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.


You can find the original here.

Homily on Great Saturday – Christ’s Descent into Hell

There is a homily for the current day which no one on the earth heard or will hear, that no on on the earth read or will read, which, however, is worthy of the reverence of the earth as well as the very heavens.

What is this homily? It is the one about which the holy Apostle Peter witnesses to in his epistle. Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah (I Peter 3:18-20)… that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit (I Peter 4:6).

Do you now see who speaks in today’s homily? Our Lord and Savior Himself, who died for us on the Cross.

Do you see where this homily is pronounced? In hell when, after the separation of His pure soul from His body, He descended in His spirit into that prison of dead souls.

Do you see who were the hearers of that homily? The unfortunate souls, contemporary to Noah, who resisted God’s long-suffering when Noah preached and the flood of God was threatening.

Do you see, finally, that the purpose in that homily was so that those miserable ones who had suffered in the judgment and punishment of both the waves of the flood and of the three thousand year confinement in hell made use of the Savior’s descent into it.

Are we going to wait so that at some time a homily similar to what was said to Noah’s contemporaries will be said to us which will be not on earth but already in hell?

But our beloved Savior, the only one Who holds the keys of hell and death, only one time, according to the assurance of the Word of God, descended into hell from the Cross on the current day.

Are we going to imagine that He will again descend to hell for us not from the Cross but from the throne of His glory? No, He will appear to all only then when all the race of man stands before Him in judgment. He will appear at the end of the world not to preach but for pronouncing the final judgment.

May we always work for our salvation here on the earth and use those means which are placed before us in the Word of God and the Mysteries of the Holy Church. Who can say that these means are insufficient? Therefore, to those who, living among these means, kill their soul through negligence, must be pronounced, in all their power and justice, the words addressed to ancient Israel, “Your ruin, Israel, is from you yourself.”

May the Lord who died for our salvation save us from this! Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

The Light of Christ Enlightens All! – Homily on Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Special thanks to Felix Culpa for his superb scrutiny of this translation!

The light of Christ enlightens all!

One of the most significant liturgical actions of the Great Fast takes place when, between the Old Testament readings, the Royal Doors are suddenly opened, the serving clergyman appears with a candle and censer and, making the sign of the cross with them over those present, exclaims: The light of Christ enlightens all! It is not surprising that all those present bow their head to the ground at this moment, for the opening of the Royal Doors represents the opening of the very heavens; the candle and censer signify the fullness of the Holy Spirit; and the appearance of the serving clergyman is like the appearance of an Angel from heaven. Who could be so arrogant as not to bow down before these signs of the grace of God?

The Holy Church, however, seeks from us at this instance not simply a bow of the head or a prostration before the light of Christ. No, in the spiritual sense, it wants the opposite: the bowing of our head before that light, the opening before it of our entire essence, so that in this way we might be illumined with that divine light from head to foot, be completely filled with it, and made light-bearing, just as were the first Christians, about whom the Apostle Paul writes that they shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15).

In order better to enter the Holy Church’s intention, let us look at the power and significance of the words pronounced by the serving clergyman.

The light of Christ enlightens all!

These words suggest, firstly, the insufficiency in us all of the true light. For, if we were light-filled in and of ourselves, we would have no need for enlightenment. Truly, a person not illumined by the Gospel is darkness, deep darkness, as St. Paul teaches. Those who are illumined by the light of science and are called “enlightened” by people would not immediately agree with this. This is because these people who have studied the sciences, due to their hope in the scintillation that the sciences pour upon them, rarely and insufficiently turn their attention to the inner state of their spirit and heart, not seeing in what darkness their soul and conscience are. If, however, they were to look deeply into the quality of their knowledge and, on the other hand, would attentively delve into the true needs of their soul, then they would soon begin to see that the light borrowed from the sciences, no matter how great it might be, is hardly enough to satisfy them; and that, in relation to some of the most important things, the ignorance of which, one might say, makes one less than human, they are as ignorant as the lowest commoner; therefore, exactly like the commoner, they need to be enlightened from above.

The light of Christ enlightens all!

These words, secondly, suggest the fullness and abundance for everyone of the light of Christ. Indeed, there is no deficiency of it for anyone. It enlightens both the wisest, revealing to them the mysteries of the Kingdom of God which no mind in and of itself can open; and the most foolish, opening in them, instead of a natural intellect, the eyes of the heart, with which they can see what is hidden from the wise and knowledgeable of this world. It enlightens both the richest, teaching them not to exalt in perishable goods, not to be rich in themselves but in God, and to hide their treasure where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal (Matt. 6:20); and the poorest, showing them their riches inside themselves, which are more valuable than the whole world, and teaching them to be poor not only in body but also in spirit, in order to acquire the Kingdom. It enlightens also the very highest ruler, reminding him that there is a Master over him Who demands a strict accounting for every tear shed because of him; and the very lowest servant, comforting him in the knowledge that no one can take away from him his internal freedom of spirit and conscience, and that a virtuous man in bonds is higher than the happiest person in the world and closer to the Savior Who, being the Son of God, for our sake took on the appearance, not of a king, but of a slave and servant of all. It enlightens elders, revealing to them a life that does not age, calling them from earthly wandering to a place where there is rest from every labor. It enlightens youths, encouraging them to battle with the passions and lusts. It enlightens infants, opening their lips to praise the Lord.

