"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

Holy Innocents Slain by Herod 2


We know from the Holy Gospel that when the angel of God announced to the shepherds on that blessed night in Bethlehem that the Savior of the world was born, he said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Lk. 2:10).  And the hearts of the shepherds were indeed filled with great joy, as well as the hearts of the Magi who came later, and, of course, the heart of the Most-pure, Most-blessed Mother of the Savior!  What tremendous joy this was!  However, it is not in vain that the Church says that in this world there is sadness associated with every joy.  And this was also true in this case. 

In the Gospel we heard the sorrowful account of how these very blessed fields above which resounded the angelic hymnody ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace’ as well as the streets of Bethlehem were soon afterwards filled with the cries of infants being murdered and the wailing of mothers being deprived of their children.  Herod had tried to conceal his evil intent when he said to the Magi, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also” (Mt. 2:8).  He said that he wanted to see Him.  He probably thought that this was a wise plan of action and would be in his favor, but it did not work out because the Magi did not return to him.  It was not that the Magi wanted to deceive him, but they had received a direct order in a dream from above, from heaven, and they obeyed this command, returning straight home from whence they had come and not going back to the king.  Herod, however being evil, decided that they had deceived him and was enraged.  In order to fulfill his evil intent to kill the newborn King of the Jews, he killed around 14,000 infants in Bethlehem.  When Caesar Augustus, who was at the head of the empire at that time, heard about this monstrous act of Herod, he said, “It would be better to be an unclean beast in Herod’s presence than a man or child”. 

However, this is what I would like to say, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Herod killed 14,000 infants, but even though he killed their bodies, he could not touch their souls.  The Church glorifies them as the first martyrs for Christ, having shed their pure, young, innocent blood for Him.  On the other hand, in our long-suffering homeland, look how for many years they have been killing infants, not their bodies, but their very souls, by tearing them away from the Church and depriving them of any kind of influence by the Church, training them in godless thinking and making them atheists.  This is spiritual murder which is incomparably worse than physical murder.  Not 14,000, but many millions are being killed in this way.  Granted, the Lord has allowed this to happen.  However, it is impossible not to be grieved over the fact that here our children can attend church, partake of the Holy Gifts, and learn the Law of God, thereby attaining true Christian knowledge, while the children there cannot.  And even if some do manage to get Christian instruction, this is under threat of dire retribution. 

When St. John Chrysostom was asked why these infants [in Bethlehem] had to die like this, he replied, “This was allowed by God.  You need to remember that the important thing is not WHEN one dies, but HOW one dies.  We do not know what they would have been like had they grown up.  Maybe they would have been among those who maliciously cried, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’  But they did not live until that moment in time; instead they shed their blood for Christ the Savior, and in this way they met a glorious and martyric end”. 

We also need to keep this in mind.  No one knows when we will die.  Only the Lord knows.  We do not need to try to find out when we will die, but instead try to die in a Christian manner.  It is not so important WHEN death will come, but more importantly that it be a CHRISTIAN death.  You know that we always pray in the church services for ‘a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ’.  And so, remember that this is what we need to prepare for.  A good Christian never forgets that the hour of death will come, and he tries to live so that that moment will not be a terrible ordeal, but a joyful crossing over from earthly griefs to heavenly bliss.  The Lord calls every one of us to this.  Here He lies in a manger as if calling us to Himself, so that by fulfilling His sacred commandments, we may be worthy of a good Christian end, and whenever it may come, just that it be truly a good Christian passing.  Amen. 

St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Sermons, Vol. II, pp. 146-148