On June 22, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost when we celebrate feast of All the Saints of the Church of Rus’, our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. Following the Scripture readings he preached a sermon:
“On the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost we honor All the Saints of our Russian Orthodox Church. If last Sunday we celebrated feast of All Saints who pleased the Lord being members of the universal Orthodox Church, today we glorify those who belonged to our local Church, the Church of Rus’. It is good that this feast had been recently renamed. It used to be called “Sunday of All the Saints who shone in the Russian land”. Last year our Holy Synod renamed it as “Sunday of All the Saints of the Russian Church”. It is appropriate because not all of the holy men and women lived in Russia or were Russian. But all of them belonged to the local Church of Rus’.”
“In today’s Epistle lesson St. Paul teaches us that all the people will be judged by God according to their deeds. God will give “glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good” (Rom. 2, 10). Good works will be rewarded and evil deeds will be punished regardless our social, national or even religious background. St. Paul confirms that saying that “there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2, 11).”
“As we mentioned once before, for St. Paul the world was divided into two classes of people: the Jews who had the law given to them directly by God in written form, and the Gentiles who, although they did not have the written law, nevertheless had God-implanted instinctive knowledge of right and wrong within their hearts. Both would be judged by God. But Jew on the basis of the written law; the Gentile on the basis of the law that was written not on tablets or books but in the heart. St. Paul writes, “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Rom. 2, 14-15). Therefore, the law written in the hearts of men is a God-given sense of right and wrong which we call conscience.”
“Our conscience directs us in a right way and often tells us what should be done. John Milton, famous English classical poet, pictured God saying as He is creating man, “I will put Mine umpire, conscience in his breast”. What better definition of conscience can be given? The God-implanted umpire who calls the plays – fair and foul. St. John Climacus says, “After God, let us have conscience as our aim and rule for everything”.”
“Today, celebrating feast of the Saints of our Russian Church, we should recall that all our holy men and women who came from our Church of Rus’ lived according to the voice of their conscience. One of our first glorified Saints, Metropolitan Hilarion even wrote a book called “The Word on the Law and on Grace” where he suggested that not the works of the law but the grace of Jesus Christ is leading to salvation. Conscience leads to grace. Another Russian Saint, Prince Alexander Nevsky said, “God is not in power but in truth”. Such truth is told us by our conscience.”
“But what should be done if someone’s conscience tells that person to do wrong things? It happens. And we often become witnesses to such things when people do evil and terrible things because they believe that they are correct and do the right thing. We could see that in the last century. On today’s date, on June 22 of the year 1941 Hitler invaded our old country, the lands of the historical Rus’. It happened on the same day as today, on the day the Church celebrated All the Saints of the Russian land. Hitler and the Germans felt that they were correct in their desire to conquer new lands, to get the life space for their nation which they believed was supreme to others. God allowed this evil to happen. He permitted this to occur even on the feast of our Russian Saints. We know and we understand that the Nazis were wrong. And the Lord did not permit them to achieve victory. Similarly, these days we are witnessing a strife on the lands of historical Rus’. Internal strife is taking place in Ukraine. And the Russian state is very much involved in that. There is a great political tension between Russian and Ukrainian people. The two Orthodox nations who both originate from the same ancient Rus’, from the same baptismal font of St. Vladimir are now turned against each other! The blood is shed. Rus’ is destroying Rus’. And both sides feel that they are right. Their conscience tells them that they are on the right side and their rivals on the wrong. How to deal with that?”
“We have to admit that conscience itself is not a safe guide. It cannot stand by itself. It needs to be developed by Godly training. Conscience is a safe guide only when it is properly educated and safely guided by the Holy Spirit. Conscience does not tell us what is really good and what is really bad. It praises us for doing good without telling us what good is. Conscience needs to be educated. As a radio has to be tuned to a certain station, our conscience has to be turned to Christ. The Church can help us with that. We can educate our conscience through spiritual life. Then we will see that hostility, hatred and violence are bad helpers. Political views and national objectives are bad advisors. Only in love, understanding and dialogue you can achieve peace and well-being. This is why, if conscience told Hitler that he is correct, it was not an educated conscience, not a conscience tuned to Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. And this is why, if someone believes that his conscience is directing him to kill, destroy and fight his compatriots or brothers in faith, does not have conscience tuned to Jesus Christ and is not guided by the Holy Spirit. He will fail and will be judged for his misdeeds.”
“The Saints of Rus’ always attempted to be above strives and hostilities of their times. The lands of Rus’ were divided and underwent a lot of domestic wars between different rulers and regions. But those who wished to tune their conscience to Christ always stayed above those divisions and prayed for unity and called for reconciliation. Such was our famous Saint, Venerable Sergius who labored to unite the Russian lands. Such were many other Saints of our Church.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us tune our conscience to our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us listen to the voice of our conscience if it is really guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Let us implore our Saints of the Russian lands to intercede for us and for the suffering land of Ukraine to bring peace and well-being. All the Saints of Rus’, pray God for us!”
During the Liturgy the Rector proclaimed a kneeling prayer for peace in the suffering country of Ukraine, calling the Saints of Rus’ to intercede for the people living in the time of strife.
After the Liturgy dismissal Fr. Igor preached a brief sermon in Russian, touching his main points of the homily proclaimed earlier in English. He also called faithful to attempt to become new Saints of the Russian Church, and said that nothing can stop us to become Saints except our own evil will and our giving up to the temptations of the enemy.