When a person disposes themselves this way on the interior, they outwardly do not have the courage to admit it. On the exterior they will observe the fast under constraint, because they have to, or because they are afraid, or out of habit. But a fast without determination, without awareness of the purpose for which we are performing it will not bring the soul of man any benefit.

Another incorrect understanding and disposition at the start of the fast is also possible. It is sometimes the case that a person is inclined to observe the fast with zeal but only hoping that it will end as soon as possible. “I, of course, will comply with everything because the fast must be observed, but my goal is to endure these seven weeks. I will strive to observe everything to a certain extent during these weeks, but I’m just waiting until it ends and then I can break the fast and eat, drink, and be merry.” This is also a completely absurd beginning of the fast. With such a disposition, when a person is just waiting for the fast to end, there will be no benefit from the fast. There are such “hard-working” people who in actual fact don’t love to work but love to rest. They can move mountains but they do so, in reality, so that they would have leisure time sooner. For them, real life begins only when that leisure time begins. But a Christian cannot live in such a way that he observes the fast with diligence but his inner disposition is, “that which I desire begins when the fast ends-that is when the life that I’m longing for will be.”

We must endeavor not to tolerate either of these false dispositions at the beginning of the fast. Let us instead endeavor to return to the thought of faithfulness to Christ our God.

We live at such a time that our Christianity practically doesn’t cost us anything. After all, we don’t live in an age of persecution. In the big picture, there are no persecutions on television, nor in our coworkers laughing at us behind our backs, or even when we sometimes say for strategic reasons that secularists and humanists hinder the Church. They, of course, hinder it, but is this comparable to that thirty, fifty, or seventy years ago? It is not even possible to compare the two.

We live at a time that it is very easy to be a Christian. There are no podvigs; there is no fear or threat for us by the fact that we’re Christians. We can educate our children, we can go to work, we can be state officials, and make money and nothing bad happens. No one will say to you, “If you’re a Christian, go away.” Here today we are given the opportunity to weigh our Christianity a little bit and to understand that it has a price and that for the sake of Christ we must constrain ourselves. This opportunity is a mercy of God. This hardly ever happens in our lives but it is happening right now. Let’s perceive it as God’s mercy to us personally. Let’s reflect on our soul, our immortal soul as we know from Scripture and Church hymnography. The soul is immortal.

Well, what is demanded of us in the big picture? Not much-to refuse certain types of food, to turn off the biathlon and figure skating during the first week of the fast, and to understand that it is impossible to sing “My soul, my soul, arise; why are you sleeping?” and to think about coming home and watching them shoot the targets as these are incompatible things. This is just an example. Each one of us can find something in our life that we need to turn off during these weeks for the sake of Christ and profound life in Him.

Let’s all think for ourselves what we can do, to our own measure. By this, our faithfulness to God is clearly shown.

Everyone always mentions one comparison and we will also talk about it. Truly, a fast (in Russian, post-translator), in a way, is like a guard post in the army. It is well-known that one at a post must serve this time conscientiously. A soldier standing at a post knows that he will be relieved after a time. Yes, there will be a little more time of service but then it will be easier, that term will end. Only for that time, not for his whole life nor even for the whole time in the army does he need to be in constant strain. At that time he must not get distracted, nor fall asleep, nor run off to his girlfriend, nor put his gun aside, nor put his headphones on and look at his iPhone or listen to his iPod, but he must do what he is supposed to do. It will be easier later, but now he must do what he must do.

The Lord wisely arranged our way through the Church knowing that our life is non-linear. We can’t be at all times like robots or like some program going along a straight course. The fast is given to us particularly so that, with some effort, we would find ourselves a few steps higher than our usual level. And even if later we slide down some due to our relaxation, we would have moved at least a little step, at least a few meters up the mountain thanks to Great Lent. The fast is given to us so that we acquire this experience yet during our life.

Faithfulness to the fast implies faithfulness in our relationships with people through thoughtfulness to them with greater profoundness. It implies that we need to complete all that which we usually don’t do, think about those things that we usually don’t think about, complete all that which we usually try to put off because we pity ourselves and not others. In this will be our faithfulness to God and our true path in the fast if we will not put this off. This is also a fast.

There is also one more condition that we must observe entering into the fast. Christ speaks about this condition which we heard today in the Gospel today (Matthew 6:14-15-translator): it is to make oneself have a peaceful heart and to forgive offenses. We must strive to conquer in our heart all hatred, all hostility, and rejection of other people. We must also strive, if we know that we are obviously guilty before others-those intimate with us or distant from us-in some actions, in some words, or in the disposition of our life, to nullify them by changing our life.

Beside this present fast, maybe there will not be another chance, no one knows.

So let’s make a good beginning, faithful soldiers of Christ our God. Let’s remember that our soul is immortal and that the fast is not a disciplinary exercise but the school for life in Christ. Let’s remember that with joy we must enter into it, going to meet God. Not only entering it with the thought that Pascha will be after seven endlessly long weeks but that in the very effort of the fast a meeting with God will happen and the result of that will be the joy of the Paschal night. Let’s force ourselves to be disposed to this favorably and responsibly.

Amen

You can find the original here.

Prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ for a Woman upon Birthgiving

With my wife about to give birth to our second child, as some may have noticed, I have not had much time for translations for some time. Though this may be in a book somewhere, when we looked online for a prayer for a woman who is about to give birth, we found none and, thus, I have quickly translated the following and thought it might be useful to some others. In some places this prayer is read by they priest during liturgy towards the end of a woman’s term.

Prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ for a Woman upon Birthgiving
Lord Jesus Christ our God, begotten of the Eternal God before all ages and who in the latter days, through the goodwill and action of the Holy Spirit, willed to be born as a child of the Most Holy Virgin and was laid in a manger, Our Lord Himself who in the beginning, having made man and woman for him as helpmate, commanded them: increase and multiply and fill the earth. Have mercy, according to Thy great mercy, upon Thy servant (name) who is preparing to give birth according to Thy commandment. Forgive her sins, both voluntary and involuntary, grant her power, according to Thy grace, to be relieved of her burden, preserve her and her child in health and strength, encircle her with Thy angels and keep her from hostile operations of evil spirits and from all works of evil. Amen

Serbian Conversations, Part 2

At long last, I present the second interview with Fr. Daniel Sysoyev and Yuri Maximov which they gave in Serbia.

“O Lord, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise”

Stanoje Stankovic: The first question: What do you think about missions in the world, that is, in Africa, in Russia, in Serbia, and in the Balkans?

Father Daniel: I think that the Lord has now created such a situation that almost the whole world is open for Orthodox missions. Truly, such was not the case 20 years ago. And regarding globalization-this is an act of God in order that the Gospel makes it to the ends of the world, so that the undistorted preaching of the Holy Apostles could reach every people of the earth. If we, Christians, do not use this chance then the Lord will demand an answer from us for the fact that we did not convert people to the light of Orthodoxy. Regarding missions, they are beginning to be revived. We know that there are active missions in the Russian Church and the Greek Church; the Orthodox Church of Alexandria actively preaches. Yuri Valeryevich can talk about that in more detail, and I will speak about Russia.

In Russia there are two types of missions: internal missions targeted at nominal Orthodox, more correctly called catechism, and missions targeted at those outside the Church. Unfortunately, external missions are less active, but it is also starting to intensify right now. Yuri Valeryevich and I, having studied the experience of a number of missionaries, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to create a missionary movement and we did that in the creation of the missionary movement of the Holy Prophet Daniel, where the a program based on the general experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, in a sense, exists. We have courses, over the course of a year, for training Orthodox missionaries which train people to preach on the streets, among sects, among those of other religions, as well as among average nominal Orthodox.

How is this done? People are invited to talk about God; those who have for a long time not been to church, and those who have never been there are invited; people are invited to confession and communion; the unbaptized are offered baptism. At the same time, our missionaries hand out special leaflets in which is explained why one should cross themselves, go to confession, and go to communion and the address of a church is given-this is very important, so that there is a place to send them.

Further is the second stage: catechism. There are a few systems of catechism in use. In my church there is a system of five talks: on God, on the creation of the world, on Christ, on the Holy Mysteries, and on the Law of God. Each talk is two-and-a-half hours long, and during those talks the person is prepared for baptism or reconciliation to the Church if it is a sectarian. They will also read the four Gospels and Acts and then be solemnly joined to the Church. We usually have baptisms at a baptismal liturgy.

Then, after baptism, is the second step: people enter into the life of the Church, studying Holy Scripture. For this we have permanent classes on studying the Bible. Every week, in our church and in a few other churches in Moscow, we study the holy Word of God in detail. This is very important as, for many Protestants, one of the reason why they are not in the Orthodox Church is that the Holy Scripture is not studied. I think that we, having such rich interpretation of the Bible from the Holy Fathers, must use it.

Also very helpful are missions in the hospitals. For example, in Moscow almost all hospitals are under the care of a priest who are helped by “needs” sisters, that is, those people who help prepare a person for their first confession. This is truly a great work that needs to be enlivened. There is the same type of experience in a few other dioceses. As far as the Russian Church as a whole, there are regions where missions are active, where they are very successful but there are regions where, on the other hand, priests are afraid to preach because of the fact that, for example, Islam is very active. So there are different situations in different regions. It is, of course, very important that not only priests participate in missions but also lay people. The experience of the Russian Orthodox Church shows that lay missions are one of the most successful. For this, of course, lay people must be prepared and act under the supervision of priests but preach themselves.

It is very significant that there already is a prepared program for lay people for studying the Holy Gospel, according to which “Gospel circles” are organized, where lay people begin to study the Gospel on the foundation of the Holy Fathers. Such circles are already active. There were a few unsuccessful experiences in that sphere but there is now quite successful experience. I saw a lay group near Ulianovsk in which everything is studied on the foundation of the Holy Fathers and it works well, spiritually helping young people, though not only young people. We often talk about missions among young people, but we must not forget that missions must be among all layers of our society. The Gospel must be preached for all: for adults, for the elderly, and for children.

And, by the way, my personal experience of preaching in Kyrgyzstan showed that one of the best programs is when you invite Protestants or occultists and their faith is not even criticized but you just tell them about Orthodox Christianity as it is, as the Holy Fathers taught, as the Lord Himself taught through the Holy Apostles. Then people begin to change because the holy Word of God itself changes a person. This is very important. As far as missions in the Russian Church…they are well organized. Relatively well. We would like it to be much better but at least something is being done, some kind of missions. In Moscow and generally in central Russia in many districts, missions work is organized well. However, it goes without saying that it could be improved. Missions are well organized in the Kemerovo Diocese and in Siberia where Fr. Igor Kropochev and other priests of the missionary department are actively involved in missions among the local peoples, in particular, the Shortsi. There are regions, such as Central Asia, where missions are almost completely absent. However, there are active people in Kazakhstan and I have a hope that soon Kazakhstan will be completely enveloped by Orthodox missions. As far as the Far East is concerned, Patriarch Kirill has very fixed attention on it and, therefore, in a number of dioceses, particularly in the Sakhalin, Khabarovsk, Primorye, and Kamchatka dioceses, there is missionary activity, and in the Chukotka Diocese it is starting. Missions in Yakutia are very active. Sizes are very big there. Yakutia is like all of Europe in size and there are very few priests.

As far as the territory of the Russian Church beyond the borders of the CIS, missions are very difficult in China, of course. Father Dionisii Poznyaev and a few other priests do all that they are able but, unfortunately, due to Chinese law, but more so due to the lack of lay missionaries, who could preach to the Chinese, missions are very difficult there. Although work is being done, a large number of translations into Chinese are being made, people are doing what can in reality be done at the moment. In Japan, under the new primacy of Vladyka Daniel, missions are intensifying, thanks to his enthusiasm. In Ukraine, things are much worse. There, due to the schism as well as the abundance of Uniates, Orthodox missions have practically stopped and the Protestants have enormous success. For example, the mayor of Kiev is a Pentecostal. And in the Crimea the influence of Islam is increasing. Unfortunately, due to schisms, many people in Ukraine have fallen away from the Church. There are currently talks about the fact that it is necessary to intensify missions but, to great regret, it turns out that missions often comes off as some sort of nationalism instead of remembering that we are, in fact, Christians, which is higher than any nationality. As a matter of fact, missions connected to nationalism does not work at all; experience has shown this.

Yes, you can interpret patriotism from an Orthodox point of view, and there have been such attempts, for example St. Nikolaj of Serbia said that a true Serb is one who imitates Serbian saints in their pleasing of Christ. We can put it this way and such words will be meaningful to Serbs but not to Croatians, Hungarians, Albanians, etc. For us, for example, one of the problems of preaching Orthodoxy to Tatars is the fact that they often think that by accepting Orthodoxy they must renounce being Tatar, but this is not so. The true Christian understands that they do not change their ethnicity but become above that ethnicity and that which is was the best in their ethnicity they take with them, and that, by being baptized, they become particularly a Christian and not a Russian, Serb, or Greek. This is very important to understand.

Another thing that hinders missions right now is that we have a delayed response to challenges. Many new attacks on Christianity have now appeared: The Da Vinci Code, the Gospel of Judas, and many lies directed against Christ. These are lies which are spread out across the whole world, including, as I know, in Serbia.

We can, refuting them, use Orthodox apologetic works which have been published in the West and even non-Orthodox works; what is most important, of course, is to be able ourselves to respond to these attacks, and to be able to do it quickly. It is very important not to delay. For example, when the Da Vinci Code is released there must already be a response ready. And it is important not just to answer by printing a book and putting it on sale. An informational uproar must be made, for which we must use the internet, including blogs and social networks. An Orthodox answer must be presented as an informational event. For the modern consciousness, which is fully encompassed by information, it is very important to make informational booms. You can’t say that this is missions but it is something that leads to missions. For secular people now, it is very important to be able to interest them, to catch their attention, and then move on to a regular, in-depth, unhurried study of Orthodoxy. That is my view on what is going on.

Yuri Maximov: To what Fr. Daniel said I would like to add that truly, even when we write a response to those attacks, even if it is a good response, we have a problem in how to reach the common reader. Let’s say that a thousand people watched the Da Vinci Code film and our response to the film was read by one person of that thousand. These are two incomparable things. Nine-hundred-ninety-nine people were left with only the film; they did not hear our response. We need to work a lot so that our voice is heard.

Stanoje Stankovic: In Russia there are Orthodox TV channels and radio stations. In Serbia there are one or two programs on radio and they often have things that have no connection to Orthodoxy.

Yuri Maximov: Yes, we have the same problems. I’m not saying that what we are now discussing is easy to do. It is not easy but it must be done; we must reflect a lot and try to find a solution. The Lord will help. Concerning missions as a whole, you know, some people think that missions is like some kind of hobby. Someone collects stamps, someone grows rare flowers, and someone is engaged in missions-they express themselves in that way. But this is not right. Missions are a virtue, a fulfillment of the commandment of Christ. The Lord said, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and  of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). This is a command that we must fulfill and also one which, unfortunately, Orthodox do not want to fulfill. And what happens when we do not want to fulfill the commandments? Well, nothing good. Until the beginning of the previous century, the overwhelming majority of Orthodox did not want to go anywhere and preach; and what happened in the 20th century? Such suffering befell all local Orthodox Churches, Russian, Serbian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, and Arab, without exception that people had to flee their home into foreign lands and there build churches, translate Orthodox literature into the local languages, etc. In such a way the 20th century became a century of the spreading of Orthodoxy across the planet. Those Orthodox who did not want to go to other lands in order to preach were driven out by the Lord Himself. He scattered them all across the world. And, like it or not, they were forced to do something so that the local people would come and become Orthodox. The opponents of missions should think about this and what misfortune they bring upon their own heads as well as their children with their stiff-necked and firm resistance to fulfill the will of God.