The light of Christ enlightens all!

Pronouncing these words through the mouth of its servant, the Holy Church says, as it were: “Perhaps there are those who, due to their lot at birth or the circumstances of life, being far from the light of the sciences and earthly wisdom, blame their supposedly miserable situation, thinking that they, having only their native wit, are not able, like enlightened men, to achieve the aims of their existence, and must forever remain behind them, not only in time, but even in eternity. May they not vainly despair and lose courage! The One Who in the sensible world hung the sun and moon in the heavens so they would illumine all equally, the same One did not forget in the spiritual world also to pour out light for the enlightenment of all without exception. Attending church, hearing the Gospel, prophets, and apostles, no matter whether you are a farmer or soldier, a child or an elder, a servant or a laborer, you will learn everything that you need for your salvation, and to enter eternity, where we all must go, prepared for your great calling.”

The light of Christ enlightens all!

“Perhaps some,” the Church says, as it were, “having been filled with the light from the lamp of science and earthly wisdom, imagine that they do not need any further enlightenment, that they know everything that they need, and can calmly rest with their reserve of knowledge. May they leave behind their dangerous prejudice until they have studied the Gospel and the Cross of Christ, until they have properly comprehended what the prophets and apostles say about man, until they know that which is most essential! Only in the light of Christ can one see God, oneself, and the world in their true appearance. Only according to the indication of heavenly revelation can one find the path leading to eternal life.”

The light of Christ enlightens all!

“Therefore,” it is as if the Church says, “each and everyone needs to walk in the light and do deeds of the light. A poor pagan can say that he did not know how to behave in the world, for he did not have a Gospel in hand; but the Christian is without an excuse! The light of Christ illumined everything for him, showing him his own poverty, and the richness of God’s mercy towards him; our past condition in paradise, and the future condition in the Heavenly Kingdom; the narrow path leading to eternal life, and the broad path leading to perdition; the power of the cross of Christ, and the necessity of bearing one’s own cross. Everything has been illumined, opened, and shown to everyone forever! Therefore everyone must walk in the light, avoid deeds of darkness, and not give themselves up to sleep and carelessness.”

This, my brothers, is the sense of the sacred words: The light of Christ enlightens all! The Church repeats them for both our instruction and our warning.

After this it is our task to examine ourselves and discover in which light we are in life: that of Christ or of someone else? Whatever light it is, if it is not of Christ, then for our eternal salvation it is as good as darkness, and even sometimes worse than darkness. For a man caught in the darkness at least either stops or goes slowly groping his way, taking care, if he can, to step into the light. But under a false light a person is calm, goes along without stopping, allowing himself every kind of movement, changing paths and directions; and, inasmuch as he is led by a false light, like a swimmer at sea, he is exposed to inevitable dangers or goes somewhere from which there is no return. Is this not the same as happens with many intelligent people who, placing their hope in worldly wisdom, scorn the light of Christ? Where do they go, and where do they lead those who follow them? They go and lead others to such an abyss of impiety and vice that one glance into it fills with trembling the heart that has not lost its human feeling.

Beware, my brothers, of this false light, which in our times has especially begun to blind the eyes of many. Remember firmly that Christ alone is our true light, which enlightens every man coming into the world and going out of the world. If you meet a teacher, first try to learn of what light he is. If the light is not of Christ, then no matter who he is, block your ears and heart. For just as in the sensible world there is one sun and no other light besides it, so too in the spiritual world there is one true and life-giving light: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

Homily on Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. (Luke 23:42)

The Holy Church treats us like mothers treat children when teaching them to speak. To do this, they make children repeat after them the names of people and things which are most necessary for conversation. The Church does the same. In as much as for us, sinners, repentance is the most important thing, the Church, to teach us how to repent, makes us, at the present time, repeat, following after Her, the repentant psalm of David, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy” (Ps. 50:1), the moving hymn, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept… (Ps. 136:1), the contrite prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, “O Lord and Master of my life,” and the present touching appeal of the repentant thief on the cross to the Savior, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Since, for these words the Savior Himself replied to the one who said them, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), it is not surprising that they are especially precious for every sinner; and every time when they are proclaimed in Church they bring about a general visible impression, which expresses itself in the making of the sign of the cross and the bowing of the head. Each one feels that this appeal of the repentant thief contains, as it were, a key to the gates of paradise. And truly, this is a key to the Kingdom; not only in order to open whatever they want, a key not just to hold in one’s hands, but to be able to use it as is necessary. Otherwise, what would we think of the Heavenly Kingdom if for entrance into it it was only needed to pronounce a few words? If they opened paradise to the thief, it is because very much in his heart was connected to these few words on his lips. Without this the thief, no matter how many times he repeated these words while on his cross, would not have received the answer which the Savior of the world willed to vouchsafe him.

