On April 14, on the Fifth Sunday of Lent our parishioners gathered for a liturgical celebration in our temple. Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Gospel lesson he preached a homily in Russian. An English translation of that homily is as follows:
“Dear brothers and sisters! We have reached the Fifth Sunday of Lent when we read a passage from the Holy Gospel about the Disciples of Christ, James and John, asking that the Lord may grant them the best places in His Kingdom. At the same time, today we honor Venerable Mary of Egypt. We have passed most of the weeks of Lent and we have only one of them left until we will celebrate Palm Sunday, until Passion Week when we will spiritually revive the sufferings and death of our Savior. Thus today’s Gospel lesson begins with the words of reminder of that when Christ Himself tells His Disciples that soon they will enter into Jerusalem and there He will be condemned to death (Mk. 10, 33-34).”
“Today we should think how we evaluate ourselves and others in our life, and we should compare our evaluation to the one which God Himself would make on our behalf. The sons of Zebedee, Apostles James and John approached Christ and asked, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (Mk. 10, 37). We have to admit that it is a natural and understandable human request: all the close companions of some important person can hope that they would get the best places near him when he will come to power. We may condemn it but these are the human relations, this is our sinful nature. In the case of James and John, they both were very close Disciples of Jesus; they followed Him from the beginning, they labored with Him all the time. He made them special Himself, along with Apostle Peter: for instance, He took only three of them to Mt. Tabor where He transfigured. Therefore they could consider to have a right to ask their Teacher about such a favor. They graded themselves so high. And they relied on “connections” to their Teacher, on their position of His closest followers. The Lord answered them that yes, they could be with Him until the end, to drink the cap that He drinks, and to be baptized by the baptism He is baptized (Mk. 10, 39). That means that His Disciples will be worthy to suffer like Him and to be ready to die like Him. However, “to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared” (Mk. 10, 40). Thus the places in the Heavenly Kingdom will be granted according God’s command and according to the final judgment, a final grade given by the Almighty Lord.”
“If we would try to argue that Jesus Christ Himself being the Son of God could prepare a certain place for whom He wishes, we should remember that James and John had not finished their earthly life yet, and it was too early to grade them. And it was too early to reserve a place for them in heaven. The Lord firmly said to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23, 39). But He said that because the thief was dying. And He did not indicate which place in paradise the thief will take.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, the most important grade for our life and for our merits will be the judgment of God. And before that it is hard to say what is waiting for us in eternity.”
“We receive many different grades in our life. When we go to school in our childhood, we always get grades which reflect our success in studies. Sometimes those grades are unfair but usually they honestly show how good we are in certain subjects. But often happens that a student who was bad improves and starts to get better grades. It also happens that a good student becomes lazy and his grades become lower. Often we may see that those who were not very good at school become more successful in their adult life than those who were excellent students. Similar things can be in colleges where we also have a lot of grades, tests and exams. And it also happens that someone who was a “C” student in college, becomes a good professional, gets a better job, and even not because of his connections. Human grades are relative.”
“In the same manner we get different grades in our life itself. This is very personal: which grade can be given to a person as a husband, a wife, a child or a parent. These grades are even more important than those we receive in school. It happens that a girl is very good student in her school but later she grows up, gets married and becomes a mediocre wife. Or a boy is an excellent student but later grows up and becomes a lousy father. Same thing takes place everywhere. It takes places in the Church too: someone is a good parishioner, someone is not so good, yet someone is listed as a member but is no parishioner at all. Everywhere we can be graded, evaluated and weighed.”
“Today the Church especially honors Venerable Mary of Egypt. All her youth she spent in the sins of flesh being a harlot, a fallen woman. What grade would the society give her? How was she evaluated by the people who knew her? But a miraculous conversion took place: Mary turned away from sin. Those who read about her life could learn about it in detail. She abandoned the sin, she headed to the desert and she spent the rest of her life in prayer, in piety and in the ascetic endeavors. She changed completely – in her appearance and in her inner state. The Lord granted her a special grace, made her worthy of special spiritual gifts. And Zosimas, a monk who encountered her in the wilderness, could give that holy woman a totally different grade. But the most important grade for the whole life of Venerable Mary gave the Lord God when He received her in His everlasting Kingdom and made us, His Church to glorify her among the Saints and to venerate her in these holy days of Lent.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we should not give premature grades to our neighbors and to ourselves. We should remember that a person can always fall and rise, can always make his grade lower or higher.”
“Today’s Sunday also teaches us to be humble. The Lord today teaches His Apostles: “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mk. 10, 43-44). Nowadays it is very humiliating to be called a servant; it is by far more shameful to be called a slave. A “servant” is already a very bad mark for a person nowadays. However, the Lord teaches us to be servants to each other, and if someone wants to be in charge, he has to be a slave of all. He teaches so because He Himself was the servant of all mankind and because He Himself, like a slave, suffered and died on the cross. Thus, if we consider themselves followers of Christ, we have to serve others. Then in the eyes of God our grade will be high.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Hearing the reading from the Holy Gospel and having an example of Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt, let us be zealous in fulfilling our Christian duties, let us strive for spiritual growth and for endeavors of piety, so not just our neighbors but the Lord Himself would give us a high grade and that at the end of our earthly journey He would highly graded us and received into His Kingdom granting us a proper place in His glory!”
The choir prayerfully performed penitent hymns and hymns in honor of Venerable Mary of Egypt during the preparation for Holy Communion.
Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a short sermon in English stressing the main ideas of his Russian homily. He also made announcements about the future celebrations of the Holy Week and Pascha and regarding an importance to receive the Holy Mysteries of Penance and Eucharist in these special days of Lent.
After the Divine Liturgy the Rector performed the Sacrament of the Anointing of the sick. All persons who desired to receive that Mystery participated in the service and were anointed with the blessed oil. At the conclusion of the office the Rector preached a brief sermon about the significance of this Sacrament.