From the lips of such people you hear talk as though it is impossible to convert another person to Orthodoxy; for example, it is impossible that a Muslim would become Orthodox. But if you ask them, “But have you tried to do that?” They admit that they have not. Those who say that it is impossible have never tried it. They say it, as a matter of fact, so as not even to try.

Stanoje Stankovic: What is most important in missions? Some say that we need to go and preach at stadiums or discotheques while others say that prayer is more important, remembering the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” So what do we need for missions to be successful? Maybe for a person to first make oneself a good Christian and then their own life will be a witness? I read somewhere that these are two different approaches to missions, so which of them is more successful?

Yuri Maximov: It seems to me that such a division takes place, to a large extent, in the minds of those people that are practically not involved in missions but only reflect on it theoretically. Only theoretically can one think that I will first become a good Christian and then go and talk to others. In order to become a good Christian one must fulfill the commandments of Christ and one of those is to go and teach. So how can you become a good Christian if you are not a missionary? If you have fulfilled all the commandments except one, how can you say that you have become a good Christian, if you have disdained a commandment of Christ? The Lord gave you commandments not so that you would write them down, hang them on the wall, and forget about it but so that you would live according to them. A person who loves God is involved in missions. Surely the Apostles weren’t imperfect Christians? Surely they acquired the spirit of peace?

Now on your first question on what is most important for missions. For a missionary, important are prayer and hope only in God, not in your own strength, not in yourself, not in your friends, not in your sponsors but only in God. Prayer to God and love for Christ and the person to whom you are preaching are important for a missionary, as well as resolution to deny yourself. What prevents us from going and preaching to our friend? We don’t have to go to the discotheque or stadium; for example, we have a neighbor or a colleague at work. It happens that we live next to our neighbors knowing that they are Catholic or Protestant, we’ve known them for ten years, we greet them, greet them at holidays but not once have we asked them, “My friend, why are you not Orthodox? Do you want me to tell you about Orthodoxy?” We say no such word. Why? Maybe because we want to acquire the spirit of peace in ourselves? But not at all, it is because we are afraid to trust in God and think, “What if I tell him ‘Do you want to know something about Orthodoxy?’ and he gets offended and says, ‘No, I don’t want know; I’m not going to talk with you.'” This is what is inside many opponents of missions: lack of faith and fear.

These are people that don’t think about God. A person that trusts God dedicates everything to Him. He says, “Though people trample on me, though they stone me I will glorify and preach the Name of Christ.” Such were the Apostles; they were not the type of people who are afraid of missions, people that justify their fear with objections against missions-such fearful people do not have the joy of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. This is so because when you have gifts of the Holy Spirit you are overflowing with such a joy that you want to share it. It is that candle which, as the Lord said, no one places under a vessel but holds in the open so that it would light up for everyone. One wants to say, “My friend, look at what happiness I have. Let me tell you about it.” This is what inspires missionaries. But if a person doesn’t want to share this what can be said about their spiritual state?

Christ has given us salvation; it is not from us-we received it as a gift. Without Him we would die. God gave us this gift not only for us but for those near us, so that we would go to other perishing people and share it with those who want salvation. And when we share that salvation with them we display love to them and become like God Who is love. Where is our love if for ten years we have been greeting our neighbor and smiling but have not told them one word about God? We go into our house, and think that since icons hang on the walls and we have Orthodox books that we are Orthodox, but this isn’t Orthodoxy.

And that very same St. Seraphim of Sarov preached to Old Believer schismatics when they came to him, saying, “I beg and plead with you: go to the Greco-Russian Church, it is in all the glory and power of God! It is as a ship, having many riggings, sails, and a great helm and is directed by the Holy Spirit.” He called them to the Orthodox Church. And he convinced a woman who came to him from the Old Believers so that she and all her relations came into the Church. What is this if not missions?

Father Daniel told me another great example not long ago. Saint Symeon the Stylite was a great missionary: he didn’t go anywhere and lived on his pillar but he pleased God so much that the Lord glorified him and many pagans came to him and said, “Pray so that God would heal us.” And they bothered him very much with their pleas. He sought quiet and solitude but it happened that the cries of people surrounded him. Then he said, “Ok, come and I will pray for you, but when God heals you be baptized.” They agreed and those being baptized were so many that the Church sent a bishop who lived next to the pillar and baptized people. Father Daniel has just come from a trip during which he saw that pillar and the remains of the church.

Father Daniel: At the time of St. Symeon there was a huge church around his pillar and inside was a special font for adults and children; it was like “conveyor belt” baptism.

Yuri Maximov: From this is it obvious that even a great hermit had a true missionary mindset and he was ready to reject that which he would have liked for the sake of fulfilling the commandment of God. The examples of such saints shows that the above mentioned division between spiritual life and missions is false. If we truly fulfill the commandment of God then this will not be the case. They are both interconnected. Orthodox missions is impossible without a serious spiritual life, and there will be no true spiritual life without the preaching of the Gospel.

Father Daniel: I would like to add another reason why people often do not want to be involved in missions. The thing is that the Bible makes a clear distinction: there are spheres of light and spheres of darkness, there is a place for the elected of God, the Church of God-the region of the saved, as it says in the canon-and a place where the devil acts, where there are people under the power of the prince of darkness, who after death inevitably end up in hell. So, in our consciousness that boundary is blurred. There are such people that say, “Outside of the Church there is no salvation,” who also say, “But outside the Church there are good people.” And this, for the most part, is the reason why they do not evangelize. They think that one can be saved by one’s own works, but this is impossible, it is the heresy of Pelagius. If one can be saved without the Church then Christ died in vain. And that feeling of a possibility of salvation without Christ kills missions. For I cannot calmly sit by and say nothing of Christ if I know that my non-Orthodox neighbor is guaranteed to end up in hell, that people outside the Church are perishing. People who are sliding into hell know this themselves; no one has told them this, they feel it themselves: they have depression and consuming passions, their conscious pricks them, they are tormented with life, they are unhappy, and they languish in false hopes and have true sorrow. These people seek an escape and we say to them, “Don’t worry, be a good person and everything will be ok.” This is a lie. Namely this lie, the absence of the sense of the chosenness of a Christian, gives birth to the reluctance for missionary work. We are chosen; God chose us not so that we would pridefully strut and say that we are so good but in order to carry the light of God, to exclaim, “Join us on the boat.” You know there is a well-known anti-ecumenical picture: Christ navigating a ship which is being attacked on every side; this is true but the ship must rescue all those who are swimming in the water. But we do not even want to throw out nets. Further, sometimes those who attach themselves to the ship are pushed away. This is, of course, contrary to the Gospel.

I think that if we look at the Gospel and remember the Beatitudes we will see that many of them require missions.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7). What is superior mercy? Not to give money but to give eternal life. A beggar will spend the money after a few days but eternal life will be theirs forever.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9). What can be higher than when someone makes peace between a person and God? People fight against God and you, missionary, carry out Christ’s service, you are sent by the Lord Christ Himself and will receive His reward, as a son of God, says the Lord. Isn’t it so? But people say, “How can I be a missionary? They will persecute me.” Of course they will, for it is written, Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in Heaven (Matt. 5:11-12). The reward is huge in Heaven. But people have forgotten about the heavenly reward, forgotten that we live here in order to receive a reward there. We are too attached to the earth. You read the Orthodox press and what do they talk about? They talk about politics, about how to make things comfortable here, about how to create good relationships. But, forgive me, we for sure will be departing from here. Maybe we will depart today. We are all in the hands of God. Death is not over the mountains but over the shoulder as we say in Russia. People have forgotten this and don’t want to think about the fact that they need to prepare for eternity.

Furthermore, some people say, “To prepare for eternity is egoism.” But what did Christ say? He did not say, “Do not lay up treasure at all.” He said to lay up treasure in heaven where there are no thieves, rust, or moths. For where your treasure is there will your heart be. But people have forgotten about this; people lay up treasure on earth, live for the earth, and use God as a secondary power. As Pushkin wrote in the tale of the golden fish: the fish was at beck and call. Just the same way do people try to use God. Naturally, such a person will not preach if he even thinks of God as a tool for himself. This is all false and I suspect that such a person in actuality is not a Christian.

But the true Christianity is having pity for the perishing people. Fear to be punished by the Lord for burying one’s talent and desire to receive great reward in heaven-these are what must move a missionary. We should walk with God as the Lord said of Enoch, Enoch walked with God and…God took him (Gen. 5:24). Just that walking with God is the root of missions. In such a case you can see that both prayer and missions is, generally, the same thing. When I go out to preach, I kiss my priestly-pectoral cross and say, Lord, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise (Ps. 50:17). I know that as soon as I depend upon myself the missions fail but as soon as I depend upon God it picks back up. For I am a servant of Christ, and any person can become a servant of Christ. Anyone can receive a reward and more than just that. The council of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a missionary concept, and in it are some very important words. It says that missions of the Church is a continuation of the mission which Christ sent. Christ is the first Apostle, and the Word of Christ continues in us. In us, the Son of God Himself preaches. We are moved by the Holy Spirit Himself. Furthermore, do you know that God the Father is carrying out great espionage work? As the Lord says, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him (John 4:23). He seeks those people on earth who are ready to worship Him. And do you know through whom He seeks them? Through missionaries. He sends missionaries to find those people. Imagine what God the Father will say to us if we refuse? Of course the Lord will send others. He is compassionate, He will send others, but what will we have to answer for? The Lord will say, “A person was perishing here and you passed by. You refused to carry out My Word.” How will we stand before Him then? We will say, “Yes, Lord, but we prayed to you so well.” The Lord will say, “What does ‘we prayed’ mean? A person perished. Why did you disobey my direct Word? He asked for bread and you gave him a stone; you turned your back on him.” Rejection of missions is also disregard for the Judgment of God-disregard for the fact that we will answer for every one of our actions. It is disregard of the fact that even in secular law there is an understanding of “criminal omission,” the lack of rendering help to the perishing. This also relates to the spiritual law. The lack of rendering spiritual help-is this not a crime?

By my own experience, I can say that when you preach you are on the very edge. The Lord reminds you that you are walking before Him and if you want to fall into sin, you immediately get hit in the head-the Lord does not allow you to fall. But even if you have fallen, the Lord will pick you up and not let you become trapped in sin because, truly, He will remind you through His Word which you are saying.

What does a missionary need to do first of all? The Lord commanded us, ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Therefore, it is our business to be witnesses of Christ, which means to exclusively preach the Holy Gospel-not to preach Russianness, Serbness, Americanness, or whatever but to only preach the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Speaking in such a way you will be judging yourself. Just imagine, you say “don’t fornicate” yet you yourself fornicate. The problems begin. You preach not to curse but you yourself curse. The very same problem. The Word of God starts to judge you when you preach. St. Gregory of Nyssa said so well that, “If you want to anoint someone with fragrant chrism, pour chrism on your own hand then on him. Who do you anoint first? You anoint yourself.”

And so, the Gospel for a missionary is a living book. It is not a text from which to extract quotes for theological papers. It is particularly the living book about which you always need to talk and by which you must live. A huge mistake made by missionaries is to try and dilute the Gospel. There is a passage in the Second Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians which says the following in Slavonic, “we are not as many, which corrupt [korchemstvovati] the word of God” [2 Cor 2:17]. Korchemstvo is from the word korchma, that is, a tavern. What do bad vendors do at a tavern? They take wine and add water, but so that it’s not noticeable they add some coloring. Wine in and of itself is healing and good for one’s health but when it has been diluted with water it looses its benefit, and the added poison may even harm. Incorrect missionaries do just the same. They say, “Well, people today won’t understand the direct Word of God.” Just a few days ago I was told, “Fr. Daniel, in vain do you preach so straightforwardly; it is not interesting for them to hear about Christ.” And, therefore, let’s add a little from ourselves. Let’s dilute the Word of God and make it more contemporary, more understandable, and more tolerant. However, it seems to me that, in actuality, particularly about Him [Christ] it is interesting. Politics are not interesting. And sports are not interesting. But Christ is interesting.

Yuri Maximov: I would like to add something. It is very important to understand what Fr. Daniel is talking about. Some people, speaking about missions theoretically, think that Orthodoxy has to be changed in order to be successful in missions. This is false. Particularly the patristic and evangelical preaching of Orthodoxy, not distorted, modernistic Orthodoxy, but traditional, healthy Orthodoxy, which we received from the Apostles themselves through the Holy Fathers, this exactly what can affect people. But modernistic “Orthodoxy” cannot attract anyone and modernistic missionaries, as a rule, are not successful. This is because modernism says, generally speaking, “believe as you please and live the way you want; it is most important to be a good person, then everything will be alright.” But such preaching may only attract those who need something comfortable and not those who need truth. If a person who needs truth hears the preaching of modernistic pseudo-Orthodoxy, he will say, “But I can still be a good person without that, why should I become Orthodox?” Modernists cannot essentially answer that question because their missions fail. And they think that missions in general fail and that people are not really interested in knowing the truth about God. But this is not true. People aren’t interested in hearing them speak because there is no power or truth in their words. But the Word of the Gospel, the word of the Holy Fathers that is true theology is interesting to hear even to simple people without a theological education.

Saint Theophan the Recluse said the following about this phenomenon, “The twelve Apostles went out and converted such a multitude of people, why? How were they able to do that? Because they did not proclaim their own philosophizing but the Truth of God. And in every person is a conscience which distinguishes truth from falsehood.” And so, when we tell another person our fantasies, he simply listens while nothing responds inside of him. He thinks, “Yes, he has thought up something interesting. Well, I’ve heard it and that’s enough.” But when we speak to him the Word of God, his conscience within him responds. It witnesses to him from the inside, “that which they are saying to you is the truth.” At this point two paths open up for him who hears the Gospel and feels within himself the action of the conscience. The first path is chosen by those who say, “I am following the Truth.” What does it mean to follow the Truth? It means to reject everything within oneself that contradicts the Truth. They say, “God is important to me, and everything sinful is unimportant. I will expel from myself all darkness-everything that prevents me from approaching God and I will go [after Him].” The second path is chosen by people who say within themselves, “No, I will remain with my sins, with my opinions, and with my philosophy.” And then their conscience begins to burn them like fire. Therefore, no one relates indifferently to Orthodox people: they are either loved or hated-particularly because such an action occurs in the conscience. We see that in the lives of the Apostles many people turned to them because truth within them echoed the words of the Apostles. But the Apostles themselves suffered at the hands of those who hated them.

Stanoje Stankovic: But there are such people who are indifferent to faith. In Elder Paisios of Mount Athos I read that indifferent people are the worst of all. One can speak to them of God and they will answer that it is not interesting to them.

Father Daniel: If someone says that God is not interesting to them, he is making his choice. God is not interesting to him means that he rejects God. It is a revolt against God. Beginning from this, the indifferent person will next come to hate you. That will be a choice for evil.

