Homily at 111th Annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery

The Homily of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon
May 25, 2015

Metropolitan Tikhon

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

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Glory to God that we have been granted the blessing to assemble once again in the joy of the Ascension of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ and in celebration of the lifting up into heaven of the human race, and to do so here, on the grounds of the oldest Orthodox Monastery in North America, at the celebration of this Divine Liturgy, which marks the culmination of the 111th Annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage.

Today, we are comforted with the words of the Lord in the Gospel reading: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” Is not this peace what each of us finds in his heart during these days of pilgrimage?  It is the peace which passes all understanding because it is not the false and empty quiet of the world, which is simply the absence of noise and distraction, but rather the deep and abiding stillness brought about by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is a peace that is not simply heard in the sounds of the wilderness, but rather is the reflection of the prayers that are offered in this holy place by the monastics in their cells. It is the peace of the living theology that is taught and experienced in our seminary and sent out through our graduates to all the ends of the earth.

Above all, it is the peace that finds its source in Christ, apart from Whom none of us can live or have our being. As He Himself reminds us today, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” There is no other possible way to experience God’s peace than to abide in Christ and to be united to Him as a branch is united to the vine.

“I am the vine, you are the branches, He says.  “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” When we come in pilgrimage to a monastery or to any holy site, we re-connect ourselves with what is real, we re-attach ourselves to a living body, we re-establish ourselves in the Church, and thereby our hearts begin to work in the right way: not simply pumping blood to the rest of our physical body, but resting in Christ through prayer and through our communion with Him and with one another.

“I am the vine, you are the branches.” We are the branches, He tells us. So we are not separate from Him, we are not simply individual cells, wandering this earth on our own, isolated in our own little world with the pressures of modern life weighing down on us, trapped in our own passions and left to fend for ourselves with our own limited resources and weaknesses. Certainly, the difficulties of this life are real, but greater than those difficulties is the grace of God.

As the Lord says, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Fear is extinguished by the perfect love of Christ. Fear finds its source in the evil one, who is the cause of division in our hearts and in our families and in our communities. The peace of the world is often brought about through fear: we avoid our brother out of fear or distrust and thereby gain the imperfect peace of avoidance; we don’t talk to others out of fear of conflict, and thereby externally we remain silent, but internally we boil over with anger, jealousy and judgment; we communicate only with those we know share our own views on things for fear of entering into a constructive dialogue, but thereby lose the benefit of learning obedience, humility and love, all of which we are called to show even to our enemies.

And yet, here we are today, experiencing the peace of Christ, in the company of hundreds of pilgrims in this place that is not as much of a wilderness as it was when Archimandrite Arseny established it with the blessing of Saint Tikhon. And yet, it is very probable that we today are experiencing in our hearts the very same grace that Father Arseny and the first monks experienced. And this can only be true because the Lord’s words to them were the same as His words to us today: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Perhaps we feel that we are not a healthy branch, that we have borne little fruit, and that we should be cast off and burned. But we should never despair in such ways. The words of the Lord in this regard are not harsh words of punishment, but rather the loving words of discipline—discipline that He asks us to place upon ourselves out of love for Him; discipline that the saints exhibited in their own lives and that they impart to us through their words and examples; discipline that is revealed in so many ways by those whose paths brought them to these very hallowed grounds of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery.

One such example is the ever-memorable Metropolitan Leonty, whose grave lies before us by the Monastery Church, where he was laid to rest 50 years ago. As we honor him this year, we give thanks to God that Metropolitan Leonty was such a living and fruitful branch of Christ.

As Father Alexander Schmemann spoke at the time of his funeral, Metropolitan Leonty left the Church in North America with a legacy: a legacy of unity, the legacy of his vision of the Church and the legacy of being a true man of God.

Concerning unity, Father Alexander said, “His whole life was above everything else a ministry, a liturgy of unity, and in this he fulfilled the first and most essential function of the Bishop. He literally kept us together in his heart, in his prayer, in his love. And his heart was big enough for all and everything. And everyone, whatever his position, his calling, his ideas, could identify himself with the Metropolitan and through him with the Church…. Whenever he appeared – all knew immediately that he was the Father, the center unity; all felt immediately secure and confident in his love, understanding and response.”

Concerning his vision for the Church, Father Alexander wrote of the way in which Metropolitan Leonty equally united a deep attachment to Russian Orthodoxy and to what it means to be Orthodox in North America. “Paradoxically enough, in this perfect harmony between his Russian roots and his American ministry he was more American than many American-born Orthodox, more Russian than many newcomers. He had no fears, no suspicions, no frustrations. He was equally alien to pseudo-conservative negativism and to pseudo-progressive compromise. He simply was what he was – a Russian Orthodox truly aware that God had sent him to America to love it and to dedicate to it his Orthodox faith and his Orthodox heart.”

Finally, and the most important of his legacies, according to Father Alexander, Metropolitan Leonty “was a man of God. He lived in and by God, and no one has ever approached him without feeling that he has touched and entered upon the reality of the spiritual world.”

“No one has ever approached him without feeling that he has touched and entered upon the reality of the spiritual world.” This is what it means to truly be a branch of Christ. This is what is offered to us by all the saints—Saint Herman of Alaska, Saint Tikhon of Moscow, the Founder of this holy monastery, and Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, the centennial of whose repose we celebrate this year as well.

It is the reality that is given to us in the miracle working icons of the Mother of God, such as the Hawaii Iveron Icon that graces us with her presence during this Memorial Day Pilgrimage. All of these gifts offer us encouragement, and more than encouragement, they offer us the reality about which the Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

May all that we ask, all that we seek and all that we desire be granted to us by the love and mercy of our almighty God, worshipped in Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.