In the Prophet Ezekiel (9:6), it is said that when the Angel of the Lord was sent to punish and destroy the sinning people, it was told him not to strike those on whom the "mark" had been made. In the original text this mark is called "tau," the Hebrew letter corresponding to the letter "T," which is how in ancient times the cross was made, which then was an instrument of punishment.
So, even then, it was foretold the power of the Cross, which preserves those who venerate it. Likewise, by many other events in the Old Testament the power of the Cross was indicated. Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus, ch. 14, 17).
Through the laying on of his hands in the form of a cross on his grandsons, Jacob gave a blessing to his descendents, foretelling at the same time their future until the coming of the "expectation of the nations" (Genesis, ch. 48).
The present Feast is for us the beginning of feasts. Serving as boundary to the law and to prototypes, at the same time it serves as a doorway to grace and truth. “For Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the letter (of the law), raises us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, has changed the letter in spirit and gathers everything in Himself (Eph 1:10), enlivening the law with grace: grace has taken the law under its dominion, and the law has become subjected to grace, so that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only so that by Divine power, the servile and subservient (in the law) are transformed into the light and free (in grace), so that we are not “in bondage to the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3) and not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the letter of the law. Here is the summit of Christ’s beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinization] assumed upon humankind, the fruition worked out by the God-Man.
There is no one in existence who is able to praise worthily the holy death of God's Mother, even if he should have a thousand tongues and a thousand mouths. Not if all the most eloquent tongues could be united would their praises be sufficient. She is greater than all praise. Since, however, God is pleased with the efforts of a loving zeal, and the Mother of God with what concerns the service of her Son, suffer me now to revert again to her praises. This is in obedience to your orders, most excellent pastors, so dear to God, and we call upon the Word made flesh of her to come to our assistance. He gives speech to every mouth which is opened for Him. He is her sole pleasure and adornment. We know that in celebrating her praises we pay off our debt, and that in so doing we are again debtors, so that the debt is ever beginning afresh. It is fitting that we should exalt her who is above all created things, governing them as Mother of the God who is their Creator, Lord, and Master. Bear with me you who hang upon the divine words, and receive my good will. Strengthen my desire, and be patient with the weakness of my words. It is as if a man were to bring a violet of royal purple out of season, or a fragrant rose with buds of different hues, or some rich fruit of autumn to a mighty potentate who is divinely appointed to rule over men. Every day he sits at a table laden with every conceivable dish in the perfumed courts of his palace. He does not look at the smallness of the offering, or at its novelty so much as he admires the good intention, and with reason. This he would reward with an abundance of gifts and favours. So we, in our winter of poverty, bring garlands to our Queen, and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise. We break our mind's stony desire with iron, pressing, as it were, the unripe grapes. And may you receive with more and more favour the words which fall upon your eager and listening ears.
What shall we offer the Mother of the Word if not our words? Like rejoices in like and in what it loves. Thus, then, making a start and loosening the reins of my discourse, I may send it forth as a charger ready equipped for the race. But do Thou, O Word of God, be my helper and auxiliary, and speak wisdom to my unwisdom. By Thy word make my path clear, and direct my course according to Thy good pleasure, which is the end of all wisdom and discernment.
From the Gospel account of how the blessed event of the Mother of God’s annunciation took place, we know that in response to Archangel Gabriel’s tidings that She had been chosen to become the Mother of God the Word incarnate, the Most-Holy Virgin humbly replied: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word,” and gave herself over completely to the will of God.
And now here She is with the righteous Elizabeth. And St. Elizabeth for the first time calls Her by the name with which afterwards millions and millions of the faithful would exalt Her. The righteous Elizabeth says: “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The Mother of God has come to me! And now all Christians glorify Her as the Mother of God.
In Her life She was visited by such tribulations, compared to which our own sorrows seem infantile. What She must have suffered when She saw and heard Her divine Son being dragged to the top of the mountain by the rebellious populace of Nazareth, who wanted to throw Him down from there to His death. At this point the Lord used His omnipotent power and escaped unharmed, but with Her motherly heart the Mother of God experienced keen anguish at this danger to Him. She constantly saw the heavy cross that Her Son bore, and the conditions in which He performed His service, pursued by the malignity, envy, and satanic hate of His frenzied enemies. And at the very end She stood at His cross, where, in accordance with the terrible prophecy of the righteous Simeon, “a sword pierced through Her soul.”
The prayers sung in church today explain to us, brothers, that the Lord revealed His divine Transfiguration with the specific goal of persuading His followers that they, too, are to adorn their inner image with virtues, and to shine also with external spiritual beauty. Within our souls lies the insatiable thirst of seeing the internal and external correspond. That is why before the arrival on Earth by the Son of God, the righteous were bewildered why they were fated to eternally exist in a humble state, with their poor, sorrowful appearance, while God allows sinners to adorn themselves in grandeur. The contemporaries of our Savior eagerly expected the day when He would cast off His humble exterior, free Himself of poverty and homelessness, and as a magnificent king, donning shining garments in regal surroundings, would ascend David’s throne, the place of His forefather, and trample underfoot His wicked enemies and the enemies of Israel.
