Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. On Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth

A homily of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him (John 4:23)

Beloved brethren! Today we have heard in the Gospel that the true servants of the true God worship Him in Spirit and in Truth and that God seeks, that is, He desires to have such worshippers. If God desire to have such worshippers, then it is obvious that He will receive only such worshippers and servants, and they only are pleasing to Him. This teaching was imparted to us by the Son of God Himself. We believe in the teaching of Christ! We accept the all-holy teaching of Christ with all our love! In order to follow Him carefully, let us look at what it means to worship God the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ, as He testifies of Himself: I am the way, the truth and the life (John 4:16). The Truth is the Word of God: Thy word is truth (John 17:17). This Word was pre-eternally in God, it was pronounced by God and to God; this Word is God, this Word is the Creator of everything that exists, both visible and invisible (cf. John 1:1,5; Colossians 1:16). This Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only- Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). No man hath seen God at any time, but the Word of God, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (John 1:18). The Son of God, the Word of God confessed God before people, and fully manifested God to people; the Son of God showed people the truth that was incomprehensible to them, having irrefutably witnessed to it and impressed it upon them by abundantly bestowing divine grace. And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:16–17). This means that Jesus Christ brought not some more or less detailed and clear understanding of grace and truth, but the grace itself, the truth itself, essentially bestowed upon people, instilled in people. We have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Truth has a characteristic Spirit. This spirit is called the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 15:26; 16:13). It is Spirit, proceeding from the Father (cf. John 15:26). It is the Holy Spirit of God (cf. John 14:26). It is the Spirit of the Son (cf. Galatians 4:6), as inseparably close to the Son, as comprising together with the Father and the Son one undivided and unmingled Divine Essence. Accepting the Truth, we also accept the Holy Spirit—that is why the All-Holy Truth says of Himself, that He will send the Holy Spirit from the Father to His disciples. Naturally, the Holy Spirit of Truth will be present where Holy Truth acts and will leave the effect of Its action. In like manner, where the Holy Spirit works, there will be an abundant manifestation of Truth, as the Lord also said to His disciples: Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Describing the wondrous relationship of the Divine Word to the Divine Spirit, the Lord said of the Spirit: He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine (John 16:14–15). The Spirit shows and manifests to people the Son co-natural to Him. The Holy Spirit spiritually forms the true Christian and transforms him into a dwelling-place of God (cf. Ephesians 2:22); He represents Christ and instills Him in the inner man (cf. Ephesians 3:16–17). He makes people God’s children by adoption, making them like unto Christ, establishing Christ-like qualities in them (cf. John 14:6).6 People who have been made children of God by adoption turn to Him in their prayers as to their Father, because the Holy Spirit very clearly and tangibly witnesses to the spirit of a person renewed by Him (cf. Romans 8:16) concerning that person’s union with God, his adoption by God. And because ye are sons, says the Apostle, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Galatians 4:6). Such worshippers are recognized as true worshippers of God! Such worshippers, who worship God in Spirit and in Truth, seek and receive God. There is no knowledge of God outside of true Christianity, and no service of God.

No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me (John 14:6), said the Lord. There is no God for those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (1 John 2:23), and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:36). It is impossible to approach God or to enter into any kind of communion with Him in any other way than through our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Intermediary, Intercessor and means of communion between God and man! There is no true knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without the mediation of the Holy Spirit! No man, says the Apostle, can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3). Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9). There is no virtue outside of Christianity that is worthy of Heaven! “Nothing good,” says St. Mark the Ascetic, “can be believed in or acted upon unless it be of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” Unworthy of God are natural human good works, which proceed from our fallen nature, in which goodness is mixed with evil, and in which goodness is for the most part barely noticeable amidst the preponderance of evil. Fallen nature is capable exclusively of evil, as God Himself testified: The imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth (Genesis 8:21); If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). Such is the worth before the Gospels and God of natural human goodness and the activity proceeding from it. In vain does fallen nature glorify its great and famous good works! Such self-praise shows a terrible blindness! Such self-praise is an involuntary reproach against the famous works of men, inspired and nourished by vainglory. The stench of pride coming from these whited sepulchers is an abomination to God; pleasing to Him is the incense of humility.

That is why the Lord commanded fallen and blinded mankind to deny its nature, for man is unconscious of his woeful fallenness. To the contrary, he sees it as a magnificent triumph and seeks to escalate this triumph. For the sake of salvation, we must renounce sin! But sin has become so much a part of us that it has become our nature, our very soul. In order to renounce sin, it has become essentially necessary to renounce our fallen nature, to renounce our soul (cf. Mat-thew 10:39), to renounce not only the obviously evil deeds, but also the good deeds of the old man that the world honors and glorifies; it is essentially necessary to replace our manner of thinking with the mind of Christ and to replace our activity motivated by the senses and the dictates of carnal mindedness with the scrupulous fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. If ye continue in My word, said the Lord, then are ye My disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31-32). What remarkable and deep words! Their direct impact consists in the fact that sin holds man in slavery only through incorrect and false understanding. It is likewise clear that the destructive incorrectness of these understandings also consist precisely in an acceptance as good what is in essence not good, and in the non-acceptance as evil what is in essence, murderous evil.

He who is from God, hears the words of God (cf. John 8:43), said the Lord. Brethren! Let us humble ourselves before our Lord God! Unlike the hardened Jews, who rejected both the Lord and His teachings, let us show submission to the Lord and obedience to His all-holy and saving teachings! Let us set aside the manner of thinking that comes from our fallen nature and from the world, which is at enmity with God! Let us assimilate the manner of thinking that the Lord offers us through His holy Gospels! Let us follow the Truth, and we shall inherit the Truth. The Truth frees the human mind from the invisible bonds of error by which sin has shackled it. Moreover, the omnipotent Truth, having given spiritual freedom to the mind, renewed and enlivened it by life from above—by the Word of God, brings it out onto the path of Christ’s commandments and removes it from the way of unrighteousness (Ps. 118:29). The soul enlivened by the Truth hymns together with the inspired prophet: The way of Thy commandments have I run, when Thou didst enlarge my heart. Set before me for a law, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I will seek after it continually. Give me understanding, and I will search out Thy law, and I will keep it with whole heart (Ps. 118:32–34). Such a soul will unfailingly become a partaker of the Holy Spirit, Who cannot but be present where Divine Truth is present and reigns; the Truth, Who in His mysterious counsel with the All-Holy Truth, speaks of Himself thus: I am a partaker with all them that fear Thee, and with them that keep Thy commandments (Ps. 118:63).

As long as man abides in his fallen nature, as long as he is immersed in the darkness of his exceedingly deep ignorance, he does not know how he should pray, he does not know what he should pray for (cf. Romans 8:26), and he is in-capable of serving God. Only faith in Christ gives knowledge of Truth; faith, expressed by the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments, draws the grace of the Holy Spirit to the heart of the faithful, as the God-inspired prophet said: I opened my mouth and drew in my breath, for I longed for Thy commandments (Ps. 118:131). Only a true Christian, a Christian in faith and deed, can be a true worshipper of God, worshipping and serving God as the Father, in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.

A Brief Homily for Forgiveness Sunday from St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

Beloved brethren! We have already reached the very gates of the holy fast! They are even now about to open before us! Already, according to the typicon of the Holy Church, we hear the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ read to us today in the Holy Gospels about the correct way to begin the podvig of fasting. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, says the Gospel reading for today, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Mt. 6:14–15). The holy Church greets us with this announcement at the gates of the fast! This is the requirement the Church offers us on the very threshold of the spiritual chamber of repentance. We intend to prove our repentance for various sinful distractions through various deprivations and wearing out of the body. The Gospels requires mercy from us before sacrifice, so that the sacrifice would be pleasing to God.

