Sermon for All Saints of Russia 2017

Sermon for All Saints of Russia 2017 - Holy Cross Monastery

A Divine Fire has been cast down from heaven upon the earth; a flaming love has been instilled within the hearts of men! The Day of Pentecost has over-filled the Church consisting of earthly men with the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity Who is above the angels!

This Divine Fire, the Holy Spirit Himself, Who has come to dwell within the hearts of each and every one of the faithful, knitting them together into One Church as one man, He has brought Christ the Son of God and the very Father Himself into our hearts also!

This Divine Fire has been blazing within the heart of the Church since that day, growing and spreading, and gathering many into the Church, multiplying Her borders! Everything that we see and experience today in Church is the ever-present and active life of that Ancient Church which has never been conquered, which was established on the Day of Pentecost, and continues to flourish.

All men are truly seeking to be filled with God, with Christ and His Spirit—even if they are unaware of this. All people desire to have His life pulsing through their veins! All people long with an unquenchable and infinite longing to be immersed within Him; for He is the only Desire, Longing, Love and Joy of which man can partake which does not leave him unsatisfied.

All men seek the Good! All men seek the Beautiful! But many do not know where it is to be found! But we know! By experience, by life in the Church; and no one and no thing can ever separate us from this conviction, this love, this knowledge. St. Maximos the Confessor testifies to this:

Listen to the words of those who have been granted perfect love: “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are slain all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter!’ But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Those who speak and act this way with regard to divine love are all saints!

So, this is the love which fills and identifies the saints. And therefore, it is this very divine love for both God and all the world which fills all the Saints of Russia. When it blazes within a man’s heart, he is truly invincible and deathless; for God, Who is True Life, Who has always been, always is, and always shall be, dwells within him.

Freely and calmly He calls every man. Gently and humbly He visits every man. Plucking the strings of the heart, He seeks to fill us with a divine song, hymns of divine love in honor of God; He seeks to correct the discord of our lives and to gather us into that most glorious and beautiful harmony of the Church of the Saints.

Ivan Kontzevich, the great Orthodox philosopher and disciple of Elder Nektary of Optina, speaks about this harmony:

Christ’s teaching was embraced by the Russian people with a childlike simplicity and spontaneity, and this attitude formed the basis of a special feature of the Russian spirit of harmony, namely the equilibrium of all the inner powers of man: the mind, the heart and the spirit. The enlightener of Russia himself, St. Vladimir, fully personified this harmonious type…

How could the spirit of a Russian man have become imbued with ancient harmony [such as was found in ancient Greece]? It was because, along with Christianity, the Russian soul embraced the spirit of the Holy Fathers…

The teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church was passed on to Russia, one might say, together with the first ringing of Christian church bells; it has shaped and educated the native Russian mind, forming the basis of the Russian way of life…

The theology of the Holy Fathers is comprised of their written works, as well as the service books of the Church. The wonderful harmony of these chants of the most exalted and pure poetry flows with ease, penetrating to the very depths of the soul…

When we enter the Church we enter the greatest university, the greatest place of true education. Inclining our ears and understanding towards the continuous life-giving stream of holy words, our minds and hearts learn about the inner life of Christ and His saints, and participating in Her sacred services and rites we partake of this very life.

The Orthodox Church is not one religion amongst many! She is not one denomination amongst thousands! She is not simply a mental belief, a way of life, a theological statement, a world-view, a structure or organization! She is all these things and much more; She is a holy nation which transcends all nationality.

She is the self-revelation of the One God Who is Three Persons! She is the very living Body of Christ God! She is the extension of the Pre-eternal Church, the Assembly of the Three Divine Persons! She was foreshadowed by the Old Testament and revealed by Christ the God-Man. She is a mirror of heaven, a door into the heart of God!

America has received this Holy Orthodox Faith from Russia, who received it from the Greeks, who received it from the Apostles, who received it from Christ Himself. We dwell under Her hierarchs and we are nourished by Her elders. We are linked with Her saints. This Church has prevailed over every persecution, being filled with that divine love from which nothing can separate Her.

St. Olga labored much for Russia’s salvation; she had many churches built. But it wasn’t until after St. Olga that the emissaries of her grandson, St. Vladimir, were overtaken by awe and wonder at the beauty of the Divine Services of the Greek Orthodox Church. And from the moment that they returned to tell of their experience to St. Vladimir, Russia has become the greatest possessor and guardian of the riches of the Orthodox Faith.

