Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt: Part I. Children’s Faith, Chapter 3

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt
Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov)
Part I. Children’s Faith. Chapter 3

* * *

Everyone knows to what extent children actually live in quite another world. And if I do not remember much about myself, I will write down something from the lives of other children.

One child of three, whose grandmother wrote me, was suffering with whooping cough for a long time. Before going to bed, he said to his grandmother:

“Babushka! If you see angels in your dream, ask them that my coughing would stop, I’m very tired!”

Another grandmother who came to visit her daughter who was dying of tuberculosis in Paris told me about her grandson Alexei.

“My daughter married a commissar. He did not even allow the mention of God. I, however, had a cross on my necklace and little Alexei saw it.

‘Babushka! What is that you have?’

I said, ‘A watch, my dear!’

He listened to it: there was no ticking, and he did not believe it.

And yet, bells were still rung on holidays. I do not know how but he somehow learned about God. And once told me,

‘Granny! Carry me to the church; I’ll one time, just once look at God and won’t any more.'”

Often, in the earliest years, they confuse the priest with God. In Bulgaria, I met a 4-year-old child who ran to his father in the shop and shouted: “God, God is coming!” I gave him some money for a treat.

In New York, a Negro boy (in 1933) asked me in English:

“Are you God?”

“No.”

“Who are you? The Mother of God?”

“No, I’m a bishop.”

He didn’t understand… He probably hadn’t heard that word.

“Svyashchenik, priest, priest!” I said [Footnote 1].

[Footnote 1 (of translator): In Russian text, the word priest is printed in Russian the first time and in English the last two times.]

A very tiny child was brought to the church. When he came home, he was asked: “Well, what did you see in the church?”

“God came, let loose smoke on us (from the censer), and left. And that was the whole service.”

There was a 7-year-old girl, Sonia, whose mother fell ill. They said that death was near. But her daughter was completely calm. When the mother especially complained of pain and was afraid of death, Sonia went to her and asked:

“Mama, why are you afraid of death? After all, you tell me that it is very good with God in paradise. And do you not want to go there?”

…I do not know what her mother answered.

Sonia often received communion, and she loved it.

In New York, one mother often communed her little ones: Peter and Paul, little pale kids. How I loved to commune them! And they, too, loved it. Simply angels.

I also remember about older “angels” of the Don Cadet Corps (in Bileća, Yugoslavia) [Footnote 2]. They fasted in groups (2-3 “companies” of a class).

[Footnote 2 (of editor of Russian text): In 1924-1925, Bishop Benjamin was an instructor for the Law of God in two cadet corps: Russian and Don of General Kaledin.]

One day, after Communion, two young men, 16-17 years old already, came to me… Pure, handsome. They knocked. I let them in.

“What do you come for?” I ask.

“So-o!”

They sat down. Everyone was silent… They sit quietly…

“Well, how do you feel?” I ask.

“Good-oh!” One of them answers.

The other added:

“As though it were Easter!”

We were silent again. And I was happy to sit in silence with them. Then one says thoughtfully:

“And to think: why did God gave us this joy? Just because we have confessed (i.e., revealed our sins).

We sat a little and they left. And I was left with the impression that real angels had been with me… Even now it is joyful to remember them.

Another cadet from the same corps, a clever young man, the first student in the company, said to me after Communion that he suddenly felt so physically “light that I have less weight in me.” This deserves attention: a person is enlivened when he unites himself to Christ. After His resurrection, Christ received a spiritual body, which did not have any weight or density; because of this, He appeared and disappeared through doors…and ascended. And the custom of the Church to read (by the clergy in the altar, secretly) after Communion “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ,” “Shine, shine, new (future, spiritual, about which is written in Revelation 21 and 22) Jerusalem” is full of meaning. A spiritual, divine city, in which “they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light” (Revelation 22:5), “Having the Glory of God (Revelation 21:11); “new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). And then they read “O Great and most sacred Pascha, Christ!… Grant that we partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy Kingdom” (Paschal Canon, canticle 9).

I remembered about another extraordinary action of Holy Communion. But not about infants in the flesh…

In Paris, a young, 25-year-old girl came to me in the Sergiev Podvorye [Footnote 3]. She was a writer. It was the first time I had seen her.

[Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text): Sergiev Podvorye in Paris was founded in the mid-1920s by Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievskii), who oversaw the Russian parishes in Western Europe, Prince G.N. Trubetskoy, M.M. Osorgin, and other Russian exiles. At the podvorye, a theological institute was established, at which taught Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, G.V. Florovsky, B.P. Vysheslavtsev, A.V. Kartashev, and V.N. Il’in. Bishop Benjamin was a professor and served as dean of students of the institute. According to contemporaries, the theological institute was largely obliged to Bishop Benjamin for the particular spiritual atmosphere, almost monastic way of life, that prevailed within its walls.]

“How can I serve you?”

“I came to you to for confession.”

“Good: I do not dare refuse. And why exactly did you come to me?”

“I was sent to you by R.”

This was a baptized Jew, a girl known to me.

After a few more phrases, I wanted to proceed to the Sacrament of Confession. Suddenly she resolutely declares:

“No! I will not confess before you.”

“What is it? Why is that?”

