A sermon from St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, given on Sunday, Dec. 20, 7530 (civil calendar Jan. 2, 2022).
Today we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the Old Testament Church and also the Feast of St. John of Kronstadt. This is a fitting combination as we prepare for Christmas on the ancient holy calendar of the Church, what in America historically was known as Old Christmas or Appalachian Christmas, which is also appropriate since our mission worships and evangelizes right here in Northern Appalachia. We call America back to her Christian roots, which are even more ancient and deeper and more alive in Orthodox Christianity than most Americans remember or know. But we are here, thank God.
This Sunday follows last Sunday of the Forefathers, and has more of an emphasis according to my Bible professor Father John Whiteford on the ancestors after the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, while still including others of the righteous of the Bible as well. The question of genealogy and ancestry interests many today who turn to Ancestry.com or other sources to explore their DNA. In the Bible, we find many lists of genealogies in the so-called history books of the Old Testament, and reference to ancestry throughout. We also see this especially in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which list the ancestry according to the flesh of Jesus Christ, based on the patrilineal or father’s line through St. Joseph the Betrothed, who while he was not the father after the flesh was the guardian and the legal father so to speak recognized by the tradition of Israel at that time.
Literary scholars tell us that the parts of ancient literature that we as modern readers find most tedious were often the parts of greatest meaning to ancient audiences. This likely is true of the genealogies in many ways. They link together the Bible and they link us to the Bible. For through Jesus Christ we like St. Joseph’s ancestry in effect become part of the family of God. Look around us at the icons that in effect are our family portraits. Sometimes in our materialistic age people are accused of making idols of their families. Yet this is not possible when God is the head of our family as Jesus Christ is. Today when there are so many people isolated from a traditional sense of family, or challenged in our sense of identity or belonging in this crazy modern world He stands ready to adopt all of us.
The genealogy of Christ is also a reminder of how His Body the Church is both hierarchical and conciliar. Like a line of ancestry there is hierarchy and traditional authority in the Church. Yet like the ancestry of Christ there is also a conciliarity, a brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ of even all his fleshly ancestors, for He is all our God unto the end of the age. There also is in the lineage of Christ the reminder of the complexity and variety and mystery of fallen human nature touched with redemption by God’s grace. For here among others are Rahab the harlot who helped Joshua, and the Holy Prophet David who before repenting profoundly had murder and adultery on his hands. Then also as mentioned the whole lineage leads to St. Joseph who is not the biological father of Christ but in effect adoptive father for God of course is the Father of Jesus Christ Who Himself is fully God and fully man.
So to accept the genealogy of Christ as we do links us not only into the Old Testament Church and New Testament Church, and all the way back to our Forefathers Adam and Eve created by God, but also to Christ Himself as we are adopted into His lineage, which also relates to the ancestry after the flesh of His Mother the Most Holy Theotokos, who becomes our Mother in the Church as well. The Lord setting the solitary in families, indeed, and the Church shows this us especially at Christmas time. Look around you, brothers and sisters, at the icons, as we anticipate receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at Christmas Liturgy, and also at all those who worship with us in this community, for this is your family in Christ, together with the genealogy in the Gospel reading.
Based on the commentary in the Byzantine Synaxarion edited by St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite: First the Memory of Adam and Eve, the first-created. Then of Abel the son of Adam, the first to prefigure Christ the Just One. Then Seth, who as Christ for us became first-born of a new line. Then Enose, first to call upon the name of the Lord. Then Cainan, Mahalalel, then Jared, then Enoch, who did not experience an ordinary death but was taken to an unknown place to await the resurrection. Then Methusaelah, then Lamech, then Noah who prefigured the Messiah, then Shem ancestor of Abraham, then Japheth who prefigured the entry of our ancestors the pagans into the Church, then Arphaxad, Cainan, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, and Abraham, the forefather of all who are saved by faith. Then Isaac who prefigured the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of Man for our salvation. Then Jacob or Israel, who saw the ladder between heaven and eath prefiguring the Mother of God, then Reuben, then Simeon, then Levi, Judah, father of the royal tribe of David from which Christ the Savior woud come. Then Zebulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin, all sons of Jacob. Then Perez and Zerah, then Heron, then Aram, then Ammindadab, then Nashshon, then Salmon, then Boaz, born of Salmon by Rahab the harlot, who was spared on account of her faith when Jericho fell. God showed thereby that He calls pagans and sinners to share in salvation.