All who wish to begin this podvig of fasting and prayer, all who wish to reap abundant fruits of your repentance! Hear the word of God, hear God’s commandment, and let go, forgive your neighbors their sins against you. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Amen.

Elder Thaddeus on the Souls of the Dead

Q. Fr. Thaddeus, what can you tell us about the souls of the dead?

A. We should not mourn the dead but instead pray fervently for our departed loved ones that God may grant them to dwell with the angels. This is what He wants from us. Mourning will get us nowhere. By mourning we not only can destroy our own health but can also harm the peace that the souls of the deceased have received from the Lord. We must pray for our loved ones. We must not be sorrowful and depressed. Excessive sorrow for our loved ones who have left this world is not a Christian act, but an act of godlessness. We prepare ourselves in this life for eternal life. We must be thankful for everything and thank God for taking the souls of our departed loved ones to Himself.

If they have departed this world without having repented, we must pray for them that God might forgive their sins. We must perform acts of mercy in their name & in their memory for the peace of their souls, and God will accept such acts of love.

Only the Lord can free a soul from meshes of thought in which it became entangled while in this life, and which still bind it in eternity. Only God can free such a soul. Therefore we must pray for our loved ones who are deceased. It is the most we can do: to pray that God grant rest to their souls and to give their baptismal names to priests & priest-monks who serve the Holy Liturgy every day so that they may pray for their souls.

Someone once approached St. Nikolai [Velimirovich] and asked him, Will the souls of unrepentant sinners be saved? He answered, They will, if there is someone who will pray for them. It is most beneficial for departed souls if 40 Liturgies are served for them and if, after that, someone gives a donation to the Church to continue commemorating them at the Holy Liturgy.

The Liturgy is, as we know, a Golgothan sacrifice. This means that the Lord Himself is sacrificed at the Holy Liturgy. When a priest takes out the particles from the prosphora for the repose of the departed & after receives Holy Communion, he says, O Lord, by Thy most pure Blood forgive the sins of all those commemorated today!

As you see, this is the most perfect prayer and the greatest sacrifice that we can offer up for our loved ones who have departed to God.

From Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life & Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, pp. 180-181.

Excerpt from the homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos by St. Germanos of Con­stantinople

“It is time, My Mother,” says the Lord, “to take thee to Myself. Just as thou hast filled the earth & all who dwell in it with joy, O thou who enjoyest such grace, come, & make the heavens joyful once again. Make My Father’s dwelling-place radiant; be a spiritual guide for the souls of the Saints. For when they see thy glorious passage here to My side, escorted by angels, they will be convinced in their faith that their own place, too, through thee, will be to dwell here in My light. Come, then, in exultation; rejoice now, as thou didst rejoice at the archangel’s greeting. In every way thou now hast the dignity of thy title, ‘Full of Grace.’ As when thou wast about to conceive Me thou wast invited to rejoice, so rejoice again in My de-sire to take thee to Myself. Do not be disturbed at leaving behind the corruptible world, with all its de-sires. Forget about its power of corruption. For thou wilt not leave those who live in the world bereft of thy protection; but just as I, Who am not of the world, watch over those who live in it & take care of them, so thy patronage will not be taken away from those who live in the world, until its consummation.

“The extravagant demands of the flesh will no longer disturb thee. Thou art ascending to a fuller life, to joyful rest, to unconquerable peace, to an existence untroubled by cares, to delights free of passion, to permanent freedom from distraction, to unending enjoyment, to a Light that never fades, to a Day without evening—to Me, the Creator of all that is, including thee. Where I am, there is eternal life, incomparable joy, a dwelling-place without parallel, an indestructible city. Where I am, then, thou wilt also be: a Mother inseparably one with her undivided Son. Where God is, there is all goodness of heart, all delight, all bril-liance. No one who knows My glory wishes to abandon it. No one who comes to My rest seeks again the things of the corruptible world. Ask Peter if there was any comparison or likeness between the world & Mount Tabor, when he gazed for a short time on My Glory.
“When thou didst live in the world of corruptible things, I revealed My power to thee in visions; now that thou art passing from that life, I will show Myself to thee face to face. Give the earth what belongs to it, without anxiety. Thy body belongs to Me, & since the ends of the earth are in My hand, no one can take anything from Me. Entrust thy body to Me, just as I placed My divinity trustingly in thy womb. Thy soul, full of divine power, will see the Glory of My Father. Thine immaculate body will see the Glory of His only-begotten Son. Thy pure spirit will see the Glory of the all-holy Spirit.

