Patriarch Kirill: If a Person is not Growing Spiritually, He is Degrading

admin | 11 October 2012

On October 8, 2012, the day of the repose of Saint Sergius the Abbot of Radonezh and Wonder-worker of Russia, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus’ officiated the Divine Liturgy at the Dormition Cathedral of the Holy-Trinity Sergius’ Lavra, as well as a prayer service to Saint Sergius in the Lavra’s courtyard, as reported by Patriarchia.ru.  At the conclusion of the prayer service, the first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church addressed the participants of the festivities with an archpastoral homily from the balcony of the Patriarchal apartments.

I greet all of you, dear Fathers, brothers, and sisters, with the great feast of the memory of our holy and God-bearing Father Sergius the Abbot of Radonezh.

Every time when we visit the Lavra, we come in contact with not only the history of our Fatherland, but also its spiritual roots.  One of these roots was the spiritual feat of Saint Serguis of Radonezh.  In the distant fourteenth century, he established his monastery here—deep in the forest, far from settlements; and perhaps no one in those days could imagine that the Lavra of the Holy Rus’ would shine forth from this place, that the spiritual struggles of many people would bring bountiful fruits, that the fate of Rus’ would be decided here more than once during the country’s history, including during the most terrible times of the Tatar-Mongol invasion and Polish intervention.

Indeed, we are standing on holy ground.  But the Lavra was strong not in the strength of the walls of its fortress, nor in the strength of its weapons, which it practically did not have.  The Lavra was always strong in its spirit and its faithfulness to the Orthodox faith.  And precisely because the main treasures of this place have always been the strength of spirit, strength of prayer, and strength of faith, people from all over Holy Rus’ who yearned for spiritual feats, who yearned to reveal faith in their actions, have flocked here. What does this mean?  This means only one thing—a saint is a real and visible bearer of the presence of God’s grace in the world; he is the most vivid witness of God’s existence.  And in order to strengthen their faith, people have always been drawn to those who are strong in spirit, in orderthat having touched them, they themselves might become stronger.

And today, perhaps like no other time, the Lavra serves as the spiritual center of Holy Rus’ and bears forth the witness of the presence of God’s grace.  We come here primarily in order to touch the holy relics of Saint Sergius, to draw upon his grace; and everyone who enters under the vaulted ceilings of the Trinity cathedral feels this grace, if only his heart is not hardened.  He feels distinctive movements of the Spirit of God; he feels that he is in a holy place.  And falling down in veneration before the relics of Saint Sergius, we fall down before the grace of God which is revealed through these holy relics, and we leave here comforted, inspired, strengthened in our faith, able to do good and to witness about our faith.

Saints Sergius began his life here in asceticism.  Asceticism always means the bearing of a spiritual feat, and a feat always involves self-denial.[1] This feat cannot be undertaken by a person who cares about himself and his own wellbeing, about money, career, by a person who is immersed in vanity.  This feat always requires sacrificing oneself in the name of those who are close and those who are far, in the name of solving many earthly and heavenly tasks, and it takes everything one has.  This feat is like being crucified with Christ.  And it is with this feat that Saint Sergius began his life; and he grew from strength to strength and is now a great example for us, if we also want to live the way that the Lord commanded us, if we want to walk in the footsteps of the great saints of God, then we must learn to undertake this feat—big or small—depending on our strength, where we find ourselves, and how much the results of our feat will affect those people around us.  But we must undertake this feat through denying ourselves, through sacrifice, and through the ability to serve God’s purpose and higher ideals.

But if a person is not growing spiritually, if nothing is happening in his life, then it means that he is degrading.  It is so important for each of us to feel what is actually happening to us—whether we are growing or standing in one place.  If we are standing in one place, then we are degrading, then we are not following in the footsteps of Saint Sergius, not following in the footsteps of the saints.  This is why we must be watchful of our thoughts and our actions, constantly evaluating them before our own conscience and before the face of God in prayer.  And if a man yearns for that which is higher, every day he adds even a small scintilla to his spiritual strength. Such a man is on the path of salvation.

Saint Serguis began his spiritual feat with small things and concluded with his becoming the Abbot of all of Russia, with the thousands of pilgrims who came here today despite bad weather to venerate his holy relics.  Let us ask our holy and God-bearing Father Sergius to help us grow from strength to strength, help us learn to undertake our spiritual feat, whether big or small.  We must remember that without this feat there cannot be salvation; and then no trouble or temptation, whether from the outside or from within, will keep us from following the path of Saint Sergius, the Abbot of Radonezh, and the great host of the saints of Radonezh, the brethren of this holy monastery, both canonized and not.  May the blessing of Saint Sergius and his prayer for our Fatherland and for our Church help each one of us to follow the path which he showed to many—to those who glorified the name of God in their lives.  Amen.

My dear ones, I greet you with the feast.  May you have peace, blessings, and strong faith!  Keep to the faith with all of your might; raise your children and grandchildren in the faith.  Remember that Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of our national existence; and this truth is so clear and obvious in the great historic walls of the Sergius’ Lavra.  May the Lord protect you!

Press Service of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’

Translated from the Russian


[1] The Russian word used here—подвиг—has no direct equivalent in the English language.  One way to think of it is, perhaps, as an act in which a soldier, or a policeman, or a fireman, for example, knowingly and willingly sacrifices his life to save others.  The word feat does not adequately convey the meaning of the Russian word, especially in this context.  Also note that the Russian words for asceticism (подвижничество) and feat (подвиг) have the same root—a feature impossible to achieve in the English translation.—S.S.

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