Brethren, there is no partiality with God. The Epistle for this Sunday—the Sunday of the All Saints of Russia—begins with these words. And, it is not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; The Orthodox Church of Christ calls her children to action and labor for the sake of Christ’s Gospel. In our time, there is an emphasis on hearing: listening to podcasts on online Orthodox Radio networks, or listening to some renowned priest and his views, or watching and listening to services online. Yet, this is not doing. We must be vigilant and in action consistently. We are vigilant first and foremost over our own interior life. We are careful to keep the house of our soul in order. We are likewise vigilant to keep the spiritual life of our family in order while simultaneously maintaining respect for the freedom of conscious of our spouses and children. And then, we are always-at-the-ready to assist our parish and the clergy in their labor and ministry, which is a ministry undertaken not for themselves alone, but ultimately for us and our salvation. The best fruit is borne within the Christian life when these three levels are in sync, when they are in harmony with one-another. We are of the most use to the Church when we are spiritually vigilant, when our house is in order, and when our parish is functioning on a healthy spiritual level. If this is not occurring on these three levels, then something else is occurring.
At Matins this Sunday, we heard in the Gospel reading the following words: Who will role the stone away for us? It is the pre-dawn hours of the first Pascha. At Christ’s Resurrection, an Angel rolled away the stone, yet, naturally, this is an unknown fact for the Myrhbearers who run to the tomb early to anoint Jesus. This anointing was the custom of the Jews, and the Women did not have time to complete this anointing prior to the beginning of the Sabbath. They are preoccupied with one central question: The stone is heavy, weighing many, many tons. So, who will roll the stone away? We also wonder how we can accomplish anything in our Christian life. Who can role away the stones of passions and sins before the tombs of our own souls? Yet it is not us, but Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith that we look to. Cast your care upon the Lord and He will nourish you, He will never permit the righteous to be shaken, we hear in the Psalms. It is our Christian responsibility to be vigilant over our own life and to be active within the life of the Church. Christ will then role away the stone. Many say. “I just want to go to church, have no responsibilities, talk to no one, and go home.” This is poisonous individualism. Individualism is the poison of society. I cannot emphasize this enough. Yet, what we need in our time—perhaps now more than ever with the morbid individualism which is so valued in our Western society—is the opposite of this mentality.
Now, more than ever, we need to invest our time, our energy, and our financial resources in building healthy, organic Christian communities. Now, more than ever, a system of a parish-village must rise up, a community of Orthodox believers who are centered in the Faith and live this Faith through their day-to-day life as One, holding all things in common—prayer, joy, suffering, death—so we may truly become the salt of the earth. And grant that with one voice and one heart we may praise Thine honored and majestic Name, the priest exclaims in the Liturgy. This collective focus the Church has on communion and unity, on oneness, is remarkably and starkly in opposition to the individualism of our era. Many, in the almost one year since my arrival in Canada, have asked me the following question: Why do we need yet another mission parish? And the answer lies on two levels. The first is that, you can simply never have enough parishes! Yet, the ultimate answer is that, it is my conviction that not many parishes are living what I have just defined above. There are, to be sure, parishes which live this, most especially in our Russian Church Abroad. The Russian Church Abroad is a martyric Church, a Church which grew out of suffering and the exile imposed by an evil, atheistic regime which tyrannized the Russian land for the vast majority of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lifetimes. It is this direct experience of martyrdom which enables the Russian Church Abroad’s parishes to maintain such an organic Christian life.
