VICTORIOUS DEFEAT

VICTORIOUS DEFEAT

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Saint John of Kronstadt Cathedral of Gai

24.03.2024

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

   Today is the end of the first week of Great Lent. This week the Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Triumph of Orthodoxy over heresy. We can also say “victory” instead of triumph. Once, the Church gained the final victory over the iconoclastic heresy and established the truthful confession of the faith in Christ, which is specified in the “Symbol of Faith” and which is immovable and unchangeable. Today the Church of Christ won and it won despite everything. The Orthodox Church has existed for two thousand years and it wins throughout this time despite everything. 

Why do I use this word “despite?” Because all of this began with our First Feat Performer Jesus Christ. How did He win? He won by being crucified on the cross. Hell exuberated, all of the evil powers exalted thinking that they defeated the Son of God. They managed to confuse the minds and hearts of people and took possession of their arms because evil powers are fleshless spirits and they need someone’s hands to commit evil. Therefore, they confused those faithful people, the Lawyers and Pharisees, the Israeli people, so that they gave them their hands for this atrocity. The Israelites crucified the Lord, the Lord Who had healed the sick people, lepers, returned vision, and multiplied loaves only a couple of days before. Suddenly, the same people crucified Him. Moreover, they do not just crucify but also blaspheme Him standing under the Cross, when He was dying in inhuman conditions. They allowed themselves to say such a blasphemy, “Physician, heal yourself”* and spat on Him. How insane should one be to not sympathize with a dying person, even if you do not understand this person!  

Hell triumphs. It has got what it needed. Hell triumphs and does not suspect that right from the Cross, Christ will descend exactly to hell.  He will go to hell and take all the Old Testament righteous people with Him. He will destroy and scatter the chains that held the righteous. At this moment, the great triumph of evil powers turns into great despair. Despair up to hysterics. They were wrong. They thought they had won. This was the foundation of our Church.  

Further and always, it was also this way, always despite everything. Why is it so? Because our Christian faith, the faith of love, compels us to long-suffering and everlasting forgiveness. We will bear a little more, and a little more, and a little more now… Both evil powers and human ones that are devilizing, are inspired by hell. They do not realize that our “bear a little more” is like the compression of a spring. The spring tightens and tightens and tightens and tightens but then it will extend outwards. 

It is very sad that a part of our Russian people, a big part of young people, are taken with some ancient Russian paganism. They say this is the faith of our ancestors, it gives us strength, while Christianity is the religion of the weak. Perhaps, these young people did not at all learn History at school. They do not know such names like Alexander Nevsky, who was Orthodox, Dmitry Donskoy, who was also Orthodox, Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, an Orthodox man, Saint Orthodox Admiral Feodor Ushakov, and even the last one, Marshall Zhukov, who also was Orthodox. Were they weak people? They were great people. They were great, and the foundation of their power and strength was, first of all, based on the absence of anger. They won without hysterics or anger; they did it in truth, composedly, resolutely and unconquerably.  

Satan is a blinded person. Therefore, he is shortsighted. He cannot see the perspective. It seems to him that today’s, this moment’s victory is final. He does not even suspect that all martyrs who existed throughout the Orthodox history, tortured by madding people inspired by the powers of hell, all these martyrs accepted their death and entered into the Divine Light, made this Light stronger and chased the darkness away.  

Someone is triumphing today thinking that he won, but tomorrow he will be in hell. And those whom he was victoriousvover will be in heaven already today. Everything is relative, very relative. Once, Einstein said that everything is relative, and time is relative as well. Regarding the relativity of time, every momentary victory is rather tentative. There is a popular saying, “the day is young” (“down but not out”) Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is not only the day in our life. After all, tomorrow is what will be in Eternity. This will be our definite, objective and doubtless “tomorrow.” Because everything is connected to time, in which we exist, is changing.   It comes and goes. Why does the Lord say, “The way I find you, this way I will judge you?” This will be the moment of truth. A person brings the state he dies in at a certain time to Eternity, the place without time and change. This is why we should step over the threshold of death in Christ! This way we will be with Christ forever! Meanwhile, those who pass away, having gone mad like satan, bring this state of theirs with them. Time stops, comes into Eternity and freezes forever.  

Today we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Let us remember that all our victories were in Christ. Our ancestors – fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfather won in Christ! If a person who is fighting against someone goes into hysterics, goes mad, and winds up, he has already lost. The Faith in Christ has always given us a calm, sober and brave heart, this is why we have fought for thousands of years but no one has ever conquered us! And will never conquer if we are in Christ! Always consider the victory in perspective. See what will be tomorrow, not today. 

