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After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways ... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church. ~St. Philaret of NY

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Immortality of the Soul by St. Philaret of Moscow


SERMON IX.
THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL, AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Preached on a Sunday which was also the Feast of S. Alexis, Metropolitan of Russia, was born in the year 1293.  He was chosen Metropolitan by the Grand Duke Simeon the Proud, and was ordained at Constantinople by the Patriarch Timotheus, 1354.  Having occupied the Metropolitical throne of Russia during twenty-three years, and throughout this time proved himself the friend and the counsellor of her sovereigns, as well as the light of the Orthodox Church, he died on the 12th of February, in the year 1378.  His relics repose in the monastery of Choudow in the Kremlin.

“He ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves."
– S. Luke xxiv. 12

The Gospel, narrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, among various details, draws our attention to the following particulars; that the stone of the sepulchre was rolled away by an angel, whose descent from heaven was accompanied by an earthquake; that the holy women found the sepulchre open; that Peter, and after him, John, having glanced into the sepulchre, saw the linen clothes of the Lord laid by themselves, that is, the shroud, in which His body was wrapped for burial, the napkin, that was about His head, and, probably, the girding also which was on Him during His Crucifixion.  “Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves."

What does the Gospel narrative mean by so much occupying itself with the clothes, no longer necessary to the risen Lord?  What does it mean, that our risen Lord leaves and preserves His clothes in the sepulchre so that they might be seen?  It means that even the clothes of the Lord were to be among the witnesses of His resurrection.  If the Jews should say, that the body of the Lord was stolen by His disciples; if the disciples themselves should think, as Magdalene for a time did think, that the body of the Lord had been removed by someone elsewhere; then His very clothes cry out against the slanderers and teach those who err.  Would there have been any time for him who had stolen away the body, to unwind its shroud and the napkin, and then to refold them, and to lay them apart and in order?  Why should he, who was removing a buried body, strip it naked, when on the contrary it was more fitting for him to cover the naked body, both for the purpose of its removal and in deference to the opinion of the Jews about touching the bodies of the dead?  Thus, even the lifeless clothes of the Lord proclaimed His resurrection.


And we also, who are now assembled here, have come unto the sepulchre of a servant and follower of Christ.  And this sepulchre also was opened by an event which it is difficult to suppose could have taken place without the aid of an angelic agency: for the wooden temple under which this sepulchre lay hidden for some tens of years, suddenly fell in during divine service, by its fall causing injury to no one, but only serving to disclose the sepulchre before us.  And what do we behold in this open sepulchre?  We shall not sin if we say, that we behold clothes lying by themselves, not the clothes of the body, but the very body itself, as clothes, as the covering of the immortal spirit, which he has abandoned here, when entering into the life of heaven; we see them lying in order, not thrown down in confusion, not rent in pieces, that is, we behold a body, which has undergone neither corruption nor decay, but reposes undefiled and peaceful.

What means it then, that the follower of Christ in life, imitates Him even after His death, by presenting to us His open sepulchre and the incorruptible garment of His body?  As the silent clothes of the Lord proclaimed His resurrection, so also do the silent and uncorrupted remains of this follower of Christ, recall to our memory our future resurrection; not as something unknown to us, but which, in the vanity of present life, is often forgotten.


If it were necessary to converse on the immortality of the human soul, and the future resurrection of the human body itself, with an ignorant man; then, in order to give him an idea of immortality, one might direct his attention to the very substance and nature of that which lives in man and of that which dies in him.  That which we see dying, is the visible, material body: and that, which lives in man, is the invisible, ethereal power, which we call the soul.  The body itself reveals its own mortality, because it is evidently divisible and corruptible: whereas, the soul, not only shows no sign of divisibility or corruptibility, but manifests an entirely opposite property in the faculty of reasoning, which presents the varied notion of things, in one, indivisible and indissoluble unity, wholly incompatible with the properties of a divisible substance.  The body dies while yet in the course of its life, and it certainly dies many times in its parts, daily separating some dead portion of its substance; whereas the soul, during the whole period of life, experiences but one continuous existence.  The body participates in life, as if against its will, being brought into movement by the power of the soul, and always weighing it down more or less, by its sloth; whereas the soul even when the activity of the body is suspended by slumber or disease, continues its own life and activity, independent of the body.

We could call as witnesses of the immortality of the soul, the best and greatest part of mankind, whole nations, even from among the most enlightened to the least civilised, so that in this case even error itself may in some way testify to the truth.  However sensual may be the ideas of a future life among the followers of Mahomet; however rude the notions concerning it current among the heathens; however striking the power of the spirit of darkness and evil over some of them who consider it a virtue to be buried alive for the sake of the dead; still even in this perversion and confusion of ideas and feelings, and in this predominance of the animal and bestial instincts over the human, truth, like the spark in a heap of ashes, is not wholly extinguished,—that truth, that after this present life there exists for man a life to come.  If the ancient or modern Sadducees strive to reject that truth, it is only because it hinders them from listlessly enjoying sensual pleasures; for the idea of immortality requires this mortal life to be in conformity with the immortal life of the future.