And we come to the celebration of this Sunday: This is the Sunday of All the Saints who shone forth in the Russian Land. The Saints of Russia bore their trials, and are now added as glorified fragrant flowers in the garden of the Universal Church. In our time, the Saints of Russia—the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, beginning with the Holy Royal Martyrs, Tsar Nicholas II and His Consort, Alexandra, and their heir, Alexei, and the Grand Duchesses, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, the Grand Duchess and Nun Martyr Elizabeth, Patriarch Tikhon, St. Joseph the Hieromartyr of Petrograd, St. Vladimir of Kiev—the first martyr of the Communist Yoke, St. Hilarion, Archbishop of Verey, and countless scores of others, priests and simple believers (in my wife’s own family we have a martyr: Hierodeacon Ioann [Pozyumski]) all these were persecuted not by idolaters (per say) but by those adhering to an ideology—Communism. It was thought that Communism was the worst thing the world had seen. Now, it is proven that in our time, political correctness, ideological purity, movements with slogans and certain flags and all sorts of experiments currently being undertaken against Conservatism and traditional family values, these are the fruits of Communist, leftist ideology. Monarchy is God-ordained, and wherever man departs from the system of worldly governance, chaos on unprecedented and unpredictable levels ensues. And that is exactly what occurred in Russia. And this is exactly what will occur here, in Canada, if certain forces achieve their goals. We could narrate the exploits of the Russian Saints and Martyrs of the twentieth Century and the victory of their Christian lives over the powers of darkness extensively. I will focus on one thing only: They collectively overcame the question: Who will role the stone away?
Prior to the tragedy of 1917, Russia had a nearly one-thousand-year extensive Christian history. In the millennium prior to 1917, many Saints shone from the Russian land such as Vladimir of Kiev, the Baptizer of Rus, his grandmother Olga, the Prince Martyrs Boris and Gleb, Michael and Peter, the Metropolitans of Kiev, and the Metropolitans of Moscow, Peter, Alexis, Jonah, Makarios, Philip, Job, Hermogenes, Tikhon, Philaret, Peter, and Makarios. Alexander Nevsky, the warrior-saint and the fathers of Russian Monasticism, Anthony and Theododius of the Caves, and of course the renowned Sergius of Radonezh and, in these later times, Seraphim of Sarov and Theophan the Recluse, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Sts. Sergius and Herman of Valaam—and the missionary Russian Saints—Herman of Alaska, and Innocent of Irkutsk, along with the multitude of ascetics which labored in the Russian Thebaid, the northern hermitic regions of Russia, and the Elders of the Optina Hermitage, who inspired the great Russian writer Dostoyevsky. We cannot fail to mention saints such as Xenia of Petersburg, Matrona of Moscow, Maxim the Greek, Ignatius Brianchaninov, and Schema-Archimandrite Paisiy Velichkovsky. Saints of the Russian Diaspora, such as St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose memory we recently celebrated, can also be counted in this august choir.
It is our Christian duty to become the imitators of the saints, to continue their labors, to build upon the foundation they gave us. As with the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew, who were first-called by the Lord in the Gospel reading at today’s Liturgy, so too the Saints of Russia were called to Christ’s service. They entered into their labor joyfully, without murmuring or complaints. The reward was that the Apostles were given a very particular gift to heal the sick, to testify to the work by miracles. The Saints of Russia were also given this reward. The Giver gives the same gifts throughout history. We too have a vocation and duty, and the Lord expects of us no less. We are called to sanctity, to finish a particular race or course in Christ. We must overcome the physical limitations of the flesh, and even the physical limitations this world places on us. If we live Christian lives of action, then it is possible to build such organic Christian communities, rooted in the purity of the Orthodox Faith as I described above. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me—this is what the Apostle taught, and this is the maxim the Saints realized. This is not an arbitrary statement, but it is a statement actualized after years and decades of Christian labor and experience. Everyone is called, and God is no respecter of persons.
The righteous Hieromonk and Abbot, Father John (Krestiankin) said: “God’s commandments were already resounding in them (the Russian Nation), binding the sin that still lived in their hearts, leading them to moral regeneration. Rus' accepted the way of the Cross, the path of severance from everything uncouth, from everything that chains people to the earth.” May Christ also work this in us, in our own time, and in our own country. Remember the line with which I opened, taken from today’s Epistle: there is no partiality with God. We all have the same abilities to excel in different areas for the glory of Christ. The goal of the acquisition of Christ is a never-ending, life encompassing goal. Let us embark upon this course of Christian life and action in the Apostolic Spirit, having as our guides the saints which shone forth in the Land of Russia. All ye Saints of Russia, pray to God for us!