UNIQUENESS OF THE UNIQUE

UNIQUENESS OF THE UNIQUE

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Sermon on the Day of the Blessed Xenia of Petersburg 

Holy Trinity Cathedral. Iveron Monastery of Orsk

06.02.2024

 

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

Once, a priest asked me how it is possible to serve the Holy Liturgy, read the ectenia, dismissals, and say secret priest’s prayers without losing their meaning and to say the Jesus prayer without ceasing at the same time. And he said the following phrase, “It is impossible to have two thoughts in your mind simultaneously.”  

In fact, it is impossible to have two thoughts at the same time, if we do not understand the nature of a soul. Our soul is created by God in such a way that here (in our head) dwells the mind, and here (in our heart) dwells wisdom.  Here we reflect on something, but here we give the final assessment. The mind is here and wisdom is there. The mind approaches the object of investigation and analyzes it. The mind considers it from different points and studies it but the final esteem is given by the heart.  

You might agree there are cases when the mind breaks everything down for you and everything seems to be correct but your heart isn’t in it. The heart looks somewhere deeper, into subtler states, where the mind cannot permeate. The mind, to its capacity, seems to estimate, reason out and approve everything but the heart says “no.” 

Therefore, we should understand that our soul is here (in the heart), and the mind is here (in the head). Why don’t we understand this?  Because the wise part of our soul is damaged in its essence and it simply almost does not exist. We live through our mind. We live by it and we put our trust in it too much, we base ourselves upon it but always make mistakes. Somehow, it does not save us from mistakes. We trust in it too much, strain and apply it everywhere and base upon this reasoning part of our soul.  Everything seems to be right to us, we have weighed and mentally compartmentalized it all, but the result is as usual negative. This is because it is one’s wisdom, not mind, that sees the point of things. However, unfortunately, we do not have wisdom. We only have our mind. We have the ability to reason, while wisdom comes from God, it is the voice of God that tells us about the essence of things. The mind acts superficially, while wisdom looks into the essence, the very depth. 

In order to serve the Holy Liturgy (say ectenia, read secret prayer and follow everything attentively) and combine it with the Jesus prayer, a priest should use the mind he has in his heart or wisdom. We cannot have two thoughts in our mind, only one, otherwise, they will obstruct each other. But it turns out we can serve the external Liturgy with our mind and say the Jesus prayer without ceasing with our mind in the heart, “Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Jesus.” 

For those people who live only by the reasoning part of their soul, this theme is not clear. But if the mind, which dwells in their hearts, reanimates through a correct spiritual life, through nourishment by the Jesus prayer, the name of God, if it suddenly comes to life, then it turns out that you can serve the Holy Liturgy, say the dismissals, and simultaneously experience the Jesus prayer with another part of your soul. You may even be an accountant: your mind will calculate and your heart will say, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” 

I do not say it is easy, that it is done in a snap. The Holy Fathers dedicated the whole of their lives to this, to reanimate their heart not like an organ of feelings and emotions but like the center of our wisdom, the center of our “I.” Only in our heart can we understand the essence of things. In our head we can only beat about the bush and keep on approaching the center. But the final esteem lives in our heart because God dwells there.  

Why am I saying such a strange sermon? Because today we commemorate our Blessed Mother Xenia, who is a fool for Christ, and this unique feat of being a fool for Christ in general. Fewer people understand the essence of it. If we approach this feat through our mind, we will receive it only through our mind. We cannot fathom the essence of their feat. What happened to them? What did they live by? What subtle states of soul did they have? They left their mind for wisdom, which is in the heart, and preferred the heart to the head. There are only doubts in your head, while God dwells in your heart.  

By a miraculous way, through revelation, they come to see the point of things, see where God is and turn their lives around.   The mind always keeps moving forward, outwards and suddenly, a person who realizes where God is, turns around and follows inside of himself. He goes here, in the heart, where there is the mind, the wisdom, and the meeting with Christ is possible. Can you imagine, millions of people go one way and suddenly one of them turns around and goes against the stream the opposite way. He runs into people, being in their way, irritates them, annoys them, sometimes even to hatred. They do not simply become irritated, but push, shove, kick and call him names. But he bears all of this because he knows where he is going.  He is going against the crowd, yes, he realizes where he is going. He goes towards Christ, inside of himself, to the place where, according to the Holy Gospel, is the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Kingdom of God is within you.”* This is where he goes and the rest of the people go the other way. 

Certainly, there will be a special attitude to this person. A madman, a freak. He encumbers everyone greatly. It would have been impossible to bear the hatred of the crowd, if you did not have a pearl in your hands. You know that you carry it, it warms you, you know this gift, you have a little treasure, and all of your attention is drawn to it.  You do not pay attention to insults, misunderstanding and aggression, you are concentrated on the pearl. They push you, you fall, smash your knees, rise up and go on all the same, because you have got your treasure. Christ is the Kingdom of God. Christ is the Treasure.  

How many smart people in the world! In the format of the mind. Oh, a great number! What is the result? Nothing. It’s only in minus and minus. They say smart words and have serious eyes. All stupidity on earth is done with a smart expression on the face. All this is nonsense. But all of a sudden, these mad people go against the crowd and reprove the silliness of this world. They do not do this out of disdain or hatred but they do it with the essence of their life.  They do not want to prove anything to anyone. They do not shutdown or convince anyone. They just go the right way and by this denounce the world. And often, this world cannot do with being denounced.  It becomes very angry being exposed and takes a strong revenge. Sometimes, they seem to lose but we should look at the final point. They will not lose but win there. Because Christ will win there. And the wisdom of this age will be covered with shame. They do not behave like mad people, they run from their mind towards their heart.   

* Lk. 17:21

ORTHODOXY IS PAINFUL

ORTHODOXY IS PAINFUL

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Sermon on the Day of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia 

Holy Trinity Cathedral. Iveron Monastery of Orsk

04.02.2024

 

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

Once, a woman came to our monastery. She came up to me and said, “I came to your monastery to live. My life broke me down. It brought me so much sorrow, disappointment and perplexity that, being overstrained, I came here, to this quiet place, in order to spend the rest of my days peacefully, to enjoy silence, peace and relevant inner comfort.”  I told that woman then, “In no way should you go into a monastery.” Certainly, she was bewildered by my sudden answer. I said, “On no occasion should you go into a monastery because you do not understand what a monastery is. In your stereotypes, a monastery is a place where you can sit tight and wait it out. You do not understand at all that a monastery is the front line. Bombs and bullets whizz and people are killed here and pieces of flesh fly apart. You have no idea what a monastery is. You have made up a story for yourself about a quiet comfortable place, where one can sit out, but this is not about a monastery. I assure you as I have a little monastic experience. You have fancied something and in a month you will be so disappointed that you will leave cursing us.” 

The same we can say not only about monastic life but also about Christianity in general. Some people invent a stereotype about Christianity. They fancy it is the religion where you come and get everything you want: comfort, peace, well-being, everything will be set in your family, you will have inner harmony, and you will always be inside of an everlasting pink cloud. I often say such terrifying words as “Orthodoxy is painful” and “Orthodoxy is horrible.” Those who convert into a different Orthodoxy should better not convert at all, or you will be disappointed. Go to a hall of meditation, where you will dive into an illusion and be in peace, in the peace of absolute indifference. Orthodoxy hurts and it is fearful. Christ did not deceive anyone. From the beginning, He disappointed many people who came to  Him, “If you want to be My disciple, take up your cross and follow Me.”1 However, He was honest, “My religion is the religion of the cross.” And the highest confirmation of His sincerity  is that He was the first One to go through the Cross. Then, all of the Christians martyrs followed Him. It happens that a teacher teaches something that he does not practice himself.  Our Heavenly Teacher did not only say but went through this Cross the first. No one can reproach Him for hypocrisy. No one can reproach Him for pretension or falsehood because He can tell anyone of us from His Cross, “Well, I did not deceive you. I honestly and openly told you that Orthodoxy is the cross. If you want to be My disciple, take up your cross.”  If you want well-being, you should choose another religion, here is the wrong place for you. Our well-being comes through the cross. The cross first, then resurrection. The cross first, then well-being. 

