SAINT JOHN (Maximovich, +1966)
SAINT JOHN (Maximovich, +1966)
"The Church of Christ Shall Not Be Impoverished"
Sermon on the feast day of Apostle Matthias
Holy Apostle Matthias, during the earthly life of Christ, was among the
seventy apostles, not among the twelve.
This even occurred after the Ascension of the Lord into heaven: During a
prayerful gathering, at which some one hundred people were in attendance,
Holy Apostle Peter said to all that Judas Iscariot had fallen away from the
ranks of the apostles, having become a betrayer, and recalled the words of
the 109th psalm, in which the Holy Spirit, through the words of the
psalm-singer David, speaks of the unrighteous one: "his bishopric let
another take," meaning that another should assume his office. In
fulfillment of the words of the psalm, Apostle Peter offered to elect two
candidates before the Lord, whom the Lord would then select, and include
him among the twelve. Elected were Matthias and Joseph, who was also called
Barsabas, and when the Lord, through the drawing of lots, indicated
Matthias, he was included among the twelve.
So the number of twelve apostles of Christ was restored, and Matthias,
after the Ascension of the Lord to heaven, took his place on par with the
other apostles in grace and authority, and also, as did they, he preached,
healed the sick, performed miracles and suffered for Christ.
It is a profoundly instructive event for us. It teaches us that the Church
of Christ shall never be impoverished and shall not remain without the
servants it requires. "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall
not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18), said Christ.
The Church is a spiritual union of all those who keep the true faith,
headed by Christ Himself, and its goal is the spiritual perfection of its
members. The earthly part of the Church, in preparing its children for
passing into the heavenly part, needs pastors and other servants for the
achievement of its goal. It will not be prevailed upon by the gates of
hell, its grace is inexhaustible and shall never want for that which it
Great is the mercy of God to be called to be among them, but not all who
achieve it are worthy, and many who are called are not chosen. It was not
only Judas who fell from the ranks of the apostles. From among the first
seven deacons appointed by the apostles, one?Nicholas of Antioch?fell from
the Church and became a pagan priest who established his own sect. From the
ranks of the seventy apostles, four lapsed from Christianity, but the
Church did not suffer this loss and remained whole. The vacated places were
taken by those more worthy.
Despite the falling away of Nicholas, the deaconate established itself in
the Church and it multiplied, existing to this day.
Despite the falling away of bishops, priests and other servants of the
Church in later times, it did not suffer harm, and their places were taken
Nestor, the Patriarch of Constantinople, fell into heresy, and he was
replaced by one more worthy, St. Anatolius. Dioscurus of Alexandria fell
into monophysitism, other hierarchs fell into other heresies, but the
Church remained undamaged, and the places of those who fell away were
filled by those more worthy, and often by holy men.
Many clergymen renounced Christ during persecutions, and many even in
peaceful times left the priesthood for earthly reasons or for personal
weaknesses, departing the life of the cloth to a lay existence.
But whatever the motivations or reasons for this: whether the servants of
the Church betrayed the Christian faith or simply left their rank, the
Church was never left in need. Those who fell away were always replaced by
others, whom no one had even considered before, and upon whom those who
departed looked with derision.
God's Church will never lack the number of bishops, priests, deacons,
readers, singers and altar boys it needs. For this reason, those who were
called to serve at the altar or on the kliros must bear in mind that they
must not become unworthy and must not be cast out. The history of the
Church shows that the Church does not have indispensable people, and the
Holy Spirit will always find another who will take the place of one who
becomes unworthy. It is a great mercy of God to be allowed to serve or to
help serve in Church, to enter into the earthly heaven?the altar?to
approach the holy Mysteries, to sing or intone church prayers.
That is why those who earned that mercy must fulfill their work with
reverence, remembering the words of the psalm-singer: "Worship the Lord
with reverence and rejoice with trembling" (Ps. 2:11), as well as those
other terrible words: "Cursed be the one who does the Lord's work
negligently" (Jer. 48:10). "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh," that
is, do not turn away from him that speaks to you (Heb. 12:25). "Hold that
fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown (Rev. 3:11).
It is a fearsome thing to become unworthy of the sacred place, or,
faltering, to leave it. After departing, many sense what they have lost and
desire to return to their previous worthiness, but these doors are closed,
as they were for the five unwise virgins.
May the memory of Apostle Matthias and his prayers strengthen us in serving
without blemish, so that we do not lose our priestly place on earth, and in
heaven that we may be worthy of the Kingdom of God, where even now stands
at the Throne of God he who filled the ranks of the twelve, Apostle
9 August, 1940, Shanghai
Russky Pastyr, No. 40, 2001