Sermon by Bishop Nektary (Kontsevich) on the Canonization of the Holy New Martyrs at the Russian Orthodox Youth Conference of 1981
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
God has gathered us here today on the eve of a wondrous event—the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia. It will bear great importance, because it is taking place in a period of a titanic struggle between good and evil, an epoch of almost total apostasy from God, from faith in Him, from the Church, and as a consequence, from the work for salvation. Another important point in the coming canonization is that it can have great spiritual and historical significance, as it may open a path for the rebirth of Russia and can save her from death in the grip of the godless regime.
Of course, this will depend on how it is viewed by the remaining faithful Orthodox Christians in Russia, and how we in the diaspora view it. We know that our martyrs have long ago been glorified by the Lord from the moment of the martyric deaths, but the Holy Church declares their holiness to her flock and calls for prayers to them. Before canonization, the Church prays for the repose of their bright souls, but afterwards the Church entrusts them with the task of praying for us sinners on earth before the Divine Throne. And we know how abundantly our compatriots fill the ranks of the righteous, and we will pray to them that they in turn pray before God’s Throne for the salvation of Russia and of us sinners.
As we approach the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, we bear witness to the strengthening and dissemination of evil throughout the world. If we pay attention to what is happening all around us, we cannot fail to see that there are many pieces of evidence of a powerful and terrifying organized and secret force, boasting unlimited resources and opportunities, striving to destroy religious faith, especially Orthodox Christianity, as well as the spiritual and physical decay of the young generation. We presume that detailed plans towards this wicked end are already being enacted.
In the forthcoming Church canonization we sense the hope for deliverance of our Fatherland from the bonds of atheism, for we believe in the holy prayers of God’s saints.
On the other hand, we see how the devil and his minions have struck the Orthodox Church in our Homeland with full force. Let us therefore first talk about the teaching of the Church on the origins of evil.
There is an unseen war being waged between good and evil in the world. Rising up against God—Absolute Good—is the devil—absolute evil. Few people today understand the full meaning and significance of Church events, of what is happening on the government, social, family and personal levels. Most deem there subjective ponderings, judgments and conclusions--which are almost always wrong--as the truth. How are we to escape errors and subjectivity, and achieve true understanding of public events and phenomena that affect our lives? The Orthodox Christian world-view helps in this regard.
Only Divine revelations given to us in the Bible and through the Divinely-inspired Holy Fathers can teach us about the higher spiritual world and its laws, about spiritual truths. The higher, other world is different from ours. We can understand it only through analogy with our world, since our world is a reflection of the higher one, though a great deal cannot be described in earthly terms. Apostle Paul said: “How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4), that is, he heard words which man cannot repeat. So much of what the author of Genesis, Moses, wrote, along with the other prophets, is spoken with the primitive language of their time, and can appear to us to be naïve. But the truths they reveal lie at the foundation of the Orthodox Christian world view and Christian philosophy.
God created the universe from nothing. The spiritual world was created first, granted wisdom and the Divine property of free will. The spiritual angels were created at the edge of time. With their creation, time began. St Dionysius the Areopagite, in his wonderful work “The Celestial Hierarchy,” reveals the mysteries and structure of the angelic world. It is a hierarchical universe, divided into various levels: there are nine Orders of angels, divided into 3 groups of 3 ranks each: the higher, middle and lower Orders. The highest are the six-winged Seraphim, the many-eyed Cherubim and the Thrones. “Seraphim” means “fiery,” he burns with love for God. “Cherubim” means “beholding,” he beholds Divine wisdom and is immersed in its mysteries, and God abides upon the Thrones. The middle group are the Powers, Virtues and Dominions. The last, the Angels, Archangels and Principalities, which depends on the middle ranks. All the Angels together are innumerable, while there are only seven Seraphim.
The highest of all Angels, the crowning glory of creation, was the Morning Star, Lucifer. He stood closest to God and had the power to address Him directly. All the heavenly powers praised the Creator in perfect harmony.
But there is evil in our world; its origin outside of our world; how did evil enter our universe?
Lucifer did not bear his loftiness and he fell. Pride doomed him: drunk with glory, he imagined that he could be like God, and rebelled against Him. Prophet Ezekiel described the fallen Lucifer in these mystical terms: “The Lord came unto me, saying… Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God… Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee... thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:13-17). And our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
When Satan rebelled against God, a third of the angels followed him. Among those who remained faithful to God there was confusion, and the heavenly peace was disrupted. One of the highest Seraphim exclaimed “Who but God?” which in ancient Hebrew is “Michail.” And from this moment Archistrategos Michael lead the heavenly host against the rebellious spirits, who were cast out of Heaven. This is the origin of evil.
The fallen Satan know a great deal, he knew that God would no longer create new angels. The harmony of the spiritual world was violated, the fullness of heavenly hosts was harmed, and Satan rejoiced at wickedness, but was shamed.
