In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
We are keeping today the feast of all the Saints of Russia, a country whose history was remarkably short, barely a thousand years, and which has been filled, from the beginning to the end, by tragedy, by bloodshed and by martyrdom. The number of the Saints whom we knew are many, but innumerable are those whose names are known only to God, who rest in His heart – men, women, children who have lived according to His Gospel and of whom many have died, following Him, as the Scripture say, whithersoever He went. And in the last seventy years how many unknown martyrs have been the resplendence and the glory of Russia!
How many have lived, faithful to the Gospel to the point of laying down their lives for their neighbour! How many of them have died for their neighbours – or because of them! And how many indeed are now interceding for their martyred country, and also for those who were the instruments of their martyrdom and of their death.
Many years ago now has died in Russia Bishop Luka of Simferopol and of Crimea. Before the Revolution he had been one of the best known surgeons of Russia whose name was known even abroad, whose books could be found in the libraries of the medical schools of all of Europe. When the Revolution came, he decided to become a priest and on being asked, why, he said that he had thought that he could best serve mankind, his neighbour, each one of them, by being a surgeon when times were peaceful but now something else was needed: a testimony and a readiness to live and to die… And he came, after his ordination, to give his lectures at the University in his priestly clothes; he was arrested, deported to Tashkent, and patriarch Tikhon made him Bishop of the city. And the respect he was surrounded by was such that he did not die a martyr, but he was accepted, and he was a witness throughout sixty years, or seventy years of his life.
I want to read to you now a part of a sermon which he preached on occasion of Good Friday many, many years ago. “The death of Christ, -he said, – is a tearing apart of an immortal body from an immortal soul, of the body that could not die from a soul that remained alive, alive forever. This makes the death of Christ a tragedy beyond our imagining, far beyond any suffering which we can humanely picture or experience. Christ”s death is an act of supreme love. He was true when He said, No one takes My life from Me – I give it freely Myself… No one could kill Him, the Immortal; no one could quench this Light which is the shining of the splendour of God – He gave His life, He accepted the impossible death to share with us all the tragedy of our human condition. The Lord Himself has thus taken upon His shoulders the first cross, the heaviest, the most appalling one; but after Him, thousands and thousands of men, of women, of children have taken upon themselves their own crosses; lesser crosses perhaps, but how often these crosses which are lesser than Christ”s, remain as frightening for us… Innumerable crowds of people have lovingly, obediently walked in the footsteps of Christ, treading the long way which is shown by Our Lord; a way tragic, but which leads from this earth on the very Throne of God, into the Kingdom of God. They walk carrying their crosses, they walk now for two thousand years those who believe in Christ; they walk on, following Him, crowd after crowd. And on the way we see crosses, innumerable crosses on which are crucified the disciples of Christ – crosses, one cross after the other; and however ar we look, it is crosses and crosses again… We see the bodies of the martyrs, we see the heroes of the spirit, we see monks and nuns, we see priests and pastors; but many, many more people do we see, ordinary, simple, humble people of God, who have willingly taken upon themselves the Cross of Christ. There is no end to this procession; they walk throughout the centuries, knowing that Christ has foretold us that they will have sorrow on this earth, but that the Kingdom of God is theirs… They walk, with the heavy cross, rejected, hated because of truth, because of the name of Christ! They walk, they walk, those pure victims of God, the old and the young, children and adults.
But where are we? Are we going to stand and look, to see this long procession, this throng of people with shining eyes, with hope unquenched, with unfaltering love, with incredible joy in their hearts pass us by? Shall we not join them, this eternally moving crowd that is marked as a crowd of victims, but also as little children of the Kingdom? Are we not going to take up our cross and follow Christ? Christ has commanded us to follow Him, He has invited us to the banquet of His Kingdom, and He is at the head of this procession -nay, He is together with each of those who walk! Is this a nightmare?How can blood and flesh endure this tragedy, the sight of all these martyrs, new and old? Because Christ is risen! Because we do not see in the Lord Who walks ahead of us a defeated Prophet of Galilee, as He was seen by His tormentors, His persecutors; we know Him now in he glory of the Resurrection; we know that every word of His is true! We know that the Kingdom of God is ours if we simply follow Him!
These are the words of one who had a right to speak these words because he lived not only in the twilight of history, but at the core of its tragedy, at the core of its horror. But he knew that the Cross that had once been the object of horror and the sign of defeat had become, through the death and resurrection of Christ, victory, and this victory indeed was won by all these man, these children, these women, unknown to the world, known to God alone. And it is their blood that has been the renewal of Russia, it is their prayers that uphold now the martyred country, and open up new ways, new possibilities.
And shall we not follow them? We are not called to that martyrdom, we are only called, each in our place, to be faithful to our calling to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Shall we not, in the peace in which we live, be as faithful as they were in the tragedy, in the darkness, in the terror that was theirs? Amen.