“Death shall make no boast at thy expense, for thou hast given birth to Life Itself. Thou art My vessel; the mortal cracks caused by the fall shall not break thee apart. The overshadowing gloom shall not rob thee of sight. Come eagerly to the One Whom thou broughtest into the world. I want to make thee happy, as a son should do—to pay thee the pension due a Mother’s womb, to recompense thee for feeding My milk, to reward thee for thy nurture, to give thy maternal love its full return. Thou begot Me, Mother, as thy only Son; now make the choice to come & live with Me, for I know thy heart is not divided by love for another child. I revealed thee as My Virgin Mother; now I will make thee a Mother who rejoices in her Son. I will show the world now to be thy debtor, & when thou come to Me, I will glorify thy name still more. I shall build thee into the wall of the universe, into a bridge for those who are awash in the waves, an ark of salvation, a staff for the disabled, an advocate for sinners, a ladder to Heaven strong enough to bear the weight of all humanity as it climbs.

“Come, then, with joy! Open up Paradise, which thine ancestor Eve, thy natural sister, had locked. Enter into the joy of thy Son. Let go of the Jerusalem that is below, & hasten up to the Heavenly City; for the Jerusalem below, ‘lamentation will soon be multiplied,’ as Scripture has it, “like the lamentation for the pomegranate grove cut down in the plain” (Zach 12:11 [LXX]). Lie down to rest, if only in appearance, in Gethsemane, the place of thy tomb. I will not leave thee alone there for long. I will come to thee very quickly, when thou hast been buried in the sepulchre—not to dwell in thee again by being conceived, as I once was, but rather to take thee now to dwell with Me. Rest thy body confidently in Gethsemane, as once I rested My knees there in human prayer, before My Passion. I gave thee an image of thine own death, bending on that very ground the knees I took from thy body. As I came forth willingly, then, after that prostration, to a death on the Cross that was the Source of Life, thou, too, will pass immediately into Life when thy remains have been laid in the earth.

“Behold, My disciples are coming to receive thee; they, My spiritual sons who are filled with My light, will bury thee in all reverence & piety. I have bestowed on them the grace of adoption as sons, as thou thyself can testify (see John 19:26f). Se when thou art laid by them in the tomb, consider that it is My hands which are caring for thee; for it is not fitting that thou shouldest be laid to rest by anyone else but My Apostles, in whom the Holy Spirit makes His home & who represent My own Person. Only they can do honor to thou passing, O all-immaculate one!”

Sayings of Our Righteous Father Sisoes the Great of Egypt

  • A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, “My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.”  The old man pleaded with him saying, “No, my child, leave vengeance to God.”  He said to him, “I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.”  The old man said, “Brother, let us pray.”  Then the old man stood up and said, “God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.”  Hearing these words, the brother fell at the old man’s feet saying, “I will no longer seek justice from my brother, forgive me, abba.”
  • He also said, “When there is someone who takes care of you, you do not give him orders.”
  • A brother asked Abba Sisoes, “What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?”  The old man said to him “Get up again.”  The brother said, “I have got up again, but I have fallen again.”  The old man said, “Get up again and again.”  So the brother said, “How many times?”  The old man said, “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin.  For a man presents himself to judgement in the state in which he is found.”
  • Abba Sisoes said, “Let yourself be despised, cast your own will behind your back, and you will be free from care and at peace.”

Our Righteous Father Sisoes the Great of Egypt is commemorated on 6 July.