Ninevites’ repentance

The short Bible book of Jonah is read entirely on Great Saturday at Vespers. Since it is very relevant these days, and its images are often used in the Church, let us briefly recall its content.
Jonah lived after the prophets Elijah and Elisha. One day the Lord commanded him to go to the city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Kingdom, and tell the Ninevites that the Lord would destroy them if they did not repent. But Jonah would not go to preach to the enemies of Israel, and he did not listen to the voice of God. He took a ship that was going to another country. But suddenly a great storm arose on the sea. The ship was about to sink. All were afraid. The shipwrights decided to cast lots to find out who had caused such a disaster. The lot fell on Jonah. Jonah confessed his sin and said: “Yes, I have sinned against the Lord! Throw me into the sea, and the storm will stop.” When he was thrown into the sea, the storm subsided. By the will of God, the prophet was swallowed by a huge fish (“whale”). Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, praying to God for mercy. Here the Lord revealed his special glory, having kept him safe.
Three days later, the whale washed the prophet up alive on the beach. After this, Jonah went to Nineveh to fulfill the will of God. He went around the city and preached to everyone, saying: “Another forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!» And people believed his words. The king took off his Royal vestments and sat down on the ashes. The Ninevites imposed a fast on themselves, began to pray and offer penance for their sins. Even the cattle didn’t eat anything those days. And the Lord saw their works, and He had mercy on them.
But Jonah protested at this mercy of God, and even began to ask for his death from God. He probably thought that now he would be considered a false prophet.
But the Lord again brought Jonah to reason. In front of the tent that Jonah had set up for himself near Nineveh, a large plant grew up one night and protected him from the heat of the sun. But the next day the worm eroded this plant, and it withered. Jonah was very sad and sorry for the dead plant.
Then the Lord said to him: “you are sorry for the plant that you did not work on and that you did not grow. So should I not pity Nineveh, the great city, where there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know the difference between the right hand and the left, and a lot of cattle?»
The three-day stay of Jonah in the belly of the whale and his miraculous salvation was a prototype of the three-day death and resurrection of Christ the Saviour.

Resurrection of Lazarus

In the famous parable the rich man in the hell begged to send Lazarus from Paradise to his alive relatives to warn them about the consequences of a sinful life, but he was denied for such a reason: if they believe neither Scriptures nor the prophets, they will not believe the one who has risen from the dead. But, as if to prove this, God raised up another, but also Lazarus! And so-those who did not want to believe Christ, instead of glorifying Him, decide that they will kill them both. In our time, more than a hundred thousand “Lazarus” have had the experience of clinical death, but it only confirms the words of the gospel that even the miracle of the resurrection will not correct non-believers…
On Lazarus Saturday, we celebrate the miracle of Lazarus ‘ Resurrection. The Lord loved him and his sisters, often visited them, and called Lazarus his friend. Therefore, when the Saviour learned of his death, He was ” grieved in spirit and indignant.” After listening to Martha and Mary, who testified their faith that if the Lord had been with them, their brother would not have died, Christ went to the cave and raised the four-day-old dead man. In this way the Lord revealed his nature: he wept as a man, but raised Lazarus, revealing himself to be God. It was a miracle that destroyed the last doubt that Christ was the Messiah. After this great event, all the people of Israel gathered to meet the Savior at Passover in Jerusalem to glorify Him.
By raising Lazarus, the Savior also showed the possibility of his own Resurrection. As well as the fact that faith and prayers for other people can save them even in death, as the faith of the sisters Martha and Mary saved their brother Lazarus.
And the resurrected Lazarus lived for another 30 years, became a Bishop on Cyprus, and, according to tradition, never laughed to death.

Beginning of our salvation

It is believed that the main holiday of the Most Holy Theotokos is the Dormition. But it is for reason that the Holy Church sings at the Annunciation: “Today is the beginning of our salvation!” And the whole life of our Lady is for this day. “The Word became a human being” is about today’s event. She herself prophesies about this day: “From now on, all generations will call Me blessed”
For 55 centuries, the Creator waited for this most honest vessel to become a part of the visible world to save it. He could have waited longer. This is why it is so important to understand that if it were not for the purity and humility of the Holy Virgin, we would still be living without the Savior (or rather, we would not be living at all). Because neither before nor after was there on Earth like Her. That is why we will always sing the Archangel hymn to Her:
Rejoice, Gracious One! The Lord is with Thee!

