Homily on Cheese-fare Sunday

I have started a new translation project appropriate to lent, that is, homilies of St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson, for every day of the fast. I will say right now that I will not be translating one a day, but, maybe, if I’m lucky, one or two a week. As St. Innocent is, from what I know, hardly known to the English reading world I’ve translated the following little biography.

St. Innocent (in the world Ivan Alekseevich Borisov) (1800-1857) was a well-known Russian theologian and preacher. He was born into the family of a priest in the city of Yeltse in the Voronezh (Orlyov) province. In 1819 he completed Orlyov Theological Seminary and entered the Kiev Theological Academy where his oratorical and writing talent began to emerge.

After graduating from the academy he moved to St. Petersburg where he was tonsured a monk and began to teach in the Theological Seminary and Academy. As a professor and inspector of St. Petersburg Theological Academy (and in 1830 the rector), St. Innocent was revealed as a talented pastor, preacher, and writer. He also labored for the spiritual enlightenment of the people, including establishing the journal “Resurrection Reading” in 1837.

In 1840 he was consecrated as the bishop of Volgograd though was transferred to Kharkov in the same year. In 1848 he was appointed as the archbishop of Kherson and Tavria (Crimea). In 1841 St. Innocent had been chosen to be a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Thanks to his wide range of knowledge in theology and outstanding oratorical talent, he was popularly known as the “Russian Chrysostom” and a good and kind archpastor. At the time of the Crimean campaign, he displayed amazing courage in not abandoning his flock during the time of trials.

St. Innocent reposed in 1857 in Kherson and was canonized in 1997 by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Homily on Cheese-fare Sunday:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)

With these instructive words of the Apostle Paul, the Holy Church lets us, my brothers, into the arena of the holy and great fast. By way of incentives to repentance in our sins, it shows us the great convenience for us in the continuation of the upcoming holy days. Indeed, although our salvation is never far from us, with the start of Holy Lent, the matter of our salvation comes that much closer to everyone, that you could say that unwillingly and persistently it demands a place in the soul and heart. Truly, the time of the great fast must be, in all aspects, compared with a beautiful day of faith and piety, in the same way as the week just ending could be likened to a dark, stormy, and cold night. What deeds of darkness aren’t carried out everywhere during this week! How many souls, willingly and unwillingly, descend down into the abyss of sin! How many people there are who for their whole life have to cry over a few minutes of temporary crazy merriment! Even of those who are the most careful and attentive to themselves and their deeds few can boast that they did not suffer any damage to the purity of their hearts and the calmness of their conscience during the last few days.

But, thank the Lord, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Romans 12:13)! This evening will put an end to temptation and spiritual danger; tomorrow we will awake already in a different element and as if in a different world. Along with the holy fast, everything will take on a new, better look: people and things, both animate and even inanimate. As after the flood of Noah, the windows of evil will close by themselves and dry land will appear. There is already something upon which to land for those who have fallen into life’s sea of vanity and temptation! There is already something to support those feet and knees crippled from pleasing the flesh, for the Church can not give way to the world in being zealous. If the cunning world uses all means to drive us mad, to take us into captivity to the passions without a battle, then the Holy Church more so will find methods to enlighten us and captivate us forever in the sweet obedience of faith and love, which is Christ. We are unclean and defiled with lustful sins; from the altar of grace, in Churches, flows a multitude of clean springs for our spiritual cleansing. We are covered in wounds and sores: our Mother the Church has all the healing plasters and bandages. We are starving in spirit; She will set such a meal which could feed even the angels themselves. Having such an abundance of spiritual means, even the person most inattentive to their soul will have to admit and say that, at present, during the Holy Fast, salvation is closer to us than at all other times for starting from tomorrow the world itself with its temptations, driven visibly and invisibly by the power of the Holy Fast and prayers of the Church, will be moved away from us, hidden, and will lose its power to blind us and attract us to hell.

Let us not, beloved ones, be cold and inattentive to our salvation, and let us use the precious time of the fast for the healing of our souls and hearts from the poison of sin. Let us let our Mother the Holy Church act on us for our salvation as She knows and can. Let us turn our eyes and hearts from all which fed the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Let us examine diligently our life and conscience and rush to turn from that path which is obviously leading us into an the abyss of hell. Let us do all this, my brothers, for the eternal good of our souls! For not in vain does the apostle of Christ proclaim “now it is high time to awake out of sleep” (Rom. 13:11). It is time for us all to awake from insensitivity of the soul and think where we are, what is happening to us, where we are going, and what is waiting for us. It is just that time because there hardly even one sin which we have not committed in one or another sense. Which abilities have we not used for evil, put down, or defiled with passions? How else will we anger our Lord and Savior? What else will we do and what else will we use for our eternal death? To which idols of vanity have we not bowed down to a hundred times? If someone takes a look at us, even not being a prophet, it is evident that there is no wholeness in us from head to foot. The very chalice of sin with its illusory, short-lived sweetness and its truly fatal poison already visibly has grown scarce for us. Will we again fill it up and with it poison all our being?

It is high time to awake from sleep! At the beginning when we were inexperienced, it was somewhat pardonable for us, like little children, to chase after phantoms of earthly vanity and imagine that on the crooked crossroads of sin only pleasures and joy await us. Now, after countless bitter experiences, it would be perfect madness to allow the enemy to deceive us again. For what did we obtain in our withdrawal from God? What did the world provide for us with its many-faceted lusts? There was an abyss of suppositions, intentions, hopes, and promises, but in actuality it turned out to be the vanity of vanities. For the majority of us, the lawless life took away even that which we possessed from nature and favorable circumstances. A few of us sinners, it seems, still stand erect and blossom, but how withered and lifeless this miserable blossom is, how perceptible is the smell of its corruption and ruin. On the surface, around these so-called happy people of the world there are honors, wealth, satisfaction, and pleasures, but inside (ask them themselves), inside it is empty and cold, deathly and disgusting for the conscience pricks, the heart is melancholy, the soul aches, the body itself seems to suffer and asks for mercy from the poison of sin. And after this are we going to again chase our shadow, again catch the wind, again build castles in the sky, and again drink poison just because it is sweet?

It is high time to awake from sleep! It is time to come back to our senses and have pity on our Mother the Holy Church whose heart has ached from our forgetfulness of Her holy rules and our unclean lives. It is time to remember and have pity on our guardian angel who since the at which we started to remember ourselves and act has followed us weeping around the forests of passions and lawlessness, and never seeing our correction. It is time to be ashamed and pity our Savior Himself Who everyday from morning to night reaches His hand out to us from the cross and still can not attract us to His heart. It is time, time, my brothers, to have pity on ourselves and make the heavens, the earth, the angels, and all good people who mourned and mourn over our corruption and who prayed and pray so that we would not die in our sins to rejoice in our repentance.

It is high time to awake from sleep! For can we really remain in captivity to the passions, sin, and the devil until the end of our life? Can we wait so that underneath our feet opens up, finally, the abyss of hell which will swallow us up forever? Oh, my brothers, this abyss will open up one day, maybe extremely soon if we don’t stop angering the Lord with our sins; and then what will become of us? Remember the rich man of the Gospel, remember the flames of Gehenna, imagine yourself in his unhappy position and consider in what state of insanity the one is in who possesses, as we now do, the complete ability to avoid such a terrible fate and continues to walk straight into the abyss of hell? Thus, it is high time to awake from sleep! Amen.


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