Friday, June 11, 2021

The Life and Trials of Saint Luke of Crimea

 
By Archimandrite Ephraim, Abbot of Vatopaidi Monastery

(Beroea, 6 June, 2016)

Most people, even Christians, are frustrated, discouraged and wearied by the sorrows of life, which are unavoidable: ‘We must suffer many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God’.[1] We shouldn’t see the sorrows of this life through the prism of transitory reasoning, but through that of eternity. This is when life acquires meaning and the meaning of sorrow in our lives is revealed to us: in the end they form the way of the Cross which we must follow in order to reach salvation and sanctification.

Saint Luke, Archbishop of Crimea and a doctor, is one of the saints who really did experience the way of the Cross and, with this experience and the gift of divine Grace which he had in abundance, he talked, taught, and was an example to all the faithful, with the sorrows and persecutions he endured without complaint.

He lived in the then Soviet Union, during the worst period of modern European history, in a state that was hostile to all religion and also to freedom. He lived and struggled as a doctor, an ordinary citizen, priest and hierarch, through two world wars, and decades of movements and revolutions. With the conscience of a Christian, he faced dozens of the highest party officials of the State and the pressures they put on him. He was persecuted, slandered, imprisoned and exiled.

The torments, the prisons in Siberia and the numbing cold should have killed him a dozen times over. Divine Providence worked in his life in a wondrous manner. The mere fact of his survival in such extreme conditions, for months on end, is a wonder and surprise for anyone reading his Life. The powers that be, with their various machinations, should, in turn, have executed him, and you would have expected that World War II and Stalin would have exterminated anything that was left of him. In the end, Saint Luke survived and achieved great things. All his adult life he experienced God’s intervention and action. And we’re talking about more than fifty years! God endowed him with great abilities as a doctor, but also the gifts of healing, teaching and prophecy. He gave hope and spiritual strength to a suffering people which had been deprived of its freedom, its history and its religion.

As a doctor, he saved mortal bodies, but as a priest and bishop he saved the immortal soul, as well as the body. He became an intermediary between people and God, the person who revealed and interpreted God’s will for others to understand; he helped even those who had forgotten God or were even hostile towards Him.

He displayed incredible patience, the endurance of a martyr in all the many, excessive sorrows which came into his life. We think that this patience of his had as its reference point his monastic conscience. At their tonsure, monastics promise ‘patience unto death’. On the Holy Mountain we don’t wish a newly-tonsured monk only ‘Have patience’, but ‘Have patiences’. By using the plural, we want to show, on the one hand, the multitude and magnitude of the sorrows that will come into the life of the monk and, on the other hand, the power of patience in Christ, which overcomes every sorrow.

Saint Luke himself testified that monasticism was very important for him. In a letter to his eldest son, Mihaïl, he wrote, ‘Remember, Mihaïl, that my monastic life and the oath I gave, my office, my decision to serve the Lord, are for me the most sacred and paramount duty. Sincerely and with my whole heart I have renounced the things of the world.[2]

Saint Luke bore bravely not only the death of his wife, his illnesses and his blindness but all the mocking, reproaches, false charges and slander, the absurd and never-ending interrogations, the persecutions, the exiles, the unjust imprisonments and the horrible tortures to which he was subjected by the people of the totalitarian state of his time. And all for the love of Christ, in the name of Christ. He kept his confession to the end, though it could have cost him his life. When they forced him to take down the icon of the Mother of God from the operating room, he stopped operating. He resumed only when her icon was back on the wall.[3] His internal spiritual state was also like this, which enabled him to bear all these excessive trials. He persisted because he was strengthened by divine Grace. He could say with Saint Paul: ‘Not me, but the Grace of God which is with me’.[4]

Saint Luke was also subjected to the sorrow and the bitterness of betrayal by his own friends and colleagues who gave false testimony against him, including the fact he was supposedly an ‘agent of foreign powers hostile to the Soviet state’.[5] His friends turned into his accusers. ‘But Bishop Luke proved stronger and more unshakeable. He never testified against anyone, despite the horrible tortures and terrible psychological pressure. And not only that. He even justified what these people did, stressing that none of his accusers believed what they said’. This came from his loving heart, because he observed Christ’s commandment to love even our enemies.

