Homily by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia during the Divine Liturgy celebrated on the feast of Saint Demetrius the New, 27 October 2017.
Your Eminences and Your Graces,
Reverend fathers, beloved brothers and sisters,
Today we commemorate Venerable Demetrius Basarabov, the heavenly protector of the city of Bucharest, and during the Divine Liturgy we have listened to a passage from St Pauls’ Epistle to Galatians about the crucifixion of flesh, the fruits of the Holy Spirit and about living according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-6:2), and afterwards we listened to the Beatitudes related by the Gospel of Luke (Luke 6:17-23).
The promise of heavenly blessedness for all those who truly follow Christ is described differently in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Evangelist Matthew relates the Saviour’s Sermon on the Mountain, in which we are offered a complete set of nine commandments of blessedness, including the commandments of humility, mercy, purity of heart and reconciliation.
On the other hand, Evangelist Luke recalls only four commandments of blessedness, referring to the poverty in spirit, hunger, to those who suffer hatred from others, those persecuted and subject to rejection. These commandments are particularly strict and ascetic: they call us to follow the path of self-denial and crucifixion with Christ. It is no wonder that the Church proposes us this gospel passage on the days we commemorate the Saints who have pleased God in the monastic life.
Every Christian’s life means self-denial on the path to Christ. The monastic path to God is considered a very difficult asceticism ant that is why monastics are often called ascetics. All Christians promise at their Baptism to deny Satan, while at monastic tonsure, Christians promise something extra, something much stricter. For the sake of a new life in Christ, they deny the world and everything what it means in a more determined and evident way. However, what is the justification for such a labour? What are these people promised?
Saint Seraphim of Sarov, one of the most beloved Saints not only in the Russian Orthodox Church, but in all Orthodox world, in his well-known conversation “On the purpose of Christian life”, says that “no matter how qualitative prayer, fast, vigil, and all other Christian deeds would be, the purpose of Christian life lies not only in these deeds.” The true purpose of Christian life, according to the words of St Seraphim, lies in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. In other words, every effort of Christian life makes sense only in the Holy Spirit, and only in the Spirit brings its fruit.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit, namely the consequences of His action on human life, are the virtues, as the day’s Apostle reading teaches us: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Apostle says that the Holy Spirit cancels the action of the law of flesh in man (Galatians 5:23). As long as man lives by the Spirit, let him keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).
It is not by chance that the manifest action of the Holy Spirit on man is described as light: the face of the Prophet Moses was shining after his conversation with God (Exodus 34:35); a light encompassed persecutor Saul of Tarsus, when Christ appeared to turn him away from the wrong path and to call him to the apostolate (Acts 9:3); the face of Saint Seraphim shone too, according to the testimony of one of his contemporaries, during the conversation about the Holy Spirit.
This light cannot be hidden, because it shines before others (Matthew 5:16). An illumined man shares his light with others through a good word of teaching, through his sermon, and directs others with the spirit of gentleness, as today’s biblical reading notes (Galatians 6:1).
That is why monastic struggle is closely linked to the labour of Christian preaching, mission and spiritual enlightenment. The very word “enlightenment” has a spiritual meaning – that of illumining human life with the light of divine grace. Monasteries have often been such spiritual enlightenment centres of people in neighbouring lands.
This is because through sermon, especially through a convincing sermon, the very life of the believer by the Holy Spirit is made manifest. The ascetic or labourer can always remain silent, can always pray, or can be in solitude, but his life, transfigured by the grace of the Heavenly Comforter, which he acquired, will give witness to Christ more powerful than any word.
Today, as before, more experienced monastics take upon themselves the burden of spiritual guidance of other people. By the mercy of God, in the Orthodox monastic settlements in Russia and Romania there is still a living tradition of the directing relationship between the confessor and his disciples.
Interpreting the words of the Gospel (Mark 9:1), Saint Seraphim of Sarov calls the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in man “God’s Kingdom coming with power”. Just as in ancient times, today there are many false political and religious teachers, who promise paradise here on earth, a paradise without Christ. In the twentieth century, following such misleading led to dreadful historical experiments at state level, because of which the Orthodox Church suffered greatly. Thus, only in the Russian Church tens of thousands of servants of the Holy Altar and monastics and hundreds of thousands of laypersons died for their faith in Christ.
Our martyrs believed and knew that the only way to see the Kingdom of God here and now is only by living in the Holy Spirit. They confessed through their own blood that true gladness, gladness in the highest meaning of the word, exists only in the Holy Spirit. When we are in the Spirit, we are on the brink of gladness here on earth, and in the fullness of gladness in the heavenly world from above. This truth is beyond any lie and hatred coming from persecutors.
The Saviour says that the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21). However, this does not mean that it has nothing to do with our earthly life in the human community. The man who wants during his own life to acquire the Holy Spirit receives wisdom from above and the power to establish his own family in God, the church community, monastic settlement, society or country. Let us always take heed of the words of the Saviour: “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
I am glad to see today the crowd of believers. Your piety is a witness that Romanian Orthodoxy is flourishing today. We have gathered here at the invitation of His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in assembly, to offer prayers together with other archpastors, pastors, sons and daughters of the Holy Romanian Church on this important day for Bucharest, the feast day of Saint Demetrius Basarabov.
On behalf of the Russian Church we brought here as a gift for the Romanian Church a particle of the holy relics of Venerable Seraphim of Sarov the Wonderworker, for the remembrance of our inseparable spiritual unity and of our common spiritual heritage.
May the Lord, through the intercessions of the Holy Venerable Fathers Seraphim of Sarov and Demetrius Basarabov, protect the Romanian land and its pious people from all evils. May this people be filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May it struggle with zeal for the faith given once and for all by the Saints (Judah 1:3), and may it keep the fidelity to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church, which all its persecutors did not overcome. Amen
credit: Aurelian Nicolae Iftimiu/Basilica.ro