Sermon for the Sunday of the Cross. 19.03.2023


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Today is the third Sunday of Great Lent and it is dedicated to the Veneration of the Holy Cross. All this week is dedicated to the theme of our Lord’s Cross. There are the following words of the Lord in the Gospel, “I brought a sword.”1 Not many people understand what these words mean. What sword did Christ bring? 

When the Most Holy Theotokos brought the Infant Christ to the Temple of Jerusalem, She heard the following prophecy, “A sword will pierce through your own heart also.”2 Along with the honor of being the Mother of God, the Most Holy Theotokos accepts this horrible prophecy, “A sword will pierce through your own heart also.” This sword Christ is talking about. He also says, “If you desire to be My disciple, take up your cross and follow Me.”3 

We are so far from the times of the first martyrs, that a cross has become a kind of decoration for us. We choose a cross to our liking at a church shop, paying attention to whether it is silver or gold and to the shape of the cross. And there is a wide range of choices for us. Thus, the external shape has begun to lose its essence, its mere meaning. A cross is not jewelry that we wear. The Cross is literally a sword that will pierce not only through the heart of the Holy Theotokos, but also the heart of every Christian, who follows Christ.  If this is sincere and deep, the Cross becomes a sword for everyone. 

In England, there is a statue near the Parliament, a monument to a king. I might be mistaken now; I guess it is dedicated to King Richard, who holds the sword by its hilt hoisting it. He holds this sword with a cross-guard above the hilt like a cross. This is a very good analogy. A cross and a sword is the same issue. This is the sword and this is the cross Christ is talking about.    

Some people, unfortunately, understand this incorrectly. They hear only the first phrase saying that your Christianity will divide you from your relatives, from those who are unchurched, who did not follow Christ, you will have a conflict with them and you will even be persecuted.  And some people misunderstand this, the meaning of the “sword,” they think they will fight against their relatives. They will separate from their father, mother, brother and sister. Those Christians who misunderstand the meaning, think this is the war against their unchurched family. 

In fact, this cross is in bearing the misunderstanding of the people who are the closest to you. It consists of misunderstanding, judging and even persecution by the closest people, by one’s family. A father will not understand his son, a wife will not understand her husband and there will be separation.  

Those who understand this incorrectly, begin to fight. They apply the sword to destroy their opponents. Meanwhile, those who understand the meaning of this sword and cross correctly, through the Holy Spirit, realize that this sword will pierce through their heart. It will not be the heart of their enemy or opponent, but it will be their own heart. Our heart should be very vivid, reverential and delicate, as the note on which God sounds is a very-very delicate note. 

So many of you are standing before me now. Who is hearing God? It is sad, isn’t it? Even children are not hearing. They hear they are hungry. This happens because our heart has become coarse. This coarse heart of ours hears only some rough and striking notes. It ceased to perceive the subtlest note of God. Our heart is so rough that it is sometimes compared to a stone. It has become a stone. And this subtle note of the Holy Spirit simply bangs against this stone just like against concrete.  

In order to make our heart softer, we need to moisten it. Do you know how people’s hearts moisten? The sword, which Christ is talking about, injures our heart and spills the blood. Blood moistens the heart as well as do blessed tears. They moisten and soften this stony heart. When it becomes soft, responsive and flexible again, it becomes living.  It resembles dry grass, which has dry blades, but its roots still have some life in them. The only thing it needs is watering. The Holy Fathers watered this grass, this little growth, with their tears and blood. There is a saying of the Holy Fathers, “Do you want to acquire the Spirit? Give your blood and sweat and acquire the Spirit.”  

To make your heart alive, you need to water it. Perhaps, my words might seem harsh and make no point for someone. This sword pierces a stone heart and it bleeds. The blood softens the heart, its callousness and hardness. Thus, it becomes soft. 

Blood and tears, this is what Christ is talking about. This is the mystical essence of the Cross. It is enigmatic even for many Christians, because they simply do not get this, but it is excusable. At the same time, some people do not want to understand, because this issue brings pain. And we are not ready for pain. We do not want it and escape it. We run away from this sword. 