“To whom,” you ask, “may they open paradise?” Firstly, to the one who has just such a living and firm faith in the Lord Jesus, such as had the thief on the cross. See how he believes! He believes as many of the closest disciples of the Lord did not believe in the hour of His death. For Peter himself denied Him at that time swearing three times. Peter denies but the thief accepts the one rejected by all-the tortured one, crucified together with evil-doers, left, it seems, by His very Father, not having done any wrong-calls Him his Lord and Master and offers Him a humble prayer that he would not be forgotten by Him in His future Kingdom!… Can you imagine anything higher and stronger than such faith? Judge for yourself: are you in a state to adopt the confession of the thief? If you feel within yourself the presence of his faith, if, in spite of the thinking of false reason, which, even now, being blind, continues to see in Jesus not the Son of God but only the son of Mary, you constantly see Him as Christ, God’s power and wisdom; if you are prepared to stay with Him even when all have left Him; if neither His cross, carried for your sake, nor your cross, which you are carrying for Him, not in the least tempts you but even more binds your soul and heart to Him, then open your mouth and say, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Who can worthily pronounce the words of the thief? The one who, similar to him, not only sincerely admits his sins but also who good-naturedly bears their unfortunate consequences. The thief, regardless of his repentance, undergoes everything on the earth possible for a breaker of the law according to human justice: he dies now on a cross in terrible torment. But look how he endures that torment! When his unfortunate companion gives himself up to useless grumbling, he humbly confesses, “we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). It is as if he said, “Why are you grumbling? Everything is happening to us as it must be: sinners like us must suffer.” This shows that a decisive change of thinking happened in him, that he felt all of the emptiness of his actions, had a heartfelt loathing of sin and looks on it as at such an enemy of man from which the even suffering on a cross is a trifle to be freed from it. Perhaps this is why he does not even ask the Savior for the lightening of his suffering, or even courage for enduring it; that is, he wants to drink the cup of suffering to the dregs, in order to, with its bitterness, be cleansed from all the previous pernicious sweetness of sin. His gaze is directed only to the future, to eternal life beyond the grave. There he wants to begin his new existence and new pure and holy activity, and prays to Christ so that He would not prevent him in that good intention, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” That is, cover my sins before the judgment of the righteous God, fill up, from your merits, that which is lacking for my punishment so that, in Your Kingdom, I may not be rejected from Your face just as now I have been made worthy to be close to You on my cross. Such is the humility, devotion, and hope of the repentant thief!

Do you, sinner, also want to be given his good part? Acquire first his feelings. Do not limit yourself with the vague acknowledgment that you are a sinner. What sinner does not acknowledge this? But show that you feel all the vileness of your sins. How is this shown? Firstly, by always abandoning sin; secondly, with good-humored patience of the misfortunes which, as a shadow to a body, always follow sin. Has human justice sentenced you to a deserved punishment? Bear it without murmuring, saying like the thief, “we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). Has harm and evil such as sickness, loss of property, or disgrace happened to you of itself from your sinful life? Endure good-humoredly saying, “we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). One who repents truly, feeling the vileness of sin, not only tries not to avoid punishment for sin but seeks it and often asks for it as mercy; but not finding it from others he makes for himself a punishment. When you get yourself in such a disposition of soul, then open your mouth with faith and say, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Your voice will be heard and you will not be forgotten by the Master of paradise.

Who can worthily pronounce the words of the thief?

The one who, like the thief, not only feels disgust for sin, ceasing sinning, but who also tries to bring to repentance sinners like himself, especially those with which he participated in sin. This is the holy duty of a repenting sinner; he must utilize everything in order not only to return to the true way himself but to return those who were seduced with him in his passions. How touchingly the repentant thief on the cross fulfills this duty in relation to his companion crucified with him! Maybe he did not tempt him into sin but was himself tempted by the other, but since the crime was common, he wanted to also share with him his repentance. “Dost not thou fear God” (Luke 23:40), he says, hearing the abuse of Jesus, “for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:41). Few words, but what self-deprivation it demanded to say them for the one who was being torn in pains on the cross. It is therefore that the repentant thief, not even finishing his address to the other, breaks it off and with faint lips turns to the Savior with the prayer, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42), wishing to not only in words but with an example say to his poor companion what he also needs to do.

