Archimandrite John (Krestiankin; 1910–2006) was a great and trusted elder of the Pskov Caves Monastery. His enlightened mind was ever able to dispel the confusion and perplexities of those who came to him seeking answers to complex spiritual questions. Now that some years have passed since his repose, it is clear to many that he was truly a prophet of our times.
In the 1990’s, the Russian Federation was modernizing its taxation system, and entering the digital world. Many Orthodox Christians did not know who to believe, whose advice to follow. All very similar to what we are going through today with regard to instructions coming from state and Church, and measures against the Coronavirus pandemic. Fr. John’s wise words ring true now as they did then.
My dear children of the Church of Christ!
In the present days, when heaven and earth exalt over God’s unspeakable mercy, the Nativity in the world of its Savior; when the Orthodox Church confirms by its 2,000 years of suffering, standing in the Truth, and by its saving labors, that God is with us; when the host of glorified Russian New Martyrs has placed its fruit of scarlet radiance in the foundation of the Church;1 and when, by God’s mercy, the Russian people has begun to remember its glorious Christian past, has once again found the road to Church and to God—we should be rejoicing and living by a living faith in undoubting hope in God and His Holy Church. We should live and daily remember that the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit we received at Holy Baptism has made us the children of God, and we should give thanks to God.
But no, during these spirit-bearing and light-bearing days a dark shadow of spiritual disturbance has come to trouble the minds and hearts of the faithful, to deprive them not only of the joy that should come from this universal and eternal triumph, but even of their very faith and good hope.
My dears, who is brashly giving the world’s governance over to the dark powers today?
Who, once again, as in the Savior’s time, approaches Him with the deceitful question: What thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? (Mt. 22:17; Mk. 12:14; Lk. 20:22).
In modern language it sounds like this: “Should we accept the new system of tax collection, or not?”
The answer is paradoxical. Believing Orthodox Christians themselves, priests and laypeople, having forgotten about Divine Providence, about God, and are giving authority to the dark powers.
As in those days, when the Savior’s interrogators were not satisfied with His answer and departed only for a time to invent new provocations against Him, so also now, the answer coming from the universal mind of the Church and its measures taken to clarify the situation have not been accepted, and the disturbance and confusion within the Church’s fold and people of God goes on. In fact, all of this is the work of the enemy of God, of the enemy of the Church, of the enemy of our salvation.
The governmental problem of individual tax numbers, through the efforts of the enemies of God to disseminate false rumors about the presence of the digits “666” in tax identification numbers, has acquired great force of confusion in the spiritual world. This confusion has become a test for the faithful, which has brought to light an absence of faith in God and trust in the Mother-Church….
My dears, this and nothing else was the enemy’s aim when he introduced the number “666” into the bar code. But how easily and painlessly this fatal number was removed once it had done its work!
The number was removed, the announcement about the assignment of numbers was excluded, but the confusion and schism in the Church continues to deepen.
Conversations about the seal of antichrist, about the absence of grace in our Church, and the imminent end of the world all disturb people’s minds. Sectarian and anti-ecclesiastical feelings and speeches are already sounding from church ambos. Such feelings have come out many times before in the Church’s history, especially during periods of political upheaval, catastrophes, wars, and various sorts of “perestroikas.” Even great pillars of the Church made mistakes.
Here is how one member of our holy Pskov-Caves Monastery, the great ascetic, Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov), describes such situations: “The cause of such movements lies in the human soul. The soul is always tempted by the mysterious, extraordinary, supernatural, and miraculous—especially if it is terrifying. A false ‘zeal’ for God grows out of this…. This has all been known long ago in spiritual life. However, periodic movements of this kind come to the surface like volcanic eruptions. Usually this is bound up with sort some of political upheaval, catastrophe, war, or persecution.
“It is necessary to war with this spiritual wound. The Apostle Paul himself began this struggle when he wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians (and to some extent in the first epistle), where he forbade belief in ‘spirit, or word, or letters’ (cf. II Thess. 2:2-4). Regardless of this [scriptural passage], similar movements have arisen throughout history, again and again. Even great pillars of the Church made mistakes in calculating the time of the ‘end of the Universe.’ For example, St. John Chrysostom wrote outright that the end of the world can be expected around the ‘four hundredth year.’ ‘I will not be mistaken’(!), he said, pointing at the approximate date of around the year 400… But he was mistaken: 1,548 years have passed since that date, and the world has not ended. This was written in the eighth volume of his works, in explanation of the [conversation] between Christ and the Samaritan woman (the Gospel according to St. John, chapter four).2
“Similarly, during the time of iconoclasm—the six through ninth centuries, St. Theodore the Studite also thought about the ‘near’ end of the world. In general, many people during many different times have been attracted by this idea. In Russia, Elder Ambrose of Optina spoke of this.”3
Well, you see that we have lived to the year 2001, and the end of the world has not yet happened, and life goes on. Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, continues His podvig—love for mankind. He gave us the way to salvation, and He is the same throughout all ages, for Christians of the first and last times. This is faith in God’s Providence, and life according to faith.
Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in His prayer of the high priest, asks God the Father for all who believe in Him: I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil (Jn. 17:15).
My dears, this is what Christ is praying for us! Thus, it is God’s will that we, God’s children, are called to live in the world. The world can be of varying character—Christian, pagan, militant atheist; through such a varying world are we called to carry the light of Christ’s teaching and Truth, which is, according to the Scripture: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22).
In the canon for the forefeast of the Lord’s Theophany, the Church quite clearly describes the relationship of the followers of Christ to the worldly and to the Divine. “Obeying the decree of Caesar, Thou wast enrolled but not enslaved. Thou grantest us comfort from bondage, yet of Thine own will hast Thou subjected Thyself and paid tribute; and now Thou has set us free, who before were sold to the law of sin, and hast made us worthy to be sons by adoption.”4
So, according to the Savior’s example, we the faithful obey the laws of the state, remaining at the same time spiritually free, sons of God, sons of light!
And how can we not remember in our current situation that moment in the life of the Church when it entered the chaos of revolutionary crisis, and we had to learn how to live and preserve the Church during a period of total lawlessness?
His Holiness, our Patriarch Tikhon, greeted each day with a calm spirit, for he believed in God, and committed the Church, himself, and God’s people to Him.
Faith in God—this where our strength lies, our opposition to troubles and schism in the Church.
The New Martyrs of Russia left us a testimony of true faith. Here is what Hieromartyr Benjamin of Petrograd wrote before his martyric end: “I am joyful and calm…. Christ is our life, light, and rest. With Him it is good always and everywhere. I do not fear for the fate of God’s Church. We need to have more faith, we pastors. We need to forget our self-reliance, mind, and learnedness, and give place to God’s grace.” This is the true Christian disposition.
The believer lives in the world with Christ, dies in Christ, then goes to Christ. Who can separate us from the love of God? Neither sorrows, nor persecutions, nor slanders against God and the Church, which the enemy of mankind sows.
But fear where no fear is (cf. Ps. 13:6, 52:6) has paralyzed our faith and robbed us of hope, and the enemy’s shadow is darkening to obscure the Sun of righteousness—Christ.
May this not be!
My dears, how have we fallen into such a panic that we can lose our Christian name by exchanging it for a number? Could this really happen in God’s eyes?
Could someone really forget himself and the name of his heavenly patron, given to him at baptism, at the Cup of Life?
Can we forget those clergy and Christian laypeople who were forced to forget their names and surnames because they were replaced by numbers, many of whom even departed to eternity with those numbers? But God received them into His Fatherly embrace as hieromartyrs and martyrs, and concealed their prison jackets under white garments of victory.
They had no name, but God was with them, and His guidance lead those faithful prisoners through the veil of death each day.
The Lord does not perceive any human being as a number—the number is only needed for modern accounting technology. For the Lord, there is nothing more precious than a living human soul, for the sake of which He sent His Only-Begotten Son, Christ the Savior. And the Savior came into the world with the population census.
What is there to say about the control and totalitarian observation by which simple-hearted people are so frightened? When and in what government has there not been a secret chancery? All this has been, still is, and always will be…. But nothing can prevent a believer from being saved. Each one travels through life on his way of the cross, by faith passing through all things that come along on his life’s path. The believer receives everything from God’s hands with the assurance that everything furthers his salvation.
We had better keep in mind what every Orthodox Christian should always be remembering: the All-Seeing Eye of God, Which saw how our flesh was woven, and the angel of light and the angel of darkness which watch our every step, every thought, from cradle to grave. Do we think about this?
Now we are more afraid of the seal of antichrist, which will come in its time, in a time which… Do we really know whether we shall live to that time? As for the seal of our own personal sins, few of us have even begun to think about this. This, however, is that very seal which gives a man over to the power of antichristian elements and actions, and is the actual prototype of the seal which we should truly fear!
Nothing Godly can pass through this terrible sinful seal, which we mark upon our minds and hearts every day.
The Lord, knowing our infirmity, has given us repentance—absolution of sins. But this cleansing of soul, mind, and heart takes place only in the Church, only in the Sacraments.
The enemy is therefore arming itself now against the Church.
Yes, the Divine Scriptures are being fulfilled without a doubt.
Yes, before the end of the world will be three years of such tribulation as has not been from the creation of the world, and this will be the sign of the reign of antichrist.
Yes, there will be the Glories and Terrible Coming of the Savior, Who will kill the enemy with the spirit of His breath.
All of this will come to pass—but when? The Lord God, the Father has placed the times and periods under His authority, and not even the mightiest arm has the power to change or stop Divine Providence.
Neither can we hasten or prevent this time.
But we have to live here, and now, and we have to live in God.