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk: We will definitely celebrate Easter

During the coronavirus pandemic the Church has to make innovative decisions in order to comply with the instructions of the authorities, to protect not only the physical life and health of people, but also the spiritual one. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for external Church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, told RIA Novosti in an exclusive interview about his view on the second address of the President to the Russians and new measures to combat the epidemic, on the possibility of combining them with Church life, the upcoming Holy week and the celebration of Easter (this year on April 19).
— Vladyka, how would you comment on the second address of the President in connection with the spread of the coronavirus and new measures to combat the epidemic, in particular, the extension of the non-working period until April 30?

— An important and timely request. The President does everything to save people’s lives. Extending the weekend for another month will bring multibillion losses to the country, reduce the pace of economic development, and hit the wallets of ordinary citizens. This has already happened. But people’s lives are above all else, and no amount can compensate for the lives that will be lost as a result of non-compliance with sanitary measures. Therefore, I strongly support the strict measures that are being introduced. Every life has value, and any life saved is more important than economic achievements. We are seeing an increase in the number of people infected and dying, but let’s not forget that if there were no such measures, the numbers would be very different. The President stressed that if the situation allows, the quarantine period will be shorter. We would like that very much. But we understand that the peak of the disease is probably still ahead, and we need to do everything to make sure that as few people as possible are infected.

— How will the long-term nationwide quarantine affect the income of clergy, many of whom have large families, and will churches go bankrupt?
— The Church will not leave its priests and their families in this difficult situation. Maybe this whole situation will allow the society to finally fix in their minds the fact that Yes, the parish feeds the priests. The media, especially the so-called opposition and liberal media, constantly spread stories about the allegedly fabulous income of the clergy, about the limousines that priests allegedly drive around in. But there is none of this — no fabulous income. Most priests, with a few exceptions, live very modestly. And the Church exists solely on the donations of parishioners, it does not receive any subsidies from the state. Of course, the church will not go bankrupt, but in parallel with the sharp reduction in income, which is inevitable, we will have to reduce spending. Somewhere, perhaps, it will be possible to organize the submission of memorial notes online and the transfer of donations online. Only it is very important that no price lists appear anywhere: this costs so much, and this-so much. Donations can only be voluntary, and the amount must be determined by the donor. And if he can’t donate anything at all, then that shouldn’t be an obstacle to accepting a commemoration note from him.

— How can the Church support the parishionners, and what kind of support do you expect from the faithful?
— All social services of parishes, courtyards and monasteries are instructed by the Patriarch to provide assistance to those people who are at risk, if possible. What kind of help can it be? Delivery of food and medicine. Of course, this includes pastoral support on an individual basis, in compliance with all the rules of individual protection. In other words, priests will come to the homes of the elderly and the sick in order to confess, give communion, and assist them, as they always did before the introduction of sanitary measures.
Every situation of crisis is also a situation for new opportunities. Today, our faithful have a unique opportunity to create what the Apostle Paul called a “home Church”. After all, the Christian family is a Church in miniature. Jesus Christ said: “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt. 18: 20). He didn’t say, “where a hundred or two hundred or five hundred people will gather,” but he said, “two or three.” Where do people most often gather in twos and threes? In the family. Now is the time to think: do we often pray together with our loved ones, children, and parents? After all, in many families, the day begins with a fuss: children are in a hurry to go to school, dad and mom – to work, to have time to eat, but not to be late for the bus. And there is no time to pray. And in the evening, everyone is tired, I want to talk and watch TV. Well, it seems like, and again I have no time to pray, and I’m getting sleepy. Building a home Church is the most important task of every Christian. We often have such a peculiar consumer attitude to the Church: we will submit notes, and the priest will pray. The Church is perceived as a combine of funeral services, where you can come, order a service, get it, and then let life go its own way. Meanwhile, the Church should have a direct continuation in Christian families. Those who have not yet created their own home Church have a unique chance to do it.

— Isn’t it a sin to prepare for holidays and celebrate, even Easter, in such a difficult period for everyone in General? Is the emphasis of the holiday shifting and how do you think?
— On the contrary! The feast of the Resurrection is a celebration of victory over death. We will definitely celebrate Easter, even if we can’t come to the temple. Remember the Soviet times. Not all believers could get to the Church on Easter. Police cordons stood, young people were not allowed in. And there were no live broadcasts of services on TV at that time. Where was Easter celebrated? In their secret home churches, in their families.