With this experience, through the sorrows and persecutions he suffered, he formed his own particular teaching on the meaning of trials in people’s life. We can hear him talking to us through his sermons and his letters.

Saint Luke says: ‘It’s only by following sorrows, the way of sorrows, that we can save our souls. And our own age is a time of sorrows, great trials. So it’s a welcome time and all we need to do to save our souls is to endure the sorrows. That’s the path of true Christians’.[6] He reminds us of Saint Anthony the Great who said ‘If you take away temptations, no one will be saved’.[7] In this passage from Saint Anthony, the meaning of temptations is exactly the same as sorrows or trials.

Saint Luke emphasizes that ‘It is very important for every Christian to realize that our sorrows are all sent in accordance with God’s will, which is always good and redemptive. In fact, most often they are sent not as punishments for our sins but to set aright our path and our hearts or as the answer to a request we have made of God. People often expect God to give them what they have asked for in their prayers in the way that they themselves think is best. But God often answers their supplications in a way that is entirely different from what they would have wanted or imagined. They might ask, for example, for God to grant them humility, imagining that slowly, day by day, it will grow in their heart through the beneficent influence of God. But the Lord often does things differently: He will send them an unexpected, harsh blow that wounds their pride and egotism and humbles them. The Lord will often send us an illness and we complain and don’t think that most often this is a great blessing from God. It may be God’s answer to prayers in which we have asked Him to strengthen our faith.

We have to accept all the trials and sorrows that God sends us with great humility and without the slightest complaint, in the humble conviction that, through them, God is guiding us, rather than that His wrath has come upon us. There is no wrath in God. “God is love”.[8] And perfect love is a stranger to any form of injustice’.[9]

Saint Luke associated sorrows with the personal Cross which we have to bear in our life and which distinguishes the way of Christ from other ways of living. He says, typically, in one of his sermons: ‘Our life, the life of each person, is sorrow and pain. All these sorrows in our social and family life are our Cross. A failed marriage, an unfortunate choice of profession, don’t they bring us pain and sorrow? Shouldn’t people who have suffered these calamities have to bear them bravely? Serious illnesses, contempt, dishonor, loss of personal wealth, jealousy between spouses, slander and, in general, all the wickedness that people do to us, are they not all our Cross? That is exactly what our Cross is, the Cross of the vast majority of people. These are the sorrows that afflict people and we have to bear them, even though most people do not want to. But even people who hate Christ and refuse to follow His way, they, too, have to bear their own Cross of pain. What is the difference between them and Christians? The difference is that Christians bear the Cross with patience and do not complain against God. Humbly, with eyes cast down, they bear it to the end of their lives, following the Lord Jesus Christ. They do it for Christ and His gospel, they do it for fervent love of Him, but the whole of their thought is caught up in the Gospel teaching.

In order to put the Gospel teaching into practice, to follow the path of Christ, people have to bear their Cross humbly and tirelessly. They must not curse it but must bless it. Only then are they observing Christ’s commandment, because they will have renounced their self, will have taken up the Cross and followed Christ. They will have followed Him on a long road about which the Lord said that the way to the Kingdom of Heaven is full of sorrows and that the gate where it begins is narrow. We would like our path through life to be broad, without pot-holes, stones, thorns or mud. We would like it to be strewn with flowers. But the Lord shows us another way, the path of pain. What we need to know is that, on this path, however difficult it might be, if we turn to Christ with all our heart, then, in a miraculous and inexplicable way, He will help us. When we fall, He supports us. He strengthens and comforts us. Then we understand the words of Saint Paul, when he says: “For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.[10] Then the sorrows of this transient life will be very light for us’.[11]

He saw in sorrows the Cross that leads to the Resurrection. He would say: ‘We have to sacrifice our passions, desires and wishes to God and to other people. And as the Lord ascended the terrible Cross on Golgotha, so, when we bear our Cross, we must remember that we are following the path of service to God and other people and that this is the only way which will bring us, through Golgotha, to the Resurrection.[12]

Saint Luke loved Christ with all his being, as he did the other people he served with total self-denial. He loved the Church of Christ. He understood the role and purpose of the Church very well. He used to say: ‘The heavenly blessing springs from the Church and through the Church, and its success is obvious in all human works and skills’.[13]

