June 19, 2023

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

By St. John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco

Today is the feast of All the Saints who shone in the Russian land - all the saints who were raised by the Russian Church, the Russian land. Today is the feast of the spiritual sky over Russia. That sky stretches wide, starting from the holy prince Vladimir and the blessed princess Olga. They were, as it were, the roots of all the saints who shone in the Russian land. A great host has grown, a great tree of holiness. True, even before Grand Prince Vladimir there were saints, righteous ones, who shone forth where the Russian land is now. Those parts that now make up the borders of Russia, even before they became part of the Russian land, shone with the holy saints of God.

Chersonesus boasts of seven bishops who visited that region in the early days, and later Cyril and Methodius preached there. Grand Prince Vladimir was baptized in Chersonesus, and together with the relics of the ancient Hieromartyr Clement of Rome, he brought the Orthodox Faith to Kiev, and laid the foundation for the growth of the Russian Church there. Now we are celebrating all those saints of God - the Venerable Anthony and Theodosius and many other wonderworkers of the Caves, all the saints who shone in the Russian land, those saints who affirmed Orthodoxy, acquired Christianity, who affirmed faith and piety among the people, those saints who pretended to be fools, but in reality were wise and with their seemingly ridiculous deeds themselves humbled their pride, taught children to bow before holiness and follow the Gospel. We glorify the many saints of God, who shone in different directions in the Russian land; those martyrs who patiently endured the sufferings sent down to them, and, finally, those martyrs who, in a small rank, shone in antiquity, but now abundantly watered all the patches of Russian land with their blood. The earth was sanctified by their blood, the air was sanctified by the ascent of their souls. The sky above Russia was sanctified by the holy saints of God who shine over it. There are countless of them.

There is a wonderful book recently written - "Holy Rus'". The cross of Russian holiness is detailed there. From this book one can learn how holiness took root and grew in Russia, how others spiritually descended from some saints, how they were connected with each other, and all this represents a truly golden chain of the holiness of the Russian land. We celebrate all of them now, which it is impossible even to list. We see marvelous saints who strengthened the Russian idea with their pastoral deeds. We see how the Russian land was famous not only for the exploits of tsars, boyars, warriors, but also how its parts spiritually connected with each other with age by this holiness. That is why Rus' was called Holy Russia - not because there were no sins, there was no lawlessness - no, wherever there are people, there have been and will be sins and lawlessness.

Since the fall of our forefathers, evil has entered the world, but evil has never been presented as an ideal and even tolerable for the Russian land. It was evil, but after that they repented. Even robbers repented; those who ended their lives on the chopping block, and then for the most part remembered the Lord Jesus Christ before their death, bowed to the people, asking for forgiveness for those crimes which they committed and asked to pray for the repose of their souls. So it was in antiquity, so it was in Russian history, that sanctity is still kept by the Russian land. And we praise all the saints who, through their deeds throughout their lives, showed the Russian land an example of that holiness. Here is the Grand Prince Vladimir and the Blessed Princess Olga - the story of the princes who shone as saints of God. Why are they saints? Because although they had power in their hands from time immemorial, and they had great wealth in their hands, they were not captivated by wealth, were not enslaved by it. That wealth and that power served either to do good, or to give other people the opportunity to live according to the commandments of God. And other saints of God went into caves, retreated to dense forests, deserts, but there they became magnets that spiritually attracted those who sought the strengthening of their souls. And those saints who left and tried to be unknown - their unknown became known and people rushed to them. They shine to us from the depths of centuries in our times. The Lord glorified their deeds, glorified their holy relics with miracles, and to this day they are preachers to the glory of God. Saint Sergius - how many years he lived alone in a dense forest, where there was no one but animals. To this day, the Trinity-Sergius Lavra attracts believers from all over, not only Rus', but one might say, from all ends and limits of the universe. And she is not famous for anything else, as the feat of Saint Sergius and the saints who were saved by his teaching. And now it is, as it were, the heart of the Russian Land, together with our capital city of Moscow, which not only shines with wealth and ancient buildings, but with the holiness of those saints who labored there and whose relics rest there.

We glorify all those who, in different parts of the Russian Land, affirmed Christianity, preached to those who did not yet know Christianity. Rus' united everyone in a single roof, not so much by the unity of the border, but by the spiritual call to the holiness of the saints who shone in the Russian Land. Many names became part of the Russian people. And although the Russian people are based on the Slavic people, there are many different names in it, but no one was considered a stranger as soon as he accepted the Orthodox Christian faith. The Orthodox faith saved Rus'. The Orthodox faith sanctified it. The Orthodox faith strengthened her. And in the difficult times of the Tatar yoke, how did the Russian people save themselves? Only by faith in God even then, in those difficult times, most churches were built, the most monasteries were founded.

Long before our disasters, and outside the borders of Russia, there were saints who belonged to the Russian people, who shone in Rus' and shone in other places. Here in Greece, who is one of the glorious saints of God? - John the Russian, who was a prisoner in the time of Peter the Great, then lived among the Turks and was so firm in the Christian faith that Muslims bowed before him, seeing a righteous life. They tried to convert him to Islam, but he remained firm - they did not continue to insist and were only surprised to see the righteous life of that Russian man who was among them before as a slave and at the same time spiritually reigns over them. And when the Greeks had to leave Asia Minor, they brought his relics to the church on the island of Euboea, near Athens. And now it is a place where Greek, and now Russian, pilgrim refugees flock to.

