His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, delivered a sermon during the Divine Liturgy at the square near the Dormition Cathedral of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra on August 28, the feast day of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, reports the Information and Education Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In his sermon, the metropolitan said that the Mother of God is our greatest intercessor before the Lord and that people should turn to Her during the times of both sorrow and joy.
The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said that after the Ascension of the Savior to Heaven, His Most Pure Mother became a great consolation for Christians.
“Her life was so beautiful, so noble, so bright that the image of the Mother of God comforts any believer even today. In Her image, we see deep humility, great patience and prayer, modesty, restraint and everything that can and should beautify a person,” said His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry.
The archpastor noted that it is necessary to pray to the Mother of God in different circumstances.
“In the troparion of the Dormition of the Theotokos we sing, “In giving birth Thou kept Thy virginity; in Thy Dormition Thou did not leave the world”. The Mother of God is always with us, we only should turn to Her with prayer, especially when it’s hard. She is our most powerful intercessor before God. She is always close to those who are suffering, who are sick. We only need to call Her for help. When something sad and sorrowful happens to us, we must pray to the Mother of God so that She will help us not to despair, so that we endure all of this, as a Christian. Through this we will thus receive the forgiveness of our sins,” said His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry.
As the Primate noted, it is also important to pray in joy: “We must be grateful to God for everything and ask the Mother of God to pray for us in prosperity as well, when everything is fine with us. In order to maintain balance, and to not become conceited or proud, [we should] thank God humbly for good.”
“May the Lord, through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, bless all of us and help us live on earth so that we deserve the gift of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord,” His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry concluded.
After the Liturgy, a religious procession took place around the Lavra. A Service of Intercession was performed at the square with the sprinkling of holy water on the faithful.
We begin our journey with the Great Evangelical Awakenings. In order to correctly asses the modern Ecumenical Movement as a whole, and the World Missionary Conferences in particular, it is essential to understand the foundational role played by the “great revivals” of the 19 th century which swept across Europe and North America. According to the historian James Hastings Nichols, by the end of the eighteenth century the Reformed confessions had sunk to their lowest ebb in terms of “religious vitality” and were badly in need of a spiritual recovery. This recovery came with the Evangelical Awakening, the origins of which can be traced to the Pietist movement in Germany, the rise of Methodism in Great Britain, and the Great Awakening on the American frontier6 . It was a movement which, although finding its chief stimulus in British Evangelicalism, can be characterized as transnational, passing from country to country. Whatever its origins, however, its spirit and its underlying motives were always the same: a passion for evangelism. Out of this passion came into being societies, voluntary movements, and organizations in which Protestants of different nations and denominations “banded themselves together to win the world for Christ. Thus, it was that “the missionary movement came out of the evangelical awakening.”9 The missionary movement, however, did not of course exist in a vacuum, but was heavily conditioned by historic circumstances. The dream of converting the heathen across the globe was stimulated by, and came on the heels of, colonial expansion and conquest and thus was largely dependent upon the Western powers, especially Great Britain and America, for its practical implementation. In the marriage of mission and colonialism, therefore, in addition to the passion for “Christianizing” the world there was added the task of “civilizing” it.
Samuel Worcester of the American wing of Foreign Missions described his society’s objective as “civilizing and christianizing” – in that order: “To make the whole tribe English in their language, civilized in their habits, and Christian in their religion: this is the present plan.”
If, however, “christianizing” was inseparable from “civilizing” for the American Protestant missionary, Christianity without commerce was unlikely for the British Protestant. In 1856 the explorer‐missionary David Livingstone electrified the British nation with tales of his adventurous travels across Africa, thereby launching that alliance for “commerce, civilization, and Christianity” which was to characterize British Protestant missions in the colonial era. By cultivating the native inclination for trade, he claimed that
“the advantages that might be derived in a commercial point of view are
incalculable; nor should we lose sight of the inestimable blessings it is in our
power to bestow upon the unenlightened African, by giving him the light of
Christianity. Those two pioneers of civilization – Christianity and commerce
should ever be inseparable.”
Commercial opportunities alone, however, certainly would not have been sufficient to galvanize what Protestant historians like to call the “greatest geographic expansion of the Faith that had yet been seen.” The rapid development of the missionary spirit and missionary organizations among evangelicals was mainly responsible for, what Rufus Anderson described as, “the avowed expectation and purpose – for the first time since the apostolic age – of laboring for the conversion of the whole heathen world.”
