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.

The “swine flu” craze

For any Orthodox communicants out there preparing to go the way of the some.

The Divine Communion is an almighty medicine.  Whole volumes ought to have been written about Divine Communion.  Where now are those faithless ones who have a difficult time communing so they don’t get germs?  ‘The Body and Blood of Christ is a consuming fire, which burns everything,’ a Philosophy professor used to say. …
The priests who celebrate for years in the Tuberculosis Hospitals are very healthy.  The Metropolitan of Chios, Panteleimon Fostinis, when he was a Priest-preacher of Attica, went to liturgize at the Tuberculosis Hospital of Salvation.  They brought him a large plate with many little spoons.
‘What do you want these for?’ he asked the nurses.
‘The doctors told us, you should commune the sick with these spoons, first the less sick ones and then the graver ones.’
‘I have the holy spoon.  These spoons are not necessary.’  Then he said, ‘I communed them and was about to consume the Holy Cup I went to the Royal Gate and consumed showingly in front of everyone, so that the doctors could learn, that the Divine Communion is a consuming fire.’ …
One gravely ill TB patient, as soon as he communed, spat up blood onto the bed sheet.  The Priest-Preacher then took the spat up blood with the Holy Spoon and ate it and told them to burn the bed sheet.  As soon as the doctors saw that, they said, ‘What is that crazy person doing here?  In a short while you will see him with a galloping illness (TB).’
But not in a short time nor in a long time did he suffer anything.  Whoever fears communion, should not commune because he does not have faith.

Archimandrite Haralambos Vasilopoulos

Put out into deep water

In shallow waters there are only small fish; that is the entire catch. But in the greater depths, the danger is also greater. There you have large sea creatures and great storms. That is dangerous. But there are also much larger and better fish in enormous quantity; that is the catch. O, enlightened one, come therefore into the deep! “Put out into the deep” mysterious sea of life, but do not set out without Christ in your boat. By no means. … Perhaps the winds could carry you away and cast you into an abyss. Perhaps the monstrous and enormous beasts of the sea will consume you. The winds, O enlightened one, those are your own passions which accompany you unavoidably if you set out into the deep without Christ.
St. Nikolaj (Velimirovic)</blockquote

The speech of faith

Separate aspects of faith disintegrate only for scholastic theology, but, in living life, these aspects, each retaining its independence, become so closely interwoven that one idea imperceptibly evokes another. For a scholastic theologian, it is easy to say that the concepts Church, Holy Spirit, and Son of God are different: easy, because in his consciousness they are only concepts. But for a believer for whom all of these are realities that cannot be experienced independently of one another, realities that are interpenetrating and interconnected; for a believer who perceives them in their living givenness; for whom the Church is tangibly the body of Christ, the fullness of the Spirit sent by Christ; for such a believer, it is painful to make sharp divisions and separations, for they cut through living flesh. The speech of faith is in no wise like the speech of theology, and faith clothes its knowledge of dogmatic truth in a symbolic garment, in figurative language, which covers the higher truth and depth of contemplation in consistent contradictions.
Fr. Pavel Florensky

To gain the Kingdom

If, at times, the dogmas of the Faith seem to be like solid food, first endeavor to fulfill the moral dogmas of Christianity, then the understanding of the dogmas of the Faith will be revealed to you. Inquisitive questioning of higher things without effort regarding the improvement of your life does not bring any benefit. At one time, the monks of Egypt reflected about Melchisedek and not being able to come to a clear understanding about the mysterious personality of this ancient king and high priest, invited Abba Copres to their assembly and asked him about Melchisedek. Upon hearing this, Copres struck himself three times on the mouth and said, ‘Woe to you Copres! You left that which God commanded you to do and you question that which God does not require of you.’ Hearing him, the monks were ashamed and dispersed. St. John Chrysostom writes, ‘And, if we adhere to the true dogmas and are not concerned about our behavior, we will not have any kind of benefit; and in the same way, if we concern ourselves about our behavior and neglect true dogmas, we will receive no benefit for our salvation. If we want to be delivered from Gehenna and to gain the kingdom, we need to be adorned on both sides: correctness of dogmas and honorable living.’
St. Nikolaj (Velimirovic)

