Follows my translation of the homily that Patriarch Kirill gave last Sunday. This address is very relevant to the current transitional time in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church and emphasizes the patriarch’s faithfulness to maintaining Orthodox Tradition. For the full effect you can hear and see the homily being delivered by clicking here.
On March 8, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus, Kirill, served the divine liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. After the service he addressed those present with his first-hierarchal homily.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
The first Sunday of Great Lent in the language of the Church Typicon is called the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This Sunday is numbered among the great feasts and it is not accidental because the feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy was established in the distant ninth century due to events of huge significance. In 787 was the Seventh Ecumenical Council at which the heresy of iconoclasm was condemned. The iconoclasts, who denied the propriety of venerating holy icons, destroyed holy icons and called those who venerated holy icons, icon-worshipers. As the imperial power supported this heretical trend, the persecution of those who venerated holy icons was supported by the power of the Byzantine emperor. Unfortunate monks hid themselves in the eastern regions of the empire, especially in Cappadocia, where there were, and to this day are, many underground caves. There, deep under the earth, they hid Church treasures-holy icons-and raised up fervent prayers before them.
By the mercy of God, this dangerous time of the heresy of iconoclasm was overcome. The iconoclasts were condemned and it was decided on the first Sunday of Great Lent, to celebrate the victory over iconoclasm, as well as the victory over all heresies that shook the life of the Church over the first millennium. Great was the hope of the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that from then on not one heresy or deviation would shake the Orthodox faith. Namely as a sign of this hope was the feast established which we celebrate today.
However, the following second millennium after the Nativity of Christ also gave examples of many attempts to divide the Church and distort the Orthodox doctrine. These attempts have not even ceased up to the present day. And therefore, for us the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy is not so much an enumeration of the battles with heresy during the first millennium as much as a reason to, once again, fervently pray that no heresies, divisions, or deviations from the true faith would shake the unity of the Church of God.
Every Orthodox person must understand what the foundation for Church divisions is. The normal notion of a heretic is that it is a synonym for a robber. This is how it also was in antiquity. One of the heretical councils, which denied the existence of human nature in the Son of God, went down in history as the Robbers Council. For believers, a heretic was like a robber, and, in essence, this is how it is. But among the heretics there were also many pious people, fervent in faith, and zealous. Indeed, and would thousands of people really follow an actual robber, profligate, or sinner? People follow after strong leaders who know how to persuade, who can show a personal example. The majority of heretics were just such strong Church leaders who held great authority among the people.
It is enough to remember Arius, a priest of Constantinople. He was a preacher, a sage, and a theologian. His name was extremely authoritative in Constantinople. People, defending Arius and his teaching, engaged in conflicts with each other. History reports examples of the fact that arguments in markets broke out and even physical fights because there were many people ready to die for Arius.
We also need to remember, reflecting on the subject of heresy and division that, with a few exceptions and also excepting the newest sects, the main heretical movements in antiquity originated in attempts to protect Orthodoxy, preserve its purity, and give people a more clear understanding of dogma. To Arius, it seemed necessary to bring the understanding of the incarnation closer to the mentality, knowledge, and worldview of the people at the time. It seemed to him that if he were to speak of Christ as a creation, then that teaching would correspond better to Holy Scripture and would be accepted by the people, and, therefore, the people’s faith would be stronger. In his teaching Arius had good intentions to defend the faith, as he saw it.
The following heretical movements also strove to, allegedly, defend the Orthodox faith and preserve its purity. Thus, Nestorius believed that not God, but a man, who only gradually rose to a divine height was born of the Virgin Mary. He spoke and taught so convincingly that up to the present his followers exist. For us Orthodox people, living in Russia, that name is only known from history books; no one bothers to think about the heresy of Nestorius. But I happened to be in Iraq before this terrible war and met local Christians. I discovered that a majority of the Christians in Iraq venerate Nestorius. When I was riding in a taxi from the airport, to my amazement, I entered into a theological argument with the driver, who asserted the illegitimacy of the word Theotokos in relation to the Virgin Mary, as Nestorius had asserted it in the distant fifth century. Probably, if his speech weren’t so convincing and his life were sinful, then people wouldn’t have followed after Nestorius.
And such examples can be continued. Up to the present there are Christians who don’t recognize the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ but believe only in His having a divine nature. And among them are pious ascetics, monastics, and theologians.
What, then, is heresy? How can heresy be distinguished from the difference of opinion accepted in the Church? How is a heretic distinguished from a zealous Orthodox Christian wishing to defend and preserve the purity of his faith? There is only one method. Every heresy generates schism, and where there is schism there is no love. We know this too well from our lives. Families fall apart: spouses divorce and the children turn away from their parents when love disappears from the family. No matter what good and kind words one spouse says, there, where there is no love, there is no pure relationship nor unity. The same takes place in the Church. If we meet with a person who affirms that he is fighting for the purity of Orthodoxy but in his eyes burn the dangerous fire of anger, he sees heretics everywhere, he is ready to go to battle and will not stop before the division of the Church, he is ready to shake the foundation of Church life, supposedly to protect Orthodoxy. When in a person who has been offered to head a heretical movement we do not find love, but only anger, then this is the first sign of the fact that this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing similar to Arius, Nestorius, and many others, who fervently preached, not having love in their hearts, and were ready, for the sake of their own rectitude, to not stop before the division of Church life.
Unity is there, where there is love and where there is love is God. If it occurs to someone to say something about doctrine which breaks with the tradition of the Holy Fathers and the Ecumenical and pious local councils, then such a person must consider well why, in the name of what goal, he is proposing this or that innovation. If from the mouth of such a person we hear a flood of abuse, occasionally even dirty slander, which rains onto the Church and her servants, if we hear fervent calls to battle, to division, to the salvation of Orthodoxy even to death, when we hear such slogans as, “Orthodoxy or death,” we need to beware of such preachers.
The Lord never said, “My teaching or death.” Not one apostle said, “Orthodoxy or death.” Because Orthodoxy is eternal life, joy in the Holy Spirit, joy of life, beauty of life, but death is decay, the result of the fall, and the devil’s influence. Among us even today appear, from time to time, false teachers who tempt the people with the call to save Orthodoxy, to save its purity, and who repeat that dangerous, sinful, and contradictory slogan, “Orthodoxy or death.” In the eyes of such people you will not find love; in them burns the demonic fire of pride, the striving for Church power, and the destruction of Church unity. On the outside all this may have a pious look, a good appearance, and enjoy the veneration of a number of people.
That which we say in relation to heresy is also true in relation to any other division. Sometimes in our parishes arise divisions among the clergy or laity. Often these divisions are connected with a battle for a certain superiority, a certain power in the parish. We know how sometimes the parishioners are divided and gather around one or another priest. Respect towards one or another pastor and love towards him is lawful but division in the name of love is sinful because where there is love there can be no division.
We must preserve the unity not only of universal Orthodoxy from every heresy and schism; we not only must preserve as the apple of our eye the unity of our Local Church, the Church of the martyrs, who earned by suffering the right to be one and undivided. We must also preserve the unity of our parishes and monasteries remembering that the most important characteristic for the evaluation of the action of any Christian, from a patriarch to a simple layman, is love. If there is love there is Christ! If there is not love there is not Christ!
May the Lord help us all preserve the unity of our Church, to save it as the apple of our eye, taking a lesson from the terrible examples from the past, but, at the same time, being inspired by the podvigs of the Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical and pious local Councils, who guarded, defended, and upheld the unity of the Church of Christ, asserting that in the foundation of Church life there is one undoubted law, the law of love, which saves. Amen.