The job of a missionary is to be a witness. It is not his job to force someone to accept Orthodoxy or not. We cannot convert everyone. We can never do that. The Lord Himself didn’t convert everyone. This is because the gift of free will, which the Lord gave His creation, presupposes the possibility of a complete rejection. And, therefore, of course, we should not expect that which God did not promise. God did not promise that we would convert everyone. God promised that we would witness to all. I think that, unfortunately, we have waited a little too long. We still have not preached the Gospel to the whole world. Presently there is such a possibility. Everyday we repeat “Thy Kingdom come” but our inaction, by the way, delays the coming of Christ. If missions had been completed then the Lord would have returned, right? As it says, this gospel shall be preached unto all nations; and then shall the end come. [Matt. 24:14]

Stanoje Stankovic: Some people refer to St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) where he says that apostasy is allowed by God and we should not try to stop it with our feeble hands. How do the words of St. Ignatius relate to missionary work?

Yuri Maximov: This is in reference to those people who have already made their choice and when their choice is made you are not able to do anything with them. If a person doesn’t want to hear about God right now and you continue to insist, he will not become Orthodox but will simply come to hate you. And you won’t be able to change that. But if a person wants to know the truth, you will be able to change very much. You know, there’s a parable about a man who walked along the seashore after a storm. The storm had washed very many starfish on the sand so that all of it was strewn with them. The man saw a little boy taking the starfish and throwing them back into the sea. Going by he asked the boy, “Why are you doing that?” The boy answered, “If you don’t pick them up and throw them into the sea they will dry up and die.” The man objected, “Look how many starfish there are, you can’t change anything, you won’t manage to throw them all back.” Then the boy picked up another starfish, looked at it, threw it into the sea, and said, “Maybe I can’t change something for all of them but for that one I have changed a lot.”

Father Daniel: I would add the following. This is very important for missionaries to understand. We spend too much energy in order to stop apostasy but we don’t spend as much in order to save people. Indeed, trying to stop apostasy is impossible. Apostasy-revolt of man against God-is unstoppable. This is the truth. Remember that ancient Christians didn’t struggle against the pagans’ sin or licentiousness. Ancient Christians did not struggle even against the gladiators, they were saving the pagans. They gathered them and told them that they shouldn’t worship idols but should worship the One True God. And when pagans became Christians they gave up fornication, gladiatorial games, etc. And then, when the Christians became multiplied, only after that were debauchery and the gladitorial games outlawed. And we have turned everything upside down. We struggle with that which is impossible to overcome, while at the same time ignoring those whom we could save. This is a mistake. And St. Ignatius is completely correct when he says that we don’t need to busy ourselves with that. It’s not necessary to struggle with that which is impossible to change. But we can save those people who desire it. This is a very important moment. There is so much energy spent in Russia on the battle with those wretched INNs [individual tax number] and passports; if all that energy were spent on preaching Orthodoxy to Muslims then Russia would be quite different, do you understand?

Yuri Maximov: I would like to add something that our Serbian readers might not know. Saint Ignatius was a diocesan bishop in the Caucuses where very many Muslims lived, and he worked in missions. He had, as did every large diocese of the Russian Church, special diocesan missionaries who were to preach the Gospel to Muslims and other unbelievers. In Russia, until the revolution, this was common practice, and in his letters he mentions these missionaries as well as Muslims in his diocese who were baptized thanks to miracles. Therefore, it is absurd to think that St. Ignatius spoke against missions.

Stanoje Stankovic: I would like to ask a question about the state of Orthodoxy in Russia. There are some people in Serbia who say that Orthodoxy in Russia is being revived, that churches are being built, that there are Orthodox television programs, etc. But there are also people who say that Russia is corrupted like Swiss cheese, that it has huge problems, that people are suffering from drug addictions, alcoholism, etc. Which is true?

Yuri Maximov: You could say that both of them are correct. Truly there are problems. There are many moral and religious problems in Russia. But at the same time there are examples of holiness in Russia. These things are not mutually exclusive. If we look at the history of the Church we will learn that it has always been that way: in the history of the Universal Church, that of the Russian Church, and that of the Serbian Church. When I, for example, read the letters of St. Peter of Cetinje, I read a lot about the terrible moral state at the time in Montenegro both among the Serbian priests and the simple people. As he wrote, there were very many problems. But at the same time there was a lot of holiness and he himself was a saint of the time. You know, sometimes in Russia they want to judge the spiritual state of the Church by some external factors. Allegedly, if everything is well on the outside it means that spiritually everything is well, but this has never been the case. During the time of Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory the Theologian, as we know, there was the confusing Arian conflict and there were horrible problems in the Church.

Father Daniel: Saint Basil the Great, when he was asked, “How is the Church?” answered that it is like his body: everything hurts and there is no hope for its recovery.

Yuri Maximov: This is how it is in Russia right now. St. Nikolaj [Velimirovic] of Serbia said that the Russian soul doesn’t seem to have a middle: it either walks on the heights or on the bottom of hell. Not long ago I read the very same observation by a Belgian priest who lived for a few years in Russia. He said that, on the one hand, in Russia there are people who it is frightening to walk by on the street and, on the other hand, there is such holiness like nowhere in Europe.

Stanoje Stankovic: Yes, that article was on pravoslavie.ru.

Father Daniel: I would add that this concerns not only Russia. Simply, there are two cities: the heavenly city, which is a pilgrim on the earth, and the earthly city, which is being built on the earth. This is very obvious in Russia. In Russia there are two Russia’s. There is the Holy Church, which is traveling in this world.
This very distinct type is called “tserkovnik [church person]in Russia and I also call them uranopolitans, heavenly citizens. That is, those people who live here on the earth but have heavenly pursuits. There are not a lot of such people but among them there are truly wonderful people who truly carry out the Holy Gospel in their lives. I think that such outward things as, for example, Orthodox tv stations or radio, are not so important but what is important is the inner shining of holiness which, in fact, makes the Church the Church as such. And there are people who have made their home on the earth, who want to live here in their pleasure, and who “take everything from life [common advertising slogan].” Such people might even wear a cross or stop into church but they are unfamiliar to God. I won’t say forever, though. There is still hope for them and the Lord also visits them with both financial crisises and swine flu. God visits everyone in a different way and among them there are many who repent. By the way, it is interesting that this division is not in any way connected with financial position. There are righteous rich people and impious poor people.

Blessed Augustine said long ago that, “People belong to the traveling city when they love God to the contempt of the earth and themselves. And people belong to the earthly city when they love themselves to the hatred of God.” [City of God, Ch. 28?] This division is very distinct and in Russia it is very visible. One could say that they both are right particularly because it [Russia] is two lands. By the way, I think it’s the same in Serbia.

Stanoje Stankovic: The next question is about modern temptations that we have. In Serbia, they have started to introduce biometric passports and there is a temptation among people in the Church that think that if someone accepts a new passport they are denying Christ and accepting the mark of the Antichrist.

Yuri Maximov: This is demonic delusion and one of the traditional traps of the devil. This is easy to see through the history of Russia. Not long ago when they changed Soviet passports for Russian passports people said that those who accept Russian passports are no longer Christian and nothing will save them; one shouldn’t accept the new passports, they are from the Antichrist, you have to keep the old, Soviet, “good” passports. However, forty some years ago when they introduced those “good” Soviet passports all across the country similar people said the very same thing-that they were from the Antichrist and one shouldn’t accept them. And furthermore, even previously, before the revolution, under the tsar there were people that said the same thing-that one shouldn’t accept the tsarist passports because they’re from the Antichrist.

Father Daniel: St. Dmitry of Rostov wrote that in the 18th century at the introduction of the first passports and first paper money there were people that alleged that it was the mark of the Antichrist.

Yuri Maximov: What is the aim of this trap? To make a person look not to Christ but at some kind of outward things: passports, cards, barcodes, and such. But one person can’t serve two masters. It ends up that one doesn’t notice if they are with Christ or not, if they carry out his commandments or not, if they keep to the faith of Christ or not but they look at whether they accepted a passport or not, if there is a barcode on the package or not. That is, people stop looking at the essence and get distracted.

Stanoje Stankovic: People that have such opinions about new passports, etc. refer to the words of elders, Elder Paisius of Mt. Athos and some others, about which I don’t know anything except what is written on the internet. What should we think of this?

Father Daniel: We know that even the Holy Fathers committed errors when they taught against Holy Tradition. As St. Vincent of Lerins said that Holy Tradition is that which has been taught to by all, always, and everywhere. And, by the way, the teaching about a “stamp,” as some kind of external tool, or “pre-stamp” (in Russia they have come up with such a term) this is a teaching that only just now appeared. There was no such thing previously. But the thing is that this opinion is faulty also in a theological sense. Yuri Valeryevich spoke of the spiritual meaning and I will speak of the theological meaning. The fact is that for us what is most important is the covenant of a person with Christ. We have an agreement with God and He has one with us. As the Lord said that no one can pluck us out of the hands of the Heavenly Father because Our Father is greater than everyone. The Lord said that from His hands, no one can pluck us. And the very stamp of the Antichrist, which is described in the thirteenth chapter of the Apocalypse, according to the explanation of the Holy Fathers-St. Hippolytus of Rome, St. Andrew of Caesarea, St. Irenaeus of Lyon-is namely a question of a personal agreement with the Antichrist. This is also a covenant only different. Not in vain did St. Andrew of Caesarea say that as we receive the stamp of the Holy Spirit in chrismation, so will the Antichrist give an evil, impure stamp. The question is not even about the technical means-this is a false way of thinking. For a stamp can be applied by a simple hand or whatever else. Because the essence of that stamp is not in technical means but in the fact that a person voluntarily moves to the side of the enemy. This is what is so important!

Many, for some reason, think that the Antichrist cannot identify a person without a stamp, but Satan will dwell in the Antichrist; as it says in the Epistle to the Thessalonians he will act according to Satan-and all evil spirits are subject to Satan. Evil spirits are after us and compromise us as they can. As it is written in the toll-houses of Blessed Theodora, they write down any evil deed that we do. Could it really be hard for the Antichrist to summon a spirit and ask where someone is located? It will be easy for him to ask. He will not need to pursue us for that. For the Antichrist, it is not important to know where a person is or what he is doing but what is important is that the person makes an agreement with him-that a union is made. And he will blackmail with the help of hunger. Therefore, trading will be outlawed and the idea will be simple: if you don’t worship me, I will starve you. This is the logic, understand?

And there is a deceitful substitution in this case-a substitution which sectarians made. The idea that INN and biometric passports, as well as passports in general, are the stamp of the Antichrist comes from schismatic environs. It was schismatics who thought this up about passports: first Russian schismatics of the Old Rite then beguny (there was such a sect as Yuri Valeryevich said). The idea concerning INN came from Seventh-Day Adventists. In the 1970s, one of the Adventist preachers saw a “vision” where a spirit revealed to her that INN is the stamp of the Antichrist; do you see from what kind of turbid source all these ideas come from?

Why does Satan propagate all of this? So that when the real Antichrist appears all those people who are afraid to accept the stamp will happily receive the real stamp, because they will seek the stamp there where it isn’t. They will look for the stamp in some sort of technical means which the Antichrist doesn’t need at all. The devil wants to prepare people so that when the real enemy comes they won’t be afraid. St. Hippolytus says the following, “What will the person say who accepts the stamp of the Antichrist? He will say, ‘I renounce God, the Creator of heaven and earth, His Only Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Church and give myself to you.'” You can see that St. Hippolytus was correct. The main thing with which the Antichrist seizes his own in our times is with denial of the creation of the universe. Is evolution nothing other than the preparation for the coming of the Antichrist? Of course, theistic evolution is especially that preparation. When one affirms that God created with the help of evil and death, this leads to the Antichrist. The affirmation that Christ is not the only way to God is the way to the Antichrist. The affirmation that outside of the Church there is salvation is the way to the Antichrist. The affirmation that we should make our home on the earth is the way to the Antichrist-as the Apostle Paul says, when they will say peace and safety, then comes destruction [I Thess. 5:3]; all of this is the way to the Antichrist. In ideology is the way to the Antichrist and not in technology. Here is truly a demonic substitution: to substitute technological systems for the question of an actual agreement. I will say that in the spiritual sense, many people now have agreed with the ideas of the Antichrist. The idea that there is one God but many paths to Him is certainly an idea of the Antichrist. But no one writes against it; no one fights against it. They fight against those things which have long ago become out of date. They say that there is allegedly a computer “beast” in Brussels, have you heard? But, forgive me, a computer “beast” made in 1976 is less powerful than mine which is lying right here. Even the recording device in your hands is more powerful than that computer which, allegedly, enveloped all of humanity. And some people are still frightened by these old things. This is simply folly of people who have fallen into prelest. And the reason for this is very simple: if you notice, the more someone begins to be involved in battle with INN or biometric passports the more uneasy, irritated, malicious, and aggressive they become. Can this be from the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit the God of disorder? As the Apostle Paul said, God is not the God of disorder but peace [I Cor. 14:33]. I have not yet seen one quiet and calm person who actively fights against the INN. They are all hysterical. There was one authoritive archimandrite in a large monastery, I won’t name him so as not to defame him, who actively fought against the INN and, as a result, he went out of his mind, literally. He began to run around the monastery naked yelling nonsense and ended up in a mental institution. Such is the spiritual obscuration which completely damaged a person. We have had people who started to withdraw to caves. Do you know about the Penza story? It is all a result of the very same prelest. Can that be from God? No, that is from satan. It is from satan particularly because the devil wants to fool people. He has fooled them so that they forgot about Christ and remember only the devil. You spoke of Fr. Paisius and I remember a story which I know first hand. In the 1980s, certain pilgrims came to Elder Paisius of the Holy Mountain and began to question him when the Antichrist would come. And he answered them, “Why? Are you anxiously waiting for him?”

Stanoje Stankovic: One more question about the spiritual life. What is necessary in order to resist modern temptations? Particularly which virtue is most important?

Father Daniel: Trust in God alone is most important. If we do not have trust in God, then our prayer turns into a torturous rule. A spiritual father turns into a psychoanalyst. Everything else becomes only empty development. We need to trust God personally. We must remember that we are under the care of God and He is with us. God truly holds us in His Hands. And no one can separate us from Him; as the Apostle Paul says, Who shall separate us from the love of God? [Rom. 8:35] Truly, if we are with God, all the remaining virtues will be formed. Prayer will become communion with God Who is with us. Obedience will become the ability to hear His Holy Word-to make it out in the uproar of this world. Obedience to a spiritual father will become the ability to see within him a living icon of Christ and the consideration, through him, of the Lord. A spiritual father is one who is leading to God but not one who is standing and humiliating the spiritual child. It is the same with humility. Humility is not saying that one is a bad person, stupid, or not able to do anything but it is the ability to understand that one cannot do anything without God yet with God they can do very much. By the way, humility has another side: daring, when a person recognizes what talents God gave him and for which he then will have to answer. Meekness will be connected at the same time with courage because meekness without God is cowardice but with God is courage. And it is the same in everything. Therefore, we must walk before God at all times, both modern and ancient, always.

Stanoje Stankovic: What attitude do Russian Orthodox people have toward Serbian saints: Holy Hierarch Nikolaj (Velimirovic) and Abba Justin (Popovic)?