It would be possible, in order to convince man of a life to come, to force even mute and inanimate nature to speak.  For throughout the whole world: it is impossible to find any instance, any sign, any evidence of the total annihilation of however insignificant an object; there is no past which does not prepare for a future; there is no end which does not lead to a beginning; every individual life, when it descends into its own particular grave, leaves therein only its former decayed bodily covering, and itself rises into the vast and invisible realm of life, in order to reappear in new, and sometimes a better and more perfect garment.  The sun sets, to rise again; the stars fade in the morning from the sight of the earthly spectator, and rise again in the evening; seasons end and begin; dying sounds arise again in echoes; rivers are entombed in the sea, and rise again in springs; the whole universe of earthly vegetation dies in autumn, and revives in spring; the seed dies in the ground, and therefrom arises the herb or the tree; the creeping worm dies, and the winged buttery rises; the life of the bird is buried in the inanimate egg, and again rises from it.  If creatures of inferior degree are destroyed but to be created anew, and die but to a new life: is it for man, the crown of creation, the mirror of heaven, to drop into his grave, only to crumble into dust, with less hope than the worm, worse than the grain of mustard-seed? 

One might also turn man's attention from outward things to the depth of his heart, and then let him hearken there to the presage of a life beyond the grave.  Everything living upon earth, except man, following the instinct of nature, cares only for present life; except in the case when the presentiment of a future life works as in the worm, which prepares for itself a silken or spidery tomb, hoping to rise in the form of a buttery; whence arises that man even when forgetful of his own future life, strives so much for a so-called immortality in posterity?  Is not this bent of the human heart a sprout from the root of true immortality,—an irregular sprout, but one which shows the strength of the root?  Again, every human heart acknowledges, and the nobler it is the stronger does it love goodness and truth, notwithstanding that in the present life goodness and truth often suffer from malice and injustice: where then in human nature is the origin of this deep recognition of the worth of goodness and truth, or of conscience, if not in the deepest most intimate consciousness of that kingdom of goodness and truth which borders upon this present life by means of the grave?

But perhaps I am wrong to speak of this though even in a passing manner to Christians, for whom the future resurrection needs no investigation or proofs whatever, as a fact of certain, confirmed and acknowledged experience.  “For if we believe,” says the Apostle Paul, “that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” (I Thess. iv. 14)  “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” (I Cor. xv. 20)  If any one having this proof of the resurrection should choose to perplex himself with doubts as to how it can be accomplished, when the manner of destruction of many dead bodies seemingly leaves no room for the hope of their restoration; then the same Apostle not only empowers me to solve this difficulty by a consideration, grounded on the nature of known things, but moreover empowers me to express indignation against a doubt, which is an offence against faith, and does no credit to the intellect which has devised it.  “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat or of some other grain; but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” (I Cor. xv. 36-38)

Methinks that it is not necessary to explain, or to prove immortality, resurrection, and the life to come, but only to remind you of these important subjects, which, as may be observed, are for a long time of less interest to many than the veriest trifles.

The Apostles call themselves “witnesses of the resurrection” (Acts ii. 32) of Christ, though their ministry was to bear witness not of His resurrection alone, but also of His whole doctrine.  So important do they deem the truth of the resurrection to be.  And indeed as soon as this truth is confirmed, so soon is also confirmed thereby the truth of all that which our Lord did and taught.  But inasmuch as the truth of Christ's resurrection is important to faith, the truth of our resurrection is important to our life.  When this truth is confirmed, all the rules of a holy and godly life become firmly established in us. 

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (I Cor. xv. 32)  This precept which the Apostle pronounced in derision of those who either know not, or would not know of the resurrection of the dead, and which seems worthy of the moral philosophy of irrational beings, if they had the privilege of philosophising, this same precept would indeed have become the whole wisdom, morality, and law of mankind, if the thought of a future life had been taken away from them.  In such a case be not angered, my neighbour and brother, if thou also wouldst have become the prey of those who love to eat and drink, for if it is not worth while to reform one’s own life, since “tomorrow we die,” still less is it also not worthwhile to spare another’s life, which tomorrow the grave shall swallow.  Thus a forgetfulness of a life to come leads to an oblivion of all virtues and duties, and transforms man into a brute or beast.

O man, inevitably immortal, though thou thinkest not of this, and even desirest it not.  Be careful not to forget thine immortality, lest forgetfulness of immortality become a deadly poison even for this thy mortal life, and lest that immortality forgotten by thee, slay thee to all eternity, should it suddenly come upon thee, unawares and unprepared.

Say not in despair, “tomorrow we die," to rush the more headstrong in search of the pleasures of this mortal life; but say with hope and fear, “tomorrow we die” upon earth, and shall be born either in heaven or in hell; and so must we hasten to plant, and strive to nourish and strengthen in ourselves the germ of a birth unto heaven, and not of a birth unto hell.

What is the beginning and germ of a heavenly birth?  The Word, and the Spirit, and the Power of the risen Christ, Who is both our resurrection and life.  Receive this divine seed of eternal life through faith, plant it in thy heart with love, deepen it by humility, keep it warm by prayer and divine meditation, feed it or water it with tears of contrition, and strengthen it by virtuous deeds.

In order to destroy in thyself the seeds of the tares of an unholy life, and to live at length with the pure and full life of the risen Lord, thou must die to everything which is not His life, that is, thou must do nothing contrary to His will, thou must not live to the world and the flesh, to thy desires and lusts; thou must not set thy heart on wealth, nor be puffed up by worldly pride.  With Paul, “count all things but dung, that thou mayest win Christ, that is, the righteousness which is of God by faith,” or the righteousness “by faith, that thou mayest know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death", that thou “mightest attain unto the resurrection of the Lord." (Phil. iii. 8-11).  If thus thou wilt live and thus die, then shalt thou also, leaving in the grave thine earthly, corruptible garments, receive in heaven new ones, washed white in the blood of the Lamb, and on His marriage-day thou also shalt “be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (Rev. xix. 8).  Amen.

from Philaret Select Sermon, Elibron Classics

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Paschal Joy is Found in Faithfulness to Christ

Orthodox Life magazine 1992 (3)

THE FULLNESS OF PASCHAL JOY IS FOUND IN FAITHFULNESS TO CHRIST
By Archbishop Averky


And your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you (John 16:22) 
"Be divinely gIad... For Christ is Risen. O gladness eternal!" (Paschal Canon)

Our Orthodox Christian faith is that joy living in our hearts, which never ceases, that joy which is joy in the Resurrection of the Lord; Resurrection joy; Paschal joy.

It is not without deep significance, as that great Church Father, St. John Chrysostom testifies, that on the Paschal night and then during all the Paschal period the God-inspired Acts of the Apostles are read in our churches.  Clearly and vividly the Acts speak to us as no other book about the greatest Christian truth — about the Resurrection of Christ ”and chiefly contain evidence of the Resurrection” (Works of St. John Chrysostom, vol. IX, pp. 5-8).  From the Acts we learn that the holy Apostles, while expounding the Gospel, preached above all about Christ crucified and risen from the dead, a message with such a powerful effect on its hearers that thousands of hearts were captured for Christ.

That is understandable because humanity yearns for nothing as much as it yearns for salvation from those diverse sorrows which are unavoidably accompanied by the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).  Death is conquered by the Resurrection of Christ; the poisonous power of sin is trampled underfoot, and therefore, we solemnly glorify Pascha as ”deliverance from sorrows” (Paschal stichera).  That is why the heart of man is so keenly receptive to bright Paschal joy.  The plenitude of Paschal joy is, however, accessible to us only when we grasp the absolute truth of Christ's Resurrection, only if we are exclusively devoted to Him as our God and Saviour, and only when we implacably oppose His enemies.  It is not by accident that at the Divine Liturgy on the day of Pascha and during the whole of Bright Week, instead of the Trisagion Hymn, the exultantly joyful "As many as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ," which forms a constituent part of the great Mystery of Baptism, is sung.  This is not only because before Pascha, on Great Saturday, many catechumens receive Holy Baptism.  Therein lies its special, deep, mystical meaning.

It is true, is it not, that Baptism, as the holy Apostle Paul teaches us, is accomplished as a representation of the death and the resurrection of Christ: Do you not know, the Apostle to the Romans asks those to whom he writes, that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore, with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Rom. 6:3-5).  These words of the Apostle Paul are read at the Divine Liturgy on Great Saturday, showing us the mystical link existing between the death and resurrection of Christ and our death to sin and resurrection to new life in the Mystery of Baptism.

Thus, the joy of Baptism and the, joy of the Resurrection are, in essence, one and the same feeling — a feeling of great spiritual joy, ”joy in the Lord.”  This is the joy of spiritual renewal, the joy of putting on Christ, the joy of union with Christ as the source of eternal life, the joy of complete adherence and abandonment’ to Christ as our Saviour through His resurrection, which has given us life eternal.

