In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Tonight begins the celebration of the Feast of the holy hierarch and wonderworker St. Nicholas. The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates him with special festivity, and his feast day is reckoned as one of the great feasts of the ecclesiastical year.
As we have said before, St. Nicholas left behind no additions to the Church's sacred literature, to the sublime treasure-chest of the writings of the holy fathers of the Church. Let us recall St. John Chrysostom, let us bring to mind St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian along with the rest of the mighty chorus of those giants of theological thought and word. Each of these surrendered to us a tremendous treasure, and the Church celebrates their feast-days, glorifying them as the ecumenical teachers, as hierarchs who through their spiritual influence and authority crossed the borders of their own dioceses and became in fact bishops of the entire universe. Though the sacred services in their honor are very solemn and festive, still they do not exhibit the touching and jubilant character of the service to St. Nicholas, to him who is called among our Russian people "Nicholas the Merciful." In him, as perhaps in no other saint, are incorporated to an incomparable degree the wondrous virtues of love and compassion. This has moved the pious Russian people to say as a proverb: "Bring your tribulations to Nicholas the Merciful, and he will take them to the All-Merciful Savior."
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.
Today, dear brethren, we celebrate the glorious feast of the lightning-like Archangel Michael and all the heavenly bodiless powers. On this day let us talk of the boundless world of the angels; of their nature, of their hierarchy, and of the infinite mercy of God which has added us, Orthodox Christians, to this angelic host and has a formed a single Church made of angels and men; and subsequently of our responsibility to venerate them in a worthy manner and try to emulate them as our future compatriots in the celestial homeland; for which we earnestly pray to God, our common Creator.
St. Cyril of Alexandria says: If our earth, which serves as a focal point between two worlds, carries upon itself such a countless multitude of people and various other creatures, then how many times greater is the number of denizens inhabiting the immaterial heaven, which is so immense and incomprehensible to the mind?
Joyous for the faithful heart is the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God! It reminds and strengthens us so vividly and evidently in our hope that we all are not forgotten by the Most-Pure and Most-Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the human race, who protects all Christians by her saving and merciful Protection.
As the great Abba of Russia Abroad, His Blessedness Metropolitan Anthony, once pointed out, the festive celebration of the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos by the whole Russian Church testifies that spiritual roots stood above all else for the Russian people.
For the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos reminds us of an event that took place long ago, and an event in which our ancestors suffered defeat against the Greeks, who were under the Protection of the Theotokos. It turned out, however, that the Greek Church celebrates this feast very little, hardly marking it at all, while the Russian Church and the Russian celebrate the Protection of the Theotokos so festively, that it reminds us of the celebration of the twelve feasts, the greatest feats in our church year. Of course, the reason for this is the calming and encouraging character of the feast. The Theotokos protects the people praying in church. We know this from the great saint and witness of spiritual mysteries, Saint Andrew the Fool for Christ, who testified that the Queen of the heavens did not separate the bad people from the good and the pious: She covered all those standing in the church with Her goodness. That is what the Russian people believed, that She, the All-good Mother, covers all with Her Protection.
"And when the centurion, who stood near Him,
saw that He so cried out and gave up the spirit,
he said, 'Truly, this man was the Son of God'".
Thus began the faith of the centurion. It is clear that this cry of Christ expressed a treasure of moral content in a spirit which the centurion understood. Such a connection between a tormenting cry of the soul and the beginning of a new grace-filled life in one who has heard it, is found repeatedly in the Holy Scripture. We will begin a survey of these places in the Scripture with the most dramatic one, found in the Book of Esdras:
I lifted my eyes, and on my right hand I saw a woman, and behold, she mourned and wept with a loud voice, and was deeply grieved in heart, and her clothes were torn, and she had ashes upon her head.