The Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy and the Sorrow of Orthodox Christians.
Today, brethren, we celebrate the beloved feast day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Every year, cathedral churches are over-filled with pious throngs of worshipers, and the most fervent of them, especially in the God-beloved city of Moscow, gather long before Liturgy begins in order to occupy a choice spot, in order to see and hear everything; those who come later can barely enter the church.
This year the Triumph of Orthodoxy is being celebrated in our capital city under two exceptional circumstances. The first one is that this year the Sunday of Orthodoxy is celebrated not where it has been over the course of four and a half centuries, not in the ancient Uspensky Cathedral, but in our new Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. Of course, this church is four times larger than Uspensky, where the multitude of clergymen are provided with a much grander venue then in the old smaller cathedral. But this is not the reason why the celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy was moved to the new cathedral. It was not external accommodation that forced the Church of Moscow to change its ancient tradition, to celebrate Orthodox Christianity before the miraculous relics of great Saints and the miracle-working image of the Mother of God.
No, the pastors and flock of Moscow did not come to the new cathedral by choice, but because they are not permitted into the holy site of the Kremlin, to the miraculous ancient Uspensky Cathedral. We have lived to see such days when the residents of the capital city are blocked from their most holy places, they must seek out different places for divine services. Did we expect such a fate for our dear Church in years past, even last year? Celebrating the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy in the middle of February last year, did we not expect to celebrate it this year at the same place?
Last year, our loyal soldiers gathered against the enemy, and armed fourfold with weapons, they were prepared to storm across enemy territory, to Vienna and Berlin, and reach the goals that were set forth before the Russian people in her holy and selfless war, to emancipate that glorious nation, the Orthodox Serbs, from enslavement by heretics, to extend a brotherly hand of communion to those who pleaded with Russia, our brethren by blood, the people of Little Russia and of Galicia, and emancipate them. We were to free the land of Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Russian Galicia, and what is more important, to grant her sons, our dear brothers, the opportunity to return to the bosom of the Holy Church from the heresy of the Uniates, into which they were forced by their slave masters and through the cunning of the Jesuits.
Yes, a year ago we, the Russian people, hoped that this year’s Triumph of Orthodoxy could be celebrated together with them, that by this day, as we were told, there would no longer be an enslaved Rus, but a single, free and Orthodox Russia.
But this was not all that we hoped and prayed for. A draft of the cross that was to be erected on the cupola of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was already prepared, the promise of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich of Moscow was almost realized, a promise that he had made on behalf of his heirs and the entire Russian people to the Patriarchs of the East, a promise to emancipate Orthodox Christians from the yoke of the infidel Muslims and to return the ancient churches to Christianity which had been turned into Muslim mosques. Russia was to have occupied the inlets to the Black Sea, not to conquer the holy capital of Great Byzantium for itself, but to reestablish this holy state of our fathers and our teachers in the salvific Faith of Christ–the Greeks–and to acquire for us all a homeland for all true Christians, the Holy Land, Jerusalem, the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to unite it within a broad swath of land with the Southern Caucusus. We were to populate those holy places with volunteer Russian settlers, who would flood that region, and in several years turn Palestine and Syria into a single Russian province, yet preserving all of the characteristics of the half-million Christians and their pastors who have survived there under Turkish persecution.
Many Russian Orthodox people lived with such hopes, and hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed in the hardships of war. All Orthodox peoples lived with this hope, they breathed this hope, it consoled them in their sufferings, and I say without exaggeration, all Orthodox peoples of the entire contemporary world, the entire Holy and Catholic Apostolic Church.
They all expected that this Year of Our Lord of 1918 would be a glorious Triumph of all of Orthodoxy, as has not been since the year 842, when the feast day of the victory over the iconoclastic heresy was established.
Yet what happened? Instead of emancipation of the enslaved Orthodox nations, the Church of Russia herself fell into slavery, which she had not experienced even under the rule of the Muslims, nor the Western Heretics, nor by our ancestors under the Tartars. Our Church is now subjected to executions, to looting, its property is being stolen. Our schools are deprived of the right to teach children and young people what the Lord called “the one thing needful,” that is, the words of the Holy Gospel and the Law of God in general.
Our pastors and archpastors are being driven from their churches; our military regiments are being deprived of their chapels and their priests, and our schools and academies which are teaching new pastors are being eliminated. Neither Jew, nor Muslim, nor Pagan, nor Catholic, nor sectarian, nor Protestant is deprived of these same rights and freedoms as are the Orthodox people in Russia.
And so, instead of the exceptionally joyful Triumph of Orthodoxy we desired to celebrate this year, would it not be better to cancel the celebration, or to replace it with tears of sorrow for Orthodox Christianity, the tears of Jeremiah over the destruction of Holy Mount Zion? As we look upon the bombed cupola of Uspensky Cathedral, the smashed walls of the great church of Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, at the sight of the ruined monasteries and emptied rectories, the image of poverty-stricken homeless priests, the tears of their hungry children, the schools with the icons stolen from within their walls, and other such horrors of today’s destruction, would it not be more fitting for us to express horror and sorrow instead of joy and to exclaim together with the prophets: “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me” (Lamentations 1:16). “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lamentations 1:12). “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).
Yet is there no consolation to pierce the sorrow of the people of our Church? Is there nothing our Church can celebrate on the feast day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy? We said that today’s holiday is different from those of past years in two ways. One, a very sorrowful one, we just explained, but the other is joyful, and gives us the opportunity to celebrate even in this sad year.
The joy is that for the first time after a two-century hiatus, our Church is celebrating its anniversary in canonical fullness, with its lawful Patriarch. Though the Russian Orthodox Church is wealthy, with many more people, and externally the strongest of all Orthodox Churches, she was deprived of that which the other Churches had: her own Chief Pastor, a father who has the care of all the nation, as the Ecumenical Councils command. God now gave her a bridegroom after two centuries of widowhood, and together with Jeremiah we can utter these joyful words: “Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more” (Jeremiah 54:4).
Until this year, our Church was without a father, and this spiritual abandon, this lack of leadership permitted the encroachment of the poison of weak faith, of atheism, which followed the heretical and godless teachings of the West, which now openly rises up against the Church and is trying to erase her from the face of her own land, this anti-ecclesiastical mood of the ruling classes which over two centuries has tried to tear our Church from living communion with the rest of the right-believing world and banish the hearts of men from the Creed.
We were not hindered from gloriously celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy in our cathedrals in those years, but the hearts of Orthodox Christians were disturbed as they heard the names of the Eastern Patriarch being commemorated, and could not commemorate the name of a Patriarch of All Russia. Instead we intoned Eternal Memory to our long-dead patriarchs. Today our celebrations are headed by the longed-for Bridegroom of the Pomestny [national] Russian Orthodox Church and, even in our desolate nation, surrounded by enemies of our faith of salvation, we celebrate and thank God that He has sent down for our consolation during our sufferings that which we have been deprived of even during our years of safety and security.
Life, the life of vibrancy, of lovingkindness to all mankind in the flock of Christ can now flow out in a great wave, along with the teachings of the Church, the reconciliation of those who had fallen away, the enlightenment of those who live in darkness, and what is most important of all—communion with all the Orthodox Churches of the East, for not one single nation would prevail over the gates of Hell, but the Ecumenical Church herself, which is the sinless abode of and interpreter of Divine teaching.
This is a new source of eternal and sacred treasures that God has granted us in this sorrowful year, this is what we should celebrate, and thank God who has sent such a great consolation to our hearts! This is the second special circumstance of today’s celebration. But what have we garnered from these recent years of the life of the Russian Church?
A great deal, of course! Had we lost much of the goodness of our life in the Church, then there would hardly be reason to celebrate the reestablishment of the canonical order of the Church, the patriarchy.
All that is lofty and wonderful that is preserved in our Orthodox Church, among our Russian flock and pastors, is our relationship with life and faith. The West views this temporary life as a source of pleasure, and it views religion as one of the (dubious) means to maintain well-being. Russian people, on the contrary, even those who aren’t very firm in the faith, understand life to be a struggle, the aim of life is in spiritual perfection, in fighting our passions, in acquiring virtue, in short, things that Western Europeans don’t even understand.
It is true that over the last year, a great many Russians have betrayed their convictions, openly denied the holy faith, are subjecting themselves to the dirtiest of sins, they loot, kill, blaspheme, betray their Homeland to her enemies and sell their souls to the devil; they have exploited the situation in these sorrowful days, while the vast majority mourns over what is happening and is outraged at the crimes being committed. Even those who denied the faith and Homeland, in the depths of their heart are suffering the rebuke of their conscience, and many, brought to their senses by the wise, quickly repent of their wrongdoings, and regret trying to stifle their inner voice and enslave themselves to the new godless teachings. Many sensed that they were being fooled and blinded by the deceitful teachings under the influence of either people who were not Russian or by Russians led by convicted criminals.
The vast majority of Russian people, living in towns and villages, continue to labor with sweat on their borrows, humbly doing their work and filling churches more than before, making confession and donating to churches and to the poor, as always preserving the lofty commandments of Christ in their hearts. They continue to differ from today’s Europeans: they have their own characteristic openness, trusting nature, they lack pride and wrath; they often receive criticism with good nature, they forgive quickly and promptly respond to those in need.
Who can restrain their tears while reading of the heroics of our soldiers as recently as last March who would often bandage the wounds of the enemies they just injured and carry them to a medic? Such podvigi you will not find among heretics, and never believe the lie instilled in our social classes by foreign governesses that Lutherans and Catholics are just the same as Orthodox Christians.
Spiritual heroism, the concept of life as a spiritual struggle is preserved only in the Church, and sins the majority of her children continue to preserve this in their hearts, the Triumph of Orthodoxy we celebrate today is fully legitimate, as a celebration of piety, the victory of Christ’s truth on earth; it will be celebrated with the same ecstatic ceremony by the Patriarch who leads our souls as in years past when we lacked one. Yes, it will continue even if our nation is utterly subjected to our enemies, even if the open persecution of Orthodox Christians will commence.
The Church will triumph in her eternal salvation, in knowledge that her children proceed towards Christ, as He commanded us: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Amen.
Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, 1918.