A homily by His Grace Bishop Partenij for the 4th Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross, given in the Monastery trapeza on October 20th in the year of our Lord 2019.
Today, my beloved, we heard from the Gospel about the wonderful miracle that the Lord Jesus Christ did in the city of Nain. At that time, Nain was a small but beautiful city. After all, the very word Nain in ancient Hebrew means “beautiful” or “charming.” Symbolically, we can understand the name of this city as an image of the world before the fall of our forefather Adam and foremother Eve. Before their fall, the world was the Garden of Eden, a paradise. It was a place in which God placed man to live beautifully, majestically, and divinely. Of course, death was not even on man’s mind in such an environment because God had not planned such horrible things for man in His design of the world. However, disobedience expelled him from that beautiful place, the city that was created for him, the world of beauty, and heavenly delights. Adam and Eve found themselves outside the expanses of paradise, in unbearable sadness and weeping. In the week before the beginning of Great Lent, the Church puts these words of lamentation and mourning for Paradise in our forefather Adam’s mouth: “Adam sat before Paradise and, mourning his nakedness, cried: ‘Oh, Paradise, I will no longer enjoy your beauty; I will no longer see my Lord and God and Creator because I will go to the earth from which I was taken.’” Adam mourns for Paradise lost, he weeps on account of the death he brought not just upon himself, but also on all his offspring.
Death was the cause of sadness and mourning in today’s gospel reading as well. Namely, when the Lord Jesus headed to the city of Nain, followed by a multitude of His disciples and a big crowd, He waited in front of the city gates for a funeral procession. A widowed mother’s only son was carried to the cemetery. This widow was left all alone in the world; her only hope, her future and joy, was descending into a cold grave. Who could describe her sorrow?! A terrible and unbearable thing! What has disobedience done to God’s most exalted creation?!
But then, in the wake of this procession of death appears He before Whom no kind of fear, sorrow, or evil can survive – not even death itself. Here comes the Lover of Man, Our Savior, Who did not allow man to be utterly vanquished by death, but instead He came Himself and delivered us all. The Gospel says that as soon as the Lord saw the widow, He had compassion on her and said to her: “Don’t cry!” The Savior had compassion on the whole world. He tells us all: “Don’t cry! I am with you, I have come among you, I became man for your sake, that I might raise you up and give you eternal life.” “Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Luke 7:13-14).
Before Christ, the Old Testament mentions three resurrections from the dead. One of these was the son of the widow in Zarephath, which was done by the Holy Prophet Elijah, while the other two were done by his disciple, the prophet Elisha. However, these great God-pleasers resurrected the dead after fervent prayer to God, and yet today we see how the Lord Christ commands the dead man with His Divine authority and power, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” and thus awoke him from his sleep of death. The Gospel continues and tells us that the dead man sat up and began to speak so that no one would suspect that it was some kind of intrigue, or that anything other than the Life-giving Voice of God had caused the dead man to move. Before then, no one had heard of a dead man rising out of his coffin, standing up, and speaking. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother. Thus, the young man’s mother suddenly received a miraculous consolation, greater than anything she could have ever dreamed of. God brought back her only son who had been dead back to life.
For God, my beloved, death means nothing, because He is eternal. The very purpose of His coming to earth is to resurrect us with Himself. Therefore, I would ask you to try to understand these impressive and powerful words of Christ in a spiritual sense. “Young man, I say to you, arise!” How do these words relate to each of us? Following the Resurrection of Christ, the only obstacle left preventing man from living forever is sin. So, death in itself should no longer be a cause of fear among Christians. The only thing we have left to fear is becoming separated from God, giving in to passions, and clinging to this world, which little by little makes us begin to die. In the end, a horrific fear overcomes us.
A few days ago, a man who goes to church regularly came to me and told me about another older man, who also goes to church, and how he is very afraid of death. This really surprised me. Is it possible to constantly read the Gospel, to listen to Christ’s miraculous, life-giving words, to be a disciple of the Giver of Life, and yet still be hopelessly afraid of death? Obviously, something is wrong here. That man has probably drifted away from the essence of the Gospel, even if he reads or talks about it every day. This happens because of our many passions which work in us and do not allow us to accept the essence of the Gospel. They move us away from God. It is as if they are putting us to sleep, but with a sinful dream. When a person falls asleep in his passions, when he surrenders to them and does not fight them, he is already in that sleep of death. Therefore, St. John of Damascus, that great teacher of monks, teaches all Christians: “Die before you die, so that when you die, you will not die.” Die, then, to everything in this life that deceives you, attracts you, and captivates you, because you can be sure that one day you will have to leave it all behind. Family members and friends will leave you, and money, houses, and possessions will all leave you… The only thing that will follow us into eternity is the good deeds we did out of love for God. Anyone who believes, who talks to God, prays, spends time with Him, and does good for His sake —such a person is not afraid of death.