Yuri Maksimov: St. Nikolaj of Serbia and Abba Justin Popovic are the most beloved, most well-known Serbian saints, as well as the most well-known Serbs of the 20th century in Russia. Knowledge of them began with a small translations, but the hearts of Orthodox people in Russia responded so lively to the word of the Holy Spirit that was in the works of those two Serbian ascetics that publishers, seeing such great interest, began to translate and publish more and more of their books. Now, if you go into a bookstore in Russia you will see a multitude of books from St. Nikolaj and Abba Justin. Moreover, if you look at modern Orthodox writings you will see quotes in them from St. Nikolaj and Abba Justin. This is an offering of the Serbian Orthodox Church that the Russian Orthodox Church accepted and now continues to accept with love and thankfulness. They both have very great authority in Russia, and I think this is also because St. Nikolaj had a particular talent of explaining difficult things simply and to explain it such that it would be dear to the hearts of modern man. Furthermore, he did not set forth a condensed or trimmed-down version nor primitive things but explained the very depths of our faith. And, therefore, love for him and his authority is very great, of course, which is understandable.  The interest in the heritage of Serbian ascetics has led to the translation and publication of other books of Serbian Orthodox writers, including modern theologians that are still living. But, as far as I know, not one of them is even close in popularity among Russians as those two pillars. And this is because reading a text of St. Nikolaj we feel how it touches our souls.

Father Daniel: I would like to add something. The fact is that the first translations of St. Justin were versions in 1970s samizdat. And then the samizdat versions done about 1982-1983 were able to achieve one important thing. We have to remember that ecumenism was characteristic in the Soviet period. We know that Orthodox Churches participated in it and that even hierarchs did, hoping that the only enemy was materialism (that idol) and that it would encourage the overcoming of the disagreements between Orthodox, Roman-Catholics, and others. This, of course, was a mistake. And particularly St. Justin’s work The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism in many ways changed the views of very many people who now practically formulate church life in Russia. This not only concerns theologians and hierarchs; truly that book had the effect of a bomb. I will say that, in my experience, simple people love St. Nikolaj very much, while St. Justin, in many ways, helped to change the outlook of people of a, so to say, theological disposition. In many respects particularly that stimulus which St. Justin gave in his work against ecumenism encouraged the re-evaluation of that phenomenon and led to the fact that now very little ecumenism remains in the Russian Church. In Russia, ecumenism is despised. Most people, even those who are involved in ecumenism, have to constantly justifying themselves, which was not the case previously. In the 1970s, ecumenism was accepted as completely normal. Now it is it looked upon as shameful, even by those who are involved in it. And here, truly, is the merit of St. Justin. First was Justin and then later they began to publish St. Hilarion (Troitsky) and other authors. But a beginning was laid specifically by St. Justin.

Two Takes on Sects

While you’re waiting for the second part of the interview with Fr. Daniel Sysoyev and Yuri Maximov (which is very close to being finished), contemplate some understandings on sects from some Russian points of view.

The essence of every sect consists in deviation from correct Orthodox religious-moral teaching, and the essence of schism consists in deviation from Orthodox-ecclesiastical leadership, that is, from Church discipline.

The inner causes for this deviation are (1) “unreasonable zeal” concerning salvation which stimulates the search for new ways and means of salvation, (2) conceit and pride causing discord, logomachy, and disunity, and (3) enthusiasm for various doctrines without appropriate leadership.

Fragment of Draft Variant of a Report of Metropolitan Gregory (Chukov) of Leningrad and Novgorod “On the Issue of the Struggle with Sectarianism” (July 22, 1945-April 10, 1946) Source

6.3. The Orthodox Church makes a distinct different between non-Orthodox confessions which recognize faith in the Holy Trinity and the God-Man Jesus Christ and sects which reject the fundamental Christian dogmas. Recognizing the right for non-Orthodox Christians the right for witness and religious education among groups of the population traditionally belonging to them, the Orthodox Church opposes every destructive missionary activity of sects.

Foundational Principles of the Relationship of the Russian Orthodox Church to Non-Orthodox (2000) Source

Serbian Conversations, Part 1

The following is the first part of a translation I’ve slowly been working on in my web-log absence. It is one of the last interviews that Fr. Daniel Sysoyev gave.

Serbian Conversations
Father Daniel Sysoyev and Yuri Maximov

“Shining as a star”
A few words about Father Daniel Sysoyev from Yuri Maximov

Late on the night of November 19, 2009, Fr. Daniel Sysoyev was killed in the Church of the Apostle Thomas on Kantemirovskaya in Moscow. An unidentified person in a mask entered the church and shot him point-blank.

I knew Fr. Daniel for ten years-since October 1999, when we met each other at a conference where we both spoke. He called me the night before, and on the day of the conference I saw a man walking in front of me in a riassa and immediately understood that it was the very same Deacon Daniel Sysoyev with whom I had spoken on the phone.

There was something similar in his voice as well as walk which expressed his uniqueness and allowed one to unmistakably recognize him in a crowd, even from behind and even to an unfamiliar person.

In one of his interviews shortly before his death, Fr. Daniel said that “we need to walk before God as He said of Enoch, ‘he walked before God and God took him.’ That walking before God is the root of missions.”

To shortly describe Fr. Daniel, he walked before God. And although that, in the first place, is the state of a soul completely directed to God, it even found its expression literally in his walk, not even mentioning his actions and words.

He walked with a light step, like a person who knows where he is going and why, one who is calm in the present and that does not worry about the future because he has entrusted all his cares to the Lord, Who is as close to him as a Loving Father.

During the ten years that I knew him, many times Fr. Daniel said that he wanted to die as a martyr. I am afraid that now those words will sound completely different than when he said them. When he talked about martyrdom there was neither gloomy solemnity nor unhealthy ecstasy. He would say it simply and with joy, and I, hearing this, would feel the same awkwardness and perplexity that I felt when I read in the epistles of St. Ignatius the Godbearer of his fervent desire to suffer for Christ. One and the same spirit was in the one and the other, and I understood neither of them.

I recall how a few years ago when we were in Macedonia I brought Fr. Daniel to the amphitheater in the ancient city of Bitol. Here, during the time of the Roman Empire, they fed people to wild animals for the delight of the crowds of pagans. On the sides, there remained two small rooms, in which the animals were kept before being let into the arena, and, in the center, there was a box the size of a man, from which the condemned would come out to his torment. It is certainly true that several martyrs of the early Church accepted death for Christ in such a way in that amphitheater. I said to Fr. Daniel, “Look, Father, you can stand there where the martyrs stood before going to their podvig.” And he went into that dark box. I remember how he stood there and gazed into sky.

Probably with the same concentrated peacefulness he was looking at his own murderer. I confess that I have thought about whether or not batushka was afraid at the final moment because I would be afraid. Therefore, I asked the one eyewitness that saw the murder with his own eyes what Fr. Daniel was doing when, leaving the altar, he saw a man in a mask with a pistol in his hand. I was told, “He was walking towards him. Right towards him.”

Father Daniel Sysoyev was born January 12, 1974, and was baptized when he was three years old. He was raised in a religious family. I remember how he told me of his cherished memories from childhood: how his mother would read him the lives of saints before bed.

Batushka treated the faith with consciousness and seriousness from a young age. According to him, from the time he was twelve, if his parents demanded something of him out of principle he asked for a Biblical foundation for it and if he received it then he would carry out the demand unquestioningly. In this is already reflected his principle desire: to know the will of God always and for everything and to follow it. He preferred God to anything else and preferred the will of God to any other will.

I know many good priests in Russia, but here I have never met a person who would love God as intensely, fervently, and selflessly as did Fr. Daniel. Not long before his death, I found myself at one of batushka’s catechetical talks, and I thought that only a deeply loving person can, without stopping, talk for two and a half hours about God and only about God and to speak in such a way that the people listen the whole time without stirring.

During Soviet times he already sang on the kliros, and, after finishing school, in 1991 he entered Moscow Theological Seminary. He would say to me that he had always wanted to be a priest and imagined himself as nothing else. That desire was born in him in childhood, when he underwent a clinical death and saw an angel, who returned his soul back into his body.

In 1995, Fr. Daniel got married, finished seminary, and was ordained into the diaconate. From that moment his extensive preaching and missionary activity began and he taught the Law of God to the upper classes at the Yasenevo Orthodox Gymnasium. One incident sticks out in my mind from his accounts about that time. One day he gave the topic “What will remain after I am gone? What will I take with me when I die?” to his students for an essay. Several parents came to him in indignation, “How can you give such topics to kids? You shouldn’t remind them about death.” To this he answered, “So your children are immortal?” Fr. Daniel was convinced that as none of us can avoid death, we need to properly prepare for it, for which a Christian has everything that is necessary, and the earlier we start preparing, the better.

Starting in 1996, Fr. Daniel led missionary discussions at the Krutitsk representation church working with Fr. Anatoly (Berestov) in the St. John of Kronstadt Pastoral Center. He met and spoke with members of various cults, preaching to them and converting them to Orthodoxy.

Besides Fr. Daniel, I have known no one who could boldly confront any audience and begin a conversation with a person of any religious view and always have something to say of substance. He was a true missionary, loved to tell people about Christ, and loved when, from the lamp of his soul, others would light up with the flame of evangelical joy.

Batushka highly revered his heavenly protector, the Prophet Daniel, and namely from him received his missionary aspirations, as he told me himself. At one time, reading the book of Daniel, batushka was struck by the words, And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever (Dan. 12:3). “And I thought,” he said, “how wonderful that is, to shine as the stars.”

I know that he prayed the Jesus Prayer, considered it very important to commune often, having prepared as is necessary, and constantly read the Bible, which, it seems, he knew a considerable portion by heart. Prayer, the Eucharist, and the Word of God were for him the three most important foundations for missions.

In his life he baptized more than 80 Muslims and turned to Orthodoxy around 500 Protestants. Father Daniel went to Protestant gatherings and preached about Orthodoxy on the foundation of the Bible and participated in public disputes with Old Ritualists and neo-pagans, but above all he became well-known as a missionary among Muslims and a polemicist with Islam.

He received letters and calls with threats from Muslims. A year and a half before the murder, Muslim journalist Halida Hamidullina requested the public prosecutor to open a suit against Fr. Daniel for inciting inter-religious and inter-ethnic hatred. The prosecutor refused the suit, but in Islamic mass media a full campaign of libel was undertaken; Orthodox people do not know about that as, understandably, they are unfamiliar with Islamic mass media.

Not long ago, just three days before the murder, Fr. Daniel was driving me home and we laughingly remembered life ten years ago. Fr. Daniel said that, of all religions, Islam had always been the one least interesting to him, and he did not plan at all to study it. I also reminded him of an old conversation we had when we were returning from Krutitsky representation church and he became glad when he found out that I was writing apologetic articles in answer to Islamic criticism. He said, “Well, this is good, that means that I won’t have to deal with it.” But the Lord, first, through one confluence of circumstances, then through something else arranged it so that he happened to come into contact with Muslims or the subject of Islam, and Fr. Daniel went forward where the Lord was indicating. This was the most important for him.

Fr. Daniel graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy in 2000 having successfully defended his dissertation, “The Anthropology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.” Later this was published as a book. He also wrote a number of other books. A Walk with a Protestant in an Orthodox Church is a unique work in which, on the basis of the Bible, is explained the arrangement and furnishings of and Orthodox church as well as Orthodox worship. Chronicle of the Beginning and Who is Like God or How Long was a Day of Creation are devoted to, as he himself said, the defense of the Patristic teaching on the creation of the world. In these books, Fr. Daniel explains why an Orthodox Christian cannot adhere to the theory of evolution.

Marriage with a Muslim is dedicated to one of the most painful issues in the co-existence of Christians and Muslims in our country. The impetus for this book began when, on the website Orthodoxy and Islam a section was opened for questions to a priest, where one could ask Fr. Daniel questions. I was amazed with the abundance of letters we received from baptized women who either planned on marrying a Muslim and were asking if that is permissible according to the Church or had already entered into marriage with a Muslim and who were having various problems and were looking for advice. In addition, in Fr. Daniel’s pastoral ministry he had happened to meet such Russian women who, under the influence of such a marriage, had renounced Christ and converted to Islam, and then, having had lots of difficulties in a Muslim marriage and having realized their error, with batushka’s help, repented and returned to the Church. All of this induced Fr. Daniel to write a book in which he exhaustively looked at this issue, reminded people that, in accordance with the rules of the Church, it is inadmissible for an Orthodox Christian to marry a person of another faith, and also gave concrete advice on problems that arise if such a marriage, nevertheless, has taken place. He also wrote a booklet similar in content called Married to an Unbeliever?

In addition, Fr. Daniel published a book called Why are you still not baptized? in which he examined the typical objections against baptism that one hears from everyday people. For those who are baptized but unchurched, he wrote a booklet called Why One Should Go to Church Every Sunday. For churched people, Fr. Daniel, together with me, wrote On Frequent Communion. Not long before his death, he said to me that his most cherished book was Homilies on the Song of Songs, which is compiled of his Biblical homilies that he gave for many years, explaining the Scriptures on the foundation of the Holy Fathers’ commentary.

Finally, his last book was Instructions for the Immortal or What to do if You Have, Nevertheless, Died. In it he wrote the following words, “The very best death for a Christian, of course, is that of martyrdom for Christ the Savior. It is the greatest death that, in principle, is possible for a person. Some people sent condolences to Optina Monastery after the murder of three monks but, for a Christian, martyrdom, actually, is supreme joy. In the Ancient Church, no condolences were sent when someone was killed somewhere. All the churches immediately sent congratulations. Can you imagine congratulating someone with the fact that they have a new intercessor in Heaven! A martyric death washes away all sins apart from heresy and schism…”

Very many, even among those who were not in agreement with him about some issues, were surprised at and admired his courage. Not long ago, after the funeral, an acquaintance priest called me and said that he saw a video in which Fr. Daniel stands in an auditorium full of Muslims and from the podium he joyfully tells them about Christ and about how Islam, rejecting the God-Man Christ, cannot be true religion. “I just can’t comprehend,” he said to me, “What a heart one must have to simply go and stand among them and speak.”

The video about which he spoke was filmed at the first debate with Muslims. Some Orthodox were not happy with the fact that Fr. Daniel took part in those debates; however, the initiative was not his. Muslims had publicly invited him, and how could a witness of Christ refuse to give an answer for his hope? [1 Peter 3:15] His refusal would have been for them an argument in their propaganda for Islam.

Father Daniel later told me that he was sure that after that first debate he would be killed, and the evening before he felt great fear and worry. During the night he had a vision: He saw himself standing before a labyrinth made up of pebbles, the kind that there are in the north. Walking through the labyrinth in a circle he came to the center where there was an altar, on which laid a sacrifice which had just been killed. He understood that is was an altar of Satan and a sacrifice to him. Father Daniel was gripped with anger and knocked over the altar with his foot. Immediately appeared Satan himself in the form of a joker in a fool’s cap such as is on playing cards. His eyes were filled with wild hatred and he jumped on Fr. Daniel. Batushka started to pray, “Most Holy Mother of God, protect me!,” “Saint Nicholas, help me!,” as well as to other saints, and then something like an invisible wall appeared so that Satan jumped at him but was not able to reach him and bounced back time after time. Seeing this, batushka allowed in a vain thought and at that very moment Satan broke through the invisible wall and grabbed him by the throat. Father Daniel cried out, “Most Holy Mother of God, forgive me, I’ve sinned, save me from him!” Satan then disapearred and Fr. Daniel heard, “You will not lose but neither will you win,” concerning the upcoming debate.