People are already calling others to move to the forests, to the deserts, to secret chambers. [They are saying:] Do not take the number; do not enter the new governmental accounting system; leave the world; leave the Church.
But how can we be saved? How can we live, how can we raise our children in God? They are all silent on this question.
Even now, a flood of bitter, tearful, and perplexed letters has assailed pastors. [They say:] Our church already has a tax number, and so it is forbidden to enter it.
So, the elderly lady who has gone to church all her life, kept the faith in God and the Church throughout her life, even through the most difficult times, is now falling away from the saving ark of the Church at the very time of her departure from this life.
And who will answer before God for the offense of these little ones, who have simple-heartedly stumbled over something that has no relationship to spiritual life—to the tax number….
So just take a look at what a test of our faith, of its reasonableness, and its spirituality is now taking place.
The seal of Christ appeared in the world after the completion of His saving podvig. The Cross, formerly an instrument of shameful execution, now sanctified by the blood and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, became the seal of Christ’s unlimited power over everything of the enemy.
Now people are talking about the number 666 as the seal of antichrist. But has he already come to power in the world? Have governmental boundaries already been [completely] erased, and peace and safety begun to caressingly lull our hearing?... Has antichrist come to reign, accepted by all as the universal leader, having thus received the right to his own seal? Even the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian said that during his time have many antichrists appeared. What can be said of our own, present times? Only that there are fewer and fewer Christians, but many—very many antichrists. There are many unbelievers, trouble-makers, seducers, schismatics, and corrupters—but this is not yet that one antichrist who by God’s allowance will receive power over the world and all who live in it for three and a half years. Meanwhile, we ourselves must all remember that we now live in a saving time, a grace-filled time, when the Savior of the world, Christ, is ready to receive and save every sinner who raises a sigh to God over his own salvation.
So, let us save ourselves in the Church, guarding ourselves with the fear of God from all sin, from evil, lies, and deceit, from selfishness and self-will. It would also be good for us all, now that a Christian self-awareness is awakening in the people, to understand just to whom and for what purpose such unchristian methods are now needed in the struggle for “freedom.”
From what are we to be freed?
—From Christian church disciplines, when the voice of the Church is argued against by means of personal opinion?
—From the One true Universal Church, a schismatic part of which calls people to “catacombs,” so that it would devolve into a sect?
—From payment of taxes, which ensure according to the words of the Scripture that, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack (II Cor. 8:15)? Doesn’t it put the Church’s children on their guard that these “strugglers,” in their desire to accomplish their goal, are not ashamed to use the methods of the father of lies, the devil: SLANDER?
From the very onset of these troubles, I wrote many personal letters about the individual tax identification numbers.
One of these letters was made public by God’s will through the internet sight of Sretensky Monastery to a large audience. But the letter was only available for a half-year. Now, I sign this letter of mine again and again.
In it can be heard my perception of everything that is taking place, and not in that anonymous letter published by unknown slanderers in the newspaper “Russky Vestnik” (Nos. 46-48 of the year 2000), which pushed its own opinion under my name.
Now that my name has been woven into the slanders of those who are warring with the Church, I am obligated to say the following words to those who are engrossed in this psychosis:
FEAR SEPARATIONS AND SCHISMS IN THE CHURCH!
Fear falling away from the Mother-Church; it alone staunches the lava flow of antichristian revelry in the world today!
Fear judging the Church’s hierarchs, for this is ruinous even without the seal of antichrist!
We will depart from this life long before that terror appears which has seized everyone now. But after falling away from the Church, we will actually inherit the very thing that we now fear.
Let us imprint upon the tablets of our heart and mind the spiritual basis of our unity with God:
My child, give me thy heart (Prov. 23:26).
The Lord will not give a heart and soul that is faithful to God over to be trampled by the enemy! It is easy enough for a man to deceive another man. The enemy, with his many centuries’ experience of lies, can deceive us without the slightest effort.
Modern technology provides the possibility to secretly and openly imprint all peoples with “numbers,” “chips,” and “seals.” But they cannot harm a human soul if there is no conscious renunciation of Christ, and conscious worship of God’s enemy.
May the life-creating words of the Savior be our direction and guide upon the sea of life: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (Jn. 14:27), ye believe in God, believe also in Me (Jn. 14:1).
From: May God Give You Wisdom! The Letters of Fr. John Krestiankin (Sretensky Stavropegic Monastery and St. Xenia Skete, 2007).
Note to commenters: The point of our posting this letter is not to compare identification numbers with vaccinations, but to show what a great and holy elder taught about fears and schisms arising from contemporary issues. Fr. John's emphasis was always on our own spiritual life according to the Gospel commandments, and preparing ourselves for our personal last judgment through repentance and a true Christian life. He saw through the devil's schemes to sow confusion in Christians through various rumors and self-willed interpretations. We will not be opening therefore any comments accusing Fr. John, or Orthodox hierarchs of heresy or captitulation to globalist antichrists for encouraging their flocks to take whatever measures against the current pandemic.