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Homily for 2/10/13 - P36 - Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

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  • Fr David Moser
    The new martyrs and confessors of Russia stand today for us as a bright beacon of the necessity of maintaining a bold and unwavering faith in Christ in every
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 10, 2013
      The new martyrs and confessors of Russia stand today for us as a bright
      beacon of the necessity of maintaining a bold and unwavering faith in
      Christ in every circumstance and situation. For many of these men,
      women and children, the words of the Hieromarytr, Metropolitan Benjamin
      expressed their own experience. Speaking of his youth, he said, "In my
      youth and childhood I read the lives of the saints. I was uplifted by
      their heroism...(and) I was sad that it was no longer time to endure
      what they had endured." Indeed the lives of the martyrs have inspired
      the Orthodox Christian faithful for centuries, their fearless confession
      of faith gives a vitality and intensity to their lives that we desire
      for ourselves as well. If only we too could burn with the same fire of
      love for God and have that same zeal in our hearts. It is this desire
      to emulate the burning love of the martyrs for our Lord Jesus Christ and
      to have that real and vital life which they had for ourselves that
      Metropolitan Benjamin expressed so well.

      But the time of the martyrs was not passed -- the enemy of mankind, the
      devil, does not sleep nor does he give up his war on the Body of
      Christ. Throughout the centuries he continued to attack the faithful by
      every means possible, sometimes boldly as it was with the martyrs and
      sometimes subtly by deception and trickery. The time of martyrdom was
      returning and was nearer than most realized. The god-hating atheists of
      the communist rebels were not only warring against the Russian land and
      people, but they were also warring against the Church, seeking to
      destroy her. As a result, when they usurped the political power in
      Russia, they began systematically to wipe out every vestige of the
      Christian faith. Churches were destroyed and defiled. Icons, relics and
      other holy things were destroyed. Monasteries were closed. Clergy of
      all kinds were defamed and arrested and sent to prison or into exile or
      killed outright. Those who defended their pastors and spiritual fathers
      were also arrested or killed. Clergy and laity; men, women and
      children; rich and poor; it made no difference -- anyone who would not
      renounce Christ was in danger. The brutal assault on the Church had
      begun and a new wave of martyrdom began with it. This new choir of
      martyrs are close to us -- many alive in the Church today are
      descendants of those very martyrs -- and their cries are loud in our ears.

      What then is the cry of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia? First
      and foremost their cry is the unwavering love of God which is above all
      else. That love is "inbred" as it were in the way of life that was
      shaped by the values and doctrines of the Church. This then is the
      second thing that we hear from the martyrs -- to let our whole lives be
      shaped and governed by the life of the Church. Another cry that we hear
      from the martyrs is the cry of unity -- that, in Christ, we are one,
      united to one another by "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism" (that is by
      the love of Christ, our common belief. and by the grace of the
      sacraments). The martyrs cry out to us down through the years and their
      voices, joined with the choirs of the saints throughout the whole of
      time, calling us to join them in that real, vital, intense life that
      they share in Christ.

      The first and greatest commandment is this, to love the Lord your God
      with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. The
      Gospel also tells us, "no man hath greater love than this than he lay
      down his life for another". With these two Gospel sayings laid before
      us, we can see them lived out in the lives of the martyrs. They have
      chosen to love God with their whole being by laying down their lives and
      everything else they had for His sake. This is the same kind of love for
      God to which they call us. While we may not be threatened with the
      physical loss of life in our lives, we can offer our own lives up in the
      same way as a total and unreserved sacrifice to God. If we use every
      moment, every opportunity, every resource, every interaction that comes
      to us each day as an opportunity to glorify God rather than ourselves,
      then we will live as the martyrs -- giving up our whole lives for the
      love of God.

      The new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church for the most part
      lived in a society that was shaped and molded by the life of the
      Church. The Orthodox Church was central to the lives of the people of
      Russia at that time. Church bells rang for the morning services to
      start the day -- and even those who were obliged to be at work in the
      fields, on the road or sick at home could follow progress of the
      services in their hearts by the ringing of bells. The values and virtues
      of the Gospel were those same values and norms that determined the form
      of the society and culture. Prayer was as natural as breathing. These
      roots of culture and society served to shape the souls of the people who
      lived in it. Thus, even without their realizing it, the Russian people
      were taking on the life of the Church as their own. For us, however,
      who do not live in such a society, taking on the life of the Church is a
      much more conscious act. In our society, it is the values of individual
      freedoms and self determination that shape us rather than the life of
      the Church. We must therefore make use of our freedom to choose and
      choose to act in accordance with the law of God and allow it to shape
      us. The life of the Church is still with us, however, it is necessary
      for us now to consciously choose to make her life our life. This means
      that we make the choice to set aside time each day for prayer; we choose
      to attend the services of the Church (when we could be doing other
      things); we chose to submit ourselves to the law of God; we choose to
      deny ourselves; we choose to take on the rhythm of the feasts and fasts
      as the rhythm of our lives; we choose to reorder our priorities
      according to the priorities of the spiritual life; we choose to trust
      God to provide all of our needs. We have to consistently and consciously
      make these choices every day, every moment of our lives and in this way
      the life of Christ becomes my own life and I am joined to Him.

      The love of God, the life of the Church and the grace of the sacraments
      -- One Lord, one faith, one baptism -- these things work in us to unite
      us to one another and to Christ. This unity is at the core of the cry
      of the martyrs to us. They remind us that we are not a group of
      separate individuals, but rather we are persons joined together by the
      working of the Holy Spirit in us to become part of the one Body of
      Christ. It does not matter if we are male or female, if we are old or
      young, if we are rich or poor. Our ethnic and cultural background are
      no barrier to this unity for we are all grafted into the vine of the
      God/man Jesus Christ and we have been adopted by God Himself as His own
      children. We are united by grace, by the life we have been given by God
      and by our love for God.

      The new Martyrs and Confessors of Russia themselves only took up and
      continued the work of those who had gone before them and now they hand
      to us the same task. Just as they lived uncompromisingly for Christ and
      were united in the love of God -- so now it is our turn to do the same.
      They have passed the torch on to us and in our society and in our
      circumstances it is up to us to do as they did -- to love God above all
      else, to shape our lives according to the life of the Church and to live
      in unity and harmony with our brethren. And it is our task to pass this
      message, this witness on to those who will come after us so that the
      voice of the martyrs continues to be heard on through the centuries.

      There is a prayer in verse that is a part of a fragment of a manuscript
      by Alexander Solzhenitsen which is preserved in the Pskov Caves
      Monastery. This prayer expresses the kind of trust in God the leads us
      to live in his love and care -- the kind of life that the martyrs led
      and the kind of life that we are also called to lead. Let us make this
      prayer our own.

      "How easy it is to live with You, O Lord! /How easy it is to believe in
      You. /When my spirit sinks /or scatters in confusion, /and the very
      smartest people cannot see further than this evening, /and do not know
      what to do tomorrow, /You send down clear certainty to me that You exist
      and that You care, /and will ensure that not all the paths of goodness
      will be blocked. /On the peak of earthly glory /I look back in surprise
      on the path that I have taken /which I would never have been able to
      invent for myself, /an incredible path /through hopelessness /from which
      I was yet able /to send humanity the reflection of Your rays of light.
      /And for as long as it is necessary that I keep reflecting them /You
      will let me do so. /And what I do not finish -- well then, /you have
      assigned others the task."

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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