Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov speaks about what Radonitsa is, how to spend the day, and who to remember and who to commemorate.
I greet you in these bright days of Pascha, with the ever-fragrant newness of the greeting rich with the truth of the Divine energy of love: Christ is Risen!
I recall on this Tuesday of the second week of Pascha a narrative from the Kiev Caves Patericon. Perhaps some of you remember St. Mark the Gravedigger. He had a rather unique obedience: to prepare the graves in the caves of Kiev for the newly departed brethren. And, burying the brothers, he prayed together with the other monks for the remission of their sins. Once, on Pascha, Venerable Mark, going to the Near Caves, where before the image of the Resurrection of Christ barely flickered a lampada, suddenly filled with Paschal joy, exclaimed, “Brethren, Christ is Risen!” And a miracle transpired: The monks buried there, their souls long ago having departed to a better world, suddenly with thunderous unified voice exclaimed, “Indeed He is Risen!” Such was Venerable Mark, who had the grace of speaking with the departed, believing that all in God are alive.
Our Lord is the God of the living, not of the dead. It is no accident that we are remembering this marvelous story today, because on Radonitsa, for the first time in these Paschal days, at the end of the Divine Liturgy is served a Panikhida for our departed kinsmen. It is a special Panikhida: The focus of it is the Paschal canon, completed by the singing of “Christ is Risen!” And involuntarily, as you stand with candle—a red candle by Russian custom—and you listen to this Panikhida, you experience a special feeling.
Radonitsa—so the day is called, is when we, according to ancient tradition, having prayed and communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ in the church of God, go to the cemetery to visit those graves tender to our hearts, to tidy them up, and to see among the greenery the newly-sprouted and happy daisies, or to plant tulips or daffodils. Mentally, we exchange the triple kiss with the departed, receiving into our wide open and unveiled hearts, together with the breath of the spring breeze, their answer: “Indeed He is Risen!”
So, standing at the Panikhida with our red candle, we as if enter into mysterious communion with the reposed. Indeed, tidings are delivered heart to heart. After all, yet earlier, having communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, having tasted of the Most Pure Body and Blood of the Lord, we, as if little children, gather ourselves together at the Divine throne unseen, and both the heavenly and earthly branches of the Church interpenetrate one another—which is why at Radonitsa always “The soul believes, the tears break forth—And all is light, so light!”1 Because, devoting time to the remembrance of those who loved us, whom we loved, we as if meet their souls, which in Christ have the blessed means of seeing and hearing us, following us and before the Lord Jesus Christ interceding for timely help for those of us yet laboring in asceticism, in struggles, and in battles.
Today, on Radonitsa day, when we want to speak about the past and remember our grandmothers, and recall those who have contributed to our spiritual formation, I recall the thought of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin, who said, “The measure of a people’s savagery corresponds to the extent of their forgetfulness and oblivion to which they consign the departed.” And when today you arrive to our city cemeteries, hearts ever painfully sinking upon sight of the ancient, pre-revolutionary tombs with crosses to date unrestored, earlier destroyed by the hands of godless people.
Whence comes such truly demonic hatred, poured out upon our departed? Whence memorials disfigured, and granite slabs crushed and broken to be used as building material? Why was it necessary to extract the remains of Michael Nikiforovich Katkov2 in the Alekseevsky Monastery necropolis, where I now fulfill the obedience of confessor, and shove a cigarette into his mouth? It was some crazy komsomols that did it. What is this infernal, Luciferian, irrational hatred? It seems that behind these terrible phenomena stands, of course, a mystical sense of the unity of generations, and to obstruct this unity, to dismember and rend us from one another, the present age and the prior age, is the ancient dream of the spirit of evil—the spirit of negation and destruction. Because the Christian who is rooted in the past in his heart, the Christian who preserves the loving, reverent, and respectful memory of his ancestors, kings and queens, princes, and soldiers who gave their lives on the field of battle for the faith, the king, and the fatherland, is truly an unshakable edifice— he will not be dislodged by the winds of change. A Christian will never be cannon fodder in the modern pseudo-democratic “Maidans,” will never become a plaything or toy in the hands of demagogues, who first and foremost brainwash this or that ethnic or social group, turning them into mankurts,3 depriving them of their historical memory, and using them to destroy the cultural life of the remaining peoples.
