“Of One Heart and of One Soul”

Russian pastors and distinguished laymen on how communities become families and what helps us withstand the trials of life

Metropolitan Sergy (Gensitsky) of Ternopil and Kremenets Metropolitan Sergy (Gensitsky) of Ternopil and Kremenets     

An example that edifies

Metropolitan Sergy (Gensitsky) of Ternopil and Kremenets, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church:

If faith unites us, we become a family. Can you see a little family now [everybody huddles around the metropolitan posing for a photo.—Auth]? An example edifies. You just need to live by faith, as the Lord said. You know the commandments, so obey them. And then go and sell that thou hast… and come and follow Me (Mt. 19:21). And it is necessary to sacrifice something: your habits, sinful predispositions, something bad. An elder from Mt. Athos said simply: “Live a holy life.”

An active power

Archpriest Andrei Rechitsky, rector of the Church of the Holy Prophet Elias in Kitai-Gorod, acting head of the Iveron Deanery of Moscow:

As is the case with any family, a community becomes a family when it is filled with the most important thing—the working power that unites all and binds us together. This power is love. It is achieved through the inner work of our souls and mutual care. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Any community that works hard builds its life through this labor, through mutual assistance and mutual readiness to help. Thus ties between people, between families, between the priest and his flock are formed; thus the pastor’s assistants (responsible for various areas of joint activity) appear.

The community lives its inner life and grows. As the Russian proverb says, you cannot make anybody pray by force. Everything is based on freedom. It is the only possible way to ensure natural growth. It is like any family: children grow up, leave the nest and get a job, but integrity is retained. Likewise, in the community some members are ordained, others are given duties in the Church (not necessarily in their own parish). The daily routine and life of the community as it was formed continue to develop. And any arguments and conflicts that take place in every family should be covered by love and mercy.

Archpriest Andrei Rechitsky Archpriest Andrei Rechitsky     

We should always keep in mind that there are spheres where we are one, we are united. There is our faith, there is the mode of our family life. There are always some external forces (such as in-laws, etc.) that encroach on the family’s integrity. If there is charity, mercy and understanding that difficulties are inevitable, then love becomes even more vivid and intense under the pressure from outside. How else can the power we should have in ourselves manifest itself?

The Lord Himself sends us trials so that we can understand something about ourselves. It is not until something that is beyond our comprehension happens to us and we have no one in the world to rely on that it becomes clear how steadfast and deeply rooted in spiritual life we have become; or it may be the other way around: We feel that we lose our mental equilibrium easily, our hearts get confused, and we lose the main weapon—our prayer for each other. Because if someone is annoyed, if he is in the state of inner turmoil, he cannot pray. And if he doesn’t pray for his nearest and dearest and for his family, everything falls apart…

If there is prayer, it binds all together. Words follow each other just as stitches move one after the other in knitting. If members of the community pray for each other, it is the ultimate demonstration of our mutual love! If we pray, nothing can shake us. If there is divine grace, no one’s ill will can do us any harm! Nothing bad can happen to us, if we don’t open the door to the evil, destructive forces.

We simply defend what we love in truth and simplicity

Vasily Semenovich Anisimov, the head of the press service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church:

Vasily Semenovich Anisimov Vasily Semenovich Anisimov     

Above all else, having compassion and empathy towards one another makes the community a spiritual family. I am speaking of both Ukraine and Russia.

We are having hard times in Ukraine at the moment, and all who sympathize with us make our spiritual family. Imagine that your sister or mother is now in Ukraine—and everything will become clear to your heart. Thirty-six percent of our immediate families are Russians and Ukrainians! My daughter, for instance, lives in Russia. She calls me and weeps. Our people have become separated from each other—separated by bloodshed.

