Homily on the Sunday Before the Nativity of Christ, the Holy Fathers

Part 2: Saints of the New Testament: Ignatius the God bearer and John of Kronstadt

Part 1: The memory of those who served in the preparation of Christ’s human nature

Photo: ruicon.ru Photo: ruicon.ru And so today we must not be silent about two of these whose commemoration falls on this day (December 20/January 2).

One is a holy bishop who was raised “at the feet” of the sharer in Christ’s mysteries, the holy apostle and evangelist John the Theologian. This is St. Ignatius the God-bearer, who lived in the first century of Christianity. Another is Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt, a wonderworker, glorified in the twentieth century. And both of them manifested their love of God in such fullness that they dissolved into it.

St. Ignatius was a child during the life of Christ the Savior, and Tradition has it that it was he whom the Lord Jesus Christ embraced during a talk with His disciple, saying, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3). And divine grace rested upon the boy Ignatius and led him along the path of salvation, entrusting him first to the instruction of St. John the Theologian, and then entrusting him with a bishop’s staff, to rule the word of truth for the newly-born people of God. Divine grace also crowned him with a martyr’s crown in Christ’s name.

He received name, “God-bearer”, because the Lord Jesus Christ held him as a child in his arms and remained with him, and also because of his zealous love for God, his thirst for God with all his soul.

Under the pagan Emperor Trajan, the holy bishop was presented to the judge for preaching the name of Christ and condemned to a terrible execution—to be devoured by wild beasts.

During his travels from Antioch to Rome, to the place of execution, St. Ignatius wrote seven letters to his flock that reveal a soul consumed in the flame of love for Christ: “I now write, full of life, consumed by the desire of love to die for Christ. I am God’s wheat; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts, so that I might become pure bread for God. Now do I begin to be Christ’s disciple, now that I desire neither what is seen or unseen, but only to reach Christ.”

Hearing that he ceaselessly repeated the name of Jesus Christ, those leading him to execution asked him why. St. Ignatius answered that the name of Jesus is written in his heart, and therefore his lips ceaselessly confess Him Whom he bears in his heart. God granted St. Ignatius to fearlessly meet a terrifying death. And inscribed on the holy martyr’s heart, which remained unharmed, could be seen the letters of the name of his beloved Jesus Christ.

The saint’s martyric death and power of his prayer stopped the persecution against Christians for a time. Emperor Trajan published a special order to cease all persecutions against Christians.

And then there is the great, living pillar of our times, who united heaven with earth—Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt, an outstanding witness to the truth of Orthodox Christianity. An amazing man of prayer before the Throne of God in his life, he received the crown of sainthood long before his glorification by people for the light of God’s grace that he radiated, and for the innumerable miracles that he manifested and still manifests today.

Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt teaches us by his own example how we must live according to eternal truths in our own time, achieving the perfection of a spirit that spiritually burns for Jesus, the Intercessor of the New Testament.

Without any visible asceticism he simply lived like everyone else, but he lived in God and did everything for His sake and in His name. The main work of St. John of Kronstadt’s life, the life of a good pastor, were his fiery celebration of the Liturgy and just as fiery prayer. His whole life and all his activity were completely penetrated and inspired by his priestly standing before the holy altar. His prayer was crowned with a multitude of miraculous healings, and he did not hide these miracles; however he always pointed to the Holy Mysteries as the source of his powerful prayer.

Holy Righteous John showed us a perfect life; he brought his life as a sacrifice to God and people. The omnipotence of divine love forcefully showed itself through him, transforming him into a living sacrifice pleasing to God. Christ, Who entered into his heart from infancy, raised him to the full measure of maturity in Christ, and he now stands behind us and Russia before the face of God in the Kingdom of Heaven. And he calls to us from there: “Russia, be what you need to be for Christ!”

Come all, our friends, and let us faithfully celebrate the Nativity of Christ.” Let us be zealous for the New Testament saints and the Old Testament righteous ones in their strong thirst to meet, behold, and receive Jesus Christ Who is born; and like them, let us bring Him our love and humility, so that the lowly manger of our hearts would become the beloved manger of the Divine Infant Christ on earth.

And so, children of God, do not forget that evil is powerless, we are eternal, and God is with us! Amen.

Archimandrite John (Krestiankin)
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)


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