On Monday, May 25, Memorial Day, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist at the Monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy Metropolitan Tikhon offered the following word to the faithful.
Christ is Risen!
When speaking of a monastery much like unto our own, Saint Nicholai of Zicha likened it to a musical instrument of three strings: the string of prayer, the string of sorrow, and the string of joy.
The string of prayer is provided by the monastery church, which stands at the center of the lives of monks, seminarians, clergy, and faithful. This prayer rises up whether it is in the fullness of a glorious hierarchical liturgy or in the quiet of the dimly lit church.
The string of sorrow is represented by the cemetery, where so many of the faithful lie in expectation of the resurrection. On this day, in the United States, we remember those who have fallen in combat in defense of our lives and our country. May we always honor the fallen soldiers who have heroically given their lives for the safety and peace of others!
The string of joy is represented by the children, those who historically were housed here at the monastery orphanage, and those who, in more recent times, have participated in the summer camps or have come as children of seminarians.
These three strings create a single harmony, one which is not only found here at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, but throughout the Orthodox Church in America, whose 50th anniversary of the Autocephaly we continue to celebrate this year.
When the Orthodox Church in America received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church, the Tomos was received with joy, but also with a deep sense of responsibility, for it commissioned the former Metropolia to become the fullness of the Orthodox Church for all the peoples of North America.
At the time of the reception of the Tomos, Bishop Theodosius, then the bishop of Alaska said:
“At this solemn moment let me say, on behalf of our Church, that we receive this gift of autocephaly not as recognition of our merits or achievements, not as means of power and pride, but as the challenge for a renewed dedication to the growth, unity and spiritual welfare of Orthodoxy in America. We pray God that we may seek not our own but only His will for His Church so that we may grow into the full stature of Christ.”
The humble beginnings of the Orthodox Church in America are found in the wilderness of Alaska at the end of the 18th century. But that wilderness did not remain barren, as it too brought forth the three-stringed harmony of prayer, sorrow, and joy.
Saint Herman and his brotherhood lifted up their hearts in prayer to God, prayer which inspired their missionary work and brought countless people to Christ.
The sorrows of persecution, martyrdom, and death were ever-present realities in those difficult times, but nevertheless, or perhaps because of these realities, the Holy Orthodox faith took root in the land and in the hearts of the native people.
The joy of the children was also heard through the orphans that were loved and cared for by Saint Herman. Their voices anticipated the joyful noise and cries that are now heard in the many summer camps and youth programs that have flourished.
As we look to the future of Orthodoxy in North America, we know that much work remains ahead of us. Thankfully, we have the reassurance that it is God’s will that all be united in the Church, and so our hope is not in vain and we are encouraged by the efforts and prayers that have been made in the past.
Our Orthodox Church in America finds herself in modest circumstances, and we remain a small group in these lands. But neither that fact, nor our present uncertainty should discourage us or dampen our joy, which remains full during this season of paschal glory. We know that our efforts will bear fruit when combined with humble prayer that God’s will be done.
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Third Finding of the Head of John the Baptist and Forerunner of the Lord. He was the fruit of the barrenness of Elizabeth, just as Isaac was the fruit of barren Sarah, and Samuel of Hannah. These women were barren and yet desired to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” When their prayers were united with God’s will, then they brought forth children so that out of their barrenness, great servants of the most High God were brought forth.
In imitation of the formerly-barren women, may we learn prayer and humility, so that we may bring forth more children of God through the Church. God’s will for us is good, but it is partially hidden, and so we must pray for it to be revealed to us. When we pray with humility, and discern God’s will with humility, then we will see new birth come forth. Then we will see new life, the new life in Christ, and bring that life to more and more of humanity.
We do not always know what God’s will is in every situation. But even when we do not know what to pray for, or even how to pray, let us be encouraged because the Holy Spirit himself prays for us and in us. As Saint Paul says: We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
Let me conclude with the words of Saint Nicholai, recalling his image of the three strings:
“The Church is in the middle, the cemetery on one side, the youth on the other. Or symbolically represented: the Church as a mother on the one hand guards the buried past, and on the other nurtures and teaches the future. It represents the lasting connection between time and eternity, between generations which come and go. It greets, adorns, and bids farewell.”
Let us seek to re-create this harmony of prayer, sorrow, and joy within the Church in North America. Through the prayers of Saint John the Baptist, whose feast of his head we commemorate today, may we learn to prayerfully discern and accept God’s will. May we also be heroic, in imitation of the fallen soldiers we remember today, and prayerfully dedicate our lives to our God-given hope in the Resurrection.
And being inspired by the examples of the barren women who gave birth to children, may we remember that God loves us, and always wills what is good for us. Through His Son, He has given us hope, hope that can never be taken from us. His will for us is that we may rise again and be with Him forever.
And in making such efforts in prayer together as the Church, may God, who is worshipped in Trinity, reveal His Will for each of us, for our local Church, and for His people everywhere.
Christ is Risen!