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

*Lk. 4:23

REPENTANCE THROUGH SORROW

REPENTANCE THROUGH SORROW

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron Monastery of Orsk

03.03.2024

 

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

Today’s Sunday is called the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The air is already filled with anticipation of Great Lent. Such beautiful notes! Yesterday at the vigil, the choir sang Lenten chants and today as well. Everything approaches us to Great Lent. I would not like you to associate Great Lent with food rationing.  Great Lent should be associated with repentance. The first thing Great Lent speaks about and the first thing that should touch the strings of our heart is repentance, not our restriction of food. Thus, today’s Gospel is a preparation for Great Lent. This is the reading about repentance, about the Prodigal Son. 

The story tells us about a father who had two sons. One of the sons, who was deprived of reason, asked his father, “Give me my part of the heritage.”  More than likely, the father saw and realized that nothing good would work out of it and said, “Son, you are not capable of managing your property yet.” Look, the father knew in advance that he would waste everything, but humbled himself and gave it to his son. The son went away and lost everything that his father acquired through hard work, his third of the estate, as there was one more son. Everything that his father acquired so hard and gave him with a humble heart did he waste. He lost everything, defiled himself in drinking, fornication, wasted his property, came to a total loss of everything, and became a beggar. He was so poor that even had nothing to eat, absolutely nothing, not even a piece of bread. He went and hired himself out to a farmer to take care of the hogs. The only thing he was interested in there was to steal food from the pigs and eat it so as not to die of starvation.  Then he said to himself, “Why do I steal from the pigs here? Even this food is forbidden to me. Meanwhile, at my father’s place, even the slaves eat their fill. I will go, I will go back, not as a son, but as a slave.” He came back and his father accepted him. 

You know, usually, the person of the Prodigal Son is perceived in some negative clue in the Church. It has even become a common name, “a Prodigal Son.” I will be honest with you, for me the Prodigal Son is fabulous at his final point. He had the wisdom to repent. His entire life had been insane, but he had the wisdom to acknowledge that he was at the level of pigs. Can any of us afford such a luxury as to acknowledge that he is at the level of pigs, one of them? I doubt that any of us can afford such a feat. As a rule, there are only excuses untill the end, “This is not my fault. It wasn’t me. Things came around the way that the fornicators seduced me and the alcoholics dragged me with them.” We excuse ourselves, even in part, till the end.  I wish I could kiss this Prodigal Son, who had the courage. He did not have the mind to keep his father’s heritage and reputation of his father and his family, because he was defaming them. Nevertheless, he had the wisdom to say, “I am worse than the pigs.” I wish I could embrace and kiss this Prodigal Son! 

Traditionally, He is worthless, a common name “Prodigal Son” for us. But who of us can repeat his feat of humility? Who of us can admit shortly and unequivocally, “Yes.” Without all those accompanying excuses, “But I had reasons, I was influenced by the circumstances and people.” This is the usual way of things. How rare a short and definite repentance is! “Yes, forgive me.” Lord. Who of us has not sinned? Will there be a sea of hands, if I ask to raise them? I would also add, remember your confessions, those who did not sin. Who of us is better than the Prodigal Son? We just had different circumstances. However, most often it is, “It’s not me. I’m not like this.”   

I would like to relate this even from the Gospel with another Gospel event about a harlot who approached the Lord. Immediately, the Pharisees begin to judge, “Hasn’t He got any discernment? Doesn’t He see who is approaching Him? She is simply besmearing Him by her mere personality. Why does He allow her to approach Him? She is a harlot in the end.” To which the Lord answered those “pure and worthy people,” “Tell Me, there was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. He freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”1 And even that hard-hearted man suddenly said, “The one whom he forgave more.”2 And He said, “Simon, I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.3 Whom did God forgive more, you or her?” Of course, it was her, because she had a global understanding of her fall in her conscience. Meanwhile, you are a pious person, you do not even have anything to be forgiven for, you are not to blame for anything, you are always right, you have fulfilled everything that was needed, you are self-consistent, you have no sins, this is why you have no gratitude towards God. You gave alms to the Church, attended services, confessed and received the Eucharist. You do not even need to come to a confession, as you have nothing to say there, it seems you have fulfilled everything. The only thing is that if the Holy Spirit enlightens your mind, you should start with arrogance, “Forgive me, Lord, I think that I am such a great person.” You are like her. Just the same. No, you are worse than she is because, having the same predisposition to sin, you hypocritically consider yourself better and worthier than her. 

For me, the Prodigal Son is not a common name. “Prodigal Son” is a common name for those who attained something in the Church. But for those who cry over their sins from confession to confession, the Prodigal Son is an example for imitation. He shows how one can come to his senses and come back to the Father. Today’s theme is a subtle and warm one. I somehow admire great people less than the worthless ones, who have come through their worthlessness and allowed themselves an acknowledgment, at first, and then repentance . This is so precious! 

