by Archimandrite Ioann Krestiankin
We not only fear unbelievers; some of us are even hesitant to make the sign of the Cross before eating in a home where they all know that we are believers, where no one is going to deride or make fun of us, a home, let's say, where the hostess does not adhere to this pious tradition, although icons are present. Our hand, as though made of lead, simply cannot lift itself up to make the sign of the Cross. We are ashamed of being religious, ashamed to turn to the Lord in prayer! How unfaithful we are towards Thee, Lord! Forgive us, sinners!
Possibly some one here has renounced Christ in some other way? You must repent of this when you receive the prayer of absolution. Terrible are the words of the Lord addressed to everyone without reservation: Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory and in His Father's, and of the holy angels (Luke 9:26). Who among us can then claim ignorance of this dire warning?
Lord, forgive us sinners our fear, shame and embarrassment. These are all sure signs of our disbelief! Increase our faith and plant in our hearts courage and steadfastness.
Just think. What is it we are ashamed of? The loftiest, most honorable calling in the world - that of being a Christian, of being Christ's disciple, people who serve the Supreme Righteousness with their whole life.
Finally, we must patiently endure all persecution for Righteousness, joining patience with firm trust m God.
According to the law of Christ, how must we act towards persecutors of Righteousness? We are obliged to respond to hatred and hostility with calmness and goodwill. And how should we act towards those who, often as part of an excursion, come to us out of idle curiosity, who are frequently ill-mannered, and disturb our prayer? Do we show our irritation or even spitefully snub them (or, if we had our way, we would throw them out -- with a good thrashing besides!)? And just who would we please by such behavior? Only our adversary, who feeds on all kinds of malice, hatred, and hostility. We would never draw anyone to Christ. And unbelievers would spread abroad: "Churches are full of ogres and old hags." If any of you have succumbed to such tactlessness or ill-tempered outbursts towards anyone -- no matter who it is -- in God's house, repent before the Lord!
Lord, forgive us sinners!
We are obliged to respond to falsehood and slander with patience and silence; or with a calm, serious explanation of the truth, if we have sufficient knowledge and if circumstances permit us to speak out. A Christian responds to ill-tempered outbursts according to the rule, Turn away from evil and do good (Ps. 33). We must keep firmly in mind that evil is never overcome by evil. The Apostle Paul instructs: Repay no man evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men (Rom. 12:17). It is better to suffer pain and humiliation oneself than to cause one's persecutor-offender to suffer thus by delivering him a retaliatory blow. There is no need to enter into disputes and arguments over the faith; nor to wish that thunder and lightning stun our persecutors and tormentors, those obstinate, sacrilegious atheists who, with their scoffing at our faith, cause us such pain; rather, we must pray for them and pity them because they are the most unhappy people on earth, for earthly life is fleeting but eternal life is everlasting Today they stubbornly oppose the Truth, some openly persecute it. But when their earthly eyes close and their spiritual eyes open, they will be terrified by what they see! Are such people not to be pitied? Can a Christian wish anyone eternal perdition?
If anyone is capable of wishing another person irremediable evil, repent before the Lord!
Forgive us, Lord, for our wholly unchristian attitude towards unbelievers, those who suffer from such a terrible sickness of the soul as unbelief!
Accept our prayer, Lord, for them, our own Russian people, our countrymen, who are perishing in their lack of belief in Thee as God and Creator of the world! Open their eyes that the veil might fall from their eyes while they are still in this life, that they might understand Whom it is they are persecuting and whose evil will they are fulfilling! They do not know what they are doing. Lord, forgive them, and us, too, for today's generation -- these are our children and grandchildren whom we have neglected to bring up in faith and love towards Thee!
Editor's note: Although parts of this section are clearly set in the context of the Soviet experience, it would be foolish of us in our post-Christian society to regard them as inapplicable to our own situation.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven (Matt. 5:12).
Here is the promise of a great reward for those who are long-suffering!
If we look at our lives, we shall see that we are all suffering terribly beneath the yoke of internal troubles. "Our whole life on earth is painful and filled with grief because of false accusations, reproaches, insults, and various other misfortunes and temptations ... enduring perils at the hands of enemies, perils at the hands of relatives, perils at the hands of false brethren ... the flesh is weak and our spirit faileth.' Thus do we prayerfully cry out in the Akathist before the icon of the Mother of God, "Joy of All Who Sorrow." Torments that afflict the soul are especially grievous, when our loftiest spiritual strivings are misunderstood...
For example, some trouble befalls someone close to you -- your child, your husband, a relative -- and you rush to church knowing that only through prayer can you help them, and then those for whom you have just been praying with tears greet you at home with a stream of abuse or angry scowls and irritation -- only because for a few hours you tore yourself away from the endless stream of household duties. How painful and bitter for the heart!
Or a person lives far away from any church; long years have bowed him towards the earth and he is afraid to leave, to relocate. Still, the desire - to go to church, to pray, to hand in a commemoration slip, to have a molleben, to get some holy water overcomes all else. And he hurries, as strength allows, to church. Traveling at night, over bad roads, overcoming incredible transportation difficulties, he finally enters the church, like an intercessor before God for his whole universe, for all those who would like but who no longer have the strength for such a journey, and for those who have altogether forgotten about the Church. And this person is showered with reproaches and derision: "So, you're still dragging yourself off to church; you'd do better to stay home and pray; suppose you died along the way"; or, "Evidently you didn't have to work hard if your legs can still carry: you such a distance."
How painful is such a lack of understanding, a lack of understanding that
love for the Church can overcome what appears to be insurmountable!
To be continued
(Translated from Opit postroyenie ispovedi, Sviato-Uspenskovo Pskovo-Pecherskovo monastyria, 1993 6)
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