Often, when people come up and ask me what special prayer they should read or what icon they should approach to ask for this, for that, for anything, I tell them “Go to the Cross, look at His arms and legs, His ribs, and then ask. No, do not ask, demand. Do not hesitate to demand, as He said in the Gospel, “Ask and you will be given.”2 Say, ‘I demand and You should give it to me.’ Go and try, particularly before the Cross. If you want to go to the Theotokos, you may go to the Theotokos.” We have just sung, “Deliver us from every need and sorrow.” We sing this to the One Who heard at the very beginning, when She brought a little Baby to the temple for churching, the first words She heard, “A sword will pierce through Your own soul.3 It will pierce the bottom of Your heart. Your Son is born to die, so every son and daughter of all earthly women could live forever. He will be the First to come through this point of death.” What does the Theotokos say? “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”4 

Ask the Crucified One, ask the Mother of God, ask our martyrs to deliver you from martyrdom. If you have the heart, ask them. Perhaps, the most sincere Christian prayer sounds very shortly like, “Your will be done.”5 

Why am I saying all this now? Today we commemorate the new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church. Not even hundreds or thousands but millions of them agreed to the cross in the twentieth century. The Lord did not disappoint them, when He did not multiply loaves, or open eyes, or heal paralytics, but said, “My religion is the religion of the cross.”   To which millions of our new martyrs said, simply, shortly and honestly, “We agree.” How easy it is for me now to say these words “we agree.” And how unbearably difficult it is to say them at the threshold of life and death. The throat becomes dry, the tongue refuses to move and the legs give way. Nevertheless, millions of people at our Church suddenly say “Your will be done.” At the threshold of life and death. And the Lord did not disappoint them. How do you think, did every one of them pray with Christ’s prayer “let this cup pass from Me?”6 Certainly, they did. They were humans  and had natural fear, the sense of pain and anxiety. But suddenly they allow themselves to pronounce these words “Your will be done.” If I cannot but drink this cup, let it be so.  

What a great day it is today! You know, sometimes we read the lives of the venerables and martyrs and involuntarily we begin to imagine ourselves in their place and compare ourselves to them. Frankly speaking, it is even shameful for me to take up any role and compare myself to them. Sincerely, it is a shame for me to get into a character because they are so high and I am so low. I cannot even imagine how I could stand all this, I cannot, my conscience does not allow me. Only with God can one stand out. You only need to change your religion of comfort to the religion of the cross. Lord, I agree, but please support me. I agree but You can see that I cannot do this without You. Please support me. This “I agree” is the clue, it is the essence. What does one need to give for this “I agree?” Our worldly well-being, everything that we come here with, put down into the commemoration notes, for the health, for the travelers, for those who are in sorrow, or for the pregnant. This is all we should give for the “I agree.” Lord Jesus Christ. 

Orthodoxy is painful and Orthodoxy is horrible. The only thing I can say is “Lord, I agree. The rest is in Your hands.” And nothing else. 

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

1 Mt. 16:24

2 Mt. 7:7

3 Lk. 2:35

4 Lk. 1:38

5 Mt. 6:10

6 Mt. 26:39

IF YOU ARE WILLING, YOU CAN HEAL ME

IF YOU ARE WILLING, YOU CAN HEAL ME

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral. Iveron Monastery of Orsk

21.01.2024

 

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

I did not tell you a sermon on the Feast of Theophany because I did not feel well, but I do not want to skip this great event. This is why now, two days later, I would like to say something about this great Feast.

Baptism is also called Theophany. This name, Theophany, is personally closer to me. It is closer because it is theologically deeper. It is not simply about the Baptism of the Lord. Theophany speaks about the manifestation of the Lord before humankind. Again, this phrase might stop some people and not let them go into the depth. God appeared in the flesh and for some this seems to be all.

However, I would like to go deeper, closer, greater and more solemnly. Theophany is not only about God Who appeared in the flesh, it is about God Who appeared in His essence. What do I mean when I say such words “God appeared in His essence?” At this moment, again, God underlines the depth of His essence: God is Love. What is the point of the Feast of Theophany in relation to this phrase “God is Love?”

When we blessed the holy water, the great agiasma, on Theophany after the service, we used the special order of water blessing for priests and the choir.  In the end of this order, there is a footnote in small red print, a footnote for a priest, like a guideline. There, in this footnote, it is said something that common people, who stand at the church, do not read. Only the priest reads it. This explanatory note says, “And then the priest blesses everyone and everything with this holy water.” The definition of this note says that this “everything” includes that “He blesses by sprinkling barns and even (there is such a word) dirty places.” Why are these words great? Because in His love for the humankind, the Lord is ready to humble Himself and go to the dirtiest places.

Some of you might have read the Life of St Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia. Once he went to bless houses after the service on the Feast of Theophany. They have such a tradition to bless houses on Theophany. He came to a house, a woman opened the door and he said, “Blessed Theophany! I came to your place to have it sprinkled with holy water and blessed everywhere!” After a short pause, suddenly, that woman told him with sarcasm, “Priest, where have you come? This is a brothel.” To which Father Porphyrios said, “There are no obstacles for the Lord anywhere. Today we sprinkle and bless everyone and everything. We do not simply throw seeds into the soil understanding that there will be no sprouts in advance, but we throw them everywhere hoping that the Grace of God will make sprouts and fruit grow even on the dry ground.” Then he came in and blessed all those poor girls, no matter what and despite everything. This was the essence of the Feast of Theophany, which the Lord manifested through the Venerable St Porphyrios.

I repeat it again, there are the words written for the priest, “The priest blesses everything.” Orthodox people usually observe everything ardently, “This one can do but this one cannot.” But suddenly, in the order of the great agiasma, we read, “Everyone can, everything is possible.” Nevertheless, it does not mean that people should relax and think they can lead a loose life and the good God will save everyone. No, this is blasphemy. This is about the readiness of the Lord to descend to the bottom, in the midst of filth, without disdaining or having an aversion to take us by the hand and pull, pull into the light from this filth.

Unfortunately, we speak less about this essence of the feast on Theophany! We speak about the miracle of the holy water, about how it is blessed and that the worthy people take it worthily. It turns out to be even for the unworthy. The only virtue we can have is to admit our worthlessness. Lord, I am at the very-very-very-very bottom. Do you remember that leper? “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me healed.”* “I lie at the very bottom, Lord, if You are willing, You can heal me.” This is how these lepers differed from those puffed Pharisees and Lawyers who pray to god at church and say, “I fulfilled everything to the tiniest detail, I am clean, I am gorgeous, I am worthy.” How the lepers differ from them! Look, what they say, “ Lord, if You are willing, You can heal me.” Everything is in Your will, everything is in Your hands. I am nothing. I am simply (forgive me for such a word in a sermon), I am lower than  sewage, I am a shame. Lord, if You are willing, You can heal me. Just call me and I will go. That’s it. That’s all our salvation. It is not in long prayers, prostrations, hard fasts, or going to church. This is the point. Lord, if You are willing, You can heal me.

Do you know what I hear from God? “Yes, My child, I will.” And this strengthens me a lot.

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

* “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:2)

THE FEAST OF GREAT HOPE

THE FEAST OF GREAT HOPE

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Church of the Iveron Icon. Iveron Monastery of Orsk

07.01.2024

 

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

Tonight, in this small body of the Baby, a great hope of humankind was born. This event brought hope to people. However, I would like to say now that everyone has his or her own hope. Satisfied, rich and even pampered people have one hope, those who bear some burden have an absolutely different hope. The third kind of hope has those who suffer from great sorrow. Those who are thinking only about the festive table have their hope and a totally different hope has a soldier lying in a trench in mud. And what does his mother hope for this night?   Everyone has their own hope. Everyone hopes according to their mindset and well-being. A person who is too prosperous has somewhat unbeautiful hopes. He hopes to multiply his wellness, become more happy and stable. Meanwhile, a person who is easily satisfied, not pampered by this life and has not got much joy but a lot of sorrow in it, has a different kind of hope and a measure of hope.  

Today, by His coming into this world, the Lord brought hope and, at the same time, disappointment to everyone. This is so because not every human hope is in tune with the providence of God. Sometimes it is in resonance with the providence of God, it does not match with it, and this is why it turns into disappointment and even hatred to God, on Whom they rested their hopes.  How Israel was stirred up during the preaching of Christ! How many hopes there were! How much optimism and energy flew in the society! Everyone hoped according to their thoughts and abilities. Some thought He was a new ruler Who came to relieve people from the Roman yoke and help Israel live independently and prosperously. Some hoped for health and acquired it partially. Some was simply grateful for multiplication of bread. Everyone hoped for their measure.   

However, when the Lord suddenly began to speak about the cross, many hopes were not met and turned into disappointment. After this, as the Gospel says, many people “walked with Him no more.”1 This phrase, “walked with Him no more,” is a very delicate one. In fact, everything was significantly deeper. Many of those people walked under the cross then and spitted upon the crucified God. They mocked and blasphemed, “Physician, heal yourself!”2 “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross.”3 This is how their hope, faith and reverence to this Great Teacher changed into a profound disappointment, a disappointment to hatred. 