God, in His innate greatness, then created the visible world.
Through the endless expanse of the universe, stars of stunning beauty and harmony sparked to life, and amid these great cosmos, a speck appeared—the Earth. The holy priest Fr John of Kronstadt put it this way: “The Lord deemed that in human form He would supplant the loss of angelic spirits which had fallen, and this is the endless shame and eternal punishment for those proud spirits.” When Satan saw that humankind is able to occupy the thrones abandoned by the fallen angles, he could not endure the humiliation, he burned with cruel hatred towards humankind, and decided to poison mankind with temptation. “Ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5), said the great tempter, the ancient evil of the first humans.
Mankind, however, fell at the very dawn of existence, Adam and Eve succumbing to this temptation. After the Fall, Satan was condemned by God and became absolute evil, the devil, Satan. From that time he wages war not only against God but fights for every human soul. Human nature was injured from original sin, and evil and death entered earthly life, and its order was distorted. After Adam’s fall, Divine grace receded and a evil flooded the world, and mankind alone could not resist the onslaught; what was needed was that the Savior-Messiah promised to our ancestors in Eden was to come, the Seed of the Woman, Who would crush the head of the serpent.
Millennia passed into history, and some two thousand years before the Birth of Christ, God called upon Abraham and makes him the father of a special nation. This nation remained the sole bearer of the faith in one Almighty God. Through special grace, God raised a special lineage of King David, within whose genetic line holiness steadily increases, until this stream of grace gave us the Most-Pure Virgin, the Mother of God, the Most Holy, without personal sin. It was only thanks to this that the Incarnation of the Son of God on Earth could take place. Born of the Most-Pure Virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the World, God the Word, Logos. He, the Creator of the universe, through Him by Whom all things were made. That was the beginning of the New Testament.
And the devil with redoubled wrath responded to the Birth of Christ. Many innocent infants were killed by decree of King Herod—another Herod, coaxed by the devil, ordered the beheading of John the Baptist. The devil was incensed in his struggle against God; he inspired hatred towards Christ among the Scribes and Pharisees, the priests, the leaders of the Jewish people: “They cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21), “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). And this chosen people of Abraham who knew the one God, transform into the servants of the devil and lead a brutal campaign against the Christian world. And the Lord bears witness: “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44).
Christ sacrifices Himself through His life, teachings, sufferings, blood, death and Resurrection, manifesting the Redemption of mankind. Angels tremble in amazement before this inscrutable mystery, the ineffable and Divine love. For mankind cannot save his soul through his own efforts. “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), says the Lord. Man can only be saved through Christ the Savior, in the vineyard established by Him, the Church, through the aid of the grace-filled Mysteries of the Church, established by the Lord. The Church of God, created by the Lord Himself and imbued with the Holy Spirit, shines with indescribable Divine beauty. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church is a single spiritual organism. There is only one truth, and that truth is Christ, therefore there can only be one Church—our Orthodox Universal and Apostolic Church, which Christ obtained through His Blood and which chastely preserved her salvific teachings.
But we know that Satan immediately assailed the Church established by the Lord. The servants of Satan began their persecutions, periods of mass martyrdom commenced. The Church was also harmed by heresies and schisms. The devil and his servants expended special efforts against the Orthodox Church, especially the Russian Orthodox Church, as one that preserved the faith founded on the dogmas as laid out by the Holy spirit at the Ecumenical Councils.
I recall the words spoken by Gleb Alexandrovich Rahr. “With what sorrow,” he would say, “that we meet people who consider themselves Orthodox Christians and express such thoughts as ‘I think that you can go to a Catholic church, too,’ or ‘you can attend a church of another jurisdiction,’ and so on and so forth. It’s always 'I think'… ” Even more sorrowful is when you hear Orthodox Christians who say “I believe in my own way.” Such words pull one out of the walls of the Church, they deprive one of the Holy Mysteries and the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit. A person such as this will be doomed from the terrible spiritual ailment of the pride of reason, deeming himself more wise than the host of holy monastic fathers who achieved holiness within the bosom of the Orthodox Church. They consider themselves smarter that the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, through whom the Holy Spirit laid out the dogmas and rules of the Church. Finally, in trusting their own judgments, they relegate the Church as imperfect and elevate themselves higher than Christ, as though He had not established a perfect Church.
What terrifying pride and blasphemy!
And so, lest we stray from the path of salvation, we must first of all belong to the True Church—the Orthodox Church, and receive as children her dogmas, her canons, rules and the spirit of her teachings. “ “Verily I say unto you,” said the Lord, “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Outside of the walls of the Church there can be no salvation.
Truly, in the history of the Local (National) Churches, there was never such murderous persecution as the Russian Orthodox Church is enduring. A satanic, militantly-atheist regime has taken hold of our Homeland, and we cannot hope that this government will change for the better, for Satan is perfect only in evil. But everything is possible for the Lord, and He can emancipate Russia from evil. A great deal depends on us.
And so we prepare for the canonization of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia. Many books, articles and memoirs were written about the martyrs, their sufferings and the brutality of their executioners. Let us remember the suffering of Metropolitan Vladimir, the first hierarch to be martyred; Metropolitan Veniamin, Metropolitan Iosif and other archpastors, along with thousands of clergymen and millions of laypersons who died in prisons and concentration camps.
Rarely do we consider the mystical aspect of this matter, which is very important. As mentioned, God has long ago glorified the martyrs, from the moment of their deaths. Having endured suffering, they defeated evil and have earned the boldness to intercede on our behalf before the Lord. Every apparent victory of the executioners was actually a defeat for them.
It is especially important to note the martyric end of our Tsar, Emperor Nikolai Alexandrovich, and his August Family. He was the last monarch to be anointed as an Orthodox Tsar. He was the Anointed of God. This Mystery is performed by the Church during the coronation, when the Tsar enters the Royal Doors into the altar and partakes of the Holy Mysteries as a clergyman, taking the Body and Blood of Christ separately. In this way, the Holy Church emphasizes the great spiritual importance of the service of a monarch, elevating him to the rank of clergyman.
And so the Tsar is the Anointed of God, a cleric of the Church, the bearer of the special grace of the Holy Spirit. This Divine power, working through the Anointed, restrained the spread of evil, the mystery of lawlessness. Apostle Paul, in 2 Thessalonians, writes: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The devil has long hastened to gain power and produce the Antichrist, but he could not so long as we had the Anointed of God, who restrained him. The mystery of iniquity needed freedom to act, it needed to remove the Anointed one, which was permitted by God for the sins of the entire Russian people.
So the “restrainer” of iniquity has been taken from us, and from that moment we witness the reckless abandon and spread of evil throughout the world. A terrible evil was committed, that of regicide. The Tsar, the Anointed of God, the Protector of the Orthodox Church, the head of an Orthodox state, was killed. The “restrainer” was killed.
Just as Christ was crucified for the sins of the whole world on Golgotha, abandoned by all, so was our Tsar brought to sacrifice for the sins of Russia, and was also abandoned. No one helped their Tsar in the days of his sufferings, when he was held prisoner by the satanic regime. Today, the sin of regicide lies heavily upon the Russian people, especially upon those who commit evil, but also upon each one of us. If we are to harbor at least the smallest hope that this sin is removed from the conscience of Russia, we must not only redouble our repentance but canonize the Tsar and all of the Holy New Martyrs. For he received his martyric death for the Orthodox Faith, for the Holy Church, for the Fatherland. This is what a certain priest from Russia wrote to us:
“The historic, global meaning of the martyrdom of the Imperial Family, on the level of a biblical event, is that the Constantinian Period of the Church of Christ comes to an end, and a new, martyric, apocalyptic period commenced. It begins with the voluntary self-sacrifice of the Emperor and his Family.”
The tragedy of the Royal Family is a curse upon the Russian Land, it has become a symbol, a prophesy of the long procession of the cross of Russia, the death of tens of millions of her sons and daughters. The canonization of the Royal Martyrs will remove the sin of regicide from Russia and will emancipate her from the chains of evil.
How are we to prepare for the great event of canonization? First of all we must bolster our Orthodox faith and adhere to all the laws of the Church, center our lives around Church. We must more frequently make confession with our priest for our personal sins, and make sure we don’t stray from the Church. The Holy Spirit established the commandments of the Church, and we cannot harbor our own opinions if they differ in any way.
We often hear people who identify as Orthodox Christians say: “I don’t believe in the devil,” when in fact, the Lord came to the world to deliver us from the devil’s clutches. We know how He mercifully offers us aid in the Holy Mysteries, and we know that without God there is no salvation, which is only possible within the confines of the Church.
We nurture the hope that when news of the glorification of the Tsar at the head of all the New Martyrs reaches our faithful in the Homeland, who like us suffer the guilt of regicide, then heartfelt, tearful prayers will be lifted to the Tsar: “Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas the Passion-bearer and all the Holy New Martyrs of the Russian land, pray for us sinners!” We believe that the Tsar, who grieves for suffering Russia, will bow before the Divine Throne and will redouble his prayers for the salvation of Russia. The blood of the martyrs cries out to the heavens, and the Lord, heeding our repentant groans and the holy prayers of His humble servant, our Tsar-Martyr, can perform a miracle and remove the sin of regicide from the Russian people, and can topple the communist yoke from the Russian land. All things are possible for the Lord, and He can replace sorrow with joy, and raise up Holy Orthodox Rus.