Only now do we begin to understand the greatness of the miracle of which we are part. It is a miracle of love and kindness. We are also starting to appreciate the gravity of the human condition. Our whole civilisation is basing itself on comfort and convenience and rests on the promise to make our lives still easier. It spares no money to make more and more things for our comfort. But they are things of the flesh. They are not of the spirit. The life of the spirit is belittled.
Again, we are living in difficult times. Only four decades ago we considered our situation impossible: there was no freedom, preaching was restricted, and young people could not go to church. Many things were not permitted, some carried grave penalties. Yet our life back then was completely different from what it is now. The bans and restrictions are gone, but our situation appals us even more. One would be lucky to find a student in an Orthodox seminary who would not complain about the outdated Church order or someone who would not want to part with the old ways because they are becoming inconvenient in the changing world. We may change and adjust all we want, but the foundations of our church will be shaken. To many, the lives of the saints have become fiction. "Let others believe it, but we do not," they say. But what do we believe? And where do we put our trust? We trust our reason, our mind and our learning. We are conquering space and the entrails of the earth. "Man - how proud it sounds," we exclaim.
We are the children of this world and of these times. How terrifying! Yet it is also wonderful that we have come to church today by some sheer luck! Sin has corrupted us, but we are still here! Wounded with it from head to foot, we are at church nevertheless! Sadly, we have grown into consumers. We would like to take more than we give. When I came to church, there were some small children there, too. Yet all were fasting. They knew very well that a fast is a fast. There is never any harm in fasting, I tell you! Today, I hear a different story. People are saying to me, "These children are too small; they have just gone to school, perhaps they should take it easy and not fast". Fasting is hard, but so are many other things, like standing at Church, or praying, or living for another. Should we take away these hardships, too, and live for ourselves instead?
A true believer has a life in God. He knows that anything that He allows us is necessary for our salvation. The Venerable Isaac the Syrian went to prison for nothing, but he became a great ascetic. He came to his senses and learned to think differently. Elder Nikolai Guryanov used to say to me: "It is always good to be with God. Even in prison, being with God is a blessing." He knew what he was saying. He has been to many places where every day could be his last. Another venerable elder, John Krestyankin said: "I only started praying in earnest when I was in prison. The strength of that prayer was enormous. When I came out, it was no longer the same. Not same as before."
So what is it that we are after? How are we going to live our lives? Are we going live them according to our wishes, or base them on our trust in the Lord? Can we believe that He holds everything in His hands? Someone who lives in God needs little else.
If I am still hopeful, it is because of you. Friends, brothers and sisters, you give me inspiration. I beg you - keep your minds alert, keep thinking and do not just stare at the screens of your computers and televisions - you will find little truth there. Do not stop thinking, talk to God directly, and He will give you all the answers. Do not doubt it. Find beauty in each other, do not look far. Other places are nice, but home is best. Always. Do not think that someplace or some time you might find something better. Do not delude yourself. I knew people in my younger years who became disillusioned and went abroad to look for a better life. It did not take them long to realise that their new homes did not have the freedom that they were looking for. Paradoxically, there was a lot more freedom at home than they could find over there. The books, the art and the films - all were masterpieces, and they were being created despite Soviet censorship. The censors are gone, but so are the masterpieces. The key difference between then and now is that that our spirits were alive.
Today, we look more to benefit ourselves; we calculate our profits as we make choices. But the Lord said, "Just believe, and you will be healed." (Luke 8: 50). So how can we change our world? To quote Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov, do not try to shake the foundations, but be vigilant; take care of yourself, your heart, your family and kin; be an example for others, and thousands will be saved around you. Let us make it our rule of life. Our faith and our Russian Orthodox Church are the hope of this world. We should all become warriors and fight the enemy; but not the enemy outside; we must resist the enemy of worldly sin; we must struggle not to become enslaved, not to be told where to go and what to do. We want to live in freedom... But our kind of freedom will attract very few. Many more would prefer not to give themselves the trouble to think and explore; they would want others to come and give them instructions - first to this, next do that. Scores of people with the learning of this world no longer have the capability to think or to explore; they have grown accustomed to consuming the ready-made product. Ready-to-cook foods ate not good enough. They want ready-to-eat products packed in tubes and jars, with detailed instructions for every step of consumption. Their ultimate freedom is the user manual packed away in an attractive looking bag with nice smelling fragrances. It is nice, simple and smooth, and very relaxing.
But in the Gospel, we read about the bleeding woman who had suffered a lot in the care of many doctors and spent all she had, but she was healed when she touched Jesus' clothes. We also learn about the man who came to Christ as his child was dying. "I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord." Psalms 116: 3, 4). It is during such that we touch the Lord. We call out to Him when we are in pain, and we can no longer bear the pressure of this world that lies in sin. That is when we open our eyes and cry: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10: 47). In the Gospel, was it a rich man who cried? No, it was a blind man on the road. We are the blind, the deaf and the lepers of the Gospel, and we all need God. We are all here for this reason. We need Him because without Him we have no future. For ourselves or our children. We need our Lord Jesus Christ, the living God who said: "I have overcome this world" (John 16: 33). He is the Lord whom we must follow to the very last day of our earthly life.
So may God save you all for your prayer, for being able to get up early and come to the Liturgy, for accepting into you the Body and Blood of Christ unto everlasting life.
Congratulations to all of you.
At Christ's entry to Jericho, the biblical Zacheus, the chief publican, climbed a tree to see Him. Spiritually, we should always be at our high point. By overcoming our old selves, and not pandering to them, we reach new heights.