In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Not long ago, at the beginning of May, when our whole country was remembering the great victory in a horrifying war that swept away millions of human lives, we saw a procession of many people carrying portraits of soldiers and officers—their fathers, grandfathers, relatives, and others who fought in World War II. And many of these combatants who had no one to carry their portraits, whose names for whatever reason have disappeared from the memory of their descendants, nevertheless invisibly participated in this sacred procession. The Immortal Regiment walked…
Today, when the holy Church celebrates the memory of all the saints who shone forth in the Russian lands, we prayerfully turn our spiritual gaze towards the hosts of warriors for the Heavenly King, the immortal Divine regiment. We glorify this mystical brigade standing watch over the Russian land with the words of the wonderful stichera that we heard yesterday evening at the Litia: “O Divine army, pray to the Lord for our earthly fatherland and for us who honor you with faith.”
So, what is this divine army? It is that of the Russian saints. Great is their number. Invincible is their might. Varied are their ascetic feats.
It is the apostle Andrew the First-Called, about whose calling we read today in the Gospel, holy Hieromartyr Clement, Pope of Rome, an apostle of the seventy, and other saints of the first centuries of Christianity who served God in our lands before its Baptism by holy Prince Vladimir. It is the holy martyrs of Chersonese, and the monk-martyr Achmet, an ancient saint, a Sarmatian (an ancient Iranian people who inhabited what is now eastern Ukraine and southern Russia), a disciple of St. Anthony the Great; and holy martyr Basilisk of Comana, who received a martyr’s death near today’s Sukhumi, as well as holy Hieromartyr Martin, Pope of Rome, and many more.
It is also in particular those who shone forth in the firmament of the Church after our Fatherland was enlightened by the light of Christ’s teaching. Among these saints are some who are not our compatriots. Many of them were born far from Rus’, but have entered the divine regiment, poured out their own sweat the blood in their service in that regiment and received a reward and glory from their Great Commander, Jesus Christ. St. Moses the Hungarian came to the Kiev-Caves Monastery from Hungary; St. Procopius of Ustiug, whom people in the town of Veliky Ustiug still call the “great foreigner”, sailed here from distant Germany; St. Lazar of Murom, who lived in the late fourteenth – early fifteenth centuries, born a Greek, at the blessing of St. Sergius of Radonezh settled in the wilderness of the Murom peninsula on Lake Onega. Many, many ascetics have labored in the Russian lands.
There are many terrible pages in the history of our Fatherland, but the divine regiment always invisibly fought for it. To those who came to the Russian land with fire and the sword it showed its terrible might, in a manner like unto the heavenly army that showed its power in ancient times through the God-pleaser, Prophet Elisha.
The King of Syria sent a whole army after the prophet. In the morning, Prophet Elisha’s servant rose and went out; and he beheld an army surrounding the city, with horses and chariots. He said, “Alas, my lord, what shall we do?” And Prophet Elisha replied, “Do not fear, because those who are with us are greater in number than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord! Open his eyes that he may see it.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw it: The entire mountain was filled with fiery horses and chariots all around Elisha. When the Syrians came to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Strike them with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness at Elisha’s word. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the right road and that is not the right city; follow after me, and I will take you to the man for whom you are seeking.” And he took them to Samaria. When they came to Samaria, Elisha said, “Lord! Open their eyes, so that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were in Samaria.
And the King of Israel said to Elisha when he saw them, “Shall we kill them, my father?”
And he said, “Do not kill them. Did you capture them with your bow and sword, that you might kill them? Offer them bread and water; let them eat and drink, and they will go to their sovereign.”
When the Tatars were advancing on the monastery of St. Cyril of White Lake, and then over a hundred years later, the Poles, the brothers called out, “O Lord, send down Thy might and come to save us.” The Lord heard them, and at the prayers of St. Cyril sent His divine regiment. Just before the attack, a thick fog descended over the walls of the monastery, and the enemy couldn’t see any farther than their hands outstretched before them. Thus they retreated.
How many other attacks has Russia had to endure since those events! Many wars, and the terrible revolution, which destroyed the whole way of life and spiritual foundation of the Russian people’s existence; then the Great Patriotic War (World War II), and then the 1990’s, when collapse and chaos reigned in in our country.
The Russian emperor Alexander III once noted, “There is nothing to be done, the West is afraid of our enormity.” But what did that pious and wise emperor mean by this? I think not only territory, not only powerful weaponry and a strong army. But in speaking of enormity he meant that divine army, which leads our Fatherland and which inspired and still inspires, I won’t say terror, but mysterious awe before this divine might in those who don’t like Russia and who see in their dreams some way to roll our entire life, our entire way of living, our whole order—governmental and social—under a mold today that is not at all unto our salvation, that contradicts this whole orientation that Russian sanctity and the Russian people have received over the millennium of its spiritual labors.
Where is that divine army now, where is its place in the universe? It is in Heaven, at the Throne of the King of Glory, and on the Earth, because the Russian land has been made purple with the blood of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and is now an unfolded antimension of enormous dimensions. And Earth and Heaven exalt having such a glorious army, as we sang yesterday in the services:
“The Earth makes glad and Heaven rejoices, praising your ascetic feats and labors, your spiritual goodly might and purity of mind, which is not subject to the natural laws of death. O holy assembly and divine army, you are truly the confirmation of our land.”
In the explanations of the holy fathers, “earth” in Holy Scripture is often what man himself is called—human nature, created from dust. How can we call for help from the divine army, how can we acquire confirmation of faith from it? How can we prevent our people from being wiped off the face of the earth, so that all memory of them would not be erased, as was the memory of so many other peoples who have sunk into oblivion over the millennia of human history?
We all know the commandment given to the human race in both the Old and New Testaments: “Honor thy father and mother, and it will be well for you [that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Ex. 20:12, KJV)].” Probably the same thing can be applied to nations. Who are these fathers and mothers of ours? The saints, who stand up for us, who intercede for us, who bring us unexpected help in the most difficult times of our lives. We could say that they mean even more for us than our own fathers and mothers. And if we want our nation to live, be prosperous, and fortified in both material and spiritual strength, we must honor this divine army, our heavenly fathers and mothers.
How can we call upon this divine army for help? How can we acquire through it confirmation in the faith? The answer is in the Epistle reading for today:
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1–2); and may He save us and help us to carry our earthly crosses, through the prayers of His Most Pure Mother and all the saints who shown forth in the Russian land, and who pleased Him.