Our father among the saints Gregory the Theologian, also known as Gregory of Nazianzus (though that name more appropriately refers to his father) and Gregory the Younger, was a great father and teacher of the Church. His feast day is celebrated on January 25 and that of the translation of his relics on January 19. With Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, he is numbered among the Three Holy Hierarchs, whose feast day is celebrated on January 30. St. Gregory is also known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers.
He was born in 329 in Arianzus, a village of the second district of Cappadocia, not far from Nazianzus. His father, who later became Bishop of Nazianzus, was named Gregory (commemorated Jan. 1), and his mother was named Nonna (Aug. 5); both are among the saints, and so are his brother Caesarius (Mar. 9) and his sister Gorgonia (Feb. 23).
At first he studied in Caesarea of Palestine, then in Alexandria, and finally in Athens. As he was sailing from Alexandria to Athens, a violent sea storm put in peril not only his life but also his salvation, since he had not yet been baptized. With tears and fervor he besought God to spare him, vowing to dedicate his whole self to Him, and the tempest gave way to calm. At Athens St. Gregory was later joined by St. Basil the Great, whom he already knew, but now their acquaintanceship grew into a lifelong brotherly love. Another fellow student of theirs in Athens was the young Prince Julian, who later as emperor was called the Apostate because he denied Christ and did all in his power to restore paganism. Even in Athens, before Julian had thrown off the mask of piety, St. Gregory saw what an unsettled mind he had, and said, “What an evil the Roman State is nourishing” (Orat. V, 24, PG 35:693).
After their studies at Athens, Gregory became Basil’s fellow ascetic, living the monastic life together with him for a time in the hermitages of Pontus. His father ordained him presbyter of the Church of Nazianzus, and St. Basil consecrated him Bishop of Sasima (or Zansima), which was in the archdiocese of Caesarea. This consecration was a source of great sorrow to Gregory and a cause of misunderstanding between him and Basil, but his love for Basil remained unchanged, as can be plainly seen from his Funeral Oration on Saint Basil (Orat. XLIII).
About the year 379, St. Gregory came to the assistance of the Church of Constantinople, which had already been troubled for forty years by the Arians; by his supremely wise words and many labors he freed it from the corruption of heresy. He was elected archbishop of that city by the Second Ecumenical Council, which assembled there in 381, and condemned Macedonius, Archbishop of Constantinople, as an enemy of the Holy Spirit. When St. Gregory came to Constantinople, the Arians had taken all the churches, and he was forced to serve in a house chapel dedicated to St. Anastasia the Martyr. From there he began to preach his famous five sermons on the Trinity, called the Triadica. When he left Constantinople two years later, the Arians did not have one church left to them in the city. St. Meletius of Antioch (see Feb. 12), who was presiding over the Second Ecumenical Council, died in the course of it, and St. Gregory was chosen in his stead; there he distinguished himself in his expositions of dogmatic theology.
Having governed the Church until 382, he delivered his farewell speech-the Syntacterion, in which he demonstrated the Divinity of the Son—before 150 bishops and the Emperor Theodosius the Great. Also in this speech he requested, and received from all, permission to retire from the See of Constantinople. He returned to Nazianzus, where he lived to the end of his life. He reposed in the Lord in 391, having lived some sixty-two years.
His extant writings, both prose and poems in every type of meter, demonstrate his lofty eloquence and his wondrous breadth of learning. In the beauty of his writings, he is considered to have surpassed the Greek writers of antiquity, and because of his God-inspired theological thought, he received the surname “Theologian.” Although he is sometimes called Gregory of Nazianzus, this title belongs properly to his father; he himself is known by the Church only as Gregory the Theologian. He is especially called “Trinitarian Theologian,” since in virtually every homily he refers to the Trinity and the one essence and nature of the Godhead. Hence, Alexius Anthorus dedicated the following verses to him:
I. It is the Day of the Resurrection, my Beginning has good auspices. Let us then keep the Festival with and splendour, (Isaiah 66:5) and let us embrace one another. Let us say Brethren, even to those who hate us; much more to those who have done or suffered anything out of love for us. Let us forgive all offenses for the Resurrection’s sake: let us give one another pardon, I for the noble tyranny which I have suffered (for I who can now call it noble); and you exercised it, if you had cause to my tardiness; for perhaps this be more precious in God’s sight than the haste of others.For it is a good thing even to hold back from God for a little while, as blame tardiness may did the great Moses of old, (Exodus 4:10) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6) later on; and then to run readily to Him when He calls, as did Aaron (Exodus 4:27) and Isaiah, (Isaiah 1:6) so only both be done in a dutiful spirit;- the former because of his own want of strength; the latter because of the Might of Him That calls.
II. A Mystery anointed me; I withdrew a little while at a Mystery, as much as was needful to examine myself; now I come in with a Mystery, bringing with me the Day as a good defender of my cowardice and weakness; that He Who today rose again from the dead may renew me also by His Spirit; and, clothing me with the new Man, may give me to His New Creation, to those who are begotten after God, as a good modeller and teacher for Christ, willingly both dying with Him and rising again with Him.
III. Yesterday the Lamb was slain and the doorposts were anointed, and Egypt bewailed her Firstborn, and the Destroyer passed us over, and the Seal was dreadful and reverend, and we were walled in with the Precious Blood. Today we have clean escaped from Egypt and from Pharaoh; and there is none to hinder us from keeping a Feast to the Lord our God the Feast of our Departure; or from celebrating that Feast, not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, (1 Corinthians 5:8) carrying with us nothing of ungodly and Egyptian leaven.
IV. Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us- you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.
V. Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man.He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; (2 Corinthians 8:9) He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.
VI.As you see, He offers you a Shepherd; for this is what your Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep, is hoping and praying for, his subjects; and he asks from you and he gives you himself double instead of single, and makes the staff of his old age a staff for your spirit. And he adds to the inanimate temple a living one; to that exceedingly beautiful and heavenly shrine, this poor and small one, yet to him of great value, and built too with much sweat and many labours. Would that I could say it is worthy of his labours. And he places at your disposal all that belongs to him (O great generosi- ty!– or it would be truer to say, O fatherly love!) his hoar hairs, his youth, the temple, the high priest, the testator, the heir, the discourses you were longing for; and of these not such as are vain and poured which out into the air, and which reach no further than the outward ear; but those which the Spirit writes and engraves on tables of stone, or of flesh, not merely superficially graven, nor easily to be rubbed off, but marked very deep, not with ink, but with grace.
VII.These are the gifts given you by this august Abraham, this honourable and reverend Head, this Patriarch, this Restingplace of all good, this Standard of virtue, this Perfection of the Priesthood, who today is bringing to the Lord his willing Sacrifice, his only Son, him of the promise. Do you on your side offer to God and to us obedience to your Pastors, dwelling in a place of herbage, and being fed by water of refresh- ment; knowing your Shepherd well, and being known by him; (John 10:14) and following when he calls you as a Shepherd frankly through the door; but not following a stranger climbing up into the fold like a robber and a traitor; nor listening to a strange voice when such would take you away by stealth and scatter you from the truth on mountains, (Ezekiel 34:6) and in deserts, and pitfalls, and places which the Lord does not visit; and would lead you away from the sound Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the One Power and Godhead, Whose Voice my sheep always heard (and may they always hear it), but with deceitful and corrupt words would tear them from their true Shepherd. From which we all be kept, Shepherd and flock, as from a poisoned and deadly pasture; may guiding and being guided far away from it, that we may all be one in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and unto the heavenly rest. To Whom be the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen.
Many are of the opinion that Orthodoxy is just one religion among many and that its chief concern is to prepare the members of the Church for life after death, securing a place in paradise for every Orthodox Christian. Orthodox doctrine is presumed to offer some additional guarantee, because it is Orthodox, and not believing in Orthodox dogma is seen as yet another reason for someone to go to Hell, besides his personal sins that would otherwise send him there. Those Orthodox Christians who believe that this describes Orthodoxy have associated Orthodoxy exclusively with the afterlife. But in this life such people do not accomplish very much. They just wait to die, believing that they will go to paradise for the simple reason that while they were alive they were Orthodox Christians.