And so, repentant sinner, if you want to acquire this prayer, do not stop with this conversion. You did not sin alone and must not repent alone. Do not hide your conversion, as some do, before friends and companions. Everyone has seen that you’re a sinner, let everyone see that you are a repentant sinner. No matter how much your former companions, like the crucified companion of the repentant thief, would foolishly mock the business of your salvation, you must not be grieved but mind your own business. Advise, ask, beg, entreat to try to return to the right way your accomplices. For only in such a way will you be like the wise thief and be able to unashamedly say with him to your Savior, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Basically, my brothers, we must not think that when we pronounce a few words with a sigh-whether it’s David’s words, the publican’s, or the repentant thief’s-that we already have the right for mercy and can continue to carelessly sin as before. No, this would be the grossest error. In that case, these very same words serve for our condemnation. You knew and understood, at one point, how you must repent, for your very lips pronounced the words of repentant David or the thief on the cross. Why then, using their words, did you not imitate their actions? Why did you accept their form and not acquire their spirit and heart? So, imploring, together with the thief, the Lord, that He would remember us in His Kingdom, let us take care so that the Lord has something to remember about us, so that, when we are remembered it would not be worse for us from that which is remembered, that is, from our untruths and our unrepentance in sin. Amen

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

Homily before Confession – Friday the Second Week of Lent

It is good to give praise*[confess] unto the Lord (Psalms 91:2 LXX in Holy Transfiguration Monastery translation)

*Translator’s note: The Slavonic text reads “confess.” Other examples of use of the same verb in the Slavonic are Ps. 96:12, 6:6, 29:10, 117:1, 78:13, and 75:11. The Slavonic verb can mean both to praise and to confess. In the HT translation three such examples are translated as confess: “For in death there is none that is mindful of Thee, and in hades who will confess Thee?” (Ps. 6:6), “Shall dust confess Thee, or declare Thy truth?” (Ps. 29:10), and “We will confess Thee, O God, for ever” (Ps. 78:13). According to my unprofessional comparison, all but one of these verses (78:13) in the Greek text uses the same verb. In the text I have adapted the verse to match the Slavonic.

To such a personality as was St. David-a king, blessed by God with both gifts of nature and grace, but, however, falling to the depths from the height of his particular, prophet-king honor-it was, without a doubt, not any easier than for us, my brothers, to confess his sins and admit his transgressions. But see how he looks upon confession: as a great mercy, as a precious gift, as a softener of the soul and heart: “It is good to confess unto the Lord”

But many of us go to confession as to a certain torture, being ashamed to admit our sins. Where does this difference come from? From the fact that St. David clearly sees how sin is harmful and deadly for man, but we do not. For, one who sees the deadliness of sin, naturally, attempts to free himself from it and, therefore, loves confession as the truest means to freedom. The one not sure of the ruin contained in sin, accordingly, does not value confession, but, on the contrary, is burdened by it, for confession demands that we reveal before a server of the altar all the shame of our sinful deeds. Therefore, before confession, everyone absolutely needs to acquire the certitude that sin is the greatest evil for man, so that if he doesn’t free himself from it with the means of repentance and confession, then, sooner or later, he will perish eternally.

Is it difficult to be convinced of this? No, it is enough to turn our attention at least to, so to say, the surface of sin.

For what is sin? It is the transgression of the all-holy will of the Creator. Now, consider for yourself. Is it something small to become an adversary and enemy of an Omnipotent Being, that Being in Whose hands are we and all the world, our life and breath, and our time and eternity?

What is sin? An inclination to the side of the enemy of God, the devil. Consider again: is it nothing to become united with that man-killer, to make ourselves like him in the treason of the truth, and be infected with his snake-like poison?

What is sin? It is the blindness of the mind, the corruption of the will, the destruction of the conscience, and the decay of the body. Is it a mere trifle to ruin, in this manner, your god-like essence, to deviate from the purpose of existence in the opposite direction, and to introduce in it the seed of corruption and eternal death?

What awaits the sinner in the future? Even more darkness, even more exhaustion, and even more grief and ruin awaits. The eternal deprivation of all good, both spiritual and physical; the ultimate rejection from the face of God; and judgment to eternal suffering in hell with the devil and his angels awaits.

Even this most simple understanding of sin is sufficient to cause you to tremble with all your being that you are a sinner!

