Sermon by His Eminence the Bishop of Antania, Mr. Parthenius, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered, at the Divine Liturgy in the Knezhino Monastery, on the feast of the Holy Relics of St George, November 3/16, 2023 AD, after the Holy Gospel
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Beloved and dear faithful,
Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His Holy Gospel, addresses us Christians with His truly wonderful words: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15:19). “How can someone not be of the world?” – asks Saint Simeon the New Theologian, interpreting this statement of Christ and immediately answers: “This can only happen if he crucifies himself for the world and the world within himself, as the Apostle Paul says: the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Gal. 6:14). […] The one who is crucified or dead to the world has no longer a sense of worldly things. Just as the dead body has no sense of either the living or the dead bodies lying next to it, so he who by the grace of the Holy Spirit has come out of the world and begins to abide with God, cannot have any sense of the world or worldly matters” (homily No. 79).
Viewed in the aspect of these powerful words, we Christians, in some mystical sense, look upon death as a kind of divine permission, i.e., as a deliverance from suffering and from evil. For, ever since man with his disobedience and sinful fall in the Garden of Eden voluntarily fell into the pit of evil, God allowed death to enter his kind, so that he would not turn into an ultimately embittered creature. Therefore death, although initially not according to God’s will and predestination for man, became a kind of preventive measure, which tames and shortens wickedness among people. That is why the Fathers of the Church say that if we do not want to sin, we should always have a remembrance of death.
Of course, death did not remain the only means for educating people. The merciful and compassionate God did not leave man to live in constant anxiety from evil and in fatalistic fear of death, but in every aspect showed him the way to deliverance and to His Kingdom. In the time of the Old Testament, He sent Prophets, people to whom He Himself appeared and gave revelations and whom he addressed as His friends, revealing to them the truth about Himself, as well as the paths that are pleasing to Him. In the ecclesiastical sense, we refer to this as a supernatural divine revelation. Through this wonderful revelation, God taught humanity and prepared it for the most important thing – the descending of the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Finally, when the time reached its fulfillment, the Word of God became man, taking His body from the Pure Virgin Mary, in order to give every man the opportunity for salvation. He remained what He was – perfect God and became what He was not – the perfect Man. He became a model for man, so that man himself could become godlike, could be deified. And, since, according to the testimony of the Evangelist Saint John the Theologian, the world lies in evil, Christ refers to His own as not of this world. He came to create a new world, to recreate the fallen Adam, in everyone who will give Him enough space for action within himself. For, if in Adam all humans fell and died, now in Christ they all rise and live. However, in order for this divine recreation to take place, good will and effort are needed on the part of man, so that things could go in the right direction. Man’s likeness to God is realized only when man takes the perfect Man, the Son of God, as his example, as the icon of his life; when Christ is placed above all in the heart. In other words, when he finds Christ within himself. For, as God Himself says, the Divine Kingdom is within you (Luke 17:21). When we strive in everyday life to live according to Christ, according to the Spirit that was given to us through Holy Baptism, we make Him more and more present in our heart and from here on begin to live the spiritual, eternal life of the Heavenly Kingdom. Thus, by making the Kingdom of God present in our everyday life, we make it visible and accessible to others; we spread God’s love and God’s pleasant energies. For it is in love that the kingdom of Christ consists the most.
So, my dear ones, if we truly want to be Christ’s own, we must not identify with this world, but on the contrary, we need to exit it spiritually. For this, of course, a great sacrifice and abstinence are required on our part, as well as a firm, uncompromising attitude towards sin and worldly things. Whether it is for the sake of our property, reputation, position, or even life, we must not give in to what is sinful, false, unblessed, but fearlessly testify Christ with our own life. In that case, He will be with us, He will not leave us helpless. For it is precisely on the basis of such uncompromising attitude towards this world and the fearless testimony of deeds, Christ founded His Church. It is not by chance that He sent His Apostles to conquer the world, as if lambs among wolves, armed not with some worldly weapon, but solely with His wonderful and ineffable peace from above. Initially, for three whole centuries, until the reign of the Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Constantine the Great, the Church of God was subjected to terrible persecutions, exactly because the world, being deeply immersed in sin, did not understand and accept the Christian concept of abstinence, moral purity, love, and self-sacrifice. The ancient pagan peoples had long been accustomed to living in fornication and all kinds of filth, so that impurity and hatred were ingrained in their nature. That is why they looked with anger and hatred on the apostolic preaching, and everywhere persecuted and killed the followers of Christ. We clearly know that all the Apostles ended their lives with martyrdom. After them their disciples too, and the disciples of their disciples… The followers of Christ were constantly exposed to harassment, torture, killings.
One of them is our celebrant of today, the Holy Megalomartyr, St. George Trophy Bearer, who according to his profession was a tribune in the Roman army. When he had to testify for Christ, he did not hesitate, nor for a single moment thought to spare himself, his youth, name, position, and honor, but fearlessly preached Christ before the emperor and his entire court. Previously, however, as a good Christian, he himself saw the briefness and vanity of this life and decided to dedicate it to Christ, so that he could gain in Him the eternal one and to taste the heavenly joy. Therefore, he uncompromisingly and to the end remained faithful to his God and suffered for His sake. In this way, with his God-abiding life and his suffering for Christ, he left us a priceless example to follow. Because our faith, my beloved ones, is based precisely on this – the feat of martyrdom and the blood of the Martyrs. It resides on their testimony and example, however not given in with words, but through deeds and with life.
So, let us ask ourselves how much exactly we live Christ. How much do we strive to be godlike, to be deified? How much do we know and feel that our ontological homeland is Christ – the Place of the living? If we want to answer sincerely to ourselves, we, Christians, must admit how often we forget that Christ should be above all and that we should constantly fight the evil, which can easily takes us over. Evil is everywhere, around us and in us, while, on the other hand, our struggle is weak. However, if we sincerely and diligently orient ourselves towards the eternal, heavenly life, we will have, above all, the help of the Most Holy Mother of God, of the Holy Apostles of Christ, and all the Martyrs, headed by today’s celebrant Saint George. All of them will be ready to help us at any time, if they recognize in our hearts a desire for virtuous life, if they see that we want to fill our hearts with love. In this way, we could gradually transform, according to the image of Christ, and by transforming ourselves, we would also transform the world. Because, and I think you will all agree with me, the world in which we live is rapidly returning to the dark pagan times.
Although it seems to be developing and moving forward, it is obvious that our society is increasingly degrading to the state it was in before Christ, in the times of paganism and dark customs. Today we can no longer talk about morals, about Christian values, which our civilization has been based on until recently, and which humanity can really be proud of. If we look back through history, we will see that only in Christ did humanity make such magnificent, glorious, and holy deeds. Look at Christ’s Martyrs, the Saints, the enlighteners, who so brilliantly enlightened the world. How many nations that lived in darkness were enlightened through the Holy Gospel! Even externally, in a physical sense, Christianity had united the world; peace reigned for a certain period. But when the human race completely distances itself from Christ, it falls into utter spiritual and intellectual darkness.
The modern man is largely alienated from Christ, and consequently, terrible neo-pagan darkness reigns in the world. We see that the first thing to suffer in the process of de-Christianization of the western countries was the holiest hearth – the family. Undeniably, marriage and family are exclusively a gain of Christianity. Marriage, defined as a Holy Mystery of love between one man and one woman, is characteristic only of Christianity. Previously, such a thing did not exist even among the most civilized peoples. There were predominantly communities of one man with many women, as well as all kinds of other perverse relationships, which, unfortunately, are largely being propagated and legalized today. Our culture and philosophy of life are based on the Gospel, on Christ, on man’s striving for eternal life.
Thus our ancestors, until recently, had an ascetic spirit, a monastic mindset. They lived in abstinence, in the holy abiding to the given vows, whether it was the vow of marriage or the vow of monasticism. Today, this way of life is gradually collapsing before our eyes. People easily and without a single care or guilty conscience abandon their vow, do not appreciate the sanctity. Because of this recklessness, the sacred hearth of the family, where people were once born and nurtured into spiritually and morally healthy personalities, is disappearing further and further more. At the same time, the world is becoming more and more diseased.
My dear ones, let us pray to the Holy Megalomartyr St. George the Trophy Bearer, this universal Saint, celebrated everywhere around the world, both in the East and in the West, who has great freedom of speech before Christ. Let us plead with him to intercede before Christ our Lord for the sake of all Christians, so that they could eagerly step on the evangelical path. Also let us ask him to procure for us powers from above for our small feats. We are not required now to testify the faith of Christ with our blood, but by doing good deeds. May the beloved Saint George and all the Saints help us in this.