Sermon on the Day of Commemoration of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian | Russian Oldbeliever Church

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Sermon on the Day of Commemoration of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian

The great apostle and evangelist, the most exquisite theologian, the receiver of ineffable mysterious revelations, the chaste virgin, the beloved confidant of Christ – this is how the Holy Church praises great John the Theologian. Who can count the great deeds and miracles of this pillar of the Church of Christ, who wrote the Holy Gospel, the Apostolic Epistles and the great Book of Revelation? He was the closest and most beloved disciple of the Lord, His friend and confidant. The Lord chose John to be the apostle, honoured him with special favour, since his soul was meek and humble, pure and temperate, gentle and loving.

Sermon on the Day of Commemoration of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian

Apostle John the Theologian was born in Galilee. He was the son of pious and noble parents, Zebedee and Salome. John the Theologian was a disciple of John the Baptist. From him he learned about Christ the Savior, who came into the world to take upon himself the sins of men as the Lamb of God. Together with Andrew the First-Called, John, at the first call, immediately followed the Savior, leaving worldly concerns. After a miraculous catch of fish on Lake Gennesaret, John, together with his brother Jacob, became the Lord’s chosen disciple, who was next to Him during the most solemn and tragic moments of the Savior’s earthly life.

Thus, he was honoured to be present at the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter, to contemplate the Divine radiance on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration of the Lord, to hear His talks about love and sermons about the fate of the world and the signs of the second coming of the Savior, to be with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, to be present during the torment of Christ on the Cross at the moment of the greatest sorrow and suffering of the Teacher. Apostle John – the only one of the disciples – did not leave the Teacher at the most dangerous and terrible hour on Calvary, when the rest of the disciples scattered because of the fear of the Jews (John 19:38), and only the Mother of God, two Marys and disciple John remained at the Cross. So he proved by deed his love for Christ – love, which conquered fear. Seeing such a great devotion of His disciple, Jesus here, at the Cross, proclaimed to John about the Mother of God: «Behold, your Mother!» (John 19:27), and from that time, as Holy Scripture says, the Most Holy Mother of God stayed in the house of Apostle John until Her most glorious Dormition.

Out of his great humility not calling himself by name, John in his Gospel, nevertheless, calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23). At the Last Supper he was so close to the Lord that, according to his own words, he was reclining on the chest of Jesus. Hence the Church Slavonic word for a confidant – napersnik, ‘the one reclining on the chest of someone’.

Zealous and fiery love for the Lord engendered in John’s soul resentment towards those who were hostile to Christ. Flaming with love, but not yet enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he forbade a person who did not follow Christ to cast out demons, asked the Lord to bring down fire upon the inhabitants of Samaria because they did not accept Christ. For their zeal for the Lord, John and his brother James were called by Christ the sons of thunder (Mark 3:17). Feeling the good disposition of Christ towards themselves, John and his brother dare to ask for a place next to the Lord in His coming Kingdom, and in response to this they hear the prediction about the suffering awaiting them.

After the Ascension of the Lord and their enlightenment by the grace of the Holy Spirit, Apostles John and Peter stay in Ierosalim,[1] where they tirelessly work as the leaders of the Church. After the blessed Dormition of the Mother of God, Apostle John started to preach in other countries, where he, eradicating paganism, established the holy Christian faith.

At the order of the wicked emperor Domitian, Apostle John was brought to Rome and thrown into boiling oil, but the power of God kept him unharmed. Then the emperor sent John into exile to the island of Patmos, where the apostle wrote the Apocalypse, or Revelation about the fate of the Church and the whole world.

After Domitian’s death, John returned to Asia Minor to the city of Ephesus, where he became acquainted with the three Gospels written by apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke. Having approved these Gospels, John, however, found it necessary to supplement their content. Having retired to a mountain with his disciple Prochorus, and being there in fasting and vigil, John wrote the Gospel bearing his name. It predominantly contains the exposition of the Lord’s conversations about the deepest spiritual truths, about faith, about the incarnation of the Son of God, about the communion of the Holy Mysteries, about the spiritual rebirth of man by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Apostle John writes that he compiled the Gospel to strengthen the faith of Christians in the Savior, so that those who believed could have eternal life: «these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name» (John 20:31).