But the administration of the Church at the time he lived and under the adverse conditions of the persecution was a great trial for him. In the summer of 1956, he wrote to his son: ‘It is becoming increasingly difficult to run Church affairs. Churches are closing one after another. There aren’t any priests and numbers are going down… In some places the reaction has become a revolt against my episcopal authority’.[14] In 1960, writing to his son again, he said: ‘It is a great trial for me to run Church affairs. The representative of the state, the enemy of the Church of Christ, is increasingly misappropriating my episcopal rights and intervening in Church matters. … The battle against an exceptionally bad priest lasted more than two months. The rebellion against episcopal authority in Dzhankoy has been going on for two years now and is being encouraged by people from the KGB. They’ve got lots of reasons to shorten my life.[15]

Joy and peace of the soul are to be found with the extinction of the ‘body of sin’[16] and embarkation on the path of Christ. The Christian life isn’t one of comfort. It is a joust against the sorrows and hardships of the world, which give the Cross its comprehensive meaning. Unless we get rid of the body of sin, which binds people to the sinful world, the fruit of the Spirit can never ripen. When people accept pain and sorrows with faith and patience, they find that Christ is walking along with them. Then they see the true light; they undergo the ‘change for the better’ and taste that joy and peace which cannot be taken away from them. It is the joy and peace which Christ brought into the world as a human person: before the Cross, on the Cross and after the Cross and His Resurrection. It is the joy and peace of His impregnable Kingdom.

Despite the mockery to which He was subjected on Golgotha, Christ was, in fact, peaceful, because He was ‘ascending to His Father and our Father’. Despite the pain and dishonor He suffered on the Cross, Christ, the radiance of the glory of the Father, was peaceful, because He was reconciling the human race with God and becoming the sole Savior of the world.

We see the same in the case of Saint Luke of Crimea. He bore his sorrows, his own Cross and reached the Resurrection. He became the perfect disciple of Christ, the reconciler, the intermediary between people and God. The perfect disciples of Christ are people who patiently bear sorrows and temptations, which, of course, arise through no fault of their own but for the sake of the love of Christ. Christ Himself confesses: ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones….[17] In other words, it is clear how Christ will reward those who, for His sake, have patiently borne sorrows, persecutions and temptations. And, of course, He emphasizes this in the last Beatitude: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’.[18] This Beatitude, we believe, was fully confirmed in Saint Luke of Crimea.

Saint Luke became the perfect disciple of Christ, his heart was enlarged through sorrows, as the Psalm says,[19] so that there was room for the whole of Christ and all people, those in pain and sorrow. He became a wonderworking saint all over the length and breadth of the world, wherever his name is invoked. Not only in Russia and Crimea, but here in Greece, too, and especially here in Beroea with the presence of his grace-giving relics, as well as his beautiful new church, built at the initiative of His Eminence Panteleimon, Metropolitan of Beroea, Naousa and Kampania. Saint Luke’s presence is tangible and the miracles he has worked are infinite (as our beloved Archimandrite Chrysostomos Papadakis, of the Ecumenical Throne, mentioned in his address). Let us call upon him in faith and love to give us strength with the Cross we are bearing and in the unexpected sorrows and persecutions of our lives. Amen

Notes:

[1] Acts 14, 22.
[2] Saint Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and the Crimea, Spiritual Testament.
[3] Archimandrite Nektarios Antonopoulos (now Metropolitan of Argolis), Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Λουκᾶς, Akritas, Athens 1999, pp.94-5.
[4] I Cor. 15, 10.
[5] Antonopoulos, op. cit. 249.
[6] Saint Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and the Crimea, Talks and Speeches.
[7] Sayings of the Elders Concerning Abba Anthony, PG 65, 77AB.
[8] I Jn. 4, 8.
[9] Saint Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and the Crimea, Talks and Speeches.
[11] Saint Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and the Crimea, Talks and Speeches.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Antonopoulos, op. cit.
[14] Ibid. p. 360.
[15] Ibid.
[16] See Rom. 6, 6.
[17] Lk. 22, 28-30.
[18] Matth. 5, 11.
[19] Ps. 4, 2.
 
 
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