19th Sunday After Pentecost – Holy Hierarchs of Moscow
Today in the Church we remember a number of great Hierarchs and Metropolitans of Moscow. Since the Church of Russia was under the governance of Constantinople in its early years, the head of the Russian Church was not a Patriarch, but rather a Metropolitan. This great feast day of all the Metropolitans of Moscow was established in the year 1596 as a way to commemorate all these great hierarchs on this day. Initially there were three Sainted hierarchs which were commemorated on this day, which were Peter, Alexei and Jona. However, even several contemporary hierarchies are commemorated on this day, such as Patriarch Tikhon, or St. Peter of Krutitsia. Today, we commemorate 12 Saints for this feast. The Church on this day offers them as equals, even though they all had very different lives and were able to shine forth differently in the Church. I would like to speak about three different themes that came to mind when reading the lives of these saints.
The first theme to see is that of dedication to Christ. This is seen in the lives of the first three Metropolitans commemorated, Peter, Alexei, and Jona. What is striking about all three of these Metropolitans is that each of these had a life changing experience at the age of 12. Both Saint Peter and St Jona entered a Monastery and took on monastic vows at the age of 12. Saint Peter at that age also chose to dedicate his life to Christ. The story goes that he had dozed off in the woods and then he heard a voice Alexei! Why toilest thou in vain? Thou art to be a netter of people". And this caused him to take on the life of seclusion. Image at 12 years of age to take on such responsibility and to dedicate one's life to Christ. I'm sure most of us at 12 years old thought about playing with our friends or doing what we could for entertainment. But these saints did something extraordinary by uniting themselves to Christ at such a young age. They were truly dedicated to following Christ and that is why they were such strong leaders.
The second theme that stands out is that of instruction and handing down of the faith. This group of hierarchs wrote extensively and did many great labors in order to teach the faith to their flock. One of the most important things that some of them did was to translate works to the language that people could understand. The two commemorated today which fall into this category are St. Philaret and St. Innocent. St. Philaret of Moscow was one of the first to translate the Bible into Russsian, since it was only translated in Church Slavonic. At the same token, Saint Innocent was the first to translate Church Slavonic into the Aleut language for the people of Alaska. In fact, it is said that he created a written language for the Aleut people using the cyrilic alphabet. Other hierarchs published many works and sayings which edified the faithful and brought them to a closer understanding of the mysteries of God. This care and dedication for their flock is one of the reasons why the faith is still preserved to this day and why people are able to understand what has been given to them.
The final theme would be standing for the truth. We have examples of this through one hierarch from the 16th century and two contemporary hierarchs. The first is St. Philip Metropolitan of Moscow, who was martyred by Ivan the Terrible. St Philip stood up against Ivan because of his various misdeeds and slaughters of innocents and refused to bless him. This prompted Ivan the Terrible to have St Philip murdered. The other two contemporary hierarchs are St. Tikhon the confessor and St. Peter of Krutitsia. These two saints were leaders of the Church during the time of the communist takeover of Russia. What can be seen about these two great saints, is that they stood up for the truth even in the face of death. St Tikhon was outspoken about the bolshevics, and criticized the murder of the Royal Family. He was imprisoned and lived the rest of his life under house arrest. He died several years later, which some speculate that he was poisoned. After St. Tikhon, St Peter took on leadership of the Russian church to which he too stood up against the communist leadership. The communists desired the Church to unite themselves with the "Living Church" which was a fringe group which accepted married bishops, and married monastics. St. Peter too, stood up for the truth and denounced this living Church. Because of this he was imprisoned and eventually shot to death in prison.
These three various themes can be summed up in one simple way, that these sainted wonderworkers of Moscow took the faith given to them with the utmost seriousness. Every aspect of their life was dedicated to the faith, whether it be giving up their life in monasticism, or spending their life in prayer and teachings of Christ, or even giving up their life for the truth. And this is the question we should be asking ourselves, how serious do we take our Orthodox faith? Is this faith given to us really the most important thing in our lives? I would hope so because really nothing in the world can compare to the importance of living out the true faith. Everything we have will pass away, but the faith given to us will live and be passed on until the second coming of Christ.
So let us take this opportunity to examine our conscience. Let us learn from these sainted hierarchs, both from their examples and from their teachings. In addition to our prayers daily, we should also be taking time to learn more about the faith, especially from the holy Bishops of the Church. I urge you, take the names of at least just one of these hierarchs, search for their life on the internet and read it. It won't take more than 5-10 minutes. This will edify you and bring you to a closer understanding of the glory of God. For as we heard in the Gospel, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16). By reading the works and lives of these saints, we will see the glory of God through them. And in turn, let us pray that we too will become holy and others will see the glory of God within us too. Amen!