Among the Church's feasts, there are three in honor of God's saint which in their significance stand out from the others devoted to the saints and are numbered among the great feasts of the Church of Christ. These feasts glorify the economy of God for our salvation.
These three feasts are the Nativity of St. John the Forerunner, his Beheading, and the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.
The apparition of the holy Archangel Gabriel to the priest Zacharias in the Temple, with the announcement of the birth to him and the righteous Elizabeth, of a son who would prepare the way for the Lord, the Savior of the world, and the subsequent fulfillment of this premise, are the first of the events related by the Evangelists.
The announcement of the holy Archangel Gabriel to Zacharias in the Temple begins the New Testament Gospel. The announcement of the same Archangel Gabriel six months later in Nazarethto the Virgin Mary concerning the birth from Her of the Son of God, Who was to become incarnate, is a continuation of the revelation of the Pre-eternal Counsel concerning the salvation of the human race.
Three months after, the Annunciation, St. John the Forerunner was born "in a city of Judah," and six months after him Christ Himself was born in Bethlehem.
The following article is condensed from a lecture delivered at the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, August, 1982).
On May 29, 1453, the troops of the Moslem leader, Mohammed II, took the great city of Constantinople. For more than 1000 years Orthodox Christians had assumed that the Byzantine Christian Empire would stand until the Second Coming of Christ. They had always called their city the “God-protected City,” and indeed, until now it had been protected by Heaven. But when their Emperor, Constantine XI, fell in battle, the holy city of Byzantium became the capital of a new empire, the Ottoman Empire, ruled by a pagan people, enemies of Christ and Christianity, the Moslems. It was a dark, dark time for Orthodox Christians in that part of the world.
The Day commemorating the saints who have shown forth in the Russian land points to that spiritual heaven beneath which the Russian land was founded and lived.
Before the holy Prince Vladimir, there lived on the Russian land separate, pagan tribes that warred with one another. The holy Prince Vladimir brought them a new faith, a new consciousness and meaning of life, a new inner spiritual state; he gave them a new spirit of life that united everyone, and thus a single nation was formed.
The very existence of the Russian nation is tied to the begetting of spiritual life within it, with the assimilation of the fundamentals of a Christian world-view. It is senseless to seek the meaning and purpose of life in earthly life, which ends with death. One must strive to acquire the Divine, grace-filled, eternal life, and then this temporal, earthly life will arrange itself as well: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).
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.
Icon of chinese orthodox Martyrs. Murdered during Boxer Rebellion (1900). Canonized before 1917.
The Boxer Rebellion is one of the little known historical pages of Russian Spiritual Mission in China. The year 1900 is known as the time of the most active activity of the Yihetuan – mostly a religious movement called the Boxer Rebellion following the incorrect British translation. Directed against foreigners, its ideology lay in anti-Christianity. When the uprising enveloped the entire capital, Director of the Russian Spiritual Mission, Archimandrite Innocent (Figurovskii, future Metropolitan of Beijing and China) left Beiguan with his collaborators and moved to the Russian embassy. Along with the church accessories they brought with them an ancient icon of St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk, brought from Albazin by Fr. Maxim Leontiev back in 1685. Chinese government allotted 10 pikemen to guard the Mission, but on June 11 it was burned to the ground, destroying its library, archive and sacristy. Yihetuans have tortured to death 222 Orthodox Chinese, which are considered the first Chinese martyrs. Among them – hieromartyr Metrophanes, first Chinese priest consecrated in Japan by its enlightener, St. Nicholas. By the intercessions of the Mission’s Director, the Holy Synod has appointed a liturgical celebration to the holy Chinese New-Martyrs (Decree №2874 from April 22, 1902). Their holy relics, many of which turned out to be incorrupt, were buried in the crypt of the new church dedicated to All Martyrs. The “Praise” following their lives is written by Archimandrite Avraamii (Chasovnikov), who, together with Archimandrite Innocent, was a witness of the horrors of the Boxer Rebellion. The “Praise to the slain” was first published in “Izvestiia Bratstva Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi v Kitae”, №8 (July 1, 1905). – Ed.