“Well, I want to confess before such a priest who does not know me at all and that I do not know. And I have only spoken with you 5 minutes here, and I feel like I’ve known you for 20 years. No, I will not, I will not! I would be ashamed!”

And she was about to leave.

I earnestly tried to persuade her to drop this temptation of the devil. But she stood her ground: “I will not, I will not!”

Then I decided upon an innocent ploy.

“Listen,” I say, “well, you will not say anything; only stand on your knees, and I will speak for you: if my words are true, then you remain silent, but if they are wrong, tell me only: no. Now this is no longer difficult.”

Vacillating a little more, she agreed. I read the prayers. We knelt. I spoke… Confession, thank God, was accomplished. It was Great and Holy Thursday, after Divine Liturgy. Liturgy and Communion does not take place the following day. And the Plashchanitsa is brought out only at Vespers. The sacrifice of Calvary is made.

The girl from confession was at the service. After Vespers, she ran to my room and said in horror:

“And once again I have chaos in my soul. Everything in my head is mixed up again. That’s all very nice, but what if all this is only a creation of my own heart and mind? And what if all of this is in actual fact not real?” (I’ll write specifically about doubts later.)

“Why do you think this?”

“I myself do not know why!” She says in grieving horror. “Those thoughts came into my head from somewhere, against my will. And I’ve fallen to pieces again. This is terrible!”

“Wait, wait!” I said. And suddenly the thought came to me to read her something from the Gospels. She stopped.

“I am not going to prove existence and truth to the world right now… But just look at it… We will see with our own eyes.”

“How?” Surprisingly she asks with a secret, joyful hope to get out of the horror of doubt that has seized her.

“Here is the Gospel. Just what is it? We say, Divine “Revelation,” “the Word of God.” If it is “revelation,” it does not prove but simply shows, “opens” to us the other world and its undoubted reality and truth. Well, I will open it at random and we will read and see that world.”

I opened the Gospel of Mark by chance, and my fingers fell upon the end of the fifth chapter. I read to her about the resurrection of the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue:

“And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat” (Mark 5:41-43).

“Well, look,” I say, “Is it not obvious to you that all this was written by credible witnesses?!” Tell me, why would they write about a young girl who, after being resurrected, “began to walk” around the room?! Does it really matter if Tabitha, who had been resurrected by the Apostle Peter, walked or if she sat? She “opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up” (Acts 9:40-41). And yet, witnesses saw and recorded this detail. As is known, the Holy Apostle Mark wrote this according to the words of his teacher, the Apostle Peter, who was present at this miracle along with John and James (Mark 5:37). And they themselves were surprised by this walking: she was just dead and now is healthily walking. We know, of course, that children do not like to sit and love to move, to do something. And the Apostle explains particularly this: she was then still only “about 12 years old”… Still a girl… And then: “Give her something to eat”… Another great detail; although she was walking around the room, yet was still weakened by illness, and the Savior also took care of that. Now,” I say, “tell me yourself (you are an honest and intelligent woman); is it not obvious to every unprejudiced mind and heart that all of this really happened? Well, has it really not been “revealed” even to us that all of this is the truth? And if these two or three verses are true, then is not everything above and below written of Christ and of His Father and the Holy Spirit and, in general, all that is revealed in the Gospel about that world true?! Say for yourself.”

“Yes, it is true!” Quietly confirmed the troubled writer. “It’s true.”

“Well, go in peace, and take communion tomorrow. If you again find doubtful thoughts in yourself, do not pay them any attention. Be calm and firm: you see that all this ‘in fact’ was and is.”

She left completely calmed.

She received Communion on Holy Saturday. I had only returned from the church to my room and she comes in extremely joyful. I liked to invite the communicants to tea.

“Welcome, welcome! Come in.”

“No, I will not stay. I only ran in for one minute.”

“You should at least drink some tea!”

“No, no, no!” She said, all the while continuing to stand in the hallway. “I just came to tell you what happened to me during Communion…”

I am silent … She sighed for two or three seconds and said:

“During communion, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared to me.”

(And further I do not remember the details, for she said it only very briefly.)

“That’s what I ran in to tell you!” And having received a blessing, she joyfully, with radiant Paschal brightness quickly ran away…

I never met her again… Just where are you, child of God? I believe that whatever happened to you, Christ did not appear to you in vain in a particularly obvious way after Communion… He will not let you perish in the whirlpool of life nor in the callous lie of disbelief.

More about children.

In Simferopol, a 3-year-old favorite was dying in the family of R-kh. The parents are crying, but he is telling them, “Home, I’m going home.”

Count A-n [Footnote 4], in the presence of members of the Synod, in 1920, said the following about his girls (Martha and, it seems, Nadya) in Kherson monastery:

[Footnote 4 (of editor of Russian text): Probably Count Apraksin, a member of the so-called “Crimean Synod,” Provisional Supreme Church Administration (PSCA) dioceses of southeast Russia, of which Bishop Benjamin was also a member.]

“They were already in bed (in Yalta). I, as usual, came to them in the bedroom at night to make the sign of the cross over them. The doors opened silently, and I can hear their conversation:

‘What do you think: will they now come to us?’ Says one.

