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Our Talent of Freedom


We are in a privileged position of peace and freedom, and this is dangerous for us. We can sit in the midst of our Orthodox treasures, the treasures that give salvation that no one else has -- and be satisfied with our situation and so be totally fruitless. If we have difficulty in being Orthodox -- then let us rejoice, for that means we must struggle, and there is hope that we won't wither and die spiritually.

Orthodoxy -- Here and Now

Often we have the wrong idea about our situation. We think: "If only I could go somewhere else, change my situation, and the like, my problems would be solved"; but usually this is not right at all. We must start right now, wherever we are. If it is difficult, that is all the better -- it means we have to fight for our Christianity; and if you have to fight and struggle, you become more aware.

But there are also opportunities in our privileged position, and we should use them.

First of all, perhaps many of you don't know that there are many contacts now between people in Russia and people outside. We can become informed of what is going on there. Read Fr. Dimitry Dudko's books, or his little newspaper. There are also Western sources which give fresh information on what is happening to Orthodox Christians in Russia -- Fr. Victor Potapov's "Orthodox Monitor, the Keston News Service, "Aid to the Russian Church," and so forth. Find out about these suffering people and pray for them. Do you know about Nun Valeria, arrested and placed in a psychiatric hospital for selling belts with the Ninetieth Psalm embroidered on them? About Father George Calciu in Romania, now in prison for his Christian sermons? About Alexander Ogorodnikov, imprisoned for holding a Christian discussion group? About Vladimir Osipov, the Russian patriot and samizdat publisher? About Fr. Gleb Yakunin, Fr. Vasily Romanchuk, Sergei Yermolaev, Igor Ogurtsov -- the list is long. We have to start praying for these people who are suffering for their faith.

And we can help them: we have their prison addresses and can send them letters. Even if they don't receive them, the prison officials do, and the treatment of prisoners with "friends abroad" noticeably improves. Through "Orthodox Action" you can send literature in regular envelopes. There are even ways of getting books through. You can write to Fr. Dimitry Dudko -- some letters get through, and and he even replies. Everyone can do something, and every bit helps. In the West we've grown too passive -- now is the time when we can express our care and concern.

When Fool's Paradise is Lost

Perhaps even more, we can learn from the suffering people of Russia and other Communist
countries. I don't want to frighten you, but we'd better face the fact that what they're suffering now, or something similar, is probably coming here, and soon. We're living in the last times, Antichrist is close, and what happens in Russia and other countries like it is the normal experience for our times. Here in the West we're living in a fool's paradise which can and probably will soon be lost. Let's start to prepare -- not by storing food or such outward things that some are already doing in America, but with the inward preparation of Orthodox Christians.

Have you ever asked yourself, for example, the question how you will survive if you are placed in prison or concentration camp, and especially in the punishment cells of solitary confinement? How are you going to survive? You will go crazy in a very short time if your mind has nothing to occupy itself with. What will you have in your mind? If you are filled with worldly impressions and have nothing spiritual in your mind; if you are just living from day to day without thinking seriously about Christianity and the Church, without becoming aware of what Orthodoxy is, and you are placed in a situation like solitary confinement where there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no movies to see, just staying in one spot facing four walls -- you will scarcely survive.

The Romanian Protestant pastor, Richard Wurmbrand, has a tape devoted to this subject which is very interesting. In a crisis situation like that, when all our books and outward props are taken away, we can depend on nothing except what we've acquired within ourselves. He says that all the Bible verses he knew didn't help him much; abstract knowledge of dogmas didn't help much -- what is important is what you have in your soul. You must have Christ in your soul. If He is there, then we Orthodox Christians have a whole program which we could use in prison. We can remember the Orthodox Calendar -- which saints and feasts are commemorated when. We don't have to know the whole Calendar, but from our daily life in the Church we will remember the milestones of the Church year; whatever we have stored up in our hearts and minds will come back to us. Whatever prayers and hymns we know by heart will help us, we will have to sing them every day. You will have to have people to pray for.

The world-wide dispersion of our Russian Church Abroad is ideal for this. You can go over the whole globe in your mind, one country or continent at a time, and pray for those you know, even if you can't think of their names -- bishops and abbesses, parishes and priests both Russian and missionary, the monasteries in the Holy Land, prisoners in Russia and Romania and other lands under the atheist yoke, the missions in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa where it is very difficult, the monks of Mt. Athos, the suffering Old Calendarists of Greece. The more of these you are aware of and praying for now, the better it will be for you when you have to suffer yourself, the more you will have to take with you into prison.

As Andreyev says, it is "one for all and all for one" -- we are involved in practicing our
Christianity in a world that has become atheist, whether or not open persecution is going on.

Resolve

Every Christian has a talent from God, and He will ask what we have done with what He gave us. In Soviet Russia and other Communist countries, there is the talent of suffering for Christ and being faithful in the midst of trials. In the free world, the talent given most of us is the talent of freedom: we have been given the freedom to practice our faith and the opportunity through our abundance of Orthodox texts to become fully aware of it and deepen it within ourselves. But this Orthodoxy must be the true Christianity that St. Tikhon describes -- the Orthodoxy not of the mind but of the heart. This kind of Orthodoxy cannot be acquired overnight; it requires suffering, experience, testing. But first of all it requires resolve. If each one of us puts this resolve in his heart, if we take our Christian Faith seriously and resolve to be faithful to it, there can be a literal resurrection of true Christianity in our midst, something that Fr. Dimitry Dudko and others mention as beginning to happen in Russia.

Let me end with the words of St. Herman, whose feast we are celebrating -- he also was one of those concerned ones who made full use of the opportunities given them. In the famous incident when he asked the officers of a ship what they loved most of all, and then put them to shame by telling them that only God is worth loving so much, he ended his instruction with these words, which you will find on some icons of St. Herman: "From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all." A very simple thing -- which is exactly what we all must do. May God give us the strength for it, by the prayers of His great Saint, Herman of Alaska. Amen.

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