Sermon on the Sunday of Zacchaeus by Father Andrey Lemeshonok

Without Christians the world will cease to exist

March 22, 2021

What can we say to God after He has given us everything? He didn't hide anything. He didn't say, 'Here you are, and this one will receive more, and that one less.' He gives equally to everyone. He gives His love. It has no human boundaries, no measures. It's us who always measure, weigh and bargain. God never bargains. God gives out His love so that we live forever. But we say, 'No, we don't want to live forever. We want to live for ourselves.' And how will you live for yourself in eternity? When are we going to change? When are we going to climb that tree? (Luke 19:4) Christ is here. Here, in this church. It's Christ, my children, standing invisibly and receiving your confession. It’s Christ. Here he comes, 'Take My body and take My blood.' Priests are only conductors. When Christ is here, we don't need to climb any trees. We only need to trust God and follow Him until the end.

That sinful man, Zacchaeus... (Luke 19:2)Today we heard a very good sermon by Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco. He gave us a historical outline... That [sinful] man... (Luke 19:2) What was left in his life?Riches? What had it given to him? Emptiness! Emptiness, as he was sick of everything. He'd tried everything he could. He'd got everything he wanted. What's the bottom line? Emptiness. Emptiness. Senselessness. And suddenly a chance pops up: Here comes Somebody Who can make a difference. Zacchaeus feels it. And all social conventions and barriers break up. He, an old chief of publicans, climbs up a tree like a boy to see Christ.

We, too, should go our spiritual climbing, but we prefer descending. Or hanging about. It's always been like that. Nothing new. We prefer our pottage of lentils like Esau (Gen. 25:29-34).It's tasty. It’s convenient. It’s fast and easy. Rubbish. It's all rubbish, my friends. Rubbish. Do you see how hard it is to make our way through [this world]? Last week the poor blind man was crying, 'Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!'He was rebuked, 'Hold your peace! What are you crying for?' Now that sinful man is climbing up to see Christ [as he's fenced off by the crowd].All human laws don’t work. All the laws of this world fail as they are built on sin. That's why when Christians find Christ, they live beyond the law.

They live by God's grace. It doesn't mean we may act lawlessly. It would be a temptation. We should understand that what's going on in this world is a stage play. A multitude of actors plays their roles. Do you see? And we, fools, believe them. Whatever they perform, the main thing they seek is your heart. So that all your attention is theirs, right? And where's room for Christ then? Where is He? Is my life not in His hands? Right? How can I find a way through this world and get what I want from God? And why doesn't He hear me? This is a struggle with the world to trust God. Frankly speaking, we are doomed of course. The world will never forgive us for coming to Christ. It will never forgive us.

Because the world hates Christ. Nobody in this world needs Christ. This world is a play staged by experienced directors. It fools millions—billions of people. Only Orthodox Christians can understand what's really going on in this world. Not from news feeds, not from Internet or newspapers. Saint Silouan of Athos said that when our soul prays for the world it doesn't need newspapers to feel sorrow for those people who have lost God and maybe will never find Him— in this world or in eternity. Just imagine what gift we have: Christ. But He is useless for this world. And we, Christians, are useless for it too. But without us, the world will cease to exist. Not because we're good Christians. We're awful Christians. But because flesh and blood without spirit can't inherit the kingdom of God.

Our life isn't simple. It's never been simple. It's always been hard. But it's even harder today. When I came to Christ in the late 1970s [in the USSR], it was clear: once you come to Him, you're an outcast. The world doesn't need you any more. You bring serious problems on yourself: [they lock you up in] a nut hospital and so on... That's how it used to be... It's much safer to be a Christian today. But at those times people lived—tried to live—for Christ. They never doubted whether to observe a fast or not. They clung tight to it, they prayed... Today, you know, we live a light version... We come to the service when it's half over— just to receive Communion. We're late? So what? We come for Communion, we receive it. That's our attitude to God. Mother Agape read us [Saint John's sermon] about Pharisees. Do you know their attitude to God? When God was mentioned, they ceased doing anything and stood in awe of Him. What about us? We're sure: we come here—we receive Communion. Just imagine father Andrey saying, 'Look, make 100 bows a day for your sins. For half a year. Then come and we'll see if you’re good to receive Communion.'Shall I do that? No. They'd say, 'The old man's gone crazy.' There used to be times when people knelt on the parvise for the permission. We can't copy that. If they are pushed out, today's people won't ever come back. When they drag themselves to church, we thank you, O God! As it's a victory. So we can't be too strict today.

We can't tell people what they are really like... We tell them they're good. All are good, you know? (laughing) The world changes everything. But Christ doesn't change. He wants us all to restore our birthright and get into the kingdom of heaven. He came, as it was said in today's Gospel, to save those who are lost and who are in peril. He came to give us eternal life. But we don't understand it. Don't understand what it is. We want to live now. Following what pattern? The pattern which this democratic world offers us? Deceased Metropolitan Amfilohije called it not democratic, but 'demonocratic.' Metropolitan Amfilohije was a great primate. He restored the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. He was a real spiritual father of all monks. So many monasteries [restored]... He hated that democracy because he saw how it proved its worth in Kosovo and other places. It's hypocrisy and deception which have nothing live inside— only lie and lucre. That's what it is. Lucre.

That's why we can't live as Christians in this world. Archimandrite Sophrony said that in this world we can only die as Christians. But die for Christ. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll be tortured. It's like you feel all ill and ailing, but you stand up to pray and thank God. It's like everybody rebukes you and hates you but you feel you deserve it. That's what to die spiritually is. It means we restrain 'our old man,' we don't cherish him, we don't grow him, and we aren't afraid then. We look ahead with a hope that Christ will lead our ship; that He will stand at the helm, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the holy Orthodox Church. And the Church will keep on telling us about truth, holiness, purity and beauty, about family, about love and labour. It will keep on telling us that we should be thankful to God for both grief and happiness and value what we have.

We see today that we can lose what we have. I didn't ever think about it but I see now we can lose everything and find ourselves in chaos. We should think before we speak. We should look for the right words to express our thought so that we really stand on the 'rock of faith' and are not easily swayed by others' opinions. There aren't any opinions in this world. People who have their own opinions will be shut up. Or killed. More efficient. This world won't let anybody express their own opinions. Everybody must only say what's prescribed, what's dictated, what's been paid for. But they can't pay to buy Christ's love. Save His love in your hearts and try to be in war with the Devil, with this world and sin. Such war starts and ends in our hearts and in our immortal souls. We should also fight for our close ones. Many of them have grown dark today unfortunately. Why have they grown dark? Because they didn't love the Church. This is what should be learned on your mother's lap. To love the Church means to see how to live. To understand the way of life that has no lie or falsity in it. And our love to the Church is lukewarm. We're sort of half-breeds.

Half-Christians and half-worldly. But I think we still have time to correct something in our lives. To work on it, the more so we've got the Lent coming soon. We have a vigil service tonight, and tomorrow is the Meeting of our Lord. A great encounter. Usually [in our region] winter encounters spring on this feast day. This time our Lord cheers us up in contrast to the world which only brings us grieves. He cheers us up with this wonderful snow and frost. We haven't had such great winter for ages. For ages. Do you see how happy children are? See? God cheers us up like His children. So that we are not despondent and remember that God sees everything. He looks at us and sees everything. Nothing can be hidden from Him. He sees through each of us. And we need to see Him too. So let's climb our trees and meet Christ in our homes.

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