by Archbishop Averky of Jordanville
I am come to send fire on the earth. and
what will I, but that it be already kindled? (Luke 12:49)
THE CHIEF THING in Christianity, according to the clear
teaching of the Word of God, is the fire of Divine zeal, zeal for God and His
glorythe holy zeal which alone is able to inspire man in labors and struggles
pleasing to God, and without which there is no authentic spiritual life and there is not
and cannot be any true Christianity. Without this holy zeal Christians are
"Christians" in name only: they only "have a name that they live," but
in reality "they are dead," as was said to the holy Seer of Mysteries John
(Apoc. 3 :1) . True spiritual zeal is expressed, first of all, in zeal for God's glory,
which is taught us in the words of the Lord's Prayer which stand at its very beginning: Hallowed
be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Those who are zealous for God's glory themselves glorify
God with their whole heartboth in thought and feeling, both by words and deeds and
with their whole lifeand naturally desire that all other people should glorify God
also in the same way, and therefore they cannot, of course, endure with indifference when
in their presence, in some way or other, the name of God is blasphemed or holy things are
mocked. Being zealous for God, they sincerely strive to please God themselves and serve
Him alone with all the power of their being, and they are ready to forget themselves all
the way to sacrificing their very life in order to bring all men to the pleasing and the
service of God. They cannot calmly listen to blasphemy, and therefore they cannot support
communion with and have friendship with blasphemers and mockers of the Name of God and
despisers of holy things.
A striking and extremely clear example of such fiery zeal
for God's glory comes to us from the depths of antiquity of the Old Testament in a great
Prophet of God, the flaming Elias, who grieved in soul when he saw the apostasy from God
of his people, led by the impious King Ahab, who introduced into Israel the pagan worship
of Baal in place of the true God.
I have been very jealous for the Lord God
Almightythus did he exclaim many times, expressing his griefbecause the
children of Israel have forsaken Thee: they have dug down Thine altars, and have slain Thy
prophets with the sword, and I only am left, and they seek my life to take it (3 Kings
19: 10) .
And behold, this holy zeal aroused him, by the power of
the grace of God which reposed on him, as a chastisement of Israel which had apostatized
from God, to "close heaven" (3 Kings 17:1; 18:42-45. James 5:17-18), so that
there was neither rain nor dew for three years and six months.
This same zeal later aroused Elias to slay the false
prophets and priests of Baal, after the miraculous descent of the fire from heaven on Mt.
Carmel, so that these deceivers might no longer turn the sons of Israel away from the true
worship of God (3 Kings 18 :40).
By the power of the same Divine zeal, St. Elias brought
down fire from heaven, which burned the captains and their fifties which had been sent by
the king to seize him (4 Kings 1:9-14).
That all this was in reality holy zeal which was pleasing
to God is testified to by the fact that the Holy Prophet Elias did not die the usual death
of all men, but was miraculously raised up to heaven in a chariot of fire, as if
signifying his authentically fiery zeal for God (4 kings 2:10-12).
But even then, in the severe Old Testament, the Lord
Himself showed to His true servant that one can have recourse to such severe measures only
in extreme cases, for the Lord was not in the great and strong wind rending the
mountains and crushing the rocks, and not in the earthquake, and not in the
fire, but in the voice of a gentle breeze (3 Kings 19:11-12).
This is why, when James and John, who were especially
fervent in their zeal for the glory of their Divine Teacher, wished to bring down fire
from heaven, imitating the Holy Prophet Elias, so as to punish the Samaritans who did not
desire to receive him when He was walking through the Samaritan village to Jerusalem, the
Lord forbade them to do this, saying: Ye know not of what spirit ye are, for the Son of
Man came not to destroy the souls of men, but to save (Luke 9:51-56).