“And that’s how it happened,” Fr. Daniel said to me. He added that after this vision he completely stopped fearing Muslims and their threats, as, after seeing Satan himself and his powerlessness before God, it is impossible to be impacted by any human evil which is always inferior to Satan’s evil.

During the second debate I, together with Fr. Oleg Stenyaev, was an aide to Fr. Daniel. It seemed to me that the debate went well (although, of course, it could have gone better). It is noteworthy that after this debate several Muslims who had helped organize the debates converted to Orthodoxy.

Being himself half Tatar (on his mother’s side), Fr. Daniel paid particular attention to spreading and strengthening Orthodoxy among the Tatar people. He was the first and, it seems, only priest who, with the blessing of his bishop, began to regularly serve molebens partially in the Tatar language for Orthodox Tatars. He also, with his own money, published a prayerbook in Tatar. Together with his aides, he preached at Sabantuy (a Tatar national festival) and at the Tatar cultural center. In Egypt, he preached for hours to his Muslim guide and on television he argued with mufftis about faith.

He acquired a scandalous fame among Muslims, which alarmed and discomforted some Orthodox but not Fr. Daniel. He said that his fame helped in his mission and that was the truth. For, those Muslims who had even a small interest in Christianity learned just who to go to, and they did not err as they were always met by Fr. Daniel with love and had all their questions answered. There were a few Muslims who, having come to him in order to convert him to Islam, as a result were baptized by him.

Among those who call themselves Orthodox, I have met such strange people who say that Fr. Daniel should not preach to Muslims, that one must respect their religion, and that there is no benefit from his preaching. But Fr. Daniel thought, as did the Lord, the Apostles, and all the saints, that one must respect mistaken people but not their mistakes. Truth is one, that which contradicts and negates truth is a lie, and respect for a lie is contempt for the truth. Those who are indifferent to truth cannot understand this simple fact, and, therefore, they did not understand Fr. Daniel, although they might have been obliged to him for their life. Batushka managed to turn to Christ a number of Wahhabi’s, including one Pakistani, who planned on becoming a suicide-bomber, and one woman who had the same plan. Would it really have been better if Fr. Daniel had not preached to those people and they, continuing their previous plans, had blown up an airplane, building, or subway car, maybe even one in which one of Fr. Daniel’s critics had been in?

With even more success, Fr. Daniel preached to Protestants. When he, with the blessing of Metropolitan Vladimir [Ikim, Metropolitan of Tashkent and Central Asia], came to Kyrgizstan together with his missionaries and began to visit Protestant meetings and convert them (even their pastors were among those who were united to Orthodoxy) so that the local leaders of the sects, not being able to oppose his words, made the decision to not allow meetings until Fr. Daniel had left the country. Thus, they tried to prevent him from preaching at their meetings by canceling the meeting itself.

Father Daniel also concerned himself with missions throughout the whole world. He and I traveled two times to Macedonia to preach there among the local schismatics. He also looked into the question of how to preach to Catholics in Western Europe and South America. In December 2009, he had hoped to travel to Thailand to preach in the northern regions. Being a missionary, he loved other missionaries very much and tried to become acquainted with all those who preached Christ, and he helped very many. He donated money for building a church in Indonesia and for educating Orthodox children from poor families in Zimbabwe and was a host to Chinese, Thai, and even Native American Orthodox. With the blessing of Patriarch Alexey II, Fr. Daniel established a school for Orthodox missionaries. In addition, he taught missiology at Nikolo-Perervinsk Theological Seminary.

What is striking is that is active missionary activity did not at all inhibit his parish work and responsibilities. In 2001, he was ordained a priest and in 2006 he built a small wooden church in the south of Moscow in the name of the Apostle Thomas (of which he was the dean). He eventually wanted to build a large basilica in honor of his patron saint, St. Daniel, at the same place. As he told me, the idea to build a basilica came up when he was visiting the Church of St. Demetrius in Thessaloniki.

Every Thursday Fr. Daniel led Bible studies, explaining one chapter from both the Old and New Testaments in the light of the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Every Friday he led catechetical classes, which every adult wanting to be baptized had to attend, and every Sunday he taught Sunday school for children. Wishing that people would better understand the church services, he published texts of the All-Night Vigil and Liturgy, established a rotation of people to hand them out before every service, and also introduced congregational singing. As a result, the parishioners were grateful to be able to finally understand the meaning of what was being sung in church. Batushka served very concentratedly, especially in his final year, and loved to preach. At the service he would preach two or three homilies.

One of my friends, an altar server in Fr. Daniel’s church, told me not long before batushka’s death that he was amazed how, without holding anything back nor with mercy for himself, Fr. Daniel gave himself to other people, especially his parishioners.

He truly did not spare himself. I remember how one day he broke his leg and he was not given a replacement priest. Fr. Daniel, then, with his leg in a cast, went himself and served in spite of the pain. All his parishioners and acquaintances remember Fr. Daniel as cheerful, but few know how often he endured pain and sickness, especially severe headaches and heart pain. Batushka, however, did not show his suffering and was always attentive to the multitude of parishioners, listening to them and giving them advice.

It must be said that batushka never imposed, as a dictator, his views on those around him. He always listened to objections if they were actual and often corrected his views if he saw that they did not coincide with the truth. He often invited me and other people who he trusted to discuss one or another of his thoughts and find out if he was mistaken. If he understood that he was not right then it was not a problem for him to admit it and repudiate his mistake because he valued truth more than his own thought and respected every person around him.

Another particularity, which many thought was one of his faults and which actually originated from his ardent love for the truth, was the categorical manner in which he expressed his ideas. With every issue, batushka strove to reach the truth and if he was able to get to it, he expressed that truth directly and with certainty. In our politically-correct world, such straightforwardness was similar to an acute ray of light piercing through the dark. That honest abruptness appealed to some but for some, on the contrary, it repelled them.

Fr. Daniel was an upright and honest person. He was one of those people that in need one would only need to ask and he would definitely not be refused. For me he was an icon of a priest. All that he did he dedicated to Christ and did in His name.

I also have many personal memories. I remember him visiting me when I was in the hospital, how he brought his daughter, Dorothea, to show me when she was just two or three days old, and how he taught me how to drive a car.

I recall our travels and especially the one to Serbia, from which we returned just a week before his martyric death. During that trip he confessed to me that when it is particularly hard for him or when life’s circumstances seem unbearable, he always felt like he was in an enormous hand, which was leading him through all the troubles.

The final day of Fr. Daniel’s life began with the liturgy which he served and during which, naturally, he communed. Then he baptized a child and united to the Orthodox Church a man who had converted from occultism. A few hours later, as usual, he lead a Bible study, after which he spoke with everyone who desired until late. Finally, when hardly anyone was left in the church, he went into the altar to hear the confession of a spiritual child. At that time the murderer burst into the church and began to shoot and yell, “Where’s Sysoyev?” Without fear, Fr. Daniel came out of the altar to meet him and accepted a martyric end for Christ.

I remember that batushka many times talked about how the Gospel readings read at the church services are not accidental and that they always turn out to be, to our amazement, timely and appropriate.

On the day of his death, the Gospel reading contained the following words of the Lord, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. … Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. [Luke 12:4, 8]

As His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill said in his condolences on the death of Fr. Daniel, “The Lord called to Himself His faithful servant, having given him the possibility to be a confessor of faith and martyr for the work of spreading the Gospel.”

Introduction to the conversations
About a week before the tragedy in the Church of the Apostle Thomas, Fr. Daniel and I travelled around Serbia. It was his first trip to that Orthodox country and it quite impressed and fascinated him. I remember how happy he was when we, just having landed, visited Krushedol Monastery, where lie the relics of St. Angelina, the patron saint of his youngest daughter. I remember how he insisted that we visit Sremski Karlovci, a beautiful little European city, which, is seems, has hardly changed in the last hundred years. I remember how at night we wandered around Kalemegdan, the Belgrade fortress, and, under a drizzling rain, went down to the church, leaving behind the towers and walls glowing against the dark sky.

During that trip, Fr. Daniel and I gave two interviews. The first was by the invitation of Ms. Jana Todorovic for the “Church” program of November 11, 2009, on Radio Belgrade 2. We were interviewed by Dushanka Zekovich. Afterwards she gave Fr. Daniel a disk with a recording of the interview. Father Daniel offered it to me and said, “If you want it, take it. I used to keep such things but then stopped.”

I took the disk and when I got home I put it together with my other presents from Serbia. And a week later shots were heard in the Church of the Apostle Thomas and Fr. Daniel was no longer among us: he accepted a martyric death for Christ and went to that Celestial Fatherland to which he strove his whole life.

After the burial of my cherished spiritual friend, with whom I was acquainted more than ten years, I found that disk and typed out our interview, which is one of his last, given eight days before his murder. And I myself was surprised at how closely it relates to that which happened. There were two main topics in the interview: Orthodox missions and the death of a Christian. It is striking how Fr. Daniel talked about this with joy and confidence as though he was speaking of it already from the other world, as an eyewitness.

We gave the second interview on the same day in the evening to Stanoje Stankovich of Svetosavlje.org. We were interviewed in a room in the parish house of the majestic Church of St. Savva, where we had been graciously invited to stay, with the blessing of Bishop Atanasije of Hvostanski.

That which Fr. Daniel said in the interview could probably be called a type of summation. He set forth the system of missions and catechism which developed from his wide-ranging practical experience and familiarized the Serbian readers with a look at the modern condition of Orthodox missions, formed upon the foundation of interaction with other missionaries of our Church. He also gave spiritual advice to missionaries, analyzed mistakes and problems, spoke of the Biblical foundation of missions, and responded to the opponents of missions. In addition, there was, naturally, a look at other contemporary challenges which the Orthodox Church is confronting.

And, of course, as in the other interview given on the same day, like a premonition was talk of death, which is “not over the mountains but over the shoulder,” and for which we must always be prepared.

For which he was fully prepared.

“And angels carry us on their wings to Heaven…”

Dusanka Zekovic: Today our guests are Fr. Daniel Sysoyev, writer, missionary, and dean of the Church of the Apostle Thomas in Moscow, and Yuri Maximov, a professor at Moscow Theological Academy, which is in the Monastery of St. Sergius of Radonezh. The first question is for Mr. Maximov: What is the current situation of inter-religious dialogue in the space of Great Russia, especially between Orthodox Christianity and Islam?

Yuri Maximov: In Russia, Muslims make up 9% of the population and they are of very different types of people. In history and in the present, relations between them and Orthodox people were both good and bad. You are aware that in recent years there were two major conflicts in the Caucuses: the first and second Chechen wars. At first, the situation was very similar to that in Kosovo, and it is not necessary to tell in detail to Serbs what that means and what suffering it brings. And although we won the second Chechen War and Chechnya remained a part of Russia, the relationship between Orthodox and Muslims sometimes becomes strained. Of course there are different types of Muslims and here, in my opinion, is a type of rule: If a Muslim is not that educated in his faith, then he is more likely a good person, but if a Muslim relates seriously to the source of his faith and studies its instructions and tries to put them into practice, then often it is particularly from such people that extremists come. That is a question and a challenge: how should we live in a world with such people? And how can the Church respond to that challenge? The Lord made it such that they live in those lands and we live together with them. It is impossible (and unnecessary) to relocate them or remove them in some other way. The Lord opens us up another way: to preach the Gospel to them and make them Orthodox Christians. For example, Fr. Daniel Sysoyev, who is here with us, at one time converted a woman to Orthodoxy who was being prepared to become a suicide bomber. But she was baptized and became a good Christian, who does not feel anger to anyone and does not plan to blow up anyone. Such an amazing miracle does the Lord perform: a way thanks to which our enemies can become our brothers. We try to preach to Muslims and many of them respond and become Orthodox.

Dusanka Zekovic: The next question is for Fr. Daniel. When we in Serbia speak about Russia, we speak of it before perestroika and after perestroika. Tell us, please, what presently, after those changes, is the spiritual reality in Russia?

Father Daniel: I think that currently a stratification of society is taking place in Russia. Some people choose Orthodoxy while others, knowing of Orthodoxy, reject faith and reject Christ. This is the type of division taking place, such as there was not before, during the time of perestroika. One of the main positive changes in the life of the Church is that it began to actively be involved in missionary activity.

Dusanka Zekovic: What is implied by missionary activity? Here in Serbia, people of other faiths say that the Orthodox Church is static, that it is insufficiently missionary, and that it participates too little in people’s social problems.

Father Daniel: When we talk about the fact that the Church must be missionary, we remember that the Savior Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, commanded all Christians to preach the Gospel to all people without exception. And, therefore, the Church is obligated to take the Word of God to all people. The Church must be active and not static, and that which is happening in the Russian Church is evidence that it is returning to its apostolic roots. Hundreds of priests and lay persons of our Church preach on the streets, go to the meetings of sectarians, and go to mosques and many then turn to Christ. I think that all of the Orthodox Churches must go and proclaim the Gospel to people. We should not be content with what we already have. Christ has very many sheep which we still have not found. Right now I have studying at my parish a family of Muslims from the Caucuses who wants to be baptized and they said to me, “Why did not you, Orthodox priests, come to our ancestors? Why did they not know about this truth? Why did we never hear about it in Dagestan?”

It often seems to us that we cannot do anything, but this is not so. The Orthodox Church can and does do very much for conversions. Some say that the Lord Himself leads people into the Orthodox Church. Yes, the Lord Himself leads people but through us, and if we lead a person to baptism then we cover a multitude of sins as the Apostle James said. We receive an enormous award in the Heavenly Kingdom if we turn people to repentance. Furthermore, when the Church preaches the Gospel to those outside itself, even to those of other nations, then the Church itself is rejuvenated, strengthened, and flourishes because the Holy Spirit then gives it strength in order to carry out missions also among its own people.

Some say, “First convert your own people then go to others,” but the Lord did not say that. If we have a neighbor who is a Muslim, Catholic, or Protestant why are they still not Orthodox? For we know that outside the Church there is no salvation, and those people, if they do not come into the Orthodox Church will perish forever, they will go into the eternal fire. We had an issue with Chechnya and some ask, “How can we preach to Chechens?” But I say that a Chechen who finds Christ becomes a better Christian than a normal person from a traditional Orthodox family. I had an acquaintance who was a Chechen Wahhabite and he came to me to convert me to Islam. We decided to examine where the truth is. Over the course of two months I told him about Christianity and afterwards he asked me, “And why haven’t you offered to baptize me?” I said, “If you believe you can be baptized,” and he was baptized. His name is now Alexander.

Dusanka Zekovic: What is the Church’s solution for the social problems in Russia, which, I think, it has in common with those in Serbia? For we know that many have become very rich, unjustly rich, and, on the other hand, there are many poor people. A person is not just a soul but also a body, so how do we help poor people? Is it missionary activity to turn to some rich person and convince him to help the poor?

Father Daniel: Of course, every priest comes in contact with both very rich people and very poor people. And, truly, missions in the Church also includes social help. In Moscow there is a hospital which the Church maintains with the help of, among others, the wealthy. There are several dozen Orthodox orphanages in Russia. The Church looks after hospitals; every hospital in Moscow has Orthodox volunteers. And in many ways, thanks to the Moscow priest Fr. Arkady Shatov, very man rich people help the poor. There is a complete system for such help. In addition, all the nursing homes are looked after by the Church. Many of our volunteers visit the poor. And, of course, the Church opposes injustices which take place in society. Both Patriarch Alexey and Patriarch Kirill have many times asked the rich to support the poor, and their request was heard. As a result, thanks to the Church, many people receive help, necessary for the body.

