Sermon on the millennium of the baptism of rus'
When Metropolitan Anthony preached at the New Year Moleben on 31 December 1987, he spoke of the coming Millennium Year in terms of the deep and far-reaching challenge which our own baptism and faith present to every one of us. His text was first published in the Cathedral Newsletter, No. 205 (February 1988).
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Tonight we are entering the year in which the Russian Church, that is all of us together with those who have lived and are alive in Russia and in all the world, keeps the thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of the Slavs.
We have got half a year to ask ourselves questions about what has happened to Russia in the course of these thousand years, and what has happened to our Western world during these two thousand years of Christianity; to rethink our own baptism, to rethink it singly, each of us personally. What has happened to us? When? How did the Good News reach our minds and set our hearts aglow? But also, what fruits I have we brought from this momentous event?
As a whole body, as a whole Church, we will have to reflect on what we have been in this world of ours. Have we been the light of the world that dispels darkness, the darkness of mind and the gloom of hearts, that puts an end to the deeds of darkness? Have we been, singly and all of us together, the salt of the earth that prevents human society, the human race, from corruption and decay? Have we been the presence of Christ, an extension of his incarnate presence, of Christ crucified and risen for the salvation of every human soul, for the renewal of every human life, for newness of the world?
Patriarch Pimen has said that the glory of the Church is her saints. And indeed, the saints of Russia are the response of a whole nation to a message of life, of beauty and of greatness. Yes, they testify before God and before the whole world that the earth of Russia could receive the good seed and bring forth a holy and rich harvest.
But the Church is not made exclusively of saints; the holiness of the Church is that of God who lives in it; the response of the Church is in her saints. But the Church is also, in the words of St Ephraim of Syria, the crowd of repentant sinners – of all and each of us – who have become aware of our vocational greatness, of the holiness to which we are called, of the love which God offers us, and who, broken-hearted, turn towards him with gratitude, with wonder, with tears, with incipient and ever-growing love.
But again, there is another aspect of the Church; that aspect which the world sees, which, indeed, we can see so clearly in ourselves and in our midst; the aspect that made Paul the Apostle already in those early days say that the Name of God, of Christ, is blasphemed, reviled because of us. For centuries we have fought for the proclamation of the true faith in all its integrity, in all its truth and beauty; but have we lived accordingly? And isn't it true, painfully true, that we can be heretics in deeds while proclaiming the true faith in words? Can we proclaim our creed in the Divine Liturgy, speak of the God who is love, and not be a manifestation, a presence of the Divine Love in this orphaned, darkened, painful, agonized world of ours? How many of our prayers which we offer to God should stand before our eyes not only as a challenge but as a possible condemnation if we do not change our ways and become different!
When we think of the history of Russia, can we truly say that Christianity, which came as light, as freedom, as joy, as newness into our land, has conquered it? Isn't it true to say, together with one of our writers of the 19th century, that Russia indeed was baptised, but, alas, was not enlightened? And can we say, all of us baptised in the Orthodox Church – or in any Church, indeed – can we say that we have become so one with Christ that only those things that are in him and his are meaningful to us, and that we have died to everything else? Are we carrying within ourselves the deadness of Christ and the power of his Resurrection? Are we with eternity, free from time? When we think of what has happened in Russia, don't we see that we, our ancestors and our contemporaries – ourselves – have failed a whole nation? We speak of the secularisation of the Western world, of atheism in the Eastern world – but who is responsible for it? A Christian is one whom God has put in charge of the world he created when he rested on the seventh day and committed its charge to man. What have we done, what have we made of it! Wars, greed, hatred, fear have prevailed throughout the ages, and indeed, who could believe in the Gospel in action – love, forbearance, humility, purity, strength, divine strength in human frailty.
And so at the beginning of this year, we who are here and are the heirs of the Russian spiritual tradition, and those who have borne, in the seventy years that have elapsed since the Revolution, the heavy cross of persecution, who have been the object of destruction – we must think and ask ourselves, how do we enter into this second millennium of Russian Christianity? This will prepare us to meet the 2,000 years of Christianity in the world. We must think; the saints are challenging us and at times condemning us by their lives, by their love. The prayers which we use judge us and often condemn us. The Gospel which we hear and proclaim, the faith which we teach, challenge and condemn us... Are we that blessed crowd of repentant sinners who are moving Godwards with all the longing of our hearts and being – or not? Are we prepared to look at the surrounding world that accuses us of having robbed it of the only thing that could make it a city of man, worthy of the greatness of man because it would have the dimensions of the City of God… Yes, the godless world condemns us because we have failed and we are failing it...
Let us judge ourselves so that we be not condemned. Judge and condemn ourselves, and start anew, as witnesses of the Good News given to us, witnesses not in words but in the totality of our being, in the wholeness of our life. So let us pray now in the words of our moleben for God to forgive us the past and inspire us, that is, fill us with the Holy Spirit, so that we can build the future and be worthy of the message which we receive, and capable of transmitting it not in words, but as St Paul puts it, in the revelation of the power of God. Amen.
Sourozh 1988. N. 33. P. 1–3