Today the fear of death reigns all over the world. You must have noticed this. Many people come to me and confess: “Father, I am afraid of death, I am afraid to die.” This thanatophobia, this deeply rooted pathology in man arises from an insufficient faith in eternal life. We have not known Christ properly. He always tells us: “Don’t cry, don’t be afraid, get up, wake up, get out of the material world.” Of course, being obedient to Christ by coming out of the world is something we do in a mental and spiritual sense. Clearly, we cannot physically leave this world whenever we would like; this is something we will do only when we reach our final station, the separation of the body from the soul. Thus begins our transition to eternity. We will pass through this transition much more painlessly and peacefully if we let go of our attachments to temporal earthly things, to everything that enslaves us to what is perishing and does not bring us true joy.
Yesterday before the vigil, a spiritual child from Skopje called me. A close relative of his, a young man in his twenties, came to visit him. The man said to me, “Father, until now I thought he was a good boy. That’s how he seemed until I got to know him better.” He started telling me about what that young man was actually doing, that he went out to buy drugs, went wild, and was destroying himself. When my spiritual child told him that this was not good and that such a life could easily lead him to complete destruction, he justified himself by saying that his friends were doing the same thing, and even worse things. When my spiritual child told him about God, the boy said indifferently: “I want everything to happen to me quickly and then I can die! There is no more hope for me and I don’t want to live.” See how a twenty-year-old boy thinks! It’s so horribly tragic! What a sad state man falls into without God! If he would accept God, he would surely wake up, he would be resurrected. One cannot accept the Giver of Life without having life in him. The monks of this monastery have seen it many times and can testify to it. We have seen many people resurrected and transformed after they looked for God and allowed His voice to penetrate into their hearts, which calls out: “Arise, do not sleep, wake up spiritually from the sleep of death and sin! Arise and seek Me, I will not leave you. “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, he will live” (John 11:25).
Therefore, my beloved, let us love Him Who created us and resurrects us. Let us walk in procession not towards death, but to Life, like the Apostles and the multitude of people who followed Christ. At the head of this procession is the Giver of Life. This procession is His Church, where He is the Head, the eternal High Priest, Who gives eternal life. He presides over every Liturgy and through His Body and Blood, He gives us a guarantee for eternity.
If we sincerely and selflessly try to be a part of that procession, we will fear nothing in life and we will never taste death. We just need to open our hearts to Him, although sometimes it is very difficult for us to do that. It is difficult to wake up spiritually. You see, He can raise even a dead person with just one of His words. But it is much more difficult for Him to revive a spiritually dead person. Why? Because of man’s free will. Christ cannot do violence to you so that you would be forced to choose Him. He only points you in the right direction, helps you, and calls you to come out of that sleep of death, to change, to become a new person, a child of the Resurrection. Christ made mankind a new creation. However, He cannot resurrect you from your spiritual death by force, He cannot wake you from your spiritual slumber if you do not want Him to. Therefore, my children, let us listen to His voice that tells us: “I say to you, arise!” Don’t cry, don’t grieve. You can only grieve for your sins, but not for anything of this world. Do not be afraid of death, problems, or temptations. Do not complain about material things, but seek the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you! (cf. Luke 12:31).” If you put Him above everything, He will not deprive you of anything. I have seen many people who were materially poor, but who at one point put God above everything in their lives and He did not deprive them of anything. Even when they hopelessly thought it was all over, that everything was falling apart, God did not abandon them, but it was then that He delivered them.
So, let’s listen to the Voice of the Giver of Life: “I say to you, wake up!” Wake up for what? For eternal life. Is there anything more beautiful than that? In this life, everything comes to an end. Just look at how wherever people live, there is also a cemetery. How many more people are there now lying in the grave than in buildings and houses? How many generations are we here today? A few. And there? From Adam up to today, many cities and countries full. Christ, on the other hand, is the Homeland of those who live eternally. In Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, there is a famous Byzantine church and above the door, there is a beautiful mosaic of the Lord Jesus Christ. There, it says in Greek: Ἰησοὺς Χριστός ἡ Χώρα τῶν ζώντων, ‘Jesus Christ, the Land of the Living.’ The land of those who do not die, but live forever.
Forgive me if I am digressing and repeating myself, but it’s because I really want my words to reach you. Therefore, I am speaking with my heart to your hearts. I want you all to hear the voice of Christ because His is the sweetest voice. He is more beautiful than anything else! His very voice brings life. Take this to heart, please. If you receive His voice into you and unite yourself with Him, if you start to live a liturgical life, then the procession of Life will get bigger and bigger, and the procession leading to death will get smaller. You are already part of the real procession, of the Church. One way or another, God has called us here. Let’s remain faithful to that vocation and with a God-pleasing life multiply the gift that He has given us: the freedom to know Him, and to save as many other people as possible in addition to ourselves.
May the Resurrected Christ be with us all!