Sermon 5. On the Birthday of Saint John the Baptist.
1. In praise of the holy and most blessed John the Baptist, whose birthday we celebrate today, I do not know what is the most important thing that we should preach – that he was wonderfully bom or more wonderfully slain. For he was bom as a prophecy and murdered for truth; by his birth he announced the coming of the Savior and by his death he condemned the incest of Herod. For this holy and righteous man, w ho was bom in an uncommon way as the result of a promise, merited from God that he should depan this world by an uncommon death, that he should lay aside his body, which he had received as a gift from the Lord, by confessing the Lord. 2. Therefore John did everything by the will of God, since he was born and died for the sake of God’s work.
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).
Sermon 16. On the Anniversary of the Saints.
1. If the weakness of my body should continue for as long as I have to speak and you ought to listen, we would all in fact be excused – I from teaching the commandment and you from keeping it. But because we are smitten with sickness, so that we are unable to say what we ought, let the devotion of the mind excuse us whom the demand of preaching does not. That is to say, even if we cease from the praises of the Lord with our tongue, still let us bless His wonders with works of faith; if we do not speak His glory in words, let us pursue His grace in deeds, since deeds are prior to words. For the Lord says in the Gospel: Whoever does thus and teaches thus will he called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5.19). You see, then, that the deed precedes and teaching follows, because to act well is the first way of teaching. For, when words fail, a work of great goodness itself teaches a person as long as it is visible, so that even if it does not excite the ears by a sound it still pricks hearts with its power. For who, on seeing a good action, does not rejoice, admire and imitate it, does not use it as an example and learn from it as if from a silent teacher? Deeds precede words, then, and in fact without deeds words profit nothing. And this is how the Lord wished that teaching should be done, lest without good work there be just the useless and superstitious throwing about of words.
On this day, the Saturday before Holy Pentecost, we celebrate a memorial for all those who have fallen asleep since the ages in true worship and in the hope of everlasting life.
The Holy Fathers established that on this Saturday that precedes Holy Pentecost, we observe the memory of all people who throughout the centuries died in the right faith, just as they ordered that this be observed on the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday. They did this moved by their love for mankind, so that all who for whatever reason did not have the usual benefit of individual memorial services might be included in this common memorial. According to tradition, the Fathers of the Church received this injunction concerning the memorial services from the Apostles, who themselves taught that the memorials performed on behalf of the reposed bring great benefit to those who have fallen asleep. (See Apostolic Injunctions, 8.42.)
On Wednesday of the fourth week of Pascha, the week of the Paralytic, we celebrate the feast of Mid-Pentecost.
We celebrate this present feast in honor of the two great feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, for this is the day which, in a sense, ties the two feasts together. The celebration of this present feast came about in the following manner: after Christ had performed the miracle of healing the paralytic, which surpasses all nature, the Jews sought to put Him to death, using the excuse that it was a scandal to do such a deed on the Sabbath, since this miracle had been performed on a Saturday. Knowing this, Jesus left Galillee and went about in the mountain region where He performed the miracle of the multiplication of five loaves and two fishes, feeding five thousand men, aside from the number of women and children.
When the Roman Emperor warned that those who professed Christianity would be hunted down and killed, the great Roman soldier was not afraid.
Instead of going into hiding, George the Tribune - sometimes referred to as the "Dragon-Slayer" - decided to publicly proclaim his allegiance to Jesus Christ. After selling all his property and freeing all his slaves, he strode boldly into the Roman Senate and asked to be heard. Because he was a respected officer (a Tribune in those days commanded a thousand men), he was given permission to speak.
Without hesitating, the blunt-spoken Tribune told the stunned Senators that he was a practicing Christian ... and that he had no intention of giving up his faith, regardless of the recent decision by the Emperor Diocletian (284-305) that Christians would now be persecuted throughout the land.
Stunned, the Senators shook their heads in disbelief. Then they asked him to explain why in the world he had decided to challenge the mighty Emperor's authority in broad daylight, in front of the entire Senate. But the Tribune only smiled. Then, in a bold and determined voice, he told them quite simply, according to historians of the period: "I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting on Him, I have come amidst ye at mine own will, to witness concerning the Truth."
To be read during Bright Week in place of morning and evening prayers, thanksgiving prayers after Holy Communion, the prayers of the hours, compline, and the midnight office. In this manner, the Third and Sixth Hours are chanted before Liturgy. Likewise also before Vespers, for the Ninth Hour; and once for Compline. Likewise for the Midnight Office. It is a pious tradition to substitute the Paschal Hours for morning and evening prayers during all of Bright week. In this way, we take a little rest from long prayers, but do not neglect to give joyous thanks to God, so as not to fall into despondency and gluttony, as we partake of festive foods.
If a priest is present:
The priest: Bessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Or if there is no priest:
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Have you ever noticed, dear reader, that in all of Christ's parables there occurs but one proper name? If you have noticed, have you ever attempted to ascertain why the Lord calls only this Lazarus by name, while even his rival during his earthly sojourn remains under the general title of the Rich Man? Evidently, the Divine Teacher wished His followers to keep firmly in mind both the earthly and the eternal lot of poor Lazarus, although the main idea of the parable is concentrated nonetheless in the person of the Rich Man: Lazarus remains silent in the parable, while the Rich Man speaks and prays for himself and his brethren. The Savior's wish did not go unfulfilled: Lazarus has become a favorite theme in the songs of good Christians! The poor are comforted by such hymns amid their misfortunes, the hearts of the rich are turned from greed thereby, and all are taught to be mindful of death, the judgment of God, and generosity towards the poor. Yet, our problem remains unresolved. The parable of the Prodigal Son is also a favorite topic, if not for folk songs, at least for ecclesiastical hymns, and there are others as well in which mercy and repentance are extolled; but there are no proper names therein. Furthermore, in songs about Lazarus the singers do not draw inspiration from his name, but from the depictions of heaven and hades, the hardheartedness of the Rich Man on earth, and his belated repentance in hades.
“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” With these words, the Most-Pure Virgin Mary ended her conversation with Archangel Gabriel, in which he told her that she would become the Mother of God. Some of our contemporaries now express pious surprise: how could she give her consent, for it implies that she recognizes her ability to become the Mother of God. How could she agree? How could she not decline? Yet these questions are incorrect, for one must discern between consent to recognize her ability and consent to obedience. Yes, she gave her consent, not because she deemed herself capable, but because she admitted being the servant of the Lord.
On this day we commemorate all the holy men and women who have shone forth in the ascetic life.
The God-bearing Fathers, having made us ready for the course of the Fast by gently instructing us by means of the two preceding Sundays, have thus led us away from luxury and satiety. They have instilled in us the fear of the future Judgment and purified us in advance – as is right – by means of Cheesefare week. Furthermore, they have wisely inserted the two intervening weeks of partial fasting so as to prepare us little by little for the full fasting which will begin next Monday.