The young Basil studied at the Kolomna seminary, where courses were taught in Latin. He was small in stature, and far from robust, but his talents set him apart from his classmates.
In 1808, while he was a student at the Moscow Theological Academy at Holy Trinity Lavra, Basil received monastic tonsure and was named Philaret after St Philaret the Merciful (December 1). Not long after this, he was ordained a deacon.
In 1809, he went to teach at the Theological Academy in Petersburg, which had been reopened only a short time before. Hierodeacon Philaret felt ill at ease in Petersburg, but he was a very good teacher who tried to make theology intelligible to all. Therefore, he worked to have classes taught in Russian rather than in Latin.
Philaret was consecrated as bishop in 1817, and was appointed to serve as a vicar in the diocese of Petersburg. He soon rose to the rank of archbishop, serving in Tver, Yaroslavl, and Moscow. In 1826, he was made Metropolitan of Moscow, and remained in that position until his death.
The Metropolitan believed that it was his duty to educate and enlighten his flock about the Church's teachings and traditions. Therefore, he preached and wrote about how to live a Christian life, basing his words on the wisdom of the Holy Fathers. His 1823 CATECHISM has been an influential book in Russia and in other countries for nearly two hundred years.
The reforms of Tsar Peter the Great had abolished the patriarchate and severely restricted the Church, placing many aspects of its life under governmental control. Metropolitan Philaret tried to regain some of the Church's freedom to administer its own affairs, regarding Church and State as two separate entities working in harmony. Not everyone shared his views, and he certainly made his share of enemies. Still, he did achieve some degree of success in effecting changes.
One day, Archimandrite Anthony (Medvedev), a disciple of St Seraphim of Sarov (January 2), paid a call on his diocesan hierarch. During their conversation, Fr Anthony spoke of the patristic teaching on unceasing prayer, and he may have told the Metropolitan something of St Seraphim. St Philaret felt a deep spiritual kinship with Fr Anthony, who soon became his Elder. He made no important decision concerning diocesan affairs, or his own spiritual life, without consulting Fr Anthony. St Seraphim once told Fr Anthony that he would become the igumen of a great monastery, and gave him advice on how to conduct himself. It was St Philaret who appointed him as igumen of Holy Trinity Lavra.
Metropolitan Philaret wanted to have the Holy Scriptures translated into modern Russian, so that people could read and understand them. Fr Anthony, however, criticized the unorthodox ethos of the Russian Bible Society, which was popular during the reign of Alexander I. In his eagerness to have the Bible translated into modern Russian, St Philaret at first supported the Bible Society without realizing how dangerous some of its ideas were. The first Russian translation of the Bible was printed during the reign of Tsar Alexander II.
Under the direction of his Elder, Metropolitan Philaret made great progress in the spiritual life. He also received the gifts of unceasing prayer, clairvoyance, and healing. It is no exaggeration to suggest that St Philaret himself was one of the forces behind the spiritual revival in nineteenth century Russia. He defended the Elders of Optina Monastery when they were misunderstood and attacked by many. He protected the nuns of St Seraphim's Diveyevo Convent, and supported the publication of patristic texts by Optina Monastery.
Metropolitan Philaret was asked to dedicate the new Triumphal Gate in Moscow, and Tsar Nicholas I was also present. Seeing statues of pagan gods on the Gate, the Metropolitan refused to bless it. The Tsar became angry, and many people criticized the saint's refusal to participate. He felt that he had followed his conscience in this matter, but still felt disturbed by it, and so he prayed until he finally dropped off to sleep. He was awakened around 5 A.M. by the sound of someone opening the door which he usually kept locked. The Metropolitan sat up and saw St Sergius of Radonezh (September 25) leaning over his bed. "Don't worry," he said, "it will all pass." Then he disappeared.
Two months before his death, St Philaret saw his father in a dream, warning him about the 19th day of the month. On November 19, 1867, he served the Divine Liturgy for the last time. At two in the afternoon, they went to his cell and found his body. He was buried at Holy Trinity Lavra.
St Philaret was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1995. His relics remain in the Holy Trinity Lavra.
