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Sermon Delivered on 5th Week of Great Lent (4/06/14)
Dr. Vitaly Permiakov
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel, on the last Sunday before the end of Lent and before the beginning of the Great Week of Lord’s Passion, we see the Lord going up to Jerusalem for Passover, his disciples following him, but – says the Gospel, in the previous verse – they were fearful. Indeed, he just told them that it is so difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom, and really, the salvation is impossible for men – but possible for God.
But now, on the road to Jerusalem, the Lord tells them an even more stunning message, message they also do not understand: for the third time in this Gospel he tells them – “behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Gentiles, and they will kill him, and three days later he shall rise again.” This message astounds the disciples: aren’t You a King? did we not follow you, so that we could share with you in your earthly kingdom, when you will crush the Romans and sit on the royal throne? And still, even after this clear instruction by the Lord, the disciples do not understand, and James and John ask the Lord to sit on his right and left hand in his kingdom, but the Lord tells them – even if you don’t know what you are asking, you will drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the same baptism. That is, you will share in the kingdom of your King – your crucified Messiah – that, you will drink the cup of martyrdom, and will die as martyrs, witnesses, surrendering your lives, your own self, so that the glory of God may show through your witness. Because the kingdom which the Lord promises to his disciples is not a mighty empire, but the kingdom which lasts forever in heaven. The Lord explains to the apostles that whosoever wants to be first among them – i.e. among his disciples, among us – has to be a servant, a slave to all. The Lord became this faithful servant and slave, the divine Messiah became a true high priest who shed his own blood, who by offering his own life has conquered death and is leading us into his true kingdom. But on earth this kingdom comes in humility, in humiliation, in renunciation of ourselves, as weakness and powerlessness, even as foolishness, according to the wisdom of this world. But as St Paul says, the Lord turns the wisdom of this world into madness by showing forth his glory, wisdom, and power through the Cross and Resurrection. And thus, if we are his disciples, if we want to be with him, we are called to surrender ourselves to the extent to which we are able, be Christians even when we leave the temple on Sunday morning, build our lives not on our own foundation – what we want, what we like, who we think we are – but upon the foundation of God, so that through our weakness, our renunciation, God’s will may be fulfilled. “Humility,” according to St John Chrysostom, “is the door to the kingdom.”
And we have before us such examples of humility and surrender:
– our Lady the Theotokos (whose Annunciation we will celebrate tomorrow) who gave her own flesh, her human nature so that the living Word of God may be formed in her;
– our mother Mary of Egypt (whose life we read in church this week) who gave an example of such absolute repentance and surrender, by not only abandoning her former life, but all and every connection to the world, and received her life transformed from the Lord.
Finally, as a hopeful example – on Friday night we saw two men who stood before us and before God and promised obedience and surrender to him in monastic life – and we pray that God will never leave them.
And thus, today we are going up with the Lord to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with him. We follow him, but our minds are often confused, distracted, we are scared by the hardships of our lives, troubles and difficulties, whether in reality or in our imagination. At the same time, we still follow the Lord, because where shall we go? He has the words of eternal life. And thus we are filled with fear and awe. But the Lord calls us, as he once said: do not be afraid. If we are with him, he will never fail us. Our Lord has already fulfilled, once and for all, everything that is needed for our salvation, and all we need is to make an effort, to try to accept it, to make it real and evident that we are his, we are Christians. So as we go to our Lord’s Pascha, let our minds be focused on him, let us pray that he gives us strength to be his witnesses, that we may fulfill the rest of this fast in peace and come with joy to the day of his most sacred Pascha. Amen.