"After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways .... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church." St. Philaret of NY 1985

On the Heavenly Kingdom

On the Heavenly Kingdom
St. Philaret of New York

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

The Holy Gospel tells us how once, our Lord Jesus Christ, in speaking of the Kingdom of God, said that it is like a mustard seed, which is smaller than all the others, yet when it matures it becomes like a tree, large in size, surpassing all other vegetation in its size and profuseness of branches.

Indeed, when the Church of Christ was only beginning its existence, of whom was it comprised? Only the Lord Jesus Christ, His Most Pure Mother and twelve apostles – this was the initial composition of the Church. And this was that holy mustard seed from which subsequently grew the many-boughed tree of Christianity. And when you and I remember how quickly the Church grew, when “their witness went forth through the whole world and their words to the ends of the earth”, and the apostolic preaching thundered throughout all of the regions of the world as it was at the time, then we also recall that the greatest of those heralds of Christian truth were those two great, unusual men, whom we extol today – the holy Preeminent Apostles Peter and Paul. I called them unusual due to their unique, extreme activeness and because of the position they occupy in the Church as well as within the human race in general. But in and of themselves they were simply people, just like all of you and I. The Lord said through his Apostle Paul subsequently, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will reject the reasoning of the clever”; that is to say, human wisdom and human intelligence, the intelligence of human concepts, the Lord seems to say, I do not require. I have different paths. The Lord said through the Prophet: “As the heavens stand afar from the earth, so are My ways distant from your ways, and My thoughts from your thoughts.” And indeed it would be difficult to suppose that those whom we magnify today would have been chosen to be the greatest annunciators of Truth.

One of them was a Pharisee, in the beginning a sworn enemy of Christianity, while the other – a simple, hardly educated fisherman... How different were the circumstances under which each of the Apostles Peter and Paul were called to their great Apostolic mission! We see “Simon, son of Jonah” together with his brother Andrew working at their usual trade, repairing nets. Then Someone passes along the shore and says: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” - and not fish. This was sufficient. The Almighty Word of Christ irrepressibly drew those, whom the Lord had called – and the Apostles followed Him. This is how Apostle Peter was called, about whom the Lord said at His first encounter with him: “You are Simon, son of Jonah, but you will be called Cephas, which means Peter” (more precisely Petros -made of stone). Here you see the circumstances under which Simon-Peter is called to the apostleship – from an ordinary, daily situation, directly from his professional occupation, from the boat, from his fishing nets....

But then we see the Pharisee Saul, walking toward Damascus – a persecutor of Christians, ablaze with rage against Christianity; and he walks, as it says in the Book of Apostolic Acts, “breathing malice against the disciples of the Lord”... Of course it was not because of personal malice that Saul was reacting this way toward Christianity and Christians, for he was too lofty and pure in spirit prior to his conversion, even then; but it was because of his deep conviction that Christianity was the most harmful and destructive error which one must fight in the most ruthless manner. And so, in such a frame of mind, he walks toward Damascus – and arrives there, a Christian... What had been the cause of this?  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself had appeared to him in a marvelous vision, in a blinding light, brighter than the sun, calling him unto Himself. And at that moment it became clear how honorable Paul was, how sincere, how lofty Paul was even then, while he was persecuting Christians. It was not in vain that being already advanced in age, he boldly wrote to his most favorite spiritual son and disciple, Apostle Timothy, that “from my youth, through my entire life I served God with a pure conscience.” And so it was here; he was going to persecute Christians, thinking that by this he was serving God. Suddenly he was illumined by light from the heavens, which was so blindingly bright, that the light of the sun became unnoticeable. Saul fell to the ground in horror of the light which had blinded him, and he hears not deafening thunder, not a dreadful threat, but the meek, edifying question of the meek and humble-hearted Savior, Who, from within this unusual light from heaven asks him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” What touching words! These words, incidentally, indicate to us how close the Lord is to His faithful, how he co-suffers with them, how He endures with them the sorrows which they come to endure. To what an extent this may encourage the Christian soul is known by every patient Christian, when he remembers the touching words of the Savior to His persecutor Saul, directly indicating that the Lord Himself suffers with His faithful, co-suffering with them...”Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Saul, who had lost his sight because of the light which had blinded him, upon hearing this Divine, meek voice, asks with trepidation and horror: “Who are You, Lord?” and he hears the response which undoubtedly shook him from head to toe, for he came to realize the entire error of his course. “I am Jesus, Whom you persecute,” the Lord answers him. “It is hard for you to kick against the goad.” (The archaic “goad”, a sharp implement for prodding oxen, would bring to mind the even more powerful handle on the rim of a well wheel, which when wound up was so powerful and heavy, producing such a strong rotating force that no one would be capable of stopping it once it was wound up. In drawing such a comparison of force, the Lord indicated “you are resisting the 'goad', a force which is stronger than you and which you cannot overcome”).

And at that moment, having comprehended the depth of his error, the trembling Saul asks: “what would you command me to do?” According to human understanding it would seem that a man who had just been persecuting Christians, even forcing them to blaspheme Jesus, which he subsequently admitted with deep sorrow, could in no way become a preacher of the Christian faith: but the Lord's ways are not our ways....

“Arise and go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” the Lord in heaven replied to Saul. He got up and went... and he arrived in Damascus having been completely reborn inwardly. And when the pious Ananias, one of the 70 apostles, according to the command of the Savior, came to him, laid his hands upon him, healed him of blindness and baptized him, then standing before the Christian Church was a ready annunciator of the Truth. Prior to his conversion, Saul had directed all his efforts toward pleasing God, but he was following an incorrect path. But when the Lord, through His Providence turned him onto the right path, then using that same degree of effort, not fearing for himself, but living only to carry out the Lord's will, Saul – who became Apostle Paul, embarked on his evangelizing, indeed, way of the cross and achieved such a height, that the Church placed him next to the Preeminent Apostle – Peter, and calls them both Preeminent Apostles, and with equal glory and honor praises their efforts and labors.

These are the sacred remembrances which the Church offers us today. Let us, brethren, be instructed by these holy examples to what extent the Lords ways do not resemble our ways. Who could have thought that the main annunciators of Christianity could be a hardly educated fisherman or an enemy of Christianity? And yet here, according to God's will, by God's Providence, it became so. Thus the Lord arranged it well to the benefit of His Church – and may the Wisdom of His Providence be blessed! Amen.

Trans. Eugenia Chisholm