Sermon for Zacchaeus Sunday and the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (2019)
Today’s feast is a call to repentance. As many of us know, with the coming of Zacchaeus Sunday Great Lent is right around the corner. There are many of us who are tempted to think that Great Lent is the Great Season of Repentance. We hear about Zacchaeus Sunday and think to ourselves, “It’s almost time for Great Lent; I’ll just postpone this whole repentance thing for a little while longer.” This, however, is not what we see represented in today’s feast. When Zacchaeus is confronted with Christ he immediately sets out on the path of repentance. There was no season that he waited for; he acted here, now, and today. The expediency of the need to repent is a resounding testament for us because of the other great feast that we celebrate today, that of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.
In Russia preceding the fall of Holy Rus’ the holy ones of Russia warned her that a great calamity would befall her if she did not repent. The people refused to heed the call and continued in their godlessness, until Holy Russia fell; having failed to heed this call and having postponed their efforts to repent.
In discussing the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors one priest explained their significance to us thus: “…We are now poorly aware of the significance of the martyrs, and therefore we do not manifest the Christian virtue of gratefulness. We are blind in the sense that we do not see the danger to our existence in the present time. If we would see this danger, we would run to the martyrs in prayer as to our close contemporaries and family; we would strive to make use of their experience, to enrich ourselves through it. They, like us, lived in an era of triumphant godlessness—only now, the Lord has through their prayers granted [Russia] a little respite.”
We must see ourselves and the current situation in our country through the lens of these Holy Martyrs and Confessors. For we stand before the same doom that enveloped Russia. Looking at their lives we can see that we have no hope except in the Church. There is not a political leader that will arise or a political party that will save us. There is no law or scheme of man that will avert the calamity that is coming upon us.
At the time of the fall of Holy Rus’ stood a great Saint, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how many concessions he gave to the people, they still cast him aside and abandoned the Church and God. The salvation of the Russian people that the Tsar-Martyr helped to bring about did not come through his political endeavors but through his righteousness. We see the effect of Christ in his life and thus on those around him because he was filled with the grace of God. Repeatedly, time and time again, the soldiers that were stationed to guard the Royal Martyrs continually had to be changed out for new men because the righteousness that emanated from these Saints started to permeate these men and they began to soften. They themselves began to become righteous and to see goodness in others, starting first with the Royal family then their fellow man. This forced the godless authorities to find worse men than before to guard the Royal Martyrs. The Royal Martyrs never complained but they continued on with their lives, praying and weeping over Russia. This affected the new guards and each subsequent group that was brought in to guard the Royal Martyrs, until the authorities had to seek out men that were more beasts than men.
We see this same pattern in the lives of all the Martyrs and Confessors and the effect of the indwelling grace of God and how it changed those around them. Looking now at the bottom rank of this host of Saints, we see a young peasant girl named Lydia. She strove in godliness all her life. She lived simply and worked as a clerk in the forestry department. The authorities were again becoming alarmed that everyone in this district was becoming more and more righteous. The office she worked in had men who were foresters that lived roughly and were crude. Slowly they started to be less angry, they stopped swearing and living licentiously. The local authorities were perplexed until they discovered and arrested the martyr Lydia who did nothing except love those around her. She let the light of Christ that permeated her envelope those around her.
At the time of her martyrdom when she had been beaten so severely that she could not walk of her own strength, one of the guards reached out and grabbed her by the arm to support her. With one little phrase she changed this man’s entire life. She said, “May God save you.” The love of Christ touched this man’s heart to the point where this Soviet soldier laid down his life next to Saint Lydia.
This is the life that we are being called to in our own country, one of testimony to Christ; and we will not be saved through anything but the Church. The love of Christ must permeate us, and flow from us to our countrymen around us. Right now, America is already steeped in “Great Lent”. The time of repentance is already upon America and we have already gotten to the point of the sentencing of Christ. Our countrymen are jeering at Christ and saying, “this man would be our king, but we have no king except our passions. This Man blasphemes because He says He is the Son of God, but we are the sons of apes.”
We are turning from Christ, and the time of His sentencing is coming to an end. Before us stands the slow and sorrowful walk to Golgotha. This is why we must embrace the Holy Martyrs and Confessors, imitating them as they imitated Christ Himself, Who throughout His life didn’t rise up against anyone, but was disparaged; Who accepted all those who came unto Him, sinners and righteous alike; Who on the very Cross besought His Father to have mercy on and save those who put Him there and were crucifying Him.
Our Holy Fr. Ephraim says, “Brothers, walk the path of sorrow and be saved.” This is what lies before us, our salvation is bound up in the very salvation of our country. We must walk the path of sorrow imitating the Holy and Righteous ones and through us the light of Christ will dawn upon our brothers, our countrymen. Through the grace of Christ their own repentance will be enacted, and this repentance will start here today with us. Lord willing, through us, the true light of the resurrection will dawn upon America and we will once again become one nation under God. May God forgive us and save us. Amen.
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