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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
Carrying Home the Flame of Faith
By Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov, 03 May 2013, delivered following the Matins for Great Friday with the reading of the Twelve Passion Gospels.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Dear brothers and sisters, we have celebrated the Matins of Great and Holy Friday and our candles have remained kindled following the Gospel’s proclamation of the long-suffering of the most humble Savior, Who tasted the fullness of suffering for the redemption of us sinners: betrayal by one of His closest disciples and handing over to the frenzied Jews, who had rejected their Messiah, and later to the cruel Romans. Mockery, abuse, insults, beatings, imprisonment, Pilate’s cunning, and the crowd’s frenzied cries: “Crucify Him!” And, finally, bearing the Cross and crucifixion thereon.
Not having extinguished our candles after the twelve readings we, according to custom, will carry this flame from the Holy Twelve Gospels to our homes, to bring there the light of the Gospel, to bring there the grace that is abundantly poured out during these days in the Church of God. This journey at dusk, at night, of Orthodox Christians with burning candles is profoundly symbolic: the more impenetrable the darkness and gloom of apostasy and the forgetting of the commandments, the brighter the grace of God shines in God-loving souls who are devoted to and love the Mother Church.
On this evening the Lord’s words come true with literal accuracy: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven. (Mt 5:16). Today another command of the Lord is also being fulfilled for us: May your lights be burning, and your loins girded by the struggle of fasting and abstinence. Today we, who are unworthy, are like the wise virgins who went out at midnight to meet the Bridegroom. While the world is immersed in the deep sleep of forgetfulness of the commandments and the law of the Lord, the small flock of disciples is wakeful, not sleeping, but praying and carrying to all corners of the universe the remembrance of Christ’s suffering and His saving Resurrection.
For us this flame reflects the spark of God’s grace that the right hand of Christ kindled in our hearts at the hour of baptism. It is a flame of warm, living faith, keen-sighted and hot, by whose warmth we keep ourselves from the defilement of the world that lies in evil. Only faith in Christ—Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—can safeguard us from confluence with the world with its vices and passions.
Have a look at those who do not believe in God, who will not yield to the Gospel: do they have any sense of the danger of their position, at a time when many unfortunates are entangled in the snares of fornication, worldly malice, pride, avarice, and other vices? No, the unseeing world, which has quenched the lamp of faith, is not concerned for the future and does not want to know of the world’s approaching end, forever thinking about performing this terrible dance of life that is more akin to death.
But Christians are not such. The flame of faith, illuminating their minds, highlights for them all the specters and horrors of mortal sins and the turbid stream that has drenched the earth. “Blessed is he who believes, his world is warmer,” our people say. And, indeed, our path will be better if we conceal this candle of faith in our mind and heart, conversing with God alone rather than participating in the general madness, this “Walsingham’s feast” (from Aleksandr Pushkin’s “Feast in Time of Plague) that has taken over the entire universe.
For us this flame is a flame of Christ’s love. Indeed, the love of God is hot. Its rays, spreading over the Church of God, warm all of God’s creation, even the most infirm and wretched. Have a look at how cold today’s world is, which calls love that which is contrary to it: lust, self-interest, and defilement. We are witnesses of how the grace-filled warmth of the love of God is going out from the world: how hearts are turning to stone and how smiles are becoming predatory, aggressive, and dangerous. However, despite the multiplying wickedness, from which no one guards even children today, we are called to draw from Christ—at His Cross, kissing His feet and pierced side—the warmth of genuine charity, compassion, pity, and love, for the sake of which the world still stands upon its rotten foundations.
As we heard today in the Holy Gospel, the warmth of love encompasses the mind, thoughts, and feelings, being spread through the words and eyes of Christians, and especially through living acts of help. The warmth of love is a distinguishing quality, the radiant stamp of a true disciple of Christ. If this mystical warmth is present, if it is increased through the struggle of repentance and good deeds, this means that Christ Himself abides in faithful hearts. But if hearts grow cold and turn to stone in their egoism and self-love, overwhelmed by the specters of sensual pleasures and turning in fear to earthly goods, this means that Christ is invisibly removed from this “country of the Gerasenes,” leaving the unfortunate residents to feed their swine. But where God is present, there will surely become apparent in one way or another—in secret prayer for one’s neighbor, in the considerate effort to listen to him, in the desire to help him—the love that reveals the radiant garment of the Godhead.
Finally, for us this flame is a perpetual reminder of the greatness of the suffering that our Redeemer underwent for each of His disciples. Remembrance of the saving passions is of extraordinary importance for a Christian’s moral life, because by reading the Passion Gospels and remembering the crown that cut into the Savior’s head and the spear that was thrust into His side, the soul is warmed by both faith and love. The Savior’s suffering shows us, who are forgetful and of little faith, the fullness of the Man-Befriending God’s mercy for His creation. For Christ suffered solely out of love for us, His perishing creation. That is why we make the sign of the cross with this flame on thresholds: it is the sign of the Savior’s suffering. The power of this cross watches over and protects our homes from dark powers and wicked people, if we will preserve and multiply in our hearts faith, love, and prayer to the Savior, Who suffered, was crucified, tasted death, and arose again.
Brothers and sisters, we shall depart from God’s church, carefully shielding this flame from the wind and accidental gusts, so that we may bring it back to our homes. Such is the journey of Christians in this cold, cruel world to Christ’s Kingdom and His Dread Judgment, where the souls of the Orthodox will shine with uncreated light and the heart that has been inflamed with faith, love, and prayer will become luminescent, bearing witness that one has loved Christ, fulfilled His commandments, become like unto Him, and allowed Christ’s grace to dwell in his heart to cleanse, transform, and sanctify our nature by this grace.
Thus, let us accomplish our short earthly pilgrimage carefully and prudently, so that with the burning lamp of faith, prayer, and love we might stand before Christ the Lord in the hour in which the deeds of all will be reckoned. The Lord’s Pascha—now the Pascha of the Cross, and in a day the Bright and Light-Bearing Pascha—is an anticipation of the Dread Judgment. Thus we, being of good will, will not be left in these days with a dark, extinguished candle of mind and heart. The Lord, seeing our small labors—our feeble attempts, our effort, our small suffering—will of course touch, and has already touched, the hearts of His disciples in which has been kindled a lamp, not-made-by-hands, of secret inner prayer, of living faith—which allows us to bypass easily all the specters and horrors of this earthly life—and of the love that bears witness better than all else to the sincerity of our faith and the depth of our convictions.