The Lord pierces our heart with this sword like a surgeon. He does not kill it, but revives it in fact. He spills the blood. However, this issue is very hard, this is why we run away.  

The only thing, which we stop our Christianity at is, “Lord, help me. Lord, strengthen me. Lord, give me. Lord, console me.” This “Lord” and everything I have listed does not comprise, “Lord, here is my heart.” The Lord says in the Holy Scripture, “My son, give me your heart. I do not need your goats and rams, I do not need the candles you lit and the incense you burn. I do not need your donations. I will miraculously give you everything and everything will be built. My son, give Me your heart.”4 Giving heart is very painful. At the same time, it is beautiful and noble. If you only knew how sweet it is to give your whole heart to Christ! To the Sweetest Christ, to the Beloved Christ, to the Most Precious Christ. To give Him everything.  

Lord Jesus Christ… 

1 Mt.10:34 (“I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”)

2 Lk. 2:35 (“A sword will pierce through your own soul also.”)

3 Mt. 16:24 (“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”), Mk. 8:34 (“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”)

4 Prov. 23:26 (“My child, give me your heart.”)



Sermon on the Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas. 12.03.2023


Now we remember the first story from the Gospel telling us about the paralytic, whose relatives brought him to Jesus, so He healed him. As there was no space, they even dared and removed the roof of the house to lower him there. The Lord heals him and says the words, which He usually says when healing someone, “Your sins are forgiven you.”1 Thus, the Lord puts emphasis on the reason for our illnesses. When Adam and Eve lived in Paradise, they did not know what an illness or a sorrow were and they were in a blessed and blissful state.  After the Fall, when the Lord determined the situation of the first people, He said, “Sorrows will now accompany you.” And He said to the woman, “In pain you will bring forth children2 and you will belong to your husband, who will not necessarily be just and kind.” To the husband He said, “You will have to procure food for your family and work very hard to make the earth give you its fruit. You will have to apply much effort and overcome sorrow.” At any moment of healing, the Lord names the reason for our sufferings.  

However, sometimes people ask a legitimate question. They wonder, “You say the reason for suffering is sin. Nevertheless, very often I see that dishonorable people live prosperously enough, while righteous people suffer and have illnesses and misfortunes.” When we look at our lives soberly and do not simply speak in quotations from the Gospel, certain questions arise in our mind. These questions bring us doubts and wonderings. “” You say, a righteous person will not be left, but we have seen so many righteous people who lead a sorrowful life and bear a big burden. Also we see a lot of unjust people, who acquired their wealth unrighteously and live like lords. You say, they will answer for their unrighteous wealth and the Lord will punish them with diseases or some other troubles, but there are many examples of such people who reach old age and then have big marble monuments on their tombs.” 

In other words, people have an inner temptation concerning the unjustness of God. They do not understand God and this is why a protest arises inside of them and their faith makes a small crack, through which satan himself puts more temptations into our hearts.  

I would like to advise you with something, which helps me at such moments of temptation. I do not try to understand everything and I remember that the Wisdom of God is bottomless, while I am a small worm standing on the shore of the ocean, not able to encompass it within myself, this entire ocean inside my small head. The only thing I understand, if I live every situation through to eternity, the truth will come to me. No matter how long the unrighteous man lives with his unrighteous wealth, he dies in the end.  This is an undefeatable law, and we all know this. No matter how long a righteous man suffers, he will die too. And his sufferings will end. Both, the wellness of the unjust and the suffering of the righteous will come to an end one day. If you begin to live all the events of your life through eternity, everything falls in its place. 

We have one more parable now, of the rich man and Lazarus. How long did the rich man enjoy his wealth? Well, he may even live for a hundred years. But what is a hundred years compared to eternity? If we draw eternity as an endless line, our life will be a small dot compared to eternity. In this regard, all our questions and wonderings will simply vanish in this eternity.  

