Below the reader will find my translation from the Russian of sermon number 17 by St. Seraphim (Zvezdenski), On the Divine Liturgy. The preceding sermons may be found by clicking here.
Sermon 16, for whatever reason, is an exact repetition of sermon 7.
St. Seraphim lived during the Communist Revolution in Russia, a time of great upheaval and turmoil. He himself ended his life in martyrdom. Many misfortunes, plagues, and famines afflicted the Russian Empire as it was violently transformed into the Soviet Union. In light of all these afflictions, St. Seraphim calls upon Orthodox Christians to increase their prayer, most of all in the Divine Liturgy. He calls upon them (and us) to dedicate ourselves to greater faithfulness in our attendendance of the Divine Services. He soberly warns us, if the Divine Liturgy is stopped the vacancy will be filled with “another gift” this gift he calls the gift of antichrist and satan.
For St. Seraphim, the clear solution to the evil of his day was an increase in Divine services and the dedication of the faithful to diligent attendance. The sermons speak for themselves, so I leave you, the reader, to be nourished on the words of St. Seraphim on the Divine Liturgy.
All titles of the sermons are my own for the purposes of this blog, in the original, they are simply numbered.
In today’s Gospel reading,1 we hear that after the entombment of Christ the Savior, the women who followed Christ – Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the others – prepared fragrant ointments because on the day after the Sabbath they desired to anoint the Most-Pure Body of the Lord. My friends, my beloved ones, my flock, these fragrant ointments have been safeguarded and kept even unto our day. We smell their blessed fragrance and also experience their comforting power; these ointments are nothing less than the Divine, mysterious, great, wondrous, beautiful, priceless, and healing Liturgy. Such is the fragrant ointment gifted to us by the first followers of the Lord! This is what we have received from them as an inheritance. This gift heals our wounds, cleanses the leprosy of our souls, and extinguishes the devouring flames of the passions. If we did not have this gift we would perish in this world full of impurity and every defilement, rotting alive and suffocating under its malevolence.
I have already witnessed numerous times before you to this fact – if I, who am accursed and sinful, am still alive, if I still have breath, if I have not yet rotted away from the plague of sin, it is because I breathe in the miraculous fragrance of the Liturgy and my mouth is wetted with the Life-creating Blood of my Lord and Savior. The Divine Liturgy is the salt that safeguards me with its heavenly fragrance. It is my staff and it supports me and keeps me from falling; it is my anchor and it saves me from sinking; it is my sun and it illumines the gloomy abyss of my sins; it is my joy, delight, strength, and life. Here [on earth] I have only begun the Divine Liturgy but I will complete it there, in Heaven, with those children who have remained faithful with me, those who have attended the Divine Liturgy with me, loved it, and are nourished by this fragrant and life-creating fountain.
In the works of literary writers, the thoughts of the writer are not immediately revealed; sometimes a person must read the work for a while, until around the middle, to understand what it is that the author wants to say. The holy Fathers acted in a similar manner when composing the Divine Liturgy. They take time to prepare the senses of the faithful to receive its most important parts. Calling the faithful to attention, the priest proclaims from the altar, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ….” This pronounces the theme of the Divine Liturgy and here its whole meaning is summarized. What is the Liturgy? It is the grace, mercy, and gift of Christ Jesus. Consider my dear ones, what joy it is to receive the grace of Christ the Savior, His gracious gift! We are graciously enveloped in the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. “The love of God the Father,” here again is what the Divine Liturgy is – love, the very sign of the Father’s love.
“God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”2 The Liturgy bears witness to the Everlasting Love of God because it testifies above all else to this supreme sacrifice. How could you not cherish it? How could you not come to this supper of the love of God?
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit ….”3 Does not your soul tremble in awe upon hearing these words? You are communicants of God’s Spirit, you are His kin, and you are partakers of His being. What joy, what a priceless gift we have in the Divine Liturgy! Through it we are made akin to the Comforter, God the Holy Spirit. Do not squander this gift from your God, take care of it! Diligently seek that the fragrance of this gift would envelop your soul and all of your life. If you neglect this fragrant flower of God, then you will rot in your own madness. Do you think that misfortune befalls us by chance? Is it a wonder that the worm devours our bread and winter corn?
No, it is not by mistake that this happens. Christians have forgotten about the fragrance of Christ, they have forgotten about the Divine Liturgy. On a feast day, instead of going to church, they go to the market, to the field, to chop wood, and to take up the scythe. I would not be surprised if nothing will be left in our fields because we have angered the Lord by neglecting His gift.
As long as we remain in the fragrance of the Divine Liturgy, as long as we are Christ’s, we ourselves are blessed, we partake of the good and then are able to give good to others. We bear on ourselves a seal, the seal of the love of God; we are akin to the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and then are able to give comfort to others. If we turn away from Christ and do not attend the Divine Liturgy, then we will lose this gift of God; then we will receive another gift – not from Christ but from antichrist, from satan – because wherever Christ is absent, there is not simply a void, no, there the gift of satan is made. He is not the giver of good but a giver of evil, and he plants malice and enmity into the hearts of his followers. Instead of the shining grace and love of God the Father, there reigns in them dark demonic hatred, and rather than being made communicants of God they become the communicants of satan.
Woe to the person who permits him even near himself.
For this reason, I am constantly calling you to the Divine Liturgy. It pours out goodness on the world, it is eternal love and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet, some people are not thankful for this priceless gift of God; they consider missing the service of God, for no good reason, to be of trivial importance. Do they not understand that after the first and second absence, they begin to grow accustomed to being absent; then little by little in place of the gracious and kindred Holy Spirit, they become cruel and akin to the spirit of darkness. This is why the ancient Church excommunicated those who missed three consecutive Sunday Liturgies.
“O Lord, give Thy grace and love to those children of mine who love Thy Liturgy, and grant that they may be with me there [in Heaven] where I will complete it.”
1Most likely this refers to the reading from the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, Mark 15:43-16:8.
2John 3:16. Similar wording is also used in the second anaphora prayer.
3The priestly exclamation before the anaphora prayers.