Now it is extremely difficult to reconcile all the parties. Now the brothers and sisters in Christ must have a great Christian courage to understand and forgive each other. In fact it is a challenge and test to contemporary Orthodoxy. If we succeed in reconciling our people, then we are the Church. We’ve got to restore the bonds of love and brotherhood at all levels.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry proved brave enough to take the hit himself. After all, he has been subjected to the most severe ostracism. What for? Because he wants peace. He is being humiliated, insulted and reviled by the “war party”; but he holds his ground, and people support him.

It is hard for me to understand how our Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been able to withstand the strong pressure from the Government. In truth, it is the path of the confessors and martyrs. You are being beaten but you don’t wander away from the chosen path. It must be very hard, given the twenty-first century’s sophisticated coercive mechanisms.

Now by the mercy of God, the “war party” has suffered a blow from an unexpected corder. Some “young whippersnapper” came along and “blew Poroshenko to smithereens”. A witty, cheery fellow, resembling certain characters from Nikolai Gogol’s novels, who cracks good jokes, appeared out of the blue. His jokes are innocent (it is not the kind of humor that destroys enemies), like those of Gogol, which were filled with love for all creatures. It is he who has crushed the anti-Russian coalition, with three times as many votes as his opponent. No one could have predicted this! He just laughed merrily without saying a single word in support of or against Poroshenko. Hopefully, now he will strengthen his position, and we will see what happens next. If only this madness (which has totally worn us out over these five years) could stop as soon as possible!

The evil spirits have succeeded in shedding the blood of our brothers. On top of that, there was the Patriarch of Constantinople with his criminal venture, who chose to side with evil. But over these five years of war, only 200 parishes of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church were seized by its adversaries. Imagine that the secular authorities, police and army begin to take away the churches in Russia again. How many parishes would be saved?

How do we withstand the ordeal? We just defend what we love in truth and simplicity. Faith, prayer and God help us.

In the family no one abandons the others

Hierodeacon Theophil (Bogolyubov), artistic director and conductor of the “Anastasis” choir in Moscow:

Hierodeacon Theophil (Bogolyubov) Hierodeacon Theophil (Bogolyubov)     

A community becomes a spiritual family out of immense love for Christ. If there is love for God, there is a family as well. [Here is a play on words: “family” in Russian is “semya”—which looks like the conjuction of the words, “seven” and “me”.—Trans.]. In the family no one abandons or leaves anybody. Only those who have no love forsake both God and each other. All depends on the fullness of your heart, no matter whether you are a bishop, a priest, or a lay person. What is your heart filled with?

When we all humble ourselves before each other

Bishop Theodosy (Chashchin) of Kainsk and Barabinsk, the Metropolia of Novosibirsk:

Bishop Theodosy (Chashchin) of Kainsk and Barabinsk Bishop Theodosy (Chashchin) of Kainsk and Barabinsk     

When we all humble ourselves before each other, when we live for others and not for ourselves, then the community becomes a family.

A family is impossible without a pastor

Archbishop Seraphim (Zaliznitsky; in schema: Sergy) of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyya, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church:

(Archbishop Seraphim (Zaliznitsky; in schema: Sergy) of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyya (Archbishop Seraphim (Zaliznitsky; in schema: Sergy) of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyya     

Whether or not the community will become a family depends on the pastor, the leader of this community, and the spiritual atmosphere that he creates in it. A family is impossible without a pastor.

Like one of the first Christian apostolic communities

Archimandrite Job (Gumerov), Moscow Sretensky Monastery:

Archimandrite Job (Gumerov) Archimandrite Job (Gumerov)     

We cannot call one or another community a spiritual family until most of its members strive to obey the Gospel commandments. Only then does it become one organism, like one of the first Christian apostolic communities. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul (Acts 4:32).

The truth must be defended

Archpriest Boris Demushkin, Moscow:

Archpriest Boris Demushkin Archpriest Boris Demushkin     

We always begin with preaching. If we start preaching, a community will certainly gather. If we live with God as befits Christians, it will grow into a spiritual family.

In the world families break up because people live without God. And if a couple lives with God, then they will maintain their integrity no matter what problems they face.

And how can we live with God? It’s very simple. Let us open the New Testament, which contains answers to all our questions.

Let’s take the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. What does it say? For example: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband (1 Cor. 7:12-14).

We need to read the New Testament very attentively. And above all else we should apply the Word of God in our lives so that we can humble ourselves, be tolerant to our neighbors and love them. That is, we must always strive to set a good example of the Christian life. Above all we should conform to the spirit of the Gospel. The apostle says: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:35-37).

I recall how one day I came to Elder Kirill (Pavlov) with a question. There was disagreement between the rector, Archpriest Igor Malyushitsky (a former renovationist who repented), and the church warden, a KGB[1] agent, who nevertheless behaved very piously in church! So I asked:

“Whose side should I be on?”

Fr. Kirill replied:

“The truth must be defended. But it is up to you to determine where the truth is.”

Fr. Kirill always gave us freedom in such areas as conscience, reason and seeking God.

The truth must triumph. That’s all.

God is our Master. Christ is the Head of the Church

Priest Alexander Revyuk, rector of the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, NY, OCA:

Priest Alexander Revyuk Priest Alexander Revyuk     

The community becomes a family when there is mutual understanding and love between the pastor and the parishioners—this is the only guarantee of a closer relationship.

Envy, anger, resentment and other sins are capable of shaking the unity and integrity of a community. In most cases mutual resentment is the root cause of discord. A truly united team will survive all trials and tribulations.

I, for instance, have served in several parishes: first in Moscow, then in the USA; earlier I served in California and Arizona. Seeing a split in one or another community makes many people worry, but I always say: “God is our Master. Christ is the Head of the Church”.

May God keep our families

Konstantin Efimovich Skurat, Ph.D in Theology and Church History, Honorary Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy:

Konstantin Efimovich Skurat Konstantin Efimovich Skurat     

Above all else it is faith that makes the community a family—true faith in God and community prayer. This is the foundation of everything.

It is the same is in the family—that is, in a “small Church”. If every family member has genuine faith, if they all pray together in the morning and in the evening, then the family will grow stronger. Just try it, and you will see it! A simple decision. You just need to do it: today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on. And you will have peace, and your life will go fine.

Lack of faith and joint prayer may undermine family integrity. Because if there is no faith and no prayer, the devil is sure to meddle in one way or another, and the marriage will be ruined.

And if you read your prayer rule (not necessarily a long rule—a short one would be sufficient, but you must do it with determination), your family unity will be preserved. May God keep our families.

The “spiritual core”

Metropolitan Eugene (Reshetnikov) of Tallin and All Estonia:

Metropolitan Eugene (Reshetnikov) of Tallin and All Estonia Metropolitan Eugene (Reshetnikov) of Tallin and All Estonia     

The “spiritual core” makes a community of people a family, and the spiritual father is very important here.

What should be the qualities of a spiritual father, who unites people around God and not around himself? You had better ask spiritually mature people about this.

The “spiritual core” is needed, lest the community solidarity should be undermined from outside. And again this depends on the spiritual father.

The closer we move towards God, the closer we move towards each other

Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, rector of the Church of the Renewal of the Temple of the Resurrection of Christ in Jerusalem in Uspensky Vrazhek in Moscow, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations:

Archpriest Nikolai Balashov Archpriest Nikolai Balashov     

Our faith and common desire to grow closer to Christ and to each other make the community a family. Let’s recall the comparison made by Abba Dorotheos of Gaza: God is like the center of a circle, and we are like rays emanating from it. The closer we move towards God, the closer we move towards each other. As we crave intimacy with God, we come to realize that we must draw near to each other. That is a fine metaphor.

The “solid foundation” in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ prevents the community from falling apart.

Prepared by Olga Orlova
Translated by Dmitry Lapa



[1] Abbreviation of Komitet Gosudarstvennoĭ Bezopasnosti (“Committee of State Security”). The state security police (1954–91) of the former Soviet Union with responsibility for external espionage, internal counter-intelligence, and internal “crimes against the state”.—Trans.

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