November 20 marked the birthday of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. Pravoslavie.ru congratulated him on that day, and OrthoChristian.com would also like, albeit belatedly, to congratulate His Holiness and wish him many more profitable years in service to God’s Church!
The Patriarch’s homiletic and epistolary heritage is vast. We publish here in English translation select citations from His Holiness, taken from his sermons delivered in early November 2020. We also express our heartfelt thanks for his inexhaustible wellspring of edification!
The events themselves, which lie at the foundation of the celebration [of the Day of National Unity] and which we mark today, did not have any great military significance. <…> The forces of Minin and Pozharsky took a part of Moscow—Kitai Gorod—back from the enemy. This isn’t even all of Moscow, it’s a region of Moscow.
So why then was this victory that was not so significant in scope, connected with such heroic recollections? And why did this event become so important to our national consciousness and lead to this celebration of national unity? Because this victory outside the Kremlin walls preceded something very important.
After all, what was Russian society like then? Divisions into parties, clans, and various groups battling amongst themselves. The Time of Troubles was and is called troubled because there was trouble in people’s heads, which led to the conflicts between them. And suddenly, before the face of the enemy at the Kremlin walls, in Kitai-Gorod, the people who yesterday were enemies became unified. This is what we celebrate.
Our worst enemy
Through this historical experience we should learn who our worst enemy is—not foreign enemies but internal conflicts, which often lead people to mutual destruction. Everyone knows through his own personal experience what sufferings and woes disagreements can bring to families and friends, when such conflicts place insurmountable barriers to unity and love. This day reminds us of the great value of unity and love, of the ability to come together and to resolve the problems set before each person, family, society, and nation.
From a sermon on the feast of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God,
After the Liturgy in the St. Alexander Nevsky Skete
What is the Grace of God, and how can we recognize it?
In the physical world many things are invisible to us, but we nevertheless know that they exist—most often due to their consequences. For example, no one sees electricity, but even someone completely skeptical about electricity can feel it. He touches a live wire and he immediately feels a bad shock, and understands that the invisible exists. It is the same with God’s grace—it is known not by its essence, because the nature of grace is hidden from us, but by the traces that grace leaves in our lives.
Contemplating this theme, St. Macarius of Egypt teaches: Grace is where reason is; grace is where holiness is; grace is where good will is. That is, grace is realized in the way that it brings man goodness, kindness, peace, comfort, and love. It is through these signs of the presence of God’s grace that people recognize what grace is, and by the same experience discern how God reveals himself to people.
In other words, divine grace is the presence of God in human life and history; it is the power of God and the light of God, the perception of which is given to us through our spiritual experience. Where and how can we acquire this experience? First of all, we acquire it when we turn our hearts to God and the Lord Himself comes to meet us.
The grace of the Eucharist
This happens every time we celebrate the Divine Eucharist, when as we break and bless the bread and wine according to the Savior’s commandment, we serve in remembrance of Him the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. And through contact with His Body and Blood, the Lord grants us divine grace, which must undoubtedly resound in our hearts, transforming our mind, our will, and our feelings. And when this happens, we feel the presence of the divine in our lives.
Every believing person experiences to some degree a particular spiritual state of the soul when he partakes of the Body and Blood of the Savior, when he turns to God with sincere prayer, and the Lord answers that prayer. Each of us is granted a feeling of this, and the understanding that it is a living religious experience, a living experience of faith, and it gives us the opportunity to see and feel divine grace. This means also the presence of God in our lives.
Faith is the reality of our life
But if people were deprived of that feeling, then faith would not exist, because faith is based on people’s real-life experience. If there were never any spiritual experience of contact with the divine, there would be no faith. This is perfectly obvious. No matter how people without faith explain it, the phenomenon itself of faith in God, independently of their often completely false and limited explanations, is the reality of our life. And it is so important that we the faithful never lose that reality! It is so important that more and more of those who doubt, or even deny the faith for one reason or another, might at some moment feel the presence in their lives of divine grace; that they would feel this contact with God Himself. After all, only then will the flame of faith be ignited in them!
How unbelief departs
But the Lord shows Himself to us not in the thunder or lightning, but in a light breeze (cf. 3 Kings 19:11–12). He shows Himself to us in the light touch of divine grace. Therefore it is very important to tune our “receiver”—that is, our minds and hearts—in order to have the opportunity to receive that gentle but vitally important signal from heaven; so that we might truly see God through the purity of our hearts (cf. Mt. 5:8), and feel the touch of His divine grace.
Then all unbelief will depart from us. Then we will need no proof—something philosophers and theologians were preoccupied with in certain ages, trying to theoretically prove the fact of God’s presence in our lives, and even the existence of God altogether. When a person does not believe but knows that God exists, no proof is needed, because he himself has experienced the touch of God’s power and grace.
On faith in progress and faith in God
We live in difficult times, a time of very serious testing. Over the last two hundred, or even three hundred years, mankind lived by faith in progress. People were convinced that according to the increase in knowledge, education, and science, everything connected with faith will be pushed to the margins of life, and eventually it will disappear altogether. Why? Because man will become all-powerful and will be able to work miracles and solve any problems by his mind alone. That is what people thought in the eighteenth century, in the nineteenth century, and the twentieth century, until life’s experience showed the absolute majority of attentive observers that no matter how sciences develops, no matter how man’s knowledge grows, there will always remain a sphere where man is not capable of determining the order of things and events when knowledge, authority, and power are lacking.
Perhaps we also today are experiencing a time when mankind’s inability to cope with the present dangers is becoming quite obvious. Of course, human reason and will can help us find the answer to all the calls of the current pandemic, so that it will finally cease. We believe that that is how it will be.
But after all, this does not mean that a multitude of other problems do not await the human race, and our reason is not capable of responding so as to avoid any new big problems, hardships, and dangers. That is why reliance on the Lord, faith in God, and prayer that He send us His grace are the inevitable prerequisites for truly overcoming the problems that arise to meet us. Joining together the spiritual and the material, human reason with the power of faith, which brings prayer and attracts God’s grace, we can strengthen our human abilities through divine power and attain the possibility of coping with seemingly unsolvable problems, which man is capable of overcoming by enriching our reason and strength with divine grace.
What awaits us in eternity is formed in us today
A man’s life beyond the grave is determined by how he lives in this world. After all, in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven there is very little we need to fulfill—much less that what human laws and customs demand of us—laws and customs that many of us don’t even fully know. But the word of God is clear and understandable; and there is one dual commandment, which if we fulfill it, we will inherit God’s Kingdom: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt. 22:35–40), as the Lord said. In these commandments is the key to eternal life with God; and the sooner we, who are burdened with the many cares of this life, understand how important this commandment is for our lot beyond the grave, the closer the joy of eternity in communion with the Lord will be to us.
The parable [of the rich man and Lazarus] does not scare us, but helps us to understand that what awaits us in eternity is formed today in our everyday life through our relationship to God, and through our relationships with each other. And if we concentrate our efforts toward acquiring these goals, then not only will we inherit God’s kingdom, but according to the Lord Himself, we will also change our lives here to the point of unrecognizability, because in these commandments are the laws that determine human well-being in both earthly and eternity life.