As we live through the first days of fasting, intensified prayer, and self-reflection during the Holy Forty Days, today, at the first Divine Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ has deemed us worthy to partake in the holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, and awesome Mysteries.
A tremendous blessing has been poured out over our Holy Monastery, our Church, and our Fatherland because, together with the monks in their exceptional feat, many young Christians from various places, with great courage, preparedness, and devotion, also took part in the difficult feat of the trimerion – that tender three-day period of complete abstinence from food and water.
With faith and love, let us approach, to become participants of eternal life. Today, for the first time in this Holy Pentecost, at the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, served by our beloved Elder, Bishop Antaniski of Partenija, with such dedication and devotion, together with our brothers the monks and deacons, we heard this joyful invitation. The approach to Holy Communion is not a common everyday practice, a simple obligation for Christians. It is much more than that. It is a yearning for Christ, when your soul burns to be united with His, with the love of His existence. The proper approach to this greatest mystery of the Church means awareness of the soul that it cannot exist without Christ. This unquenchable yearning of the soul for union with Christ was attested by numerous faithful, who despite their work and family obligations, came to our monasteries to receive the blessing of the three-day complete fast. Instead of bread, their food was the delicious liturgical hymns; instead of water, their drink was the Divine Psalms of David, the readings from the Holy Scripture, the repentance outpourings from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the unceasing prayer of Jesus… Truly, in the past three days, eternity reigned, the space in which the echo of the Kingdom of God resounded. Although we were on Earth, it was as if we were in Heaven…
The elder once again blessed us like a father and embraced us with the love of Christ, renewing our spiritual strength for a good continuation of the rest of this path of struggle for complete purification, so that with purified hearts and bright thoughts we may bow down to them, first to the Holy Passion of Christ, and then to His Glorious Resurrection.
“(…) And what else could spiritual awakening be, if not a strenuous struggle? That is precisely our monastic feat, children – a struggle. At first glance, it is a struggle with oneself, but in a deeper, contemplative sense – a struggle with God. Yes, that’s it – a struggle with God! Do you remember that wonderful struggle of Jacob with someone in the night? How sublime an event from the Old Testament! It cannot be more sublime! A mortal man, a dream, an unusual Visitor in the dream, a struggle. Jacob struggles with someone in the night. A biblical story full of meaning and depth, which is played out again and again on the battlefield of prayer.
Jacob deceived his father and, advised by his mother Rebecca, stole the blessing that belonged to his brother Esau and then fled. Twenty years have passed and he is due to meet his brother, who has become his enemy, the next day. He is afraid. What will happen to him? In this night, in deep solitude, he reflects and delves into his soul. He confronts the past and questions the future. He is in conflict with his father and his brother. He is weak, indecisive, wavering, and discouraged: “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me” (Genesis 32:11). He cannot shake off his fear and trust in God’s promise given earlier, that his offspring will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore, and that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him and his offspring (see Genesis 28:14). And how suddenly, after that unusual night and struggle, Jacob goes from being weak to becoming a Patriarch and receiving the name Israel, meaning “wrestles with God”?
His transformation happened last night, in solitude. He chose the night as his refuge, a time when he could rise above the everyday worries and distractions, above fleeting pleasures and troubles, joys and sorrows… At night, his physical body fades away, and his spiritual eyes open. His thoughts soar upwards, and his gaze widens. And what happens on this, until then unseen night for him? He is attacked. An unknown assailant confronts him, and he accepts the fight. They fight intensely, and the battle lasts until dawn. Even then, the attacker utters his first words: “Let me go, it’s dawn!” But Jacob does not give in, instead he sets a condition, saying: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” In a beautiful embrace, they continue to fight each other. And he said, “What is your name?” And he replied, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have fought bravely with God, and with men, and you have prevailed.” And Jacob asked and said, “Tell me your name!” And He answered, “Why do you ask for my name, which is wonderful?” And He blessed him there. And Jacob named that place with the name Phanuel, saying, “I have seen God face to face, and my soul was saved” (Genesis 32: 26-30).
Are you watching? Jakov was struggling with the One in whom he found his true self, his divine self. He was struggling with God. There is a wondrous, indescribable relationship between God and man in prayerful solitude. Man must be still, in order to hear and feel God, and to struggle with Him in prayer, to fight for something new and great. God in a way wants us to amaze Him with our zeal, with our persistence. With our love. Jakov proved his unwavering determination to confront God, even though he was injured – after that pivotal night, he hobbled on one leg for the rest of his life – meaning, he went all the way, he was prepared to fight even if it meant total annihilation. And he was defeated, without question. But is being defeated by God not the greatest victory? Victory over all victories; victory over the sinful self, over the frightened man in me, over the destructive passions that separate me from God. Is there anything more beautiful than that? To be a worthy opponent of God in prayer!
Monastic life is a struggle, a battle. The struggle of Jacob, giving everything, or more precisely, giving oneself completely. The long monastic services prove this. These wonderful services were created by fathers who were just like that: zealous in their struggle to find and unite with God. We all know how difficult it can sometimes be, especially in this period, to endure the service; hours and hours, your mind wanders off somewhere else, your head falls, your eyes close… But you fight and endure, you awaken spiritually, you seek God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I call out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 21:1-2). “God, come to my rescue; Lord, come quickly to help me.” (Psalm 69:1). The service is a feat, a true feat. How long are Orthodox services, especially in a monastery! And it is a great blessing if we strive to endure. This is Orthodox worship – wonderful, mysterious, divine. In it, we can feel the spirit of Orthodox monasticism the most. A persistent request to God. Struggling with God! A feat. I give everything I have to reach Him, even though I sometimes feel Him so far away, kilometers away… Indeed, forgiveness is my personal problem, not God’s. The distance I feel is due to my mistakes and nothing else. Nevertheless, no matter how far I feel from Him, I cry out to Him: “I am Yours, God, only Yours! Have mercy on me! I seek You, only You do I belong to.” Perseverance is needed, great perseverance. Wasn’t the Great Lent we just passed such perseverance? It’s difficult, you get tired, your bones ache terribly, you feel dizzy, your tongue sticks to your palate, and the services are terribly long… But I neglect all of that because I’m looking for the lost Paradise, I’m looking for the Beloved. I’m looking for God, who will support me, comfort me, bless me for my feat, and send me grace…
(Excerpt from a sermon by Elder Bishop Partenij addressed to his brothers).
The heroic act of the trimerion, carried out with love by those who took it upon themselves, should be for the salvation of their own souls and the souls of their neighbors, as well as a blessing for our entire Christian people!