Great Lent is the spring of renewal of our souls, this is a spiritually joyful time in which our bright Sun, Jesus Christ, showing His love, melts in us the ice of despondency, neglect, love for money, idle talk, giving us the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.
Today, the Church of Christ celebrates the triumph of Orthodoxy, which has been continuously preserved since the time of the apostles and will be preserved by the Holy Church until the end of the world.
The Apostles urge us to remain firmly and unshakably in the faith and unchanging devotion to the Orthodox Church. The apostolic words: watch, stand in the faith, take courage, stand firm – impose on us a great duty to always maintain the Orthodox faith inviolably, to grow in true piety and in Christian virtues in order to achieve eternal blissful life in heavenly dwellings.
Sending the apostles to preach the Gospel and commanding them to baptize those who believe in Him, Jesus Christ said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Salvation cannot be achieved without the Orthodox true faith; “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Heb. 11:6), writes the apostle. Without faith, a person walks in the darkness of ignorance, does not know the purpose of his life, wanders along the roads of paganism and impiety.
Faith is more necessary for us than anything else – any knowledge, arts, various earthly goods, no matter how useful and necessary these may seem to us. Apostle Paul says that in order to preserve faith in Jesus Christ, he considers everything as nothing: every knowledge, every dignity, honour, glory, friendship – everything that the world loves and highly values, the apostle considers as nothing, just to gain faith in Jesus Christ, that is, to draw closer to Him, to unite with Him forever: “Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have forfeited the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3, 8).
Let us recall the deeds performed by the first Christians, confessing their faith. They willingly went to torment and death in order to receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Let us recall the exploits of the apostles in preaching of the Gospel, who brought the light of true faith to all who perished in the darkness of ignorance and delusion. Let us recall the works of the fathers and teachers of the Church, the successors of the apostles. Let us remember the valiant ascetics who kept their faith in the deserts, mountains, caves, gorges and abysses of the earth. Let us remember the holy venerable men and women who tirelessly throughout their lives through labours, deprivations, fasts fought with the lusts of the flesh, completely sacrificing themselves to Christ.
Let us recall the host of valiant ascetics who were fought for the preservation of the purity and inviolability of the Orthodox faith in Russia. We glorify the wondrous variety of saints who shone forth in the Russian land, those who are close to us in blood, whose life is intertwined with the events of our history, ascetics who are the glory of our land, the rich, beautiful fruit of Christ’s sowing. In infinite patience in the Lord, in the greatness of their humility, in the manifestation of selfless love for God and for their neighbours, in indestructible patience, Russian ascetics showed us the image of holiness, the image of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us remember our ancestors – the Old Believers. Scattered across the face of the earth, in spite of severe persecution, all hardship and difficulties, they retained their true faith, reverent purity and fullness of worship. Today we can be inspired by their courage, revere their steadfastness, bow before their feat. For centuries they have stood in faith, in the purity of confession, in truly evangelical spirituality, and have preserved for us the precious, instructive and saving Church Tradition.
Let us recall today those martyrs for the faith who in the last century in Russia, in the terrible years of persecution of the Church, died a painful death in dungeons and concentration camps, but did not renounce the faith of their fathers, for they knew how to love sacrificially, for they kept in their souls the words Saviour: “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be very glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in this manner they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5: 11-12).
Let us also preserve this greatest sacred treasure, which we have received as the precious inheritance from our fathers and forefathers – the Orthodox faith, the guarantee of our salvation. Let us be concerned most of all with keeping it pure, always staying firmly and unshakably in it. Let us avoid lack of faith and superstition, courageously overcome the temptations and seductions of false beliefs, let us zealously fulfill the commandments and statutes of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Christians, the Holy Scripture calls on us to preserve the Orthodox faith, to always live according to it, saving the soul in the holy Orthodox Church, which is, as the apostle teaches, “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The Church of Christ is established on faith, and by faith it will hold on unshakably until the end of the world, as its Founder and Head Jesus Christ promised: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Our Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church firmly and unshakably contains and preserves all the dogmas of faith and piety, precisely fulfils everything that is accepted, established and approved by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and rejects everything that is rejected by it. The Holy Church calls on her children to firmly adhere to the lawful hierarchy and obey him in everything that concerns the salvation of the soul in the unity of faith, according to the word of the Scripture, “Obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17).
The Holy Church instructs her children to zealously and reverently resort to the Holy Sacraments of Christ, to try to fulfill all the commandments and statutes of the Church, to pray fervently to God, to observe church feasts, all fasts and everything that is determined by Christian laws; to do everything with prayer. The Church calls on her children to confess their faith openly and fearlessly, when it is necessary, in front of everyone, in every place and at all times. When meeting unbelievers or erring people, a Christian should consider it his duty to defend the truth he confesses and in no case, in word or deed, betray his right conviction, to confirm the high title of an Orthodox Christian with his whole life.
The Orthodox Church deeply grieves over her recalcitrant, obstinate children, who are carried away by the vain wisdom of this age, who do not fulfil church laws. She cries out with the Prophet, “For these things I weep… for the enemy has prevailed” (Lament. 1:16). All those who unlawfully separate themselves from the Church of Christ and break the sacred union of faith subject themselves to judgment and condemnation. The Lord Himself said to them: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). On this day that we now celebrate, “I urge you with the apostolic word, I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).