‘I think they will come…’

About whom are they talking? About their parents or what? I ask:

‘For whom are you waiting? Who will come?’

They answered simply, ‘angels.’

‘What angels?’

‘Fair, with wings.’

‘They come to you?’

‘Yes!’

I did not ask about anything else. I silently crossed them and with tears of joy came out.”

His wife too was holy, from the Baryatinsky family… Someone who knows her life should write about her. She was humble… And pure… And a believing soul…

She was deprived of everything, but she never grumbled not only about God but not even about the Bolsheviks … There were saints among the aristocrats and not only among ordinary people…

Concerning angels, I still remember the story of Bishop Tikhon (Tishchenko), at the time an archimandrite, the former rector of the Russian Church in Berlin. In 1923, I was invited to give a lecture at a congress of Christian youth in the town of Falkenberg, near Berlin. Archimandrite Tikhon was also there. He was a very learned theologian with a theological degree and dean of students of the Kiev Theological Academy. He came from a peasant family from the town of Belaya Tserkov. They had a large family with seven children. The youngest child, Maria, fell dangerously ill. After several sleepless nights, their mother laid the child beside her on the bed and fell asleep. And the boy, then still Timothy, was sitting at the window.

“I was seven years old. Suddenly I saw an angel with Manka in his hands and I shouted: ‘Mamo! Mamo! [Footnote 5] Manka was taken, Manka was taken!’ My mother woke up: ‘What are you shouting about?’ ‘Manko was taken!’ ‘Who took her?’ And she rushed to look at the sick child. ‘An angel took her. I saw it.’ Mother took up Maria but she was already dead.

[Footnote 5 (of translator): This is the vocative form of Mama.]

Archimandrite Tikhon told me that he had seen a white angel with wings.

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt: Part I. Children’s Faith, Chapter 2

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt
by Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov)
Part I. Children’s Faith.
Chapter 2

* * *

I also remember how my grandmother (Nadezhda who was holy and humble; may she be granted the Kingdom of Heaven!) took me to the church that stood on a hill, about two versts from our house, to receive the Holy Mysteries. I was dressed in a clean, colored shirt, I remember, and it was in summer, which also pleased me. I do not remember my impressions of Holy Communion in early childhood, but I do remember only a slight impression: peace and quiet, reverent, silent, triumphant: I was as though becoming a grown-up, serious…

One time, my grandmother and I arrived late for communion and it was upsetting… Why was I alone of the children taken (my brother, Michael, was older than me by 2 years, but he was not taken with me)? I do not know… Was it really already God’s Providence for me, the unworthy?

By the way, about my holy grandmother: My mother told me that my grandfather married grandmother not by choice but by the will of his parents, as was usually done in the old days in simple rural families and clergy. Here is how it happened. One winter evening, my great-grandfather, Deacon Basil (Orshevsky), came into the house, and my grandfather, Nicholas, then a young man (he for some reason did not finish studying in religious schools), was lying on the stove [Footnote 1].

[Footnote 1 (of translator): Traditional Russian stoves are quite large and have one or more places where someone could lie down.]

“Nicholas, hey Nicholas!” Said great-grandfather to grandfather.

“What, batushka? [Footnote 2]

[Footnote 2 (of translator): Batushka was not used exclusively in relation to clergy, but was used as a more intimate form for one’s own father.]

“I decided to marry you off.”

“To whom, batushka?” asked the groom.

“Well, I want to take Fr. Basil’s (in that village, Orshevka, there was another deacon, also named Basil) Nadezhda for you.”

“Batushka! That pock-marked thing?!” Objected the disgruntled and unwilling groom. Grandmother had smallpox as a child and she had a few large pockmarks, though they really didn’t mar her face.

“What?!” Fr. Deacon said angrily. “Well, what? Am I really your enemy and not your father? I know whom I choose. Come on, get off the stove!” Grandpa was in tears, and his father took a poker (what we used to put our pots and cast iron into the oven) and let it loose on his back—once, twice and he “taught him.”

“Forgive me, batushka,” pleaded grandfather. “Whether to a pockmarked or one-eyed woman, it’s your will!”

And they were married. It had been a wise choice: grandfather did not have an entirely peaceful nature, and later he drank a lot of wine. He had a big apiary, several hundred hives, bought and sold, mead and beer. And during parish office he constantly drank, and thus became an alcoholic. During the last 18 years of his life (he died at 71-72 years), he even lost his wits and lapsed into childhood. He lived with us and then with another daughter, Anna Sokolova (also a meek, holy woman who was married to a wealthy reader, Yakov Nikolaevich). He was very quiet and just joked and smiled. None of the children were afraid of him… He died at Anna’s; I was not there at the time.

It was particularly to such a restless groom that the Lord sent the most humble wife Nadezhda. And she never complained, never judged grandfather; she was always oh-so-calm, quiet, and gentle.

Yes, we can say that she was holy. The Apostle Paul often wrote about Christians in his letters: “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22); in another place, he writes simply: “All the brethren greet you (Corinthians)” (1 Cor. 16:20); “All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith” (Titus 3:15). The first Christians lived faithfully, remaining in families, with husbands, wives, children, or even as slaves. Grandmother was truly of this kind.

