A sermon of his Eminence, Bishop Partenius of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered at the Liturgy in honour of Saint Parthenius of Lampsacus on the 20th of February 2021
My dear ones, first I would like to show my gratitude because of your devotion to come here on this day, when we celebrate the great Bishop of Christ, our Holy Father Parthenius of Lampsacus, the Worderworker. His name I am unworthy of having, but still I carry it for almost 26 years. Thank you for sharing with me the joy of his celebration.
Truly great is before God, this shepherd of Christ’s spiritual flock, who struggled all his life to fulfill and realise the evangelical words we have just read in the Gospel of St. John the Theologian. Namely the Gospel said that: The good shepherd yields his soul for his sheep. Striving eagerly in the main Christian virtue – the self-sacrificing love for others, St. Parthenius became deified and was proclaimed a Saint of Christ. He reached this perfection because he once and for all entered the gate which is Christ. It is in that same Gospel where Christ refers to Himself as the gate saying: I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd (John 10:9-11). No human soul can be saved, sanctified and deified, except through Christ. That’s why He says: All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers… (Јohn 10, 8-14). Indeed, throughout history many presented themselves as saviours, wise men, teachers, offering some kind of solutions for the existential problems, but no one could have saved human kind from the greatest problem – death. Only Christ opened for us the gate to eternal life. Therefore He is the gate through which we go in and go out, find redemption and become holy.
The Church of Christ has always been subjected to persecution, crucifixion and suffering. Even our Saviour announced this with the words: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Маtthew 16,24). So our life, the life of the Church as a community of Christ’s disciples is a crucifix. But we always have the Good Shepherd with us, who calls us with His sweet and calming voice which gives life and joy. We know his voice, we know how sweet and life-giving it is, so we follow Him with devotion and love. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine… And other sheep I have… and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd (Јоhn 10,14-16). Just like the Good Shepherd, every person who is chosen to be the leader within the Church has huge responsibility. Such person should completely follow the example of Christ, so that the faithful could recognize the voice of God through him. We who have been chosen as shepherds and spiritual fathers within the Church constantly feel this heavy burden.
However, on the other hand, the faithful also have great responsibility, because they have to be endowed with obedience and humbleness, to recognize the voice of their shepherd and obey him; not to crucify him with their disobedience. Only then, there will be true harmony and we will all be like our Saviour. If those who are in the leading places of the Church should give their loving sacrificial offering for all of the faithful within it, because they have the greatest responsibility, then the faithful are also invited to demonstrate complete obedience, so that everything could fall into its place and we could all reach our goal – unity with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
A proof that salvation and deification can only be found in Christ is the very Saint we celebrate today. St Parthenius lived in the fourth century. But as you can see, almost 17 centuries people look up to his name and memory. When I took my monastic vows I rejoiced greatly that in my life, beside the angel given at baptism and the one at my monastic tonsure, I was also given such a famous Saint-protector, because my old name was not of a Saint. For so many centuries now this Saint is present among the faithful, helping them with the graceful power he received from the Archpastor Christ. He is always here for us when we need his help, when we are drowned in sadness and hardship; we mention his name in our prayers, asking him to intercede for us before Christ and he always listens to our prayers and conveys them to God. It has been seventeen centuries now that his holy image and example illuminates the life of people. And it’s not just his, but also the examples of numerous saints, known and unknown. Isn’t that the indicator all of them are alive in Christ? Therefore Christ has often been referred to as the land or home of the eternally living.
So, my dear ones, let us leave behind our earthly worries, the numerous passions and pleasures which overcome us and are a great burden of our souls. Christianity is still prosecuted but the present prosecution of our Church is somewhat different in this century and is expressed through a kind of internet war. Today people are so much burdened by the temptations which come through the media, internet, and social networks. They are really confused and can not find the real path. That’s why we need to be careful and wise, in order not to be deceived by the fake shepherds and teachers. One is our true and sublime Shepherd and Teacher – Christ our Lord and He is inviting us to be obedient, not rebellious against the Church; to respect and not to slander the shepherds and spiritual fathers of the Church; to promote and not to sabotage the catholicity of the Church. Today, unfortunately, there are all kinds of internet pages, profiles and groups which grow as if mushrooms in the digital world and are administered by inexperienced people who promote themselves as leaders and teachers. However they are in no way archiereic nor priest authorities. You know there is a rule in the Church that not everyone can teach. The right to teach and give sermons belongs to the Bishop, then to the priests and maybe some laymen, but only with a blessing of the Bishop. If this is the centuries old order of the Church, then how can some self-promoted preachers open pages and profiles on the internet and misguide the faithful with all kinds of harmful news and selected stories, which suit them but can take many in the wrong direction? You see, my dear ones that even today temptations and struggles of Christians are just as big as have always been throughout history. Actually, maybe today, as never before, the Christians should be very careful, selective and wise, according to the advice of St. John the Theologian: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1. Јоhn 4,1); And according to Christ teaching: Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt for the tree is known by his fruit (Маtthew 12,33) and elsewhere: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (Јоhn 13,35). So if you see that someone wants to crucify somebody and constantly points his finger towards others, judging them, such person is not a disciple of Christ. He doesn’t have the password, he doesn’t have the sign of recognition, which is Love.
Today there are such people who disrespectfully slander the spiritual fathers who frequently preach about love and even speak ironically about them. But you should know that those who preach and try to live the love of God, are the ones who truly resemble their Archpastor Christ who mostly spoke about Love in His Gospel. Remember his parable regarding the end of the world in which the sign of recognition for the real Christians would be the love and the good deeds:
Both types of faithful went to Church, but still, the first kind, although they recognized God’s image on the icon, couldn’t see it in the people created in His image, so they did nothing of what He commanded, did not love their neighbours enough, were not dedicated Christians, did nothing out of love. In a way they diverged from Christ. And the other kind also knew His image from the icons but they recognized it as well in the souls of their neighbours, so they did good and merciful deeds. They too humbly asked Him: Lord, when saw we thee? because they considered they did nothing or very little, although they dedicated all their life sacrificing for others. That kind of Christians our Lord wants us to be. Christians who will be recognized not just by going to Church – which is also very important – but also by love and good deeds. Apostle Paul said this: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1. Cor. 13,2-3).
I will confess something to you – I consider myself to be a negligent shepherd who in these past 26 years left nothing behind himself but sins and mistakes. As for all the other great deeds which have been done in our monasteries, I consider them not as ours, but as a result of Divine mercy and grace. Therefore I most humbly plead with you on this day of Holy Communion and this Eucharistic Mystery, to pray eagerly for me. You know I always carry you in my heart and continuously pray to Our Lord so that none of you would apostatize, but rather each and every one of you should finish this path successfully. I sincerely ask you to offer your prayers to my intercessor, Saint Parthenius of Lampsacus, to protect me and give me strength till the end of my life, so that I could overcome all the temptations which life and the Divine love would place before me.
Now I feel the need to say something about the young men who have undergone or are still going through the rehabilitation process from addictions. They were the ones to present me with this encolpion I carry on me today. At the time, they were not properly made, so we returned them to be fixed. And now it is with great love that I carry them on my name day. On this encolpion there is an image of the Holy Virgin Mary who is the protector of all the victims of various vices. I keep her icon in my cell as well and I always pray that none of these young men return to their old sinful ways, so that I can rejoice seeing them as they progress, so that we can all stay together with Christ. But in order for this to happen we have to live in communion here and love each other until the end. In this way one day we would be made worthy to see the bright image of our Lord in His Divine Kingdom.
I thank you all for your precious love!
May the prayers and the blessing of Saint Parthenius be always with you!