Sermon on the Day of the Canonization of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of blessed memory
(On the 40th anniversary of their glorification by the Russian Church Abroad)
When I, a sinner, behold this image [the icon painted by Archimandrite Kiprian (Pyzhov) 40 years ago-ed.] before us, I remember the words from the Apocalypse. John the Theologian saw at the Throne of the Lord twenty-four elders, and in addition, as he says, a great multitude of people who could not be counted, standing in brilliant white garments, holding palm fronds as a symbol of victory. One of the elders asks John the Theologian “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God… and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” I remember this as we ponder this holy icon depicting the host of New Martyrs and Confessors whose number, truly, we do not know.
Who can count them? Who can even mentally grasp how many of our brethren lay down their lives for their faith and for the truth of Christ? Indeed, as was said yesterday, during the entire history of our Homeland these is not one corner which was not suffused with the blood of the witnesses of Christ. And if our Homeland was first to display to the world this horrid blasphemy, this terrible profanity and the mindless rebellion of the people, in which bandits seized power, though the land was desecrated by this horrifying impiety never seen before in the history of mankind, the blood of the Holy Martyrs and Confessors bountifully sprinkled the Russian land and purified our Homeland from this disgrace. And so you and I today celebrate their glorification. Once again I say: it is not we, of course, who glorify them. They are saints before God, God crowned them, and the Church, through its canonization, only points to the fact that these new saints are righteous before God, to whom we can now turn in prayer in accordance with the standards of the Church. And so let us remember this also: St Theophan the Recluse once wrote to someone: “This canonization of saints and their commemoration does not only mean that we can pray to them and praise them, but that we emulate them in our lives and spiritual struggles.” Our brethren, who through this struggle entered the life beyond the grave and are now glorified, they were the kind of people who when the time came for heavy tribulation and trials, proved devoted to God and to Divine truth.
For the time being we have not been touched by such troubles, but we know how confused and complicated life is, how it presents on a daily basis unexpected and unwelcome news: what will come to pass we do not yet know, and very possibly our fate will meet something similar. So as we pray to them and praise them, let us pray at all times that they bolster our feebleness and doubt, should we also come face-to-face with evil as did they.
Yesterday we discussed how no one in the history of mankind ever assaulted the Church of Christ with such hatred as in Russia. But the words of our Savior came to pass! He said: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” And it is so. This host of Martyrs who preserved their faith in Christ point to the victory of the Church over this evil, this terrible attack, the pouring forth of wickedness. You know how it is at sea during a storm: enormous waves, entire mountains of water crash upon the cliffs, yet the cliffs stand unharmed, unshaken, and this huge wave helplessly dissipates and retreats. They crashed before and will continue to crash, because the words of Christ are true. The Church of Christ will not be overcome by any force of darkness, let us only take care to learn from the example of our Martyrs and Confessors and likewise preserve devotion to the Lord always, everywhere and in all the ways they did. Amen.