This homily of St. John Vostorgov (1864–1918) was given at the Stavropol Boys’ School on October 31, 1893, marking both the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist and the anniversary of the opening of the school. Given this confluence, the New Martyr glorifies the Evangelist as a worthy example for the students to emulate.—Trans.
Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you (Col. 4:14).
On this day, dedicated by the Church to the memory of the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, we also commemorate the anniversary of the founding of our school, opened fifty-six years ago on this very day in the personal presence of Emperor Nicholas I, since reposed in the Lord. Thus the finger of God pointed us to St. Luke as the Heavenly patron of our school; to him, to his life and work, that we might turn to today’s solemn feast for edification.
For information about the life and activity of the Apostle, it’s most natural to turn to his sacred works—to the Gospel and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. But we would search in vain for any point where St. Luke speaks of himself or his life. The Apostle was modest and humble in heart; even in those cases where, apparently, it was impossible in the course of the narrative to ignore his own presence and participation in the event, St. Luke is able to conceal his name. But what we do know about St. Luke from the brief and fleeting remarks of his teacher, the holy Apostle Paul, and from the few traditions about him that we have in the works of the ancient Fathers and teachers of the Church, make his life and work deeply edifying.
Indeed, it’s not without reason that we were given to the Heavenly patronage of St. Luke fifty-six years ago. He is especially close to you, young students; and his life and moral qualities are fully applicable to your present situation. He, like you, was a man of learning: The Apostle Paul calls him a doctor (Col. 4:14); Church Tradition says he was thoroughly educated in the scientific center of his day in the city of Antioch, an expert in Jewish law and Greek philosophy, a linguist, and finally, an artist (according to the testimony of Nikephoros Kallistos). All of this can also be seen from his writings, which reveal a high knowledge of the language and a mastery of the literary techniques of the educated of his day.
But true wisdom is not drawn from any science, and there is no science that can make a man a man: Without religious education, it shines, but it doesn’t warm; without moral development, it makes man one-sided and brings harm instead of benefit. Thus, when a plant is exposed to the sun, and the soil in which it’s growing is deprived of the necessary moisture, then the sun, which is usually beneficial and necessary for the plant, dries it up and kills it. Similarly, if a soul has developed the powers of the mind but neglected the development of the heart, it becomes dry, callous, and selfish.
St. Luke didn’t take true wisdom from a single pagan science. He listened to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the seed of His teaching fell upon good ground. He was not chosen among the Twelve Apostles, but was sent by the Lord among His seventy other disciples. We would search in vain in the Gospel of the humble Luke for testimony about himself, for any indication of his feelings for the Lord Jesus Christ; but his loving heart, his deep devotion to the Lord, is seen from his words in the story about the appearance of the Risen Lord to the two apostles on the way to Emmaus on the first day after the Resurrection of Christ. Antiquity unanimously recognizes one of these men as the Evangelist Luke himself, although he named the other man, Cleopas, while refraining, with his usual modesty, from mentioning his own name.
Christ appears to the travelers, but they don’t recognize Him; He asks them what they’re speaking about and the reason for the grief that is written on their faces. Evidently, the Apostle was greatly sorrowed, when, with tear-stained eyes and a wrenched heart, he failed to recognize his recently departed Teacher. And what deep grief was heard in his response to Him: Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?... Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, Which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him. But we trusted that it had been He Which should have redeemed Israel (Lk. 24:18-21). And the Lord responds to the disciple’s love with love, and comforts him with the wonderful gift of the knowledge of the Scriptures and inexpressible joy when He made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread.
But soon, as a result of the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, St. Luke was sent to his hometown—to Antioch, bringing it, in gratitude for his upbringing, the greatest treasure in the world—faith in Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he could have, like the other Apostles, set out on his own path of preaching Christ. But his tender, loving heart showed him a different way of life—less glorious, humble, and unknown, but infinitely exalted and precious in the eyes of God: He becomes a disciple and companion of the holy Apostle Paul—and what a disciple he was! He shared in the difficult journeys, the dangers, the terrible shipwreck of the Apostle to the Nations; he visited him in prison, first in Caesarea, then in Rome.
