Recently, we commemorated the new martyrs and confessors of Russia who sacrificed themselves for our faith, our ability to come to Church to accept the Body and Blood of Christ and commune in Him. They suffered death and persecution in Soviet times, but did not renounce Christ. We thank them for keeping the faith. Without faith, no force or money could keep us together as people, countries or families.
In the final years before the October revolution of 1917, the situation in Russia still looked peaceful, calm and quiet. Other than the occasional strike or revolutionary posters, there were no signs of the great turmoil to come. But the Russian empire crumbled precipitously, without warning. Most saddening of all was to watch the formerly churchgoing people pinning on their red ribbons and entering the fight for "freedom".
I used to serve at the Metropolitan Cathedral. Its guard was a descendant of the Russian Cossacks. As a young boy, he assisted a priest at a church. He barely escaped execution before a firing squad - they let him go. However, in those post-revolutionary years when churches were converted into leisure clubs, he would announce to all who heard him: "Tonight, I am having a good time at the club!" An elderly woman objected, "It is a church, not a club!" In response, he declared: "The time of the priests is over. It is our turn to celebrate and enjoy our freedom!"
Even today, man's rebellion against God continues on an unprecedented scale. We have little faith in God, but we trust in technology. We hope that artificial intelligence will help us live rationally. We count on vaccines to return us to good health in the twinkling of an eye. We now have the vaccines and are using them. Yet we still hear from every direction, "do not go there", "do not stay here", "be on your guard", "duck and cover". Come a new pandemic - and the story will repeat itself.
A rebellion against God is going on in our families. No longer do we view family life as the service of our loved ones. Nowadays, people start families to have a good life in comfort and abundance. "With one's beloved, even a hut is heaven," some would say. But nowadays, most people disagree. They seek the convenience and resources to make their good life last. The result? Hundreds and millions of children are killed in abortions. Families are falling apart. People live selfish lives with only themselves in mind. They are lives that have no basis in the faith or spirit.
The Triodion weeks of the Great Lent are coming soon. The Sunday of Zaccheus the Tax Collector is around the corner. Zaccheus was a short man, and he climbed a tree to see Christ. Like Zaccheus, we have not grown very tall, at least spiritually; so we also need to climb a tree to see Christ. But imagine someone doing that in practice! Nobody will understand; everyone will think he is mad.
"To see Christ? How strange and irrational!" - the world would exclaim. "Miracles are a thing of the past. They are the stuff of legends and folk-lore," the world would react. Perhaps it will send us looking for truth on the Internet, as everybody does these days. There, we will find advice on life and friendships and a recipe for universal happiness - everyone having what they want without climbing any trees. Just look under your feet and not to heaven.
In this world where man rebels against God, Christ is nevertheless present. We accept Him into us. He enters our hearts. Is not that a miracle? We all need to have a sense of His presence. It is no accident, then, that the Church is calling to us with the words of our Saviour: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." And so we commence our journey to the Kingdom.
This journey will be long and difficult. We will need to overcome our flesh, oppose our pride, resist our momentary desires and struggle with numerous temptations of the finite world. So let us all hold on to Christ. He will always be with us like he remained with the new martyrs. In their weakness, He gave them the strength to defeat death. They martyred themselves so we could live in Christ today.
O, Lord! Glory to You!