But today, on this joyous day, let us recall that the great Russian poets, in particular Sergei Yesenin, have an entire early cycle of verse, “Radonitsa.” We, entering our humble Russian cemeteries, sitting for at least a while under the spreading crown of a willow or birch, can depart to the world of memories cherished in our hearts. All of you, of course, remember the Latin dictum, “De mortuis aut bene, aut nihil”—“Either speak well of the dead, or say nothing at all.” And on Radonitsa, dear friends, let us necessarily carve out some time and wrest but half an hour from the rapacious hands of this world, which turn the wheels of progress, carrying us away with tomorrow’s projects, and take a respite from the hustle and bustle and, in retrospective we will see and survey the thousand-year path traversed by our country, and spiritually meet and triply-kiss those through whom our beloved fatherland was created. Let us pray for the repose of princes, many of whom became victims of their own disunity, and for those who fell in battle at the Kalka River, or the Sit River, and let us pray for the heroes of the Russian spirit on Kulikovo Field, who against the godless hordes went out in white tunics, and Nepryadva,4 stained the color of red, which gave birth to the Russian people, consolidated and monolithic, as said our president about our thousand-year nation, composed of many tribes and peoples: “Monolithic and multi-faceted.”
Let us give thanks to the representatives of the Romanov dynasty—rarely did these emperors escape a violent death. Today is the time to pray for Paul Petrovich,5 who reigned for four years, four months, and four days and was dubbed the “peasant tsar,” because he received petitions not only from nobility, but from country bumpkins, and was able to admonish the landed gentry. Yet earlier Alexei Mikhailovich “The Most Quiet,”6 tsar of blessed memory, ordered to deliver to Moscow the boyar of the Archangelsk Province implicated in bribery and corruption, and, having raised his sword, hewed him in half, himself exacting this punishment, as a righteous monarch, as a discouragement to others.
Let us pray for the Russian peasantry, which endured the most severe, unprecedented genocide in the twenties of the twentieth century, for the unknown peasants, who, exiled to this same Archangelsk, froze and stood in stacks by the fences, because the local residents had no heart to give them alms.
Today we embrace in thought all of our compatriots, right down to the soldiers who fulfilled their duty in Syria, battling for the freedom of the Christian people as if defending their own cottage. We remember our ancestors, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, those who gave us the baton of love, and by their prayers lit in our hearts the fire of faith and fidelity to Christ. May the Lord grant repose to our fathers, brothers, and sisters, forgive them their transgressions voluntary and involuntary, and hedge us in by their prayers today, at the beginning of the third millennium, from fears and timidity, help us be cleansed from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and give us the fortitude to resist public seductions and to invest our little mite into the moral rebirth of the fatherland.
Let us not forget, dear friends, today, on this Paschal day, on the day of Radonitsa, already towards evening, going off to sleep, perhaps again take to heart the name of our dearly departed relatives into our hearts, as we finger our prayer ropes, one bead after another, praying for our beloved ones. After all, doing so, prayerfully remembering the reposed, we, ourselves unaware of it, fulfill a cardinal commandment of the Decalogue: Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land (Ex. 20:12).
And I want to believe that we all today piously and duly, and heartily participate in the destiny of our departed ones, spending Radonitsa such that in our souls calmly and easily we receive the award for fidelity to the promises of God, which the Lord wants to give us: a peaceful life’s course, longevity, and that which is to us necessary—not for acquiring temporal treasures, but to serve without fear and without reproach, all of us equally precious to the Lord.