The Great Lent has begun, and the Church calls on us to view this great fasting period as our inner struggle for freedom from sin. It is the battle of our lives, the Cross is our sword, faith is our rampart, prayer our breast-place and almsgiving our armour. The struggle is bitter, but it is largely invisible. We wage it for our inner selves, we fight it in our hearts, and the prize is the Kingdom of Heaven within us.
What advice can we take to make ourselves stronger? How can we best endure the hardships and keep our fighting spirit? We present a video of an inspiring sermon by the spiritual father of Saint Elisabeth Convent, Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok. We hope it will lift your spirit for the Great Lent and wish you a blessed Lenten journey.
I am here to reassure you. You have been standing here for seven hours with nothing to eat, and that is not easy. Yet, as one of our clergy has said, it is good to stand before God, even if it makes us feel hazy.
Being with God is a good thing, but it is also hard work. It is always more comfortable to lie down than to stay up and bow to God. We worship God all the time, and He never denies us anything that we might need to learn - to live independently; to be intelligent and reasonable, and not to act insanely.
So let us do what the Scripture tells us. Let us wash our faces and put oil on our hair - to look fresh, and not give others any reason to call us, Orthodox believers, sick people. I have seen others who are sick. But you are healthy and strong because you have God in your hearts. And you are beautiful. Without God, we would all be revolting.
And so there is no other way for us... Our long worship services will continue throughout the Lenten weeks. We will find them difficult no doubt. But we must endure. We must do our best. Now is not the time to take liberties.
Yesterday, I read a good text, an epistle by Nikon Vorobyev. In it, he draws a distinction between our wild dreams and our real lives. So what have we made of ourselves, in this real life? One woman calls herself an ascetic, but she cannot bear with some of her neighbours. Another woman, also a self-professed ascetic, cannot overcome her envy. Still another engages in self-pity. We all aspire to ascetise- once in a while, at least. But where do we go from here? In which direction? Higher and higher! The sky is the limit! Not so fast!
Let us start by giving our thanks to God for these holy days, for giving us the strength to come to the church and stay to the end. I do hope that we will have the stamina to keep coming and worshipping until Sunday.
Standing for seven hours is hard enough, as we all see. But in the Kingdom of God, we will stand for an eternity glorifying God. Can we endure that? Certainly not. And so we put all our hopes in the love of God of which we partook today. It is the love that gives us the courage to look forward to our future – our tomorrow and all the other days to come and accept calmly any unexpected occurrences.
In essence, every day that comes and every event that it brings leads us to the moment of standing before God. I imagine this scene vividly: here I am, inside this church, lying in my coffin, anxious to know only one thing: my next destination. It is the question that dwarfs all others. Losing a job? Losing money? Nothing can compare with that big question.
Am I staying where I am? Will my soul ascend to heaven? Will I not forget in my dying moment about the resurrection from the dead and the life of the age to come? Will I remember? These are the questions that Rise above all others.
Do not let all the other trifles stop you in your progress or capture your attention. Keep your eye on the most important thing. Seek the Kingdom of God, and the rest will be given to you. Our life is our journey to resurrection, and the Great Lent prepares us for it.
Are you all with me? Let us continue. You may find it hard, but please do not stop listening: let the words you hear sink into your hearts. Even a small fraction of these words will make a difference. But sin mars our hearing. It makes it a problem for us even to understand the message, let alone digest it.
But the beauty of our faith and our church still keeps us going. It gives us the fullness of life. In it, God can raise up the children of Abraham out of stones (Matthew 3: 9). We have the Kingdom of God as our destination. We cannot afford not to reach it!
But even if we hesitate, even if we are not sure if we want to be there, let us find reassurance in this prayer of John Damascene: «Grant me salvation, O Lord, Whether I want it or not! Save me all the same!”
I do not know any person Whom our Lord would not want to save. He wants to save everybody! And guess who will be the first to be saved? The one who thinks that he is the weakest link. The one who calls himself The greatest sinner. He will be the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Here is an interesting story, and very unusual, too. Let me share it with you briefly. I found it very impressive. Forgive me if I have told it before, But here it is. I heard about this amazing incident In the Pskov Caves Monastery. In that monastery, there lived a delinquent monk. The brethren cast him out for drinking. They pushed him out the gate. He lived as a vagrant. He stayed around for some time, and eventually, he died.
He was buried in a grave at the municipal cemetery. Somewhere off the trodden path. After three or four years, Father John Krestyankin Said: “one way or another, he was our Brother, a monk. It is not good for him to remain there. We must bring him here and lay him in the caves.
When they dug up the grave of that Hapless monk, a vagrant, They could not believe their eyes: His relics were lying incorrupt and fragrant.
God's ways are wondrous. I am saying this Because He acts differently from us. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. I am not asking you to become drunks or vagrants. All I am saying is that our human perception of an outwardly visible thing could be vastly different from its inner worth.