God’s lessons are at times very heavy. God’s lessons lie in the fact that He endures the carelessness, cowardice, and infidelity of the people for a long time, but then comes the moment when the careless ones themselves and their descendants must settle their account with bitter but saving trials.
In 2015, Sretensky Stavropegic Monastery in Moscow began construction on a new cathedral dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia. The church is near completion, according to schedule, and will soon be consecrated at a solemn Liturgy. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill has finalized the date of the consecration, and the monastery abbot, Bishop Tikhon of Egorievsk, has made a formal announcement concerning this important event and another liturgical event scheduled next week, which will initiate the solemnities.
The whole country, its whole Orthodox part, was before the revolution studying the Law of God, and everyone went to Communion. But this means that there was something very wrong, something was the subject of an enormous mistake in the Church institution of that time. Legalism and formalism.
Eleven students of Eton College, the most privileged English school, visited Russia on a personal, non-official tour that included Moscow and St. Petersburg. The students became acquainted with their Russian counterparts, and also met with President Vladimir Putin. Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Egorievsk, Father Superior of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery, talked with a correspondent of Pravoslavie.ru about how the trip was organized, and gave his impressions of the young British men.
May God grant that no matter what our circumstances, no matter how badly we sin, we might always like the apostle Peter remember the one truth given to us by our only true teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ. May we remember that we can always return from our unrighteousness to Him, and that the Lord will always forgive us no matter what we did, if only in our heart would live not hatred but love for Him; not despair but sincere repentance.
Today we have also run across two kinds of righteousness that people bring to church with respect to one and the same recent matter. Ten days ago an event occurred that has stunned and troubled millions of people: His Holiness Patriarch Kirill met with the Pope of Rome. However, this event also caused a large number of Orthodox people serious confusion—let’s call a spade a spade.
Today we commemorate a nearly unknown yet great saint, Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim (Chichagov) of Petrograd. He received a brilliant education, graduated from the Page Corps, became a well-known scholar, received a humanitarian as well as a natural sciences education, and was part of the upper echelons of society. He had a brilliant military career, having fought in several wars, but he left all this and became a priest. He did more than anyone else for the canonization of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim was not only a priest (later a bishop)—he was a true prophet.
That is how Moscow was saved by a miracle of God; the house of the Mother of God—Russia—was saved. If Tamerlane had destroyed Moscow then as he had destroyed the Indian and Persian cities, who knows what would have happened to Russia.
Let us not stray from the joy of our meeting with the Infant Child Christ, let us carry in our hearts the fire of saving grace to our friends and family, let us bring tidings of great joy to all the world.
Perhaps today’s story of the healing of the blind man is especially important for us, for our generation. When the Savior walked near the blind man who was known throughout Jerusalem without asking him anything, not even about his faith, he passed by him and healed him. The blind man became a man who sees; the Pharisees began interrogating him, asking him who worked this great benefaction for him—something they themselves would never have been able to do.
Once an ascetic of the Kiev Caves Lavra went on Pascha day to the famous caves where hundreds of monks are buried, and, from his abundance of Paschal joy, exclaimed, “Christ is risen!” “In truth He is risen!” came a brotherly, jubilant response. It was a greeting from another world, from the reposed monks abiding in the coffins of the caves; citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.
The living feeling of the pulse of eternity, which responds in every Christian, is especially felt on the feast of Pascha, the Resurrection. Little children are aware until they grow up that death is something completely foreign, incomprehensible, and unnatural to man. We adults remember well this perception of the realty of eternity in our childhood as one of the constants of existence of a person only recently come into the world.
The Lord God does not look at a person’s actions, but at his heart. Despite the indignation in the heart of Noah’s son, if it were filled with sorrow over his father, if he had been contrite about himself also—because he himself, of course, is not without sin—if he, in grief over that sad incident had not gone and spread the word around, had not called his brothers and other people to take a look, then even that inner indignation he felt over another man’s impropriety would not have been a sin so severe as to merit a curse. But the sin of Ham was cursed by God’s word, as was Ham himself.
“The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the wounding of demons.” The Church’s beauty lies in fulfilling the commandments and in being faithful to God.
On March 25, Pravoslavie.ru posted an open letter from Archimandrite Tikon to the parishioners of Sretensky Stavropegic Monastery detailing the ongoing process of the monastery’s new church building. This is a process that all of Russia is following, because this will be the first church dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia built within the boundaries of the capital city, where over 13 million people live.
Heroes are bearers of those important and eternal values—of nation, culture, and civilization—of which we were just speaking. But, more importantly, they are more than just bearers. Society assigns them a task that is beyond the strength of anyone else: to transmit these values effectively from generation to generation, from heart to heart. No moralizing, edifying sermons, seminars, or “Seliger forums” will accomplish this task without such genuine bearers of higher values. The pedagogical function of heroes lies in the continuation of their particular service even many centuries after their deaths.
