By New Martyr Patriarch Tikhon
From various sermons delivered while he was Bishop of North America and the Aleutian Isles
And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains ... and all nations shall flow unto it ... and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks ...neither shall they learn war anymore. But they shall sit every man under his vine; and none shall make them afraid...(Is. 2:2, 4; Micah 4: 3-4)
This kingdom of peace on earth, foretold by the Old Testament prophets, is the Church of Christ, and it is in her that one must seek peace. It is here that a man is given peace with God, for it is through the Holy Mysteries that he is cleansed of sin and becomes a beloved child of the Lord. Here in the Divine services, in the Mysteries, in the life of the Church, a Christian acquires peace and joy and tranquility for his soul; his nature is regenerated, renewed, and in this meek, gentle, submissive, merciful and loving soul, there comes to abide the God of peace and love. And then the Christian experiences the highest degree of blessedness, which surpasses any and every earthly good. Nothing, no suffering can cloud this blessed peace within the Christian soul. On the contrary, we know from the history of the Church that holy people even rejoiced in sufferings and boasted of their trials, of being bound and imprisoned. In deserts and in caves and in the face of all manner of deprivation they were as content and serene as perhaps never are people who live with all manner of comfort and sufficiency. Even death did not frighten them; they serenely anticipated its approach and in peace departed to the Lord.
In Christ's Church peace is spread abroad. Here we pray for the peace of the whole world, for the union of all; here everyone calls one another brother, they help one another. Christians are called to love everyone; they even forgive their enemies and do good to them. And when Christians are obedient to the voice of the Church and live according to its precepts, then they truly experience peace and love. Let us only recall the first Christians, who had one heart, one soul, who even owned what they had in common (cf. Acts 4:32). By contrast, when people distance themselves from the Holy Church and live according to their own will, then there reigns self-love, divisions, discord, wars.
Ought we not to rejoice and thank the Lord that He, in His merciful kindness, regards His Church and preserves her unharmed and invincible even to this very day? After all, it was not only in the first centuries of her history that Christ's Church endured various troubles and was subject to persecutions, and it was not only during the time of the ‘cumenical Councils that she was attacked by false teachers, who elevated their minds above the mind of God. From the first days of its existence and to the end of time she will be like a ship with passengers, sailing upon a tempestuous sea that is ready at any minute to capsize the ship and swallow its cargo. And it seems that the further the ship sails, the more fiercely the waves lash against it. In the early centuries the Christians endured persecution from without, from the pagans. But when the Church proved victorious over them, an even greater danger arose, this time from another side: while troubles from the pagans ceased, there arose troubles from her own, troubles from false brothers, attacks from within. From within the bosom of Christianity itself there appeared one heresy and schism after another. Of course, the truth of God vanquished human falsehood, but members of the Church can never retire their weapons. They must wage war no longer against ancient heretics, but against new enemies: against unbelievers, against those who deny the truth, against those who pretend to be representatives of a powerful science. And we cannot say that with the passage of time this war has abated; no sooner does the Church manage to conquer one foe, than she is confronted with a new antagonist. Evil is like some hydra; as one head is decapitated, another appears in its place.
In the last times evil will intensify all its forces and in the person of Antichrist it will engage the Church of God in the most violent battle. In those days there will be a great tribulation for the Church, such as never was since the world began (cf. Matt. 24:21). And just as in the past some flourishing and formerly renowned local Churches became impoverished and desolate, before the end there will be an even greater falling away. But there never was a time, and we believe, in accordance with the word of the Lord, that there will never come a time when the entire universal Church of Christ will disappear from the face of the earth. No: the foundation of God standeth sure (II Tim. 2:19). Christ's Church is founded upon an immovable rock, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18). The more furiously the waves beat against this immovable rock, the farther they recoil from it. At times the enemies of Christ's Church are ready to celebrate a complete victory over her; it seems to them that they have put an end to her. But what do they discover? Just as swelling waves beat against a ship only to fall back into the sea to merge and become indistinguishable from other waves, so, too, the enemies of Christ, having launched an attack against the Church, again return to that nothingness from which they emerged, while the ship of the Church continues as before to advance in its victorious voyage. Every year that passes serves to affirm the certainty that the truth of the Lord abideth forever, and that even the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's Church.
How can we not rejoice on seeing that Christ's Church-a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom that has no worldly means at its disposal, no earthly enticements; a kingdom that is despised, persecuted, powerless-has not only not perished in this world, but has grown and has conquered the world. How can we not rejoice at the thought that in spite of all manner of coercion, attacks, and opposition, the Orthodox Church has preserved the faith of Christ as a precious treasure, in its original purity and entirety, unharmed, so that our faith is the faith of the apostles, the faith of the fathers, the Orthodox faith....
The holy Apostle Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body. Now, in a body there is not just one member but many (I Cor. 12:14), and these members do not all have the same function (Rom. 12:4), but each has its own: the eye has its function, the hand its function, and each member is necessary and cannot manage without the other; they all contribute to the good of one another, and there is no division within the body (I Cor. 12:25-26). Even so are you, brothers, the body of Christ and members in particular (v. 27). Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Eph. 4:7) for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (v. 12). Therefore, do you all with unfeigned love grow up into Him, From Whom the whole body fitly joined together by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (v. 16). Again, Saint John Chrysostom said, "Do not cast all responsibility upon the religious; you yourselves are capable of a great deal, you know one another better than we..." Therefore, brethren, edify one another, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men (I Thess. 5:14-15). And the God of all grace, ... make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (I Peter 5:10-11).
Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus', No. 16, 2000, where it was excerpted and reprinted from Vechnoye, June 1964.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]