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

1 Lk. 7:41-42

2 Lk. 7:43

3 Lk. 7:44

HOLINESS FROM GRACE

HOLINESS FROM GRACE

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Church of All Saints at Kulishki, Moscow

11.02.2024

 

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

I am very glad today to have a chance to serve at your church dedicated to All Saints. In addition, today we commemorate such an amazing saint as Ignatius the God-bearer!  

The very epithet to his name inspires me to say a few words about the nature of this unique phenomenon, holiness. I would like to speak a little about what this outstanding phenomenon of holiness is. If we do not understand the essence of this phenomenon correctly, we will commit a great and horrible spiritual mistake. The mistake that was committed by our forbearers, Adam and Eve, in heaven.  

When the serpent tempted them and invited them to taste the forbidden fruit, Adam said with childish naivety, “It is forbidden to us to eat from this fruit, as we will surely die!” To which satan answered them like a human, “You will not die but you will be like gods!”1 After all, this was probably the biggest temptation. To become a god without God. The Lord says, “Do not do this, I am asking you.” He addresses them like children, very gently and kindly, “I am asking you.” He said the following words, “I am asking, do not eat.” However, Adam and Eve could not cope with this temptation. They wanted to become saints or gods without God. A while later, the builders of the Tower of Babel made the same mistake.  They also had a negative result, a failure. 

Their inner compulsion to move upwards, there, in the heavens, induced their activity. They made that tower, made bricks, put them one on top of another and tried to move there, upwards, but again, the result was negative; it was a failure. Everything was ruined, including all their efforts and asceticism.  

We should understand the main sense of holiness. Holiness is a feature of God. It is not a feature of a human. A human can touch holiness only through union with God. In the Holy Fathers’ theology, it is called deification. A human is not holy by himself but he becomes holy through touching God’s holiness. 

During the Holy Liturgy, we have just heard the following words, “Holy Things are for the holy.” These words concern every one of us. What is the meaning of them? It does not mean that we are all saints and we came to get our Holy Things. Our participation in holiness is made through the Mystery of Baptism, when we enter the Church, or the Body of Christ.  We come inside the Body of Christ, into the realm of holiness, but we are not holy by ourselves, we only entered the realm of the Body of Christ that is holy.  We are allowed to approach the Holy Things, participate in the Mysteries of the Church and thus we can hear “Holy Things are for the holy.” 

Today, now, in a minute, you will receive the Eucharist, you will directly receive  the Body and Blood of Christ into yourselves. Christ will be inside of you. To an extent, it will be possible to say about you that you are holy. However, this will not be your holiness, but the holiness that will dwell in you after the Communion. This is a unique phenomenon. “No one is holy but One, that is, God,”2 the Lord says in the Gospel. Every person can be holy by relation and involvement into Divinity.  

Holiness is the nature of Divinity, it does not belong to us. At the same time, you might wonder, “So, no effort is needed on our part? Just go and take Communion, touch the Mysteries of the Church, be a Church member and you are already holy? And it is said about you at the Liturgy ‘Holy Things are for the holy.’”   

Do you know what it is like when the holiness of God enters every one of us through the mysterious Body of the Church by His mercy? I would compare this with a sad phenomenon, when the light of God, His holiness and purity descend into a filthy and dark prison. Untidy, ill-smelling and nasty, and He descends there by His mercy. He does not defile Himself but the prison remains nasty. If one takes a precious pearl and throws it into dirt, then he will hold a piece of dirt in his hand but the pearl inside of it will not change, it will remain the way it used to be.  

Therefore, to this holiness that makes us holy by the mercy of God, through the Mystery of Baptism, thanks to which we can approach the Mysteries, including the Mystery of the Eucharist, we should add our personal effort and sincerity. This is like the renovation of an old dark and greasy icon, in which we might even not see the image, but it still remains an icon. The dirt on the icon remains dirt. Thus, our asceticism, our spiritual life resembles the renovation of an old icon, which needs to take off the soot, darkness, and dirt, layer by layer, in order to set free the holiness that lies underneath, so it could shine. 

Holiness is a unique phenomenon, if a person understands its essence. Ignatius the God-bearer… It is so good that today is his day. There is the tradition… Look, the very epithet “God-bearer” tells us where his holiness was, he was bearing God inside of himself and emanated light, which did not belong to him but to the Divinity because God dwelled in his heart. This is why he was a God-bearer. 