Another section of the Orthodox is involved with and active in the Church, interested not in the next life, but chiefly in this life, here and now. What interests them is how Orthodoxy can help them to have a good life in the present. These Orthodox Christians pray to God, have priests say prayers for them, have their homes blessed with holy water, have services of supplication sung, are anointed with oil, and so forth, all so that God will help them to enjoy life in the present: so that they do not get sick, so that their children find their place in society, so that their daughters are ensured a good dowry and a good groom, so that their boys find good girls to marry with good dowries, so that their work goes well, so that their businesses go well, even so that the stock market goes well, or the industry they work in, and so on. So we see that these Christians are not so very different from other people who follow other religions, for those people do the very same things.22
From what we have said, we can clearly see that Orthodoxy has two points in common with all other religions. First, it prepares believers for life after death, so that they will go to paradise, whatever they imagine that to be. Second, Orthodoxy protects them in this life so that they will not have to experience sorrow, difficulties, disaster, sickness, war, and the like – in other words, so that God will take care of all their needs and desires. Thus, for this second type of Orthodox Christian, religion plays a major role in the present life and on a daily basis at that.
But among all these Christians we have just discussed, who cares deep down whether God exists or not? Who really yearns for Him and seeks Him out? The question of God’s existence does not even come up, since it is clearly better for God to exist, so that we can appeal to Him and ask Him to satisfy our needs, in order for our work to go well and for us to have some happiness in this life. As we can see, human beings have an extremely strong predisposition to want God to exist and to believe that God exists, because we have a need for God to exist in order to ensure everything we have mentioned. Since we need God to exist, therefore, God exists. If people were not in need of a God and could take measures to ensure sufficiency for the necessities of life by some other means, then who knows how many would still believe in God. This is what happens in Greece as a rule.
So we see that many people who were previously indifferent to religion become religious towards the end of their lives, perhaps after some event that has frightened them. This happens because they feel that they cannot live any longer without appealing to some god for help – that is, it is the result of superstitious beliefs. For these reasons, human nature encourages man to be religious. This holds true not only for Orthodox Christians, but also for adherents to all religions. Human nature is the same everywhere. Since as a result of the Fall the human soul is now darkened, people are by nature inclined toward superstition.
Now the next question is this: Where does superstition stop and real belief begin?
The Fathers’ views and teachings on these matters are clear. Consider first someone who follows, or rather thinks that he follows the teachings of Christ, simply by going to Church every Sunday, communing at regular intervals, and having the priest bless him with water, anoint him with oil and so on, without examining these things very closely.23 Does this person who remains at the letter of the law, but does not enter into the spirit of the law, stand to gain anything of any account from Orthodoxy? Now consider someone who prays exclusively for the future life, for himself and for others, but is completely indifferent towards this life. Again, what particular benefit does such a person stand to gain from Orthodoxy? The former tendency can be seen in parish priests and those who flock around them with the attitude described above. The latter tendency can be seen in some elders in monasteries, usually retired archimandrites waiting to die, and the few monks who follow them.24
Since purification and illumination are not their main focus or concern, both these tendencies, from the viewpoint of the Fathers, have set the wrong goals for themselves. But insofar as purification and illumination become their focus and the Orthodox asceticism of the Fathers is practiced with a view towards attaining noetic prayer, then and only then can everything else be placed on a firm foundation. These two tendencies are exaggerations that reflect two extremes and share no common core. But there is a common core, a structure that runs throughout Orthodoxy and holds it together. When we take into account this one core, this unique structure, then every subject that concerns Orthodoxy finds its proper place on a firm foundation. And this core is purification, illumination, and theosis.
What will happen to man after death was not an overriding concern for the Fathers. Their primary concern was what will man become in this life. After death, his nous cannot be treated. The treatment must begin in this life, because “in hades there is no repentance.”25 This is why Orthodox theology is not outside of this world, futuristic, or eschatological, but is clearly grounded in this world, because Orthodoxy’s focus is man in this world and in this life, not after death.
Now why do we need purification and illumination? Is it so that we can go to Heaven and escape Hell? Is that why they are necessary? What are purification and illumination and why do Orthodox Christians want to attain them? In order to find the reason for this and to answer these questions, you need to have what Orthodox theology considers the basic key to these issues.
The basic key is the fact that, according to Orthodox theology, everyone throughout the world will finish their earthly course in the same way, regardless of whether they are Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, or anything else. Everyone on earth is destined to see the glory of God. At the Second Coming of Christ, with which all human history ends, everyone will see the glory of God. And since all people will see God’s glory, they will all meet the same end. Truly, all will see the glory of God, but not in the same way – for some, the glory of God will be an exceedingly sweet Light that never sets; for others, the same glory of God will be like “a devouring fire” that will consume them. We expect this vision of God’s glory to occur as a real event. This vision of God – of His Glory and His Light – is something that will take place whether we want it to happen or not. But the experience of that Light will be different for both groups.
