Our journey in the Christian faith never stops. We have travelled many roads - narrow, winding and dead-end ones and have ended up further away from our Lord than we began. We may have suffered many losses on our way. Only now are we beginning to find, by trial and error, that only true way of following Christ? This way is very narrow, difficult and demanding. When we were following all those other roads, we were doing what we pleased but achieved very little. Perhaps we have learned enough by now to know that there is only one direction to follow, and one true goal to keep in sight. We are still tempted to look around and turn away, but we know that our best bet is to stay on course and to follow God's way. At our lowest points, we might feel as if we no longer have the energy to continue, and then the Lord himself will remind us: "I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28: 20). He will say to us: "My power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12: 9). These are the moments of a fundamental transition - from living as self-serving and pleasure-seeking individuals to living by our faith.
In the Scripture, the Lord asks a blind man: Do you believe that I can make you see? "Lord, I believe," the man replied, and opened his eyes. What about ourselves? Do we believe in our ability to renew ourselves? Are we willing to be renewed? What does it mean to us to be the followers of Christ? Could it be that every step of the way of Christ will bring us pain and sorrow, so our souls may be healed? For the Lord has said: "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16: 33). Are we not afraid of following the way of Christ?
Our old selves are apprehensive. Moreover, Christ's apostles, his own Disciples were having arguments over who was more senior than the other, and who was to sit on the right and on the left of Him. As they were bickering, the Lord was already on the cross. All his thoughts were there. He was saying: "The Son of Man is going up to Jerusalem to be mocked and flogged and crucified! Any prophecy such as this could only be comprehended by someone who had faith.
Imagine telling someone outside the Church that the participants in the Holy Communion receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. They would not believe it. However, if people believed that that this was indeed His Body and His blood, they would have no fear. But they do not. Just imagine the sadness of the situation: someone is taking communion but does not believe that he is receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and that not a hair of their head would perish without His will. Can you understand how hard it must be for Him to humble Himself so much as to let an unbelieving communicant take in His blood and His body? For Him, this must be His way of showing us His genuine love of man, a love that is all-forgiving and all-prevailing. Such love may be beyond the understanding of those of us who are living by the laws of this world.
The laws of this world say: "eye for an eye" and "tooth for a tooth"; we invoke them when we claim a commensurate reward from our neighbour for any favour that we did them. They embolden us to say to our Lord: "Look what I have done for you, and how much reading I have done at church worship. I want my prize." But the Lord always seeks to give us more, and better. We have the habit of measuring God's goodness in worldly terms, which are necessarily limited, superficial and extrinsic; rarely do we appreciate the genuine and intrinsic value of His benevolence. The Lord thinks and acts differently; He will allow us to experience pain, torment and ailments so that we can grow in our ability to love and forgive, which we will need to enter the Kingdom of God. Some saints understood this thinking very well and had a very different attitude to life. Remember Serafim of Sarov, his bag of stones and his famous words, 'Oppressing my tormentor"? The saints could exercise so much self-control and reign in their flesh so much that acquired life in the spirit. Unlike them, most of us are still living from the soul. Living from the soul is also a good thing, but we should not stop in our progress. At some stage, we all need to make the same transition from living from the soul to living in the spirit. Some of us might pretend to be heroes, but not for very long. We all have fear because our flesh and blood dictate some very different principles of life.
The resistance that we are facing is a reflection of our inner struggle between acting on our immediate desires and doing what we genuinely need and must do. No-one can sit on the fence. Everyone must make their choice. What shall we choose? From a secular perspective, we might imagine as a good death dying momentarily while walking in the street, or in one's sleep. A death that is quick, painless and not in long-term care. But the saints have a different understanding. They say that to purify oneself one has to suffer, and wither away; one's bones and the flesh should be dried out by sorrow. Would anyone of us dare to say, "I agree to suffer in my illness, as long as the Lord can take me to the Kingdom of Heaven." Most of us will be unprepared.
The Lord knows very well that we are still too weak to stand up for our faith. He is being soft on us, by not allowing us to be slain, crucified or tormented for our faith. A pestilence from a tiny virus has been enough to show to all of us our true situation, the strength of our faith and the firmness of our foundations. What if real persecution starts? Spiritually, we are still as immature as little children; we are not prepared to face serious hardships and trials, so let us all be thankful to God for understanding our weakness and for his mercy on us sinners.
Let us praise our Lord as we continue our journey for His great mercy on us, the His infinite love that He bestows on us at Church, as we pray and relate to Him. All of this is truly incredible. As the Scripture writes,... where sin increased, grace increased all the more(Romans 5:20).
May God save and protect all of us.
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.
We should all keep the fire of life within us, and not let it die out. A sparkle of this fire is present in each of us, we just need to let it grow. The Divine Liturgy is a shared blessing. We celebrate the liturgy just as we live our lives.