And the Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against His Church

Homily at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Mission, Sunday 25 January 7529 (Feb. 7, 2021 civil calendar)

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, today we commemorate the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia under the Bolshevik yoke, whose icon is before us.

As the Troparion of the Feast today beseeches:

“Entreat Him, as the One that planted you, that He deliver His people from godless and evil men, and that the Church of Russia be made steadfast through your blood and suffering, unto the salvation of our souls.”

For the Church of Russia today, in a spiritual sense, faces a new impending persecution of the latter days, around the world, as the largest of the Orthodox Church churches, and the one whose persecutions have given many recent saints to intercede for us in our coming challenges in the diaspora and among converts worldwide, including here in America.

The New Martyrs and Confessors remind us that freedom lies in service to truth, in the person of Jesus Christ, not in atheistic self-assertion of will and rights, but in self-emptying in Christ as the source of our identity.

Copies of the Icon of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (left) and of the Kursk Root Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God (right) at a home in northern Appalachia, from Holy Trinity Monastery.

This is not an identity of White Supremacy, Hegemonic Blackness, Transhumanist Commodification, Transgenderist-Queer Exclusivism, or any stumbling blocks of our times. It is an identity of self-emptying in service to truth, the Person, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospel readings for today give us important wisdom in terms of how we should handle this new era of coming atheist persecution, the signs of which we can already discern.

The blind man beseeches our Lord and God and Savior, saying, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” In calling Him Son of David, he is recognizing Him as the Messiah, as the spiritual fulfillment of the royal line of Israel, as the Church of the New Testament. This is the equivalent of the Jesus Prayer the Church gives us as a precious legacy, which is also based on the Gospel’s prayer of the Publican, in short form: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”

The Gospel reading today also tells us that our Lord will give us “a mouth and wisdom to bear testimony.” It may start also with the Jesus Prayer in our heart, that simple prayer.

A wise priest once told me in difficult meetings in a hyper-secular job situation, with people who hated my being an Orthodox Christian, to pray in my heart, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me,” silently, and then to pray the name of each of them, alternating with my own. Keep praying for yourself, the priest said, because you need to remember you are the biggest sinner. I unworthily did this through the meetings, and through God’s grace it helped greatly establish some harmony and most of all a spiritual rootedness from our Lord for my participation.

But our encounters may end in martyrdom of various degrees in future, martyrdoms of livelihood, of social and economic status, for us and for our families, even unto actual death, as was met by tens of millions under Communism. We trust in our Lord’s words that He will give us “a mouth and wisdom, which all our adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” And we can ask daily for the new martyrs and confessors of Russia to intercede for us, because they are part of our Church family too. As the Kontakion of the feast today says of them: “Ye are a model for us who venerate your struggle; for neither tribulation, prison, nor death could separate you from the love of God.”

Our country today goes through a time of humbling that requires repentance. The so-called Anti-Racism and Antifa ideologies on the Left are rooted in atheistic materialism as much as consumerist materialism on the Center or Right. Without God, all becomes based in raw power apart from God.

In these times, we should stay close to our spiritual fathers in confession and in guidance for practice of the Jesus Prayer. We should not fall into the trap of essentializing race and sex as cultural Marxist identity politics today seeks to do, or identifying ourselves with careerism and consumerism (and the two are often now integrally related).

It is all a trap of corruption based in advancing status and power, ending in dust.

We should be humble and repentant but we should be so in Christ, and be strong through Him in our spiritual warfare, prayint for wisdom in how best to protect those must vulnerable, including especially young and old people, from the wreckage of our culture in atheistic power.

 Objectifying ourselves and others ends only in lonely meaninglessness, in an idolatry of self and of certain categories of self-pleasure and self-will and advancement such as race and sex, and a demonization of other categories, that all end in demonic passion and self-destruction.

The new martyrs and confessors have been there before us, they are part of our Church family. We ask their help. And we know, as the Apostle Paul wrote in the Epistle reading today, “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose…. If God be for us, who can be against us?.. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

The Apostle Paul tells us from his own experience, that “neither tributlation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or weapons can separate us from the love of Christ.”

“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

He is always as close as our heart in the Jesus Prayer, and as the Communion prayers beseech, we are no longer alone when in communion with His Body the Church.