Dusanka Zekovic: Before me is a book of Fr. Daniel Sysoyev which is named Instructions for the Immortal, or What to do if You Have, Nevertheless, Died. Tell us, father, what are those instructions?

Father Daniel: The Orthodox Church not only knows that the soul of man is immortal but also knows how death happens, how to correctly prepare for death, and what happens after death. I think it is best to start with how to prepare for death. We, all of us, know that we will die, maybe tomorrow. And it is important to have a place to which to go, that we have a house beyond the grave. That house we build with our good deeds. With the help of acts of mercy we transfer treasure to that house. When we are a friend to people, when we ask them for prayers, and, more so, when we turn them to Orthodoxy, then we have people who will be our defenders on that road. Of course, we must perform every deed in the name of Christ or else it will not have any value. But, at the same time, we must strive so that those close to us help us when we die. It is especially important that our relatives invite a priest to visit us before our death. It often happens that someone is dying and their relatives do not even invite a priest to confess and commune them and people leave for eternity without preparation. Therefore, I advise all to include the following clause in their will: “If the heirs did not invite a priest to visit me before death then they do not receive any inheritance.”

When a person dies he is met by angels. The angels of God help a person while demons attack him and intimidate him. Two weeks ago I was with a person as they were dying and I saw how demons were attacking him. This is not a joke, it is truly so. Only the Orthodox faith, the power of the cross, and, especially, Holy Communion can protect such a person. Therefore, if after death demons attack you, cross yourself and say “Lord Jesus, help!” and particularly ask the Most Holy Mother of God. She quickly protects from the demons. And then, after death, rise up to heaven, not concerning yourself with the earth, and run quickly to God, then the demons cannot attack you. The demons detain those at the toll houses who are attached to the earth, those who think too much about the earthly. If a person has striven for God his whole life then he will not even notice their attack. But remember that the demons will trick you with the help of the sin of vanity. To Macarius the Great, when he was rising up, the demons said, “you have conquered us! you have conquered us!” But he answered, “Not quite yet,” and only when he had entered the gates of paradise did he say, “now I have conquered you with the power of Jesus Christ.” Just the same do we need to prepare early and get in the disposition not to boast and be captured there. When you get into paradise, and I want all our listeners to end up in paradise, go to your beloved saints. Therefore, while still on the earth make friends with them, with St. Savva, St. Paraskeva, St. Nicholas, and, in this case, they may even approach you after death. And then, when you bow down to God, He sends you to look at hell, because often we think that sin is sweet and pleasant, but the Lord says, “Look at how it ends.” Therefore, the Church fervently prays for people during the 40 days following their death, because at that time is the final trial for the soul. Close ones can help during this time with both the giving of alms and reading of the Psalter-I think that all our listeners know this but to repeat it is never superfluous. Some of our close ones act incorrectly: they spend too much money on funeral feasts when it would be better to give that money to the poor who would then pray for the reposed. Those whom we have brought to Orthodoxy will, of course, especially pray for us. For example, those former Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Protestants who became Orthodox thanks to us. And angels will carry us to heaven on their wings. Remember that life is a school and paradise is a university. And true life begins after the Final Judgment. Therefore, I hope that we will prepare well to be able to live eternally in joy.

Dusanka Zekovic: And how can one earn paradise?

Father Daniel: Jesus Christ has earned paradise for us. Without the death on the Cross of the Savior, we would all end up in hell. And so all those who are currently unbaptized will end up in hell because they did not receive help from the Cross of the Lord. We receive salvation as a gift through baptism but assimilate it for ourselves, that is, make it our own through good deeds. And we receive strength for good deeds through the Eucharist, which we need to partake of as often as we can-not more than once a day but not less that once a month.

Dusanka Zekovic: Thank you for these instructions for immortality; and now I would like to ask Mr. Maximov about the meaning and necessity of missionary activity in the modern world.

Yuri Maximov: I would like to start with a short story from the ancient life of the Holy Apostle Thomas. It says that when the apostles chose lots for which lands they should go to, the Apostle Thomas picked the lot for India and he was very upset and said, “Lord, anywhere at all, just not India.” He did not at all want to go to such a far away, unfamiliar land in order to preach the Word of God. The Lord Jesus Christ then appeared to the captain of a ship, which was going to India, and said, “I am selling you My servant whose name is Thomas.” The captain found the apostle and asked, “Are you a servant of Jesus Christ?” “Yes,” answered the apostle. And then the captain said, “Your master sold you to me so follow me.” So he had to go and, as a servant of the captain, set off for India. In this way, having ended up in India against his will, the apostle began to preach, fell in love with the people, and turned many souls to Christ. This story has something in common with the newest history of the Orthodox Church. In the first thousand years it had many missions, but in the latest hundred years Orthodox Christians preached very little or hardly at all. In the 19th century there were even theologians who wrote as if the Orthodox should not preach to anyone. And look what the Lord did in the 20th century: for absolutely every Orthodox Church, He created such conditions that we were forced to go to other countries. Russians, Serbians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Georgians, and Orthodox Arabs were all forced, as a result of one or another misfortune or trouble in their homeland, to spread out over the planet. In such a way the Lord acted with us just as He did with the Apostle Thomas.

You have probably heard how in our times Serbian priests in South Africa preached to the local population. There it was such that white people lived separate from black people and even Orthodox white people were afraid to go to black peoples’ areas. But the Serbian priests were not afraid and went to a school where black children studied, told them about Orthodoxy, and after a year and a half the whole school became Orthodox. Officially the director made such a decision, supported by the children and their parents. This is a great work which shows that missions are possible.

It is well known that many people right now are experiencing depression, weariness, and disillusionment with life and its senselessness. This results from the fact that we do not fulfill the commandments of God. Therefore, the power of God and joy of God does not enter into us. But when we begin to carry out the commandments of God, one of which is to preach the Gospel, then enormous spiritual joy and inspiration comes to us. Everyone can verify this with their own experience-If you preach not for your own sake, not for your own vanity, but for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ then you will be given such a joy.

Dusanka Zekovic: With that wonderful call we conclude our conversation with our dear guests, the first of which is the writer and missionary Fr. Daniel Sysoyev, and the second of which is Yuri Maximov, professor at Moscow Theological Academy.

No comment necessary.

Islamists claim killing of Russian priest

Russian Orthodox believers light candles in memory of slain Orthodox priest Daniil Sysoyev at the murder site in the church where he served, in Moscow, on November 20. An Islamist militant group based in Russia's North Caucases has claimed the killing of Sysoyev who was an outspoken critic of Islam.

Russian Orthodox believers light candles in memory of slain Orthodox priest Daniil Sysoyev at the murder site in the church where he served, in Moscow, on November 20. An Islamist militant group based in Russia’s North Caucases has claimed the killing of Sysoyev who was an outspoken critic of Islam.

AFP – An Islamist militant group based in Russia’s North Caucases has claimed the killing last month of an Orthodox priest who was an outspoken critic of Islam.

“One of our brothers who has never been to the Caucases took up the oath of (former independent Chechen president Doku Umarov) and expressed his desire to execute the damned Sysoyev,” said a statement on the Kavkazcenter.com website.

Daniil Sysoyev, 35, was killed on November 20 when masked gunman walked into Saint Thomas’s church in southern Moscow and shot him four times.

Doku Umarov emerged as the leader of the remaining active rebel movements in the North Caucases in 2007 and is considered enemy number one in the region by Russian authorities.

The statement on the Kavkazcenter.com website, which is often used by militants, accused Sysoyev of writing several pamphlets insulting Islam.

It warned “those in the future who defame Islam and insult the religion of Allah will suffer the fate as Sysoyev.”

Sysoyev, who was criticised by Muslim organisations for his statements on Islam, had reportedly contacted Russian security services several times over threats. Source

The Fly and the Bee

A little parable that I believe all of us in general and especially in the “blogosphere” should dwell upon.

A few people came to an elder and said, “Such and such a priest charges a lot of money for a sacrament, such and such smokes a lot and goes to the coffee bar, another is amoral (and then present evidence.)”

The elder then says to them, “I have realized from experience that in this life people are separated into two categories. A third category does not exist: you will either be in one or in the other.

Thus, one category of people are like a fly. The fly has the following particularities: it flies everywhere and lands on everything that is dirty. For example, if there are many fragrant flowers in a lawn while in the corner some animal has defecated, the fly, flying over the beautiful yard, passes over the flowers and does not land on one. Only when he sees the excrement does he immediately descend, sits on it and begins to dig into it, delighting in the stench that begins with his digging, and he is not able to tear himself away.

The other category of people are like a bee. The particularity of the bee is that it finds that which is beautiful and sweet and alights on it. Picture that in in a building full of excrement someone put a lucuma in the corner. If you brought a fly to that building it would fly around, not landing anywhere, until it found the lucuma.

Well then, imagine two people who belong to those two categories walking down the street. And they come upon a place where some other person has “taken care of their needs.” How does the person from the first category act? He takes a stick and begins to pick at the excrement. And what does the person from the second category do? He tries to cover up the excrement with dirt so that other passersby would not smell the stench coming from the filth…”

From the book “From the Life of the Elders (Wisdom of the Righteous) or Soul-profitable Reading” Source

Update: I found out that this is a variation on a saying of Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos such as can be found here. If his is the original I have not been able to find out.

Second Priest of the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Moscow Attacked

On September 5, 2009, at approximately 4 p.m., Fr. Vitaly Zubkov, the second priest at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Moscow (where recently martyred Fr. Daniel Sysoyev served) was attacked by three unidentified persons while he was walking down the street (dressed in his cassock) on his way to serve the Vigil service at his church.

“I fell and they started to kick my legs, and I can barely walk. Then they started to hit me in the head,” said Fr. Vitaly. According to him, the attack was carried out in “absolute silence.” He did not manage to notice if the attackers were in masks. “I cannot say; I was walking, thinking, and praying and, all of a sudden, a blow. To be honest, I didn’t understand,” he added.

Father Vitaly connects this incident with the tragedy of not long ago: the murder of his friend, Fr. Daniel Sysoyev. “I think that this is some kind of continuation. Because I spoke on various programs, and my first interview was rather harsh-I was in shock from the loss of a friend,” he said.

On Sunday, Fr. Vitaly served liturgy at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle. He said that he “did not have such serious injuries” to consult a doctor. Source

More proof that, if you haven’t been already, you should pray for the safety and courage of our priests.

The Power of Love and Not Force – Interview with Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov

During the patriarchal ministry of Patriarch Alexey II a completely new task stood before the Church: to learn to be self-sufficient and be independent in relationship to the government. According to Archpriest Vladimir Vorobyov, the rector of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Humanitarian University, not one patriarch of Russia had so much work to do. Until Patriarch Alexey’s time, the Russian Church had long been called the “Church of silence” in the West. In his time the Church began to speak with its full voice.

– What role does the patriarch have in the Orthodox Church? There were, as you know, times when there was no patriarch.

– The Church is a living organism, and, just as every organism, it goes through historical periods in its development: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and maturity. In the first centuries of Christianity, when the Church had only just coming out of its cradle in Jerusalem, there was not such a developed structure as there is now. The first Local Churches, in essence, were diocesan in our understanding or simply communities: the community of Ephesus, of Antioch, of Corinth, etc. All of those communities had their own bishops. The Revelation of St. John the Theologian has a greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor; it is written, “unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write… Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…” (Rev. 2:18, 2:1). The “angel of the church” here is the bishop, the head of the city’s Christian community. The bishop served one liturgy for the whole city, and all the Christians of the city communed at one eucharistic gathering.

The Church is a living organism, and, just as every organism, it goes through historical periods in its development: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and maturity. In the first centuries of Christianity, when the Church had only just coming out of its cradle in Jerusalem, there was not such a developed structure as there is now. The first Local Churches, in essence, were diocesan in our understanding or simply communities: the community of Ephesus, of Antioch, of Corinth, etc. All of those communities had their own bishops. The Revelation of St. John the Theologian has a greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor; it is written, “unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write… Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…” (Rev. 2:18, 2:1). The “angel of the church” here is the bishop, the head of the city’s Christian community. The bishop served one liturgy for the whole city, and all the Christians of the city communed at one eucharistic gathering.

But when the times of persecution were over and masses of people and whole states turned to Christianity, the church structure, which to a certain degree copied the governmental structure, came into existence. This imitation was reflected in many ways, for example in the garments of bishops and priests; episcopal and priestly vestments contain elements of royal vestments; for example, a mitre is a crown. Canons appeared according to which bishops of different dioceses were called to be subordinate to each other, and to have the first among them without whose agreement nothing could be done. That is, a “vertical power,” as they would say today, appeared but with the following reservation: that power in the Church is a power of love and not force. Although, even Apostle Paul says to his disciple the Apostle Timothy, “preach the word, Be ready… Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2), that is insist.[1] It turns out that the bishop does have a few elements of the power of force (insist, rebuke) because the Church has a divine nature while at the same time having both a divine and a human element. The human nature of the Church needed a hierarchical structure of power and so it was gradually developing: the so-called Local Churches arose which are connected to a particular territory. Every Church today functions in this way whether it is headed by an Archbishop, Metropolitan, or Patriarch, to whom are subjected bishops, to whom are subjected communities headed by priests.

There was a period in the history of the Russian Church when there was not a patriarch. In the beginning of the 18th century, Peter I did not allow for a new patriarch to be chosen in place of Patriarch Adrian, who died in 1700, and put in his place the Holy Synod (a collective agency of bishops and an ober-procurator-the representative of the government) as some sort of “ministry of Orthodoxy.” In effect, the tsar himself stood in the place of the Patriarch: that which he directed, through the ober-procurator, the Synod to do, they were obliged to carry out.

The Church needs a head just as does every organism: in every family there must be a head, in every organization there must be a director, and even at every gathering there must be a chairman. A head is needed for management and coordination so that an organism can carry out a normal life. When the head is changed for an impersonal institution, it may lose initiative, independence, and, to a considerable extent, responsibility, because responsibility is spread out over a certain “collective.” But, as you know, every bishop and, even more so, every patriarch is burdened with immense responsibility and always acts according to his conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in man’s heart. It is possible, of course, to speak of a conciliar hierarchical conscience. When there are councils of bishops and they sing together “the grace of the Holy Spirit today has assembled us”[2] we believe and hope that the voice of God will sound in the heart of every bishop and that they together will be able to proclaim the Truth, pronounced to them by God. But arranging such a council is not easy, and it is the council’s decision that choses a patriarch or primate of the Church for the time between the councils to govern church life, so to say, “not leave the helm unmanned,” for, as history shows, even for the most mobile synod it is impossible. In essence, during the time of the Holy Synod, it was the ober-procurator who turned out to be at the helm.

– During the time of Patriarch Alexey, the Church acquired influence on society. At the same time people have misgivings that the Church became dangerously close to the state. How did Patriarch Alexey see the relationship between the Church and the state?

– The phrase “became dangerously close to the state” is blurted out by people who still live with the psychology of the Soviet man. If one considers that the state is atheist, it wittingly is an enemy of the Church, and that every approach to such a state means that the KGB will penetrate into the Church, then, of course, any kind of cooperation is dangerous. But in our state atheism has already for a long time not been the official state ideology, and we see that representatives of the highest administrations are often believers; the security agencies do not interfere in Church business. Furthermore, the Church itself even as the early as 1990s refused to take part in the organs of power; clergy, for example, cannot be elected to the Duma. Where is this dangerous approach to the state? What does it consist of?

