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by Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov
Christ is Risen!
In this world, everything changes: one season of the year replace another; first people are small and later they grow old; people’s moods are sometimes good, sometimes sad, and sometimes completely desperate. Only God is unchanging, for He is eternal and in Him there is no shadow of turning (James 1:17). God is absolute good and love. He wants to bring each one of us, who are created in His image and likeness, into this good regardless of our age, condition of health, or any other external circumstance. This good, in which we would be strengthened, would be eternal. We would enter into eternal life with God.
It was for this reason that the Lord came to earth and established His Church. The Church of God has been continuing His work for two thousand years: healing the sick, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and leading people to eternal life. But people, not being firm in the good, are very inconstant. Today’s Epistle reading gives us a perfect example [Acts 14:6-18]. Paul and Barnabas, who were travelling to preach, entered a certain village where there was a crippled man they healed in front of all. This so astonished everyone that people even thought they were gods come down to earth. They decided that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes and even wanted to offer sacrifices to them. With all his eloquence, Paul could barely convince them that they were not gods. A short time later, Jews came from Antioch and convinced the people to put aside the Apostles, because they were saying nothing true, but were full of lies. The people became so worked up that they cast stones at Paul.
These very same people first wanted to offer sacrifice to someone as a god, and then a short time later cast stones at him. This takes place quite often in our lives. One can render various good deeds to someone and he will be your friend and love you, but just try telling him the truth – I am not talking about maligning him – about his behavior or his thoughts and you will see anger, you will see that you have created an enemy. Everything we did for him for decades will be forgotten in two minutes. He will never remember your good; the supposed bad you have done him will become most important to him.
This is a perfectly common story. Why? Because everyone is a sinner and evil is inherent in us as a result of our fall. We therefore renounce good very quickly. But the Lord wants us to become strengthened in good, so that we would indeed become unchanging and inseparable from the good, as is God Himself. For this to happen we need to become Christians. For this, we need to learn at all times not to give in to the devil, who tempts us and wants to lead us away from this condition. He always wants to irritate, anger, and lead us into despair and despondency. We need to strive, for the sake of God, to be patient and courageous and not to give in to the evil that is offered to us by the devil or brought our way by people, but rather to overcome and reject evil, being sure to return good for evil. Then we become like our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel according to John, which we also read today [7:14-30], the Lord asks the Jews: Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? That is, there are commandments, but people still violate them owing to their weakness – some more, some less.Why go ye about to kill Me? Sometimes one person wants to kill another for no apparent reason. Someone irritates you: how I could kill him! When conditions are favorable – for instance, when governmental authority collapses – people rush into the streets and begin to kill everyone who irritates them. Here comes someone and one does not like the fact that he is wearing a hat – so one up and kills him. Or someone gets annoyed by one person and then meets another of the same nationality – “they’re all the same,” he says – and kills him not for any guilt of his own, but for someone else’s.
But here Christ comes to earth and asks: why do you want to kill Me? For nothing. Simply for the fact that He brought truth, that He brought love, that He brought a different way of life. How, of course, can one not kill such a person? How could it be otherwise? Therefore they killed both Christ, and Barnabas, and Paul. This is inescapable. It is very difficult for the world to endure such grace. But if we want to be Christ’s disciples, we need to stand firmly in our faith. Whatever happens, whatever circumstances may arise, we should not give the devil an inch of either our heart or our mind, so that we would be governed not by the devil, but by Christ.
Therefore we need to peer into our soul: is there irritability, resentment, despair, despondency, evil, and thirst for revenge? What do we have there: the desire to have it our own way? Or is there an entirely different spirit in us: meekness, mercy, patience, obedience, love, and forgiveness? If so, then good; if not, then what should we do? We need to repent, to ask God for forgiveness. We need not to accept this evil, but always to cry out: “O God, cleanse me, a sinner!” I do not want such evil; I want to be good; I want to be strengthened in good.
If we are strengthened in good, the devil will become envious of this good and will constantly attack us. If he cannot trigger an inner storm – let us grant that we can learn how to overcome our thoughts and feelings that are defiled and bad; this is difficult to learn, but it can be done; let us grant that we can do this – then the devil begins to attack us from the outside: all kinds of people will cling to us, find fault with us, torment us, and fabricate all kinds of senseless things.
People ask why the Apostle Paul was stoned half to death. Yes, he was a hot-tempered man, but he was also a very good one: he sees a sick man who has been lame from childhood, so he goes and heals him. Of course, it was not he himself who healed him, but God’s grace: he asked God, and God healed him. That is, he was a merciful and compassionate person. People ask: why did they stone him? So they did not like what he had to say? Then do not listen! Why did they have to stone him half to death and then throw him out of the city, thinking that he was dead, without even burying him, but just throwing him in the trash? This is all because man is given to evil and is gradually brought to such a terrible state.
But this is not the way we should be. There is no truth and justice apart from the truth and justice of love. Everything should be subordinate to this law. Because God sent His Only-Begotten Son to die for the sake of this love, in order to save man. The Son of God came to earth for the sake of love. Did He want to die? No, He did not want to. This is why He prayed to the point of sweating blood: O My Father, let this cup pass from Me (Mathew 26:39), but may Thy will, and not Mine, still be done. Who would desire death, especially one who was sinless, as was our Lord Jesus? In His humanity, He did not want to die; but, as God, He knew that this had to be done to save us.