But trembling at the thought of ones sins, how can one not rush to confession when in it is, by the power of the Wisdom of God, the open means to reconciliation with God and our conscience? For in it, in return for the sincere admission of ones iniquities and repentance, is given complete forgiveness. Indeed, we would need to rush to confession even then if it demanded something the most difficult and impossible for us , for it is better to suffer everything and lose all than remain an enemy of God and a friend of the devil. But from us nothing of the kind is demanded-only the most necessary, that we would confess our sins, show an aversion to them, decide to abandon them forever, and to compensate for the past, as much as we can, with the present. Why should we withdraw from this? Why is this considered difficult? And for this reason we remain in sin? What, then, does our repentance mean after this? Where is the hatred towards sin? Where is love of God and oneself?

We will also, my brothers, say with St. David, “It is good to confess unto the Lord!” And we will rush to the holy lectern as criminals rush to the place where royal mercy is given. Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

Homily One on the Prayer of St. Ephrem

I picked up a new book the other day-homilies of St. Luke (Voino-Yasenetskii), Archbishop of Simferopol, on the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. As I’ve seen very little of St. Luke’s work in English I’ve added this book to the translations for lent list so hopefully I’ll get in one or two a week.

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, lust for power and idle talk give not unto me.
A spirit of chastity, humble mindedness, patience and love grant unto me, Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to condemn my brother. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

You know that this is the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian about whom I’ve already told you and a few excerpts of whose great works I have read. Why does the Holy Church devote such an unusually important place to this prayer in the services, and why is it repeated so many times during the services of Lent? This is not without reason; you yourselves feel with your heart the reason. This prayer penetrates into the heart as no other, and you feel its special, exceptional divine power.

Why is this? Because of the fact that it was poured out from a completely purified, perfect, holy heart, from a mind enlightened by the grace of God, which became a participant in the mind of Christ. Therefore this wonderful prayer has such a power, such a mysterious action on the heart of a Christian.

Firstly, it is an extremely important fact that St. Ephrem asks God that He would deliver him from all depravity, which is opposed to God, so that the Lord would grant him virtues, the most important and greatest virtues.

Why does he ask for this? There are people, and they were especially present in the former, pagan times, who in everything depended on themselves and thought that everything is possible with the power of their mind and senses. There are also people now who don’t understand that a lot, and, moreover, the most important, the most precious, the most cherished is not accessible to our mind or senses.

People who understand this remember what the Apostle Paul said, “For what I am doing, I do not know. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, this I do” (Rom. 7:15). So says the great chief of the apostles, admitting his powerlessness to walk according to the path of the good, deeply understanding that his flesh, which pulls him down and does not allow his heart to ascend to God, has huge power over him. He was melancholy and suffered in soul that he did not perform that good which his soul thirsted for, but served that evil which he did not want.

St. Ephrem, deeply aware of this, prayed to God that he would deliver him from the vices and give him the power to do good. We only receive the power to do good from God, and we are only delivered from the vices by God. The soul of every Christian vaguely realizes this and, therefore, the prayer of St. Ephrem so moves them.

Delve deeper into this prayer and think of why he does not simply ask that God would deliver him from such and such a vice and give him such and such a virtue. Why does he say, “a spirit of idleness, despondency, lust for power and idle talk give not unto me”? Why he speaks about a spirit of vice and a spirit of virtue is important to understand.

You know that things have their own smell characteristic of them. If in your room remain your things, your various dishes, all that you used when you lived in it, and the room is locked, then your smell will remain, that is, the smell* of those things. You know that if a fragrant substance is poured into a container, and then it is drained and cleaned, then the aroma will remain for some time; and, conversely, if you pour something foul-smelling then that smell* will remain for a long, long time. The same happens in the human soul. In people’s soul, all vices, with which they sin, leave their fragrance*, their trace. On the other hand, all good that they does leaves its light. If a person always did bad deeds, if their soul was always fed by vices, then in their soul remains forever the fragrance* of those vices. If a person lives a good life and does much good, if they constantly sanctifies their soul with prayer, then they are imbued with the fragrance* of prayer, the fragrance* of virtue, and the fragrance* of righteousness.

We know by experience that we can, after a short acquaintance, sometimes at the very first meeting, sense of what spirit* a person is. [Luke 9:55] If we meet with a person, wallowing in sin, you will sense of what spirit* they are. This is similar to how a dog seeks by smell, which even remain in the tracks of a person, and leads to that person.

Every person has their own spirit*; and here St. Ephrem the Syrian asks God not only that He would deliver him from vice and give him virtue, he asks that the Lord would give him the spirit* of virtue and deliver him from the spirit* of vice, so that there would not even be a trace or smell of vice, that he would be fragrant with Christ.

It is necessary to know that it is much easier to rid oneself of individual vices than rid oneself of the spirit* of those vices. Their spirit* very firmly holds on to our heart and to completely rid oneself from a vicious spirit* is only possible gradually, with prayer to God for help that He would deliver us from that malicious spirit.* This is how we need to understand the words of Ephrem the Syrian. Maybe even more directly can they be understood.

