June 10, 2012

First Sunday After Pentecost or All Saints Sunday (S.V. Bulgakov)

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

In the services for this Sunday over and above the usual glorifications of the resurrection of Christ, the choirs of all the Saints pleasing to God, who have shone through faith in the coming and the arrival of the promised Redeemer, together with those who exercised asceticism in piety are glorified. In the church hymns we magnify: patriarchs, forefathers, prophets, apostles, martyrs, hieromartyrs, confessors, hierarchs, venerable and righteous fathers and mothers and all the Saints, who from the ages were well pleasing to God, and "above all" "our Sovereign Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary". In glorifying their memory, let us also ask their prayerful petitions before God for us. Since "by the Holy Spirit is every soul enlivened", i.e. is cleansed, renewed and alas settled, and since the divine grace of the Holy Spirit is consecrated, it has made our first-born brethren, written in the heavens, and made them our worthy prayer books before God, that, they have celebrated the most glorious descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and who glorified His beneficial power, consecrating the souls of all believers, then to properly glorify also those holy foster children of the grace of God, who were consecrated and perfected by the power of the All-holy and Life-creating Spirit of the Lord. This commemoration also fulfills the honoring and glorifying of those pleasing to God, who, owing to their numbers and their not being known, special commemorations were not established for them. Glorifying the saints and numbering them among the ranks or choirs, the Holy Church points out to us their various virtues for imitation.

The Orthodox Church honors various men pleasing to God who appropriated various names, corresponding to their various ascetic acts of virtuous life on earth. Such names are: patriarchs, forefathers, prophets, apostles, hierarchs, holy equal to the Apostles, Hieromartyrs, Great Martyrs, Venerable martyrs, martyrs, confessors, Venerable ones, Righteous ones, Disinterested ones and Blessed ones.

For Patriarchs, Forefathers and Fathers see under the Sundays before Christmas. 

Prophets are great according to the pious life of the men of the Old Testament who were selected by God Himself and were sent by Him to various places for predicting the future to the people, with regard to the coming of Christ, the Savior of the world, to earth.

Apostles are the great men of the New Testament, the people closest to Christ the Savior, His worthiest disciples and companions, who were sent by Him to various countries for the preaching of the Divine Gospel to the people.

Hierarchs and Fathers ("our Fathers among the saints") are the Eastern Patriarchs, the pious Popes of Rome, the Patriarchs, Archbishops, heirs to the Holy Apostles in the Christian Church and their great co-workers in preaching the Gospel and in their labor of true piety.

Holy Equal to the Apostles and Enlighteners are the men and women of royal or princely origin, but sometimes also of simple calling, who by their own preaching turned entire countries and peoples to Christ. Hieromartyrs are Christian bishops and presbyters who died from torture for their belief in Christ.

Great Martyrs are the pious men and women of various worldly ranks and positions, who courageously and with great patience thoroughly underwent various persecutions, tortures, and torments by their torturers for their holy Christian faith.

Venerable Martyrs are the pious and true ascetic men and women, included in the monastic calling, who suffered from the pagans and heterodox believers for their faith in Christ.

Martyrs are those men and women of various callings and positions, who without confusion, but sometimes even with joy, went one by one or in groups into the presence of their torturers, and there were tortured to death for their firm and unshakable confession of their faith in Christ.

Confessors and Passion-bearers are those great men of virtuous life of the Christian Church, courageously and fearlessly everywhere and always confessed their deep faith in Christ, who openly recognized themselves as true Christians, who endured torments and torture for this, but did not receive a martyr's death; some of them are called branded, because during torture special brands were put on the person.

Venerable Ones are the great, pious and Christ-loving men and women, desert-dwellers, hermits (who separated themselves from the world to the desert and there saved themselves in solitude), recluses (who voluntary enclosed themselves in separate caves and cells for their entire life) and pillar-dwellers (who practiced asceticism under the open sky on pillars, or high towers), silent ones (who voluntarily took up the asceticism of silence), and are all inclusive in the monastic calling.

Righteous Ones are the great men and women, who were glorified for their virtuous and pious life, zealous for the fulfillment of the commandments of God and for their unbowed observance of the truths of the Gospel teaching, not shirking their family or public obligations and living in the world. 

Disinterested Ones or Unmercenaries are men well pleasing to God who through their unmercenary labor for the benefit of their neighbors served the suffering and healed the sick.

Blessed Ones are the men and women of various callings and positions, who in carrying out their mortal life, both in the world and in the desert, with unusual reserve, with extreme deprivation and denial of every possible worldly good, but sometimes even with many varieties of foolishness, all this "for the sake of Christ".