When the Church collaborates with the state in spying, politics, and military projects it is truly dangerous for the Church. But if the Church has a common interest with the state in the fields of charity, health-care, education, and peace-making how can collaboration be bad? Why not use the enormous potential of the Church for good deeds, why should we not help care for the elderly and orphans and help the poor? For example, there is the Hospital of St. Alexey of Moscow which was given to the Church by the state, which also partially finances its activity. Is this collaboration of the Church and state? Without a doubt it is. But what is bad in this type of collaboration? The state has allowed for the building of private Orthodox schools and gymnasiums and, if they are accredited, then, in Moscow, the government will give money to those schools just as to regular schools. What is bad in this? Where is the danger here? Today the state does not interfere in the inner life of the Church, in its direction. As a priest I can say that with complete responsibility. An enormous deed of the deceased Patriarch Alexey is that new relationship, in which we live, between the Church and the state, which he constantly built and improved and left us as an inheritance the ability to further work in that direction and to further perfect this relationship.

– Patriarch Alexey considered the dialogue with society to be one of his most important tasks. What in that dialogue was most important to him?

– In his public activity, Patriarch Alexey, after decades of silence of the Church during persecution, showed again that the Church brings to the people good news of God, love, goodness, and salvation and proclaims the moral law instituted by God. People’s salvation in eternal life and help in this earthly life is the activity of the Church. For this purpose, it is necessary that the voice of the Church be heard so that society would know about the Church, so that the Church would not be isolated, and so that the Church would be, to use juridical language, a completely public institution, which fully has the capability to express its opinion, to speak out, and to witness to truth and goodness.

Patriarch Alexey encouraged all of the bishops and clergy to have “a good report of them which are without,” as the Apostle Paul says (I Tim. 3:7). That does not mean that we have to be somehow insincere or curry favor before those without. At the liturgy, the bishop proclaims the words of the Savior, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Patriarch Alexey lived just that way and called his whole Russian flock to live that way. The duty of the Church is to witness to the truth. Christ commanded this duty to the Church, and this is its mission. In and of itself witness to the truth has an immense significance for this world because the world lays in evil and evil is the devil, about whom it says in the Gospel that he is “a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). Evil always acts through lying. Therefore, to speak the truth is the first duty of the Church.

The Church must condemn sin and not indifferently observe as people drink, steal, and kill each other, destroy themselves with narcotics, break up families with infidelity, and so on. As one of the worst sins, Christ named indifference, lukewarmness. Can a father not care when his children are taught evil? If he does not care, it means that he does not love his children. If he loves them, he will not allow someone to teach them to steal or drink. Patriarch Alexey, as a loving father, bitterly suffered over the degradation of the Russian people and constantly spoke out against the corruption of the youth, bacchanalian sins, the commercial exploitation of vices in our country, and the worldwide freedom for evil, which now so often is hidden under the cover of “human rights.” I remind you of his presentation in Strasbourg in October 2007 at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.[3]

– How, in your opinion, did Patriarch Alexey manage to maintain a benevolent relationship with the authorities?

– Patriarch Alexey was a good, loving, and wise man. When he saw good in people, he always appreciated it. But if he saw evil, he never assented to it. In order to speak the truth courage is necessary, and the governmental officials respected this courage in the patriarch. Here is a very vivid example. During the war with Georgia, our patriarch was abroad, and, having learned what was happening, he at once called the warring sides to, without any conditions, immediately lay down their arms and cease shedding blood. He told both sides, not entering into the political problems of his government.

Patriarch Alexey, with great dignity, represented the Church, not entering into any compromising relationships, but formed his relationships with the state so that there was no damage to the authority of the Church. That, I think, is one of his greatest deeds.

– Today, thanks to documentaries about the patriarch, we have found out more than we expected: it turns out that Patriarch Alexey loved animals and to collect mushrooms. These details allow both the faithful as well as society more thoroughly and less officially to imagine the personality of the primate of our Church. What is your opinion as to what extent, in general, that the patriarch should be known by society, that is, his private life, to what extent should he be a figure open to the public?

– I think that it is good when a patriarch is open to people and society. But there is a particular difficulty here: a patriarch is a man who is vested with much authority; he is a spiritual leader and a father, and to him are directed a large amount of people’s requests, complaints, and sorrows. If we “give the patriarch to the people,” what will happen? Therefore, we have to guard him, and sometimes also bishops and priests, especially elderly ones, who have much authority, because a man can simply not endure such a burden. This is not because he is fleeing his people; he was always turned to the people with love and preached, and, when he could, always tried to comfort, respond to, and receive them. He worked without rest, as long as he had the strength; he mercilessly treated himself but strength runs out; there are [only] 24 hours in a day. Even Christ, as the Gospels witness to, sometimes went to a mountain to pray in solitude.

– A patriarch is a pastor but also an administrator, directing the Church. To what degree is a patriarch required to be a manager?

– A patriarch directing the Church must, of course, have corresponding capabilities and talent. But he is also given divine help. To be an administrator is very difficult and one tires from such work-I know from experience. One time at one of our meetings he asked me, “How are you doing?” I answered, “Your Holiness, it is so difficult to manage. Administrative work is something without grace, it takes away all ones strength.” The patriarch smiled and very tenderly said, “No, Fr. Vladimir, to manage people is also a charisma.” That is, it is a grace-filled gift. And that grace-filled gift is given to the patriarch, by the prayers of the Church, when he is enthroned. I think such an explanation is more fitting of a patriarch than the concept of a manager.

– In your opinion, what traits must a first hierarch have? What qualities are most important for the service of a patriarch?

– The most important quality is holiness, that is, faith, love, and selflessness. If a patriarch has devotion to God and the Church, selfless love, and the readiness to give himself over to the service of God and the Church, then the Lord with his grace will supply that which is missing. Our patriarch clearly displayed this!

– What was the particular mission of Patriarch Alexey, considering that the Church acquired a new status, it became free, during his primacy? And what struck you the most in Patriarch Alexey?

– He was truly a great patriarch-great in his personal spiritual scale. He was a man with an acute mind, high culture, noble Orthodox education, and a huge experience of archpastoral activity. In his personality, we see the combination of a great office, a great podvig, and a great soul. His personal traits were love, openness towards people, and joyfulness.

The Lord, through the patriarch’s hands, re-established our Church in its magnificence. He restored the religious life of our people and returned their faith to them. Of course, however, not yet completely. We would like that our people believed more [fervently]. But this is certainly not that same time as it was upon the arrival of Patriarch Alexey on the patriarchal throne.

The most important thing in a man’s life, as it seems to me, is to come across someone holy in their life. My spiritual father said, “Christianity should not be spoken about or proved but shown.” If the Lord allows one to see a holy person, then everything immediately becomes understandable and evident. Patriarch Alexey was a person who showed faith in God to the people. And the people returned to the faith, they started to go to Church. Not one patriarch in the history of the Russian Church did as much as Patriarch Alexey. He traveled around so many dioceses, blessed so many churches and monasteries, ordained so many bishops priests and deacons… And thus, having traveled around the whole country, he turned it to be able to see the Church. “We need to find a path to the church” were his favorite words. And he was showing this path to the people. Looking at him and loving him, the people went to church.

Patriarch Alexey headed the restoration and building of churches and monasteries, seminaries and Orthodox education in general, the re-building of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the canonization of new martyrs and confessors of Russia at the jubilee council of the Russian Orthodox Church [2000 A.D.], and, last of all, the unification of the two parts of the Russian Church which had separated for many decades. All of that together would seem to be inconceivable, absolutely beyond one’s strength, and unfeasible. But the grace of God, which was acting so evidently through Patriarch Alexey, was giving him the strength and worked a miracle.

It is necessary also to mention another extremely important deed of Patriarch Alexey, which is often unjustly ignored: he firmly directed a course towards a eucharistic revival in the Russian Orthodox Church. Up to Patriarch Alexey’s time, it was common almost everywhere to partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ very rarely, and people were not given communion on Nativity, Theophany, and Pascha at all. Patriarch Alexey, from the first day of his patriarchal ministry to the last, whenever he had the strength, himself communed everyone who strived to come to him to the very last person. He blessed people to commune often as well as on the feasts, and during the celebration of the divine liturgy he recited all prayers aloud. At some point, probably from over tiredness, he started to have problems with his voice and microphones began to be used. Due to that, probably not without God’s Providence, everyone who was standing in the church could hear the patriarch reading the priestly prayers in the altar and he was reading them in an absolutely marvelous way: with unusual simplicity, magnificence, and with some sort of inexpressibly beautiful intonation. Thus, the patriarchal liturgy became accessible, in much more fullness, to all the worshippers.

Of course, the most wonderful and unforgettable image, which will remain in my heart forever, is the way he celebrated the liturgy. In his every word was a prayer. He said nothing for appearances, as often happens with the clergy. He put his heart in the the words of his prayer. And the service became wonderfully exalted, moving, spiritual, noble, and lofty. It is impossible to express in words. Patriarch Alexey is an example of how we should celebrate the liturgy. As a whole, he struck everyone with his genuine magnificence; in him were shown the greatness and dignity of the Russian Church. Yet, Patriarch Alexey conversed with anyone in such a simple, natural, tender, friendly, and respectful manner that it seemed as if he was raising up the person to himself, not putting them down but elevating them. When I would come into his office feeling, naturally, nervous, the next moment everything would become so simple and easy, and I would talk to him as to my father, sincerely and without fear. He was very glad when someone asked him pastoral questions.

In many cases, Patriarch Alexey had to look at some problem in a new way and it was not easy when there was already some conventional understanding of the issue. To do that, one has to be open-minded, to refuse the already established view, and to sense the will of God. All of this is possible only for a spiritual person.

The Church also has its own problems which must be solved. Patriarch Alexey did very much so that such problematic issues were raised, so that they were not suppressed. It was difficult sometimes. I remember when we started our institute [4], we wanted to name one of the departments as missionary. We were told, “It is forbidden to pronounce the word ‘mission’!” And this was already the 1990s. “Name the department ‘catechetical’ as this word is not understandable.” And presently this is allowed, we now have a missionary department. This seems funny now but such a reality was truly the case. Our Church had long been called the “Church of silence” in the West. After decades of persecution we lost the habit of speaking, we were afraid. But Patriarch Alexey was not afraid. He removed those bans, and the Church began to talk, under him, with her full voice.

Dmitry Rebrov and Maria Abushkina

[1. The Slavonic and Russian Synodal Bibles have “insist in season and out of season.”]

[2. From the verses on Lord I Have Cried for Vespers of Palm Sunday.]

[3. see: http://www.coe.int/t/dc/files/pa_session/sept_2007/20071002_disc_patriarche_en.asp ]

[4. St. Tikhon’s University was raised from the status of institute to university in 2005.]

Source

The Final Interview with Father Daniel Sysoyev: Hasten to Heaven!

The following short interview (if one question comprises an interview I will not argue with as that is how it is stated in the original) is from the November issue of “Neskuchnyi Sad,” a popular mission- and social-oriented Orthodox magazine. Source.

Citizens of heaven were what the Christians of the pagan Roman Empire called themselves when the Church was persecuted by patriots of Rome. Today in Russia patriotism still is often opposed to Christianity, although the Church and the State are not fighting one another. Father Daniel Sysoyev of the Church of St. Thomas in Moscow reflects on the situations in which patriotism contradicts Christianity and those in which it supplements it.

Where is a Christian’s homeland, the cares of which his heart must be overflowing with? Where is the place that Orthodox can call home? In recent years, I have heard a lot of discourse on this subject. As a homeland we have been offered Russia, the Soviet Union, and America, the “the land of liberty.” In the name of the people or the state, we are offered to consent to a crime or dedicate our life to the service of the fatherland, the nation. It is suggested that we consider the well being of that land where we were fated to be born or where our ancestors were born to be the greatest value, and we are reproached with the question of why the Church “does not fight for the rights of the people,” or, on the other hand, they write that “the Church always served Russia” (from the banner of a suburban Moscow church). Instead of all of this I suggest to return to words of Scripture which have been forgotten by many, “…here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our only and eternal Homeland is heaven. Our Father lives there, our fellow citizens, the saints, are there, the Church will find there eternal peace after a long war with the devil.

We are not nationalists for in Christ and in His Church there are no nations. As Russians and Tartars and Jews and Americans we have become one new people of the Covenant. We pray and worry so as to lead as many people as possible into the Celestial Home. We are not patriots of the earth, for we remember the words of St. Gregory the Theologian. “And these earthly countries and families are the playthings of this our temporary life and scene.  For our country is whatever each may have first occupied, either as tyrant, or in misfortune; and in this we are all alike strangers and pilgrims, however much we may play with names” (Oration 33). We are striving for the New Jerusalem and only with its interests in mind do we bring our actions into correlation.

Uranopolitans are members of the Body of Christ, which exceeds kinship of language and unity according to citizenship by state, and that is why the interests of the Universal Church are more important for us than any remaining interests. Only the one who has become a true citizen of heaven is capable of true freedom, about which the Savior said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are no longer obliged to think in unison with this passing world. We should not consider that society, the nation, or the state is more important than an individual. This is not so; when all the nations disappear, when all the kingdoms of the world collapse, we will live in the flesh in our Homeland. The state is created by God for us and not us for the state. The nations, the result of the condemnation of Babylon, will vanish, but all those people that they are composed of will remain, those whom our Heavenly Father commanded us to love as ourselves.

We honor the authority established by the Creator and follow those laws which do not contradict the will of God, but never will we give it that worship which is only befitting of God.

Only the uranopolitans can carry out the commandment of the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16). How can the Christian nationalist, Christian patriot, Christian liberal, etc. (in short, all those “Christian and…”) always rejoice? Ideology says to him, “How can you rejoice in God when your people are suffering? The fatherland is in danger, the nation is losing its age-old habitation, the state is violating your rights and you are happy? The only escape for him is to become an uranopolitan. Only here is that joy about which the Savior spoke, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also… I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 14:3, 16:22). And then all the troubles of the earth for him will become unimportant. Then, if your people suffer, you will see in it the just hand of God and help those of one tongue as you to find the Punishing and Merciful Judge. But at the same time you will remember that there is only one people to whom you belong in truth: the people of God, a peculiar people, taken out of darkness into the marvelous light of God (see 1 Peter 2:9).

Persecution for a pilgrim-people is natural. For, you know, St. Justin the Philosopher said, “we know that Christians will always be persecuted until Christ returns and frees us.” But the fatherland of the uranopolitan is always safe, for who can harm New Jerusalem? And that state in which the uranopolitan is wandering, he will defend to the measure that it does not war with God, according to the commandment of obedience to authority (see Rom. 13:1-6). But his heart will not be disturbed, for all that is seen is temporary and the unseen is eternal. In order to please God the uranopolitan will defend the weak and will take pity on the insulted. And this not in the name of someone’s rights but in the name of God.