1. TRULY "God is glorious in his saints" (Ps. 68:35 Lxx). Let us call to mind the martyrs' superhuman struggles, how in the weakness of their flesh they put to shame the evil one's strength, disregarding pain and wounds as they struggled bodily against fire, sword, all different kinds of deadly tortures, patiently resisting while their flesh was cut, their joints dislocated and their bones crushed, and keeping the confession of faith in Christ in its integrity, complete, unharmed and unshaken. As a result there were bestowed on them the incontrovertible wisdom of the Spirit and the power to work miracles. Let us consider the patience of holy men and women, how they willingly endured long periods of fasting, vigil and various other physical hardships as though they were not in the body, battling to the end against evil passions and all sorts of sin, in the invincible inner warfare against principalities, powers and spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:12). They wore away their outer selves and made them useless, but their inner man was renewed and deified by Him from Whom they also received gifts of healing and mighty works. When we think on these matters and understand that they surpass human nature, we are filled with wonder and glorify God who gave them such grace and power. For even if their intentions were good and noble, without God's strength they could not have gone beyond the bounds of their nature and driven away the bodiless enemy while clothed in their bodies.
Brothers and sisters! See how the Holy Church teaches our conscience. The flowers today represent our conscience. Because when all of nature was still dead, when the time of our yearly cycle was approaching, the Holy Church revealed to us a great mystery: the mystery of our redemption. She then opened before us the cave of Bethlehem and the Lord Who had just been born. And we were told through the reading from the Epistle to the Galatians that this cave is our entrance in to a new yearly cycle, that at the manger of Christ our soul is renewed, and that in this renewal of spirit we receive the spirit of adoption (sonship), which unites us into the one family of Christ (Gal. 4:4-7).
And these are not just words. The Holy Church convinces us of this, comparing our spiritual life with what goes on in nature: the death of nature in winter, its revival in the beauty of spring and summer, and the yielding of fruit in fall. It is the same with the soul of a human being. After the sluggishness of spiritual slumber, a person receives the spirit of adoption in order to unite in one family and to receive what the Lord gives in His plan of salvation — His Body and Blood, the Mystery of the Tree of Life, which Adam lost in Paradise.
The Orthodox Church today prayerfully remembers the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which once met in the city of Nicaea in order to investigate and judge the heresy of Arius. We know that in the first centuries of Christianity, the Church endured severe persecution, first from the Jews and then from the pagan Roman imperial power. But despite the fact that the persecution was bloody, despite the fact that thousands of Christians died under torture for their confession of faith, nonetheless, it was not dangerous for the Church.
The Christian of the first centuries remembered well that the Lord Jesus Christ said: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the sou: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). And in the Apocalypse He said: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev 2:10). In these bloody persecutions Christians were faithful to death, went to martyric death, and received from the Lord Savior the crown of eternal life earned by them.
"While He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy"...with great joy ... "and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Lk. 24:51-3).
If, during the course of six weeks, the Holy Church has been teaching us to preserve this peace which Christ granted on the first day of His Resurrection, saying: "Peace be unto you" (Jn. 20:19), then now this feeling of peace should fill our hearts. You see, this feeling of peace appears in all of us as an expectation of joy. People search for some kind of rest, some kind of comfort. For this they travel from place to place in order to find peace. And yet this peace is within them, only in an unrevealed state. Peace is that gift which the Lord gave to us, that peace which keeps a person in a kind of unearthly state of joy. This is what the Holy Church has been teaching us during the six weeks of Easter: to be close to Christ, to preserve this peace, protect ourselves from those things which, entering our heart, might disturb this peace.
You see, our heart is the place in which peace abides.
Today we heard at the Divine Liturgy the account of the Holy Evangelist John the Theologian about the healing by Jesus Christ of the man born blind, that is, who had never seen anything before. It is characteristic that, when this Gospel account ends, the Lord said: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (Jn 9:39). And His spiteful enemies, the scribes and Pharisees, probably with irony and mockery, asked Him: “Are we blind also?” (Jn 9:40). And they received an answer, as the Lord told them: “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin” (Jn 9:41), because if a person does not know and does not see, he cannot transgress consciously and does not sin so greatly. Even if he makes a mistake, the Lord Himself does not find it a sin, if the person did not know he was sinning. So the Lord spoke, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin, but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (Jn 9:41).