The Holy Church has regularized the remembrance and honor of all righteous men who have moved in eternity because "righteous men", according to the word to God, "live for ever" (Wis. 5:15) not only in heaven, but also on earth; because "their memory" abides from generation to generation "with praises" (Prov. 10:7), and among the blessings before the eyes not only of God but also of the people; because they, being alive even in the Divinely sanctified ark of grace in time, have co-operated for the beloved by the "place where the glory [of God] dwells" (Ps. 25:8) for the entire eternity. We honor and magnify the saints of God and consequently all of them are our fathers and brethren according to the spirit of the Christian faith and according to that love by which they are indissolubly joined to us; wherefore true "love never disappears" (1 Cor. 13:8). Being one with us by nature, the saints pleasing to God also make us one with the Church of the Lord Jesus, who is the one foundation and the one Head, the one God and the one Savior, the one means of salvation and the one hope of the saved. Thus, the glorified Saints have a close and uninterrupted though invisible dialogue with us. We call on them in our prayers, as contributors to our salvation, as protectors and comforters in the afflictions and misfortunes laid on us, as defenders against the invisible powers of Hades, and we do this not in vain. The holy ones of God hear us when we pray, unite our entreaties to their prayers, lifting them up as pure and fragrant incense (Rev. 5:8) to the holy table of the Pantocrator, ask His Goodness for mercy on us, satisfy the justice that is so frequently irritated by our iniquities, and send mercy and the "grace from the One Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come" (Rev. 1:4) to us. Being in the kingdom of God, they "have already received the kingdom, the magnificent and quality crown from the hand of the Lord" (Wis. 5:16), but by the spirit of humility they will not die to compose "crowns" of the kingdom from themselves "and to offer" themselves "before the throne" of the Lamb (Rev. 4:10-11, 5:11-14), petitioning before Him, as "Mediator between God and men" (1 Tim. 2:5), that He be merciful to us sinners, carried away in the abyss of perdition and by the vanities of the world, both the impulses of the passions and temptations of the evil one. If the saints pleasing to God, neither looking at the spiritual height of their perfection and holiness, nor at their visible distance from us, will intercede to gaze upon on us, the proud and vain, with an eye of compassion and to save us by their prayers and mediation, then we all the more should also honor and glorify their memory from generation to generation, that, glorifying them, we glorify "God, Who is wonderful in His Saints" (Ps. 67:36), and, honoring them, we "honor grace with God, residing and acting in them, and the help from God we ask through them" (Orthodox Catechism). Besides, the gathering of most of all those saved, which "God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ", already "made us sit with Him on the heavenly" thrones (Eph. 2:4-6), evidently showing us all immensity of the power of the merits of the Savior and the power of saving grace, serves as vivifying and encouraging for us in the formidable arena of salvation, wherefore "through faith" in the Redeemer even we "have obtained access", to that same "grace", in which stood all those pleasing to God (Rom. 5:2). But, strengthening in us the hope of salvation, the commemoration of the blessed choirs of Saints also serves for us as the encouragement for unrelenting patience and self-denial. The Saints of God are blessed with light in the house of the heavenly Father, but the enjoyment of peace and unearthly joy is the reward and recompense for their labor and asceticism, that, having disdained the world with their good deeds, they steadily flowed "to the honor of the highest calling of God" (Phil. 3:14). Thus if we want to inherit salvation, to settle in heaven and to be blessed among those standing in the choir of the Saints, we should live holily and undefiled according to our "Holy calling" (1 Pet. 1:15). "The grace of God is saving for all men" (Tit. 2:11), but does not save anybody against their will; she is omnipotent, but not violent. "The heavenly Kingdom", even with the assistance of grace, "has suffered violence" (Mt. 11:12), and that only those admire it, who, prevailing completely over any sinful temptation, course their way to the Kingdom with effort and patience. (Sermons and Speeches of Sophronius, Bishop of Turkistan, Vol. 1, pages 90-102 [Slova i rechi Sofroniia, Episcopa Turkestanstskago, t. I, str. 90-102]).

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As with fine porphyry and royal crimson, having been adorned with the blood of Thy martyrs shed throughout the world, Thy Church cries out to Thee: O Christ God, send down Thy bounties upon Thy people, grant peace to thy habitation and great mercy to our souls.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Like the beginning of our existence, the universe offers Thee, O Lord, the God-bearing martyrs as the first fruits of creation: through their prayers establish Thy Church, Thy habitation, in profound peace, and maintain it through the Theotokos, O Thou, Who art Great in mercy.