FROM A GREAT SORROW TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
On the Day of the Venerable Saint Sergius of Radonezh and Grand Duchess Elizabeth the New Martyr
Church of Saint John the Warrior, Chelyabinsk
In the Revelation of Saint John the Theologian, in the passage about the Day of Judgment and the last days, there are the words describing thousands of righteous people in white garments who will come to the Lord. As it is said there, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.”1
Today we commemorate Grand Duchess Elizabeth the New Martyr. Grand Duchess Elizabeth had all earthly happiness. She had a wonderful, dear, and loving husband, a very noble person, Sergey Alexandrovich Romanov. Their marriage was very good. It is not often that spouses are completely like-minded. They had no contradictions, she agreed with him, and he agreed with her. This was the way they lived. Their marriage was blessed by God’s grace because both he and she were faithful people, sincerely and deeply faithful people. She used to be a Protestant since birth and no one statutorily claimed that she should convert to Orthodoxy. She could have remained in her own faith but she desired to be together with her husband in full measure, all the way through. She studied the Orthodox faith (perhaps, first of all she studied the faith of her husband) and then chose it, even though supposing that her relatives who lived in Germany within a different tradition might judge, reject and become sad because of this. She followed her husband not only in earthly and existential things, but also in the spiritual realm, embracing Orthodoxy.
I repeat once again: this was a happy marriage. But it happened that her husband, the Governor-General of Moscow… There was much evil in Russian people in those times and this evil was like a plague. These new revolutionary ideas contaminated people. They spoke about liberty, equality and fraternity, but in reality, there was anger, hatred and aggression. They spoke about one thing, but in fact, there was something absolutely different. Those people who spoke about liberty, equality, fraternity and love, suddenly allowed themselves unimaginably horrible things. A revolutionary and terrorist, Kalyayev, threw a bomb into the carriage of the Grand Duke and the Governor-General of Moscow Sergey Alexandrovich. This carriage had just left the Kremlin. Elizabeth Fyodorovna heard the explosion and her loving heart realized everything at once. She ran to the place in the dress she had on and was the first to arrive. She found nothing but the pieces of the carriage and her husband’s body. She did not find the whole body, but the pieces of it scattered across the square. She was shocked and strained so much that she walked around and collected the remnants of her husband into the bottom of her gown, being as if in a mist. It causes me pain to speak about this now. Can you imagine how she felt? It is even hard to imagine. Nevertheless, in a few days, the person who had come through such a tragedy, horror and extreme degree of sorrow, came to the cell of the murderer, brought him the Gospel and said she forgave him.
This is beyond our comprehension. This murderer should be punished in the cruelest manner, so no one else had any desire to do so. However, she acts most unnaturally: goes to the cell of her husband’s murderer, asks him to repent, brings him the Gospel, and says she forgives him. She brings him forgiveness from her deceased husband.
Do you remember what I told you when I began this sermon? I said, these righteous people who will come to the Kingdom of Heaven, come there out of the great sorrow. This is what we can attribute to Elizabeth Fyodorovna first of all. As far as this sorrow is concerned, she did not run from it then, but involved herself into it further on. She did not seek the quiet and solitary life of a widow to heal her broken heart with silence and some simple comfort. She goes in for this sorrow again. She goes to the humiliated, miserable and sick. She comes out to meet the sorrow of this world. She comforts people when one might think she and her heart needs comfort itself. The wounds in her heart take time to heal, but she goes in for sorrow and visits the most terrible places in Moscow. She visits the homeless, killers, fornicators, all those people who have dehumanized themselves, people like those who killed her husband.
There are the following words in the Psalter: “We acquire by wasting.” Elizabeth Fyodorovna acquired not according to earthly, but spiritual law. She began to waste herself and through this “wasting” she began to acquire her inner person. She began to acquire Christ, God’s grace, into herself. It strengthened her and gave meaning to her life. It gave life itself because Christ is Life. Without Christ everything dies. He is Life. He is Eternal Life. She was striving after this Life. She was not only striving after it but invited everyone to this life. She called there the Sisters, who gathered around her at the Convent of Martha and Mary, and everyone whom they visited and helped.
Have you got sisterhood here? She is your great protectress and beautiful example.
How should we live our life? When we were children, we looked forward and life seemed to us an everlasting chain of events. When we are old, we look back, and it seems to us our life was a little flash in eternity; it flared up and died out. Life is Christ. Without Christ it is a mere flash; it flares up and goes out. No matter what we do, what vacation we choose, everything should be in Christ. To have everything in Christ, we should first find Him. Many people talk about Christ but very few know Him. This is true.
Blessed Feast to you! Today we have two Feasts: the Day of Elizabeth Fyodorovna and Venerable Sergius of Radonezh. I have just told you about the great sorrow which Saint Elizabeth was bearing. She was bearing it voluntarily and with joy. However, we can also say the same thing about Saint Sergius. The words “the Bleeding Heart of the Russian Land” are often attributed to him. He went to Christ and did not ask for joy, he went to Christ in order to share Christ’s grief over this world. Sorrow.
We often come to church with an expectation that everything should become alright at once, that we should find consolation, comfort, and our life should improve. But look, Venerable Sergius goes in for the sorrow for the Russian Land consciously. Venerable Elizabeth does it consciously as well. And from this sorrow, they draw joy, but this joy is of a different kind. There is the joy of acquiring and the joy of giving. It is more pleasant to give presents than to receive them. Isn’t it? Give, and the Lord will replenish it immediately. The more you give, the more the Lord will replenish for you. If there is a gap, something will fill it.
Glory to our God, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages! Blessed Feast to everyone of you!
People are often proud of the great name of the saint they have. You know, it is not an honor, it is a big responsibility. Perhaps, it is not a joy, but a great shame to bear the name of the Saint who is worlds apart from you. This should not elate a person, but make him or her humble. May us all think about our heavenly protectors, compare our lives to theirs, lower our eyes, and humble, humble, humble ourselves.
Glory to our God, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages!
1 Rev. 7:14