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THE ORTHODOX CATECHISM OF METROPOLITAN PHILARET
One of Saint Philaret's greatest theological contributions was his Catechism, still widely used today. It is clear, concise, and authoritative. Presented below are the first few chapters of the English translation by Rev. R. W. Blackmore, published in Aberdeen, 1845 in the work The Doctrine of the Russian Church.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ORTHODOX CATECHISM.
1. What is an Orthodox Catechism?
An Orthodox Catechism is an instruction in the Orthodox Christian Faith, to be taught to every Christian, to enable him to please God and save his own soul.
2. What is the meaning of the word Catechism?
It is a Greek word, signifying instruction, or oral teaching, and has been used ever since the Apostles' times to denote that primary instruction in the Orthodox Faith which is needful for every Christian. Luke 1:4; Acts 18:25.
3. What is necessary in order to please God and to save one's own soul?
In the first place, a knowledge of the true God, and a right faith in Him; in the second place, a life according to faith, and good works.
4. Why is faith necessary in the first place?
Because, as the Word of God testifies, Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb. 11:6.
5. Why must a life according to faith, and good works, be inseparable from this faith?
Because, as the Word of God testifies, Faith without works is dead James 2:20.
6. What is faith?
According to the definition of St. Paul, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1); that is, a trust in the unseen as though it were seen, in that which is hoped and waited for as if it were present.
7. What is the difference between knowledge and faith?
Knowledge has for its object things visible and comprehensible; faith, things which are invisible, and even incomprehensible. Knowledge is founded on experience, on examination of its object; but faith on belief of testimony to truth. Knowledge belongs properly to the intellect, although it may also act on the heart; faith belongs principally to the heart, although it is imparted through the intellect.
8. Why is faith, and not knowledge only, necessary in religious instruction?
Because the chief object of this instruction is God invisible and incomprehensible, and the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery; consequently, many parts of this learning cannot be embraced by knowledge, but may be received by faith.
Faith, says St. Cyril of Jerusalem, is the eye which enlighteneth every man's conscience; it giveth man knowledge. For, as the prophet says, If ye will not believe, ye shall not understand. Isa. 7:9; Cyr. Cat. v.
9. Can you illustrate further the necessity of faith?
St. Cyril thus illustrates it:
It is not only amongst us, who hear the name of Christ, that faith is made so great a thing; but every thing which is done in the world, even by men who are unconnected with the Church, is done by faith. Agriculture is founded on faith; for no one who did not believe that he should gather in the increase of the fruits of the earth would undertake the labor of husbandry. Mariners are guided by faith when they entrust their fate to a slight plank, and prefer the agitation of the unstable waters to the more stable element of the earth. They give themselves up to uncertain expectations, and retain for themselves nothing but faith, to which they trust more than to any anchors. Cyr. Cat. v.
On Divine Revelation.
10. Whence is the doctrine of the Orthodox Faith derived?
From divine revelation.
11. What is meant by the words divine revelation?
That which God himself has revealed to men, in order that they might rightly and savingly believe in Him, and worthily honor Him.
12. Has God given such a revelation to all men?
He has given it for all, as being necessary for all alike, and capable of bringing salvation to all; but, since not all men are capable of receiving a revelation immediately from God, he has employed special persons as heralds of his revelation, to deliver it to all who are desirous of receiving it.
13. Why are not all men capable of receiving a revelation immediately from God?
Owing to their sinful impurity, and weakness both in soul and body.
14. Who were the heralds of divine revelation?
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other Prophets, received and preached the beginnings of divine revelation; but it was the incarnate Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought it to earth, in its fullness and perfection, and spread it over all the world by his Disciples and Apostles.
The Apostle Paul says, in the beginning of his Epistle to the Hebrews:
God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
The same Apostle writes as follows to the Corinthians:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden things which God ordained before the world unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 1 Cor. 2:7, 8, 10.
The Evangelist John writes in his Gospel:
No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. John 1:18.
Jesus Christ Himself says:
No man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Matt. 11:27.
15. Can not man, then, have any knowledge of God without a special revelation from Him?
Man may have some knowledge of God by contemplation of those things which He has created; but this knowledge is imperfect and insufficient, and can serve only as a preparation for faith, or as a help towards the knowledge of God from His revelation.
For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. Rom. 1:20.