Archimandrite Tikhon, abbot of the Sretensky Monastery, met with students of the Moscow seminaries at the Moscow Theological Academy in order to speak with them about contemporary monasticism and parish life and to reply to their vital questions.
It was all a very homey atmosphere. The head cowboy, for example, said, “We have with us today John and Mary. They are on their honeymoon trip. Let’s give them a warm welcome! Let’s be glad for them, that they are so beautiful and young, have had their wedding and are now travelling around our country. John and Mary, come on up!” This young couple comes forward and everyone shouts, “John and Mary, hello! All the best to you!” This was touching, what can I say…
It all began when some Chinese people calling themselves Christians expressed the desire to make my acquaintance after one of them read my book, Everyday Saints in English. To tell you the truth, these new acquaintances of mine couldn’t really say what confession they are in—they just read the Gospels, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, pray to Him, and firmly and stubbornly consider themselves Christians. Some of them are not baptized at all, others were baptized by Protestants, yet others by Catholics…
Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), abbot of Sretensky Monastery in central Moscow and author of the best-selling Everyday Saints and Other Stories, spoke with Anna Danilova, editor-in-chief of pravmir.ru. Many of the questions concerning the state of contemporary monasticism are raised in the context of the ongoing discussion of the revised “Regulations on the Monasteries and Monastics,” submitted to the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church for review by a commission of the Inter-Council Presence, of which Fr. Tikhon is a member.
I had told these stories many times before to my students, friends, and brothers of the monastery. Some of those who heard them asked me to write them down, and since I have written many things before and am used to writing, at a certain moment the structure of the book took shape, and it looked interesting to me. You know, I think that every writer is really writing to specific people. The second no less important—although somewhat egotistical—element is that what you write must be interesting to you. Well, I felt that both of these elements were present.
In this world, outward triumph means nothing—most important is inward triumph. Outward triumph will be given to Christ’s Church at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our example of spiritual, inner victory is the life of our Savior. Outwardly He was defeated, crucified like an evil-doer and thief. But He accomplished the main thing for which He came into the world—His triumph over death; and any other triumph is meaningless in comparison.
In the lives of each one of us there will still be moments of weakness and failures, of what we call paralysis. They can last for many years, just as with the paralytic at the Sheep pool, of which the Gospel speaks. This paralytic lay for many years awaiting healing. But he believed that a messenger of God would come and heal him.
The soul that is capable of gratitude to God will be saved. The soul that is incapable of gratitude to God—disregarding the life it has received from Him, disregarding all the blessings, and the trials that impart wisdom to that soul—condemns itself to the same fate as did the ungrateful spirits, the bodiless beings we call demons, condemn themselves. And the ungrateful person makes himself like the demons, and like Judas.
Despite the enormous political and material hardships, the Serbian Church is caring for their people’s salvation. With its blessing, charitable organizations, medical centers, and free “people’s kitchens” are active in Kosovo. In these kitchens, people who have lost their jobs and food sources receive daily nourishment. No doubt it would be much safer to abandon these places and move to Central Serbia. But several thousand Serbian Christians remain in the homeland of their Orthodox ancestors, carrying on a daily ascetic struggle unknown and largely misunderstood by the world.
Today, at the threshold of Great Lent, with the blessing of His Holiness Kirill, I would like to address you with a special sermon. You all know that that for two decades now, a tragedy is happening in the Serbian land. The Orthodox inhabitants of Kosovo and Metohija have been pushed out of their ancient, native lands. Many have lost their lives, not to mention their property.
We see how much injustice there is in our land, and we can look at it in two ways: coldly, or even angrily. Or we can show some concern for this sick vineyard and heal it, according to the measure of strength and possibility given to each of us by God. Some He has placed in authority over the whole vineyard, and much will be demanded of those people; some He has placed over a particular plot, and these people will be held responsible for their portion of the vineyard; some He has placed in charge of but a single vine—those are each one of us, and we will be held responsible for the health and fruitfulness of that vine.
Today in the Gospel we heard a story about an exceptionally courageous man—the man born blind. This man, having come to know and having seen God, was not afraid of any of the trials, of any of the temptations that the spiritually blind Pharisees, who warred against the truth, who warred against Christ, were setting before him.
That is just how it was. From early morning, at his post by the Holy Gates, Fr. Abbakum, demanded that every person entering the monastery read the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, composed by the fathers of the first and second Ecumenical Councils in the fourth century. His calculation was ingeniously simple: every church-going Orthodox person knows this text by heart.
During those years, Nicholai Sergeyevich was just beginning to enter into the life of the Church, and he still had many questions. One of those questions he asked me was regarding the Orthodox teaching on the angelic world; about guardian angels. I tried very hard, but to my dismay, I still felt that he was disappointed by my artless explanations.