Our purpose is not to live our lives in comfort and prosperity here. Our goal is to live righteously in this dot. Sorrow often accompanies righteousness. This is why the Lord says, “Do you want to be My disciple? Mind that you will have to take your cross and follow Me,” as righteousness has a big price. Righteousness is always a choice. It is often a choice, which costs one’s effort, losses, misunderstanding, persecution, and sometimes even death.   

Now our young men choose between life and death. This is their choice. This choice characterizes them for eternity. Someone might make another choice and die all the same. And this will characterize him for eternity. It depends on how we pass into eternity, in what quality we will stop for it. A thief who does not repent will cross the threshold of eternity being a thief. Meanwhile, the righteous, and I regard even the repentant thieves and those people who cry over their sins as righteous, they cross the threshold of eternity in the state of repentance. They inherit the benign eternity, the others do not.  

Do not try to understand everything. This is my first piece of advice. Simply commend yourselves to God, like little children. God knows all. Do you remember when we were little children, there were certain moments when we, glory to God, said according to our childish understanding, “Well, I don’t know. Dad and mom know better. They do not want any bad thing for me.”  This is why you should learn to trust God, even if you do not understand Him sometimes. Secondly, let all your esteems be based on eternity, on its essence. In this case, everything will be in its place. Everything is very short and temporary in this life. Everything will pass. This moment is already gone. I said the sermon and I am going to serve again. 

Glory to our God always, now, and unto the ages of ages! 

1 Mk. 2:5

2 Gen. 3:16



Sermon for the Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas. 12.03.2023


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! 

Today’s second Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki. Do you know the story of Saint Gregory Palamas? Yes, he was an Athonite monk, he strived on Holy Mount Athos. The monastic tradition has existed on Holy Mount Athos for a thousand years to this day. This island has belonged to monks for a thousand years already. There are no secular inhabitants there. For a thousand years, it lawfully exists as a men’s monastic republic where no woman has ever set her foot. This is not because someone disdains women, but because this is simply a men’s monastic island, a men’s maritime republic of people who gathered there united by one common theme of monasticism and who dedicate their whole attention and lives to Christ.   

When monks are tonsured they make vows, and one of the vows is agamy. One more is staying at the place where you were tonsured and remain obedient to the Elder, before whom you bowed and who tonsured you, until the end of your life. The monastics make vows to observe not only the purity or chastity of their bodies. Also at tonsure they are given their prayer ropes, which symbolize not only a simple prayer, but a prayer which helps them to keep their inward chastity, a chastity of mind. Look, even the notions of “thoughts” and “ideas” are different. Not only a long thought, but also a short idea should not let you be somewhere outside of Christ. 

This amazing place exists until now and attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. As the world has lost Christ to some measure.  

Seeking after Christ, I traveled a lot around the world. I visited Athos more than forty times, but also I visited many other places on our planet, involuntarily getting up close and personal to them.  I went to America not for the sake of seeing America, but to find a person there, who was an Athonite monk and who opened nineteen monasteries in America. He created the monasteries in the way that their inhabitants live like Athonites in seeking after Christ, in concentration, in Christ. I was in England, but not for seeing England, its Parliament or other places of interest. I went there because there lived a person there, who founded a monastery. This man was Father Sophrony Sakharov, who dedicated his whole life to seeking Christ too. 

In pursuit of the theme of Christ, I involuntarily traveled to these countries and I saw that the major part of their population lives in a post-Christian epoch. These countries used to be Christian. Old Europe is full of churches, but they are all dead. Who discovered America? Christians did. America is dead for Christ now. 

