SERMON ON THE DAY OF THEOPHANY
St. John of Kronstadt Cathedral, Gai City, 19.01.2023
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
The Lord says in the Gospel that those who believe in Him will have rivers of living water flowing out of their hearts.1 He says, “I am the truth and the life.”2 In the Gospel and in the Church people talk more about life, but I would like to ask you a question now. We have a little bunch of people here, who are not sleeping, and the whole city, which is sleeping. What is the difference? Or this bunch of people will not suffer from diseases, have misfortunes in their lives and die? They will have all this all the same.
Once a man told me, “Father, I am an unbeliever, but I have lived happily all my life long. I have a wonderful family, good work and everyone there respects me. Glory to God, the Lord gave me good health and well-being.” Being a common human, he sincerely does not understand why he should not sleep tonight, for example. Some people will need to go to work tomorrow, as it is a working week. While this is a relative feat and a limitation of oneself.
What is this all for, if we see that those people, who do not go to church and do not remember about God, live as happily as churched people in earthly terms. Sometimes their life is even more calm and stable. This is why the question rises, “What life does the Lord talk about when He says ‘I am the truth and the life. I give life?’”
Churched people who do not get the meaning of these words wonder, “The day before yesterday we buried an unbeliever, today we bury a faithful person. It’s all the same.” There are more unbelievers than believers among the patients of the hospital, which is just across the road from us. Faithful people are its patients too and they suffer from different diseases as well. What life does the Lord talk about? Even we, churched people, do not always understand what He speaks about. The Lord speaks about spiritual life.
There is a simple physiological life. Animals live physiologically. One may say, this kind of life is full, but on the other hand, it is only a part of life. This is because animals are deprived of something, which a human has. They live only in the format of physiology, but are deprived of something belonging to the soul. Animals take no interest in music, they do not understand poetry, and they will never stop in admiration before a painting of Aivazovsky, as they simply do not see it. This is because they live only in the format of physiology. And they live happily in it. A calf comes to this world, he grows, runs on grass, grows more into a huge bull. And that’s it. People live more widely and deeper. They live in the format of physiology too, but they also live in the format of soul. People are capable of listening to music; they may write music, can communicate their thoughts and enjoy sunsets. There is something more deep in people than a simple physiological existence. However, the format of soul is still a limited format.
You know, I am an iconographer. I paint icons and have some success in it. I wrote books, painted icons, and filmed movies. Some pieces of my art found recognition at some festivals. As an iconographer, I was trusted to paint frescoes at churches on Holy Mount Athos in Greece. It would seem one could be happy about all this. Believe me, today you receive the Nobel prize, but in a week you cool down and everything becomes common and usual as it used to. Yes, you have it. Today you jump with joy, call everybody, receive calls and congratulations, and in a week there is nothing.
A human can live not only in the format of soul. Our soulfulness will die together with us. You will simply die a good person or a person, who wrote poems or music. People might listen to it after your death, but for you this will be the end. People, and particularly nowadays, very few people, can live another kind of life. They can have not only physiological and soulful life, but they also have an ability to come into spiritual life. But, unfortunately, I repeat, these people are very few now. For those people who have never entered this spiritual format of life, it seems to never exist. They cannot fathom how the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov lived, what feelings he had, what visions and thoughts he experienced. Because for us this is beyond comprehension. We simply live physiologically and soulfully. Spiritual world is closed to us.
When the Lord speaks about life, He doesn’t speak about physiological life, as even Holy Father Seraphim of Sarov suffered from diseases and died. When the Lord speaks about life, He does not speak about soulful life, or a life filled with creativity, philosophy and something high-flown. The Lord speaks about spiritual life, for which many of us are simply dead. It does not exist and it is like a parallel world for us. However, some people, and the Lord calls them “little flock,”3 entered that world. The Lord says, “there will be a few of you,” and those rare people, who were few in their number, entered this world and began to understand there was something and that this world existed simultaneously. It exists to its own laws, it is real and very objective. And you are vegetating here, underneath it. Some people become inflamed with the desire to fathom this world, enter it and become a part of its laws and existence. And they succeeded in this.
You didn’t need something to sleep and to come tonight forming this little bunch of people. You may not have a certain ability to experience this spiritual world yet, but you have a sense of it. This sense made you come. You feel there is something more high than eating, drinking, listening to music or looking at something beautiful. Churched people feel there is something more high. Even in the format of a church. Our church is decorated very beautifully. There are beautiful ancient churches with a marvelous interior, but this is not primary, this is not the main thing, this is secondary. You may find yourself in an old dilapidated church and feel you are in the Tsar’s Chambers. Holy Father Seraphim was in a wild forest, in a very poor cell, but felt like he was in the Tsar’s Chambers.
We will take the holy water now. For some people this does not mean anything, but for some this is today’s real miracle.
The day before yesterday we inspected these holy water tanks. No one washed them for two years and we were very worried that everything began to foul during this period and we would need to cleanse and wash everything thoroughly. When I removed the lid, I saw clean and fresh water in the bottom of the vessel. There was no smell or decay inside. This happens every year on the nineteenth. Nevertheless, this touches only a small part of the population. Some people take this event indifferently. Every Great Saturday on the eve of Pascha, in Jerusalem, the Holy Fire comes down. There are thousands of witnesses. But for some people this means nothing. Some people will not even cross their forehead on Pascha, even Russian, baptized people. However, for certain people, this is a miracle.
Today we have a little miracle, we bless water, and, as it is said in the liturgical text, “today the essence is changing.” Something happens to water. What? Something unfathomable for us. No physicist or chemist will tell you what is happening there. But for a faithful person the explanation is very simple: the Grace of the Holy Spirit touches water and changes its spiritual nature, but not a physical one. A little miracle takes place. Now someone will receive the Eucharist and a little miracle may happen to them. Inside of them, when they receive the Body and the Blood of Christ, it may happen. I say this for faithful people who always take Communion. We often take Communion traditionally, by habit. But real Communion happens very seldom.
Have a blessed feast! Happy Holy Theophany to you!
1 Jn. 7:38
2 Jn. 14:6
3 Lk. 12:32