Many people were baptized, clergy were ordained, churches and monasteries were built, and the Christian-Apostolic-Patristic way of life was breathed into the heart of Russia and perfected by martyrdom. All of Russia’s martyrs died for divine love. All of the saints who preserved the Orthodox Faith in Russia, watering it with their labors, tears and blood, and transmitting it to countless generations in Russia, America, and many countries of the world—

All of these saints of Russia are calling us to heaven, interceding with pain and tears for us; they are here to help us at all times. She is our Patroness, Holy Rus’. She is our Mother; and Her saints are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers.

She is one of the many families of saints who are all knit together into the one family of those in heaven and those on earth, who are named after the Father, signed with the image of Christ, and being perfected into the likeness of God by the Holy Spirit.

This is our Faith! This is our Hope! This is our Love, our Life, our Treasure, our Joy, and the Fulfillment of all our hopes, dreams, desires and prayers! Every morning and evening, we hear the words: O Orthodox Christians of North America: preserve the Orthodox Faith; for this Faith is your firm foundation!

The holy new-martyr Joseph of Petrograd, who stood at the foreground of the persecuted Church during Communism, has some words for us which—though spoken over a hundred years ago in Russia—are very pertinent for our situation in America:

While the strength and zeal of the leaders of the Church of Christ today are far from rivaling those of the Apostles, they must do battle with considerably stronger enemies, and overcome considerably more powerful obstacles and difficulties in this service.

The holy Apostles, after all, had to do with a fervent—even if falsely directed—striving toward truth, whereas we, in our time, must have to do with a hardened rejection of truth, and even of the very idea of the Living God and His indispensability for the human heart.

With all their dark sides, insufficiencies and errors, the paganism and Judaism of antiquity were nonetheless an honest seeking of God and desire to serve Him, a living and active exemplification of thirst for communion with Him. But the unbelief of today, every conceivable form of error and frenzy—both learned and illiterate, both anti-religious and anti-moral—and the whole public life of today:

Do they not express in men a complete unwillingness to know God, an unwillingness even to admit His existence, but on the contrary, the desire to be completely rid of Him, to do without Him, to live solely by the accomplishments of the proud human mind and culture?

So, what’s the solution? How can we share the Orthodox Faith with such a world? How can we even begin to tell others about supernatural things when many have forsaken natural things?

Christ says that the sign for all the world that we Christians possess the truth is the union of our mutual love. And St. Silouan says that this is proven only by love for one’s enemies; and that this is impossible for man, but only possible with God; for it is not natural, but supernatural. St. Joseph also expresses this, saying:

Love your enemies: to say this is easy, but—how difficult to do it. This is much higher than simply love of neighbor. It is the supreme triumph of love, its true essence and most superb expression…In order that one’s heart might be inflamed with love toward one’s enemy, there must be a special, grace-given state of soul, a special heavenly attunement of the heart; there must be that inexpressible and indescribable quality that abundantly filled the soul of the First Martyr Stephen…

The whole Christian life is aimed at acquiring within oneself this special grace of the Holy Spirit, the sign of Whose indwelling is true Christ-like love for enemies. This alone is true love which endures all things, and embraces all things; this alone is that invincible love of Christ which makes a man a god upon the earth. The whole Christian life, and thus the whole monastic life, leads us on this path; and martyrdom perfects it. St. Jerome expands our understanding of persecution and martyrdom, saying:

You are mistaken if you suppose that there is ever a time when the Christian does not suffer persecution…for our adversary as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour, and do you think peace? On the one side self-indulgence presses me hard; on another covetousness…my belly wishes to be a god in place of Christ, and lust would desire to drive away the Holy Spirit that dwells in me…

We cannot obtain the summit of Christ-like love and humility in an instant. There is no magic word, no mental formula, no cheat code or pill that can instill within us true love which is perfected and made manifest by sufferings. The road is long, and perfection is endless. We can never be filled enough with the grace of God.

Therefore, no matter if we are passionate or dispassionate, sinful or righteous, no matter where we are at, we can always be more filled with God. We must always seek God, for He alone is perfect.

St. Ignatius the God-bearer, the disciple of the beloved Apostle John, shows us true love for Christ, saying: Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ!

When we are filled with this invincible love of his, and can say this with him, then and only then will we be able to also say with him: Now at last I am beginning to be a disciple of Christ! Such is the endless striving of Christ’s saints for Christ-like love and humility. Let us at least make a beginning in seeking it.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast, quoting Abba Isaac to one of his spiritual children, comforts him and us by saying that: even if we are passionate, yet die struggling against sin, our bones will be counted by God as holy relics, and our soul will share the inheritance of the saints.

Therefore, if we are found by death or the coming of Christ to be struggling, inclining our hearts to heaven, and calling upon Christ, His most pure Mother and His Saints, then He will receive us into the great choir of angels and saints, who unceasingly worship the Father, glorify the Son, and ever ascend into a more joyous life in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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