Meanwhile Athos is a unique place, this theme still exists there. Everyone lives by one theme, desire and aspirations. Everyone talks about Christ and with Christ. Everyone does not simply take their prayer ropes with them, but they use them as a link with Christ. It is like a thread, Christ holds one end and I hold another. Do you remember, when we were at the kindergarten, the teacher tied us to a rope, if we went somewhere? We went in a straight line after the teacher, our caregiver, without deviating to any side. The same way a monk holds his prayer rope. One part of it in his hand, another, in Christ’s. He holds to Christ saying without ceasing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” 

Saint Gregory Palamas lived in the XIV century. He was an Athonite monk and inherited the Athonite tradition to the full extent. These traditions belonged to the people who abandoned all the joys of this world, they refused a family, marriage, art, science, and traveling. They closed themselves on this island, and even more, in the space of the island, they closed themselves in a dark cell. For those who have never come across monasticism and who do not understand it, this all seems to be a prison, a prison for the human soul.  Our souls are always anxious for impressions, pleasure and happiness. But people suddenly close themselves voluntarily in this prison of a dark cell. However, other people see life in their eyes. And not simply life, but a sparkle of joy. They see the Divine Light in the eyes of those people who live by it. After a meeting with such a monk, people’s stereotypes and insight into monasticism change. A monk is in a prison of his cell, but his eyes beam with joy. At the same time, I cling to the joys of this world and I am always exhausted, I have neither life nor joy in me.  Why is this so? What is so special about them? 

Regarding the story of Saint Gregory Palamas, we know he was an Athonite monk, and we are acquainted with his works on prayer, on the Jesus prayer in particular. There is one more historical fact we know about him. A controversy he engaged in. Sometimes a false humility tells Christians, “Do not meddle in anything, do not argue with anyone, do not do anything.” And all of a sudden an Athonite monk leaves Athos in order to argue. He leaves his cell to meet his opponent. What made him do this? He cared for God and came out to defend Him. He came out to protect Christ and the experience of the Athonite monasticism. 


The story tells us there was a Greek, who came to Byzantium from Rome, where he acquired his education. Catholicism has very strong science, intellectual and scholastic science. This man, his name was Barlaam, was a scholar who gained a very good education there, in the West. When he came back to his motherland, Byzantium, due to his education, he was accepted at the emperor’s court with honor. People listened and paid attention to him. This man came back and brought not only knowledge, but also self-opinion with him. It seems to him that his intellectual theoretical knowledge allows him to judge practice.  He came to Athos to become acquainted with the Athonite tradition of monasticism. In the innocence of their heart, the Athonites told him about their practice of the Jesus prayer. Like little children, they revealed to him about what was happening to them. They opened the state of contemplation during the Jesus prayer before him. The state of contemplation is a unique state, when a person comes out of the format of this world and steps into the space of the Divine world, into the parallel world. There, everything happens in a drastically different way. As Saint Paul the Apostle said, “I saw it, but I cannot tell you what I saw, as the things I saw were not of this world. I heard, but I cannot explain what I heard, as there are no earthly words to describe this.” 

When Barlaam came to Athos and the monks told him about their states of contemplation, he did not understand them, as he had never experienced this. He had never been in such a state. It would be a different matter if he only did not understand them, but he began to laugh at them, moved by his pride and arrogance. He said, “They are insane. This is spiritual exaltation. They are impassioned and in a state of delusion. Everything they see is a mere illusion.”

Saint Gregory Palamas, who could simply remain in  his cell and have no argument with anyone and keep his inner peace, comes out to meet his opponent and says, “You are a madman, stop. Who do you argue with? You studied theory, but you are standing before those who practice and those who do not know this spiritual world from books, but live in it every day, every night and every hour.” 

He does not leave Athos because Barlaam had significant authority being highly educated, but because a part of the population of Byzantium leaned towards his side. However, a part of people heard and sided with the authority of Saint Gregory Palamas. Even a church council gathered to discuss this issue. The Athonites said during the moment of contemplation, they saw Divinity as the Uncreated Light, the Light of Transfiguration. To which Barlaam said, “This is a simple physical light.” Saint Gregory insisted, “No, this is a Divine Light.” Glory to God, His truth defeats this heretic through Gregory Palamas. However, Barlaam confused many people, he was not alone. He had a follower Acindynus after him.   