Outside Russia, Paisius Velichkovsky also labored, not yet glorified, but became the spiritual father of many righteous people who have been spiritual leaders in Rus' in recent times. We celebrate them all together. How varied are their lives! Some princes, others commoners. Some occupied a high position, others wandered the streets, half-dressed - and at the same time kings listen to their voice! Ivan the Terrible, before whom everyone trembled, beginning with members of his family, who exiled Metropolitan Philip, the holy man who denounced him, obeyed the half-naked Basil the Blessed. Once Ivan the Terrible was standing in the temple and coming out of it he sees Saint Basil the Blessed. He says: “Vasily, I didn’t notice you, I didn’t see you here.” “But I saw you, the king, not here in the temple, and how you walk along Sparrow Hills!" And Tsar Ivan was ashamed: “Yes,” he says, “during liturgy, I thought about how to build a palace on Sparrow Hills.” He defeated Veliky Novgorod. He approached Pskov, and another holy fool, Blessed Nicholas, offered him meat. “I will not eat meat now. It's Friday today," says Ivan the Terrible. “But you are doing worse, you are drinking human blood,” Blessed Nicholas answers him, “get out of here as soon as possible. If you delay any longer, then there will be nothing for you to run away from here." And Ivan the Terrible, with the words of the Blessed One, left the courtyard. The words of the Blessed One began to be fulfilled, because the beloved royal horse immediately disappeared. He quickly left Pskov without committing any reprisals there. Thus holiness triumphed everywhere.

Already in times not far from us, Tsar Nicholas I came to Kiev. There, sitting on the floor, he was greeted by Blessed Theophilus, also the still unglorified saint of the Russian land. He gave him various instructions and the tsar, the autocratic ruler, before whom Europe trembled, heeded his voice. Until recently, there were the righteous of the Russian land. Many of them are glorified, known to the whole world, many of them are hitherto unknown and will shine, if God pleases, when the time comes for this. Saint Hermogenes, for example, after his feat, for three hundred years rested unglorified. God arranges for us to look at various examples, not only glorify the saint of the day, and then, after leaving the temple, take up other things and forget about them. No, the saints must be our great guides, so that we always have them before our eyes.

Already here abroad, today we have the righteous, although not yet glorified, but from whom people received wondrous signs. For example, Bishop Jonah of Manchuria. He sensed the approach of the end of his earthly life, so he called the priest and began to read the requiescat himself, and at the hour when his spirit departed to heaven, the boy who lay in that city with a crippled foot, who for a long time could not walk, ran and shouted: “Mother, mother, Saint Jonah has appeared to me and said 'I don’t need legs anymore. Here are your legs.'" That boy who lay motionless on the bed was now running! At that time, a rumor was circulating that Vladyka Jonah had died at that very hour.

In France, several years ago, during the transfer of a cemetery, when one grave was dug up, the workers suddenly jumped back in horror. An Orthodox priest lay there in full vestments, and it turned out that this priest had lain there for more than sixteen years. He died of cancer, when usually a person decomposes alive, and he lay whole and incorrupt, and now his body has been transferred to Paris. The saints of God shine in our time. And how many of them are in our unfortunate exhausted Motherland! How many hieromartyrs are there! How many martyrs are there! They have no number. How many of our exiled hierarchs are in various places, who have died, who are similar in their lives to those hierarchs who were persecuted during iconoclasm and other heresies. And Peter Krutitsy, and Kirill of Kazan and many others who died somewhere in the unknown, whose relics will never be found, but they shine like bright lights before our spiritual eyes in the Russian sky. All of them, holy saints of God, glorified and unglorified, pray for us, show us their example.

I repeat that there have always been sins and lawlessness in Russia. They were from the earliest times, when sin filled the earth in general, from the hour when our forefathers sinned in Paradise. But sin should not remain sin, and if someone repents, then the criminal becomes a saint. How sinful was Mary of Egypt, others were thieves, and then became saints. Let us now pray that the Lord sends their spirit into our hearts, so that we abroad, following their example, remember that it is not in vain that we bear the name of the sons of Russia. That it was not in vain that the Lord gave us the gift to have our own roots, gave some to grow up in their homeland, and others to be born from Russian parents. Because if any country boasts of something, then the Russian land boasts precisely of holiness. "Beautiful France", they say. Different countries are given different names - what amazes people. But the Russian land is more often called "Holy Russia". This name is applied to only one other land - to the Holy Land, in which our Lord shone. Nobody from other countries, nobody from other nations accepts this title. Why? Because the most important thing for us, the most precious, the greatest thing is holiness. This is an ideal, this is the limit of the aspirations of the Russian people. We forget to refer to the spiritual sky, but I hope we haven't forgotten forever. As nomads, traveling through the desert at night, look at the sky and find their way by the stars - so we must look at our Russian sky, so that the Lord will show us the way and lead us to peace and unity here abroad, so that the Lord will transform the hearts of Russian people abroad, and then defeated by the spiritual onslaught, the outer chains of space will also fall. And Rus' will rise in all its glory and majesty.

The blessing of the Lord be upon you.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos. 

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