On the day of the feast of Theophany--the Baptism of the Lord--it is not out of place to remember another baptism: that baptism which was performed over each of us Orthodox Christians, that baptism at which each of us, by the mouth of our godparents, gave a promise to God that he would always renounce Satan and his works and would always unite himself, “join himself” with Christ.
This, I repeat, is especially fitting for this present day. The solemn rite of the Great Sanctification of Water will be performed shortly. Its center, its main part, one could say, is the majestic prayer wherein the Lord is glorified and the grace of the Holy Spirit is called down upon the water being sanctified. This prayer begins with the beautiful words: “Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and no word sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders.” Whoever has been at a performance of the mystery of Baptism and was present attentively, knows that the prayer at the sanctification of the water in which a man will be baptized begins with these same words, and the first part of this prayer is completely the same, both at the Great Sanctification of Water and at the performance of the mystery of Baptism. And only later, in the last part, does the prayer at the performance of the mystery of Baptism change, as applicable to this mystery, when a new human soul will be baptized.
“For the Life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (1 John 1, 2).
This new life is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is now born in Bethlehem, as He Himself said during the last days of His earthly life: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14, 6).
What is this new life, brothers, and why do people long for it? Because before Christ, people were dissatisfied with their former life, and even now all those who separate themselves from Christ are dissatisfied; they are dissatisfied because earthly life does not correspond to their desires. They want to be healthy and full, but life burdens them with sicknesses and hunger; they want riches and high ranks, but poverty and dishonour goad them, and if they do not fall into these disasters, they still remain dissatisfied with what they have, and desire more good things.
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 Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple is believed to be not among the most ancient festivals of the Church. However, indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen built a church in honour of the entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast, along with Saints Jerome and Epiphanius. Saint Andrew of Crete had known about it and his hymns are found throughout the Service books for this Feast. Saint Germanos I, Patriarch of Constantinople from 715 to 730, wrote two homilies for the Feast. Saint Tarasios, the Patriarch, introduced it at Constantinople a century later as an official Feast, though it had already been celebrated. Saint George of Nicomedia wrote three sermons on the subject which address every detail of the Feast, including a beautiful homily which addresses rhetorically the temple itself.
1. Every divine festival, whenever it is celebrated, spiritually fills those who are present from a treasury and divinely flowing spring. But even more and beyond other feasts does this recently hymned festival, brilliantly celebrated, attract the soul with holy joy and gives more joy in proportion to the preeminence of the excellent child of God. For the annual observation of this feast is coming, in which one must be pure to participate.
And let us be anointed with the perfume of her roses, as Solomon says in the beautiful verse of his Song: "Who is that who comes up from the wilderness, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchants?" (Song of Songs 3.6) - "Come hither from Lebanon, my bride; come hither from Lebanon" (Song of Songs 4.8).
So let us eagerly approach together this mutually beneficial, salvific feast of the Mother of God. And bowing before the unapproachable place [the Holy of Holies] let us watch the child going toward the second veil, Mary the all-holy Mother of God who put an end to unfruitful sterility, and exchanged the mere shadow of the letter of the law (cf Hebrews 1O.1) through the grace of her birth-giving.
“Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church and with choirs of saints she invisibly prays to God for us.”
(From the kontakion on the Intercession.)
Could this really be true? Could She Herself, “Highest in the heavens and purer than the light of the Sun,” Whose every plea is fulfilled by Her Divine Son, participate in our church prayers?
Could She, the “inspired temple of the Heavenly King,” enter our meager, hand-built churches and pray here together with us, and as we sinners do?
Yes, indeed! We are persuaded of this by many events from the lives of saints and especially the remarkable event remembered on October 1 (14 new style), the day of the Intercession of the Most-Holy Mother of God.
This was a long time ago, a millennium ago. In the Blachernae Church in Constantinople, where a great relic was kept—the Veil of the Mother of God, a head-covering which extended over Her shoulders, and part of Her sash—all-night vigil was being performed. Attending the service was a great saint of the time, Blessed Andrew, Fool-for-Christ, together with his disciple, St Epiphanius. At four o’clock in the morning, they beheld a wondrous vision. The Grand Lady emerged from the Royal Doors, surrounded by a heavenly retinue. The Honorable Forerunner of the Lord John and Apostle John the Theologian supported her at either side as a multitude of saints in snow-white garments surrounded Her, singing hymns and holy songs.