Regarding the essence of this controversy. This was not even an argument about the Uncreated Light, and not about the way people see God. Most probably, this is an argument on the knowledge of God. In the end, Saint Gregory proved that God is not experienced through intellect. 

Intellect works with the space of this physical world. Meanwhile, God is a subtler and higher issue. Intellect always hits a wall. Hitting a wall, instead of admitting its limitedness, it says out of its pride, “God does not exist.”  In fact, you have come to a dead end and God does not exist in this state for you. God does not belong to an intellectual realm, He belongs to the realm of being. You cannot speculate about God, or rather, you can, but you will never meet God in this way. You will always talk about God, talk much and in a complicated way, but you will never meet Him. You will meet God in the state of prayer. This is not a state of reasoning or thinking, this is a state of miracle. God has come and everything fell into place. There are no more questions. Here I am, here is God. Amen. All speculations only interfere. This was the essence of the controversy.  

Even now, a part of churched people tries to seek God through intellect. They go to church throughout their lives, but have no result… You know, once an Abbess, an acquaintance of mine whom I loved very much and who is deceased now, told me during our conversation about prayer, “Father Sergiy, I have been a nun for fifty years and an Abbess for twenty-five years already. I know how to build, to sing, I know the Church canons and how to manage a monastery. But I do not know how to pray.” No, she knows how to read the Psalter, to sing at a service and hold the midnight office. Nevertheless, in the end of her life, she realized that praying and reading are not the same things. You may read and read until you read it to tatters, and you may sing until you lose your voice. But there will be no God. Not at all. Prayer is when God is there. You and God. 

The previous week, the first one, was dedicated to the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Look, now is the second week and the Church gives it to one person, Saint Gregory Palamas. The Church empathizes how deep are the spiritual moments he touched upon, explained, and won in a controversy about them. By his prayers, O Lord,  let us not only walk, but have something happening to us, so we stop saying “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” to the emptiness. Sometimes people say, “I am tired of listening about Christ, show me Christ Himself. I want to meet Him so badly.” Unfortunately, even those people who go to church all their lives long say these words. 

This happened to our beloved Father John of Kronstadt. He did not simply go to church, but walked hand in hand with Christ. 

Glory to our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages! Amen!



Sermon for the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy



Today’s Sunday, the first Sunday of Great Lent, is dedicated to the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We have just served the moleben of the Triumph of Orthodoxy and read the Gospel. It told us a story about a master who left his ninety-nine sheep and went seeking for one that went astray. It is not by chance that we read this Gospel today. The Holy Fathers and the Holy Spirit chose it.

Today I would like to take pity on pagans and justify them a little. Before the coming of Christ, people wandered in different directions seeking God. But I want to excuse them a little, and I want to explain why they acted this way.

Since creation, people have had a yearning for God. Regardless of whether someone is born to an atheistic or non-Orthodox family, somewhere deep inside, on the genetic level, we have this longing for God. A person may be raised in a non-Orthodox environment, but somewhere in his or her conscience, there is a small prompting voice.

Why did poor pagans always create idols for themselves? Because they had this thirst for God, but they could not discover the Unfathomable God, Who was unknown to them.  Now, in Christian times, the Holy Fathers can fathom God in His Divine darkness through the Holy Spirit. In other words, to perceive His shapelessness in the format of this world. God, His essence, is not limited by the format of this world. The Holy Fathers, when they practiced noetic prayer, passed beyond form and were granted vision of the essence. They experienced the Unfathomable and shapeless God very definitely. These people however were unique. People such as Holy Father Seraphim of Sarov were one in a million, or perhaps, in a billion. One in a century or two in a century. These people entered the Divine darkness and perceived the shapeless and limitless God. What does our vision work with? It works with shape. God however cannot be limited by anything, as He is Perfect. Any limitation will deprive Him of perfection.  

These poor pagans had the yearning but did not have the vision. This is why they formed idols as best they could, according to their carnal and earthly understanding. Nevertheless, their thirst made them do something. For this reason, today, on the Day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, I do not have any hatred, disdain, or disrespect towards them. Only pity arises in me. Poor pagans, they could not fathom God the way Christians can in the Holy Spirit. Rare Christians can perceive the shapeless God through the Holy Spirit. Because we are not all rare, the Lord condescends and takes shape for our sake. 

He is present in the form of an icon, and lives with us through this icon, filling it with His Grace. The Lord fills His True Cross with His Grace. This happens not only with a tangible hand-made Cross, but also in the sign of the Cross we make on ourselves. The Lord enters the shape and sign of His Cross with His Grace and works wonders.

God enters the blessing of a priest, which bears the form of IC XC – Jesus Christ – and fills this act with His Grace, His Divinity. This is why when a priest blesses someone, God touches the person through this blessing. 

God enters the calling of His Name mysteriously. Christ Himself says, “In My name they will cast out demons.” Not by simply calling upon ‘Me’, but ‘My Name’. God in His Grace enters His Name in the mystery of the Jesus Prayer. We call “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” into our heart. If we do this sincerely, with pure heart and mind, Christ Himself enters our heart. 

God enters the shape of bread and wine and makes them His Body and Blood, which we literally receive inside of us. This is not imaginary, and it is not symbolic, this is Christ Himself. If we believe otherwise, we should not receive Holy Communion as this is not a game; this is very serious and significant. We come to the Sacrament of Holy Communion and take the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.

Here however, a question arises. After partaking of Holy Communion, why do some people gain something, while the others remain empty? Saint Symeon the New Theologian said one precise phrase. It is precise for those who comprehend it. He said, “God is Fire, Who seeks matter.” To make fire burn, one needs matter that will kindle and ignite. This matter is our spiritual state of sincerity and seeking after God. If we have it, the Lord touches this matter, kindles it, and it comes to life. I mean spiritual fire, not physiological. Those who have no such spiritual matter have nothing to ignite.  

Many religions have a notion of god. There are monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. God exists for them, but He is shrouded somewhere beyond the world. He is believed to exist, but He cannot enter into personal relationship with people in any form or shape. On the contrary, in Christianity, before Christians are enlightened by contemplation through which they can see the invisible and unfathomable God, Christians like every one of us, except Holy Father Seraphim, who could experience God without a shape, the Lord condescends and comes to us through the forms and shape of this world, to be tangible and perceivable. Have I wracked your brain? Glory to God!

Saint Paul the Apostle was very pleasantly surprised when he found an altar in the Areopagus of Athens dedicated to the Unknown God. The pagans realized somewhere deep inside of them that He existed, and they installed this altar among their hand-made idols. At the Saint Sergius-Holy Trinity Lavra, above the entrance to the Dormition Cathedral we read the inscription, “To the Known God.” Christians already know God. He ceases to be unknown, unfathomable, beyond-the-world, transcendent and blurred. God becomes Known, perceivable, tangible, and real for Christians. God Is Who He Is. “I Am.” This is how He identifies Himself.

Blessed Feast to everyone! You have come a week closer to Pascha. I congratulate you. May the Lord save you.

Glory to Thee, our God! Glory to Thee, our God! Glory to Thee, our God! 



Sermon after the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. 03.03.2023


“The doors of repentance do Thou open unto me, O Giver of life.” The Holy Church sings about repentance, as repentance is the door through which people come into the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ is the door and the Church sings “the doors of repentance” meaning that there is no entrance into the Kingdom and reunion with Christ without repentance. 

It seems to be very simple and clear when people do not have repentance because they just do not want to. There are so many people on earth who do not even want to hear about God and they do not want to repent; they simply do not need this. It seems to be simple, you do not want to and you do not have to do it. However, there are many people who want repentance badly. They seek repentance as a change of their lives, as an escape from their vileness and worthlessness. They want to run away from the state which is always bringing heaviness and pain to their hearts and making their conscience ail, as their conscience accuses them of betraying their beloved God.   