Suddenly the door opened wide, and at the threshold appeared a tall, young fellow, our age— around twenty-two—in "commercial" (as we use to say) blue jeans and an expensive jacket. "You know, I like it here! I think I'm going to stay!" he announced to us, without even saying hello.
Fr. John eagerly explained. "We know three theologians in the Church. The first is St. John the Theologian, the apostle and beloved disciple of the Savior. The second is St. Gregory the Theologian. The third is St. Symeon the New Theologian. These are the only ones the Church has named "Theologian" over its entire two thousand years of existence. You, then, are the fourth?"
Of course our loved ones’ passing over to the next life is a sad event; but it is by no means a reason for despair. Death is not only our grief over the person leaving us. It is also a great solemnity for a Christian—passage into eternal life! We must help him in any way we can to prepare for this most important event.
Perhaps Vladyka so loved to travel also because in travels, amidst the unexpected, and even dangers, he felt a particular presence of God. There is a reason why we especially pray “for those who travel by sea, land or air” at every Church service. That is why there also many stories in this modest book that are bound up with traveling. How many amazing, and at times absolutely unique events have happened during travels!
For instance, we are walking around Moscow. A rainy, nasty day. We are in a hurry to get somewhere. Suddenly, a babushka with a cart stops Vladyka. “Ba-atiushka!..” she says in her trembling, elderly voice, not knowing, of course, that standing before her was no simple batiushka, but a entire bishop—from America, no less. “Batiushka, at least you help me—bless my room!
Today, on the second day of Christmas, the Gospel is read in church about how the Mother of God and holy righteous Joseph fled with the Christ Child from Herod to Egypt. But how many pious, good people remained in Israel then! How many innocent victims there were, beginning with the infants of Bethlehem, were slain by the evil wrath of King Herod!
Probably we are speaking of the faith we read about in the Holy Scriptures and in the Lives of the Saints; the faith which healed, worked miracles, gave unshakeable courage to the martyrs, fed the desert dwellers, and carried humble ascetics into the heavenly realms. It is that great faith which is so mysterious and unfathomable to us; faith that, we must admit, disturbs us when we read Christ’s words in the Gospels, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out the demons!
When the Orthodox encountered this sort of thing during soviet times, they understood that this was "from our enemies," "from the adversary." Now, lessons in contempt and arrogance are coming more and more from people in the Church. We know what the bitter fruits of these lessons are.
During those atheistic years, soviet workers who came to the monastery expected to find any sort of reactionary, sly money-grubber, ignorant and not quite human; what they did not expect was what they actually saw—slightly peculiar but very interesting, educated and clever, extraordinarily brave and inwardly free people who knew things that the guests had never even guessed. After but a few minutes it would be clear to them that they had never met anyone like these monks in their whole lives.
First of all, Fr. Seraphim spoke of the monastery with enormous, inexpressible love, as of a most great treasure: "You cannot even imagine what a monastery is! It is a… pearl, a wondrous diamond in our world! You will only appreciate and understand this later." Then he told me about the main problem with monasticism these days: "The trouble with our monasteries today is that people come to them with a weak will." Only now do I have an increasingly greater understanding of how deep Fr. Seraphim's remark was.
On August 13, 2010, after a long and difficult illness, a monk of the Sretensky Stavropegic Monastery in Moscow, Hierodeacon Makary (in the world, Ivan Stanislavovich Lobodiuk) reposed in the Lord. Fr. Markary was fluent in English, and often served at the Moscow Podvorye of the Orthodox Church in America, the rector of which—Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood)—was Fr. Markary’s close friend. Memory eternal!
I looked at Fr. Augustine, and understood directly that he had guessed what was going on, and that it was all true! I also understood that if I begin my story with investigator Porphiry Petrovich, the situation would unfold just as I had conceived it, even up to the final, “Why, it is you, Fr. Augustine!
Nevertheless, the more I thought about all of this during that sleepless night, while gazing into the black, starry sky outside the airplane window, the clearer it became to me: I had been led from Moscow to that far away Siberian town by the almighty arm of God’s Providence! And nothing, nothing was accidental!
But we were horrified at the very thought that this monk-ascetic who knew nothing of worldly life, this angelic jungle boy raised in the mountains on the writings of the holy fathers might end up, if not in prison, then in a temporary jail cell, or even in the army, where a healthy, twenty-two year old young man would end up in any case. And what if the worst thing should happen and he ends up in prison—this pure, sinless ascetic, who gave his whole life to God? We were shaken by this impending danger.
“How can peoples having the same Christian Faith be on opposite sides of the battle line? Do the heads of the Orthodox Churches have the right to take a stand against the rulers of their national government? Can the Church make a mistake? Can an illiterate person be a good and responsible Christian? Has holiness become the exception rather than the norm?” These and other questions were answered by the head of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov).