Saint Clement’s enduring message

A homily given by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Bigorski, on the Feast of Saint Clement of Ohrid, given at the Cathedral Church bearing his name in Skopje, on Wednesday, December 8th in the year of Our Lord 2021

Your Eminence, Archbishop Stefan of Ohrid and Macedonia,

Your Graces,

Beloved brothers and sisters,

I will begin my homily by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to our archbishop, the worthy head of our Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric, His Eminence Stefan, for his fatherly archpastoral blessings on us which are always overflowing, and especially for the joyful opportunity to be with you today at this honorable festal gathering.

Beloved brothers and sisters, without a doubt, it is a great blessing to be a part of this Eucharistic gathering, the blessing of being part of this Eucharistic assembly, of this liturgical mystery and participating in our common work as the people of God and royal priesthood is abundant. Truly, this day on which we remember the Holy and Worker-worker of Ohrid, our Archpastor, the Equal-to-the-Apostles Clement is filled with spiritual glory and joy. This glory was proclaimed not only in the hymns and prayers at the divine services last night and this morning, but the Saint himself was present through grace, being our messenger of the love, joy, peace, mercy, glory, and power of God.

Bishop Partenij, Abbot of Bigorski Monastery

St. Clement’s holiness and benevolence reach out to bless every corner of Macedonia. He appeared on the Earth as a new apostle and heavenly messenger of Christ’s eschaton for the Macedonian people and all the Slavs. He was like a New Testament Abraham for the Slavic peoples. He is our spiritual forefather, who has begotten more spiritual sons and daughters than stars in the heavens He was like a new Moses, who brought our people out of the desert of idolatry to the Promised Land of the knowledge of God. As the Forerunner of Christ’s glory and beauty, he prepared the way of the Lord into the hearts of the Slavs. St. Clement’s work will last unto eternity and is truly a mystery of the Church of God. Because he did not “build on someone else’s foundation,” but rather his works rested on an imperishable and eternal foundation: Christ. In a very short time, he elevated the newly-born Slavic culture to the same level as cultures that had been around for a long time, introducing the Slavs to irreproachable piety, love of the word, education, and developing in them a sense for the eternal and the beautiful. Together with other children of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Cyril and Methodius, as well as his brother and companion, Saint Nahum of Ohrid, Clement succeeded in raising our ancestors to the dignity of the Gospel, Christianizing the Slavs and transforming them into a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy people (1 Peter 2:9).

His Saint’s Life, which is based on the traditions preserved by the people and their spiritual memory, shows St. Clement to be a caring shepherd and merciful father of the Church, an icon and likeness of the supreme Archpastor and eternal High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. “The very appearance of the blessed one,” the biographer says, “inspired the greatest respect even among his enemies.” With his life and miracles, he proclaimed the wisdom and mercy of God. He was a skilled servant and laborer of Christ: high priest and acolyte, educator and student, bishop and servant, builder and farmer, father of monks, and gentle parent of souls in Christ. His angelic residence on Earth to this day speaks loudly to us and commands us to be merciful and humane, grateful, noble, and generous. His whole life can be reduced to God’s two most excellent commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and the second, like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself!(Matthew 22:37-39) His biographer, the blessed Archbishop Theophylact of Ohrid, describes him thus: “He [Clement] considered caring for the people as his food and delight. He always taught and always set order, correcting ignorance and adorning the undecorated; and he became all things to all men, according to each one’s need… He fed them with the Word, with the true Bread that truly restores hearts. However, he also took care to feed materially those whom he saw as needy… He was a father to orphans and a helper to widows… His door was open to every poor person.”

By the very fact that he did good amid a nation that at that time was unenlightened and coarse, his sanctity shines forth even stronger and its rays reach out to all the ends of the world. He managed not only to educate and enlighten the flock entrusted to him by God, but also to inspire it, to raise up teachers and workers in Christ’s vineyard from it, and to bring the whole nation to godliness and unity. With this, St. Clement conveyed Christ’s voice to us, that the Church should be a unifying force to gather and embrace people, like a hen does her chicks (cf. Matthew 23:37), at every time and in every storm throughout all ages, including today. But he also conveys to us the message that the people should not put anything else before their love for the Lord Christ, but rather, as he says in one of his sermons, “reject all malice, envy, laziness, and gluttony and with purity, restraint, charity, and vigor in prayer that we might inherit the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life.”

Consequently, indelible is the message and holy the dignity given to us by our beloved Saint Clement. His life and words left a big impact on the culture of this region, which to this day is an essential part of our people’s existence. One Macedonian literary figure from the last century noted quite accurately that “for now we will observe and remember that St. Clement of Ohrid is not just a great saint from the church calendar, but is also present in the consciousness of our people and is intimately connected with its everyday life and destiny.” Like in his own time, so too today, our great enlightener Clement, with the same zeal and care for our salvation, calls us to mutual love and respect, to humanity and mercy, to harmony between peoples of the same faith and brothers, because disunity is like a dry and thirsty land (Psalm 62:1), which will not produce any fruit and will be ravaged by wild beasts. Our Enlightener is present in our every pain, in every need and affliction, in difficult days and restless nights, and continues to do his life’s work: to proclaim God’s invisible work through his own visible deeds.

St. Clement’s goodwill towards our land and people is immense even to this very day. A clear indication of this is the fact that he honored us in our time with the restoration of his monastery at Plaoshnik in his glorious city of Ohrid, and for his honorable and miraculous relics to be transferred there. This is a priceless treasure for the congregation of the faithful in Macedonia. Therefore we can be sure that we have a great blessing, but also a great responsibility to show ourselves worthy as a nation of the glory that our prayerful protector has on earth and in heaven. The restoration of St. Clement’s Monastery was our ancestors’ dream for generations, who for centuries kept the tradition of their heavenly patron and his magnificent church. But behold, God’s providence honored our generation and our hands to do it, just like once upon a time when the Prophet and King David desired all his life to build a temple to the one God, but it was his son who was deemed was worthy of it, the wise King Solomon. Raised on ancient foundations and walled from the same stone, the Church of Saint Clement at Plaoshnik is a visible beacon of God’s mercy shown to us and to our young country, but at the same time a reminder to act and live according to his teachings of love for God and our neighbors, for unity among brothers, for the preservation of Christian principles and holy tradition, for love for our country, and to sacrifice ourselves for others. Of course, this House of God, in which today we rejoice with festive joy, and which also bears the name of the Wonder-worker of Ohrid, is no less a blessing. This newly-built temple in the center of our capital is our Church’s archiepiscopal cathedral, and it expresses the constant memory of St. Clement and his work in our people’s consciousness. We did not forget Saint Clement even in our modern era, and so we restored his church and made it a memorial to him.

It seems to me that there is not a single Christian soul here who does not feel the gentle breeze of God’s grace and the mysterious presence of our spiritual Elder, the deified bishop, and our prayerful advocate, father, teacher, and enlightener, Saint Clement of Ohrid the Wonder-worker. May his blessing and his prayers rest upon this flock of Christ, lifting our hearts to the realms of Divine love and joy, and may the love he has for God be with you all.