Or the Apostle Paul: he was a spiritual man, who in his lifetime was caught up to the third heaven and informed in advance by God of his violent death. Why did he endure all this? He was a citizen of Rome, well born and educated, who could have become the high priest of the Jews. Why did he give everything up, labor his entire life, earning his bread with his own hands, only to go about exhorting people and preaching Christ crucified to them? He was moved by love for these people. Once he even prayed to God: Lord, it would be better for me to be blotted out of the book of life, it would be better for me to perish, if only my beloved people might be saved.
He loved this people, but his petition was still not granted, because the Lord cannot violate human freedom. The Lord so loves and respects each person that if he very much wants to go to hell the Lord will not prevent him. Is there a Church? There is. Does everyone know where the church is? They all know. Everyone knows that there is Confession. Everyone now knows that the Gospel exists. That means that if someone does not read the Gospel, if he does not go to Confession, if he does not seek heaven, he is making his own decision and will later reap what he has sowed.
Of course, things are difficult for people who have chosen the life of Christ, because since the thousand-year reign of Christ came to an end, the reign of the Antichrist has been raging in full swing around the world. One should not think that this is the case only with us [in Russia]. In some ways, the situation in France is much worse than here, in terms of the spiritual life or so-called freedoms. Here we can begin to teach the Law of God [catechism] in schools, but just try doing that in Paris. There they all just tell tall-tales to one another about religious freedom.
Therefore life is very difficult for Christians. On the other hand, although there are few Orthodox on earth, there still are some. The Lord said: Fear not, little flock (Luke 12:32). There is nothing to be afraid of. Christ came alone. All the evil in the world, all the evil in every person – He alone came out against it. Later, when He had taught His disciples the Orthodox faith and granted them the Holy Spirit, they also came out against it. How many were there of them? There were a total of twelve, with seventy more men.
Although they were killed, the number of Christ’s disciples only increased. They conquered this world, dotting the whole world with churches and creating an entirely new civilization on different, Christian principles. Who managed to place these savage peoples on the very peak of human civilization? It was only the Christian life of their ancestors, which so affected their soul and mind that they were able to create science, art, and trade. Everything that now powers Europe comes from Christ; there is nothing of its own in this, not even in technology or science. Why does this same science not exist in Asia or Africa? Because Christ was not there.
But now we have forgotten Christ and are quickly growing wild. All the “achievements,” all the infamies of Asia and Africa and the other hemisphere – we are absorbing it all, although there are places here and there where the Christian life has remained in place. And it is of course difficult for those who have remained faithful to contain all the evil of this world. But as long as such people exist, the spirit of the Antichrist cannot prevail, because good is much stronger than evil. Darkness is nothing; it is the absence of light. So the very smallest light – a match lit in outer space – will be visible for hundreds of miles, because it will shine. We see the light of stars, even though they are terribly far away, because the light shineth in darkness (John 1:5). If each one of us would become such a small light, then everything in this terrible, onerous, sinister world would become lighter and warmer.
If it is still possible to live in this world, this is thanks only to the fact that there are still churches and that in each church one can always find two or three people who are trying to live the Christian life. These people are the pillars that support the heavens that do not allow this earth to be crushed. Everything else is just darkness and evil. Christ wants us to increase the amount of light in the world. To do this, we ourselves need to be aflame: just as one candle lights another, so too should our hearts be kindled by the grace of God that resides in the Church. The Lord said: I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? (Luke 12:49).
We know that we are already at the end of human history. That much is obvious. People sneer at what was once holy: they either do not understand it or they look at it in a distorted and superficial way. Many people even consider themselves to be Christians, but take a look at their lives: look at how they depict Christ in their books, and then compare it with an icon. It becomes immediately obvious that this is not Christ at all, but some other fellow entirely who has nothing in common with Christ. There might seem to be a resemblance, but it is not the same. That is, there has been a replacement. But in the spiritual life, if you are mistaken by a single millimeter, you have already flown past. Therefore we need to make a particular effort to hold on.
After all, the Lord knows that it is difficult for us. The Lord also knows our weaknesses. The Lord knows that we were all raised badly. The Lord also knows that no one has really taught or engaged with us from childhood. But it was He Himself that chose us. We cannot claim that we came to faith through our own minds. No, the Lord somehow managed to lead us to Him, to attract us to Him. And the only thing that He asks us to do is to respond to His call with love and to try to be worthy of this calling.
Therefore it is no accident that one of the Apostles became a Judas. The Lord gives us a sign for all times: Judas was overcome by evil, he could not resist temptation, and he took the money. And not so that he could later come and say: a demon beguiled me, forgive me! If he had repented, the Lord would have forgiven him. But he did not repent, he did not ask for forgiveness, but went as far as suicide. There is no sin that is worse or more terrible. Therefore this is a sign and warning for us all. This was permitted by Divine Providence to show us all how dangerous the way is. Now you seem to be a believer, you are standing in church, and you have a decent look about you. But tomorrow you can give in to temptation and allow Satan to enter you – and then it is over, then you have become a Judas. And the last will be bitterer than the first, because this is much worse. It is better to be unenlightened, to be in the dark, than to know the truth and later deny it. It is frightful when one allows evil to take over one’s heart. Therefore, so long as we are alive we should stand courageously in our heart for truth. Then Christ will prevail in us. Help us in this, O Lord! Amen.
Delivered on May 1, 1991, in the Church of St. Mitrophan of Voronezh in Moscow.