A SON BY THE SPIRIT
Archpriest Sergiy Baranov
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron Monastery of Orsk
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
In today’s Gospel we read about a master who planted a vineyard, fenced it in and hired labourers to work in the vineyard and take care of the grapes. And then, when the time comes to harvest, he sends his men to go and collect what is his. And suddenly strange things start happening to these labourers. Suddenly, instead of acting like hired servants in this vineyard, they somehow feel like the masters of it. And when the master sends for his share of the grapes, not only do they not give it to him, but they beat and insult those whom he has sent, and dismiss them with nothing. Again and again, and even then, the master of the vineyard sends his son with the words, “Perhaps they will be ashamed and cringe when they see my son” (They will respect my son. (Mat.21:37)). But something insane is going on with these labourers, they even kill the son thinking that now the heir will be killed and the vineyard will be theirs.
The Lord spoke this proverb in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, rebuking the people of Israel, to whom the Lord had given a vineyard to cultivate, and that they should then share with the whole world this Mystery of Oneness of God. That they would share with the whole world the knowledge of the One God. But Old Testament Israel suddenly comes to embrace its God-chosenness not as a responsibility to the world, but as an honour. And that honour drives them mad. Nothing drives a person so mad like pride, like the feeling of being chosen, of being extraordinary. “I am chosen, I am different from other people, I am unique.” They go mad, their minds are corrupted because the Holy Spirit is gone from them. The Holy Spirit cannot stay where there is pride. The Holy Spirit only fills the space where there is humility. The Holy Spirit leaves them and they go mad because the Holy Spirit IS the reason. Not the ability to think, we all think, but we still do stupid things. This means that a reasonable person is not the one who thinks, but the one who understands the truth. These people think, but they lose their minds, they go mad.
And they are replaced by a new Israel, namely the Christians. But like the people of Old Testament Israel, Christians very often make the same mistake. They think that just through receiving the Sacrament of Baptism they are immediately adopted by God. By family name. But you can’t be a son by family name. You can only be a son by the spirit. It can often happen in life that you have the same family name, but you are very different people. “Is he really your son? He’s not like you, he is of a completely different spirit. We can’t even believe he’s yours”. That is, an heir, a true heir of the Spirit. You can inherit houses and land by family name. You can get a share of the estate by legally proving that you belong to the family. But you can’t get your father’s or mother’s spirit, you can’t get into that family’s spirit by any legal procedure. You can’t just do that by proving your kinship. Kinship is only proven by the spirit. Children often intuitively mimic their parents’ behaviour, sometimes even their gait.
I have a case where a boy grew up without a father, his father left the family when he was a child. And he’s got some of his father’s manners, somewhat intuitively. That’s fine for some small things, but if you haven’t received the spirit, you’re not a child, you’re just a legal heir. How often do Christians think that they are adopted by the mere fact of their baptism, that they enter the vineyard, the Church of Christ, and have a part of their inheritance here. And it makes them so full of themselves that when unchurched people come into the church, they treat them very arrogantly.
This is especially true of us clergy, of course. Sometimes our pride, the size of our rank, makes us think we’re the keepers of grace. “We’ll give it to this person, we won’t give it to that person. This one’s worthy, we’ll give him a little bit. And that one is not worthy.” But if you still felt like a hireling, you would be very careful about your opinions, your judgements, your actions. “Who am I, anyway? The Lord looks at his heart and I only look at his outward appearance”. But appearances can be deceiving, just as my appearance can be deceiving. I walked out onto the amvon in a beautiful garment, and I almost look like a saint. But the inside is rotten. There is no spirit, but a stench.
Christians must be responsible for their Christianity. Not proud of their Christianity, but responsible. We should always keep in mind the possibility of offending our Christianity and our Christ. Because they judge Christianity and Christ by us. And they often judge very sadly, saying: “These Christians speak well but they live badly”.
