«Lift up your hearts to the Lord!», we hear at Church. We are called upon to raise up to the Lord, to reach out to our true homeland, and to set ourselves free from a world that lies in evil, lives by its own laws and customs, and worships its own idols. We have only one King to Whom we must remain loyal all our lives. He is the One Who made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2: 7); He is the One Who is washing our feet, like He washed the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper, and, moreover, the One Who is purifying our souls of all the sin in them and brings us back to our senses. He is healing us with His Blood and His Body.
In the Scriptures, we find an account of a storm that broke out as the Apostles were sailing in a boat. Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14: 25–27). Peter, the most passionate of them, said: “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus said. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink. (Matthew 14: 28-32). When we see the raging storm and towering waves and begin to be afraid that we might drown, we forget that Christ is near, and we begin to sink for real. You can imagine how hard it must be to believe that there is nothing that our Lord cannot do. Likewise, we feel a great need in our contemporary lives to be confident of God's presence at all times. We must remember that whatever storms may befall on us, our lives are not subject to the whim of fate, chance, or good or bad luck; they are in the hands of our Lord. With this kind of understanding, we can survive even the worst hardships and tragedies that we have experienced or will experience in future. There will be hardships for sure, we have to accept that. The Lord is very straightforward about this: in this world, you will have trouble (John 16: 33). But He also says: "Take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16: 33), challenging all of us to take off our old selves, to lay aside our fear and confusion, and to follow Christ come what may.
Today, we should all be praying for peace. The Church welcomes people with all sorts of political convictions - right and left, democrats and royalists. They are all coming to Christ, and the Church has no right to act as some political institution or allow some people to say: "only royalists are welcome; we want the Tsar back, and everyone else is free to go elsewhere". This cannot happen. Instead, we open our embrace to every soul that is reaching out for the Lord and is hungry for God's love; we welcome every soul that wanders around in this world, cold and hungry; we long to give it some warmth and comfort. There is only one way in which this basic need can be met - through Christ and His love. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11: 28).
The Lord teaches us to be gentle and humble at heart, and not to engage in partisanship or radicalism. This is the last thing that we all need. The real war is going on inside us; there is a sin within us, and we are all called upon to defeat it. Let us all pray, my dear brothers and sisters, for peace to return to our lives, and for the turmoil to end. The only One Who can make this happen is our Lord, in answer to our prayer. He tells us not to be afraid. He says: "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28: 20).
As I observe all the turbulence and confusion around us, I ask myself, why this might be happening? We have yet to learn to live the genuine life of the spirit, not of passion, rumour or speculation; we all need to live our lives before the Lord in full faith that He is the only master of our lives. We still have not learned that if we all seek a peaceful spirit, thousands around us will be saved. It is all up to us to let peace and Christ into our hearts. If we can succeed in this, the turbulence will end. When the Lord says to us: "Come to Me; do not let any of your doubts stand in your way. Do not question yourself: "How will I do it? Am I worthy enough? Can I do it?". Tread boldly, the Lord is with us. "Understand Ye nations and submit yourselves for God is with us!" (Isaiah 8: 9).
I want to see your smiles; let there be brightness in your eyes; may you speak to one another with kindness, and give reassurance and support through all the difficulties of our lives. The Lord holds the key to all things, and whatever must happen, will happen. What we all need to do on our part is to keep the Lord in our lives, and to live as Christians. With the Holy Spirit in us, we will all choose to stay with Christ when it comes to choosing, and not with the temptations, passions, and madness of this world.
May God save and protect us all!
On the 21st of July, the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast day of one of the most revered icons of the Mother of God in Russia - Our Lady of Kazan. This sermon was filmed in 2019 after the Divine Liturgy on the day of the feast.
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