Who almost does not get disappointed? The one who does not need much. As a rule, great demands bring disappointment. What does our hope stand for? Our today’s hope? The hope of the Russian people who have come to church tonight at last? On the night of the New Year, the church was half-empty. Glory to God, tonight, we, priests, look out of the altar and see that the church is crowded with people up to the doors at last. And everyone hopes for his or her own.  If we hope only for earthly things, even in the most good and kind meaning of this hope, we can easily get disappointed. Perhaps, someone does not hope for unbeautiful things as richness and pleasure, but for very high yet earthly purposes. Someone might think there will be peace in the whole world that will never end. Look back at history and you will be disappointed, humankind has been at war throughout its life. Someone hopes for peaceful times, but here his enemy creeps up behind his back to shatter his peace. I am not speaking only about global peace, not only about the peace in the country or at work, we cannot even get along within our families.  

The main hope, which Christ brought to us, is that everyone of us can change, change for the better. It is not about changing the world, as it is globally impossible. Look back again and get disappointed once more. We will not change this sinful world. We can change our attitude to our neighbors and ourselves and improve ourselves. This is the hope that God brought to us. If we do not understand correctly why He came and what He brought to us, we might get disappointed. He came to enter every one of us and work a small miracle of deification of a human. This is His great idea about people, so a little human became a little god. Not by himself but in reunion with Divinity. And in a way that a little happiness, a little truth and a little love appeared in this little god. However, “with men this is impossible.”4 

Why have we just partaken in the Eucharist? What is the meaning of the Eucharist? The Lord brings us this mystery. He is not limited by any form, but for us, people who have a shape, as every one of us bears a form, He enters the form of Body and Blood and allows us to take Him into ourselves.  Our physiology unites with His physiology because He became a perfect God and a perfect Man. Our spirit unites with His Spirit, our soul becomes the soul of God. If we could only understand the mystery of Communion in all its theological depth, no one would ever need to make us come and partake in it. We would have followed a priest, pulled him by the robes and said, “May I receive the Eucharist again?” “May I come tomorrow for it?” “May I receive it twice a day?” To which he would say, “Well, I’m sorry, you cannot receive it twice a day, only once.” “Then I’ll come tomorrow.” 

This is the meaning of God’s reincarnation. It is in reunion of His Humankind with our humankind and our becoming gods in lowercase. There is no happiness in a human himself; a human is imperfect. There is no eternal life in a human himself; he is mortal. Any doctor will say that a human is mortal without God. This is so because life is in the realm of Divinity, and we can inherit eternal life only through the reunion with Him; only by catching on Him can we do this. No person has perfect love; our every love is damaged. It damages egotism, which ruins our relationships. Only God is perfect love. “God is Love,”5 the Gospel says, and only in reunion with Him we approach love. And this love is not selfish, but sincere, pure and perfect, which brings us happiness, joy and optimism.  Nothing brings that much joy but love. It is the highest delight. However, there is no his own love inside of a human. “God is Love,” the Gospel says very definitely and finally.  It is not I who is love but God is, this is why I go to where God is, to the place where I am reunited with Him through the Mystery. This is a church where I reunite with Him taking Him inside of me. I reunite with Him both in the Mystery of the Body and Blood and in the mystery of prayer, which also comes inside of me together with Jesus Christ, “Jesus, my Jesus, the Sweetest Jesus.” When I say this many-many times, sincerely, attentively, reverently, Christ Himself suddenly comes into me together with these words. 

Today’s Feast is the feast of hope and the feast of disappointment for those who have the wrong hopes. Let us hope to change ourselves, to change something inside of ourselves with God’s help. This is our Great Hope, this is what God came for, not to fill the outer with happiness but to fill our inside with joy, even if there is global trouble, an outstanding trouble, on the outside. The Lord came to fill the inside with happiness, pureness, joy and love. 

For unto Him is due all honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages!

A Blessed Feast to all of you! If you want, I will kiss you. Father George will give you the cross now and I will kiss you. 

1 Jn. 6:66

2 Lk. 4:23

3 Mt. 27:42

4 Mt. 19:26

5 1Jn. 4:8

LOVE DOES NOT SEEK ITS OWN

LOVE DOES NOT SEEK ITS OWN

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Church of St John of Shanghai 

St Elisabeth Convent

Minsk, Belarus

27.12.2023

 

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

I congratulate you on partaking of the Eucharist!

I want to remind you of today’s Gospel that we heard during the Liturgy. In this Gospel, the Lord says He is going to Jerusalem where He will suffer a lot from the chief priests and scribes; He will suffer a lot, even to death. All of a sudden, according to the Gospel, Apostle Peter “began to rebuke Him,” in other words, the Apostle contradicted Him, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”1  He says this from the bottom of his heart and from the depth of his love to the Teacher and the Lord understands he is saying this out of love and compassion. However, the Lord answers him somewhat harshly. What answer did He give him? “Get behind Me, Satan!”2 By human reckoning, the Lord gives such a frustrating answer to St Peter’s support and sympathy with the fate of his beloved Teacher and God. 

Try to put yourselves in Peter’s shoes in this situation and moment. You suddenly hear from the One you love very much and not only love but worry and shiver with horror for Him, such insulting words, which He, in addition, says in the presence of other Apostles, “Get behind Me, Satan!” 

Who could overcome such words without turning out in offense and leaving? Who kept on following Him despite everything? Who could tolerate such words? The one whose love subdues everything. Like a loyal dog who is shoved out but keeps following its master.   

Once on Athos, I visited Kafsokalivia, the skete where Elder Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia lived. We went to his cell and a monk there told us a story about a monk who went fishing. A cat there always knew when that monk went fishing and always kept getting in his way keeping up with him. The monk had a sharp temper and the one who told the story once saw how he kicked the cat so it flew into the bushes but sprang out of them immediately and followed him again. That cat knew what it was going for.  

Apostle Peter also knew what he was going for. He did not want to get any profit from the Lord, he only had his pure love for Him. “Lord, let me be the last of the Apostles. You may call me names, if You wish. If You do not show me any tenderness, love, or attention, I will follow You all the same. Because I have fallen in love that is selfless and nothing can ruin it. I chose You once and forever, at the moment when I left my boat and the nets, this was once and forever. My final decision.” 

It is not by coincidence that after all of the trials and betrayal of Apostle Peter, the nature of which was fear, a simple human cowardice, after all this, Apostle Peter hears the following words, “Do you love Me?” “Yes, I do.” “Do you?” “I do.” “Do you?” “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” This is why the Lord says, “Feed My sheep.”3 Because Peter was tested not only three but thirty-three times, and proved his love, loyalty and selflessness. 

All our Christian life goes through the trial of our relationship with God. Why do we love Him? If this question rises, we do not love Him at all.  There should not be such questions. One can only love for nothing, selflessly, without conditions and options. I simply fell in love with You and I will follow You, no matter if You kick me, call me names, pay me any attention or not. I love you no matter how You treat me, I will love You despite everything. There is no disappointment in such a love. Disappointment in love is a big wound and a great drama. Love without disappointment always brings joy, goodness and happiness. It is always about “Christ is Risen!” 

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

1 Mt. 16:22

2 Mt. 16:23

3 Jn. 21:15-17

SERMON ON THE 27TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST 

SERMON ON THE 27TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST 

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

The Solovetsky Monastery

10.12.2023

 

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

In today’s Gospel, we listened to a story about how the Lord healed a poor woman, who had suffered from a grave disease for a long time. The Lord freed her from this grave suffering, but the Jews, who surrounded Him, had become so hard-hearted that they did not rejoice at this, nor did they sympathize with that woman, who was suddenly relieved from that overwhelming burden of suffering. They judged the Lord instead. They judged the Lord because He violated the Sabbath, He healed on that day.

The Lord acts for those damaged people through their conscience. He admonishes them, touching their hardened conscience. All of a sudden, even their conscience comes to life and, as the Gospel says, they “were put to shame,”1 they were ashamed.  Suddenly, their conscience, that was almost dead, woke up, and they felt shame. Conscience is the voice of God in a person. Often, inside of a person, where almost everything that belongs to God is damaged, there is still a very thin voice of God, which acts through his or her conscience.  

Once, the teacher of St Symeon the New Theologian, St Symeon the Most Reverent, instructing his disciple, said the following, “Listen to the voice of conscience throughout your life and pray without ceasing, then you will succeed.” It seems to be the only thing that remains relatively not damaged, and meant to hear God. 

