Sermon of His Eminence, Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Elder and Abbot of the Bigorski Monastery, delivered on the Feast of St Elijah, and the Day of the Republic, during the Holy Liturgy at the Church “St. George the Triumphant” in Lazaropole village
May the memory of the Holy and glorious prophet Elijah – the great and righteous man we celebrate today, my dear ones, be with us for many years, and may this be for our spiritual benefit and progress!
First, I would like to thank the members of the Church Council of this glorious Miyak village, for the great love they showed, inviting us to their glorious village to serve a Holy Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. In fact, this is my first Liturgy outside the Bigorski Monastery, after my ordination as a Bishop at St. Sophia Church in Ohrid. That is why it was a great honour for me to celebrate the Divine Hierarchical Eucharist on this very day, which is so important not just for the Christian faith, but also for the history of our Macedonian people. Furthermore, I rejoice at the chance to be again in this magnificent temple of the Holy Great Martyr George the Triumphant, whom I respect very much, whose powerful prayers I have felt and whose miracles I have seen.The Holy Old Testament Prophet Elijah, whom we celebrate today, is undoubtedly a great biblical person. He is mentioned not only in the Old but also in the New Testament – namely, in the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor, together with the Holy Prophet and God’s Witness Moses. According to the words of the Scriptures, He who ascended alive to heaven will come again in the last days to expose the false messiah – the antichrist. It is precisely for that reason he is called the “Second Forerunner” of Christ’s coming in his Troparion. This Prophet, endowed with fiery faith and immense zeal, was given a mission by God to save the people of Israel from the deception which they had fallen into, while they were under the reign of King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel. In fact, at that time there was a terrible apostasy of the God-chosen people: the royal court introduced a cult to false deities. This brought about the spread of false pagan belief, which lead to many twisted behaviours, untypical for the Jewish people. The sacred history shows us that whenever there was an apostasy among the people, God chose His righteous servants – the Holy Prophets, and sent them to reason with the people and bring them back to the true faith. Also, to prepare them for the coming of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, the true God incarnated in a human body. We have many examples of such deviations from the true faith, which have resulted in a highly immoral life. Because it is impossible for a person to live righteously if he does not believe in the one and true faith. Only true faith leads to righteous and God-blessed living. Our holy fathers said that righteousness comes from Orthodoxy. The apostasy from God in the days of Ahab and Jezebel caused Israel great misery. Namely, God Himself, revealed to them, through the words of the Holy Prophet, that there would be no rain in their kingdom for as many as three and a half years – and that really happened. Still, God is not to blame for the disasters which happen, but rather the heresy and the evil doings of the people. God can allow, according to His paternal care, mercy and pedagogy, for some misfortune to happen, but only for the sake of our reasoning and correction, in order to bring us back to Orthodoxy and the righteous way of living. Because man is not a senseless being, but God created him in His own image and likeness. Thus, all the miseries happen mostly due to man’s deviation from Orthodoxy, from his divine predestination. There can be no good parent who does not want his children to live a righteous, God-pleasing and soul-saving life. This goes even more for our Lord Who wants us to be good in this life, to inherit the eternal life, which He has given us through His sacrifice on the Cross. Therefore, we should look at the misfortunes and miseries that befall us as a pedagogical measure for our correction and thus turn bad into good. Today we are all witnessing a great ordeal the whole world is struggling with – the COVID 19 pandemic. This catastrophe, like the others before it, is a consequence of human apostasy. One should only take a closer look at the Christianity of today, to immediately conclude that in many ways our world is similar to Israel from the time of prophet Elijah. Undoubtedly Christianity today is in a miserable state. The whole Orthodox world, as well as the countries with Christian heritage, are experiencing a terrible spiritual desolation, apostasy and moral erosion. The most sacred unity in our society – the Holy Mystery of marriage is in great danger today. Only Christianity defines marriage as a God-human institution between a man and a woman, giving it a sublime and salvational character. But today, unfortunately, many Christians abandon that sacramental view of marriage and even secularise it completely, considering it simply as a social agreement between two partners, which do not have to be of the opposite gender. They are making compromises with the God-opposing spirit of this world, just like the Jews in the time of the prophet Elijah flirted with the false pagan gods and idols. However, not