A WORD ON DEATH. SERMON ON THE DAY OF THE ENTRY OF OUR LORD INTO JERUSALEM. 17.04.2022
A very important event took place before the six days of Pascha. I am not talking about the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, I am talking about what happened yesterday, on Lazarus Saturday. Our Lord said to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” (Jn. 11:11). The disciples did not understand His words and said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” (Jn. 11:12) Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” (Jn. 11:14) At that moment, all of a sudden, something extraordinary happened, and one of the Apostles said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn. 11:16) This event should be considered as outstanding in the history of humankind. Since then people’s attitude towards Death has changed. All at once, a human, who runs from Death even at the back of his mind, who distances himself from the mere word “Death”, for whom the issue of Death is appalling, a common human, not the Lord, who said, “Lazarus is dead”, said, “let us go and die.” That was a fundamental event in the history of people, which made them change their attitude to the frightening issue of Death. Before that, people treated Death as a damnation for their Fall; but when Christ came, He brought just the opposite notion of it. Death ceased to be a damnation; it became a blessing, if it was a death for Crist’s sake. Earlier, before Christ, even the righteous were supposed to go through the gates of Death and stay in hell, but now, for many people who die in Christ, the gates of Death have become a symbol of passing into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some people, who read the Holy Gospel, but do not lead a spiritual life and have not acquired the Holy Spirit, cannot understand some concepts. For example, when the Church sings, “Christ is risen from the dead, tramping down Death by death”, but people still die. All the Apostles died as martyrs, except for Saint John the Theologian. All Christians die; Lazarus, who had been resurrected, died all the same some time ago. That is why people wonder why it happens so and what the spiritual meaning of the words, “Christ trampled down Death by death” is. The point is that previously Death was the entrance to hell for all people without exception. But when Christ was three days in the Sepulcher, He descended to hell and took away Adam and Eve, and all the Old Testament righteous people who had been tormented there waiting for the Savior. In fact, that is how Christ released people from Death. He annihilated the force of Death and changed it drastically. It became an opportunity of coming into the Kingdom of Heaven. But it depends on how we should pass it. That is how Christ trampled down Death.
This change happened to the first Christians. They saw that people died, but they did not distance themselves from the mere word “death”, did not run away from it, like they used to, but they ran towards it. They looked insane to their contemporaries, as they ran to the Coliseum. People asked them, “Where are you running to? They torture and kill Christians there, and they will kill you too.”, to which the Christians answered, “That is what we want for us.”
This is an unalterable law. Every one of us will have to pass through the gates of Death. “But I want to pass it in Christ, I want to give my life for Christ’s sake”, – said the martyrs. The Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste were standing on the frozen pond and realized they were dying. One yielded and left, and one of the guards, who tortured the confessors, ran and placed himself beside the thirty-nine soldiers of Christ. By the standards of this world, which values this life and thinks nothing of the eternal life, sometimes crossing the line of conscience and betrayal, the feat performed by the guard seems to be insane. “Where are you going?” – “To the death.” “But you are insane!” – “That is how I will come into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We live in a challenging time, when everything is so much aggravated. If the Holy Spirit does not enlighten our mind, we will not understand the meaning of this time. When people do not understand the meaning, they break down and get smashed. Now, when our children are at war, we should understand. We should not be terrified by Death; we should not run away from it. Instead, we should come into such a spiritual state, which will allow us to step forward towards Death without any fear. However, “with men this is impossible” (Mt. 19:26). People can experience this only in the Holy Spirit, when their mind and heart pray, and they begin to think and perceive everything the way I am talking about. In this case, they will be ready to say with the Apostle, “let us go and die.” For this world, it sounds crazy. After all, Christianity itself is crazy to the world. That is why the first Christians were persecuted and tortured. From the point of view of human common sense, they were objectively insane. Who were the Christians in the first century? They were considered a terrible cult who gathered at nights and drank blood. That was exactly what the pagans felt about the Christians then. In fact, Christians gathered at nights near the tombs of the saints and drank Blood, the Divine Blood of Jesus Christ. But the world could not comprehend this and it started to persecute, crucify and kill Christians as an abominable cult. The pagans tried to extinguish Christianity, but failed, and it is still alive.
That is the reason why Christianity is not understood by the world. Moreover, the contemporary world does not only misunderstand, it rejects Christianity as a foreign substance. The contemporary world fights against Christianity, and it fights severely. Not only our children are in danger, every one of us is in danger. This may lead us to a blind fear, which makes people lose their mind and act unreasonably. These days, in order to keep sane and remain Christians, not in name, but in essence, we need to have courage and understand spiritual issues.
We have Passion Week ahead. Let us die together with the Apostles this week and resurrect on Sunday. Let us work a little more. May we not be cowards. Cowardice makes us deny Christ every day. What will my relatives, neighbors or colleagues say about my Christianity? Christianity will deprive me of comfort or something I am devoted to. It is always taking away from me. When we come into Christianity, we step into a discomfort zone; but if we do it voluntarily, everything turns upside down for us. The filth and terror of Death turn into a big hope in Christ. Christ died Himself and passed through those “gates of Death”, and resurrected on the third day. But to die, one needs to suffer much. Your heart aches, your head aches, and everything aches, but this is the price of life. Life is a very precious treasure, and we need to pay a big price for it.
Glory to our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.