This part of people wants repentance. They want to but they cannot repent. It happens to many Christians. “I do not simply want it, I want it to tears. But I cannot.” For some reason repentance does not come at once, it stops and stalls, or does not work at all. Sometimes people come to a state when they do not believe in their repentance.  They lose faith and hope in their success, and do not believe the Lord will accept them. 

I would advise such people to recollect a story from the Old Testament about Saint Jonah the Prophet and the Ninevites. The Ninevites came to the last point of corruption and they called down the wrath of God. There seemed to be no return to the relationship with God and no hope at all. This is why the Lord sent Jonah to the Ninevites not even to bring them to their senses, but to announce, “That’s enough. The Lord’s patience has exhausted itself. It is over. Ninevites, the wrath of God is waiting for you.” The Prophet did not go to teach them, but to inform them they had crossed the terminal line and would have nothing more. 

Having heard this horrible sentence, these Ninevites do not suddenly fall into despair, nor do they break bad and enjoy their last days, as everything is lost all the same. All of a sudden, some sober change takes place in their minds and hearts. The whole city comes to a state of repentance and they all repent before God. And the Lord lays His mercy on them. This is unexpected even for Jonah the Prophet. “How is this? You sent me to announce to them that the cup is full and Your wrath will fall on them. I came here on Your behalf to tell them all this and now I even look awkward as a prophet. I am turning into a false prophet now.”  

At this moment, he comes to desperation. Do you remember? He leaves the city in this state, sits exhausted, partly defamed as a prophet, and sad in the heat of the sun. Remember one more moment? We will read it on Great Saturday. There was a pumpkin growing nearby. It covers him with its leaves and protects from the scorching sunny rays, relieving Jonah from external and internal sufferings in a way. But even the pumpkin dries out suddenly. What does the Lord say to him then? “You have pity for the pumpkin you did not plant. How will I not have pity for the people I created and led through their lives. Don’t you think I will not have mercy on them even after they crossed the terminal line, the point of no return?”

People have such a notion as “the point of no return,” but God ruins this notion. He breaks it, goes there, pities them, and restores everything as it was. 

Desperation offends the mercy of God. Desperation and loss of faith humiliates the unlimited love and mercy of God. There is no point of no return in God’s love, if only a human sighs somehow in the direction of God. Not even make a move, but sigh at least. 

When you fall into despair, when nothing works, remember the Ninevites. Remember the festive sermon of Saint John Chrysostom on the Great Feast of Pascha, “Come, the first and the last ones. The Lord wants to take pity on everyone.” If nothing else, you might have sincerity. Give Him your sincerity at least. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” will be enough. 

Glory to our God, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages!





Before the Cherubic Hymn, a priest or a deacon exclaims three prayers for the catechumens. The first one sounds like, “Catechumens, depart. As many as are catechumens, depart.” 

In ancient times, those people who prepared themselves for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and who were not yet the members of the Church through the Baptism, were called catechumens, or those who prepared to enter the Church. According to Tradition, they remained in church only up to the Cherubic Hymn, before this most mysterious moment of the Holy Liturgy, when the mystery of consecration of the Holy Elements and the Eucharist took place. At that moment, they departed, and their departure symbolized that they were not full members of the Church; they only turned in its direction, but had not finally crossed the threshold of the Church yet. They had only affirmed their intentions, but something else should happen next. 

Nowadays we do not have this tradition of catechumens. There is no tradition of their leaving in the middle of the Liturgy. This is why in some churches they omit these Ecteniae for the Catechumens, as they seem to make no sense. However, I think, these Ecteniae brought meaning not only for the catechumens, but they also bring deep meaning for us, who consider ourselves the faithful. We have already crossed the threshold, we are members, we are already something. We are faithful already. But to a greater extent, this happened only technically. Yes, we are accredited as faithful; many of us can provide their Certificate of Baptism and produce witnesses. “Yes, I am baptized, I am a member of the Church, I am not a catechumen.” But in fact…     