The Lord, therefore, granted her an unusually quiet repose, about which we pray: “a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful,” “let us ask of the Lord” [Footnote 3]. This I remember: I was probably 7 years old already, perhaps still just a little over 6. I slept with my little brother Sergei on the big bed, while the others slept on the floor. Grandma slept on the bench (an addition on the side to a large, Russian stove, for warmth while resting and sleeping)… Grandmother, as I remember, was never ill. She was about 71-72 years old probably, but she already was getting very weak. This must be why the lamp was dimly burning. Suddenly I heard (but maybe my mother later recalled?):

[Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text): Christian ending to our life… – The words of the Litany of Supplication]

“Natasha!” (Grandmother calling to my mother). Sergei tossed about in his sleep (that is, threw off his blanket in his sleep): cover him up.

Evidently, she was already weak; she did not get up. My mother, who is very responsive and fast in general, instantly jumped up from the floor and covered my brother. By this time, I was not sleeping. Then my mother wanted to go to bed, but grandmother suddenly began to breathe with unusual difficulty. Mother heard it and was frightened. She went up to grandmother and said to father:

“Father, father!” Get up, there’s something not good with grandmother.

My mother was a nervous person, but my father was always calm: what could one worry about in this world? And Ukrainian (Fedchenko! [Footnote 4]) mildness was in his nature (Ukrainians rode on oxen: very “so-o-f-ftly”). Father stood up, looked at grandmother, and completely peacefully said:

[Footnote 4 (of translator): According to Metropolitan Benjamin’s biography, his father’s (or even earlier ancestor’s) last name, Fedchenko, was given a Russian ending.]

“Grandmother is dying.”

My mother immediately began to cry loudly … Everyone woke up… I do not remember, but think I was not worried. Father lit a beeswax candle and went up to grandmother:

“Grandmother, cross yourself!” (Perhaps she still had enough strength.) “Take the candle.”

She took it, and then she breathed infrequently a few times. And she died absolutely calmly… Mother sobbed… On the third day, she was buried. And they carried her along the same road by which we went to communion. In front of the coffin, I carried an icon… They buried her in the cemetery, to the left, almost next to the chapel. She was holy. This was, it seems, early autumn, maybe even in September (about 1886-87). Six months later, ailing grandfather died at their other daughter’s in the village.

To this day, I not only remember grandmother in my prayers, but when I have emotional difficulties, I ask her to pray for me there, before God; her prayer, humble and pure (of course, she lived a pure life), reaches to God.

…In connection, I recall how I fasted later. This was already 5 years after my grandmother’s death…

Fr. Vladimir heard confessions during the fast on the right kliros. And it seems that he confessed innocent children in groups of five… And, really, what kinds of sins did we have then? I afterward joyfully flew home on wings: my soul was so light! And after confession, we were not supposed to eat. My mother, also happy for us that we were cleansed (the people say, “you dealt with it and were fixed”), gently used to say:

“Well, you go, go quickly to bed already so as not to sin again. Tomorrow is communion!”

And we, truly afraid of soiling our conscience even in word and thought, went right to bed; and we fell asleep in untroubled sleep of innocence. On the next day, we were “made worthy” to receive communion, which was even more joy for both us and our parents. They were particularly affectionate to us at this time… Holy peace and love entered into the house with those who had communed: “the God of love and peace” came with us into the house (2 Cor. 13:11).

Everyone congratulated us, treated us to good things, and generously awarded us for the previous day’s fast.

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

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

Part I. Children’s Faith

Chapter 1

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

It turned out that I was only comforted by the promise but was not taken. And my older brother, Michael, had already received this joy. It was painful, but I soon forgot about my sadness. Paschal joy took hold of me and carried me forward. Children’s grief, like the morning dew, is short-lived… But the next year I was together with all of our family… I do not remember everything, but the joy was extraordinary… And among other things, during the singing of “Christ is Risen” and the procession around the church, a cannon (with powder) preserved at the landlords, God knows from where, was fired [Footnote 3]. It was frightening but also breathtaking. Everything merged into total elation, and barrels of tar were even burned… which was beautiful at night… I remember how old women set “Pascha” (cheese), Kulich, and painted eggs in packages around the church, and penny candles were stuck in the Pascha cheese. “Batushki” (priest, deacon, and reader) walked, sang, and sprinkled them with holy water (after the liturgy); the old women immediately tied up their packages and hurried home… The fires became smaller and smaller. Bonfires were sleepily burning, as if exhausted by the night… Dawn was beginning to shine… We rode in the cart. Under the wheels and hooves of horses, ice crunched in places; it must have been an early Pascha. At home, father and mother sang Christ is Risen three times, and we began to joyously break the fast and with sweet Pascha cheese, kulich, and eggs… My little heart was filled with joy… Then we immediately went to sleep after an almost sleepless night. Around 11, we woke up for lunch. But already the same trembling joy was absent. Some kind of peaceful silence caressed my soul … Then there was a game of eggs on the street, where all the “gentlemen’s” [Footnote 4] servants gathered. There was, clearly, no thought about any “social” inequality: the heart was joyful, the food was delicious, the soul was pure, and everyone around was glad. What could be better? I was oblivious to the whole world! It was a happy time…

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

[Footnote 4 (of translator): Here he’s referring to the landowner.]