We always live and act under a spiritual influence of two types. On the one hand is the holy, blessed influence of God Himself, the holy angels, and, especially, our guardian angel. On the other hand, the dark torrent of the spirit of Satan and the demons is always vented on us. And as among the angels of light there are bearers of particular holy virtues, so among the demons are bearers of particular sins which at all times influence us. So, St. Ephrem asks God that the Grace of God would drive out the dark, evil, demonic spirits, who lead us into sin.

Now you see what these deep words of Ephrem the Syrian mean. Ask conscientiously that we would be freed from the very spirit of impiety, malice, and all the vices which is extremely difficult as the power of the demons over us is very strong. Remember that you aren’t able with your own strength to evade the dark, deadly influence of these spirits, and humbly pray to God as Ephrem the Syrian teaches:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, lust for power and idle talk give not unto me.
A spirit of chastity, humble mindedness, patience and love grant unto me, Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to condemn my brother. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

St. Luke (Voino-Yasenetskii) of Simferopol

*Translator’s note: In Russian this is a slight play on words as “smell/ fragrance” and “spirit” are the same word. All instances of this ambiguity are marked with an asterisk.

Homily on the Kontakion of St. Andrew of Crete’s Canon

This is a homily from the second week of the fast on a kontakion from the first week but it’s appropriate for any time your soul needs a wake up call.

Homily on Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.
Kontakion, tone 6, Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

Who would you think, my brothers, addresses their soul with these moving words? A penitent sinner? No, this is a holy and blessed man, from whose pen, or, better, from whose heart dripped that sweet-moving hymnody by which we were so strongly moved during the evening services last week, that is, St. Andrew of Crete. Did not his pure and holy soul always keep watch over his salvation? Did negligence over his conscience and forgetfulness of the hour dare to approach him? Even he does not trust his mind or his good deeds but tries to take all measures to not allow his thoughts and wishes to degenerate.

Do we not, all the more, my brothers, need to as often as possible address our soul with similar agitation from the sleep of sin? Us who are so inclined to worldly dispersion and the forgetfulness of God and our eternal destination? Alas, we all sleep a heavy and deep sleep-one of pride and ambition, another of luxury and satiety, still another of malice and cunning, and a fourth of the love of money and acquisitiveness-day and night we sleep from the cradle to the grave! Indeed, beloved brother, what are we doing for our salvation? Holy ascetics spent all their lives in fasting and prayer, labor and voluntary deprivation; holy martyrs endured all types of suffering and torment; the prophets and apostles did not have anywhere to lay their heads and were like filth [1 Cor. 4:13] to the world; and we? We do not even devote as much time to our salvation as we do to the most unimportant things for our whims and pleasures. It is not proof otherwise if we sometimes come to Church, take up a spiritual book, discuss with someone faith and good works, give alms to the poor, and do some sort of other good deeds. It is not proof, I say, that we have watchfulness and care for our souls. But do not sleepers perform various movements which make them appear as if they are not sleeping? And they sometimes even talk-and with reason-walk from place to place, and even sometimes perform some actions which require the intellect. Likewise is it with us: the few good deeds we do are exactly like the actions of a man who is asleep. For how are these deeds performed? Not out of a living and constant love towards God and neighbor, not in the name of our Lord and Savior, not according to a firm determination to live and act as is commanded in the Gospel, but accidentally, even sometimes involuntarily, almost always without a thought for our own salvation, sometimes from worldly conventions, sometimes from the momentary attraction of the feelings and heart, and sometimes due to the cold calculation of self-love. Moreover, performing occasionally a few good deeds, and, thus, disguising our appearance, we remain the same on the inside, with our former passions, with the very same wicked and impure heart, and with the very same sleeping and weak conscience.

A sign of a watchful man is his complete consciousness of himself and the things surrounding him. Where is this consciousness in us? Surrounding us all are sin and death; before us stands the judgment and eternity but we do not even think about it-for us it is as if it does not exist.

A sign of an unsleeping man is a distinct feeling of his needs and the constant care for their satisfaction. Where is this feeling and care in us? Our mind is ill with the evident ignorance of the truth of salvation, and we, filling it it with every type of earthly knowledge, we are negligent to illuminate it with the imperishable light of Christ. Our consciences are covered with the wounds of sin, and we, who treat our body when there is the first sign of weakness, not in the least take care for the treatment of our internal judge. Our hearts pine for heaven and blessed eternity and seek living water not that which is drying up, and we fill it up with the dust of earthly cares. We force it to drink from broken wells, false wisdom, or sensual pleasures.