In addition to the Gospel and the Apocalypse, Apostle John wrote several epistles to Christians. The main idea in his epistles is that the love of God and people as the totality of all virtues. He writes about love for God: «We love Him because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? We have this commandment from Him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother» (1 John 4:19-21). The apostle and teacher of love John says wonderful and profound words about love for our neighbors: «Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love» (1 John 4:7-8).

During the last years of his life, the apostle often repeated the same admonition: “Children, love one another.” When his disciples asked him why he repeats these words so often, John answered: “This is the most necessary commandment, if you fulfill it, then you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian is the only one of the twelve apostles who was not executed by the enemies of the faith of Christ, but who passed away peacefully at the age of one hundred and five years. The circumstances of his death are extraordinary and even mysterious. At the command of the apostle he was buried in the ground alive. The next day, when the grave was dug up, it turned out to be empty. A possible explanation for this miracle could be the words, which Christ said shortly before His ascension. When Apostle Peter asked Him what would happen to John, the Lord answered: «If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!» (John 21:22). This is possibly the prediction of Christ that Apostle John will not die, but will live until His second coming. The apostle himself writes in his Gospel: «The saying went out among the brothers that this disciple would not die» (John 21:23).

God is love, John the Theologian proclaims. Out of His ineffable love God created and adorned in a beautiful way the earth, gave reason and free will to His creation, man, so that he himself could choose good and live joyfully in it. Love for the man who sinned and fell away from God prompted the Creator to become the Savior of His perishing creation: «For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life» (John 3:16). Our Savior Jesus Christ, out of His immeasurable love for us, endured torment on the Cross and died for the salvation of each of us. The Lord does everything for our salvation, His mercies and bounties to us cannot be measured and numbered. God’s great long-suffering for us, sinners and the ones of little faith, is a convincing evidence of His ardent love for us. In response to this infinite sacrificial love, we must love our Creator and Benefactor with all our hearts. Christ said: «He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me» (John 14:21), – therefore our love should be expressed in diligent fulfillment of His commandments, of which the main one is love for our neighbor. Having fulfilled this commandment, we will reach the highest perfection, because we will become like Lord Jesus Christ who loved us.

John the Theologian was honoured with a great reward – Christ’s love, for he preserved the purity of his soul and body! We see that chastity and virginity are pleasing to Christ. Apostle Paul teaches us about virginity and holiness of soul, considering virginity to be the most perfect and highest virtue, he speaks of those living in virginity that they have one concern, how to please the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32).

Nowadays carnal sins, passions of fornication, defilement of soul and body by the sins of depravity and obscenities of all kinds have multiplied. Many people easily lose their purity and innocence at a young age, and then live in fornication without repentance. It is terrible to imagine how they will appear at the Last Judgment before the threatening eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Pure Mother Virgin María. The wretched and dirty clothes of the soul will be the cause of their condemnation and punishment. May God grant that everyone who lives in the uncleanness of carnal sins will come to their senses, repent, learn to live in purity and holiness, so that the Lord will love them as He loved His virgin apostle John the Theologian for his purity!

To understand what is the essence of love, let us listen to Apostle Paul, who says: «Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends» (1 Cor. 13:4-8). John the Theologian constantly exhorted people to live in peace and love, in brotherly communion, to see in every person good more than anything else, to be able to forgive, to be merciful on the righteous and sinful (and sinners even more, since Christ suffered for them). John the Theologian taught that we must force ourselves to be friendly even with those whom we do not like. He knew how to love sinners, and hate only their evil deeds.

In such brotherly love, according to the behest of the Apostle John the Theologian, lived his disciples in the first centuries of Christianity. In those days, as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “All the believers were of one heart and one soul, and no one said that what he possessed was his own. But to them all things were in common» (Acts 4:32).

Zeal for the salvation of those who perish in unbelief, in vices and passions became the duty and vocation of Apostle John. His soul was filled with the faith of Christ, the spirit of piety and truth, which he had learned from his Teacher. In his preaching he proclaimed to the world this truth about the living God, about the new life, about joy in eternity. John the Theologian preached the Gospel until the end of his life. He proclaimed the love of Christ for people, which casts out fear: on a ship and in confinement, when he was chained in prison, tortured and poisoned or thrown into boiling oil – he had love and pity in his heart and kept repeating one thing: “Children, love each other!”