I am using the word “relatively” because only a few moments ago, during the Cherubic Hymn, the priest in the altar said the secret prayer, which has the following words, “purge me of a wicked conscience.”2 These words are horrifying because it turns out that our conscience, together with all the powers of our soul created by God, is damaged. It is damaged and perverted. This is why the priest says these words at the crowning moment of the Liturgy, “Lord, purge me of a wicked conscience.” It turns out that after the Fall, even this Divine power of conscience becomes damaged in people and satan can enter even this power of the human soul. He does not enter in some extraordinary way, in contradiction or in contrast not to draw our attention to him, but he does it gently and parasitizes on the gift of conscience. He does not contradict conscience, so the person will not turn away from him at once, but acts simultaneously with it, very close, step by step, and then perverts it slightly.   After the Fall, even basing on their conscience, people often make mistakes. Unfortunately, even this gift is damaged within us.  

Shortly before His Calvary, the Lord told His disciples the words that might seem very strange for many people, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the Kingdom of God present with power.”3 The contemporaries of Christ thought His second coming would be already in the first century, when the witnesses of His life, people who were close to Him, were still alive. Many Christians wonder about the words of Christ. In the Gospel, right after these words were said, the following event happened. The Lord takes three of His close disciples, whom He loved very much, ascends Mount Tabor together with them and transfigured before them in all of His glory. This is what the Lord says about, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the Kingdom of God present with power.” This was the Kingdom of God in its power, and the disciples saw it through the Holy Transfiguration on Holy Mount Tabor. They were in the Uncreated Light, in the abundance of Divine Grace, and this was the Kingdom of God present with power.  

The Venerable Symeon the New Theologian says responsible and, to an extent, horrible words to every one of us, “If you did not have your own transfiguration and did not meet the Lord in this life, then this meeting is very doubtful in the future life.” This life is given to us so we, having applied effort in fulfillment of the commandments, in the mystery of prayer, met our own transfiguration already in this life.  Without this transfiguration it will be difficult for us to enter the Kingdom of God after our death. Because we will not be suitable for the Kingdom of God. We will be a foreign body there, and the Kingdom of God will become hell for us.  

Our purpose is to transfigure everything already in this life and do this with the help of Divine Grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. We should transfigure all perverted powers of our soul, including, or first of all, our conscience. Conscience transfigures only through the Grace of God. The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.4 Those who try to rely only on their effort, sincerity, stability, and feat, are wrong. They will stumble and acquire nothing. Everything is made by the Grace of God, which we acquire as per our Venerable Father Seraphim of Sarov. The purpose of a Christian life is in acquiring the Grace of God. Acquire it without ceasing.  This is the aim of a Christian life. It should not consist only of moral life, we should always and everywhere acquire the Grace of God. Father Seraphim lists many means, which help to acquire Divine Grace, but ends with these words, “However, prayer gives more Grace than anything else.” 

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

1 Lk. 13:17

2 “Look upon me Thy sinful and unprofitable servant, and purge my soul and heart of a wicked conscience…” (The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom)

3 Mk. 9:1

4 Lk. 18:27

SERMON ON THE DAY OF ST JOHN CRYSOSTOM

SERMON ON THE DAY OF ST JOHN CRYSOSTOM

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

St John of Kronstadt Cathedral of Gai

26.11.2023

 

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

Today the Church commemorates St John Chrysostom. The mere epithet to his name “Chrysostom” is most suggestive. This man spoke blessedly, richly and understandably. The words he said penetrated the depth of the hearts of those who listened to him. He said and wrote a lot and there are many of his pastorals available to us now. These works of St John are full of moral content. This saint taught Christians morals. He spoke a lot about morals and denounced immorality at the same time, for which he suffered a lot. 

Back then, in the IV century, in the times of the Byzantine Emperor, when Constantinople was a Christian city and Byzantium was a Christian Empire, St John, being in his Patriarchal office, not only edified, but also denounced his flock. It may seem strange that in those times when Christianity flourished, a saint, a Patriarch, could suffer for his words, defending morality and denouncing immorality. His words were dangerous for him because he did not only reprove the lower strata of citizens, but also unmasked the immorality of the court, those people who were close to the Emperor. He even pointed to the immorality of the Empress, who officially was a Christian but in fact, desecrated this by her immoral behavior.  Moreover, she enticed the court away with her and the citizens looked at this behavior and learned bad from her. 

It is interesting that among many sermons on morality there certainly were those where St John Chrysostom spoke about non-judgment. However, what was he doing when he denounced sins? Unfortunately, he judged. We, with our narrow mind, can barely fathom this. We cannot understand how a person can preach about not judging and, as it seems to us, judge. We cannot get the point of it. Often, when we find ourselves thinking about this, we say, “Lord, how should we understand this? Not only St John Chrysostom, but also Jesus Christ Himself told us not to judge.” What relationship did He have with Pharisees throughout the Gospel? What did He do? He judged them. He was even angry with them. God Who is Love permits Himself to say, “Brood of vipers!1 How long shall I be with you?”2 Look, how tired He is by the morals of the Old Testament. 

How should we observe the commandment not to judge and not to welcome sin at the same time? We should not condone sin like they do in the previously Christian Europe. They say, “Do not judge. Do not judge various perversions, filth and shame.” When they say “do not judge” they even make reference to Christ, “The Lord said in the Gospel not to judge.” No one should dissever this phrase of its context, no one should dissever its meaning from the general meaning and then build their logic based on this meaning. No one should take Christ’s words “do not judge” and separate them from the fact that He judged evil deeds. Therefore, no one should have dissevered the phrase of St John when he said not to judge and judged even the Empress himself. How should we, who are poor and miserable, understand? How should we observe this commandment?   

Do you think I will explain it to you? Unfortunately, not. It cannot be explained as it is not here, (in your head), it is here (in your heart). Culture is not in your head, it is in your heart. A cultured person always knows the limits and the measure. What is the sense of delicacy? The sense of delicacy is the sense of measure.  I can say something to an extent, but what goes above it is already a sin. No Elder will ever be able to explain this measure with words to any disciple, unless the disciple’s spirit grows to an extent. The Spirit speaks directly to one’s heart, not to one’s head.    

I observed many uneducated illiterate old ladies who could only put a signature. I caught the time in the beginning of the 1990-s when they were still alive. They could only make a signature. They had never graduated from any university, they even had never gone to school. Nevertheless, they had a very sensible heart, very subtly did they sense measure with their heart, not with their mind. This is not good and this will be shameful.  Their heart determined decency and indecency. The heart is a very sensible organ. Our mind… Poor modern people! They are so proud of their mind! We fly to space, we discover atoms deeper and deeper… Poor people, we cannot agree among ourselves, but we fly to space… Strange people, we fly to space, we invented the nuclear bomb and do not have the wit to use it. Someone will certainly throw it. 

This measure of “judging and not judging,” the measure of spiritual behavior and spiritual notions is in one’s heart. But if the heart lives by passions, this passionate heart will not be sensible, it will be rude, vulgar, it will not perceive high notions, but will be oversaturated by vulgarity and passions. Therefore, the Holy Fathers worked on their hearts and their discernment and clairvoyance came from their refined heart, which perceived not only a quarter or an eighth of a tone, but a twelfth of it. These sounds do not exist for common earthly people at all. We do not hear them. However, the Holy Fathers lived in this subtle spiritual world, perceived and understood it. This is why they needed no explanations. They knew: this is the limit, I cannot go beyond it, but I can go up to this measure, here, to the right and to the left, but no further. Poor us with our rude hearts, we rush here and there, we have good intentions but the result is usually bad. No one of us consciously has bad intentions, does he? As Chernomyrdin used to say, “We wanted all the better but ended up as always.” This is our poor state. 

Thus, in order to allow oneself to speak about morality and immorality, like St John Chrysostom, one should have the heart and the mind of St John Chrysostom. If we come out and begin to imitate St John now, we will unleash another war or some nonsense. This is why, looking up at St John Chrysostom, we need to be cautious about our words. Who he is and who I am. What he allowed himself to say and what I can allow myself to say. I have many mistakes in comparison to him.  