* * *

Much later, I turned my attention to the visit of the clergy to even our hut at Pascha… After the service at the landowners, the priest walked down the “court” [Footnote 5] and we waited. A green votive burned in front of the icons. Everything was neat and clean… We children watched for when the “icons” [Footnote 6] would appear.

[Footnote 5 (of translator)]: Metropolitan Benjamin explains this word and concept in more detail in his autobiographical work At the Turn of Two Eras: “Everyone called us ‘servants,’ probably from the word ‘court,’ ‘courtiers.’ [Translator note: The word used for servants, ‘dvornya,’ is derived from the word for ‘court’: ‘dvor.’] The landowner’s house was like the tsar’s palace in the middle, while we who surrounded it made up his ‘court’ or ‘servants,’ to speak more humbly. Neither we ourselves nor even farmer-peasants highly respected us, so that the word ‘servants’ was probably pronounced with contempt, although we really were an intermediate layer between the highest, inaccessible class of lords and peasants, muzhiks.”]
[Footnote 6 (of translator)]: This procession of the clergy was apparently called “icons,” which does make sense as they would probably be carrying icons.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, without any further shenanigans:

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

Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine)

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Metropolitan Joseph (Chernov)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Metropolitan Joseph with his dog, Jerry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] perekrestil
[2] perevenchal

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

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

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

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

On the Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Bishop Innocent (Solotchin) of Kherson

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

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

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

Prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ for a Woman upon Birthgiving

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

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

Serbian Conversations, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Takes on Sects

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Polyanovskii, “New Israel”

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

The Monk Gerasimos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. For more information on Cantonists, see Wikipedia.

On St. Nikolaj (Velimirovic)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Помози нам, Вишни Боже,

Без Тебе ништо не може,

Ни орати, ни спевати,

Ни за правду воевати…[2]

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

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

Letter Eleven of Fr. Clement Sederholm to His Father

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

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

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

April 14, 18[6]4

On Church Prayer

Following the request of Christopher at Orrologion, I have begun translating some selections from the letters of Fr. Clement Sederholm (1830-1878) to his father. In the book I have acquired there are only 15 letters, and they are mostly from the period of Fr. Clement’s life after he was tonsured a monk at Optina in 1863 (ten years after converting to Orthodoxy). One feature that runs throughout all these letters is Fr. Clements unwillingness to openly argue with his father over points of theology. (Evidently at some point they did have such arguments as they are hinted at in early letters.) While in many letters Fr. Clement talks about theological matters it is usually simply stating what the Orthodox believe or do, as in this first selection.

I can briefly explain to you concerning prolonged prayers in our [Orthodox] Church. Every one of us prays not for himself only and not in their own way. We gather together for common church prayer in order to fulfill the unity and mutual love which is commanded by the Holy Spirit as well as what is prescribed by the apostle: forsake not the assembly as do some (Heb. 10:25). No matter how elevated the apostles stood they did not remove themselves from the assembly of believers (Acts 3:1). And that a few prayers of the Church are stronger than the prayers of one man can be seen from the fact that the Apostle Peter was freed from prison by the prayers of the Church (Acts 12:5-19). Our church prayers are made up of psalms, church songs, and various prayers. Every person praying follows the church prayers as they can: if his thoughts scatter he can quickly gather his senses and again follow after the course of the service and pray. But when someone prays alone and composes prayers himself then if his thoughts scatter it is harder for him for begin again to pray; and where does he start? If you, at your age and after long years of studying lofty subjects, feel how hard it is to keep your thoughts together, what can be said about a beginner? Concerning those who already reached the a high level of spiritual life, they add their short prayers to the common church prayer.
I heartily wish that my explanation turns out to be satisfactory to you.
October 26, 1863

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

Homily on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

What does it mean that all the anathemas just proclaimed by the Church refer to false teaching and heresy and not one condemns impiety and vice? Is an impious life really less contrary to the Gospel than incorrect faith? No, impenitent vice is more criminal than impenitent unbelief. If a vice was not condemned by these anathemas it is because concerning its criminality there never were any arguments, for everyone, at all times-both Orthodox and heretics-unanimously recognized that an iniquitous and impious life in an of itself is already anathema.

Does it not follow, according to this one fact, for every unrepentant sinner to be stricken by shame and horror? But, in order for saving fear to be that much more forceful and real, let us open Holy Scripture and read from the place where misfortune and curses for sin are pronounced.

Let us hear, firstly, the leader of the people of God, the law-giver of Sinai, Moses. He, according to the Word of God, “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). And what does this meek man say to the sinners?

Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen. [LXX and Slavonic: Cursed be he that lieth with his wife’s sister. And all the people shall say, Amen.]
Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
(Deut. 27:16-26)

Similarly, Moses or, rather, the Lord Himself with his lips, says in another place to the people of Israel,

But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
(Deut. 28:15-19)

Do you see how many anathemas there are and what they are for? They are not for heresy and schism but for breaking the law of God, for life in sin, and for impenitence.