And he hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth; and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being. Acts 17:26-28.
With regard to faith in God, it is preceded by the idea that God is, which idea we get from the things which have been created. Attentively examining the creation of the world, we perceive that God is wise, powerful, and good; we perceive, also, his invisible properties. By these means we are led to acknowledge him as the Supreme Ruler. Seeing that God is the Creator of the whole world, and we form a part of the world, it follows that God is also our Creator. On this knowledge follows faith, and on faith adoration. (Basil. Magn. Epist. 232.)
On Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture.
16. How is divine revelation spread among men and preserved in the true Church?
By two channels—holy tradition and Holy Scripture.
17. What is meant by the name holy tradition?
By the name holy tradition is meant the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the Sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshipers of God by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.
18. Is there any sure repository of holy tradition?
All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith, collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and she is the sure repository of holy tradition, or, as St. Paul expresses it, The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Tim. 3:15.
St. Irenaeus writes thus:
We ought not to seek among others the truth, which we may have for asking from the Church; for in her, as in a rich treasure-house, the Apostles have laid up in its fullness all that pertains to the truth, so that whosoever seeketh may receive from her the food of life. She is the door of life. (Adv. Haeres. lib. iii. c. 4.)
19. What is that which you call Holy Scripture?
Certain books written by the Spirit of God through men sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles. These books are commonly termed the Bible.
20. What does the word Bible mean?
It is Greek, and means the books. The name signifies that the sacred books deserve attention before all others.
21. Which is the more ancient, holy tradition or Holy Scripture?
The most ancient and original instrument for spreading divine revelation is holy tradition. From Adam to Moses there were no sacred books. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself delivered His divine doctrine and ordinances to his Disciples by word and example, but not by writing. The same method was followed by the Apostles also at first, when they spread abroad the faith and established the Church of Christ. The necessity of tradition is further evident from this, that books can be available only to a small part of mankind, but tradition to all.
22. Why, then, was Holy Scripture given?
To this end, that divine revelation might be preserved more exactly and unchangeably. In Holy Scripture we read the words of the Prophets and Apostles precisely as if we were living with them and listening to them, although the latest of the sacred books were written a thousand and some hundred years before our time.
23. Must we follow holy tradition, even when we possess Holy Scripture?
We must follow that tradition which agrees with the divine revelation and with holy Scripture, as is taught us by holy Scripture itself. The Apostle Paul writes: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. 2 Thess. 2:15.
24. Why is tradition necessary even now?
As a guide to the right understanding of holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution.
St. Basil the Great says of this as follows:
Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction. But some we have received from apostolic tradition, by succession in private. Both the former and the latter have one and the same force for piety, and this will be contradicted by no one who has ever so little knowledge in the ordinances of the Church; for were we to dare to reject unwritten customs, as if they had no great importance, we should insensibly mutilate the Gospel, even in the most essential points, or, rather, for the teaching of the Apostles leave but an empty name. For instance, let us mention before all else the very first and commonest act of Christians, that they who trust in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the sign of the cross—who hath taught this by writing? To turn to the east in prayer—what Scripture have we for this? The words of invocation in the change of the Eucharistic bread and of the Cup of blessing—by which of the Saints have they been left us in writing? For we are not content with those words which the Apostle or the Gospel records, but both before them and after them, we pronounce others also, which we hold to be of great force for the Sacrament, though we have received them from unwritten teaching. By what Scripture is it, in like manner, that we bless the water of baptism, the oil of unction, and the person himself who is baptized? Is it not by a silent and secret tradition? What more? The very practice itself of anointing with oil—what written word have we for it? Whence is the rule of triple immersion, and the rest of the ceremonies at baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels? From what Scripture are they taken? Are they not all from this unpublished and private teaching, which our Fathers kept under a reserve inaccessible to curiosity and profane disquisition, having been taught as a first principle to guard by silence the sanctity of the Mysteries? for how were it fit to publish in writing the doctrine of those things, on which the unbaptized may not so much as look? (Can. xcvii. De Spir. Sanct. c. xxvii.)
The entire text of St. Philaret's Catechism can be found on the website, Pravoslavieto.com, or from The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes by Philip Schaff. The entire book is available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library