One more detail of St John’s life. The Great Chrysostom, who has been venerated by the Church since the IV century, this teacher of the Church, ended his life in exile. Church clerics together with court rascals made a false accusation, framed up a case, gathered an unholy council, condemned him, removed him from the Patriarchal office and sent him into exile. He died on his way to the place of exile, in Kamani, Abkhazia.    We cannot understand this. We serve the liturgy of St John Chrysostom, he is the greatest teacher of the Church and when we remember this fact we cannot understand why. The Church represented by its not best people could not destroy him. Certainly, in his times, common people loved St John, they went out to the streets and cried, “Leave our Enlightener alone!” At the same time, there were those people in the Church who destroyed his good name, who deprived him of his post, title, and his mere life, as he died in exile.  Here rises a legitimate question: “How could it happen? How can this disgrace be in the Church of Christ? Didn’t the persecutors believe in God? Didn’t they believe in Jesus Christ? Didn’t they read the Gospel? Why did they persecute him?”  Moreover, there is one more question: “Why did God let all this be? The Church belongs to God. Why does He let every twelfth be a Judas?” 

Holiness reveals itself in contrast to dishonor. It is easy to be a pleasant and good person in a general mass of people, when this mass is calm, kind and stable. And how it is hard to remain, put up with, and forgive your enemies when there is disgrace around you. St John Chrysostom shone forth in contrast to this disgrace. This dishonor was humiliated and he was elevated in this contrast. 

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

Do not become surprised if you see any bad people, details or deeds in the Church or in society. Acidic, aggressive conditions are needed to reveal saints. Sometimes unchurched people come up to a priest and ask, “Why do you have so many bad people, priests in particular?” Sometimes I want to answer such zealots of piety, “Listen, we do lack good priests. Come and be one of them. We lack priests. Good and bad ones. The situation is catastrophic. You have a good disposition, you are all burning with eagerness. Perhaps, you should try.” He does not want this. Do you know why? Because the position of a priest imposes obligations on him. If people look calmly at common people, a priest is always as if under a microscope. People forgive and even do not pay any attention to some things, which common people do, but they scrutinize a priest in contrast and ask, “How could you do that?” This is why being a priest is very responsible; people always scrutinize you.  You cannot permit yourself the things a common person can. Moreover, a priest’s family, his children, also share this responsibility. Poor them, they bear such a responsibility! “Let it be you.” “No, I don’t want to.” It is clear that you don’t. Because already tomorrow people will say that you are a bad priest. Just try to bear this highness of St John Chrysostom. If he was persecuted and died in exile, what will happen to you? 

Thank you for listening. 

1 Mt. 3:7

2 Mt. 17:17

SOMEBODY TOUCHED ME

SOMEBODY TOUCHED ME

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron monastery of Orsk

November 11, 2023

 

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

In today’s Gospel, we read how the father of a dying daughter met the Lord and asked Him to come and heal his daughter. When our Lord was on his way, the following event happened. There was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for many years. As it is written in the Gospel, she “spent all her livelihood on physicians”1 hoping to be healed. So her livelihood was spent, but she was not healed. It was her last hope. She somehow squeezed  through this crowd to touch “the hem of His garment.”2 She said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.”3 Suddenly the Lord, Who was surrounded by a crowd of people, stopped and said these words, strange for everybody, “Who touched Me?”4 The Apostle Peter said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”5 And God says, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”6 This power healed the poor woman immediately. This power could heal in an instant but doctors had not been able to for many years. She was almost desperate to find a doctor. 

Look, I want to draw your attention to the fact that this power is quite tangible and God perceived power going out from Him. The sick woman could definitely feel how this power entered her. This is Divine grace and it is not an illusion. It is very precise and tangible and you live through it not like “somehow” or “maybe” but you experience it rather definitely, precisely. Divine grace indeed. All other emotional feelings are experienced in a quite vague and complicated way, they make us think a lot, they distract our mind. When God does something, He does it precisely, shortly, simply and tangibly.  

Once, St. Gregory Palamas argued with a theological theoretic, Varlaam. It happened in Greece. Varlaam had profound knowledge but he did not have Divine grace. Knowledge without Divine grace can make you feel superior and get crazy. So this self-centred theologian came to Athos and communicated with the Athonite monks. They told him in simple words how they were living there being in Divine grace. They told him that they were living in the Uncreated Light, that they could see this light, it went through them and this light was tangible enough and real. And this—in old Slavonic language “витийствующий” cunning (old English), which can be translated to modern Russian as “мудрствующий от своего ума” “self-wise” (modern English) – theologian without any understanding of what the Athonites were talking about, started laughing at them. “What Uncreated light? What Divine grace?” Our Lord is so transcendent and inconceivable. What can you experience there, what light, what Divine grace?” Well, maybe he could have humbled himself a little before these Holy Fathers and their way of living.  Well, maybe he could have compared his life to their life at least. He lived in a capital, he was favoured by the Emperor, he was not hungry nor cold, he was in honour and had all the privileges of a man of science.  He could have compared himself to them and their way of living. All their lives are dedicated to Lord only, they refused things of this world, they put them apart. Only the Lord.  Can you imagine this? All their power is focused on God only. Nothing can distract them, they are focused on God only. And how could you argue with them, poor man. Your theory was just beating around the bush. But them, they concentrate straight on the Lord. Not only did you argue with them, but you also dared to mock them. And he started to laugh, “What Uncreated Light? Is this a vision about an atmospheric phenomenon?” Or what arguments did he make there?  

St Gregory Palamas, an Athonite monk, left Athos, silence and dedication, for Thessaloniki to have a discussion with this heretic, who was blaspheming Divine grace. There are these words in the Gospel when the Lord says, “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.”7 “Every sin will be forgiven” means that you will be forgiven after proper repentance. So, St. Palamas left Athos to overwhelm this blasphemer of Divine grace. And he managed this. He held a Church Council and proved that Athonite monks, being in Divine grace immensely, being in contemplation, could see God’s light, which the Apostles saw on Mount Tabor when the Lord’s Transfiguration happened. They were all in it, this light was not only outside but they were penetrated by it from inside as well, this light did not have any direction and everything around was immersed in this light. This way the Apostles lived through God’s Light, this way the Athonites lived through the Uncreated Light. Their sincerity, repentance and steady spiritual life of many years helped them to live this way. They were immersed in this light when contemplating. 

Well, the word “see” maybe is not a correct one to describe this light because we can see only what is in front of us. But the Uncreated Light, when it enlightens a person, shines both outside and inside. It penetrates everything around and you stop realising these terms where everything is different for you now. 

However, I want to say something else, something responsible. Divine grace is very tangible and existential. It acts not “somehow” but in a very precise way. But how can we not confuse the action of Divine grace to our emotional feelings and some thrills? We know many examples in Church history when people could not differentiate demons’ influence from the action of Divine grace. They perceived evil action as Divine one. This way they were impaired and defeated by evil. How can we differentiate Divine grace from emotional thrills, which are imposed, first, by satan and then by ourselves—we generate and imagine it on our own from the very beginning.

I believe Apostle Paul would answer this question better considering that he lived through Divine grace in some tremendous way—he was taken up to the third Heaven. The Lord, as He desired, according to His Divine Providence, took a fallen, sinful and quite material man to Heaven. This man saw tremendous things there which he could not even describe. He says, “I saw something, but I cannot even say what I saw there. I heard something but I cannot say what I heard because all of it was non-earthy, beyond our understanding.”

Well, this man acquired tremendous Divine grace, it was an incredible rise to Heaven, and look at his first reaction, feeling and impression. He says, “The Lord was seen after His Resurrection by many Apostles or one by one, or by all together and—he said here the key phrase – “Then last of all, He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”8 Not only were these words based on the fact that he was a cruel person, but he also asked the Sanhedrim to give him a paper which would allow him to go around the world and search for Christians, torture and kill them. It was not the only reason why he was saying that he was a “great monster.” All Holy Fathers who experienced special Divine grace claimed the same thing. They considered themselves to be monsters in contrast with Divine grace. If I go to some den of drug addicts, alcoholics or murderers, I will probably look nice in this place, won’t I? But if I am in Divine grace that is the purest light, in contrast to it I will be the darkest gloom. 

Therefore, this is the best tool, point or attribute to understand what you do deal with—Divine grace or your own feelings or devil. When Divine grace comes, you consider yourself a real monster in contrast with the purity and sacrality of God’s grace. You cannot feel it in a different way. The Old Testament Holy Fathers, New Testament Holy Fathers fell down on their knees and cried in tears, “Lord, to me, the monster, You came.” They could not hold their tears back from the feeling of love and shame as well.