Therefore, it is not the Church’s task to help us see this glory, since that is going to happen anyway. The work of the Church and of her priests focuses on how we will experience the vision of God, and not whether we will experience the vision of God. The Church’s task is to proclaim to mankind that the true God exists, that He reveals Himself as Light or as a devouring fire, and that all of humanity will see God26 at the Second Coming of Christ. Having proclaimed these truths, the Church then tries to prepare Her members so that on that day they will see God as Light, and not as fire.27
When the Church prepares her members and everyone who desires to see God as Light, She is essentially offering them a curative course of treatment that must begin and end in this life. The treatment must take place during this life and be brought to completion, because there is no repentance after death. This curative course of treatment is the very fiber of Orthodox tradition and the primary concern of the Orthodox Church. It consists of three stages of spiritual ascent: purification from the passions, illumination by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and theosis, again by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We should also take note. If a believer does not reach a state of at least partial illumination in this life, he will not be able to see God as Light either in this life or in the next.28
It is obvious that the Church Fathers were interested in people as they are today at this moment. Every human being needs to be healed. Every human being is also responsible before God to begin this process today in this life, because now is when it is possible, not after death. Everyone must decide for himself whether or not he will pursue this path of healing.
Christ said, “I am the Way.”29 But where does this Way lead? Christ is not referring to the next life. Christ is primarily the Way in this life. Christ is the Way to His Father and our Father. First, Christ reveals Himself to man in this life and shows him the path to the Father. This path is Christ Himself. If a man does not see Christ in this life, at least by sensing Him in his heart, he also will not see the Father or the Light of God in the life to come.30
22. As we noted in the Prologue, Father John’s words are at times caustic.
23. Of course, genuine Orthodox Christians do these same things and it is not wrong for them to desire to do them. The problem is when someone stagnates at this level.
24. As a rule, this is seen when the spiritual father and his monks are not interested in hesychasm.
25. St. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, Chapter IV.
26. Of course, all people have a partial experience of this vision of God immediately after the departure of the soul from the body at their biological death.
27. “In the fire of revelation on the final day, the deeds of each will be tested by fire as Paul says. If what one has built up for himself is a work of incorruptibility, it will remain incorruptible in the midst of the fire and not only will it not be burned up, but it will be made radiant, totally purified of the perhaps small amount of filth…” St. Nikitas Stithatos, “On Spiritual Knowledge,” ¨79, The Philokalia, vol. III, page 348 [in Greek] [in English, page 165].
28. “We have fallen so far from the vision of Him, corresponding to the dimness of our sight, since we have voluntarily deprived ourselves of His Light in this present life.” St. Symeon the New Theologian, Extant Works, Discourse 75 [in Greek].
30. “…At Christ’s Second Coming, all mankind will be raised and will be judged according to their works. The sinners who did not acquire spiritual eyes will not cease to exist. They will continue to exist ontologically as persons, but they will not participate in God. The righteous will both participate in God and commune with Him. As Saint Maximos the Confessor teaches, the sinners will live with an ‘eternal lack of well being,’ while the righteous will live in a state of ‘eternal well being.’” Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, The Person in Orthodox Tradition (Levadia: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1994), p. 162 [in Greek].
The despondency that we fall into through failure in any work, especially in priestly matters, which we do for others, and the sense of shame proceed from our bodiless enemy, who ever seeks, like a roaring lion, to devour us, and who forces us into every failure, into every sin. Therefore, in order to be unerring in such matters, we must previously prepare ourselves by intelligent study, combined with abstinence and prayer; we must strive after perfection in everything, and not give place to the Devil. If failure occurs, do not let us be overwhelmed with despondency, but, acknowledging before God our sin and infirmity, let us humble ourselves before Him, throwing aside our self-love, and without shame confess our sin, our carelessness, slothfulness, or weakness, and cast our sin into the abyss of God’s mercy, asking for His grace and help for the good and successful accomplishment of our work in future.
In prayer and in every work of your life avoid suspiciousness, doubt, and diabolical imaginations. Let your spiritual eye be single, in order that the whole body of your prayer, of your works, and of your life may be light.
During general prayer let your whole heart be in God, and do not on any account let it cling for a single moment to anything earthly; have also an ardent love for human souls, love for the sake of God, and be zealous for their salvation; pray for them as for those who are in great misery, for it is said: “All we who are subjected to the enticements of the evil one are in misery.”