At that time, when the ferocious Nero raised persecution against Christians, when these innocent sufferers were accused of setting fire to Rome, when Christians were sewn up in animal skins and thrown in to be mauled, and others were wrapped in flammable substances and set aflame, making living torches out of them in the Roman gardens; at that time, when this terrible life began, which was to baptize the newborn Church of Christ with blood, when paganism reveled in this blood of the sons of God, at that time the great Paul was languishing in a Roman prison. Christians were hunted down to turn the people’s revenge on them for burning Rome; at the head of the accusers stood the emperor himself, whom popular rumor blamed for the burning of the city; one sympathetic glance at St. Paul, a conversation with him, visiting him in prison could betray St. Luke’s Christian beliefs and expose him to the terrible fate of being tortured.
At that time, everyone abandoned the aging and ailing imprisoned Apostle, whose heart longed for comfort and fellowship with loved ones, but St. Luke didn’t abandon him—his devoted St. Luke, the beloved physician, to whom it now fell to heal the spiritual anxieties of the great Apostle. Here is what St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, another of his closest and beloved disciples: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand… Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me… [Everyone] hath forsaken me… Only Luke is with me (2 Tim. 4:6, 9-10). Thus, in all the misfortunes and bitter tribulations of the great St. Paul, the noble companionship, loyal devotion, and unchanging love of his disciple St. Luke was for him a constant consolation, and unceasing earthly joy.
He, St. Luke, became the biographer for St. Paul, without writing a single word about himself. Finally, according to the testimony of ancient tradition, he sealed his devotion and love for his teacher in Rome with his death. He perfectly assimilated his teaching, thought with his thoughts, spoke with his words, such that for a long time his Gospel was called either by his name or the name of St. Paul, without any differentiation.
Tell me now, is this not a model of a student in which all teachers of all times can rejoice and whom the best disciples of any school can imitate? And take St. Luke, dear students, as a model for your relationship to your mentors and teachers and to your school in general. And above all, learn, on the one hand, humility and modesty in judging yourself, your knowledge, your successes, your abilities, and on the other hand, respect and honor for the school that educates you. Know that just as a well-fed man doesn’t think about food, so the proud man doesn’t think about his improvement; and in the matter of mental and moral development, a man who doesn’t move forward inevitably moves backwards.
You came here to study, not to teach: Trust your directors, give them your heart, obey the school’s requirements, and don’t debate about them arrogantly. There’s nothing easier than to condemn and blame, but how often this reveals the deepest ignorance and misunderstanding! Remember that the school’s educational system didn’t appear yesterday—it is justified by experience and is entirely conceived and calculated for your benefit. Remember, blessed are the poor in spirit, that is, the humble; that only those who hunger and thirst for truth will be satisfied with it.
With this attitude to the school, we will all be like one big family—friendly, cohesive, strong, and therefore successful in our work. Then, of course, you will protect the honor of the school; you won’t say or do anything to harm it in the eyes of others. Your love for your school will remain with you for your entire life, and believe me, it will greatly benefit you and bring you much consolation both now and in the future. Those who, during their school years, didn’t have love and respect for the school that educated them simply don’t know what a precious gift they have forfeited. Every school, as a living institution, has its own style, its own traditions, its own unique, a sort of mysterious beneficial effect on its students: But this secret is revealed by love and devotion and is hidden from the indifferent and cold, and that’s why people often went out from us, but were not of us (1 Jn. 2:19)—they studied with us, but didn’t make the spirit of the institution their own.
Love for your school will help you successfully learn what it presents to you now, and in the future—to remain faithful to the precepts that it inspired in you in your school years. It’s not for me, being younger in age and less experienced among your family of teachers and educators, to define the spirit and precepts of our school, but they’re well-known: The secret lies in acquiring and assimilating them, and this mystery is, I repeat, revealed by love and devotion.
Religiosity and hard work—this is what our school bequeaths to its students; these are what it considers to be necessary conditions for the success of your endeavors in the present and a pledge of happiness and tranquility and success in the future. Keep these covenants, die with them. How hard it is, even to the point of tears, to see a young man leave us full of strength, inspiring great hope, and after some time we meet him again, only now he is no stranger to vice, indifferent to our holy faith, almost incapable of work! This is a sure sign that the young man didn’t have love and devotion to our school while he was studying here. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have so quickly lost his best gifts; he wouldn’t have been so weak when faced with temptations and trials. There is great creative and saving power in love!
May you have the living image of the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke before your eyes. By his meekness, obedience, love, and devotion, he gained the love of his first Teacher—the Lord and Savior Himself, and through this he comprehended His holy teaching, which is left to us in his Gospel. He was a beloved disciple and friend of his teacher, St. Paul, and entered into the spirit of the great Apostle through his love for him. Like him, may everything with you also be done with love. Then, through love and devotion to our school and its work, you will learn all the best things it can give you!