On the contrary, if you experience another condition like, “Finally. I have been practising the Jesus prayer for half of a year. Finally, God came!” Even the Schemanun here laughs. God, deliver us from evil. If something comes to you, and you do not consider yourself monster in contrast to it, but you feel worthy of God, “Yes, I worked sincerely, I did prostrations, I prayed, I donated to charity, I did everything and it happened finally” – that is it, you are at the very bottom. Moreover, it is even worse—you are below zero, a minus. It is impossible to experience different feelings because you are just filth. Try to remember your confession. Or try to remember not just “one confession” but all of them. Every time, from one confession to another, we do the same sins, the same sins—filth, stench and lie. Well, how we should feel if Divine grace comes indeed. We should fall down and close our eyes, bury our heads in our hands as Moses and Elijah the Prophet did.

Once on Athos, there was a story. A devil, who pretended to be an angel, knocked at a monk’s door. The monk opened the door and the devil, who pretended to be an angel, said, “Father Porphyrius, your prayer reached God and He sent me to take you to Heaven.”  To which this spiritually simple man, this childish soul—childish here means mildness, simplicity but not stupidity—so, he answered immediately, he did not even get that it was devil, he answered, “Oh, sorry, but it is not me. You should go to John’s cell, he is a real holy man but you are mistaken with my cell” – he said it sincerely, from the heart; he could not even understand that it was the devil because he was very simple and pure. His purity of heart immediately realised that it was not him to whom He may come, this cell is wrong. “You need that cell which is two cells further— a holy man lives there but me, I barely did my prayer rule, Lord have mercy on me.” 

We should not blaspheme Divine grace with our imagined feelings, which were created by our ignorance and vanity. We should have a reverent and serious attitude to it and be very careful. At the same time, we should not bring Divine grace to shame when it comes. How can we do that? Cry. 

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

1Luke.8:43

2Luke.8:44

3Mat.9:21

4Luke.8:45

5Luke.8:45

6Luke.8:46

7Mat.12:31

81Cor.15:8

ABOUT A WISE PARENT

ABOUT A WISE PARENT

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron Monastery of Orsk

12.11.2023

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

In today’s Gospel, we heard about how the Lord healed a demon-possessed man. The man had suffered from this great sorrow for years. He was not simply a demon-possessed person but, as the Gospel says, there was a legion of demons in him and they tortured him a lot.   It is also said in the Gospel that people tried to bind him with chains and shackles, so he did not wander and hurt himself against the rocks and tear his body; they tried to put some clothes on him, but he tore everything apart. Or rather, it was not him, who tore, but the demonic power that did it. So, this man wandered about those deserted lands, naked, frozen and hungry. 

There was a touching moment there. Driving these demons out, the Lord entered into a conversation with this demonic power. The demons told him, “We are a legion.”1 Then they, the demons, begged the Lord that He would not command them to go out into the abyss. Look, what a touching moment it is. God answers the prayer of the demons. They ask Him and He answers even the prayer of demons and does not let them go into the abyss.  They say, “A herd of many swine is feeding here, permit us to enter them.” And the Lord permitted them to enter the pigs. What a touching moment! Demons pray and the Lord answers the prayer of demons. 

Every one of us standing here, who pray occasionally, from time to time, from sorrow to sorrow, from request to request, every one of us can become confused in our heart due to our spiritual inexperience and unwisely say, “The Lord hears even demons and answers their supplication. Why doesn’t the Lord answer my requests, even in emergencies? There were so many cases in my spiritual life, when I asked, ‘Lord, help me! Everything is bad. The situation is critical’ but it seems to me God was not by my side at those moments and did not answer me.” Look what happens to that request of the demons then. The Lord says, “Alright, let it be as you ask. If you want to enter the swine, you are welcome, do it.” But it changes nothing for the demons. They enter the swineherd, drive it mad and it runs violently down the steep place into the lake.  The Lord’s answer to their request and His compassion changes nothing for the demons, as they were demons, so they remained, nothing changes their damage.  

Therefore, we should apply a reciprocal change of our nature to every of Lord’s answer to our requests. We need to change our nature. “Metanoia” is a Greek word for “change,” in Russian it is “repentance.” “Metanoia” is a Greek word, which means the change of consciousness. When people’s consciousness changes, they begin to behave correctly in a spiritual way.  First, they begin to pray correctly, ask correctly, accept correctly and preserve this state correctly. If the Lord answered every one of our stupid and unwise requests (even if it seems to us that we are asking for the good) because of our imperfect mind, soul and heart, fretted with sin, this request for the good will repeat the situation in the future. The Lord says, “Well, you are asking Me. Let it be this way.” However, the result might be negative, because we do not ask for the good. As the Holy Apostle says, “You ask and do not receive.”2 Why? Because we do not ask for the good.   

What is good? It is a very relevant notion. There is good from the point of view of our earthly being. It seems to us that the good is wellbeing, stability, and peace. Meanwhile, spiritual good is often different. The Lord tells the following terrifying words to His disciples, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.”3 And the Gospel says after this, “From that time many people went back and walked with Him no more.”4 Because they did not see the good in the theme of the cross. They lived through the earthly mindset: it is good when everything is alright in your family, everyone is healthy, you have a job, stability, money and everyone feels good. For us, earthly people, this is good. However, the Lord always looks from the point of eternity. He sees that when our earthly being is good, our heart becomes dry.  Our heart begins to think about life. It is a mere dot, a dot on the line of life. What is our life? It flares up and blows out. Someone might think a hundred years is a lot. Ask elderly people, “Is it a lot?” They would say, “As if I was born yesterday.” This is the way life flashes by. When we try to put all the meaning into this small dot, we make a mistake. While the Lord does not look at this dot, He takes care of us considering eternity. And He understands, if we concentrate all our attention, life and values only at this point, we will make a mistake and this will cause us harm. This is why the Lord lets sorrows be, so we can realize how everything is unstable and unreliable. It seems, you have ceased stability, but sorrow comes from where you do not expect it to come. It resembles a house, which is built on the sand, or a rich man who gathered his wellness and thinks he will own it forever. He does not even suppose that someone is going to rob him at this very moment. He does not even realize that life circumstances, permitted by God, have come to meet him now when he thinks he has made provisions for everything. He calculated his stability, but does not even suspect that sorrow is coming to him at this very moment and this sorrow is a part of God’s providence and this providence saves us in the perspective, in the future.   

People, wake up! Everything is unreliable, everything is very unstable. Live considering eternity. Live looking into eternity. Do not stop your whole mind and thought here, at this point. This point will not exist tomorrow. Perhaps, this point is filled with sorrow or joy, but tomorrow there will be none of them, neither sorrow nor joy. This is why you bear your sorrow with gratitude to God. And bear your happiness remembering it is not the main thing and it does not make the whole sense. Everything passes, and this will pass too. 

Those people who know what sorrow is, become wise for eternity. While people who do not know sorrow, remain wise only in this short life. Tomorrow there will not be this life. We, Christians, work considering the perspective, we work for the future life. This is why we go to church, pray, observe the commandments, save the relationship with God, no matter if we feel bad or not, if we can pray or not, if it seems to us that the Lord abandoned us. Sometimes it seems that you are the most sorrowful person in the world, because some of your friends are well or stable. “Why are my things bad?” you think. Perhaps, God is kissing and embracing you at this very moment because He loves you considering the perspective. 

Lord Jesus Christ…

An earthly parent, who is unwise, pampers his child. He feels pity for him or her today, at this moment, and he does not think that this spoiled child will suffer from his spoiled character in the future. But the earthly parent, limited by his earthly “love,” loves him only now and does not understand that now he must be strict, come over the tears of his child, so he will be wise, hardworking, obedient and happy in the future.   

A wise parent keeps up with the immediate sorrow of his child with bleeding heart and loves considering the perspective. While an unwise one might love himself in this child. He cannot overcome the discomfort caused by the tears and immediate sorrow of his child and does not think what will happen to him next. 

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

1Lk. 8:30

2Jm. 4:3

3Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Mk. 10:21, Lk. 9:23…

4Jn 6:66

UNLESS THE LORD BUILDS THE HOUSE

Unless the LORD builds the house…

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

St. John of Kronstadt Cathedral of Gai

October 29, 2023

 

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

Today the Church commemorates the holy centurion Longinus. He was one of the soldiers who crucified our Lord. They were crucifying Jesus with a sense of right and justice. They were sincere. All of a sudden, this tormentor, this soldier, this cold hearted man of war who served in the army and did it really proficiently. It is said that Roman soldiers could crucify skilfully and aptly, they could do it in an incredibly precise way. They defended their motherland not only on battlefields, but when it was an internal conflict they were devoted to their imperator until the end.

