Sermon on the election of the new Patriarch, Alexis Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod
In today's reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews we have heard the cost of faith; not of the glory of it, but of the price to be paid by everyone who abandons himself to God to obey His will and to serve Him with all his life and, if necessary, his death. And to speak of the death of a man does not always mean the ending of his temporary life, but of an ever-renewed sacrifice offered day after day to God in worshipping Him, and therefore in serving those for whom Christ has given His life.
Our new Patriarch was enthroned two weeks ago. He was born in the freedom of Estonia before the war. He knew what it meant to be free, to be taught the faith of his fathers, to worship without fear and without danger. But while he was still a child his country was betrayed into the power of the Godless, and his youth and his mature years developed in the tragic situation of the Russia of Stalin's days; yet his faith was not killed, his resolve was not weakened. He heard Christ telling us all in the Gospel that he who wishes to follow Him must renounce himself, take up his cross and walk in His footsteps. And indeed he had to do this because the persecution that hit the clergy in those days was particularly painful, a true martyrdom for their families. He did not look for anything, but following God he took monastic vows.
He has been elected our Patriarch and the decision he had taken to die to himself so that Christ might live in him, and to make of his life Christ's life has now been submitted to a new test. He had to hear the Lord asking him the question He asked James and John on the way to Caesarea Philippi: «Art thou prepared to drink My cup to the dregs? Art thou prepared to be merged in the ordeal which is Mine?» And he bowed his head and said, «I am». He said this with awe, aware of his frailty, aware of the fact that no human power can achieve what is now his vocation; because he is called to be the intercessor before God for every human soul, believers and unbelievers, faithful and persecutors; to stand before God holding the Church before His face as an offering. Because the Church herself is called to be forever, until the end of time, the Body of Christ broken for the salvation of the world. Only the martyr, only the ones who are prepared to give their lives at a cost to follow Christ can say «Father, forgive – they do not know what they are doing». This a new Patriarch determined to do when he said «Amen» to the call of the Church.
But how heavy is our responsibility, because it is we who have put upon his shoulders this cross; it is we who have called him to be a martyr, that is, a witness of God at whatever the cost. How fervently should we pray for him, with what reverence and sense of awe should we hold him before the face of God, before the face of the Mother of God, of the Saints; how much we must surround him with prayer, with openness and understanding, with whatever support we can give him.
Indeed, his task is beyond human capabilities. Who can, without the light of God, without the wisdom which is given by the Holy Spirit, without being in Christ – who can fulfil the task which we have laid upon his shoulders? Who can remain, until his dying day, between the hammer and the anvil for our sakes?
But there is a word in the Epistle of Saint Paul that can give, that is giving, him courage and hope. Paul also saw that his vocation was beyond human strength, that he could not proclaim with purity and perfection the word of the Living God, he could not be an example to all – Christ alone could be the word and the image; and he prayed for strength. And the Lord answered him and said «My grace sufficeth unto thee, My power deploys itself in weakness» – not in cowardice, not in fear, not in sloth, not in any of those things which are so characteristic of our weakness, both in things secular and spiritual – no, another weakness, the transparency, the frailty, the surrender that makes it possible for the light of God to flow through a man, as it did, indeed, through the saints of God like St. Seraphim, or Saint John of Kronstadt who was canonised at this very Council that elected the Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod to be our Patriarch. That weakness is the frailty of the child that abandons itself to the wisdom and love of its parents, the frailty of the sail of a boat, the frailest part of it, but which, directed wisely, can engulf the wind and bring the heavy structure to its haven. And Saint Paul having understood, having lived this weakness, filled with the power of God says «I shall now rejoice in nothing but my own weakness, so that everything should be the power of God Himself».
And at the end of his life, knowing what God had done in him and through him, humbled by this communion with the Living God, he said «All things are possible unto me in the power of Christ that sustains me». This is what we must pray for when we think of our Patriarch! We must surround him with love, with veneration, but also with a prayer full of awe, and if necessary give him any support we are capable of giving him.
Let us then remember him day in, day out, because his task is so complex. May God give him vision, so that he may discern the signs of the times – but not in a secular way, not in order to meet situations with human, Godless sagacity; that he may discern the signs of the times and the ways of God in our time. May God give him that suppleness that will allow him year after year, in an ever-changing situation, to see the paths of God in history. May he become a true intercessor for the Church, for every human soul, believing and unbelieving, for his land which is so tragically torn at the moment, disintegrating before our eyes; for the country in which he was born, and the other countries that have lost their freedom: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Moldavia – all the people who long for a freedom which they perhaps do not understand: because they think of a secular freedom, and what we must pray for, what he will pray for, is the freedom which is the freedom of the children of God: «Learn the Truth, and you shall be set free» says the Scripture.
Let us pray for him; let us now sing for him 'Mnogaya Leta' that God may give him a long, a fruitful life, give him the strength and the courage he needs to carry a cross which is OUR cross; and let us, like Simon of Cyrene, be there to put our shoulder where and when needed for this cross not to crush him, not to be too heavy, so that together we may be saved, and one day he may stand before God and say to Him: 'Here are the children which Thou has given me – saved, saved, all of them.' Amen.