Patriarch’s homily on the Sunday of Orthodoxy at Christ the Saviour Cathedral
DECR Communication Service. 13.03.22. On March 13, 2022, the 1st Sunday in Lent known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia celebrated the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and the Office of the Triumph of Orthodoxy at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Patriarchal Press Service reports. At the end of the divine service, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church addressed the worshippers with a primatial homily.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. It is dedicated to the commemoration of those people who had preserved the Orthodox faith for us, beginning from the holy apostles, apostolic fathers, holy fathers, many hierarchs who had led Orthodox Churches, martyrs and confessors – all those who were unafraid to external circumstances, who did not bow their heads before the godless powers and remained faithful to Christ even unto death and thanks to whom we are celebrating today the Triumph of Orthodoxy at the restored to life Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, the capital of Russia.
The history of our Church and of the Universal Church is replete with many sorrows, but with many joys, too. While facing difficulties in their life, illness, or misfortune, we often count ourselves unfortunate. Those who failed in their careers view themselves as losers. Often enough a misfortune suppresses the individual and he cannot see the difference between that what is most important in life and what is of marginal significance. The history of the Church teaches us what the main thing is. For us, the believers, there is nothing more important than to preserve our Orthodox faith and remain faithful to the Church regardless of circumstances, be it intellectual pressure on the Church and faith from those who affirm that there is no God, or pressure from false brothers who have embarked on the path of schisms and divisions and are calling other people to follow, or even pressure from people indifferent to faith and spiritual life who are bound up in immediate interests and have no faith in God, or have it on the periphery of their lives.
Looking at the history of the Church we think about people who had laid down their lives for the faith often being humiliated and tortured. Their sufferings are beyond belief and their endurance is inconceivable, yet it was they – apostles, apostolic fathers, martyrs, confessors, and holy fathers who have brought the faith of Christ to us. Therefore, on the feast day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy we commemorate their holy names and pray together for all those who by their lives, words, deeds, miracles and exploits had preserved and enriched the faith, passed it from generation to generation, and to us – people living on the earth now.
History of the Church is replete with examples of pressure put by external forces. History of iconoclasm shows how the life of the Church could be dependent on the emperor’s mindset and on secular powers. Soon after the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which confirmed the belief of the Church in that the veneration of icons is not only permissible, but has a salutary effect and that it should be a part of spiritual life, state power in Byzantium changed. A new emperor was influenced by different politics and, looking at the experience of other monotheistic religions that had not known the veneration of icons, decided that it would be better to renounce this veneration for the sake of unifying the multinational empire. The destruction of icons began with a real vandalism: the masterpieces of church art were wiped out along with wonderful frescoes that were replaced by paintings of plants and animals. In accordance with a law of political life of that time “whose realm, their religion,” the emperor’s subjects had to think and believe as he did. But since the negation of icon veneration contravened the decrees of the Councils, the Church had certainly rebelled, and iconoclasts, not pagans, began severe persecutions. But the Lord was gracious and tested the faithfulness of Byzantium inhabitants. The blessed Empress Theodora became the ruler, and icon veneration was reaffirmed as conforming with the apostolic faith and apostolic tradition according to which the Orthodox Church used to live.
The Church seemed to be overly dependent on secular authorities in case with iconoclasm. An emperor who did not believe in icons ordered all his subjects not to believe, too. But Empress Theodora believed in the truth of the Church and icon veneration, and all things returned to their rightful place. This dependence of the Church on external powers and on those having political authority is the most dangerous dependence. All members of the Church are law-abiding people. We pray for the authorities and for the army, but at the same time every Christian has the right of choice in the event the authority turns godless and urges upon Christians to denounce their faith, or, as in case with the iconoclastic controversy, falls into heresy and forces its subjects to follow.
It would seem that all this is already in the past. Not at all! My heart bleeds when I think about what is happening in Ukraine. Is it not the same as what was once in Byzantium? There comes power and for political considerations finds it impossible for the majority of the Orthodox believers to belong to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Harassment of such people begins. They are being accused of what, allegedly, is no less grave than high treason; they are pressed against attending services in the Church which is abusively and blasphemously called “the Church of occupants.” And, of course, there are people, as they were at the time of iconoclasm, who will be promptly there in the wake of state power policy on the excuse that one cannot be too careful and for fear lest the priest should be deprived of a good parish, lest the bishop should lose his see, lest they should be accused of “collaboration with the occupants,” and so on, and so forth…
To all “who waver as the power wavers” we must say: our Church, after all, had the experience of going through the trials of such wavering and survived despite the persecution and oppression. And today, drawing from our own historical experience, we must say this: we respect secular power, but reserve our right to be free from its interference in the internal life of the Church. We hope that such will be the case with Ukraine, even though the commemoration of the name of the Patriarch today is impossible for some people “for the fear of the Jews” (Jn 19:38).
We do not judge anyone, but with my grievous heart, I want to understand such people. At the same time, I know that “he who is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much” (Lk 16:10.) That is why my prayer today is for our people in Ukraine to preserve Orthodox faith and not give way to fear under the pressure of those persuading them into schism and to show thereby loyalty to the power. We are praying and will continue to pray for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, beseeching the Lord to grant clear mind and strength to our episcopate and clergy so that no shameful and offensive by-names used by radically-minded people to dub our Orthodox people, accusing them of complicity with occupants – not a modicum of such filth may cast a gloom on their souls. It is important to remember that we all belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – the Church that is the same in Moscow and in Kiev, our Local Church, the martyr and confessor. May God let us preserve our unity against any kind of external pressure and all the attempts aimed by the forces alien to the Church at breaking the spiritual unity of our peoples. True, it is a sign of weakness if someone out of fear refuses to commemorate the Patriarch. This does not offend me, but this is perilous for the spiritual life of those who swerves from the truth even in little things. Today, out of fear, we are not commemorating the Patriarch; tomorrow someone may demand even more.
May the Lord protect our Church in the Ukrainian land, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry and all the bishops for whom we pray and with whom we stay together during these troublesome days. We believe that the Orthodox faith and the Orthodox Church will not suffer damage from the political processes that are taking place now and, hopefully, will soon be over. May the Lord keep safe our Church, strengthen our people and help all of us, Russian Orthodox people. I will repeat: when I say “Russians,” I refer to the meaning of the word as in the “whence the Russian land came to be” from “The Tale of Bygone Years.” I am praying for all people who live in Ukraine, in Belarus and in our Russian land so that we all be one in spirit and one in faith. May the Lord help us. Today, as we are celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy, we offer up special prayers for the preservation of the unity in faith, the unity in spirit, remembering that our saints are the same, that we have the same spiritual tradition, that many of our spiritual fathers and monastics are the same people – we are one people of God. Sorrow and grief will pass, but it is very important that these sorrow and grief do not weaken our inner spiritual strength. If we hold out, safe will be our Russian land comprising today Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and safe will be our Church, whose children live in different countries almost all over our planet. We believe that the Lord will stay with us, if we keep pure the Orthodox faith, the guardians of which we particularly commemorate on the first Sunday in Lent. Amen.