June 18, 2023

Homily for the Sunday of All Saints Who Shone in the Russian Land (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1956)

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:4-5), - this is what the apostle John the Theologian says about the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a lot of darkness in the life of mankind, there was a lot of it in ancient Rus'. But Saint John, preaching further about God the Word, spoke also about millions of Russian hearts: "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him, but to those who received Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the power to become children of God: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11–13).

These are those whom the Lord Jesus Christ Himself called the light of the world. These are those to whom He commanded: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). These are the ones about whom the apostle Peter said: "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people taken as an inheritance, in order to proclaim the perfections of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).

As we see large and small clusters of stars in the sky, so the great bearers of the light of Christ shone and still shine, glorifying God in multitudes in the cells of the Kiev Caves Lavra, in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, in the Pochaev Lavra, on the distant Solovetsky Islands of the White Sea. In addition to the constellations, we see individual bright stars in the sky. Like them, great saints shone in Rus': Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Duke Vladimir and Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Duchess Olga, who enlightened Rus' with the light of Christ; the great saints and wonderworkers of Moscow - Peter, Alexy, Jonah, Philip and Hermogenes. The greatest venerables - Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov dazzlingly shine with divine light.

In the Middle Ages, small and great hearths of the light of Christ were kindled in multitudes throughout the entire north of Russia by the deeds of the saints. Their significance was especially great during the long years of the Tatar yoke: the prayers of the monks strengthened our ancestors tormented by the Tatars. Thirsting for the light and truth of Christ with a simple heart, the Russian people walked in long lines from everywhere for thousands of miles to the great monasteries and lavras, to visit the holy caves, from the darkness of which the unfading light of the hearts of many venerable people still shines, who devoted their whole lives inseparably to God; in order to partake of this light, to rest where our venerable fathers, saints and miracle workers have acquired eternal rest; in order to at least breathe in the wondrous air of the caves, saturated with the sighs of the saints and the incense of the prayers offered by them in the struggle with the demons that tempted they and which they drove out of there.

People were drawn to immortality, which is quite clearly felt there, for the souls of the saints stand before the Throne of the Most High. They were attracted by a thirst for truth, it was hard for them to live in a world of lies, evil, hatred and violence. Their life was hard and sorrowful. They saw that the evil and wicked often prosper, while the pious, meek and humble bear the heavy cross of suffering. But their souls could not reconcile themselves to such unbearable injustice. They demanded the retribution of evil with eternal torment, the retribution of righteousness with peace and eternal joy. They believed with all their hearts that there, at the Throne of the Heavenly Father, lives the highest and eternal truth, that only there is peace and holy love.

People went to those who fulfilled the covenant of Christ; to those who confessed the name of Christ before all and sealed this confession with blood in severe torment; to those whom the Lord Jesus Christ confesses before His Heavenly Father, who loved the Lord Jesus Christ more than their father or mother, to those who took up their cross and, following Christ, became worthy of Him, for he does not love anyone, his children or his family, more than he loves God (see Matt. 10:37-38).

Pure and pious Russian people went in lines to holy places to those who, for the sake of the name of Christ, left everything, and received a hundred times more, and inherited eternal life (see Matt. 19:29), becoming friends, brothers of the Lord (see Luke 12:4; Mark 3:34-35). This word of Christ is not false. And I assure you that when I left my children and gave them to God, He took care of them, and they were brought up, perhaps better than I myself could have done. And the Lord gave me a hundred times more children. He gave me all of you, gave me your hearts, for I know your ardent love and respond to it with my ardent love.

People went in order to honor those who endured heavy, unspeakable suffering for Christ; those who experienced reproach and beatings, as well as bonds and prison, were stoned, sawn through, tortured, died by the sword, wandered in robes and goat skins, suffering tribulations, sorrows, bitterness; those whom the whole world was not worthy wandered in the deserts and mountains, in the caves and ravines of the earth (Heb. 11:36-38). These are those who have walked the path indicated by the Lord Jesus: "narrow is the gate and difficult is the path that leads to eternal life" (Matt. 7:14); the way He spoke about: "You will be sorrowful in the world, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

The holy names of the twelve Russian martyrs were added to the great host of the ancient martyrs of Christ, among whom Saint Michael, Prince of Chernigov and his boyar Theodore and Roman, Princes of Ryazan, martyred by the Golden Horde for refusing to change their Christian faith to the Muslim faith, as well as the three Vilna martyrs: Anthony, John, Eustathius.

I cannot remain silent about such a striking feature of Russian piety as the feat of foolishness, manifested by great people who took upon themselves this most difficult of all crosses. We find twelve great names of holy fools in the calendar of the Russian Church, only two or three names in the Greek Orthodox Church, and not a single one in the Roman Catholic Church. With great insight and miracles, God Himself testified to the holiness of the holy fools, and the entire Orthodox Russian people deeply honor the sufferers and miracle workers, voluntary martyrs, Blessed Basil and Maxim of Moscow, Procopius of Ustyug and others.

It is difficult for us, today's Christians, to stand and hold out against the violent winds of godlessness, but the All-Merciful Lord strengthens us with the memory of the life and deeds of many of our holy ancestors, as the holy Apostle Paul exhorts us, saying: "Remember your mentors who preached to you the word of God, and looking at the end of their lives, imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7).

From the bottom of our hearts, let us give glory and honor, praise and thanksgiving to our glorious Trinitarian God, who has poured out His true light on the Russian land, which no darkness can quench. After all, before us is a huge sparkling cloud of witnesses around the Lord Jesus. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (Heb. 12:1-3) and follow Christ. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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