April 4, 2023

Sixth Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent (St. Luke of Simferopol)

The Quiet Light of the Knowledge of God in the Hearts of the Venerables

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

So the end of the Holy Forty Day Fast is approaching. Let us gather our thoughts and consider whether the goal of holy fasting has been achieved in us?

Why is Great Lent established, obligatory for all Christians? So that we can prepare for a worthy meeting of the greatest day in the history of mankind, the day of the salvation of the human race, the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ after His death on the cross.

Three weeks before the start of Great Lent, the Holy Church carefully begins to prepare us for this meeting, reminding us of the Gospel parables and urging us to delve into their meaning, and then, on the Sundays of Lent, recalling the events of Church history, in particular, those associated with the names of great saints.

In the fifth week, we are confronted with an amazing image of a woman, who was previously an abyss of sin and impurity, and then became an angel in the flesh, the image of Saint Mary of Egypt. Suddenly turned by God from the pernicious path of a depraved and prodigal life to the path of salvation, she became for all of us a model of repentance.

She did not know the Holy Scriptures, she never read it, she went into the desert without books, and yet, as the elder Zosimas tells us, he was impressed with her deep knowledge of the Scriptures. God Himself taught her, for in her heart she heard the words of the Holy Scriptures. God gave her insight, which ordinary people do not have: she knew the name of Venerable Zosimas who came to her, she knew that he was a presbyter. She showed us the most amazing of all examples of repentance, calling us to this path. For when we hear about her, about her painful life in the desert, then we should be ashamed if we do not repent of anything, if we do not strive for the purification of our hearts.

Let us recall another example of great repentance, which was performed by the miracle worker and great faster, the hermit James. Having committed two terrible and grave sins, he fell into despair and wanted to go into the world from his former life. But the Lord set him on the path of repentance, and he lived for ten years in a cave filled with dead human bones, mourning his terrible sin with bloody tears. And he was pardoned by God, Who returned to him the gift of wonderworking.

These radiant examples of the repentance of the saints encourage us to repent of our sins. And today I want to tell you a few words about the Venerables in general. Venerables are holy monks and hermits. Unfortunately, depraved people have long been sharply and rudely condemning all monks, even calling them parasites, contemptuously saying that they only care about saving their own souls, that they do not care about the suffering and evil of the world.

Is there any truth in this? Oh no! This is a gross lie, for those who inhabited the monasteries of ancient Egypt, Palestine, and then our Russian country, carried the greatest labors in their service to God. Yes, they were really only concerned with cleansing their own hearts. Yes, they really sought only to enter into personal communion with God. Isn't it important, isn't it necessary for the world? Yes, this is deeply important, for they, having dedicated their whole life to God, exhausting their flesh in prayer and fasting, have become truly great. The Apostle Paul spoke of them in the Epistle to the Hebrews: the whole world was not worthy of them (see Heb. 11:38). And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said that they are the light of the world, that they are the salt of the earth (see Matt. 5:13-14).

What profound truth there is in this! With their angelic life, they shine in the darkness of the sinful world, like the stars of heaven, showing us the path we must follow. They provided an image of what every Christian should be, at least in a small way. The amazing words of our Lord Jesus Christ came true in them: “Truly, truly, I say to you: he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do, and greater than these he will do” (John 14:12).

Those who read these words for the first time often have doubts: how can anyone really create miracles like those of Christ, and even greater than them? Yes, do not doubt it, for there were great saints who did such things as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself did. Many saints raised the dead, for example, Saint Makarios the Great, Saint Euthymios the Great, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, who resurrected a boy who was brought to him dead by his father.

There were also such great ones who, like the Lord Jesus Christ, fed four thousand and five thousand people with a little bread, having nothing, yet miraculously fed many hundreds of hungry people who came to the monastery. Miraculously, through prayer, their monastery barns were filled with grain and bread when the brethren were starving and were ready to scatter so as not to die of hunger. Don't you remember similar miracles performed by Saints Sergius of Radonezh, Makarios the Great, Euthymios the Great, Savvas the Sanctified and many others. Suddenly, with their prayer, they filled the empty bins and fed not only the brethren, but also the hungry, the poor, who came to the monastery. And Saint Theodosios the Great truly performed Christ's miracle of feeding the people in the monastery, in which the stocks of bread were completely depleted.

