THE FEAST IN THE WATER – Иверский Орский женский монастырь



Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

The Church of the Iveron Icon, Iveron Monastery of Orsk


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

I think that today almost everyone felt that the service on this Annunciation was special. Personally for me, it is because of its silence. This is a special silence. When the disaster only began to come to Orsk and the first news and events arrived, people discussed and shared them a lot, and it was very noisy. People were in the streets, they went to take a look at the dam and see the water was coming. It all was dynamic and noisy. But then the first people lost their homes, property, and household and, all of a sudden,  these people fell unusually silent. You know, it was like they strained themselves a little. They do not discuss or are curious anymore, they do not go and look at it, they just fall silent. This disaster, this sorrow, as if it broke them.   Then there were more and more streets, one more street, and then one more, and then the whole of the Old Town and more and more people began to fall into this silence, the silence of disaster, the silence of sorrow.   It seems to me that today the whole city is falling into silence because we hear the news that this is not the end, that there is something else awaiting us in the future. This is perhaps why the whole city becomes silent and thoughtful. The first clamor of impressions fades away and reticence, silence and anticipation come in its place.  People wait for what will happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. People fall silent in anticipation of tomorrow.

Today we celebrate such a holy feast, the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos. Many people take out of the Annunciation only the event of how the Archangel Gabriel announced that Mary will be honored to become the Mother of God. Our coarse human  mind ceases only at this moment and most often stops only at it. However, the Church Tradition tells us that the Archangel Gabriel did not only tell Her about the honor but also told Her the whole story that was going to follow, up to the crucifixion, death, and burial. It is not by chance that the words of Saint Symeon the God-Receiver sound like, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.”1 This is why, from the very beginning, the Most Holy Theotokos was bearing not only the message about Her God-chosenness and honor. She also realized from the very beginning the price of this honor. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

We have the description of the Most Holy Theotokos left by the Holy Fathers of the Church, who were Her contemporaries.  Among the described features, it is said that She was very quiet, very quiet. This was a natural peculiarity of Her soul, quietness and modesty. However, most probably, there was a tragedy in Her quietness, which She was bearing into the future. The future that She faced in thirty-three years. She had been bearing this tragedy for thirty-three years. She knew it would happen and there would be “crucify Him” after the “hosanna.” Perhaps, this great sorrow that She was bearing, made Her emotions and impressions fall silent. When a person bears the memory of sorrow, he falls silent and stands still. He stands still in anticipation. The Most Holy Theotokos was bearing these words, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” for thirty-three years. Any mother would eagerly die herself than bury her own son.  Therefore, this weapon was the most horrible one. It was worse than Her own death. She bore this anticipation of the death of Her Son, Who was Divine and Beloved by Her, both in a human and spiritual sense. Perhaps, this made Her remain quiet, taciturn, and modest.

I would like to come back to humans, to every one of us. We live very flippantly. We do not have this feeling of our future. We do not have the anticipation of our death. We do not think that we will have to die one day. Neither do we have the anticipation that there will be different things during the period before we die. We somehow stubbornly hope for the best. We hope until the moment when we need to be rescued in life-threatening conditions. And this happens throughout our lives. Everything will be fine…Who told you that? Who gave you the paper with a signature and a seal, where it is written that everything will be fine? This paper will either burn or drown and everything will be as it will be. The way God grants. We think that we will live a long and good life without any sorrows and misfortunes. We give birth to our children and think they will bring only happiness to us. We do not even suppose that they will be sick, and, God forbid, die before us. We think they will be obedient and kind and do not expect that they will bring us so much pain in their awkward age and perhaps further in their lives.  It seems to us that we have fitted up our house, counted and calculated everything, provided for the rainy day, but one night everything vanishes… It is like in the parable about the rich man. Do you remember this parable from the Gospel?2  “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. Having stored his barns for many years, he sat down and told his soul, ‘Take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry, you have provided for yourself for many years.’ To which the Lord tells him, ‘Fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ Whose will those things be? Your children’s? And they will quarrel over their inheritance?”

There is a traditional Orthodox phrase, “Remember your last day and you will not sin,”3 Remember that every day is very unstable. Tomorrow may come and might not come. Remember this. This is why, if sorrow comes tomorrow, it will not catch your heart by surprise. It will not plunge you into despair because you have supposed it all to be so. This is the natural way of your life. You will cope with the sorrow of tomorrow quietly, patiently and wisely, and then you will start all over again. Meanwhile, those who have not expected anything, might turn their sorrow into despair, and there might be no return from this point. A person will give up and never cheer up. Christians always remember that here, in our earthly life, everything is unstable. Christians always live through such times very wisely. They live wisely, calmly, with prayer and hope to God. Meanwhile, God gives them a sober mind and composure to act correctly and not to commit follies in the rush.

Look, what threatening words the Most Holy Theotokos hears, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” And how does She live throughout Her life after this? The way She used to be quiet, peaceful and composed from Her birth, this way She remains in anticipation of this great tragedy. This way She also remained after the death of Her Son and His ascension to the Heavens.  Lord… Most Holy Theotokos…

It somehow calms you down when you have the numbers of police, rescue service, and the fire-fighters, but the most assuring if you have the following words in your reserve, “My Jesus, help me. Most Holy Theotokos, dear Mother, help me.” You know, perhaps it is immodest of me but I will let you know one moment that happened to me. Yesterday, this icon was left at the watered Pokrov Church.  The church is in waist deep water. Ancient icons adorn its walls. There is the altar where the Liturgy is served. It might seem, I should have humbled myself, but my soul is restless. At midday, I bought myself rubber pants, breast long pants. I love this icon very much. Priests have always carried it out from the altar on the Day of the Annunciation. Yesterday I saw it there, in the watered altar.  I put on these pants and went there. I walked and the water was knee deep, waist deep and then breast deep. There was only a centimeter up to the edge of my pants left and I get swept off my legs by the stream on the cross-roads and dive. The entire space inside of these pants gets filled with cold water. I can see the Pokrov Church, it is only a hundred meters away from me. A human thought tells me, “Come back, it’s impossible.” While another one says, “Most Holy Theotokos, I am asking You so badly, please help me, I believe You will help me.” I go to another street, and at a certain moment the water is breast deep again and I cannot move on. I hang on to a fence and it is time to come back, but I can see the Pokrov Church so close. And there, there is the icon that I love so much. I say, “Most Holy Mother, Mother, Mother…” and I see a boat approaching.  A man picked me up and brought me to the church. I went in, the water was breast deep, the icon was there, there are a lot of ancient icons there, in the water, but I could rescue only one of them. This was a little miracle for me yesterday.  A little miracle of my own faith because the thought, “Come back, it’s impossible, the water is neck high there” came back many times to me. However, suddenly, at the last moment, there came, “Most Holy Mother, Mother, Mother…” and everything happened. And She is together with us today, our Great Guest.

Most Holy Theotokos, help us! Sweetest Jesus, save us! Despite everything I congratulate you with the Feast! Those who lost their property, whose houses are under the water, you should know, we have our hands and legs left. Glory to God! We will restore everything and go on living. But the most important, remember that after this flood there could be a fire or cirrhosis of your liver or anything else. Remember the last moment, which is the most important. After death, we should come to our Savior and the Most Holy Theotokos and remain there. If we do not, all our well-being that we have here is worth nothing and everything was in vain. A blessed Feast to you all!

1 Lk. 2:35

2 Lk. 12:16-21

3 Sir. 7:39