If you love Me you will keep My commandments were the words that Christ bequeathed to His disciples as a final legacy and through them also to us in the Mystical Supper.  Faithfulness to Christ the Saviour, naturally owing out of love for Him, expresses itself in the keeping of His commandments.  Those who love Christ and who strive to be true to Him must in every possible way guard themselves against falling into sin, which is contrary to the Gospel commandments.  But the Word of God Himself teaches us that we cannot completely protect ourselves from falling into sin.  There is no man who lives and does not sin (I Kings 8:46) and If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves (I John 1:8). For that reason the Mystery of ”second baptism,” or repentance, which cleanses us again from sins committed after Baptism was established.

In spite of the fall into sins, due to the weakness of human nature, we may nonetheless preserve faithfulness to Christ as our God and our Saviour if we do not forget to offer sincere repentance, and that is the most important thing. 

What do the closing words of the Office for the "Departing of the soul from the body" — prayers so comforting for us sinners, show us?  ”Give him (the newly fallen asleep) part in and inheritance of Your eternal good things prepared for those who love You,”




From the words of this prayer it can clearly be seen that the most terrible thing is not so much sin, peculiar to the weakness of human nature, but rather apostasy.  Such desertion unavoidably leads to a transfer of allegiance to the camp of the enemies of Christ.  There we are in company with the servants of the Antichrist who are preparing for his appearance.

Every Spirit, said the beloved disciple of Christ, St. John the Theologian even in apostolic times, which does not confess Jesus Christ having come in the flesh is not from God, but is the spirit of Antichrist (I John 4:3).

This rejection of the saving mystery of piety — the appearance of God in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16) has since the time of its occurrence taken different forms in various heresies and pseudo-teachings.  But essentially they have always been the same — the distortion of the true Faith and defection from the true Church.  Throughout the whole history of Christianity the enemy of human salvation has constantly striven to contrast the mystery of piety with his own mystery — the mystery of lawlessness (II Thess. 2:7).

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the whole history of mankind from the appearance in the world of the Son of God made flesh is nothing other than an unceasing, persistent struggle of the mystery of lawlessness against the mystery of piety.  And in that struggle the enemy of mankind does not hesitate to resort to every possible device and subterfuge, and the further man goes, the more subtle become his intrigues.

We know from the Gospel how the Jewish high priests "slandered the resurrection of the Saviour," having bribed the soldiers with "sufficient silver" and instructed them to say that "His disciples came in the night and stole His body" (Matt. 28:11-15).  That very primitive and naive lie, not having justified itself, was subsequently replaced by other lies, the purpose of which was to undermine in people the saving faith in the great truth of the resurrection of Christ.

From those earliest times onward lies and slander, and all kinds of perversion and distortion of the truth have become the main weapons of the enemy in his deadly struggle against the true Faith and the Church.  The enemy of man's salvation — the Devil, finding, by bribery or other worldly means, tools for his use among the people, does not stop slandering the true faith of the Church, calling "white" — ”black" and "black" — ”white,” calling the truth — a lie, and a lie — the truth, skillfully sowing false belief together with true belief!

We, however, must not dare to forget that true Faith is only one, like one God.  Likewise, the true Church is also only One because the Lord Jesus Christ founded only one Church (Matt. 16:18) and not many different Churches.

It would seem that this was all so clear and understandable.

Until comparatively recent times this was so.  But now the enemy has been so successful in his intrigues and has so confused everything in the consciousness of the people that even in the case of believers — the one is gradually lost and overwhelmed with doubts, afraid to seem in the eyes of others "old-fashioned” and not ”avant-garde” enough, while the other, having completely lost his common sense, no longer tries to justify himself by various pretexts, but consciously goes over to the side of the enemy, having been made in essence a betrayer of Christ.

Only by the subtle intrigues of the enemy can we explain the widespread attitude of indifference in the majority of contemporary Christians to the very heart of Christianity, to true Christian Faith, to the Church canons, to the centuries-old customs and traditions of our Faith and Church.  Only the intrigues of the enemy can explain this cold disregard for and fearless scorning of holy things.

Genuine, interior, heartfelt faith in Christ as God and Saviour has grown exceedingly rare.  Only external "formal piety” remains — its inner power having been rejected thanks to the abnormal spiritual deviations of our time, revealed in such movements as the "Living Church” and the ”Renovationist” movement in Russia in the 1920's.  Light-minded scorning of the Church, disregard for its dogmas, and the loss of a living ecclesiastical consciousness led to the entry by representatives of local Orthodox churches into the so-called "Ecumenical Movement."  In Soviet Russia these same distortions led to the appearance of ”Sergianism" and subsequently to the "Soviet Church" which made common cause with the atheistic Soviet authorities, becoming a faithful servant of the godless Communists in carrying out their genocidal, hellish plans throughout the world.

All of this is exactly that "broad sphere of apostasy" about which our learned theologian and great mentor of Christian piety, the holy Theophan the Recluse, gives us an account in his commentary on the second letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, saying, ”Although the name Christian will be heard everywhere, and churches and church services will be seen everywhere, it will only be for show, but inwardly (spiritually) it will be pure apostasy.

Do we not already see just that?  Is not the service of Christ really only outward appearance for those hierarchs who subject themselves to both open and secret atheistic and anti-Christian societies and organizations, and through their activities commit themselves to fulfilling their designs and plans?

What are we supposed to think when the mouths of these hierarchs pronounce the name of Christ but their hearts lag far behind Him?  And not only lag far behind Him but following the orders of their evil masters they bind Him and His true followers and servants in fetters.

That "terrible sphere of apostasy” becomes wider and wider before our very eyes.  The spirit of "renovationism and ecclesiastical "modernism" — deeply opposed to the spirit of genuine Orthodoxy; the spirit of ecumenism — the recognition of equal rights and equal value of all confessions; and Sergianism — the cooperation with atheistic authorities and anti-Christian societies and organizations, rapidly seize greater and greater influence in all the local Orthodox churches.  The general renunciation of Christ begins in the name of Belial in the form of atheistic principles which gradually submit to themselves all the contemporary world.

Looking at everything that is now happening in the local Orthodox churches, at how their hierarchs go to make prostrations in red Moscow and lay wreaths on the tombs of the persecutors of the Church; how they strive for union with groups alien to true Christianity on the specious pretext of general unity; how the spirit of genuine Orthodox piety dissipates in them, and how the spirit of renovationism is ingrafted; how they even modernize the external characteristics of church life, right up to the interior furnishings of the churches and the appearance and behavior of the serving priest — is it not possible to recall the prophetic words of Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov: 

The times: the further you go the more difficult... Apostasy, foretold with all clarity in the Holy Scriptures, serves as a witness to how truly and faithfully everything is said in ScriptureThis apostasy is permitted by God: do not try to stop it with your feeble handReject it, guard yourself against it; and that will doFamiliarize yourself with the spirit of the times, make a thorough study of it so that as far as possible you may avoid its influenceLately apostasy has begun to act quickly, freely and openlyThe consequences will be most grievous. God's will be done!

May the merciful God protect the remnant believing in HimBut that remnant is growing ever smaller and becoming less and less numerousThe question of Orthodox belief, one must realize, is coming decisively to a headOnly the special mercy of God can stop the whole morally destructive epidemic, stop it, but only for a time, because what is foretold in the Scriptures must be fulfilled.

’’Judging by the spirit of the times and by the intellectual ferment, we must assume that the edifice of the Church which has been tottering for a long time will suddenly pitch violently and there will be no one to oppose or stop itMeasures being undertaken to support this edifice, borrowed from a world hostile to the Church, all the more quickly are hastening its fall; have they not already brought the Church to a standstill? .

We cannot expect the renewal of Christianity from anyoneEverywhere vessels of the Holy Spirit have finally run dry even in the monasteries, those treasuries of piety and grace, but the Body of the Spirit of God may be supported and renewed only by its own weaponsThe merciful and long-suffering God extends and postpones the decisive denouement for the little remnant which is being saved; in the meantime those who are rotting or who have already decayed, reach complete putrefactionThose who are saving themselves must understand this and use the time given them for their own salvation; for the time is short, and for all of us the transition to eternity is not far off.

We must reconcile ourselves to the position of the Church, although at the same time we must strive to understand it. This is all permitted from above.

"The elder Isaiah said to me, ’Understand the times. Do not expect improvements in the general Church structure, but be satisfied with what is left, in particular save people who wish to be saved. ”Let the one who is seeking salvation, save his own soul,” says the Spirit of God to those remaining Christians” (from Sayings of the Holy Fathers and Letters of Bishop Ignaty). 

Comforting words! This is nothing unexpected for us, nothing unforeseen, everything is going according to what is written. The Providence of God!

What does the holy Ignaty teach?  We must remember what is happening! Understand, so that we ourselves will not be carried along by the "spirit of the times" but rather ”withdraw from it,” and ”flee from its influence." 

And we do this in order to keep faithful to Christ the Saviour Who is risen from the dead and has given us life eternal! 

We still have our Russian Church Abroad which keeps its historical succession from the former Russian Orthodox Church.  The struggle against her has already been going on for a long time, intensifying in recent times.  We will not be too confused or disturbed by this struggle.  We will in every possible way guard and protect our Church as our last refuge in this world from the enticements of ”the spirit of the times" about which Bishop Ignaty speaks.

Let us not be afraid to remain in ”the minority.”  Most important for us is to be members of that little remnant of those who are being saved, whom the Lord Himself called little flock, saying, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.  And whoever, with his whole spirit, belongs to that little flock of those who are being saved has nothing to fear from today's apostate world, which will not have the power to shake in him the firmness of his confession, of his stand behind the Laws of God, for with him always is all the fullness of the Paschal joy — with him is Christ Himself Who is risen, the Victor over hell and death.


From The Modern World in the Light of the Word of God, by Archbishop Averky, vol. 1, pp. 361-369.

Entertaining Ourselves to Death

Saint John of Kronstadt

The theatre lulls the Christian life to sleep, destroys it, communicating to the life of Christians the character of the life of heathens. "They all slumbered and slept" (St. Matthew 25:5); this disastrous sleep is produced, amongst other things, also by the theatre. And what besides? The sciences, taught in the spirit of heathenism, worldly cares carried to excess, love of gain, ambition and sensuality. The theatre is the school of this world, and of the Prince of this world—that is, the Devil, but sometimes he is transformed into an angel of light in order to more easily tempt people who are not far-seeing, he sometimes introduces an apparently moral play on to the stage, but this is done in order that everybody should proclaim and repeat that the theatre is a most moral institution, and that it is not less worth frequenting than the church, and even, perhaps more so, because in church everything is the same, whilst in the theatre there is a variety of plays, scenery, costumes and actors.

Most men not only bear Satan's burden willingly in their hearts, but they become so accustomed to it that they often do not feel it, and even imperceptibly increase it. Sometimes, however, the evil enemy increases his burden tenfold, and then they become terribly despondent and fainthearted, they murmur and blaspheme God's name. The usual means that men of our time take to drive away their anguish are—entertainments, cards, dancing, and theatres. But such means afterwards increase still more the anguish and weariness of their hearts. If, happily, they turn to God, then the burden is removed from their heart, and they clearly see that previously the heaviest burden was lying on theit heart, though frequently they did not feel it. O, how many men there are who have "forsaken [God] the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no [living] water"! Men have very many such broken cisterns—nearly everybody has his own. The broken cisterns are our hearts, our passions....

From My Life in Christ, p. 324, 58. 
also see:
We are Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

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John-Peter Presson

Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 7:42 AM

Mystery of Palm Sunday

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St. Philaret of Moscow
Elibron Classics

Sermon IV.
On the Prophecy and Mystery of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday

"All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." – S. Matth. xxi. 4,5.

As it is pleasant to look upon the image of the sun reflected in a clear stream, where, if not so dazzling as in the heavens, still it shines with a light more accessible to the spectator; so also it is pleasant with the spiritual eye, that is, with a mind disposed to divine meditation, to behold in the pure sources of Israel, or in the prophetic sayings flowing from the Spirit of God, the image of the Sun of Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, although revealed not in so full a light as in the Gospel, yet in such outlines in which the attentive contemplator can easily discern His Divine attributes, His miraculous works, and His deep and saving mysteries.

The holy Evangelist Matthew himself has not deemed it superfluous in the Gospel narrative to show us the glory and mystery of the present day described by the Prophet Zechariah.  Let us read the exact words of the Prophet, which are somewhat abridged by the Evangelist:  "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King cometh unto thee; He is just and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt of an ass (Zechariah ix. 9.).  There are two subjects which we may consider here: the wonderful accomplishment of the prophecy, and the new prophecy contained in its fulfillment.

If even the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah had not yet been revealed, one might from the prophecy itself sufficiently conclude that it contains a promise of a wonderful event.  Who could have expected that any king should make his triumphant entry into a royal city on a colt, the foal of an ass?  And if even any one had thus appeared as a king, could one have thought that he would have been received with sincere joy and shouts of triumph, and not with ridicule and contempt?  From ancient times victorious kings have ridden on steeds; peaceful nobles, in the simplicity of ancient custom, did indeed sometimes travel upon asses, but for a king to mount a colt, the foal of an ass, that is, one born of a working ass, used as a beast of burden, and moreover a young colt, untrained, not yet separated from its mother, – was it becoming for a king, was it likely he would do so?  How then could Zechariah think of foretelling the solemn entry and reception of a king "sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass?"  How could such a prophecy be fulfilled?  Both these circumstances could only have take place in an extraordinary and divinely arranged way.  It is on account of the extraordinary character of the event foretold, that the Jews themselves, from olden times even unto this day, acknowledge that the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the meek king relates to the Messiah, or in other words to Christ, though they, poor men, do not recognize Him in the meek Jesus.

But if in the prophecy of Zechariah, we are able to perceive the extraordinary character of the event announced by him, then will an attentive investigation of the event itself reveal unto us something still more wonderful, and still more divine in its origin.

When a king has to make an triumphant entry into a royal city, the triumph is arranged by preconcerted measures and preparations.  But we see nothing of the kind in our Lord until the very day, almost until the very hour of His royal entry into Jerusalem.  Yesterday He supped at Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and as Mary anointed His feet with spikenard, He spoke not of the preliminary arrangements for His royal triumph, but of those for His burial.  There were many people there, "but they came not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also (S. John xii. 9.).  This morning He is on His way to Jerusalem accompanied by His disciples, as He was wont on other days.  "He went before," writes S. Luke, "ascending up to Jerusalem (S. Luke xix. 28.).  There are no preparations whatever; no one thinks about His enthronement.  "These things understood not His disciples at the first" (S. John xii. 16.).  All begins suddenly, and as suddenly is accomplished.  "And it came to pass," approaching Bethphage, and not far from Jerusalem itself, He issues an unexpected command: "And it came to pass, when He was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying, Go ye into the village over against you, in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat; loose him, and bring him hither" (S. Luke xix. 29, 30.).  Or according to another Evangelist, more circumstantially, "ye shall find as ass tied, and a colt with her (S. Matth. xxi.2.).  Observe attentively in how truly a divine manner does our divine King act.  He sees the prophecy, sees the moment approaching when it must be fulfilled, but as yet there are no means for its accomplishment.  He looks not with His bodily eye, but with the eye of His Omniscience, and that which is wanted is directly found.  "Ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her."  It is wonderful how the means are found, but none the less wonderful is the way in which they are used.  "Loose them, and bring them hither," says He to the two disciples.  "Lord" the messengers might have said, "how can we do this, how can we loose another man's colt and lead it whither its master knows not?"  Truly this might have embarrassed the Apostles; truly the evident impossibility of doing what was commanded might have provoked the disobedience of the messengers, as in another instance the meeting with difficulties was followed by their flight and even denial of their Lord; and then the whole work would have failed, and the prophecy have remained unfulfilled.  But in this case also did the divine knowledge of our King foresee the readiness of His messengers, and His divine power over the hearts of men fortified them against all doubts.  The same knowledge foresaw the question of the owner of the colt, "Why do ye loose him?"  This same power over hearts endowed them beforehand with an answer seemingly far from convincing to a stranger, yet one which proved indeed irresistible, "The Lord hath need of him" (S. Luke xix. 31.).  And the messengers took and brought the colt, knowing not to whom it belonged; and the owner of the colt gave it not knowing to whom, and for what he gave it.  Meanwhile the multitude, not by kingly order convoked, but "that were come to the feast" (S. John xii. 12.); not at the voice of a herald, but drawn by the glory of the resurrection of Lazarus, went forth to meet Jesus, and seized with sudden enthusiasm, instead of prepared decorations, they spread their clothes in the way; instead of royal banners and arms, they take branches of trees, precede, follow and welcome the meek King, quietly borne, without any royal pomp, by a colt, which no human hand had until this moment trained to bear any burden.  How came all these sudden things to pass?  Truly all this was done "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet."  That which seems impossible of accomplishment, was indeed accomplished that it might be plainly seen that it was the work of Him to Whom "nothing shall be impossible" (S. Luke i. 37.).

We see the wonderful fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy.  Let us strain our sight and we shall perceive in the event itself a new prophecy of a still more wonderful event.

What of a truth does the royal entry of the Lord into Jerusalem signify?  Wherefore so wonderful a prediction?  Why such a multitude of miracles?  What is the intention of such unwonted arrangements?  What is the result of these Divine works?  What is the fruit of so majestic, but at the same time so transient an appearance of the King of Zion?  Like lightning does the kingdom of heaven show itself over Jerusalem, and like lightning is it swallowed up in the region of darkness.  The people are as yet only preparing to go forth to meet the King, Who "is just and having salvation"; and already malice is taking counsel how to destroy both Him and Lazarus who has glorified Him: "The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death" (S. John xii. 10.).  The children are still shouting in the temple from the fulness of their hearts, and already the rulers and wise men, "the chief priests and the scribes, were sore displeased" (S. Matth. xxi. 15.), and from the superabundance of their malice were unable to hide their displeasure.  Today they cry to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee"; and after a few days this same daughter of Zion – that is, the people of Jerusalem – will say, "We have no King" (S. John xix. 15.); and the King Himself will renounce this phantom of royalty: "My kingdom," He will say, "is not of this world" (S. John viii. 36.).  Today it is, "Hosanna to the Son of David" (S. Matth. xxi. 9.), and soon afterwards, "Crucify Him!" (S. John xix. 15.)  Wherefore, then, this bright but transient spectacle?  Thou hast already said, I may be answered, "That all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet."  I said, that all this was so wonderfully foretold that the word of God might be known in the prophecy; and so wonderfully has it also been fulfilled, that the word of God might be evident in its very accomplishment.  But wherefore did the word of God precede, and the work of God follow?  When God, Who "spake and it was done" (Ps. xxxiii. 9.), "and behold, it was very good" (Gen. i. 31.), sends forth His word, that the work itself may be afterwards fulfilled, it needs must be that thereby should be produced some real, substantial, and lasting good, and not a transient vision alone.  Otherwise, why should the work of God have been undertaken?  Why should the word of God have been sent forth, and why should it have condescended to such apparently insignificant details as the age of the colt?  But perhaps these subtle questions already seem to be bold, though as yet they cannot obtain their full solution.  Do you not observe, at least, that in the glory of the present day there must lie hid a certain mystery, although we have not reached its revelation?  Can you make no conjecture concerning it, though you may not as yet divine its solution?