All the wicked, who lead a vicious and wicked life in complete carelessness for the salvation of their souls, who live without repentance for their sins and without a desire to turn to virtue, are also subject to the condemnation of the church today. All pernicious and evil-minded adversaries, who do not recognize and do not confess the Holy Trinity, who demean the dignity of the Mother of God, who reject the immortality of the soul and the future Last Judgment, who do not venerate icons and the Holy Sacraments, who accept evil and wicked heresies and false teachings are condemned as well. The Holy Church sternly denounces and punishes them by excommunication. The Church uses this severity with the good purpose that the impious and lawless people will come to their senses, repent of their grave sins and pernicious deeds, heresies, evil and ungodly teachings. The Church, not wanting anyone to perish, takes care that all people repent and come to the mind of truth and to the unity of faith and love. Let us pray to the Lord that He will lead all those who have departed from the Orthodox faith to conversion and enlightenment with the words of holy prayer: “Those who have departed from the Orthodox faith and are blinded by the pernicious heresies, enlighten with the light of the knowledge of You and join Your Holy Apostolic Catholic Church (The Book of Private Commemoration).
Today the Church grieves and feels pain for her recalcitrant and obstinate children, but does not give up hope for their return, and even less does she harden against them. She does not despise, does not humiliate, but, caring for them in peace and love, wants to convey to their consciousness the words of truth and reason. St. John Chrysostom speaks about the caring attitude to the sheep of the Church of Christ who were led astray: “Do not tell me such heartless words: why should I care? I have nothing to do with them. We have nothing in common only with the devil, but with all the people we have a lot in common. They have the same nature with us, inhabit the same land, eat the same food, have the same Lord, have received the same laws, they are called to do the same good as we are. Therefore, we should not say that we have nothing in common with them, because this is a satanic voice, devilish inhumanity. Let us not say this, but let us show them the care befitting brothers. And I promise with all confidence and vouch to all of you that if you all want to share among yourself the concern for the salvation of those who live in the city, then they all will soon be corrected… Let us share among ourselves the concern for the salvation of our brothers ”(St. John Chrysostom. Works <in Russian>, Saint-Petersburg, 1998. V. 2, p. 25).
Today, the one, pure and immaculate faith of Christ is confessed by the Orthodox Church. In the whole world she alone keeps the right faith, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Today the Russian people “are entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2) of the New Testament – the pure Orthodox faith, the pledge and stronghold of our salvation, given to us by our pious ancestors. But that treasure was not given to us for the sake of our merits and virtues, so let us not be exalted before the whole world, but “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience” (Eph. 4:1). May we be filled with the desire and determination in the Holy Spirit to keep our faith from all defilement and vice and remain unswervingly in love, unity and Divine Truth, remembering the words of the Apostle: “One Lord, one faith” (Eph. 4:5).
On the first Sunday of Great Lent, the Holy Church commemorates the victory of the Orthodox teaching on the veneration of icons over the heresy of iconoclasm. Today we recall a historical event of more than a thousand years ago, when the veneration of holy icons was finally restored by the order of the pious Empress Theodora.
We pray with reverence to the saints depicted on the icons, we kiss these icons, but there was a time when persecutions from heretics and wicked iconoclastic emperors were raised against the holy objects. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, condemned this heresy and approved the doctrine of honouring the holy icons. The council, according to the teachings of the holy fathers, established that the honour given to the holy icons does not refer to the board on which they are written, as the iconoclasts claimed, but to the holy face inscribed on it, and that prayerful veneration is directed towards the prototype. That is, when we venerate a holy icon, we send our prayer to that holy heavenly intercessor whom it depicts.
Holy Evangelist Luke was the first in Christianity to give an example of the iconic painting of holy images. He painted the image of the Mother of God with the Child, about which the Most Pure One herself said: May my grace and power abide with this image.
In the earliest times of Christianity, the faithful strengthened themselves by the image of the saints and of the Honourable Cross of the Lord – a means and instrument of salvation.
Holy icons depict those who, during their lifetime, became an animated temple of God, and after death were glorified with miracles and signs.
We, Christians, know a lot about the miracle working of the holy icons, about the deliverance from disasters and diseases through prayers before them! Especially many miracles happened from the icons of the Most Holy Mother of God. Let us thank the Queen of Heaven and other saints for their mercy and condescension to our prayer and weakness. Let us praise and venerate the holy icons depicting our heavenly intercessors. Let us direct our gaze and prayer to them, moving away from earthly concerns and sinful thoughts. Who among us has not felt how just seeing a holy icon and Life-giving Cross keeps us from grave sins. How many examples of this are there in the history of the Church!
To our regret, today there are heretical preachers who have deprived themselves of the miraculous and blessed gifts from holy icons, falsely understanding the commandments of God. These newly minted sectarians arrogantly rush to “enlighten”, and in fact to darken, the Orthodox people of Russia. The best answer to these sectarians and heretical preachers comes from the Lord Himself in the form of the innumerable miracles and signs that appear from holy icons from antiquity to the present.
Let us, brothers and sisters, be faithful to the teachings and traditions of ancient piety, to that Orthodox faith, which was manifested on earth by the host of saints. Let us praise and glorify them by our prayer and life, let us bow by our soul and body to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they served, singing: We worship Your Most Pure Image, O Lord, asking for forgiveness for our sins.
May the days of fasting that have come serve our cleansing from passions and sins. Fasting and prayer, good deeds and repentance – let all this help us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to reflect in our souls the image of Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who suffered for us and was risen in order to raise us for the eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Glory to our God, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, amen!