The Need to Observe Church Laws and Regulations. Sermon by Saint Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) on SS Peter and Paul Lent.
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.
People today are remarkably negligent about this, but true men of faith, who believe in God, observe all laws as inviolable sacred things which must be obeyed. Once an ascetic in our Mother Russia was asked: Why does the Lord so clearly cease to offer His blessings, His mercy? The elder responded: “Because people refuse to hear God, people have ceased to observe the Lenten periods.” That was then, now it is completely different. At that time, one could still find Orthodox people who observed Lent, but we can’t today. And not only in our difficult lives today. The writer Khomiakoff, the renowned Russian author, philosopher, theologian, a man of lofty spiritual values and a talented poet, who always strictly followed all Lenten periods and laws, came to St Petersburg, the capital of Russia. He felt as though he were in a wilderness: no one observed Lent—not one person! He worked, he fasted, and surprised everyone with his staunchness and stubbornness. Today it is hard to find anyone who observes the fasting periods.
Let us remember, my dear ones, all the Church laws—there is nothing pointless in the Church, nothing that is useless that is offered to us, no! We are given free will in this life: to choose to live one way or another. But there are Church laws which all Orthodox Christians must observe. One of these laws is about the Lenten periods, when the Church calls upon us to abstain during certain periods during the year. Only those who observe them are Orthodox Christians.
Once we recalled the words of St Seraphim of Sarov, a great ascetic. He stated simply: “He who does not observe Lent is not a Christian!” He may call himself whatever he likes, but he is not a Christian. This is perfectly natural, this strict judgment by a great ascetic, because what school would keep a student who ignored school rules? What workplace would keep an employee who did not observe its regulations? And so the Church has its own laws, its own regulations. I repeat, the Church offers a great deal to select from: ways of life, occupations, She blesses them all if a person lives as a Christian. Where the Church offers its laws, there the Christian must submit without hesitation.
The Church offers this all for our own benefit, because obedience to the Church is one of the greatest virtues. Amen.
Originally published in Russian in: Propovedi i poucheniya Vysokopreosvyashchenneyshego mitropolita Filareta Pervoiyerarkha Russkoy Zarubezhnoy Tserkvi, Vol. II, New York 1989, pp. 313-315.