No matter how much effort we apply, what kind of feats, perseverance and stability we perform, no one of us can become holy through our own effort, diligence, techniques or some exercises.  God makes humans holy, when we, having humbled ourselves, realize our narrowness… Look, how the prayer “O Heavenly King” goes, “Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity.” These words are very exact.  It is not I who cleanse myself by the feat of prayer, fast, asceticism and vigilance but You cleanse me. Whilst all of my feats are just an indication of my sincerity and eagerness, so You come and dwell in me and cleanse me of all impurity. 

You will now come up to receive the Eucharist like holy ones, partially. This holiness is not a dignity or honor. This holiness is a big responsibility. Our holiness consists only in the fact that the Lord accepted us into His Body or the Church of Christ, that we became the particles of this Body. Being related to this Body, the holy ones approach the Holy Things. However, this is a great responsibility! We should not let the Body and Blood of Christ go into a dirty, ill-smelling and filthy prison. He, by His humility, will descend and will dwell there but we should feel that His holiness is offended and do something with ourselves.  We should renovate our own image a little.  

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

1 Gen. 3:5

2 Mk. 10:18

 

DARING LOVE

DARING LOVE

Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron Monastery of Orsk

18.02.2024

 

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

God put into our human nature such feelings that touch and disturb the powers of the soul. We feel when we do wrong and through our conscience perceive the signal of wrong behavior. We feel our narrowness, imperfection, and God embedded all this  into us, so we could act right in our life. However, satan enters these powers of the soul and aggravates them, parasitizing on them. He aggravates our sense of imperfection to inferiority. He brings our sense of guilt to depression and diseased states. This is how he paralyzes a person and carries him to desperation.    Thus, a person seems to repent but only admits his sin and after this nothing happens. Because satan aggravated everything in us and we sunk into despair and could not do anything then.   

Take today’s Gospel. Today we remember a small and worthless man,  Zacchaeus the Publican. Judging from his appearance, he was a short and worthless man, and judging from his inner state, he was a publican, the person who collected taxes from his own people. It might seem that satan would work with him as he usually does. Christ comes, a crowd of people, he is the shortest of all. “I will not squeeze between them anyway. I am shorter than any of them. I won’t see anything. I won’t be able to approach. The crowd will push me aside.” And deeper, “I am worthless. I might come up to Him and He would say, ‘Get behind Me, you are a worthless person, do not desecrate My holiness by your worthlessness.’” However, a sane spirit lives in this man.  Despite his worthlessness, the worthlessness of his height, public position and inner state, there is a sane spirit that dwells in him. Regardless of everything, no matter what, he applies effort and seeks a means, “I am short of  height, I will climb the tree and see Him from the tree.” 

Look, what an inspiration, what daring this little person has! He climbs up a tree to see the Lord. And immediately the Lord says the words which no worthful person surrounding Him is honored with, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”1 The Lord chooses the most worthless one, the smallest one, but the most daring one, who acts notwithstanding of his worthlessness. His love overcomes his pride, suspicion and the fear of being rejected. His love overcomes everything. He climbs the tree, clambers there and hears the following words, “I will come and dine at your place.” The Lord comes into his house and “the righteous ones” become confused and even express their confusion over the Lord, “Doesn’t He see? He should see, He should see people’s hearts, He should be a clairvoyant. How is it possible that He can’t see who He pays visit and who prefers to us?” 

The love of God prefers the humble ones and gives His grace to them. What does the Holy Scripture say? “On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,2 and he will receive My grace.” In other religions, worthful people receive grace, but in Orthodoxy it is the humble ones. It happened despite and in contradiction to logic. “He shouldn’t receive it.” But the Lord gives it to him.  

Satan always tries to aggravate everything. He aggravates our repentance, the vision of our sins, drives us to despair and paralyzes our activity to make us give up. I understand when during repentance a person lowers his eyes and head, as he feels embarrassed and ashamed of himself. You might lower your eyes and head but do not lose your heart, you should not give up, you should act.  If you lack courage and inner power to fly towards God, run. You lack energy and courage to run, go. No courage to go, crawl. Even if you don’t have energy to crawl, you can lie down towards Christ, turn your head towards Him and cry, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” If you don’t have energy to cry, just look towards Him and He will see you.   

How often we do not feel one another and the situation. Don’t we? He is slamming and slamming and slamming that door. Doesn’t he feel that it disturbs us? Should we be patient? We will be. However, every one of us should be delicate; we should feel one another. Not only ourselves but also the people who stand by your side at the Liturgy. Everyone is concentrating on the altar now. Stop walking around the church. Do not put the candles, whisper and rattle. You should feel it, it is not something supernatural, just an elementary politeness.  

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

1Lk. 19:5

2Is. 66:2

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