As St Nikolai Velimirovich, who suffered from persecution of Orthodox Christians, held at Dachau by the Nazis and facing Communist persection, wrote

“Concern yourself only that you have God for a friend and do not be afraid of anything. Behold, He is your only friend Who loves you without change.”

A shining example to us is that of St. Luke the Surgeon of Crimea, whose life was a martyrdom of service while enduring persecution from the Communists.

He gave every day to God in keeping His commandments, and their core in whole-hearted love for God and neighbor, as a surgeon, and as a Christian shepherd of the flock, and wonderworker, in the most difficult times.

Always insisting on wearing his riassa while having an icon of the Most Holy Mother of God on display while conducting surgery, he was persecuted by the Secular Supremacists of Marxist-Leninism, who in their Secular Fragility and Secular Nationalism and Atheism sought to eliminate him through imprisonment and torture.

They failed. He survived, strongly in faith, and through grace standing up to them, at one point testifying truly that while he as a surgeon cut to heal, they cut off heads merely for the pleasure of killing.

As Alexander Solzhenitsy wrote, “survive at any price” and “only material results matter” became the touchstone principles of modern totalitarianism. They are scarily taking over in America today on all sides of the political spectrum and throughout our intelligentsia and corporate elites.

When St. Luke died, the government tried to suppress popular demonstrations from the people who loved his holiness and loving heart.

But the stones cried out, the masses of people turned out for the funeral procession, and all the Soviet power could not prevent the sound of chanting in the streets during the long procession, over and over again: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have Mercy on Us!”

Truly we live in hope, and the source of that hope is our faith in our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, a faith grounded in His love and expressed in keeping His commandments, the core of which are whole-hearted love for God and for our neighbor. Totalitarian movements, soft or hard, cultural or Marxist-Leninist, Right or Left, East or West, like the Gates of Hell, shall not prevail against His Church.

Let us remember finally as our standard in spiritual warfare the wonder-working icon identified with the history of our mission, which leads us into spiritual battle. In our mission’s Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, Our Lady of the Sign, was regarded as a palladion or protecting symbol of the Russian Imperial Army. Originally found at the root of a tree during dark days of the Tatar conquest of what would become Russia in the thirteenth century, during the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1920 the icon was brought by General Pyotr Wrangel’s White Army into exile, in the evacuation that marked the birth of ROCOR, following Saint-Patriarch Tikhon’s blessing. Today the icon resides in the Cathedral of the Sign in New York City, the ROCOR Synodal Cathedral at its headquarters, and visited our mission here in central Pennsylvania in our early days.

The icon includes 12 figures, of the Theotokos, the infant Christ, the Ancient of Days above them and nine Old Testament prophets. This was the icon before which St. Seraphim of Sarov was healed and prayed, and our patron St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco reposed. The prophets on the icon, who prophesied of Jesus Christ –clockwise from upper right, King Solomon, Prophets Daniel, Elijah, Jeremiah, Hezekia, Judge Gideon, Prophets Isaiah, Moses, and King David — remind us of the ancient holy fathers who also form part of our Church family at prayer, together with the new martyrs and confessors of Russia, of whom St. John like St. Luke of Crimea was a contemporary and living witness through persecution as he fled first Communist Russia and then Communist China, bringing his refugee orphan charges across the Pacific with him to San Francisco.

Through all their intercessions, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us, and make us ready also to be martyrs and confessors if it be Thy will. Amen.

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2 thoughts on “And the Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against His Church

  1. Thank you for this message. I am a Catholic, and given the chaotic state of the Roman Church, we must keep the door open for other witnesses to enter. May the Schism end sooner than later.
    I watch the Divine Liturgy on TVSOYUZ almost daily. My Russian is bad, (from high school 50+ years ago). My Church Slavonic knowledge is nonexistent.
    I wanted to know more about the martyrs remembered today. Thanks for sharing about some of them. My parish priest is most appreciative of the Russian Orthodox perspective. He even blessed my icon of The Czar and the Royal Family.
    Finally, I suspect the secular materialist and agnostic West is more or less indifferent to the rich history of witness for The Lord that Russian Orthodoxy offers. Thanks again.

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