To the strengthening of faith

Many do not allow even the thought that an intellectual man of our time could have such a lively and sincere faith as the simple masses do out of ignorance. But this is a great mistake. An educated man, once he gets past a certain [point] is able to believe much more deeply and ardently than an ordinary person who believes partly by habit (following the example of others), partly because his faith, his vague religious ideas are not troubled by any opposing ideas. There is nothing for him to conquer, no intellectual battles to fight. For him, what he must conquer in the spiritual arena are not ideas but passions, feelings, habits, anger, rudeness, malice, envy, greed, drunkenness, depravity, laziness, etc. For an intellectual the warfare is much more difficult and complex. Like the ordinary person he must battle all these passions and habits, but in addition he must also break his intellectual pride and consciously subjugate his mind to the teaching of the Church. Once we get past this mystical threshold, which I mentioned earlier, then our erudition will itself begin to help us in strengthening our faith.
Konstantin Leontiev

The purity of faith

…whenever the teaching of faith deviates even a little from its basic purity, the deviation, growing little by little, cannot help becoming a contradiction to faith. The lack of wholeness and inner unity of faith compels one to seek unity in abstract thinking; and reason, having received equal rights with Divine Revelation, first serves as the ground of religion, and subsequently replaces it.
Ivan Kireevskii

The exhaustion of faith

‘My elder! Tell me sincerely, I bet of you in the name of God, tell me what you think of this: why did the evil spirits appear before the eyes of people in ancient times, as the sacred tradition tells us, and why do they no longer present themselves before our own eyes?’
Father Arseny glanced at me attentively and keenly. In his eyes, as I recall, the flame of a certain joyous faith was suddenly kindled, and after pondering for a while, he answered me thus:
‘In those days all men, even the pagans, had a great deal of faith. Now men have become powerless, and faith is weakening. The earth itself is growing old, and men are growing senile in both spirit and flesh. With the exhaustion of men’s strength, faith has also become exhausted. Now it is more profitable for the spirits of temptation not to be seen by us. They say to themselves, ‘Things are well as they are!’ Should a man of weak faith of a godless man see a demon before him and understand this, he would as a consequence begin to have a firmer faith in goodness.’
Konstantin Leontiev

The contradiction of deviation

… whenever the teaching of faith deviates even a little from its basic purity, the deviation, growing little by little, cannot help becoming a contradiction to faith. The lack of wholeness and inner unity of faith compels one to seek unity in abstract thinking; and reason, having received equal rights with Divine Revelation, first serves as the ground of religion, and subsequently replaces it.
Ivan Kireevskii

But one rung

The absolute atheist stands on the last rung but one before most absolute faith (whether he steps higher or not), while an indifferent man has no faith at all, nothing but dismal fear, and that, too, only occasionally, if he is a sensitive man.
Fr. Tikhon in Devils by FD

Stay out of the dust…

For since what God giveth transcends reasoning entirely, it is but reason that we need faith. But the man that thinks meanly of it, and is contemptuous and vainglorious, will not effect anything at all. Let heretics hearken to the voice of the Spirit, for such is the nature of reasonings. They are like some labyrinth or puzzles which have no end to them anywhere, and do not let the reason stand upon the rock, and have their very origin in vanity. For being ashamed to allow of faith, and to seem ignorant of heavenly things, they involve themselves in the dust-cloud of countless reasonings.
St. John Chrysostom

Objective science you say?

The near-sighted philosophy of the previous century [i.e., the 18th] had for a time dreamt of breaking this holy union and had forced knowledge to dig a grave for faith, but what came of this attempt at matricide? Holy faith, honored by self-forgetting reason, hid in a depth of the heart inaccessible to this reason, and false knowledge itself remained with its sophistries in the grave dug by it … True philosophy can exist only in a union with heaven, for true knowledge lives by and is nourished not by earth but by heaven … We are accustomed to saying the sphere of the sciences, the sphere of knowledge, and to separating it from the sphere of faith; but strictly speaking, there is no sphere of sciences and can be no such sphere. Rather, there exists only a boundless sphere of faith, whose inwardness is divided among the sciences. Knowledge without faith is a middle without a beginning or end; whoever seeks not soulless fragments but a living reasonably whole must therefore necessarily unite knowledge with faith …What in general is true knowledge, if not a natural daughter of faith? And what is true faith if not the natural end and crown of all grounded knowledge?
St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson