“You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you” Deut. 6:14.
Since the time of Seth, the Lord has set apart unto Himself those who will abide in the true worship of Him. The guarding of true worship is an inextricable vocation of those who worship the true God. It was so in the Old Testament and even more so in the New.
True worship has therefore always been at the center of true faith. This worship of the True God has been revealed in Liturgy. So it was in the Old Testament and so it is in the New. As Orthodox Christians we must at least begin to comprehend the mystical depths of the Divine Liturgy. If anything, the past years have revealed just how much we do not comprehend the Liturgy. In the indisputable witness of the saints, it is one of the greatest conveyors of God’s grace and life.
As Christians we are called first and foremost to run to the True God. When we run to other “gods” before Him, that is idolatry. Of course, we as moderns do not have a primitive form of idolatry, no, but we still perpetuate the spirit thereof.
In the past years the gaze of many has been directed to worldly saviors. Masks will save us. “Social distancing” will save us. Proper hygiene will save us. And now the savior of saviors has come, the “vaccine” (which is not a classic vaccine but rather gene therapy) and it will save us and return to us our way of life. After such means are diligently promoted, then, if we are lucky, we here a small morsel about the grace of God. (I touch on all this again because I believe such things were much deeper than just physical protocols.)
Our sin resides not in the fact that medicine or science is sinful, not in the least. These arts of men may be used either for good or ill. Rather, our sin as the people of God, consists in turning first to the arts of men and then to the things of God, as long as they were properly sanitized!
St. Ambrose of Optina teaches, “It is not that it is sinful for people to seek medical aid. But sin is found when the sick person places all his hope in the doctor or medical means alone; forgetting that everything depends on the All-Good and Almighty God, Who alone give both life and death.”
As Orthodox Christians we have things more powerful than any earthly art of man. These must be our first response to any crisis or issue. Only then will any earthly means be of use.
Thus, below the reader will find the translation of the 2nd sermon of that New Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinski). These sermons will act as aids in the cultivation of the proper Orthodox mind regarding the Divine Liturgy. One might summarize an important theme of the sermon as – let nothing keep you from the Divine Liturgy. I hope we will make such a firm resolution in our hearts. I hope, as the saint admonishes us, we will cherish it above all else. Please let the saints words sink deep into your heart.
All footnote are mine.
Begin translation –
Today, I will continue my discourse on the Divine Liturgy.
Yesterday, I said, “The Angels envy us,” that we have such a marvelous gift, such a treasure, such a priceless pearl – the Life-creating Body and Blood of the Savior, of which we commune in the Divine Liturgy.
Today I will show you how the Church of the Old Testament – the holy prophets and forefathers of the Old Testament – only anticipated, that is, foresaw from afar, but yet still strove solely for this greatest of all gifts. Christ said, “blessed are your eyes because they see; and blessed are your ears, because they hear” (Matt. 13:16). He spoke this to his disciples; how blessed then are we who taste of His Body and Blood! The people of the Old Testament, the prophets and righteous ones, beheld this Gift given to us only in foreshadows and only in types; even so, what awe overcame their souls!
The prophet Moses, as he was tending his flock, beheld a bush, a thorn bush, that was burning with fire and yet was not consumed. He desired to draw near but heard a voice saying, “Moses, take the sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Ex. 3:1-5). The bush, according to the interpretation of the holy Fathers of the Church, signifies the Most Holy Virgin, who bore God the Word, the Divine Fire, and He left Her uncorrupt and most-pure. Yet the bush also signifies the Divine Mysteries, which, like fire, burn our passions and yet do not consume us. Anticipating this mystery, Moses, full of awe inspired delight, removed the sandals from his feet; thereby showing forth an example of the holy fear with which we must approach the Holy Mysteries. Speaking further, Moses says these remarkable words, “In the Tabernacle” – which was the first Temple – “set before Me the bread offerings, set them before Me continually.”1 These bread offerings stood in the Tabernacle for one week,2 after this time the priests would eat them on the Sabbath. These bread offerings were a prototype of the Holy Mysteries.
Solomon says, “Wisdom built her house and she supported it with seven pillars. She offered her sacrifices; she mixed her wine in a bowl and prepared a table … ‘Come, eat my bread and drink the wine I mixed for you’” (Prov. 9:1-3,5)3. Behold, here are repeated the very words that we hear in every Liturgy! Here Solomon speaks of Divine Wisdom, who is Christ. The seven pillars are the seven Mysteries of the Orthodox Church. The supper is the Divine Liturgy, at which is offered the Heavenly Bread and Wine. The archpastors and pastors are servants who must unceasingly call every believer to the Feast. The ringing of the Church bells are also a call to the Supper. The bread and wine spoken of in this proverb are but prototypes of the Bread and Wine, which are offered here in our temple, in a dread and wondrous manner, as truly the Life-creating Body and Blood of Christ. And so, King Solomon could only offer a foreshadow of the holy mystery of the Divine Liturgy.
The Prophet Isaiah says in the Bible that he beheld a marvelous vision; he saw the Lord sitting on an exalted throne – the throne was surrounded by six-winged Seraphim, with two they fly, with two they cover their feet, and with two in awe they cover their faces, crying unceasingly, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth.” With fearful reverence the prophet cried out, “Woe is me! I shall die!4 Because I am a man of unclean lips.” But the Lord spoke to him, “Be not afraid!” A Seraphim then flew near and taking tongs, he took a burning coal from the altar of God and touched it to Isaiah’s mouth (Cf. Is. 6:1-7). In this vision, the tongs, according to the interpretation of the Fathers, are the hands of the Virgin, which received the Son of God. These very hands are still reaching out to us. The burning coal is the Holy Mysteries, for their flames purge away our lawlessness.
The great treasures that have been given to us were but glimpsed in visions in the Old Testament; with such awe were even the foreshadows treated! Purified of every filth the prophet Malachi … [break in original text]5 … “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
Such was the anticipation and teaching of the prophets. But we do not even cherish the Holy Mysteries, in our midst are those who do not ever draw near to the Chalice. About such people it is written, “the Queen of the South will rise up in judgment along with the people of this generation, and she will condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold someone greater than Solomon is here” (Lk. 11:31). In such a manner both the Old and New Testaments speak of the gift of the Divine Liturgy.
Father John of Kronstadt says, “Having been present at the Divine Liturgy, fall on your face and give thanks to the Lord, Who has granted you such an incredible joy. My friends, remember the rule of the holy Fathers: a person who misses three consecutive Liturgies6 is to be denied a Christian burial. Do not miss these Suppers of the Lord. Consider that Feastday lost in which you failed to be present at the Divine Liturgy.”
I will tell you a parable – one Christian owned three thousand, six hundred, and eleven pounds of bread7 and traded it all for rags. Tell me, did he act wisely? No. Rather very unwisely. How much more unwise are the actions of a person who trades the Bread of Life for the rages of earthly existence. The Lord Himself calls us to His Mystical Supper, and to Him such answers are given – “I must go to market; I must tend my garden; My field is not yet sown!” Yet, do not such people know, unfortunate ones, that the seed scattered on the earth during the Divine Liturgy will come up sickly, stunted, and will not bring forth fruit?!
My friends, pray with me thus, “Lord, we thank Thee for Thy Gift; we thank Thee that Thou hast granted us to be present and hear the Divine Liturgy and to even taste of Thy Most-Pure Body and Thy Life-creating Blood. We pray Thee also on behalf of those who have departed from Thy Holy Chalice, for those who have no desire to find consolation in Thy saving Mysteries. Do Thou enlighten and draw them to Thyself, that they too would be with us in Thy Holy Church.”
1This seems to be a paraphrasing of the Old Testament commandment given by the Lord to Moses, see Leviticus 24:5-9.
2From one Sabbath to next Sabbath.
3Compare also with the words of the Lord Jesus in Matt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:14-20.
4In Russian – Погиб Я!
5Bear in mind these sermons were preserved in Samizdat form in Russia.
6It seems Sunday and Feastday Liturgies are implied.
7The original text uses the old Russian measurement of a pood. One pood equals 36.11 pounds. The original text reads, “owned one hundred poods of bread.”