A sign of a watchful man is the appropriate performance of the deeds of his calling; but among us many do not even know that our first and highest calling is the calling of a Christian, which, in truth, is our common inheritance in the heavens, that the earth for us is a place of wandering, that the body is a prison, and that death is liberation. What is all this if not a spiritual sleep? And will we sleep long in this manner? Will we wander for long not seeing where we are going and what we are achieving?

My soul, my soul, you are the only one I possess so that if I lose you, I lose everything. You who, being created in the image of God, by which you are already higher than the whole world, who even after your fall were redeemed with the precious Blood of the Son of God and intended for an eternal life of blessedness with God in heaven; my soul, my soul, why are you sleeping? Why do you forget your nature and dignity and so pitifully give yourself over to slavery to flesh and blood in the captivity of the world and the devil, your enemies? Why do you, created to serve the living and true God, bow down to every idol of the passions? Why do you, intended for eternity, madly waste both the time and talents entrusted to you on vanities, not thinking that an account for all of this is waiting for you?

My soul, My soul, arise; why are you sleeping? Here you sleep when the gates of heaven and eternity stand open before you? Here you sleep when below you is Gehenna and the outcast spirits? Can you sleep when there is a battle all around you and inside you, when heaven and hell are contending for you, when your all-spiteful enemy watches all your paths and gathers all his strength to catch you and devour you eternally?

My soul, my soul, arise! Throw the sleep off your eyelids, gather your thoughts, which are dispersed throughout the world, and turn them to yourself and your great calling! Arise! Rid yourself of the shameful bonds of bad habits, which, as a net, bind you to the earth and decay. Arise and see how all are awaiting your awakening: your guardian angel so as to not in vain stand before you and weep inconsolably over your hardness in sin, the Church of God so as to begin to treat you with prayers and the Mysteries, your conscience so as to assimilate its rights and lead you along the path of truth, death itself awaits giving you a place for repentance so as to not be forced to snatch you, at last, with your sins before the terrible judgment of God.

You sleep, my poor soul, and the time of grace and mercy flows away not to return. You sleep and the burden of your sins grows and multiplies beyond number and measure. You sleep and your enemy keeps vigil and binds you from head to foot with new nets. You sleep and the angel of death is coming and your end is approaching. It will approach, arrive, catch you, and strike you. What then will become of you? Will earthly possessions for the acquiring of which you forgot God and sacrificed all help you? Will light-minded friends and colleagues with which you spent and wasted time protect you from the wrath of God? Will you seek comfort on your death bed in worldly wisdom and lack of faith? O, it is then that you will know thoroughly how they rightfully told you that “what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” (Mark 8:36)! You will know, but what will come from this knowledge? Only cruel sorrow, only confusion and despair; “and you will be confounded!” You will be confounded by not only the past, which presents to you all your sins and impure life, but by the present, which will be filled with horrors, deathly torments, and despair, and by the future, which having been forgotten and rejected by you for so long, will appear before you in all its terrible and demeaning grandeur.

Why should we carelessly wait, my poor soul, our death? Why should we, having shut the eyes of our mind, walk all our life towards the pit of hell? What harm is it to us if we stop, think, and turn back when there is still time? And so, my soul, arouse yourself! Open your eyes and raise yourself up from the bed of sin; stand on the path of the law of the Lord and spread out your hand to the good; decide to serve the Living and True God as you have up to now served the idols of the passions, and all else is ready for your salvation. The Gospel is ready for the irradiation of your thoughts at all times in your life; the precious clothes of a servant of Christ are ready to cover your spiritual nakedness; the Body and Blood of the Son of God are ready for the satiation of your hunger; oil and balsam are ready to treat your wounds; the all-powerful Grace of the Holy Spirit is ready to strengthen you; the crown itself is ready to award you for your few struggles. Arouse yourself and may the light of Christ God illumine you! Do you hear how He, with the voice of the Gospel, proclaims from His heavenly supper, “yet there is room” (Luke 14:22)? This is a place for us, my soul. Let us hasten to make ourselves worthy while midnight has not yet come, the doors of the palace are not shut, and the oil in the lamp of our light has not yet gone out! Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

Talk on the Sunday of the Last Judgment

A little late (due to difficulties in translation and a business trip) but always a good reminder.

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.

Who says this? Every Christian does. If that is true then, without a doubt, both I and every one of you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, you heartily believe that Jesus Christ is the righteous judge of all earth-born and will come to judge all people, living and dead, who will be resurrected either for eternal blessedness or for eternal judgment? Are you ready to meet the worldwide Judge and give an answer at the dread judgment of Christ for every word and deed? Do you possess any good deeds? Why do I need ask any longer? From the life and behavior of a Christian it is completely clear that about the righteous Judge, dreadful judgment, and eternal life they forgot and with every day they rapidly rush to eternal death which they never imagined. They hasten to receive their comfort on the earth and are deprived of it for an eternity in heaven. They only care about how to kill precious time spending it pleasantly; but about using it for the good of the soul in order to prepare (Proverbs 24:27) no one bothers.