But maybe such strictness against vice was only characteristic of the Old Testament which, corresponding to its strict inner nature, was given on Sinai amidst lightning, storms, and thunder. Maybe in the New Testament, the testament of mercy and grace, there is less horror and fear for the unrepentant sinner, as, upon the hope of Christ’s merits, we can give ourselves up thoughtlessly to our lusts and passions? But, my brothers, wouldn’t to think in such a way mean that we did not understand, that we humiliate and insult the most venerable Grace of God and, according to the terrible phrase of the apostle of Christ, change it into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4)? For, to say together with St. Paul, “is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid” (Gal. 2:17)! If in the New Testament, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20) then it was not so that with this abundance to nourish and strengthen lawlessness in man, but to press it, efface it, and abolish it. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses and saves from every type of sin, but for whom? Not for every sinner but only those who grieve for their sins and accept forgiveness in the name of the Redeemer and, for their part, use all means to free themselves from the shameful captivity to the passions. So, for sinners, in the New Testament, just as in the Old Testament, there is neither grace nor mercy.

So that these terrible truths did not seem to anyone to be our personal judgments we will turn again to Scripture and hear from the New Testament what it says against vice. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matt. 23:23)! Here is an anathema against false piety! “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27)! Here is the judgment on the hypocrites! “[W]oe to that man by whom the offence cometh! [I]t were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:7, 6)! Here is the anathema on tempters! “[W]oe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation (Luke 6:24)! Here is the judgment on the iniquitous rich and hard-hearted! “Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger” (Luke 6:25)! Here is sentence against the sons of delight and luxury! “Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25)! Here is the thunder against the mad worldly joy! “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you” (Luke 6:26)! Here is an arrow against vanity and empty praise of men!

You see with what force and strictness the New Testament condemns even that which, according to the judgment of the world, is not only not considered a vice but is sometimes even considered a virtue. And from whose mouth comes all this woe and judgment? From the mouth of the Sweetest Jesus, from the mouth of the One Who Himself is the only origin and giver of every grace. Does He pronounce woe in vain?

Do you want to hear also what the Apostle Paul, the apostle who was so full of love for his neighbor that for the salvation of a dying brother would have been accursed from Christ, says about sinners? St. Paul anathematizes not only obvious vice and obvious unrepentance but also coldness to faith, a lack of a heartfelt disposition, and love towards our Lord and Savior. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (I Cor. 16:22)! After this, what sin and what vice will be freed from an anathema? For does the pastor who serves at the altar only because he is fed at the altar and cares not for the salvation of the souls which are entrusted to him love the Lord Jesus? And so he is under Paul’s anathema! Does such a judge or whom are dear not truth and innocence but payment and partiality love the Lord Jesus? Does such a master who, with the back breaking work of his servants, dissipates in luxury and caprice love the Lord Jesus? He is under Paul’s anathema! Does the rich man who has every opportunity to ease the lot of lesser brothers, both his and Christ’s, and hard-heartedly “shutteth up his bowels of compassion” (I John 3:17) before a brother in need? He is under Paul’s anathema! Does such a father who does not care for the upbringing of his children but gives them a bad example love the Lord Jesus? A husband not maintaining mutual faithfulness and not tolerating his wife’s faults? Children not showing respect for their parents and elders? Do all the unrestrained, all the irritable, all the cursers, all the proud, and all the sinful love the Lord Jesus? Therefore, all of them are under an anathema. For, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ,” according to the words of St. Paul, “Anathema Maranatha” (I Cor. 16:22)! What, then, can be promised to such unrepentant souls? Surely not paradise and blessedness in the heavens?

Will someone say that it is cruel to say such things (see John 6:60)? But for whom is it cruel? For those who do not want to love the One, Who Himself is completely love. The One Who died for our sins and rose for our justification. What remains for such people except for judgment and condemnation for their sins? For whom is it cruel? For those who have attached themselves to the seductions of the world, have deadened the voice of their conscience and the law, and have decided, apparently, to permanently continue a dishonorable and impious life.

Let us rather thank the Lord that the terrible lot awaiting the sinners is not hidden from us and what will happen to the unrepentant beyond the grave is clearly shown. If heavenly love itself resounds above us with the thunder of anathema it is in order to wake us from a deathly, fatal sleep. Let us be grateful for this attention to us and, returning to our homes, instead of indulging in an idle conversation about how the anathema’s were proclaimed in Church, look and see if something in our habits or our life lies under an anathema. And if we find something of the sort, let us hasten to do away with it however dear and precious it seems to us, so that, otherwise, we would not fall under, finally, that terrible anathema from which there will be no salvation, even with repentance and Christ’s merits. Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

Another Homily on Cheese-fare Sunday

Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph. 5:14)

By the mercy of the Lord we are again in the arena of the holy fast and repentance! Some of us who together with us last year set out to confession and the holy meal have been taken by the angel of death and stand now before the altar of the righteous God, but we still stand before the alter of mercy! Behind them or before them the doors of the King’s palace have already closed, but before us they stand open! Their fate, perhaps, has already been permanently decided, but ours is still in our own hands! Let us thank the Lord that we have not perished with our sins and has again given us all means for repentance!