all people fell under the influence of the dark forces in those historical delusions. There has always been a brave man who was ready to lay down their lives for the true faith, for the honour of the moral human life that comes from it, for the spiritual and national freedom. Let us remember what the Lord said to Elijah: Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him (1 Kings 19:18). Especially in the years of the New Testament we have, I would say, countless martyrs who testified to the true teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord with their own sufferings and blood. Even this temple and this village constantly remind me of those righteous witnesses of the Truth – our glorious ancestors, who were blessed with martyr’s conscience, ready to even die if it takes, but not to make a compromise with the salvational Christian faith and the righteous way of life. That is why they performed impossible feats, inconceivable for the minds of the people of this world. Such was the feat of the immortal Ilinden Uprising leaders, whose memory we celebrate today. As it is well known, on this day in 1903 our God-loving and patriotic ancestors, inspired by the example of the Holy Prophet Elijah, and our Christian saints and martyrs, started the heroic so-called Ilinden Uprising against the Ottoman Empire and against the social oppression in general. With their titanic feats and unimaginable sacrifices, they managed to establish the first republic in the Balkans, which, unfortunately, due to the opposing geopolitical interests of the great powers, did not last very long and was suffocated in blood. But the memory of the sacrifice and martyrdom of those heroes remained alive in the collective memory of our people. To this day, those ancestors are an example for all courageous men who are determined to stand against imposed authority in their strive for perfection. When we remember and think about their heroic act, the sacrifice they made, we feel the need to love the Homeland and to fight for its honour, for the social freedom and justice of its inhabitants and above all – to try hard so that the best truly and completely prevails in our hearts. The Scriptures say that God is the One Who throughout history sets the predetermined times and borders of nations and states (cf. Luke 17:26). He blessed our recent forefathers to definitely create this precious state of ours in 1945. However, that specific date is only the last result of the years-long blood-shedding of our sacred ancestors, who laid the foundation for our statehood. That is why we should have immense and sacred love for our Homeland, cherishing it in the right way, in spirit and truth, without desiring for anything foreign, nor fearing our own history, which, by the way, is very glorious and inspiring. Only with truthfulness and righteousness we would be able to preserve our earthly and inherit our other, eternal Homeland, the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us pray to the Holy Prophet Elijah not to withhold his blessing from us, but by the prayers and sacrifices of our ancestors, to preserve our small yet priceless land, and to enlighten the people in it with zeal for Orthodoxy and righteousness. And let us constantly have in mind the example of countless Christian martyrs of all nations and of all times, who even at the cost of their lives never complied with the spirit of this world, with its comfort and pleasures, at the expense of the Truth. Let us not forget our holy ancestors, known and unknown, who in the same manner never relented in their faith and fearlessly shed their blood. Enlightened by them, let us not be cowards, but stand brave before every temptation that happens to us in this life, including the recent one – with the virus. In regard to it, we have heard many opinions, views, fears, accusations, including the one that the Church is guilty of spreading the disease. But that is so shallow and unfounded and can be very easily refuted. Thank God, so far, we didn’t have any faithful infected by the services in our Orthodox temples. Let us just remember that the Church of Christ overcame many diseases which were far more sinister than this one, with the mortality of almost one hundred per cent, such as the plague, cholera, leprosy, tuberculosis… and still preserved its ancient traditions and practice. There hasn’t been a single individual throughout the entire history to catch a disease through the Holy Communion. This is because our God doesn’t make us ill, but rather heals us. And if we are ever allowed a temptation of any kind, it is only because our Lord wants us to become reasonable and repent. May the Holy Prophet Elijah and the Holy Venerable Martyrs Evnuvios, Paisios and Averkios, whose memory we also celebrate today, always be with us to protect us from evil and help us escape the modern pandemic and its consequences. May we celebrate this great day for our faith and Homeland for many years to come! Let us pray to God to protect us and that he enlighten those who have the mission to lead us, because, I have always imagined that underneath the seats of our Members of Parliament, are the bones and blood of our ancestors. May God awaken their conscience, so that they know what responsibility they have before the people and before the ancestors, to serve the good, the truth and the justice. I wish you an honourable and God-blessed Holiday!