May God Preserve Us from Falling Away

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

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Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip (Heb. 2:1).

Indeed, the Jews, unto whom were committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2), should have been especially attentive. Israel is the chosen people of God, the Apostle’s brothers in the flesh, for whom the Apostle would have liked to be excommunicated from Christ if only they would find salvation (Rom. 9:3-4); and having written many epistles to Churches formed from pagans, the holy Apostle now turns his word to them. The word of God was repeatedly and variously proclaimed to them through the Prophets, and in the last days they saw the very Son of God, the Hypostasis of the Word and Wisdom (Heb. 1:1-2) with their own eyes.

They saw that the word of Christ didn’t perish after they hung the Ruler of life upon the tree, Who was numbered among the transgressors but on the contrary, the Apostles’ sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world (Rom. 10:18). They knew from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is God, by Whom the heavens were founded in the beginning and Who, upholding all things by the word of His power, the eternal and unchanging God, Whose years shall not fail, and the throne of Whose Divine Kingdom will remain forever (Heb. 1:3, 12), Who was made a little lower than the angels, became a partaker of flesh and blood because it behooved Him, bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb. 2:7, 10, 14), to make Him a true high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 6:20). When they first believed, they endured a great feat of suffering, serving as an example of emulation for others. Judging by the times, they should have been teachers of others long ago, but now they have to be taught the principles of the word of God again, to be fed with milk, not solid food (Heb. 5:12); some of them are close to falling away from faith in Christ, which they apprehended by the hearing of the Apostolic word.

How much of these words of the Apostle, spoken to the Jews, relate to us, brethren, who are in this spiritual school!1 For, coming from a spiritual root and a priestly lineage according to the flesh, do we not, as it were, represent Israel in relation to other people called to the Church of Christ? Are we not primarily entrusted with the words of God in order to study them carefully and by understanding the quick and powerful word of God, and the discern[ing] of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12), to be capable of withstanding the false teachings of the world, which are alien to Christ? And yet, how often there is a falling away from Christ among us! How often those who in the years of their youth here, being prompted by nature itself, show an example of the zealous and animated realization of their lofty thoughts, then soon begin to see the words of the Lord spoken about evil pastors through the Prophet Ezekiel being fulfilled in them: The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost… but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock (Ezek. 34:4, 8).

And how often that broad wave of those aspiring to higher secular educational institutions testifies to a falling away from the previously received testament of faith of Christ, although it’s usually concealed by attraction to and love for secular learning!

For many of our secular higher educational institutions are called Christian only by tradition, and not because they truly are Christian. If they pay equal respect to that great lamp of the Russian Church Fr. John Kronstadt and the reviler of the Church, excommunicated from it, Leo Tolstoy, as a teacher of truth, or even more to the latter [consider the simultaneous election of both as honorary members of Yuriev University]; if in many of them it’s openly preached that it’s not the Word of God, living and rational, that is, Christ, Who contains the laws of existence in His right hand, but that the world is a machine that has somehow come into motion by itself, and that man is but an element in this machine; that the life of man isn’t nourished and maintained by the grace of God, but that corruptible food and drink are the main means and source for maintaining life; and that people’s struggle for it, which in no wise differs in essence from the struggle in the animal world, perfects the mind of men, corrects the will, and transforms social life, then what is this all about if not the falling away from faith in Christ, the loss of living communication with Him, as evidenced by the ardent desire for these higher secular institutions of so many of the spiritual young men who seek brilliant secular knowledge and despise the spiritual, as if completely contrary to the observed reality.

Instinctively, the sorrow of those falling away from Christ compels us to exclaim together with the Prophet: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good (Is. 55:1-2). Have they quenched their thirst and the torments of their souls by despising Christ and His Church? No! They haven’t quenched but strengthened it. Such a falling away from faith has caused many sorrows for those who in modern times are called to be leaders of the youth, beginning with the Tsar himself, who has repeatedly expressed sorrow for the loss of the Christian faith among the youth, so dear and beloved to his heart [cf. the manifesto of February 26, 1903]. Truly, in the present times, he who guards faith in Christ in a society that has lost it must be a confessor. And this to our shame before our Western brothers and false brothers, for whose sake the young men of the universities are founding societies to spread the faith of Christ among a society that has been shaken in it.

Some people, perplexed by such a wide falling away from Christ of many, ask in bewilderment, like the Prophet: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? (Jer. 12:1). But we know that the Church of Christ must be humiliated on earth until the end of time, for all followers of Christ must bear His Cross, and that only at the end of time, when the Son of Man will appear in His glory, when the sun, putatively the sole source of life on earth, fades, the moon ceases to give its light, and the stars fall from the sky, contrary to the confidence of people today in the eternal existence of the world, then only the Cross of Christ will appear as a sign in the heavens to reprove the Jews (Mt. 24:29-30, cf. the commentary of St. John Chrysostom), and all the tribes of earth will weep. We know that this question will have significance until the end of time: Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? (Is. 53:1), that is, who will believe in the mighty power of the grace acting in the Church, persecuted by the world? But we also know that at some point, the Faithful and True One Who in righteousness doth judge and make war, majestic and appearing in the fullness of His power, albeit in a vesture dipped in blood, Whose name is the Word of God, will appear as the Victor over all enemies of the Church (Rev. 19:11-13, Is. 63:1-3).

Brethren, knowing all of this from Divine revelation, we should, according to the Apostle, be especially careful not to fall away. If everyone who has fallen away from faith in Christ had taken a closer look at how his falling away happened in his own soul, he would have noticed that his conscience repeatedly reproached him for departing from the truth of Christ.

Let us endeavor to hearken to ourselves, especially in the years of our youth, when the soul can still almost equally easily incline towards evil or good, so that our heart, especially in these years, doesn’t harden, hearing the Holy Spirit speaking in it, and we don’t become guilty of disobedience (Heb. 3:7-8:18)!

May God preserve us from this falling away, showing us signs of grace and miracles that are still worked in the Church of Christ, in which we continue to hear the voice of Him that speaketh from Heaven (Heb. 12:25).

Hieromartyr Thaddeus (Uspensky)
Translation by Jesse Dominick


1 This homily was delivered in a seminary church.

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