Looking attentively at the example of John’s zealous preaching, let us also spread the faith of Christ, let us teach those who live in sins without repentance, do not have fear of God, abide in heresies or in complete unbelief how to change their lives. Let us convey to them the preaching of love, faith and hope, so that the light of Christ will illuminate them a path to salvation.

Today, unfortunately, lawlessness multiplies and love grows cold. How many unhappy and disadvantaged people are around us, who have no joy in life, no knowledge of God, whose souls dwell in sin, malice and hatred and perish! Our love for them is sorrow over their transgressions and joy over their successes in the work of salvation. The example of the apostle of love, John, tells us that we are called to carry love to those who are waiting for it, to be ready to take various weaknesses of our neighbors upon ourselves, looking not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others, even if it is necessary to lay down our soul for their salvation.

An example and image of such love is the story from the life of the apostle, when, already in his old years, he hurries to a gang of robbers in order to save his former disciple and bring him back upon the path of righteousness. When the disciple, who had already become the leader of the robbers, saw John, he ran away to flee from him. The holy elder, forgetting about his old age, ran after him, shouting: “My son, why are you running from me, your father? Why do you give me this trouble in vain? Stop, be merciful to me, a weak and feeble old man; stop, do not be afraid, you still have hope for salvation. I will answer for you before God, I will lay down my life for you, as Christ laid down His for us. Christ sent me to grant you absolution. I will suffer for you, may the blood that you have shed be on me, may the burden of your sins be heavy on my neck! ” Touched by the apostle’s meekness and tears, the robber stopped, trembling. Saint Apostle John fell at the feet of the villain and begged him to spare his soul and return to the merciful God. In this way the lost sheep returned to the flock of the church. The apostle did not leave the saved one and shared fasting, prayer, vigil with him, until he completely healed his soul and established it on the Christian path to salvation. Such is the living, active, sincere Christian love, ready to take upon itself the weaknesses of neighbours and give everything for the salvation of their souls.

In the face of the beauty of such love of the apostle, let us look deeply into our life. How many people around us evoke in us not love, but only cold indifference or even hostility and irritation! We are afraid to disturb our usual peace, we are afraid of labour and sacrifice for the salvation of our fellow humans. We are lazy even to pray for their salvation. There is little love in us. Sometimes we do not know how to love even those who love us: parents or family members. We do not show them the sacrificial and affectionate love they deserve. We must learn how to abide in love, sometimes forcing ourselves, looking for opportunities to demonstrate active Christian love. Therefore, let us often recall the great zeal for the salvation of those who perish of Christ’s Apostle John, who, in his love, always sought not his own benefits, but the benefit of his neighbors.

Love as a consequence of gratitude to someone who was kind to ourselves or as a desire to receive carnal pleasure is love for oneself. True love is a complete surrender of oneself to another for the sake of his good; this is life according to the law of the Divine love.

Sometimes we confuse true love, about which the Apostle John speaks, with the idea of carnal, passionate love. There is only one step from such sensual love to hatred, or rather one step from passion to passion, although many books, poems, songs have been written about this “love” … Often, calling our feelings and desires love, we say: I love nature, I love to travel, I love music, I love hunting or fishing and so on. But who and what do we love, calling all this love? First of all, we please and love ourselves. The main sign of Christian love is sacrifice, and if there is no self-sacrifice in love, then it is just selfishness or passion. Jesus Christ showed us the example of perfect sacrificial love by giving His life for our salvation out of love for us. True love is always filled with concern for the welfare of others (even enemies), with desire to contribute to the salvation of others, to serve them, sometimes sacrificing one’s wealth, time, health and even life. Mother’s love for children is close to such perfect love.

Let us love at least one person truly, in the right way – the way Christ loves us. And then, if we learn this, let us gradually expand this love, embrace more and more people with it, in order to abide in it until the end of our days according to the behest of the Apostle John: If we love one another, God dwells in us (1 John 4:12). And if we love one another, live for the salvation of others, this love will save us!

Let us look deeply into the image of the sacrificial and exultant love of the Apostle John, the love of the cross, let us imitate it and begin to treat each other, and every person, as John the Theologian – with love. Then our world, where Christ is rejected more and more and love becomes scarce, will become brighter, warmer, and then Christ will find a place for Himself on this earth and in our hearts!

[1]    Traditional Old Believers’ spelling for Jerusalem