Catechumens are already not pagans, but they are not yet full Christians. Nevertheless, unfortunately, in fact, those who proudly bear the banner of the faithful, sometimes do not even correspond to the zeal of the catechumens. We do not even have sincerity, which the catechumens of the first centuries had. Catechesis itself was a big responsibility for the Christians in the first centuries.  Оглашенные – это уже не язычники, но еще и не в полной мере христиане. It was a big deal to stay for a half Liturgy and then leave. Some people stay and you leave. You, contemporary people, try to be in their shoes. How will your pride and your egotism take this? She is staying and I am leaving. But then, they were not made to do this. They did it voluntarily, sincerely, and from all their hearts. This was because those people, who came to the Church, had come to the point of desperation recognizing their sinfulness and inner damage. “Publicans,” and I say this in commas, came to the Church then. They were those people who prayed like the Publican, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”1 Or they were like the woman, who said, “Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masterś table.”2 These kinds of people came to the Church then. They were those who recognized from the bottom of their hearts their unworthiness, their nothingness, and their damaged nature. If we suppose that these Ecteniae were not pronounced, those people would have humbly left, their eyes down, like the Publican, at the moment of a special coming of Grace.   

As the Old Testament Prophets said when God approached them too close, “Lord, leave me, I am a sinful man and my sinfulness cannot bear Your holiness. I am a sinful man.” This was their righteousness; this is what righteousness is. “Lord, I am nothing.” This is righteousness.   

Very often our righteousness is turned upside down, like the righteousness of Jews and Lawyers during the times when Christ came on earth. For them, righteousness was observing the law. Для них была праведность – это соблюдение закона. If you observe the law in meticulous detail, you may raise your head proudly and come into the holiest of holiest. For us, Christians, righteousness is the feeling of our nothingness and the greatness of God. Salvation comes only through the Grace of God, but not through our worthiness. Surely, we need to apply effort to the Grace of God, but no matter how much effort we apply, everything will tell us this is not enough, totally not enough, as there is no result. We confess, cry, repent, stand up for a prayer, and break our forehead. Something happens, but this is only something, but there is still no change. There is no drastic change. Well, today it is a little better, tomorrow it is a little worse. And this happens without ceasing.  

No one should omit the Ecteniae of the Catechumens. It does not sound for those who prepare themselves, but for us, who bear the banner of the faithful. The catechumens and the faithful. There was a differentiation between those who were preparing to come into the Church and those who already were the members of the Church in ancient times.  Nowadays the notion of the faithful has become so relative. How faithful are we? This is a relative notion.  In word, we are faithful, but in deed… there is nothing more to say, only to lower the eyes and say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Rhetorically everything is beautiful, right, and smooth, but practically nothing works and there is nothing.  Glory to God, nothing works. This is for us to finally realize that we cannot do anything without God. No one can become faithful without God. We cannot leave the hope in our own feat, “Lord, wait a little bit. I will strain myself a little more, and everything will work.” The Lord stands aside and smiles. Sometimes He smiles and sometimes cries, “Madman, when will you come to realize you need Me? You cannot do this without Me! You only call yourself faithful, you cannot do this on your own.! You need a guide, a Moses, who will lead you by your hand.” You may only burst with pride on your own and become a mockery. To be “Faithful” in commas, this is what you can do by yourself.  

This is why we will never remove “the catechumens.” This ectenia is about us. As far the faithful are concerned, I do not know who they are… We are standing here only by the help of God’s mercy. We are here not because we are so wonderful people, who sacrificed their sleep on Sunday morning, got here by bus or by car or walked on a frosty day. “Hello, Lord. Here I am. Look at me. I have come here so beautiful.” We should come here on tiptoe, like worthless  people, who were allowed to enter. We were merely allowed to come in and are being tolerated. Christ our Lord tolerates us. And we are simply… Even ancient catechumens were better than we are. We are worse than they were.  

Glory to our God always, now and unto the ages of ages. Amen! 

1Lk. 18:13

2Mt. 15:27