Moscow, September 10, 2021
Every year on September 11, in addition to the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, the Russian Orthodox Church marks Sobriety Day, encouraging its flock to turn from the sin and passion of drunkenness towards new life in Christ.
Sobriety Day was established by the Russian Holy Synod in 1913, and alcohol was not sold on that day. Its celebration was interrupted in Soviet times, but reestablished in 2014.
In 2017, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia explained why Sobriety Day coincides with the Beheading of St. John the Baptist: “During the Liturgy, we heard the Gospel story about how the wicked King Herod, who became hostage to promise given at the feast, ordered the beheading of this God-pleaser (Mk. 6:14-30). Therefore, precisely this day—a day of strict fasting—was chosen by the Church to remind people about the necessity of a sober lifestyle.”
In his Sobriety Day address for this year, the Patriarch comments that as baptized Orthodox Christians we are all responsible to lead a pious and sober life in all circumstances.
Today, the Church prayerfully remembers the death of the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of the Lord John, who was beheaded on the orders of King Herod.
The Gospel narrative describes in detail the circumstances of this event, inviting each of us to think about the reasons for the evil deed committed during the festal banquet, when the intoxicated king ordered the execution of the great righteous man who was innocently imprisoned in prison (Mk. 6:14-28).
Turning to the experience of the Holy Fathers who devoted their lives to spiritual warfare, we see how carefully they treated the preservation of their minds, how they sought to be guided by the instructions of the Apostle Peter: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pt. 5:8). It’s the virtue of sobriety, that is, spiritual wakefulness, that allows a man to recognize and stop sinful thoughts, to look at himself and the world around him in the light of God’s commandments, not to succumb to temptation and not to be captured by the passions.
Let us direct our mental gaze inwards, think about how much we are able to evaluate our every step, and avoid rash actions and hasty promises. It’s especially important to preserve this ability now, during the pandemic, when our relatives and friends are faced with physical illness, financial difficulties, and misunderstandings, and they often feel the desire to rid themselves of fear, uncertainty, and loneliness in any way, including through alcohol.
A great responsibility lies today on all of us, Orthodox Christians, who from the baptismal font are called to show an example of a good and pious life, a sober and reasonable attitude to what happens around us, and an active love for people.
Through the prayers of the honest and glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of the Lord John, may the Almighty Lord help us to find genuine joy in communion with Him in prayer, in performing good deeds, and in serving our neighbors, so that, according to the word of the Holy Scripture, we may truly become living temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).