When She approached, St Andrew, not believing his eyes, asked Epiphanius: “Do you see the Lady and Queen of the World?” “I do, my spiritual father,” he replied, “I see and I am terrified.” And as they watched, She knelt, prayed for a long time, tears streaming down Her Divine and Most-Pure visage. Completing Her prayer, She approached the altar table, and again prayed fervently for the people in the temple. Afterwards, She removed Her lightning-bright, great and awe-inspiring veil, and, holding it ceremoniously, spread it over all the people standing in the church.
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).
By the Cross, the Son of God, having become man and accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Savior with them as it were embraced the world, and by His blood shed on it, like a king with red ink, He signed the forgiveness of the human race.
1. The time is always right to make a beginning of a way of life that will lead to salvation. To prove this, the great Paul says, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). "Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us do the works of light. Let us walk honestly as in the day" (cf Rom. 13:12-13). He does not mean that one particular hour or day is the acceptable time, but the whole period after the manifestation of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. When the visible sun has risen upon earth it is time for men to do physical work, as David tells us: "The sun ariseth, and man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening" (ps. 103:22-23). In the same way, since the Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2) appeared to us in the flesh, all the time following His appearing is appropriate for spiritual work. The same Prophet makes this point in another passage where, after saying of the Lord's Coming, "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner" (ps. 118:22), he adds, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (ps. 117:24). In the case of the visible sun, which is interrupted by the night, he says, "Man goes forth unto his work until the evening", but as the Sun of righteousness knows no evening, and has, according to the Epistle, "no variableness neither shadow of turning" (Jas. 1:17), it offers an unbroken opportunity for spiritual labour.
For an explanation of the present Feast and understanding of its truth, it is necessary for us to turn to the very start of today’s reading from the Gospel: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).
First of all, we might start by asking when the Evangelist Matthew began his six-day count? What kind of day was it? What does the preceding statement indicate, where the Savior, in teaching His disciples, said to them: “For the Son of Man shall come with his angels in the glory of His Father,” and further: “Again I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:27-28)? That is to say, it is the Light of His own forthcoming Transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.
Sermon given by St. John during the memorial service for Tsar Nicholas II and those slain with him. Saint John of Shanghai is speaking in 1934. St. John explains the great sacrifices of the Tsar and the Royal family for Russia, and the great sin incurred by the Russian people for the murder of their God-annointed sovereign. The Royal Martyrs were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1981 – Ed.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Tomorrow (July 4/17) the Holy Church praises Saint Andrew, the Bishop of Crete, the author of the Great Canon of Repentance, and at the same time we gather here to pray for the souls of the Tsar-Martyr and those assassinated with him. Likewise, people in Russia used to gather in churches on the day of the other Saint Andrew of Crete (Oct. 17), not the writer of the Great Canon whose day is celebrated tomorrow, but the Martyr Andrew, martyred for confession of Christ and His Truth. On the day of Martyr Andrew, people in Russia thanked God for the miraculous delivery of Emperor Alexander III from the train wreck at Borki on October 17,1888. In the terrible derailment which occurred during his journey, all the carriages of the train were wrecked, except the one carrying the Tsar and his Family.
Sermon 1. On the Anniversary of Saints Peter and Paul.
1. Although all the blessed apostles are recipients of an equal share of grace from the Lord of holiness, nonetheless in some way Peter and Paul seem to stand out from the others and to excel by reason of a certain special virtue of faith in the Savior. Indeed, we are able to prove this by referring to the judgment of the Lord Himself. For to Peter, as to a good steward, He gave the key of the heavenly kingdom, and upon Paul, as one skilled in instruction, He enjoined the teaching office in the school of the Church. Thus those whom the one would educate to salvation the other would receive into peace, and while Paul would enlighten their hearts with the teaching of his words Peter would open to their souls the kingdom of heaven. Hence Paul also received, so to speak, a key from Christ, that of knowledge. For whatever opens up the hard places of hearts to faith, lays bare the secrets of minds, and brings what is kept closed within out into the open by an intelligible presentation ought to be called a key. A key, I say, both opens the conscience to the confession of sin and inserts grace for the eternal saving mystery. Each, then, received a key from the Lord: the one of knowledge, and the other of power. The one dispenses the riches of immortality, the other distributes the treasures of knowledge. For there are in fact treasures of knowledge, as it is written: in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden (Col. 2, 3).