There is a book about a missionary in the Altai. One hieromonk was a missionary in the Altai before the Russian revolution. This is a Buddhist region, by the way. He was very eloquent, very educated, very passionate, very daring. He once asked the Buddhist lamas to gather around him so that he could tell them about Christ. These lamas gathered politely and listened to him without interruption. He spoke very passionately and boldly for about half an hour. He looked at them and felt that word by word he was setting their hearts on fire. And when his fiery sermon was over, a venerable lama came out and said: “Dear missionary, we listened to your sermon about Christ with great trepidation. It is indeed a Divine religion, it is very convincing, your faith is very convincing. But when we see the Christians who have come to Altai to work their farms here, when we look at the lives of these Christians, suddenly our faith and our reverent attitude towards Christianity crumbles. As long as there were no Christians, we didn’t lock our houses, we didn’t have murders, we didn’t have thefts, we didn’t have many other things, our people lived piously. Then you came here and we started having all these things. What you said really touches our hearts, but the way you live ruins everything, destroys everything completely”.
Do you know what the worst thing is? I have been a priest for almost 30 years and I understand very well that the sins of the priest are not a problem for the people. Because people realise that he is a human being just like them, of the same flesh and blood, with his own weaknesses, character traits, genetic background. And the people will readily forgive the priest’s shortcomings and confusions. But the hypocrisy of the priest is very hard for the people to bear. When he, who has the same sins, talks about high things, and then immediately does bad things. This is the thing that is very hard to bear.
People who do not go to church often say to me: “We can understand that a priest can be a drunkard and a money-grubber, we can understand all that. What we don’t understand is why nothing is done about it. Why has this become the norm for you? Or at least why you don’t cry about it”. Every Christian must not present his Christianity as an honour, must not walk with his head held high in pride: “Here I am, a Christian”. Every Christian must walk with his head down, because he must feel that everyone he meets can say: “Here he comes from church and he is not a good person”. This is certainly true of all of us.
You can only become a son by the spirit. Do not delude yourself that once you are baptised you will automatically enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Person was baptised? – We’ll hold a funeral service. Not baptised? – We will not do it. It’s as simple as that. And the Lord says in the Gospel that some people will be surprised to hear Him say at the Last Judgment, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire”. And then they will cry out, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name?” But He will say to them, “I tell you I do not know you. Depart from Me”.
Being a Christian is a big commitment. The fact that we have been allowed into the vineyard, the Church of Christ, is like receiving an advance payment; through baptism we have only just entered. And you have to work really hard to become an heir.
I recently returned from my trip to the Crimea, and as I was driving back I looked out the window and saw endless vineyards stretching to the horizon. And it dawned on me: every plant has to be pruned, tied up, earthed – and there are these plants as far as the eye can see. That’s a lot of work. Oh, it’s a lot of work! And then we stand there in the shop with a bottle in our hands and grumble: “This grape wine is a bit expensive”. And when you think about how hard it is… the sweat and the blood is in that bottle. Or the grape juice. Then you might want to pay a little more. If you fathom that person’s toil.
Likewise, the work in the spiritual vineyard, in the Church of Christ, is sweat and blood. If you stop working on it, it will dry up. And above all, I say that again, you must become a son, a son by the Spirit. So that people don’t have to ask: “Is this really your son? He is a stranger, he is so different from you. Yes, if you look at the passport, the surname is the same, but it’s a completely different person”. You should become a son, and that’s a lot of hard work.
And one more thing. We have to be very humble with unchurched people who come to church for the first time, because they are watching us very closely. Greet them very modestly, shyly, humbly, even with a sense of shame. Because they come in with an unblurred eye. We’ve got used to each other. And he, the unchurched, comes in with a clear eye and immediately sees the picture: here is a hypocrite, there is another, and another; oh, they are all like that here, and the priest is the same. To be a sinner is not so terrible, to be a hypocrite is terrible.
Lord, save us from this. Give us honesty and humility.
Glory to our God always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages!