April 17, 2010

The Faith of the Myrrhbearing Women

"And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?" (Mk. 16:1-3).

Brothers and sisters! Can you imagine the state of mind these Myrrhbearing women were in? For those who lived through Soviet times in Russia and through the persecution of the Church, it is so understandable. In some churches, as in the outskirts of Kiev, this service (the Burial of the Savior) was performed at night. People made their way to such a church through dark streets. Anything could happen, you had to be careful of everything. Neighbors might hear that you went somewhere at night; and you could be stopped on the street. And the service itself in church and the carrying of the Shroud around the church could be interrupted by the authorities. One did not know if tomorrow, on Holy Saturday, this already semi-Easter Liturgy would be performed, because the priest might be arrested.

The Myrrhbearers were in such a state of mind. They themselves were in danger of being arrested at any moment. Even in their homes they locked the doors from inside; they were afraid of any knock, any little sound. Two days before, Peter had denied that he too was with Jesus, meaning that he was one of His disciples. And before whom? Before a servant girl, and only because she might report him.

Such was the situation. Their Teacher had been condemned and sentenced to the most terrible death, had been executed. And now it was their turn: as the disciples of the executed Teacher they were outside the law. More than that — they were probably being sought already. The most sensible thing would have been to flee somewhere, to hide. But instead of that, they decided to go while it was still night to the sepulcher which was not far from the place of execution. They knew well that the entrance to the sepulcher was blocked by a stone, which as the Gospel says, was "very great" (Mk. 16:4), that it bore a seal, that Roman guards were guarding the tomb, and that these guards were armed and especially vigilant because they had been warned that the disciples might steal His body.

Actually, in terms of reason, what these weak women wanted to do was not only impossible, but was just a mad risk. And yet they went anyway. How? Why? What powerful force was drawing them? This force was the Word of God expressed in the Law of Moses. And fulfilling what was for them a holy law, they bought perfumes and went to anoint Him. This required their conscience. And this strength of faith in the Word of God, strength of love toward their tortured Teacher, and strength of hope that God would help — proved to be stronger than fear, stronger than reason, stronger than everything else.

And what happened? When they arrived, the guards had run away in fear. And when they entered the tomb, they saw a youth sitting on the right side, clad in white clothes; and they were terrified. But he said: "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified; He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him" (Mk. 16:6).

Doesn’t the same thing happen in our life? The Myrrhbearers, fulfilling the Old Testament Law, the Law of Moses, bought perfumes and went to anoint His body, the body of Christ. And we, fulfilling the Law of the New Testament, the Law of Christ, must also acquire spiritual perfumes — His commandments: humility, meekness, peace loving — and we must anoint His body with spiritual oil (that is, with love and mercy). And His Body is the Church of Christ. This is all our brothers and sisters in Christ; and more — this is even our enemies. How often in doing this, we subject ourselves to discomfort, losses, mockery, and sometimes even dangers. And what insurmountable obstacles are raised by our cold mind, our egotism! Not infrequently we yield, we retreat, we are afraid to express ourselves loudly and openly as His disciples.

But if we throw off this shameful fear and only begin to fulfill His teaching, only begin to follow in His footsteps, the same will happen to us that happened to the Myrrhbearers: the obstacles will disperse of themselves, will fall away, like the stone from the door of the tomb. All those who would disturb us will run away; we will not even find them. Before us will be one thing — the illuminated sepulcher of Christ. And there will be such a clearness that all doubts will vanish. We will know what to do, how to act; and that which seemed impossible will become possible.

Let us from this day imitate the Myrrhbearers and not fear to fulfill the will of Christ, not fear to be His disciples. Christ always conquered, always conquers, and always will conquer.


Excerpt from "The One Thing Needful,"  
Sermons of Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

April 11, 2010

"I will not believe"

 "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe (Jn. 20:24-25).

What does this mean, his "I will not believe"? Is it possible he could not believe the other eleven Apostles, his brothers? Is it possible they could lie to him? The whole evangelical life of Christ, all His miracles, Golgotha, the death on the Cross, they had experienced together. And now this joy which they all had experienced they wanted to share with him. No, this was not a lie.

But He, Whom they had seen, was He really the same Christ? Was this not a vision or some other Christ? Was this not a mistake? And Thomas was afraid to lose what he had. And what did he have? This is what: during the years of fellowship with Christ, he had absorbed His teaching, the entire makeup of His life; and by now he was incapable of living any other way. It was painful for him not to have personal fellowship anymore with Christ; but by this time he understood that Christ came to earth in order to teach us the main commandment of God: love for God and neighbor, to perform it Himself, and to give us the strength to fulfill it.

In Paradise the first man fulfilled the commandment of God. The strength to fulfill this commandment of God he drew from eating the fruits of the Tree of Life. But then came the Fall. Paradise was lost, the Tree of Life was lost, and together with it, the strength for a godly life. And Christ came in order to give us the New Testament Tree of Life — His Body and Blood. "This do in remembrance of Me," He said at the Last Supper (Lk. 22:19).

Thomas knew the commandments of Christ, and he knew where to draw the strength to fulfill them. He lived this. Although he lived without the human presence of Christ, he lived in Christ. He was afraid to make a mistake. What if another Christ had appeared to the disciples, not the One in Whom he lived and continued to live? This is what his "I will not believe" meant. And on the eighth day after His Resurrection, the Lord again appeared to His disciples, while Thomas was also in the house, and allowed him to touch His wounds. And here resounded Thomas’s triumphant cry, which even now stirs our hearts: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn. 20:28).

And here are the words of Christ which relate to you and me, opening a new era of faith which will remain until the end of the world: "Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed... But these are written," adds the Apostle John the Divine, "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name" (Jn. 20:29, 31).

Excerpt from "The One Thing Needful,"  
Sermons of Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

April 08, 2010

"The Life-giving Spring"

Bright Friday
This icon has a wonderful and comforting appearance. Depicted is an enormous stone chalice, standing in a wide reservoir, filled with water. Above the chalice, holding in Her arms the Preeternal Infant and wearing a crown, hovers the Most Holy Virgin.
To the reservoir filled with life-giving water have streamed those who thirst. The unfortunate and life-weary drink of the water and become strong and invigorated. What a wonderful sign ...
It was the 5th century. At that time, in Constantinople, near the so-called "Golden Gates," there was a grove filled with cypress and plane trees, long since dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos. Within the grove there was a spring, likewise long renowned as a source of miracles. Gradually, the site became overgrown with shrubbery, and the water receded into the mud. Only from the dampness of the earth could one deduce the existence of the spring.
Once upon a time, the warrior Leo Marcellus passed the site, where he met a helpless traveler, a blind man who had lost his way and could not find his way out. Leo helped him get out onto the path, and led the man, weakened by exhaustion, into the shade to rest, while he himself went off in search of water to refresh the blind one. Then he suddenly heard a voice say: "Leo, do not search far off for water. It is close by." Leo, amazed by the mysterious voice, began to look around, but could find no water. As he stood, sad and pensive, the same voice again addressed him: "King Leo! Go into the shade of the grove, draw of the water which you will find there, and give it to the one who thirsts. Place the mud which you find in the spring upon his eyes. Then you will learn who I am, who it is that for so long has blessed this site. Soon I will help you to erect here a church bearing My name, and all who come here and with faith call upon My name will have their prayers answered, and will be completely healed of their sicknesses.
As soon as Leo, hurriedly reaching the appointed place, had taken mud from the spring and placed it on the eyes of the blind man and had given him some of the water to drink, the blind man immediately regained hi s sight. Without a guide, he went into Constantinople, glorifying the grace of the Theotokos.
This occurred during the reign of Emperor Marcian (391-457).
Emperor Marcian was succeeded by Leo Marceilus (457-473). He remembered the appearance of the Theotokos, and ordered that the spring be cleaned of the ooze; earthworks were built to isolate the stream of that spring from other nearby springs, and the water was confined in a large circular stone pool, above which was built a church dedicated to the Theotokos.
Emperor Leo called this spring the "Life-giving Spring", for there was revealed the miraculous grace of the Theotokos.
One hundred years after Marcian, reigned the emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), a man greatly devoted to the Orthodox faith. For a long time he suffered from edema, finding no help from doctors, and already considering himself condemned to death. One midnight he heard a voice saying: "You, O king, cannot return to health unless you drink from My spring." The king did not know of which spring the voice spoke, and he fell into despair. Then, during the day, the Theotokos appeared to him, and said: "Arise, O king, go to My spring, and drink of it, and you will be healthy, as you were before." The sick man acted according to the Lady's will. He found the spring, drank of its water, and soon regained his health. Near the church built by Leo, the grateful emperor erected a new magnificent church, where later was founded a populous monastery.
In the 15th Century, the Imperial City fell into the hands of the Muslims. The famous Church of the Life-giving Spring was destroyed, and its building materials were used to construct the mosque of Sultan Bayazet. The church site was covered with earth and crushed stone, so that the very foundations of the church disappeared from sight. The beautiful surrounding areas were turned into a Muslim cemetery. A Turkish sentinel, placed at the ruins of the church, forbade Christians not only to gather at the site, but even to approach there.
Little by little, the strictness of this ban eased, and Christians were permitted to build a small church there. However, in 1821, it was destroyed as well, and the spring itself was filled in. Once again Christians cleaned up the ruins, reopened the spring, and once again drew water from it. Even upon these shards of the former magnificent holy structure, the Theotokos, as before, granted hearings through Her grace. Later, among the broken pieces in one of the windows was found, already half-rotted away through time and dampness, a panel on which were recorded 10 miracles which occurred at the Life-giving Spring during the period 1824-1829.
During the reign of Sultan Mahmoud, the Orthodox received a measure of freedom to conduct religious services. They used it to erect, for the third time, a church above the Life-giving Spring. In 1835, with great pomp, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine, celebrating with 20 bishops and an enormous flood of the faithful, consecrated the church which stands to this day. Nearby was built a hospital and alms-house. Even the Muslims spoke with great respect of the Life-giving Spring, and of the Theotokos, Who through it pours out Her grace-filled power. "Great among women Holy Mary" is how they refer to the Most Holy Virgin. The water from the Life-giving Spring they call the "water of Holy Mary."
It is impossible to recount all of the miracles flowing from the Life-giving Spring and bringing grace to kings, to patriarchs, to noted as well as ordinary people. The power of grace acts to this day through the water of the spring. That power is personally experienced not only by Orthodox, but by Catholics, Armenians, and even by the Turks. 

April 04, 2010

Paschal Epistle of His Eminence HILARION

NEW YORK: April 2, 2010
Paschal Epistle of His Eminence HILARION,
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia 

Now are all things filled with light: heaven and earth, and the nether regions…
Let all creation celebrate the arising of Christ,
in Whom we are established.
(Paschal Canon, Ode III)

Dear archpastors, pastors, monastics,
and all the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad!

By the mercy of God we have reached the end of the period of the Great Fast, when we strove to purify our souls and thoughts by fasting and prayer, preparing ourselves for the great and triumphant feast of the Pascha of the Lord, the radiant Resurrection of Christ, the feast which the Holy Church calls the "Feast of feasts and Triumph of triumphs." For Pascha is not only the commemoration of the most noteworthy event in the history of the world; it is the essence and meaning of our present and future life. 

Christ is risen! In this lies the meaning of the entire Orthodox confession of faith. "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain," says the holy Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15:17). And the apostle does not use this word by chance, inasmuch as it is precisely in the light of the Resurrection of Christ that the fullness of man's salvation is made accessible to him. 

For believers the greeting of Pascha, which is an image of the life to come in the Kingdom of Heaven, has become possible exclusively thanks to the fact that we all abide in the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" (Symbol of Faith), which the Lord Himself has founded and established as the earthly site of our salvation. For our strengthening in the Faith and our edification, the words of the Savior resound: "I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). 

In the Church we accept Holy Baptism; we find guidance in the Faith; we have an opportunity to repent of our sins; we receive a blessing for every good undertaking in our life; we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is with particular clarity during these paschal days that the believing people contemplate the greatest hidden mystery of the Eucharist, and to the believers' eyes the risen Christ's presence in the Church is itself revealed. During these radiant paschal days, in our earthly life we already have the possibility of acquiring in truth the grace-filled gifts of the Holy Spirit, singing with one mouth: "Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus…" 

Let us remember that the Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ founded on earth, is a stranger to the spirit of division, schisms and worldly enmity. To be part of this Church is a great joy, but at the same time a great responsibility. And for this reason, abiding today in the joy of the triumph of the Resurrection of Christ, let us drive far from our life the spirit of divisions and schisms, the spirit of sinful self-love, mindful that there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). 

During these radiant days, let us remember the sick and the poor, the lonely and the lost, those who in their futile pursuit of false ideals have failed to find the meaning of true life — life in Christ and with Christ. Let us be good laborers in the field of Christ, and "thy Father, Who seeth in hidden, shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:4). 

I call upon all of you, my beloved: preserve the purity of the holy Christian Faith which has been given us by the holy Fathers; share the body of this Faith with those near and far; in every place and in every activity "see then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 15:16). 

Again and again I congratulate all of you on the great and saving feast of the Resurrection of Christ! May these holy days become for you days of radiant spiritual joy. May the Lord grant unto you who believe in His Resurrection strength of soul and body, wisdom, patience, consolation and love. 

Again I greet you with the words of the most joyous paschal greeting: 


Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad
New York, Pascha 2010