How and with what do we thank Him? With the rigorous and faithful usage of these very means for our salvation. Speaking such I do not suppose, brothers, that anyone of you carried out past Lents completely not in a Christian way, even more so that anyone has withdrawn from the Holy Mysteries of the Church, but, oppositely, I suppose that every one of you has come to the holy altar for the receiving of the forgiveness of sins and the mysterious unification with our Lord and Savior through the communion of His body and blood. I also think that all of this, every time, does possesses fruit for the soul and leaves beneficial traces throughout your whole life… But, my brothers, disregarding all of this, allow me to ask you now one question. Repeatedly coming to the spiritual hospital and going through the whole program of heart treatment and repeatedly leaving the Church of God, apparently, justified and healed, did you feel, at least one time, completely healthy spiritually? And if you did feel healthy, did that precious feeling last long?… I don’t hereby suppose that you, after seven days of preparation* and abstinence, suddenly have become completely sinless (this holy lot is for those who have already delivered themselves from the bonds of flesh and blood [i.e., died]). But you must have been more free from sin after that; there must have happened a decisive change for the better in you. The light of Grace in your soul must have been like the morning sun, arising higher and higher, driving away the clouds of confusion, drying all of the streams of sensuality, in order to, finally, bring about a full day of knowing God and piety. Is this how it was with you? Have you noticed in yourself, after the podvig of fasting and repentance, a permanent removal from the world, an approach to God, and a weakening and disappearance of previous bad habits, substituting them with good and Christian habits? It is not hard to answer this question if all this has happened in you and continues to happen. A person, recovered from a serious illness, will readily say that he is healthy. But is it not true, my brothers, that for many of us it is extremely hard to answer the question of we have become healthy in spirit and conscience? Many, on the contrary, must admit with sorrow, as the ancient Israelites, that the opposite happens, “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!” (Jer. 8:15). Before every fast, confession, and communion we hoped to receive, through them, spiritual health and we accept these Mysteries with joy. However, up to the present we have remained the same as we were previously: our souls are cold to the good and incline to the evil; previous passions have the same power and, often, more; our conscience has the same wounds and our heart has the same burden; and our inner man is completely dead or extremely weak. “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!”

What, then, does this mean? “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jer. 8:22) questioned at one time the prophet, seeing the continuance of the sickly state of the Israelites. Likewise, I will ask you, brothers, taking into account the same unhealed state of your souls. “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” Has the all-healing Hand of God really been shortened and the Mysteries of the Holy Church lost their power? Or have pastors of the Church, pronouncing absolution over us, not pronounced it from their heart? No! What is forgiven won’t be remembered here and there unless you, yourselves, revive it again with the repetition of previous sins! Or did the Savior, giving you His flesh and blood, give you something foreign and not the true thing? No, He will not turn away from His own flesh and blood if only you are able to preserve this gift… Many people, similar to you, even more serious sinners, using the very same methods, were able to cleanse themselves from all the uncleanliness of sin and recover completely from hellish leprosy and become holy and pleasing to God and now are preparing to finish their earthly existence in peace or are already enjoying the grace of forgiveness in the Kingdom of Glory. But you, brothers, using many times the very same methods remain, up to now, on the bed of spiritual death or drag the pitiful remains of the spiritual life into the bonds of sin! What does this mean?…

Was it not of the same thing, brothers, about which at one time that same prophet complained while gazing at the desperate state of Babylon? Babylon, he says, is falling; its day of judgment and sentence is close and inevitable. But who is to blame? Did Babylon lack the means for the aversion of disaster? Was there not treatment and bandages for the wound? They have all been used but without use, “we would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed” (Jer. 51:9). So, maybe, brothers, our guardian angels, before the throne of the justice of God, long ago foretold of us, “Your wisdom, O Lord, appointed us to guard their souls and bodies and to direct and strengthen them on the path to heaven. You, Yourself, can see if we have omitted anything which could enlighten their mights, awaken and warm their hearts, and to prevent their feet from walking on the path to death. But what good can all means to salvation, all our efforts and care do to them when they either reject them in pride or use them with haste,” that is, “we would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed.” She was not healed because she fell in love with her sinful wounds, contantly irritates them with new iniquities, and decided to live and die in her sins.

In actuality, brothers, how do we use the spiritual treatments? How do we take up the most decisive of them, confession and Holy Communion? We, almost everyone, set about to them as to a temporary means and not as a decisive measure. We look at the holiest Mystery as a pious rite, beneficial in some aspects, and not as a Mystery of renewal, which must regenerate us for our whole life. And, therefore, we take them up, although with preparation (but on the surface, not penetrating to the depths of our soul, to the root of the evil living in us), and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, although with awe, with little thought about the extreme actions which must take place in us. We depart from the altar of Grace with good thoughts but by no means with the firm resolution to change our lives completely; in short, we prepare, confess, and commune unto the cleansing of past sins not thinking about the abandonment of sinful behavior in the future, the blessed, eternal life in heaven, or the life of good deeds in the time here on earth. Can we wait for decisive healing once and for all when we completely do not think about that healing?