And nevertheless (let immoderate lovers of peace pay
heed!), the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who said, Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble
of heart (Matt. 11:29), found it sometimes necessary to manifest great strictness and
have recourse to severe measures, teaching us also by this very fact, that meekness and
humility do not mean spinelessness and should not yield before manifest evil, and that a
true Christian should be far from sugar-sweet sentimentality and should not step away in
the face of evil which presumptuously raises its head, but should always be uncompromising
towards evil, fighting with it by all measures and means available to him, in order
decisively to cut off the spread and strengthening of evil among men.
Let us recall with what harsh accusatory words the Lord
addressed the spiritual leaders of the Hebrew people, the scribes and Pharisees,
condemning them for hypocrisy and lawlessness: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! and threatening them with God's judgment (Matt. 23:29).
And when words turned out to be insufficient, He applied
action against the lawless ones in very deed. Thus, finding that in the Temple they, were
selling oxen and sheep and doves, and money-changers were sitting, when He had made as
it were a scourge of little cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, the sheep also and
the oxen, and the money of the changers He poured out, and the tables He overthrew (John
2:14-15; Matt. 21:12-13).
And we know many other examples from sacred and Church
history when mere words of persuasion turned out to be insufficient; and in order to cut
off evil it was necessary to have recourse to more severe measures and decisive acts.
But it is essential that in such cases there should really
be in a person only pure and holy zeal for God's glory, without any admixture of
self-love or any other strivings of human passions which only hide themselves behind a
supposedly holy zeal for God!
In the history of the Church, the great hierarch of
Christ, Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, whose memory we celebrate
on December 6th according to our Orthodox calendar, has become glorious by just such an
authentically holy zeal, with a decisive irreconcilability towards evil. Who does not know
this wondrous hierarch of Christ?
The most characteristic feature of St. Nicholas, which has
given him such glory, is his extraordinary Christian mercy: the simple Russian
people usually calls him "Nicholas the Merciful," a title based on the facts of
his life and the numberless cases of his help to men.
But once this great hierarch, so glorious for his mercy
toward his neighbor, performed an act which disturbed many and continues to disturb them
even now, even though its authenticity is witnessed by the Church tradition contained in
our iconography and Divine services.
According to tradition, St. Nicholas took part in the
First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, which brought forth a condemnation of the heretic
Arius, who denied the Divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God.
During the disputes which occurred in connection with this, St. Nicholas could not listen
with indifference to the blasphemous speeches of the arrogant heretic Arius, possessed by
pride, who demeaned the Divine dignity of the Son of God, and before the whole Council he
struck him in the face with his hand. This evoked such a general consternation that the
Fathers of the Council decreed that the bold hierarch be deprived of hierarchical rank.
But in that very night they were made to understand by a wondrous vision: they saw how the
Lord Jesus Christ gave St. Nicholas His Holy Gospel, and the Most Pure Mother of God
placed upon his shoulders the episcopal omophorion. And then they understood that St.
Nicholas was guided in his act not by any evil, passionately sinful motives, but solely
by pure, holy zeal for God's glory. And they forgave the hierarch, abrogating their
sentence against him.
By citing such a picturesque example, we do not in the
least wish to say that every one of us can or should follow this example literally: for
this one must be himself just as great a holy hierarch as St. Nicholas. But this should
absolutely convince us that we do not dare to remain indifferent or be unconcerned about
the manifestations of evil in the world, especially when the matter is one of God's glory,
of our Holy Faith and Church. Here we must show ourselves to be completely uncompromising,
and we do not dare enter into any sort of cunning compromises or any reconciliation, even
purely outward, or into any kind whatever of agreement with evil. To our personal enemies,
according to Christ's commandment, we must forgive everything, but with the enemies of God
we cannot have peace! Friendship with the enemies of God makes us ourselves the enemies of
God: this is a betrayal and treason towards God, under whatever well-seeming pretexts it
might be done, and here no kind of cunning or skillful self-justification can help us!
It is interesting to note how displeasing this act of St.
Nicholas is to all the contemporary consenters to evil, these propagandists of a false
"Christian love"which is prepared to be reconciled not only with heretics,
persecutors of the Faith and the Church, but even with the devil himself, in the name of
"universal love" and "the union of all"slogans which have become
so fashionable in our days. For the sake of this, these consenters strive even to refute
the very fact of the participation of St. Nicholas in the First Ecumenical Council, even
though this fact is accepted by our Holy Church and therefore must be respected by all of
us as reliable.
