On February 9 the Orthodox Church celebrated Sunday of Publican and Pharisee. This year on that day we also observed feast of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church. St. George Parish had a celebration in our temple. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the readings from the Scripture he preached a sermon:
“From today’s Sunday we seriously begin our spiritual preparation for Lent. From this day our liturgical services include the hymns from the Lenten Triodion, the book of services for Lent. Today’s Gospel lesson is telling us about two men who came to the Temple to pray, about the publican and Pharisee. It has to teach us to avoid pride and self-glorification and to teach us humility and repentance.”
“Today we also honor the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church.”
“The first Epistle reading of today brings us bad news. St. Paul writes to Timothy: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3, 12). This means that if we wish to be true Christians, believing in Jesus and living godly, we will pay a price. We will be persecuted. On the other hand, St. Paul says that “evil men and impostors will grow worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3, 13). This means that the number of evil men may be growing in the world, but they will not be benefited. They will deceive many, but they themselves are deceived.”
“A very clear manifestation of these words we could see in the history of the 20th century. The rise of godless regimes in the world started an era of terrible persecutions of Christians. It was especially done on the lands of the former Russian Empire. Thousands or even millions of people suffered for their Orthodox faith. There were bishops, priests and lay people among them. There were representatives of all social classes. First of all, the royal family was among those who suffered, then other noble men and women. But there were also other social classes, even peasants. Many were martyred, killed for the sake of Christ, yet many had to bear a cross of confessors being imprisoned and persecuted. At the same time, evil ideas of godlessness, atheism, social and political extremism spread among the people deceiving them. The words of the Apostle saying that evil men and impostors will grow worse had fulfilled. At the end of the 1930’s, after two decades of the Communist dictatorship in Russia, on the vast territories of the former Orthodox empire, there was a very small number of churches left. There were no monasteries, and only 3 bishops who served and were not imprisoned. Only the beginning of another terrible misfortune, of the World War, stopped the evildoers. Communist leadership decided to ease the persecutions and to permit the Church to exist. The number of parishes grew, some monasteries reopened and a number of bishops were ordained. However, the Church was strictly controlled and not given true freedom. In addition, the Russian Church had to undergo another wave of persecutions in the 1960’s when Soviet leadership proclaimed that soon Russia will reach the era of Communism and no religion will remain in the society. Communist leaders even promised that very soon “the last priest” will be shown on TV.”
“In this way the words of today’s Epistle lesson had been fulfilled. All who desired to live godly in Christ Jesus suffered, and evil men and impostors grew worse. These times of cruel persecutions are now in the past. However, we cannot think that we will be spared. We may not assume that we could avoid suffering. Our modern society which proclaims the ideals of freedom and democracy, in fact, does not favor Christian faith. It fights it although it does not openly persecute us for our beliefs. Today’s society cherishes anti-Christian and godless moral values. It also desires to limit the Church, to reduce religion to a very restricted area of private life. It tends to make religious faith a private affair like food or drink preferences. Thus, if you really desire to live godly – prepare to suffer!”
“But today’s second Epistle reading brings us good news. St. Paul says, “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8, 28). In our sufferings for Christ we should see that thus we are those “called according to His purpose”. Therefore, all our sufferings will work together for good. St. Paul also assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” separate us from this eternal love? (Rom. 8, 35). No! The Lord loves us, and nothing can prevent us to be loved by Him. St. Paul goes on and says, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height and depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8, 39).”
“This is really good news which overcomes all bad news. Yes, we will suffer if we believe in Christ. But God will always love us and be with us if we will desire Him to be our Lord. This was the belief of the true Christians throughout the centuries. This was a conviction of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church. For Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16, 33). They had tribulation, they suffered and died for Christ. But they also became victorious with Him.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let us acquire God’s blessings through the spirit of humility and repentance as the publican in today’s Gospel parable did. Let us also join our brethren in faith, the holy New Martyrs and Confessors of our Church in acquiring God’s love through desire to live godly in Christ. Let us not fear persecutions remembering that if we desire Jesus, He will be with us. As many Russian Saints repeated the words of St. Paul read to us today, let us also say with them: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8, 31).”
Following the Divine Liturgy Fr. Igor performed a memorial service for all who fell asleep in the time of persecutions for Christian faith.
After our services the Rector and parishioners enjoyed delicious meals at the coffee hour.