Below the reader will find my translation from the Russian of sermon number 20 by St. Seraphim (Zvezdenski), On the Divine Liturgy (only two left to translate!). The preceding sermons may be found by clicking here.
The Lord is seeking those who will fight valiantly and stand fast in the faith. The Lord is the Lord of armies and He is enlisting warriors, as St. Seraphim tells us. We are also, once again, reminded by the Saint that the Div. Liturgy is an open heaven of grace to the dying world. The enemy seeks to shut it up so that the world would sink into darkness. The enemy seeks to war against the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church. This is most evident in our times.
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.
Today I desire to spend more time examining the second part of the Eucharistic canon, the Seraphic Hymn. What do the words of this short hymn mean, that which the holy prophet Isaiah heard in his wondrous vision, “Holy, Holy, Holy?” I think everyone understands these words and it is clear why they are repeated three times. In the Old Testament, we frequently encounter indications of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Seraphic Hymn confesses this, the greatest of our dogmas. The word, “Sabaoth” requires some explanation. The translation of the Hebrew word “Sabaoth” means, “Lord of the armies.”1 Great is this title. You should ponder it. God is called the “Lord of the armies.” This is, first of all, because He is the creator of the heavenly armies.
But such a name also means that the Lord especially blesses, especially protects, all those who wage war in His Name, and those who battle with their passions, the devil, and this adulterous and evil world; those who stand up and defend the Name of the Lord against His enemies.
The Lord does not love a weak, timid, and sluggish spirit. He requires us to courageously and steadfastly confess Him. God’s Church glorifies enlighteners, righteous and venerable ones, and yet the Lord promises a particularly high reward to the martyrs who endured physical and bodily torments for Him, together with those who endure spiritual torments – ridicule, persecution, harassment, and slander because they glorify His Name. And so, they teach us that we should stand fearlessly and firmly in defense of His Church; that we should not fear sufferings and persecutions in the defense of Her statutes, foundations, and dogmas. They courageously endured every temptation and attack from the enemy, especially from the servants of the prince of darkness; they steadfastly and persistently fought against sin and their own passions. Such strong warriors, the Lord especially covers with His Grace; with exceptional attention, He expressly seeks for such persons, and they receive His tender mercy. As an earthly commander cares for his soldiers and knows each one by face, and their needs, so does the Lord of the armies; the Lord is the Heavenly Commander and He cares for and knows by face each of His warriors. All of His prophets, all of His apostles, are at the same time His warriors. Each of them carried out intense warfare and suffered martyrdom for the confession of His Name. With what love, attention, and protection the Lord embraces His servants, those who are of His army!
Thus, my dear ones, when you sing these words, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” pray that the Lord would give you fortitude in the battle with sin and that He would strengthen you to joyfully stand in His fearful Name. When you sing the words, ““Holy, Holy, Holy,” look inside yourself and discern, who are you – a servant and warrior of the Heavenly King, one courageously and valiantly advancing on the enemy, the devil, or are you a defector who has fled the battlefield and shamefully run away from the battle standard of your Commander?
Never forget to correctly and firmly hold the sword of the Lord – His Cross. The sign of His Cross confounds enemies both visible and invisible. Clothe yourself, as the apostle says, in the full armor of Salvation.2 Stand bravely and defend God’s Church and the Lord’s Holy Name. The Lord of hosts, Who dwells in the host of His martyrs, ascetics, and those battling the passions, will send you special grace. The next words, “Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory,” are quite understandable. They mean exactly heaven and earth are full of Thy glory, the whole world shows forth the glory of God.
The next word is, “Hosanna.” I want you to understand this word. “Hosanna,” in Hebrew is “hosha’na” and in Greek, “ossana,” which is a greeting – “Greetings to you!” “May good come upon you!” In such a manner, this word may be translated. Every nation gives expression to their joy and special exclamations when greeting prominent figures, such as leaders. The Hebrews expressed their feelings in this word – hosha’na. In the Old Testament Church, there was celebrated the feast of Tabernacles, during this feast the Jews would go into the fields and build booths from green boughs and live in them throughout the celebration.3 The Hebrew children, taking branches in their hands, would greet each other in the fields with the waving of these branches and the cry, “hosha’na” – hosanna – that is, “we greet you,” “greetings of good,” and “may you have joy!” With these exclamations, the children (particularly) went out to meet Christ the Savior as He entered Jerusalem.
Our singing of, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He who comes …” expresses our greeting of the coming Christ. The Seraphim, beholding His unending love for people and beholding Him coming to sacrifice, greet Him with trembling awe; the whole world echos their greeting, all of nature, everything glorifies Him. Why does the whole world bring praise to the Lord? The quiet priestly prayer clarifies this. As those gathered in the temple sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” – the Seraphic hymn – the priest prays, “With these blessed powers …” which ends with, “Take, eat.” Here is the greatest good that the Lord has given us – the Divine Liturgy. This is why the trembling cloud of Seraphim flocks to the temple, these powers always stand with trembling reverence before the Lord’s Throne; they are always in a state of awe and delight of love. But what of us, the people, to whom this good is given? We depart from it and rarely attend the Liturgy, rather we exchange it for the market and earthly cares. My friends, fear this! Fear to lose the blessing that is given. If we lose it, we lose everything because it is the fountain of our life. It is the axis upon which turns the wheel of our life.
This is what I wanted to tell you in today’s discourse. Now, I also desire to touch upon the Gospel that we heard today and which I find so touching. The Gospel tells of Christ’s appearance to two apostles on the road to Emmaus.4 At first they did not know Jesus, it was only when He took bread and broke and gave it to them that their eyes were opened and they knew the Lord. This appearance of the Lord speaks to us of the Divine Liturgy. For here, the Lord also appears openly under the forms of bread and wine, and only in the mystery of Holy Communion does He disclose Himself to us. The very actions that the Lord performed are repeated in the Liturgy, wherein bread and wine are also blessed, broken, and given to the communicants. Only in the breaking of the bread did the disciples recognize the Lord and precisely in the Divine Liturgy may we know Him. The apostles asked when the Lord left them, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us?”5 And our hearts are set aflame by the fire of Holy Communion.
Therefore, love the holy Liturgy because the Peaceful Light of Christ is reflected in it; love it because in the Liturgy you may uniquely behold and experience Christ.
1Or may also be translated as “Lord of hosts.” Both of these possible translations will be used throughout this sermon.
2Cf. Ephesians 6:10ff
3 Cf. Leviticus 23:33ff
4Cf. Luke 24:13ff
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