Homily for the commemoration of the Holy Royal Martyrs, given at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg, PA, on July 4, 7529 (July 17, 2021 on the civil calendar). Please consider giving to our building fund.
Today is the Fourth of July on the Old Calendar, and on it we commemorate the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia, witnesses to the true Orthodox Christian faith against the Bolshevik terror of atheism, nihilism, and demonic destruction. That the Fourth of July and their witness be linked together on our Church calendar is a meaningful coincidence. For the Holy Royal Martyrs remind us today of true freedom, which is voluntary service to the truth, in the Person of Jesus Christ, Who says to us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “Ye shall know the truth,” our Lord and Savior told us, “and the truth shall make you free.”
The witness of the Holy Royal Martyrs reminds us today, as Orthodox Christians in North America, of the witness required of us in the secular West of the 21st century, with its rising communism, anarchy, nihilism, demonic trends, and totalitarian spirit. We ask their intercession fervently for wisdom in discerning the signs of the times, and in witnessing with love in truth to our Savior and His Church. The opposition of the world we face today is the same as they faced and the same as Christians have faced throughout time, even as prefigured in the trials of the Old Testament Church. But today the last of the major kingdoms dedicated to God and His Christ has fallen, more than a century ago now. Today we face more directly in these latter days the spirit of Anti-Christ that denies that God has come in the flesh to save the world, and His Body the Church. We must pray each day and work to bring others to the Orthodox Church, our ark in these times of troubles, for in such evangelism we will save lives and cover a multitude of our sins, glory to God.
The opposition we face today comes through open hostility increasingly, but more deadly it comes from within in the form of materialistic so-called comforts and a drugging of our souls in consumer pleasures and fun. It is no coincidence that many corporations are adopting atheistic forms of Marxism as their ethos, for materialistic atheism comes at us both in modern forms of communism and in its supposed opposed, materialistic consumerism. Lust for power and profit, manipulating others and God’s creation, makes idols of technology, in what is called technocracy.
Today, miraculously, Russia has become the only major world power still to have an openly Christian culture, and America, which used to attest in a heterodox sense to Christianity as the source of her culture, struggles amid what some call the post-Christian West. We are Russian Orthodox Christians today not because we are Russian but to attest to the witness of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to our Lord amid the forces of darkness in this age.
Brothers and sisters, let us be alert and let us remember the example of the Holy Royal Martyrs. At the end, stripped of the pomp and glory and power of empire, they stood against the Bolsheviks as one pious and humble Orthodox Christian family. They remind us of how each home, like a little monastery, is a little Church and a little kingdom, as is our parish as a Church family. And each of us, whether we know it or not, is on the front line of spiritual warfare today as much as the Tsar and his family in 1918. Today, on this spiritual Fourth of July, let us re-dedicate ourselves to the freedom offered to us by our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, and to our time for daily prayer, our continual reliance on the Jesus Prayer throughout the day, to guidance from our spiritual father, to regular Church attendance and study of God’s word and the lives of the saints, and to helpful spiritual works such as the book Unseen Warfare compiled by St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain.
I wish to close with a few words offered for this day in a homily by a monk at Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia, and a few selections from the Vigil service. From the monastery homily:
Everything filthy and paltry and sinful which could be found in the human soul was summoned against the Tsar and against Russia. All of this, with all its might, rose up in struggle against the Royal Crown, which was crowned by a cross, for Royal service is bearing of the Cross. People always rise up against the Cross by means of slander and falsehood, doing the devil’s work, for, according to the word of the Lord Jesus Christ, When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44). Everything was roused up against the most meek, pure and abundantly-loving Tsar, so that at the terrible hour of the struggle against him he would remain alone. Filthy slanders were spread before and against the Tsar and his family, so that the people would grow cold towards him. Faithless allies took part in the conspiracy. When the Sovereign was in need of moral support, his closest associates did not provide it and violated their oath. Some took part in the conspiracy; others, out of weakness, counseled abdication. The Tsar remained completely alone, surrounded by “treachery, baseness and cowardice.” From the day of the abdication, everything began to collapse. It could not have been otherwise. The one who united everything, who stood guard for the Truth, was overthrown. A sin was committed, and now sin had easy access.
And from the Vigil Service for today’s feast:
When the grievous time of trials began in Russia, thou didst beseech the Queen who reigneth and helpeth, O holy passion-bearer Nicholas, that she take the royal authority into her own hands. For the blood of thee and of thy family and servants crieth out unnto the Lord with the suffering ones of the land of Russia, for Christ to accept it in exchange for the forgiveness of sins, through the supplications of the Theotokos and of thee….
The counsels of God are not like the counsels of men, saith the Lord; for He casteth one down and exalteth another; the Lord killeth and giveth life, and He raiseth up the poor man from the earth, giving him a throne of glory. Thus did the Lord prepare His beloved favorite Nicholas, rewarding him for his piety, and causing him to dwell in the heavens after his path of the cross, that he might pray for the salvation of his people….
O Kindly Mother of the Light, beseech thy Son and our God, that He establish in our nation the throne of an Orthodox king, that He preserve it in peace and prosperity, that He deliver us from civil strife, and strengthen the Holy Church, delivering it from unbelief, schism and heresies….
Thou wast shown to be an imitator of the intercessor of Myra in Lycia, O right faithful Tsar; for, fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, thou didst lay down thy life for thy people, and didst spare the guilty, even those guilty of murder. For these things thou hast been sanctified by the blood of martyrdom, as a great martyr of the Church of Christ…
Like a solicitous father and mother ye visited your infirm soldiers, comforted them with love, and with your tears watered the place of their repose.
O spiritual garden, ye perfect seven, icon of the Orthodox family: ye are for us an image of the virtues and the glory of the Russian land….
Thy princes on chariots and horse fell; but we have risen up from our sins and by the name of the Lord have set ourselves aright. Wherefore, in repentance we cry out to thee: Save us O Lord, and hearken unto us, if only today we call upon our holy martyred tsar.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us! Amen