The Missionary Life of Prayer
A Sermon on the Sunday of All Saints of Russia
One week ago we celebrated the Feast of All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost, noetically beholding the sanctification of mankind that has been continuously underway for two thousand years through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now, on the second Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the feast of all the saints of the Local Church of which we are a part. Although all of us are Americans — and our church is an autonomous church — nevertheless we remain faithful children of the Russian Church, and so today we prayerfully honor and celebrate the memory of the Russian saints through whom we have received the precious treasure of Orthodoxy.
In the Book of Hebrews, St. Paul urges us: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). In what way, then, ought we to imitate these saints of the Russian Church? Of course the ways are countless, just as the number of saints who have shown forth in the Russian land are countless; each saint had their own way of life, and illumined for us their own individual podvigs and virtues. But I think there is one great theme that unites all of them — from the emissaries of the Great Prince Vladimir who first brought Holy Orthodoxy to the Russian people, to the New-martyrs and Confessors of the Bolshevik Yoke one thousand years later. Moreover, it is a theme that is particularly suited to this uniquely missionary period in the church year. That theme, quite simply, is the life of prayer.
It was the life of prayer, manifested with such glorious splendor in the Hagia Sophia, that converted the emissaries of St. Vladimir to Holy Orthodoxy — and through them, the Slavic peoples he ruled. It was the life of prayer that drew so many of their descendants into the wilderness, establishing monasteries and hermitages throughout the vast reaches of the Russian land in order to allow such prayer to grow and thrive. It was the life of prayer embodied in these holy monasteries that drew so many laypeople into the wilderness after them, building their towns and villages nearby in order to live and raise their children alongside these men and women of prayer, sharing — so far as possible — in that life with them. It was the life of prayer that sustained the New-martyrs and Confessors of Russia throughout nearly a century of inhuman, unspeakable, and incomprehensible torments at the hands of the Soviet regime, and it was the life of prayer that allowed them to actually receive such torments with peace and with joy. And finally, after that godless regime finally fell, it was the life of prayer — preserved during those horrible times by secret monks, and old babushki, and those known to God alone — that allowed the Russian Church to miraculously rise from the dead, and to begin again living that life openly in the churches and monasteries that once more are filling the vast reaches of the Russian land.
My brothers and sisters, it is quite simple: without the life of prayer we are nothing, and our time in this world is vain and futile. The Lord said before He went to His Voluntary and Life-giving Passion: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). If, then, we wish to imitate the faith of those who have gone before us, if we wish not only to honor their memory but also to lay hold on the inheritance they so labored to leave us, then we must begin and end with one thing, and one thing only: the life of prayer.
But if (as is only too likely) we find the life of prayer lacking within ourselves, if our minds are distracted and our hearts are cold, let us by no means despair. Though the Lord calls out to us in the Scriptures: “My son, give Me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26), nevertheless even so “He knoweth whereof we are made, He hath remembered that we are dust” (Ps. 102). He knows our minds are damaged and our hearts are diseased, and He never demands from us something that is not in our power to give. As the Holy Fathers teach, it belongs to God Himself to give us perfect prayer; our only task is to provide the opportunity for that prayer to be given, at the time that He alone knows is best. So let us above all be faithful each and every day in our prayers, and strive to give God the very best that we can — even if our very best is very poor.
And let us always remember that, as the lives of the Russian saints and the history of the Russian Church teach us, the life of prayer is not a life we live for ourselves alone. It is not even a life that we live for God alone. It is also the most precious gift that we can possibly offer to those around us, to a world that is spiritually parched and thirsting — perhaps as never before — for the grace of God, a thirst that only the life of prayer can possibly quench. The life of prayer is the missionary life par excellence, for as the great Russian luminary St. Seraphim of Sarov once said: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”
+Through the prayers of all the saints who have shown forth in the Russian Land, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.