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A Sermon by Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok on the Beheading of St John

The Beheading of John the Baptist, a Day for Vigilance and Sobriety

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

A sermon by Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

Today, we commemorate in prayer the great prophet Saint John the Baptist. He directed us towards Christ. He put his hand on Jesus' head and baptised Him in the river Jordan. With his repentance, St John called humanity to a new life.

Repentance changes the direction of our lives. We have become used to viewing repentance as a ritual or a formality. "We have come for the communion, but we need to repent first," I hear every once in a while. Perhaps we do not fully understand what repentance means. Ultimately, it is a gift of God's grace, a reward for one's hard work, within and without.

Today after the Divine liturgy, we served a Moleben for the sufferers from the passion of drinking. It has afflicted countless people and is poisoning the lives of their families. It is taking countless lives.

For over 22 years, we have been helping some of these afflicted people at our farmsteads. But so many of them are not with us today. They were overwhelmingly nice people, but they have been defeated by an evil demon and are now lying in their graves.

We must find a way to help those who could not find a foundation in their lives, who have misstepped and panicked and are hiding from despair behind a wine glass, or a syringe with drugs. They are too afraid of living in the full understanding of their sin. They are dreading change, so they have chosen to flee. But no Christian can allow themselves to despair, waver or flee. And, as Christians, we do not look at these poor men with condemnation, but with empathy: they have lost their liberty through lack of grit.

In these 22 years, we have seen a frightening number of human tragedies. We have witnessed the unimaginable depth of human suffering. New people keep coming every day. We have received thousands of people, without any exaggeration. In their lives, they have lived through tragedies of broken homes, perhaps the ultimate loss that one can have in one's life. But not one of these people has been lost for God: He is bringing them to the Church to give them a chance of a new life.

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I happened to be one of the first priests in Minsk who began to read the Akathist before the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos "Undrinkable Chalice" as I was still serving in the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral. The passion for drinking has always been a relevant and hot topic for me. I have seen so many kind, generous, hard-working and otherwise good people lose their ability to work and, ultimately, their reason because of drinking. It was always a horrible sight. But we have no control over others. We can keep no one on a short leash - or maybe we can, but only for a little while. It is up to the afflicted person himself to ask for God's help in defeating their passion, and do so voluntarily and decisively.

We are fortunate to have the blessing to serve the Moleben on a feast such as today. In the Gospel readings today, we heard about a horrible crime committed during a feast in King Herod's palace at the behest of a young woman who had danced before the King and his intoxicated guests indulging in good wine and food. (Mark 6: 21-29).

Herod did not want the death of John the Baptist, but he was weak. He did not stop before the horrible murder of the righteous John. So next time when we sit down at a table and raise a glass to drink to somebody's health, let us be careful not to let the celebration turn into something different. I am not opposed to alcohol, but I hate to see people lose their face, human dignity and reason when they drink to excess. So many tragedies, sorrows and deaths have happened because of it.

We speak about the tragedy of war and its casualties. But statistics tell us that ten times as many people have been dying from alcohol. Countless children have not been born because of abortions, and scores of young people and adolescents are dying prematurely because of heavy drinking. They are shocking numbers.

As we commemorate Saint John the Baptist, we realise that this feast is about repentance. We must come to the Lord with compunction, and also with a sober mind. For it is only by keeping vigil and opposing sin within ourselves that we can follow Christ, without straying away from His path and meeting our death.

Today is a day of fasting. Even though it is a Sunday and not a strict fast we still must abstain from meat and dairy. We must remember to live by the Church calendar. Many might say: "I say my prayers every day, so why should it still matter?" But it is another trap of the devil. As believers and members of the Church, we must live by the Church Calendar as a part of its rule, and not as we please. Otherwise, we may stray too far and not meet God in our lives.

Preached after the Divine Liturgy on the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist on 11.09.2022.

September 11, 2023
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