All of this happens, of course, because among contemporary
people, even those who call themselves "Christians," there is no longer an
authentic holy zeal for God and His glory, there is no zeal for Christ our Saviour, zeal
for the Holy Church and for every holy thing of God. In place of this there prevails a luke-warm
indifference, an indifferent attitude to everything except one's own earthly
well-being, with a forgetfulness of the just judgment of God which unfailingly awaits all
of us, and of the eternity which will be revealed after death.
And without this holy zeal, as we emphasized at the
beginning, there is no true Christianity, no authentic spiritual lifelife in
Christ. That is why this has been replaced now by all kinds of cheap surrogates, at
times quite low ones, which however often answer to the tastes and attitudes of
contemporary man. And therefore such pseudo-Christians, skillfully covering up their
spiritual emptiness by hypocrisy, often have great success in contemporary society, from
which authentic spirituality has been rinsed out; while authentic zealots of God's glory
are despised and persecuted as "difficult people," "intolerant
fanatics," "people who are behind the times."
And thus even now before our eyes is occurring the
"winnowing": some will remain with Christ to the end, and some will easily and
naturally join the camp of His opponent, Antichrist, especially when the hour of
threatening trials will come for our faith, when precisely it will be necessary to show in
all its fullness the whole power of our holy zeal, which is abhorred by many as
But at the same time one should not forget that, besides
true holy zeal, there is also a zeal without understandingzeal which loses its value
because of the absence in it of a most important Christian virtue: discernment, and
therefore, in place of profit can bring harm.
And there is likewise a false, lying zeal, behind the mask
of which is concealed the foaming of ordinary human passionsmost frequently pride,
love of power and honor, and the interests of a party politics like that which plays the
leading role in political struggles, and for which there can be no place in spiritual
life, in public church life, but which unfortunately is often to be encountered in our
time and is a chief instigator of every imaginable quarrel and disturbance in the Church,
the managers and instigators of which often hide themselves behind some kind of supposed
idealism but in reality pursue only their own personal aims, striving to please not God
but their own self-concern, and being zealous not for God's glory but for their own glory
and the glory of the colleagues and partisans of their party.
All of this, it goes without saying, is profoundly foreign
to true holy zeal, hostile to it, is sinful and criminal, for it only compromises our Holy
Faith and Church!
And so, the choice is before us: are we with Christ or Antichrist?
The time is near (Apoc.22:10)thus did even
the holy Apostles warn us Christians. And if it was "near" then, in Apostolic
times, how much ''nearer" has it become now, in our ominous days of manifest apostasy
from Christ and persecution against our Holy Faith and Church?!
And if we firmly resolve in these fateful days to remain
with Christ, not in words only but in deeds as well, it is absolutely indispensable right
now, without putting it off, to break off even, bond of friendship, every form of
communion with the servants of the approaching Antichrist, who has enlisted so many of
them in the contemporary world, under lying pretexts of universal peace" and
"prosperity"; and especially must one free oneself unconditionally from every
subservience to them and dependence on them, even if this might be bound up with detriment
to our earthly well-being or even with danger for our earthly life itself.
Eternity is more important than our brief existence on
earth, and it is precisely for it that we must prepare ourselves!
And therefore, ONLY HOLY ZEAL FOR GOD, FOR CHRIST,
without any admixture of any kind of slyness or ambiguous cunning POLITICS, must guide us
in all deeds and actions.
Otherwise, a stern sentence threatens us: Because thou
art neither hot nor cold, I will vomit thee out of My mouth (Apoc. 3:16).
Be zealous, therefore, and repent! (Apoc. 3:19). Amen.
Translated from Saint Elias Publications "Faith and
Life," No. 10, 1975. Reprinted in The Orthodox Word, May-June 1975 (62),