So let us all flee from here. Why should we cling to the perishable? Why should we attach our heart to that which we will abandon forever? Hasten to heaven all partakers of the mystery of Christ. Become citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem. God the Father is waiting for us. Will we really exchange his embrace for the elusive darkness of this age and the delusion of human ideology?
***
Uranopolitism (from Greek: ουρανός-heaven, polis-πόλης), as used by Fr. Daniel, is a concept which affirms the supremacy of Divine laws over earthly and the primacy of love for the Heavenly Father and His Heavenly Kingdom. The most important kinship, according to uranopolitism, is not by blood or country of origin but kinship in Christ. Patriotism (from Greek: Πατριώτης-fellow countryman, πατρίς-fatherland) is love of ones fatherland following from the realization of solidarity of interests of the citizens of a given state or members of a given nation (Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron).

On My Husband’s Death – Matushka Julia Sysoyeva

I am sure that I do not need to acquaint you with the basic fact that Fr. Daniel Sysoyev was martyred on November 19/20. However, I hope to be translating more details about his life (including, as time permits, some of his writings). The following is a note of Fr. Daniel’s wife, Julia, which was posted on the website of the mission center/Church of St. Thomas the Apostle. I’m not sure how circulated it is so I’m letting you know that there is a short interview with a  priest-friend of Fr. Daniel’s at Pravmir. Also, please continue to pray for the repose of Fr. Daniel, for his wife, Matushka Julia, their three daughters: Justina, Dorothea, and Angelina, as well as Fr. Daniel’s father, Fr. Alexei, and his mother, Matushka Anna. I think it would also be good to pray for that unfortunate man who killed Fr. Daniel.

Thank you, my dears, for your support and your prayers. This is a pain which cannot be expressed by words. It is that pain which those standing at the cross of our Savior went through. It is that joy which cannot be expressed by words, that joy which was experienced by those who came to the empty Tomb [of Christ].

O death, where is thy sting? [1 Cor. 15:55]
Father Daniel foresaw his death even a few years before what has happened.

He always wanted to be worthy of a martyr’s crown and the Lord has given him such a crown. Those who shot at him wanted to spit yet another time into the face of the Church, as they once spit in the face of Christ, but they have not obtained their desire as it is impossible to spit in the face of the Church. Father Daniel went to his own Golgotha right in the church, which he had been building and to which he had been giving all time and energy. He was killed like an ancient prophet, that is, between the altar and the sanctuary, and he was really worthy of being called a martyr.

He died for Christ, Whom he served with all his strength.

He often told me that he was afraid that he would not manage to do the things he wanted, very many things. He hurried. Humanly speaking, he had some extremes and exaggerations, he stumbled and made mistakes, but he did not make mistakes in the main thing; his life was completely dedicated to HIM.

I didn’t understand why he hurried. For the final three years he devoted himself to ministry without days off or vacation. I grumbled; I desired, at least sometimes, simple happiness: that my husband and my kids father would be with me and them But a different path had been prepared for him.

He would say that he would be killed. I asked him who would take care of us-me and three kids-when he would leave. He answered that he would leave us in good hands. “I will give you to the Mother of God, she will take care of you.”

Those words were forgotten until now. He told me which vestments to bury him in. I joked at the time that we should not talk about that as it is not known who will be burying whom. He said that I would be burying him. One day funerals were brought up in a conversation. I do not remember the whole conversation but I said that I had never been at a funeral service for a priest. And he told me not to worry, that I would be at his.

Now, many words are remembered and their meaning has been found. Now, my perplexity has been resolved and my incomprehension has been dispersed.

We did not say goodbye in this life, or ask forgiveness of one another, or hug one another. It was a normal day: he left for liturgy in the morning and I never saw him again.

Why did I not go to church that day to pick him up? After all, I had thought about it, but I decided that I had to make dinner and put the kids to sleep. Because of the kids I did not go: some Hand did not let me go. The day before I went to the church and picked him up. I felt how the clouds were gathering over us. And the last few days I was trying to be with him more often. The final week I was thinking only about death and life beyond death. I failed to comprehend either of them. On that day, the words “death is breathing down the back of the neck” were daunting me. My heart was feeling so heavy in that last week, as if a many-tonned burden had fallen on me.

I’m not in the least broken. He is supporting me; I feel that he is near. During this time we have told each other many tender words, more than we said throughout our whole life. Only now I understand how strongly we loved each other.

The 40th day after Fr. Daniel’s repose (December 29) falls on the day before his name’s day and the feast day of the future church, Prophet Daniel: December 30. According to an elders prophecy, the church would be built but Fr. Daniel would not serve in it. The second has already been fulfilled.

General Polyanovskii, “New Israel”

The following is a short chapter from Establishment of Unity by Archbishop John (Shahovskoy).

The Monk Gerasimos

He had been taken as a seven year old boy, from a Jewish family of the Chernigov province, into the Cantonists[1] during the time of Nikolai Pavlovich [Nicholas I]. When he was a colonel at General Headquarters and a talented astronomer, he visited his poor Jewish family in Chernigov province. It is hard to imagine what that meeting was like. What he said and what they said to him, I do not know. He was already a convinced and profound Orthodox idealist and had his own believing family. It is only known that he displayed a love that would be understandable to his old Jewish family.

Forcefully taken and sent to an elementary school somewhere in Kazan, the poor Jewish boy felt all the bitterness of being abandonded by people but all the sweetness of being protected by angels. Basically, when he was still a child, against his will he was “tonsured” into a new life and, of course, his second and real tonsure in his elderly years separated him from his previous life than that first stern hand of Nikolai’s Chernigov province official.

The boy’s businesslike, sharp mind quickly and obediently adapted to his new situation. Not receiving baptism conscientiously, he quickly filled up his consciousness with those grains of revelation which fell to him from the catechists table at his first school. It was not hard for him to study. What was hard was for him to tolerate the low level of morality of his classmates and even of the teachers. With a broken heart and pain he would remember that first period of his introduction into the Orthodox world.

Then there was secondary school. As a talented student he was sent on for further studies. After graduating from the military academy as an officer with great capabilities, the young man was sent to the Academy of General Headquarters to the land-surveying department. He left as one of the few military astronomers, worked in Pulkovo, went on assignments throughout Russia, occupied an important post in Siberia, and went up in the ranks and in his own self knowledge.

He got attached to the Church passionately with all his bright Jewish personality. At the time when I knew him, he looked very much like an Old Testament patriarch. He had a large, pinkish-white, cultured face and a very pure, childlike, wise, and calm eyes.

When he lived in St. Petersburg, he became friends with the well-known (in church circles) Fr. Sergei Slepyan, an English Jew, full of love for Christ, who converted to Orthodoxy and became a priest in Russia. These two Jew-Christians who had solid social standing in Russia, dreamed about a time when the creative Word of God would call into existence an Orthodox Jewish Church. It would probably be more universal than local. The New Israel would surely blend with the already existing Apostolic New Israel, that is, Christianity, the Kingdom of God’s children, among whom there is neither Greek nor Jew.

“I am New Israel,” would Mikhail Pavlovich joyfully and triumphantly tell me. I often visited him. It would happen that I would come and, standing in the yard in front of the door, would see him from behind slowly praying. He especially liked to pray with the Psalms; it was obvious that he felt, as no one else, their essence and was experiencing exactly what King David had experienced. “O God, be attentive unto helping me; O Lord, make haste to help me,” [Psalm 69:1] he repeated with joy and self-denial.

I loved him very much. In him I saw a living personification of the promise of God given to the Jewish people. By the beginning of our acquaintanceship, he walked with two canes but rather briskly. Using them like oars, he walked and the only thing that was hard for him was to stop when he needed to on the street. His life was getting close to 90.

St. Gerasimus of Palestine [of the Jordan] had a special meaning for him. He communicated with saints as with real people. His life consisted of prayer and recording the barometric pressure and temperature. His hand wrote it as if by itself, though he had no use for it now, and he could not refuse it.

Mikhail Pavlovich’s hair was uncut; white and silky, the locks fell right on his silver general’s shoulder straps. At all times did he come to communion in his uniform.

His lunch was delivered from the local Russian refugee organization. I mention this detail as it is connected with one of Mikhail Pavlovich’s qualities (the best quality in a general), that is, humility. In regard to this service, he happened to grumble at the director’s wife, and that little sin immediately became an obstacle to his unceasing prayer. And Mikhail Pavlovich decided to pull this sin out with its roots. The next Sunday, at the door of the church, he, before all the people, in full general’s uniform, he dropped to his knees before that elderly lady and asked for forgiveness. Some of those who themselves did not yet completely know why they went to church smiled. And particularly due to the inevitability of such smiles was Mikhail Pavlovich’s humility revealed.

He died because his time had come. After his final communion on the Dormition of the Mother of God, I visited him. He lay in bed and sang in an old, shaky voice, “In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity; in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos.” The long awaited was coming; he was going to his God. He was returning to his Heavenly Father carrying the cup of his life, filled to the brim.

1. For more information on Cantonists, see Wikipedia.

On St. Nikolaj (Velimirovic)

The following translation is an excerpt from the chapter “White Church” (a village in Serbia) from the book Establishment of Unity by Archbishop John (Shahovskoy).

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God … But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” (1 Cor. 2:14-15) I met and learned from such spiritual pastors. Such was the meeting with an apostle of the Church of our days, the Right Reverend Nikolaj (Velimirovich) of Ochrid (subsequently Zica).

In 1928, I visited the small ancient town of Ochrid, which lies between mountains on the amazingly blue Lake Ochrid. In a fatherly manner, I was received by Vladyka Nikolaj in his large but simple archpastoral home. I remember that I went with him on a trip beyond the mountain to a monastery’s feast day on a carriage harnessed to a pair of horses.

I saw how the whole population of the town, half of which were Muslim, greeted him on the streets. In those years, Kemal Ataturk took the fez off of men in Turkey but the citizens of Yugoslavia were not connected to such an order of the Turkish dictator and continued to wear their dark-red fezzes. And when Vladyka Nikolaj went by them they smiled widely and greeted him touching their hand to their forehead and chest. It was a Muslim gesture but the smile was Christian. Here was ecumenism before “ecumenism”.[1] Every person believing in God manifested the inherent humanity in themselves, the sign of closeness of God. And what Vladyka Nikolaj had told me became clear: Muslims (Serbs who were made Turks long ago) also go on pilgrimages to the grave of St. Naum, which is in an Orthodox monastery on the lake near the border of Albania. They pray there about their simple needs and instances of healing occur. Such religious co-existence of Muslims and Christians was something new for me and later I never saw it in any Christian or Muslim country.

The apostle of this mixed population of south Serbia (where so much Christian and Muslim blood had been shed over the centuries), Vladyka Nikolaj said, “These simple believing Muslim-Serbs are similar to the Orthodox living near them.” I was convinced of this by an Athonite monk who was traveling the country to collect funds for a monastery. He sometimes noticed more sympathy among the Muslim towns of Serbia than among the Christian towns.

I saw how Vladyka Nikolaj behaved himself among his Orthodox people at the feast of the monastery on Lake Ochrid. There was simplicity and piety in the people and in the bishop himself. There was not a shade of familiarity, abstractness, or artificiality of word or gesture. The people surrounded their father. There was spirituality in that feast and no ceremonialism or fanfare. This was the spirit of the Early Church, and I was reminded of the images of Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, and Athanasius of Alexandria. Those surrounding the Right Reverend Nikolaj on the shore were not waiting a tender smile or tales but only something beneficial for the soul.

Bishop Nikolaj became the religious leader of Serbia. Being a great writer, thinker, and poet, he corroborated with secular papers in Belgrade, teaching among the people. (I remember his simple and pointed articles in the paper Politica: “Войниче, не псуй,” that is, “Soldier, don’t swear,” a very relevant article for not only a soldier.) His “Missionary Letters” comforted the people and taught faith with their concise literary form and poignant religious thought. None of the “usual” words were here, everything was new and unexpected and interesting for the people.

A friendship with Right Reverend Nikolaj was maintained until his repose. After being freed from a German concentration camp, together with Patriarch Gabriel, after the war he did not return to his homeland but went to England where he strove to influence Churchill and the politics of England in relation to Serbia. England, however, made a stake on Tito. Vladyka Nikolaj moved to the United States and after a short time settled in our St. Tikhon Monastery in Pennsylvania.

We occasionally met. In the beginning of 1947, when I was the dean of Holy Virgin Mary Church in Los Angeles, he visited me and I found out from him about the preparation for my becoming a bishop. “Do not refuse!,” he said in a firm, fatherly way. I recorded a touching, religious song. In Serbia, it was made the anthem of the “Bogomoltsev” [Pilgrims] Serbian Orthodox movement:

Помози нам, Вишни Боже,

Без Тебе ништо не може,

Ни орати, ни спевати,

Ни за правду воевати…[2]

The image of Right Reverend Nikolaj also helped my ministry. This was the way of apostolic ministry in our day. From the very beginning, my pastoral ministry was combined, as was his, with writing. A stranger to convention and superficiality, I also strove for simplicity, fresh humane words, and sincerity of faith. And, like him, I wanted to mobilize and turn secular literature to service of the Word. Even now I believe that secular culture and literature are really given to humanity in order to help promote Divine Truth. Vladyka Nikolaj one day said to me, “When I was a young man and returned to Serbia from Western Europe and St. Petersburg with various diplomas, I began to learn faith from my parents.”

1. Meaning: “Here was ecumenism before there even was such a thing.”
2. Help us, God above,
Without Thee nothing can we do
Neither plow nor sing
Nor fight for truth…
[verses rhyme in Serbian…]

Letter Eleven of Fr. Clement Sederholm to His Father

Please forgive the close to four month absence, it seems a four + month old doesn’t leave much spare time for translation. But we’ll continue in the series of Fr. Clement’s letters; however, I don’t know when the next installation will turn out to be.

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen! I heartily wish you, most dear father,  kind mother, and all of you to happily and merrily meet the feast.

I had already decided to finish my letter which I had began to you but I received your kind lines from the fourth of April. You write that if I find something in your letters which would be awkward to answer then to leave it without an answer. On the contrary, recently our correspondence has become especially interesting and I have many subjects in mind about which I would like to know your opinion. But I only would like that in your letters you would not so much busy yourself with arguments against false views but would rather speak positively about views which, according to you, are true. The negation of falsehood is unsatisfactory and does not provide a positive truth. This time I would like to know your opinion about “heresy” and “heretics.” But I repeat, tell me your positive view and not that, for example, which you can say against the view of, in this case, the Roman church. That the Roman church is in many ways mistaken is well known and we warrant you [Protestants] the fact that you protest against Roman abuses. But it is very far from protest against untruth to positive truth. Besides Roman errors regarding heresy (which we also do not accept) there is a correct view for which I find an explanation in the New Testament, which you also consider the foundation for true Christian teaching. The apostle says, there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. (1 Cor. 11:19); but it is clear that it is not heretics who are approved Christians and due to human weakness and corruption they must be considered in society predators and so forth. But in spite of this those people continue to go their own way, that is, into prison, into Siberia, etc. But the main question is what is heresy and who, in essence, are heretics? This is what I would like to know your opinion about. The Apostle Peter says, there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies (2 Peter 2:1). The principal place about which I would like that you expressed your opinion is the following (Titus 3:10-11) A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. Who, in essence, according to your opinion, are these self-condemned people, and what are the indications, on the foundation of the Gospel, of true Christians, from whom these people separate themselves? You talk about your heartfelt wish to convey to a dear to you soul all that stirs your soul. For my part, I would accept your communications with much interest and, if you like, I would also like to hear your opinion about many other interesting subjects.

April 14, 18[6]4