This soldier, who had been serving in the army righteously just recently, changed his attitude all at once. Immediately, when Jesus was dying on the cross, writhing with pain and agony, when Jesus was crying on the cross. He cried out these words, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”2 The Lord died and the earth trembled, nature itself showed Who had just died and what had happened. At this moment, this soldier experienced a great change, it was like everything turned upside down. One minute ago, he was a tormentor but in a moment he turned into a disciple of Christ, devoted to God until death. 

Sometimes I try to put myself in this time and place. How would I live through the coming of God? Unfortunately or maybe fortunately. Unfortunately, and I do speak sincerely, maybe I would not recognise God as well. Imagine, a man lives in a society for thirty, thirty-three years, he is among us, he looks like us, he does not really stand out. Someone knows Him personally, someone knows His family or comes across Him. And all of a sudden this man says, “I am the Son of God”. Well, try to put yourselves at this time span. What were Israelites saying, in what way did they think, how did they perceive it? “He is crazy. He is insane.” Suddenly He became superior and proclaimed Himself as the Son of God. So, they think earthly, objectively and act in this way as well. It is a great blasphemy when a man proclaims himself as the Son of God, equal to Our Heavenly Father because He says these words, “I and My Father are one.”3 Blasphemy, sacrilege. In those severe times, when there were really strict rules, you could be killed immediately for this. He blasphemes, He dishonours God, He dares to compare Himself with God, He joins Himself with God and says, “I and My Father are one.” 

Two thousand years passed and now Christianity is established in the whole world, and it is a part of world culture indeed. But back then, the Israelites had the Old Testament culture and it was a really earthy kind of culture. Look at those morals: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.4 So called human fairness. But suddenly this Man comes and proclaims Himself as the Son of God, and now their world perception is upside down. “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”5 People cannot understand, cannot swallow it. Not only do they not understand it but feel angry about it, they rebel. They rebel to such an extent that they crucify Lord at the end. But having already crucified Him, they could not calm down, and, staying there under the cross, they were spitting at Him. This Man was writhing with pain and agony so let Him just die but even at that moment, but no…

We can understand them in an earthly way. This Man blasphemes, He calls Himself as Son of God. But how can we understand Him in a different way, if all these events were supernatural? What kind of man should there be to see the humankind in Him and that this humankind is full of God? So I can see humankind but I cannot see God. The same is now. The whole universe is filled with God, the whole universe is filled with the Wisdom of God but we cannot see it. Sometimes we cannot see His wisdom. Sometimes we say to a non-believer who cannot see spiritual at all, “Look how our universe is balanced, how it is built, how precise it is, like the most complicated watch mechanism.” Someone created this gear wheel, started it and calculated the number of gear teeth to make it move, not to cumber but to push this mechanism. Our space is an extremely complicated being. There should be an Architect, Who…

How can something be created? First, you conjure up an idea in your head. Then this idea should be implemented into a project. Then workers build the construction according to this project and follow it precisely. If they deviate from the project, there will be cracks.  Or even worse, it will be ruined. So, there is an Architect of all this world harmony. 

You say it to a non-believer but he says, “It is just nature.” I ask immediately, “But nature, is it who or what?” If nature is only “what” then “what” cannot create wisdom, it can only be created by “who.” How can we understand it? There are half of the people who are from the period of the Soviet Union. We were like insane at that time, as God said, “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive.”6 We looked at obvious things and understood nothing at all. Israeli people looked at Christ and saw nothing. 

You know, I do not blaspheme, but as a sinful man, I understand the Israeli people. Unfortunately, if I put myself in that time span, I would see nothing as well. Or even worse, I would be among these tormentors and with a sense of righteous anger would think: how can this Man blaspheme God! I could be one of them. 

What should there be to be able to see God? What do we need now to see God?

Someone mightsay, “We need the simplicity of Apostles. Clerisy was fastuous about their knowledge, Pharisees, Sadducees, but God came to simple Apostles and their simple heart accepted the Gospel easily.” But again I doubt it. How many dumb things do we do in our life because of our simplicity? We do dumb things with this simplicity of our soul. I think it is not only simplicity that we need here. Maybe simplicity is just a small detail. It has been thirty years already that I am a priest and I’ve come to this conclusion “Unless the LORD does, no one can do nothing. You may read all religious books and even learn the Gospel by heart. You will learn the text but will not be able to understand it. Or even worse, you will distort the meaning of it and understand it as you wish. It will be your own Gospel, not God but your own god, whom you create yourself. If God does not touch your heart and mind, you will understand nothing. Or even worse, you will get it wrong. 

Once a woman told me, “Father Sergiy, it is so difficult to save your soul if you do not understand where the truth is.” I said, “It is not that scary. The scariest thing ever is when you know where the truth is and you go there as an armoured train, but the truth is not there in the end.” When you are sure where the truth is, but it is not actually there, then you are mistaken. “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.”7 However, the most important thing is not to trust yourself. Do not trust your mind and your heart. Do not trust even your sincereness.  Do not trust your repentance. All of these are distorted by sin. “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain to build it.” If God does not touch our mind, we will not understand anything. So put your mind to the background.  I do not want to say that you should switch it off at all, God gave it to us for some reason. We should understand that we use our brain for quite earthy reasons: how to calculate the family budget, work, and bring up children. But in spiritual life we face very subtle things. The wisest disciple is not the one who learns something by himself but the one who seeks a teacher. Our teacher is God. Jesus, Jesus, enlighten my mind. I think that I understand everything but in fact, after all, I can see that I understand nothing and I ruined everything again. 

What happened with centurion Longinus? Did he see something? We may say that he saw how nature trembled. But what, had no one seen this natural phenomenon at that time before? So, it was not about natural phenomenon. For some obscure reason, in this crowd of people, God chose this centurion and touched his heart. All of a sudden, his spiritual eyes were opened and he started to see. 

One of the most readable prayers in Church is “O Heavenly King” which is addressed to the Holy Spirit. O Heavenly King, – we ask, – come and dwell in us,
and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, o Good One. The Holy Spirit enlightens us, He saves us. It is not us who save, it is not us who enlighten. We are enlightened not by reading or studying but by the Holy Spirit. 

Look how humbly the leper speaks in the Gospel. He comes and says these wonderful words. These words could not be made up and I am saying this for those who think that the Gospel was written intentionally. So the leper does not come to the Lord and say, “Heal me.” But how does he say it? “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”8 Look at this amazing humbleness. Not “Heal me” (Father Sergiy is shaking his fists). Very often, we come, write notes and demand from God, “Heal me, heal.” Once father George told me someone gave him a soul-paper about selling a flat. In a week this person came back, “No one even called!” You might have been sleeping all this week, father George. Look at the attitude which is completely different, “If You want, You may heal me.” Lord, if You are willing, You can solve the problem with my flat. 

We do not properly understand our going to Church. That is great! I came to church. That is great! I got faith. I started keeping to the commandments of God.  But it is not you! If not God Who touched your heart, you would go on walking about Gai and walk past church, you would not even look towards our temple. So God does something with us. When you do understand that it is not your merit but it is the mercy of the Lord that He chose you among millions of people, that is what happened to Longinus. In this case, you experience some affection, to tears, and there is no place for ignorance and vanity. “Thank you Lord, You are dragging me by the ears, You are dragging me and I am yet resisting. God, let me come next Sunday?” “But I invite you today.” “I have guests today, let me come next Sunday.” Look what He says next, “All right. Let it be next Sunday. But next Sunday we are going to have something else again. 

The allegory of God and us, insane children, is the father of a prodigal son. He is not just sitting and waiting. Look, He cannot even wait, He leaves house, they tell Him, “Look, your ragged son, who drank himself broke, is coming. Not only did he drink himself broke, but he undermined your reputation because everybody knows whose son he is. And he defames your name, humiliates it. And this… piece of crap is coming back.” The Father cannot wait and He heads toward his son. Only then the son comes to himself and says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”9 “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

It was a miracle what happened to Longinus. But it was not the merit of Longinus, it was the great mercy of the Lord. Each of us experienced this miracle—we wandered to church. But it was not for our merit, it was the great mercy of the Lord. We came but we behave inappropriately. But He bears, He bears and heads toward us. Glory to Him, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

1 Ps.126:1

2 Mk.15:34

3 Jn.10:30

4 Mt.5:38

5 Mt.5:39

6 Mt.13:14

7 Ps.145:3

8 Mt.8:2

9 Luke.15:19

SINCERE REPENTANCE

SINCERE REPENTANCE

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron Monastery

October 23, 2023

 

“God, give us sincere repentance” – these are the words in our prayers to God. Sincere repentance. It is seemingly so obvious to us. Repentance is such an explicit process. I am repenting. Apparently, the Holy Fathers emphasized in their prayers that a sin penetrates into us so deeply that even repentance could be insincere. It seems that we do repent, and at the same time, we start admiring ourselves simultaneously, the way we repent. It is like a theatre all the time, which we look at and perform for people. Sometimes we even try to deceive God. We always play theatre. Repentance is a subtle process and it will be seemingly blasphemous to play a double game here or be insincere. However, we can be hypocrites even here, when repenting. When we repent with tears, groaning and hand-wringing, we manage somehow to be hypocrites again looking at ourselves from the side and assessing how we look like. It sounds horrible but sometimes we are even pleased with ourselves.

