Light of Understanding
The Light of Understanding
The Ever-Memorable Archbishop Averky of Syracuse & Holy Trinity, + 1976 A.D.
DEEP DARKNESS covered the earth. Everything was wrapped in sleep; quiet reigned everywhere. Only the shepherds were keeping vigil in the fields. And suddenly the heavens were torn asunder, an ineffable light shone upon the earth, a countless host of the angelic choirs appeared, and their wondrous hymn, which hitherto had been unknown to men, their song of unheard of beauty, was heard: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill.
Such an impenetrable darkness, like the darkness of the Bethlehem night, then enveloped all mankind in a moral sense. On the earth evil had reached the furthest limits. Life without God, without His wise and saving precepts, had brought people, who had become coarse and depraved, to a state wherein, as the Scriptures say, they could be compared to the mindless cattle, and had become like unto them (see Ps. 48:21). And in this way does not life become solely for the body, life for the stomach, life without any higher striving whatsoever, as if it had no rational purpose at all? And it had indeed lost all meaning, had broken its moorings and had become empty and needless. At that very time animal self-centredness, spreading without limit, led to a fearful enmity and hostility between peoples. Faith even in the pagan gods was almost totally eroded. The intelligentsia considered the gods a figment of folk fantasy; even the pagan priests could not be restrained from jesting as they conducted the pagan rites. The former heroism of the ancient Greco-Roman world no longer endured and was past; everything was sinking into the crudest self-interest, luxuriating, indulgence and the pleasing of the flesh. There was no vice, not even the very vilest offence, which was not committed boldly and openly by everyone at every turn and everywhere. The writers of that time depict the situation then in these very same terms. The better people of those times literally choked in this dreadful atmosphere of faithlessness and moral depravity, and with raised voices declared that it was impossible to continue living in this way, and that there could be no salvation for mankind if God Himself did not come down to earth and deliver the people from the dreadful catastrophe which was obviously impending. And for many the only rational way out from this tortuously oppressive situation seemed to be to violently cut short their lives by way of suicide. Clear-sighted people were bound to conclude that they completely lacked the means even to contrive some sort of bearable life without God. Plato, the renowned pagan philosopher of ancient times, was remarkable in this respect; he wrote that there could be no order on earth if God Himself, concealed under the appearance of a man, did not make clear to us both our relationship with Him and our mutual responsibilities to each other.
And then, when this awesome darkness with its sinister gloom had enveloped all mankind, which was already beginning to despair of its salvation, there came the fulness of time (Gal. 4:4), fore-appointed from all eternity by the God of times and seasons. Then the great mystery of piety (1 Tim. 3:16) was accomplished. God sent His Only-begotten Son. God appeared in the flesh and dwelt among men. The brightly shining star of Bethlehem and the Angelic chanting proclaimed to the people the dayspring of the Sun of Righteousness, which illumined the whole world with His Divine Light, dispersing the sinister darkness. The Only-begotten Son of God Himself came down to earth and became man, while yet remaining God. He gave us light and understanding, that we might know the True God and that we might be in His True Son, Jesus Christ (see 1 Jn 5:20). He brought to earth that desired, sweet peace, for which the soul of man yearned, while not comprehending or knowing how to find it. He came to reconcile man with God, and preached peace to us, to those far off and those near (see Eph. 2:17), reconciling us one with another and with our own consciences. On account of this, that peace became the fundamental and distinguishing mark of every true Christian, being made in Christ a genuinely new creation, through an unalienable blood kinship. This, the peace which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7), which transcends all knowing, which is more exalted than the comprehension and mental grasp of man, fills the soul with an inexpressible blessedness; this is indeed that very Kingdom of God, which our Lord Jesus Christ came among mankind to establish, and which, according to His word, is within us (Luke 17:21).
To the extent that the faith of Christ penetrates into people’s souls, to that extent this peace is established as a characteristic of their lives. The people who come closer to Christ, those who more sincerely and more ardently believe in Him, and those who strive more to realize in their lives His good precepts, such people delight in a fuller and more perfect peace.
But what do we see today?
Mankind has reverted to mindlessness. What occurs in the world today vividly reminds us of a depiction of life on earth be- fore the Birth of Christ. In the majority of people we see the very same lack of faith, the same dissipation, the same brutish ideals, egotism, mutual antagonism and envy, the very same loss of the purpose of life.*
But isn’t all this even worse in comparison with what happened before?
Bear in mind that then mankind was pagan; it did not know of Christ the Saviour and His exalted teaching; it was buried in the most profound religious and moral darkness. And now? All these things are happening amongst Christian people, or, at the very least, among people who have heard the preaching of the Gospels, who have known of Christ, who are acquainted with His Divine teaching. The power of evil must have reached such an inconceivable force, that it has torn such people away from Christ and cast them into such a terrible abyss, not only of faithlessness, but of desperation, manifest satanic hostility towards God and of loathsome moral dissipation. Is it not to contemporary mankind that the stern warning of the holy Apostle Paul to the Hebrews refers: For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it... which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned (Heb. 6:7-8).
But now Christ does not come to save us. He came for that once only, and once and for all showed us the everlasting and unchanging path unto salvation. He who has no desire to follow it can only blame himself for his own perdition. Nor will there be a thousand year reign of happiness upon the earth, as the sectarians falsely aver. Such a teaching is contrary to the Word of God and is decisively rejected by the Church.
Now Christ comes a second time not to save the world but to judge the whole world, to judge the living and the dead.
The first time He came in self-abasement, giving us an ex- ample of humility, but now He will come in His glory and all the holy Angels with Him (Matt. 25:31). This will no longer be the bountiful condescension of God to an unhappy and despairing people, but the Dread Judge coming upon a transgressing arrogant people, who knew of God and stupidly and high-mindedly rejected His holy precepts. And if the first Christians, celebrating the First Coming of Christ into the world, always raised their minds up to His glorious and dread Second Coming, which they awaited with anticipation, then all the more is it essential and indeed indispensable for us, Christians of these times, to reflect upon it, when every day there are observable signs, as recorded in the Gospels, that it is drawing nigh. All our life on earth must be for nothing else, but only to prepare with the utmost care for that great and glorious day of the Lord (Acts 2:20). The all-evil enemy, the enemy of man’s salvation, knows this and he strives in every way to extinguish within us this salutary thought. What arguments, apparently fine pretexts and stories does he not put forward, so that he might turn the Christians of our times from the thought of the Second Coming of Christ! And he succeeds in this. Many now say this, and it is dreadful to relate, they do so even with a smirk; and even clergymen rarely avoid conversations of this type. Yes, the enemy has firmly rivetted the thoughts and feelings of contemporary people to the earth, and does not want them to think of eternity. Isn’t this very thing a true sign of the imminence of the Second Coming? We need only recall the words of Christ: As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be; for as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matt. 24:37-39).
Let such a perilous disposition of light-mindedness and carelessness be driven far from us! As we radiantly and joyously celebrate the First Coming of Christ into the world, let us also radiantly and joyously await His Second Coming, and let us live with this anticipation as did the Christians of the first centuries. And for this, so that it will truly be joyous for us and will open unto us the entrance into a blessed eternity, let us dedicate the remaining time of our earthly lives to the labours of repentance and intensified preparation of ourselves so that we might be vouchsafed to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:36), and to give a good defence before the dread judgment seat of Christ (supplicatory litany).
* This homily was published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, in Russian as one of a collection of Archbishop Averky’s sermons, dated 1951-1960, though no specific date is given for the piece itself. However, if such was his appreciation of the state of things in the 1950s, what a dire state the world is in now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century!