And this is how it is for the best people among us. What can be said about the others who confess and commune? They interrupt for a few days their ordinary affairs and occupations, go to Church during that time, then a few minutes spent on confession, next a few minutes for communion, and finally a few pious thoughts and heartfelt sighs-and this is all, all of the sacrifice to God! And next? An immediate return to the previous affairs, again the very same type of life, again the previous amusements, the very same sinful pleasures, the very same service to the most shameful passions. Tell me, what can be expected after such, I could say, fleeting preparation and communion? Perhaps just momentary fruits and this is what happens: a few animals during that time are saved from the slaughter, a few bad habits remain during that time without satisfaction, the mouth does not say the former shameful words, the glance does not wander for a little time on the delights of the world, and the heart, not suppressed by cares, begins to beat peacefully. But then evil, temporarily constrained, even more reveals itself and grows furious. With those who superficially repent, takes place just the same as with the sick after incorrect treatment: the sickness becomes fiercer and fiercer.

You can feel yourselves, brothers, that I am not misinterpreting things, not exaggerating our guilt but depicting the situation as it is. Why am I describing this? Because now, again is opening the session of spiritual treatment. If we go according to the unreasonable former way then we will only reach the former goal, that is, we will reach no goal. Again the wounds of the conscience will be temporarily closed only to be opened further; again we will put off the burden of sin only to once again bend under it even lower. What then, finally, will be the outcome of such actions? The fact that we, undergoing treatment throughout our lives, in the end, die in our sins. And for some this misfortune is still, perhaps, not so near: they will have a few more Great Fasts for the healing of their souls, but for a few the judgment is already written (Psalms 149:9) and “the Judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9). I mean to say, brothers, that, however limited our number is, there are people who are standing here now for whom, without a doubt, the approaching Lent comes for the last time. Who are those doomed victims of death? Perhaps you, listener, least thinking about this now, perhaps me, telling you of this terrible but saving, for all of us, truth…

And so, brothers, let us now unite in heartfelt desire for our salvation. Let us each step into the arena of repentance as if it opened before us for the first and last time. And it truly will be for us the first and last time if we during the fast completely change and leave forever our sinful life. For, no matter how many times you have repented before, if you still have not been healed in soul then you will be healed now for the first time. And the one who receives health, if he doesn’t lose it, will not need to receive it again but only keep it and strengthen it.

O Lord and Master of our lives! The doctor of our souls and bodies! You, Who again have opened the door of repentance to us the unworthy! Lead us, Yourself, with your all-mighty right hand out from the Egypt of spiritual slavery and lead us into the desert of the holy fast! No matter what awaits us in that desert, we give our souls and hearts to You. Direct us with the pillar of cloud or fire, feed us with manna or cause us to drink in measure only lead us into the heavenly Canaan of purity and piety! Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

*Russian: govenie- the period of preparation for communion involving fasting, prayer, going to services, and confession.

Letters to Spiritual Children, Part XII

… Concerning the spiritual life, I don’t think I need to write to you. The most important thing demanded of you is to try with all your strength to preserve peace with your household and if you get upset then ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness as soon as possible. The enemy will try to take away peace and not let you ask forgiveness. Don’t listen to him. Conquer him, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for help; i.e., say the Jesus prayer, until you conquer irritation or anger or remembrance of wrongs. Do not back down from the Lord until He forgives you and until He gives peace to your soul. The sign of the Lord’s forgiveness is peace in the soul.

So try not to be irritated and get angry, and if you sin in that way ask forgiveness of your neighbors and of the Lord. And try to listen to the morning and evening prayers; if you pray alone then pray for not less than fifteen minutes saying the prayers which you know and the Jesus prayer, but say them with reverence, the fear of God, and a broken heart. As for absent-minded prayer, it is not prayer, although the Lord accepts it, at first, for those who are still learning to pray. But we have to, after all, learn sometime how to pray without absent-mindedness!

If you will abstain from anger and preserve peace then your prayer will be good but if you are absent-minded and in discord then you cannot pray.

The Lord doesn’t accept prayer from an angry person and gives such a person to the merciless attendants, i.e., the demons who drive them out from the spiritual feast, from prayer, from the wedding feast into the darkness of various idle, sometimes even bad, thoughts. And this will be until we humble ourselves and weep before the Lord with all our heart and acquire spiritual peace, for it is said that in peace (spiritual) is the place of God. Where there is discord there is the enemy and darkness, heaviness of soul and other rudiments of hell.

Humility possesses the power to bring the thoughts into remembrance of God but discord, vanity, and pride scatter the thoughts. If the thoughts are greatly scattered it means that something is wrong in the soul which means that the enemy has received access to our soul and we need to repent before God and beg for forgiveness and help. We need to seek for the reason for this. Sometime this happens (if not from anger) from excessive restlessness, attachment to the world, long worldly conversations, or the judgment of neighbors. Good, attentive, prayer coming from the heart is the way into the Kingdom of God, which is inside us. If there is no such prayer it means that we have in some way provoked the Lord into anger.

Be attentive to yourself. Preserve peace, be reconciled quickly, more often (according to the commandments it is necessary all the time) call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, pour out before the Lord your transgressions and sorrows, act according to your conscience and you will feel well and save yourself. No pain, no gain.*[note]
Labor in God and be saved. It will be well here and after death you will enter into eternal blessedness. Pray for me.

Your loving father.

[note: A proverb in Russian, lit.: Without labor, you can’t even make a bast shoe.]