— Under the new measures, going to the temple is fined, and any police officer has the right to stop me and turn me around halfway. Is this normal for believers? And if the temple is closer than a hundred meters from the house, closer to the store, then you can enter it or not?
— This is an interesting question, thank you for being open. Much will depend on the region. As well as the clarity of actions of Federal and local authorities. In some regions, there is no quarantine at all. And in Moscow, a self-isolation regime has been introduced, but how it works in practice is not yet clear to everyone. At first they said that they would give special passes to employees of those institutions that are not closed. Then they said that there would be no special passes. We are currently preparing our own certificates for clergy and Church workers.
— Will the clergy continue to serve in monasteries and churches on Easter and in General every day, as usual, until April 30, or will something change?

— Services in monasteries and parishes do not stop for a day. There is a lot of misinformation about this right now. Here somewhere even with a reference to me wrote that the sacrament of Communion will not be performed. That’s not true, I didn’t say that. All services and all sacraments will be performed. But the issue of admitting believers to churches will be resolved differently in each region and in each diocese, depending on the epidemiological situation. Somewhere there may be a situation that you will have to serve behind closed doors. Somewhere, a small number of believers may be allowed to be present at the same time.

— How do you think the situation will develop further, especially palm Sunday (April 12), Holy week (from April 13) and Easter (April 19)? If I, for example, want to come and light a candle and hand over notes — will they let me in?
— As I have already said, the doors of all churches in Moscow are currently open, but the Patriarch urged the laity to stay at home. And in other regions-in different ways. It is not yet clear how the situation will develop in each particular region. Therefore, the most correct thing is to stay at home, do not go out, and observe a self-isolation regime. I think that before Holy week, each diocese will adopt and voice recommendations regarding the possibility or impossibility of visiting the Church.

— Consecration of cakes, eggs, exchange of gifts, common meals – can all this be canceled? How then can people express their joy and share it?
— A common family meal — why not? Inside their home Church, each family can bake Easter cakes and dress up on Easter night after watching the broadcast of the Patriarchal Easter service from the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. And if it happens that somewhere it will not be possible to bless cakes, eggs and Pascha (Easter sweet cheese with raisins), then you will have to imagine how during the seventy years of Soviet period, many believers were deprived of this opportunity. And when next year we all come to bless the cakes, we will remember once again this year of the Easter lock and will be glad that many of us did not appreciate: the opportunity to freely come to the temple and pray together. Let’s not dramatize the situation. Several generations in our country have lived in conditions of persecution of the Church. In the 1930s, most of the churches were closed, the priests were shot, and in many cities and villages it was impossible to come to the Church, take communion, or baptize a child. And so the Church lived for decades. Now, thank God, none of this is happening. We have complete freedom to live a full Church life. We are only temporarily in a situation where we are prescribed self-isolation. Let’s go through this time with humility and calm. Let’s work together to save as many lives as possible. For this, the Lord will reward each of us. But carelessness will be punished.
04/04/2020

Mary of Egypt

“The Standing of Mary of Egypt” on last Thursday is the culmination of Lent. In the Church for two months now, we have been taught examples of piety: the repentance of publicans and fornicators, icon worship and hesychasm. Like the Tree of life in the middle of Paradise, the Cross of the Lord is brought to us for worship in the middle of the Lent. As a guide to heaven, “The Ladder” of St John is recommended. And as the highest example of repentance (not for imitation, but for admiration) – the life of St. Mary. The fragile female nature was capable of impossible feats, surpassing the greatest men of desert. Her story fits into a few paragraphs, but can you imagine 47 years in the desert without food and clothing? What willpower and desire to please God helped her endure the external and internal fire? On the day of her memory – on the 5th Sunday of Lent – the Canon at Matins commemorates the righteous Job and the poor Lazarus: “As Job in leprosy, eaten by worms, so Lazarus before the gates of the rich prayed: blessed is the God of our fathers. And no one gave him even a crumb from the rich man’s table, but he received instead the bosom of Abraham.” Because none of our sacrifices, nothing earthly, can compare with what God has prepared for those who love Him. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who, had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13: 45-46). This pearl is Christ. To be with Him, true Christians are willing to bare with suffering, privation, and even premature death. The main thing is that both life be Christ and death be gain (Epistle to the Philippians, 1: 21).