Our forefathers before their fall in paradise had power over all animals. This power was lost by them when the human race was corrupted. But there were great people who again restored this power. Saints Seraphim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh fed bears from their hands, and the bears obeyed them, understood them. Lions served Saints Gerasimos and Kyriakos all the days of their lives. And Venerable Zosimas, who later became a martyr, lived among flocks of wild animals. He lived with them, talked with them, they loved him, understood him, and when the hour of his torment came, a huge lion came running from the desert and put an end to the torture.

The Venerable Savvas came to a deserted cave where a lion lived, and settled down there. When the lion returned, he did not touch the Saint, but only began to drag him by the half of his cassock away from the cave. Saint Savvas offered the lion to live together. “If you don’t want to live together,” he said, “then leave, for before God I am better than you.” And the lion left. A lion gave way to Venerable John the Hermit. So our venerable fathers restored the power over the animals, which was lost by our forefathers.

How many amazing examples of what we should follow have been shown to us by other Venerables. The great wonderworker Makarios of Egypt, who resurrected the dead, was slandered by a harlot who assured that she was expecting a child from him. He was then young, and this was believed, and the whole village, outraged by his imaginary crime, pounced on him, and he was beaten half to death, but did not mind the slander. When the time came, the slanderer could not give birth for five days, tormented and tortured in childbirth, until she repented that she had falsely accused the righteous. The inhabitants of the village were afraid and went to the monk to ask for forgiveness, and he fled into the wilderness so that they would not praise him, so that they would not ask for forgiveness.

And how great was Venerable Doulos, who all his life endured reproach from the brethren who did not love him, and with great meekness treated all those who were at enmity against him.

And for those of us who suffer from illnesses, fall into despondency, let the Venerable Syncletike be an example, who, until very old age, led a strict ascetic life and suffered a terrible unbearable illness, so that even those around her felt the stench emanating from her rotting flesh. Let the Venerable Pimen of the Caves be an example to us, who from childhood lay in a stinking illness, but he was miraculously tonsured a monk by the Angels of God, who appeared to him under the guise of an abbot and brethren. Let us, who care so much about our flesh, groom and warm it, over-nourish it, cover it with rich clothes, be an example of the amazing people we read about in the lives of the Saints. Venerable Daniel the Stylite, and in the most severe winter, when icy winds blew and thick snow fell, did not descend from his pillar and stood for two days under a blizzard, covered with one rag and almost frozen; the holy fool Procopius of Ustyug, who, when asked how he spent a winter night in one rag, barefoot, replied: “Yes, I almost died from the cold, but a heavenly angel with a flower of paradise touched me, and I felt warmth in all my members.”

Today we celebrate the memory of the great saint, Patriarch Nikephoros of Constantinople. And yesterday we celebrated the memory of the Venerable Theophan of Sygria. They lived during the time of Emperor Leo, a fierce persecutor of iconophiles. They were confessors and endured the most severe punishments. And then one day, when Theophan was instructing his disciples, he unexpectedly ordered them to light candles, bring a censer, and began to incense, then he bowed to the ground and, to the surprised question of the disciples, to whom he was bowing with lit candles, Saint Theophan answered: “Here is the sea the holy Patriarch Nikephoros is sailing into exile. I bow to him." And the Patriarch, who was on the ship at the same time, made a deep bow and, when asked to whom he bowed, answered: “I bow to the Monk Theophan, who greeted me.”

From the life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, it is known how, while having a meal with the brethren, he unexpectedly greeted Saint Stephen of Perm with an earthly bow when he made a stop thirty-five miles from the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, following to Moscow. With this he answered the greeting of the Saint.

This is the kind of insight the Saints achieved. They read the hearts of people, they knew the names of those whom they saw for the first time. They often answered questions still unspoken, as happened many times with our Venerable Father Seraphim of Sarov .

Let us also remember how touchingly the forefather Abraham entreated God, who appeared to him in the form of three strangers, to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah condemned to destruction, if there were fifty, forty, thirty, and even ten righteous people in them (see Gen. 18:24 and so on)

The venerable, righteous saints are those for whose sake God still spares the sinful world that rejects Him and His commandments. Can anybody have a higher mission? And our holy monasteries of the Kiev Caves, Trinity-Sergius, Sarov, Pochaev, Solovetsky and many others were precious pearls, from which the quiet light of the knowledge of God, glimmering in the hearts of their great ascetics, illuminated long-suffering Rus'.

That's who the Venerables are. That's who the monks and hermits are. May we not dare to repeat the words of those who mock them! May our hearts bow before these great God-pleasers. May they be an example to us of all the good that we ourselves should do. And now, when the time of repentance comes, may our Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt be an example to all, with her prayers may our Lord Jesus Christ save us, to Him be glory and power forever. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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