But the Lord reveals to His impatient followers a different, spiritual beauty He possesses, ever-presently, but which is hidden from human eyes in daily life. He ascends with three of His disciples to a mountain, and when His spirit turns in prayer to the Father, His face commences to shine like the Sun, and His clothing become white as snow. Moses and Elias appear with Him from beyond the grave, and a heavenly cloud surrounds them and the disciples, who behold the scene in pious horror. This arrival of an unearthly, heavenly splendor brought the Apostles to inexpressible bliss, and Peter exclaimed, forgetting himself from joy: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” He ceased at once to yearn for royal splendor or a position of leadership, which the Savior had rejected; he understood how much more magnificent is His Divine sanctity than the banal adornments of this world, how pitiful were the regrets the disciples had over their Teacher’s external poverty and meekness. He in fact had an overabundance of unearthly, eternal, heavenly beauty and celestial glory.
Originally published in: “The Orthodox Word”, №11 (November-December, 1966) pp. 167-174, 179-190. – Ed.
Barely six months ago  there reposed in the Lord a hierarch of the Church of Christ whose life so extraordinarily radiated the Christian virtues and the grace of the Holy Spirit as to make him a pillar of true Orthodoxy and an example of Christian life that is of universal significance. In Archbishop John there are united three kinds of highest Christian activity that are rarely found together: that of a bold and esteemed Prince of the Church; an ascetic in the tradition of the pillar saints, taking upon himself the severest self mortification; and a fool for Christ’s sake, instructing men by a ‘foolishness’ that was beyond the wisdom of this world.
The following account cannot begin to be called a complete life of Archbishop John; it is only a selection of the material that is already available, presented in the form of a preliminary sketch of the life of this holy man. It was compiled by the St Herman Brotherhood, which was organized with the blessing of Archbishop John (who wished to see Father Herman canonized after Father John of Krohnstadt) for the mission of the printed word. Now, in fulfillment of this mission, it is our duty to speak the truth about this man, who was, in our dark times when genuine Christianity has almost vanished, an embodiment of the life of Christ.
The account is based primarily upon personal acquaintance and upon the testimony of witnesses known to the compilers. Archbishop John throughout is referred to by the term Russians use to speak of and address bishops: Vladika. In English this is rendered ‘Master’, but the Russian word, when used by itself, implies a familiarity and endearment that are wanting in the nearest English equivalent. For those who knew him, Archbishop John will always be simply Vladika.
Brothers and sisters, today the Holy Church opens before us our native heaven — all the Saints who shone in Russia. They shine as bright stars before us. And the first among them is St. Vladimir. He was a gifted military leader, statesman, a man of penetrating mind and strong will. The political situation among the Russian Slavs required just such a man. Many Slavic tribes were living at that time on the shores of the Dnieper River, and all of them had already been influenced by the Christian message — the dawn of a new life was approaching. Only our forefathers remained pagans. But by that time they too had lost faith in the pagan gods and actually had no religion at all. And the thirst for the One, True, Almighty God more and more strongly took possession of their souls. Vladimir himself was experiencing the same thing: his great soul was tired of the lie and, as a bird from its cage, was straining towards Truth, towards Light.
The same was required in the political situation as well; enlightenment and culture were in Christianity. Paganism was dying out and Christianity was becoming the new, all-powerful movement in contemporary culture and life. The acceptance of Christianity became a necessity, something which could not be put off if the Russian nation wanted to keep in step with other nations.
We live in special times, beloved brethren! They are special because when you compare today to how it was in Mother Russia before, we see the almost complete opposite. For example, we now embark on SS Peter and Paul Lent. But many of today’s Orthodox Christians don’t even know it. Before, in old Russia, Russian Orthodox Christians well knew Church laws and regulations and established their lives on how the Church teaches us to live on this earth, this temporal life. But today, I repeat, some don’t know Church laws. This is not only ignorance, but an inadmissible laxity of the Christian, and even a neglectful attitude of the Christian towards the old, good traditions of the Church.
Our Lord Jesus Christ once said: “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18), that is, everything that we are taught by our Orthodox law, everything in the Holy Gospel, all is fulfilled, and those who do not fulfill it will be disobedient to the Law of God.
Look how it was in ancient times. The Church, for instance, glorified the Martyrs of Maccabee: all the brothers and their elder, Eleazar, and their mother. Their tormentor, the pagan king, subjected them to terrible torture for their refusal to eat pork, which was forbidden by Mosaic law. In other words, they refused to violate the fast by eating what the Church did not allow them. And for this they met their death.
On this day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we commemorate the feast of All Saints from all times and throughout all the world: from Asia, Libya, Europe, from the North and from the South.
Our godly Fathers have established the commemoration of this present feast after the Descent of the Holy Spirit in order to show that the coming of the most Holy Spirit worked enormous deeds through the Apostles, sanctifying and bestowing wisdom upon those who were like us, and setting these saints in the place of those angels who had fallen, leading them, through Jesus Christ, to God. Some, the martyrs, came through blood, while others were led through their virtuous way of life, but all were perfected through the Holy Spirit in an ineffable manner.
On this day, the eighth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the day of Holy Pentecost.
We have also taken the celebration of this feast from the Jews. Their celebration of Pentecost was both in honor of the number seven as well as in remembrance of the fact that they received the Law fifty days after the Passover. Thus we also celebrate fifty days after Pascha, receiving the One who gives us the Law, the most Holy Spirit, who guides us in all truth and teaches us what is pleasing to God. It should also be known that among the Jews were three great feasts: Passover, Pentecost; and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Passover was in remembrance of passing through the Red Sea, for the name of the feast itself is one of “passing.” That feast prefigured our own Pascha, which is the passing and returning from the darkness of sin to Paradise.