Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon on the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sermon 62. On the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ{1}.

1. Well it is that people frequently call this day of the Lord’s birth “the new sun” and assert it with such force that even the Jews and pagans agree to the name{2}. This should willingly be accepted by us, since with the rising of the Savior there is salvation not only for the human race, but even the brilliance of the sun itself is renewed, as the Apostle says: that He should restore all things through Him, whether in the heavens or on the earth (Eph. 1.10). For if the sun is darkened when Christ suffers (Cf. Matt. 27.45), it must necessarily shine more brightly than usual when He is born. And if it poured forth darkness upon the Jews who dealt Him death, why should it not show its brilliance to Mary who brought Him into life? And why should we not believe that when Christ was born a more resplendent sun should come to pay Him homage, since a brighter star went before the Magi as a sign?{3}. And if a star performed a service out of season during the day, why should we not believe that the sun also subtracted a little from the night hours by a speedier appearance?

I think, then, that for these reasons the night waned while the hastening sun, out of homage due the Lord’s birth, produced light for the world before the night had finished its accustomed course. Indeed, I do not even say that this was a night – wherein shepherds keep watch, angels rejoice (Cf. Luke 2.8-20), and the stars attend – or that it had any element of darkness. Nor ought we to be surprised that at the birth of Christ all things were made new (Cf. Rev. 21.5), since the fact that a virgin bore a child was itself a new thing. But, if this birth was out of the ordinary, the homage that was offered was also out of the ordinary. At the birth of the Lord, then, shepherds keep watch, angels rejoice, the sun shows reverence, and a star is in attendance. And the angels and the shepherds speak their joy in their own tongues and in words, but the elements, since they have no voice, bear witness to these joys of theirs by their ministry. The sun, consequently, contrary to custom, shone early in the morning on this festival. Nor is this surprising, for if at the prayer of Joshua, the son of Nun, it stood fixed throughout the day (Cf. Jos. 10.12-13), why, at the birth of Jesus Christ, should it not advance hastily in the night?

08.01.2024Read more

Saint Leo the Great – Sermon XXVI. On the Feast of the Nativity, VI.

I. Christmas morning is the most appropriate time for thoughts on the Nativity.

On all days and at all times, dearly beloved, does the birth of our Lord and Saviour from the Virgin-mother occur to the thoughts of the faithful, who meditate on divine things, that the mind may be aroused to the acknowledgment of its Maker, and whether it be occupied in the groans of supplication, or in the shouting of praise, or in the offering of sacrifice, may employ its spiritual insight on nothing more frequently and more trustingly than on the fact that God the Son of God, begotten of the co-eternal Father, was also born by a human birth. But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature{1}, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery. For the angel Gabriel’s converse with the astonished Mary and her conception by the Holy Ghost as wondrously promised as believed, seem to recur not only to the memory but to the very eyes. For to-day the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin’s womb, and He, who made all natures, became Son of her, whom He created. To-day the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and That which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well. Today the shepherds learnt from angels’ voices that the Saviour was born in the substance of our flesh and soul; and to-day the form of the Gospel message was pre-arranged by the leaders of the Lord’s flocks{2}, so that we too may say with the army of the heavenly host: “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

07.01.2024Read more

Saint Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of New York, The New Confessor – Sermon on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple.

The Holy Church now celebrates one of her great feasts -- a radiant and joyous event in the life of the Church. This is the entry into the temple of the Most-Blessed Virgin Mary, when her holy and righteous parents brought her into the holy temple when -Vie was still quite a three-year-old little Maid, in order to dedicate Her there to God according to the promise that they had given. Many, of course, know in what the essence of this feast consists. 

I will point out some details, which are perhaps not known to all: First, when they brought Her into the temple, there also went with her maidens, little girls, with candles, accompanying Her with the chanting of Psalms, so that there went through the streets of Jerusalem a ceremonial procession, to which doubtless also other people joined. Finally, when they came to the temple of God, the Chief Priest, Zacharias, himself went out to meet them, knowing about the promise of the righteous parents. But here all were struck by the fact that -- while he was still at the top of the steps of the temple, and the steps were many, and they were tall -- the holy and pure Child, without any support, all on her own, climbed up all the steps. And then, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the chief priest Zacharias did that which at [any] other time he never would have done: he brought the maiden Mary into the Holy of Holies. Now one must bear in mind that a person could not approach the Holy of Holies. Even the priests could not enter therein. And only one day a year, on the so-called day of atonement, did the chief priest enter with sacrificial blood, as though offering sacrifice on behalf of the whole people. But this was not the day of atonement; on this day the Chief Priest could not go into the Holy of Holies, but, illumined by the Holy Spirit, he went in -- and he brought therein the Maiden Mary, and She, as tradition says, remaining in the temple continually, stayed in the Holy of Holies and there an Angel brought Her food and conversed with Her. Therefore the holy fathers said that when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her -- an already nearly grown young woman -- in Nazareth with the word of the annunciation, not the very appearance of an angel frightened or disturbed her. She was used to converting with angels -- otherwise it was an unusual greeting with which the heavenly Messenger addressed her. 

04.12.2023Read more

Saint Archbishop John (Maximovitch) – Sermon on the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.

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).

27.09.2023Read more

St. Andrew, Archbishop of Crete – Sermon on the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.

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.

21.09.2023Read more

Saint John of Damascus – Second homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos.

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.

28.08.2023Read more

Saint Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of New York, The New Confessor – Vespers of the Dormition of the Theotokos.

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.”

27.08.2023Read more

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) – Sermon on the Transfiguration of the Lord.

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.

19.08.2023Read more

Hiermonk Seraphim (Rose) – The “Vita Prima” of St John the Wonderworker.

Originally published in: “The Orthodox Word”, №11 (November-December, 1966) pp. 167-174, 179-190. – Ed.

Introduction

Barely six months ago [1966] 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.

02.07.2023Read more

Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko) – Sunday of all Saints of Russia.

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.

17.06.2023Read more