I often give you this example of avoiding insincere repentance. How can we avoid insincere repentance and hypocrisy all together in our spiritual life? Remember once I gave you an example of one brother who entered the room where all brothers were and they started to praise him. He entered in silence and went out in silence as well. One brother could not hold back, ran after him and said, “Why did not you start to argue when everybody was praising you?” He says, “If I had paid attention to it I would have interacted with vanity. And maybe I would have had a contradiction and let it go into me, and one day it could have touched my heart.”

In the Old Patericon, one Father gives advice to his disciple who asks, “What should I do to find and take a middle course so as not to stagger and sully at the end?” And the Father gives him an example with decedents on a cemetery. He says, “Today go and swear at the decedents.” Next day, “Go and praise them.” Then he asks, “When you were swearing at them, did they answer you anything?” “No.” “When you were praising them, did they answer you anything?” “No, they are decedents.” There should be no interaction at all.

So, when we try to repent sincerely, our repentance should be simple. As God says,  “But let your “Yes” be “Yes,”  and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”1 The evil intervene even into our repentance and start.

Sometimes there could be a question like how I may check if my repentance is sincere or not, if my repentance is from the Holy Spirit or evil, who is making me stagger from despair repentance to the vain one. Hither and thither. Now I have a despair repentance and close to give up. Then I have a vanity repentance — ah, how repentant I am, how sincere I am, I cry about my sins. Ugh, disgusting! How to find out if our repentance is from the Holy Spirit or not, from God or evil? Evil likes to repent with us as well, it likes to pray with us, it likes to keep the commandments with us, it likes to follow spiritual life with us, it likes asceticism a lot and it always adds some vanity everywhere. How to find out if we are inspired by God or by satan?

God is perfect. He is perfect and simple. God is very simple and this is His perfection. If He were complicated, He would never be perfect. You may add something to any complexity or detract from it.  So when God comes — in prayer, in repentance — He comes with great simplicity, which is actually His essence. Then you do not feel confusion, you feel great simplicity. And repentance is very simple and short. God, I am filth and that is it. There should be nothing else. Everything is simple and short and clear consequently. If you want to explain something in a clear way, you need to think of simple and understandable word. If you want to confuse someone, speak in a complicated way.

When God comes, you feel God’s presence as something simple, so it is all clear and definite. Satan always brings complexity. And it confuses us. This is why when we do the holy action like repentance, we start to stagger from despair to vanity. Even this holy action.

The feature of satan is complexity. Complexity of thoughts, feelings and mind. God comes in a simple, clear and definite way.

God, give us sincere repentance. Because even our repentance, seemingly the holy action, holy feeling, can be filthy, bad and unpleasant if it is mixed with vanity and if we start playing the theatre. We deceive ourselves this way, we deceive others, we play this role of repentant victim, we walk and play this theatre. We even try to deceive God, Who is the Reader of the human heart, Who knows our hearts better than us. We do not know ourselves but God does.

God, forgive me.

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

1 Mt.5:37

 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO BECOME GOD WITHOUT GOD?

IS IT POSSIBLE TO BECOME GOD WITHOUT GOD?

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral. Iveron Monastery of Orsk

22.10.2023

 

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

What is the meaning of human life? Why did the Lord create such a beautiful, complicated and genius creature? What were we born for? What do we live for? 

If eternal life is not part of peoples’ life meaning, then any meanings crush against the point of death. No matter how our meanings are great, wise, and genius, they will all crush against the point of death, turn into ashes and become nothing. The greatest meaning crushes against death and becomes ashes and dust. The wind blows and nothing remains. If there is no eternal life in one’s life reason, nothing makes sense. God created a human for eternity, not for an instant moment. Even a hundred years seems like a lot to us. Look back those of you who are in your eighties. Is it a lot? Like a wink! As if there was nothing. Young people stand here. One day you will look back and say, “It feels as if I haven’t lived yet.” What is the point of this instant in eternity if it does not pass into eternity? Absolutely no point at all. All meanings fall to pieces. 

Someone says, “I live to give life to other people.” You give life to a creature who will face the same question, “What was I born for? Dying and becoming ashes?”  If there is no eternal life, no meaning is actual. They become nonsense. 

The Lord planned a human to live in perspective, to lead eternal life. This short period of time is just a prelude. But how should we inherit eternal life? 

Some time ago, when the Lord was creating us, what did we represent? Clay. The Lord took it and transformed it into a doll. What did that doll need to walk, wink, and become alive? It needed God to breathe life into it. And it suddenly became alive. Take this life from it and it will fall to pieces again. Perish. Become nothing. This clay needs the breath of God. 

Since their birth, humans bear this remnant understanding that they are created for eternity. While eternity is a prerogative of God, not a human. Only God can be eternal. Everything else is not. How should we inherit eternity? People, somewhere deep inside in their intuition, bear this eagerness to eternity, and somewhere in their intuition, they realize that only God can be eternal. Even in a person who does not know God, there is the notion: only God is eternal. And people reach out for the commandment which the Lord gave in the Gospel, “You are gods.”1  “I did not create you like animals but I wanted you to grow into gods.” 

This urge for Divinity has always been present deep inside humans, since their creation. Satan tempted people through it. Did he tempted them through an apple? No, he said, “You eat… and you will be like God.”2 This striving for being god is imbued into humans by God Himself. Adam, without understanding the point of it, became tempted by this “you will be like God” and this is why he ate it, and Eve ate it too. Not because they were hungry or because they had never tasted apples. Look, what he tempts them by. By the thing that exists in their essence: “You will be like gods,” you will be immortal.  

But Adam and Eve commit the main mistake at this moment. They do not realize that one cannot become god without God. A human becomes god only in a union with God, taking his nature, taking God inside of oneself. This is the only way to become god. No matter how he will train himself, jump, strain himself, he will never become god by himself. 

Look, what mistakes people make. The Tower of Babel. Why do people build it? Again, somewhere in their intuition, there is this urge for becoming gods. And they build this tower up to the heavens. They, being naïve and mad people, having lost God, climb there into the sky, by themselves. And they fall down from this tower. Throughout centuries after the building of the Tower of Babel, people commit the same mistake: they want to become gods without God. 

Do you remember the times of communism? How we wanted to become gods without God? Someone lays by the Kremlin wall and perishes, someone in a village cemetery. Nevertheless, everyone perishes in the same way.  They fall to pieces because it is impossible to enter this essence of Divinity without Divinity. There is no way to become god without God. The main idea and the main meaning of our deification is not in self-perfection, but in reunion with God. Only this is how a person becomes perfect. You reunite with God and you become god in the lowercase. Not because you represent something but because God dwells there, inside of you. The Lord says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”3 “And I am there too, if you did not chase Me out of it, if You invited Me, ‘O Heavenly King, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity.’” You cleanse, not we cleanse ourselves, but You do.   

The main mistake of all non-Orthodox religions, all philosophical schools, and all earthly ideas is perfection without God, outside of God. They all come to a dead end. Some go further, some stay closer, but they will surely hit their stubborn forehead against the wall and die and perish there. This resembles a small bug who crawls on a leaf.  It reaches the final point of its existence, stands motionless, dries away, and falls into pieces. The wind blows and it vanishes as if it never existed and no one remembers it. 

Our task is to enter eternity. Eternity is the realm of God, not a human. In order to enter eternity, one should become god with no capital letter. The last phrase I want to tell you is: “You cannot become gods without God!” Our Orthodox Christian faith tells us that God descended on earth to reunite with people. All other religions believe in God, in God Who is somewhere far away. Yes, He exists, He participates in our lives somehow, but He is so far away. Only the Christian religion believes in another way, it believes in deification, that God becomes flesh in order to make our flesh god. 

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

1 Jn. 10:34

2 Gen. 3:5

3 Lk. 17:21