All Saints of Russia Sunday

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.

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