The one who desires eternal joy tastes little of the earthly, says St. Gennady, Patriarch of Constantinople, while among us earthly pleasures are almost constant. Many of us live as though they will never die and give an answer for their life. What does this mean? Is it in order to repent only just before death and receive complete forgiveness? Of course God does not refuse even the one who comes to Him at the eleventh hour, that is, the one who turns to Him with all his heart. But if your heart has been far from God for the most part of your life, then do you think it will be easy to move it to God and awaken in it feelings of repentance before death? O, brothers! This is where it will spurn you unto your own death. I have seen not just once how hard it is to listen to words of repentance, how they are lost in confession before ones departure for those who didn’t think about their correction and were not able to repent in life. No, brothers! A Christian ending is the reward for true Christians. Repent, according to your ability, all your life and a peaceful ending, with true repentance, will meet you.

Thus, prepare for judgment, the dread judgment, the righteous judgment, the singular and final judgment after which there will be either eternal blessedness or unending suffering. Don’t be surprised that I speak so resolutely, the truth is like royalty, it has a right to speak this way. And here is the great necessity of talking about preparation for judgment. When one is looking at the obvious eternal death of souls from carelessness and negligence then it is necessary to resolutely act, and even more resolutely than at other times, it is necessary to speak the truth. When you see that an obvious danger of death by burning or drowning is hanging over someone would you not act in such a case with all resoluteness? Yes, because in the case of indecisiveness the one needing to be saved may perish. And so we need all resoluteness and fear of the future judgment to save people, lifting them from the flames: after all, we’re not very far from the eternal fire, and many, perhaps, are one step away. Brother! Think, perhaps “this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Luke 12:20), and you will be in hell, in torment…in these flames. Thus, prepare for judgment, prepare from this very day; do good deeds while it is yet day: the night of death is coming when no man can work (John 9:4). We’ve busied ourselves with bustle enough. It’s time to take a look at our poor souls with testing eyes. Go to Church; sigh over your sins; wait with the Church with fear the great day of judgment. The Church constantly has the thought of the judgment: morning, afternoon, and night; everyday both early and late she reminds us, her children, about that great day on which is decided the fate of all the human race, but the thoughts of her children are busy with that which only excites them pleasantly for a few minutes, gladdens their heart which is fond of earthly joys. The Lord, who is Truth and Life, thunders with His voice about the future imminent judgment commanding us to watch and pray at all times in spirit (Mark 13:33, Luke 21:36) in order that we may avoid the terrible lot of the judged. The Apostles affirm that the Judge is at the door (James 5:9) …and we appear not to what to even hear about it. Others think and even say, “What terrible judgment!? The Lord is merciful; He will have mercy, after all, we sin more by weakness than in wickedness or obstinacy…” But they don’t think about the fact that the merciful shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7), that “he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy” (James 2:13). Where are your deeds of mercy, when you, obviously, only look after yourself?

Brothers! God forbid that any one appears where the rich man who made merry every day ended up. And if we find ourselves there then it will be too late to ask for a drop of water to cool our tongue, too late to inform our relatives so that they don’t end up there as well (Luke 16:19-31). “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” (Matt. 25:13). Amen.

St. John of Kronstadt

Spiritual meat

The season of repentance is at hand: show the fruits of abstinence, O my soul! Consider those who repented in the past and cry aloud to Christ: I have sinned, O Loving Master; save me, as You saved the Publican who sighed with sorrow from his heart, for You alone are rich in Mercy!
Hymn of Matins, Tuesday, first week of Lent

Restrain yourself, soul, from harmful passions, from hate and envy and from every evil. Be nourished in the fast with the spiritual meat from Heaven, which is the Word of God.
Irmos of Matins, Tuesday, first week of Lent

As the Lord killed the enemy by fasting, so let us also come to destroy his arrows and spears, saying: get behind me Satan! When he comes to tempt us.
Irmos of Matins, Tuesday, first week of Lent

Apropos to the first day of the Great Fast

For eating is also a matter of habit.
Abba Dorotheos

This is the time of repentance. This is the day of salvation. This is the beginning of the fast. Be vigilant, my soul! Close the door of your passions and seek the Lord.

Let us present a good fast, well-pleasing to the Lord! A true fast is alienation from the evil one; the holding of one’s tongue, the laying aside of all anger, the removal of all sensuality, of accusation, falsehood and sins of swearing. The weakening of these will make the fast true and well-pleasing.