Then Obed and Jesse and then King David who made ready for the coming of the Messiah Who is both his son or descendant and His Lord.Then Solomon, whose temple highlighted Jerusalem as prefiguring the heavenly Jerusalem to come. Then King Rehoboam, whose worship of idols displeased the Lord and during whose reign the kingdom became divided. Then King Abijah, then King Asa who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and then likewise King Jehosaphat, then King Jehoram who abominably gave himself to idolatry, then King Uzziah the leber who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did his on King Jotham of Judah, then the impious King Ahaz who made his sons pass through fire as sacrifices to demons, then King Hezekiah who cleansed the Temple, and then King Manasseh who gave himself to magic and caused his children to pass through the fire but repented after being captured by the Assyrians and taken to Babylon, and so obtained pardon from God. Then King Amon who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Then King Josiah who renewed the Covenant with God in Judah. Then following St Matthew to King Jehoiachin who did evil in the sight of the Lord and was deported to Babylong by Nebuchadnezzer, and his son Shealtiel in exile. Then Zerubbabel who led his people from Babylon to Jerusalem and in rebuilding the Temple, who prefigured the Messiah by being of both kingly and priestly descent. Then not mentioned in the Old Testament, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, to St. Joseph the Betrothed. Then many other outstanding figures of the Old Testament whose qualities place them in the line of the spiritual forebears of the Lord are honored today as well.
Finally perhaps the greatest of Russian saints just prior to the Revolution, John of Kronstadt, is also commemorated today with all these Holy Fathers. St. John, who was especially revered by our patron St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who helped to win recognition of St. John as a saint by our Synod in 1964. St. John of Kronstadt worked and prayed tirelessly for the poor and the crowds who came to Liturgy at his Church in the industrial and slum-filled city of Kronstadt near St. Petersburg. He started a network of charities for the poor and also healed many. He was also known especially later in life for his prophetic warnings about the direction in which Russian culture was headed toward the materialism of Communism. To whom much is given much is expected as we as Orthodox Christians in America also need to remember.
“Russia has forgotten the saving God; it has lost faith in Him, abandoned the Law of God, enslaved itself to all sorts of passions, deified blind human reason,” St. John of Kronstadt warned. “It has replaced God’s all-wise, holy and righteous will with the phantom of sinful freedom, opened wide the doors to all manner of outrage, and therefore it will become immeasurably impoverished, and be shamed before the whole world—the worthy reward for its pride, for its slumber, inaction, venality, and coldness toward God’s Church. God will punish us for our sins; the Sovereign Lady will not stretch forth her hand to help us. Russia can be called a kingdom of the Lord. This is of course on the one hand. On the other, because of their godlessness and impiety many Russians, the so-called intelligentsia who have strayed from the right path, apostatized from the faith and mock it in every way, having trampled upon all the Gospel commandments and allow all kinds of depravity into our life—the Russian kingdom is not the Lord’s kingdom but a broad and far-flung kingdom of satan…
“The current terrible degradation of faith and morals depends greatly upon the coldness towards their flock of many bishops and the clerical ranks in general.
“Our ancestors sinned, but they called a sin a sin; today’s liberals however sin and try to justify the sin, as if it were a lawful deed. Take the sins of the flesh—all of this according to their opinion is not only simple weakness of human nature, but also the laws of nature and its demands.
“Russia is floundering, suffering, tormented by its bloody inner struggle, from bad harvests and famine, from terrifyingly high prices, from godlessness, from extreme moral degradation. Evil times—people have turned into animals, even into evil spirits. The government has become weak. It itself has falsely understood the freedom it has given to the people. Evil has increased in Russia to monstrous proportions and it has become almost impossible to set it right. When the consequences of all-around non-submission to the authorities and the inaction of the subordinate members of society, and with this inaction the action of the government ceases, as if the blood were to cease circulating in an organic body, then everything in society dies, descends, falls apart; social safety disappears and members of one society attack each other—a total rampage of thievery, plunder, enmity, and murder.”
Thus wrote St. John of Kronstadt. But we today in the suffering American land likewis ehave also the promise of Christ: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Let us remember our true ancestry in the Israel of the New Testament Church and let us go forth with God’s grace, however unworthily, to act with His help to be worthy of that ancestry. For the Holy Fathers who prophesied of Christ and were His ancestors after the flesh are still with us, able to hear our prayers, and to intercede for us. For as the upcoming Nativity service will remind us, God is with us!