Having gone so far, I am silent, that I may not go beyond what may seem credible.  Let S. Chrysostom (Com. on S. Matth. chap. 66.) speak in my stead, and solve you this problem.  "Here," says he, explaining the mystery of the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, "the Church is signified by the colt, and the new people which was once unclean, but which after Jesus sat on them became clean.  And see the image preserved throughout: I mean that the disciples loose the asses; for by the Apostles both they (that is, the Jews,) and we, (that is, we Christians of the Gentiles,) were called, by the Apostles we were brought near.  But because our acceptance provoked them also to emulation, therefore the ass appears following the colt.  For after CHRIST had sat on the Gentiles, then shall they also come, moving us to emulation (emulating us).  And Paul, declaring this, said: 'That blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved' (Rom. xi. 25, 26.).   For that it was a prophecy is evident from what is said.  For neither would the prophet have cared to express with such great exactness the age of the ass, unless this had been so.  But not these things only are signified by what is said, but also that the Apostles should bring them with ease: for as here no man gainsaid them so as to keep the asses, so neither with regard to the Gentiles was any one able to prevent them of those who were before masters of them.  But He does not sit on the bare colt, but on the Apostle's garments: for after they had taken the colt, they gave up all, even as Paul also said: 'I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls' (2 Cor. xii. 5.).  But mark how tractable the colt, how, being unbroken and having never known the rein, he was not restive, but went on orderly; which thing itself was a prophecy of the future, signifying the submissiveness of the Gentiles, and their sudden conversion to good order.  For all things did that word work which said, 'Loose him and bring him to Me'; so that the unmanageable became orderly, and the unclean thenceforth clean."

So far S. Chrysostom.  Let us repeat the lesson contained in this mystery of CHRIST, so as to render it, if possible, more intelligible to ourselves.  The entry of the Lord into Jerusalem is not the mere manifestation of His present kingdom, but rather a prophecy and a fore-shadowing of His future kingdom.  His kingdom is not this Jerusalem, which shall soon be destroyed, nor is it the country of Judea, which shall soon be conquered and laid waste, but the Church, against which even "the gates of hell shall not prevail" (S. Matth. xvi. 18.).  The ass and the colt upon which He sitteth during His royal progress, typify the two classes of people over whom He is come to reign spiritually – the Jews and the Gentiles.  The ass bearing the yoke is the image of the Jews, who have long borne upon their necks the yoke of the law, "a yoke which," as the best of them confess, "neither our fathers nor we are able to bear" (Acts xv. 10.), and which it was therefore necessary to change for the easy yoke and light burden of CHRIST.  The untrained colt typifies the Gentiles, untamed by doctrine, and ignorant of the law.  The Apostles take the ass and its colt without hindrance, that is, the Apostles, notwithstanding all impediments, subdue Jews and Gentiles to the Kingdom of CHRIST.  The Lord mounts the colt, and the ass follows: that is, it is the Gentiles who first, for the most part, submit to the Kingdom of CHRIST, and when the predestined number of Gentiles shall have entered into the fulness of the Church, then will also the remaining Jews be converted and rejoin them.  The untrained colt submissively bears the King: that is, the untaught, and until now self-willed Gentiles, are soon trained by the doctrine of the law of CHRIST.  Garments are spread before the King: that is, perfect followers of CHRIST resign everything to Him.  Children welcome and praise the King: that is, hearts childlike in their simplicity and sincerity receive CHRIST in faith, and glorify Him by love.


Christians! sons of the Kingdom of CHRIST!  If we do behold the glory, or penetrate the mystery of today's solemnity, let us not suffer it to pass by as something that concerns us not; for in this case we should remain aliens and strangers to the Kingdom of CHRIST.  Does the Lord send any of us on any mission? then let us obey like the Apostles, without demur.  Does He require anything from us? let us surrender everything without contradiction, in the same manner as the unknown man, at the name of the Lord, gave up his property; let us also willingly give up everything, although it were at the cost of what is most necessary to us, as did those who spread their garments on His way.  Has any one of us walked until now in the way of his own heart? let him then, from this day forth, bow himself under the yoke of CHRIST.  Is any one thinking that he has trained himself by the keeping of the moral law? let him follow CHRIST if he would be perfect.  Let us all exclaim with a sincere childlike heart: "Hosanna to the Son of David!"  We will Him to reign over us eternally.  Amen.