Sunday, October 22/November 4, 2018
Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos
Commemorating Russia’s Deliverance from the Poles in 1612
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. St. Apostle Paul writes in this morning’s epistle to the Ephesians, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9) Beloved in the Lord, our salvation from sin, our deliverance from adversity, our emancipation from a life of sin and idolatry are all gifts from God, says the Apostle, not of ourselves lest we should boast.
The rich man in the Gospel parable this morning had plenty to boast about, and it was because of that boasting and lack of gratitude for what he received, that he spent an eternity apart from God. Whereas Lazarus whose name Saint Jerome tells us means “one who has been helped” was despised in this life but received comfort in the next; he asked for so little and was grateful for attention even from the animals and as a result, he was exalted above his less grateful neighbor.
On this day, we also remember a time when the whole country of Russia was laid low like Lazarus: begging for bread from her invaders the Poles and the Swedes, suffering from the loss of 2/3 of her people through famine and starvation, and hoping that the identity that 5 centuries of Orthodox Christian faith and struggle had created could be preserved for another 500 years. The Kazan icon of Our Most Holy Theotokos appeared to a girl in a vision during “The Time of Troubles” when Russia was invaded and overrun with foreign powers— Poland had taken the capital of Moscow and Sweden had taken the ancient city of Novgorod. A merchant named Minin and a prince named Pozharsky led the revolt to retake Moscow. Under the direction of Patriarch Germogen, the people fasted and prayed for 3 days and then went into battle with the icon. Their efforts reestablished the nation and began the Romanov dynasty of tsars that would last until the communist revolution in the beginning of the 20th century.
Surely the Russian people of the 17th century must have felt as hopeless toward the invading Polish army as Holland felt towards the blitzkrieg of Nazi Germany. Corrie Ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place describes the tense but united feeling of her countrymen on the morning after Holland’s total surrender to Germany:
Five days Holland held out against the invader. We kept the shop open not because anyone was interested in watches. It was because people wanted to see father… and to hear in his ticking clocks a world of order and reason…. A few nights later the radio carried the news we dreaded: the Queen had left. I had not cried the night of the invasion, but I cried now, for the country was lost. In the morning, the radio announced tanks advancing over the border.
And suddenly all of Harlem was in the street. Even father, whose daily stroll was as predictable as his own clock chimes broke his routine to go walking at the unheard of hour of 10:00 AM. It was as though we wanted to face what was coming together, the whole city united, as though each would draw strength from each other Hollander.
And so the three of us walked, jostled by the crowd over the bridge on the Spaarne, all the way to the great wild cherry tree whose blossoms each spring form such a white glory that it was called the bride of Harlem. A few faded petals now clung to the new-leafed branches, but most of the bride’s flowers had fallen, forming a wilted carpet beneath us.
A window down the street flew open.
The procession in the street stopped short. Each told his neighbor what we had all heard for ourselves. A boy of maybe 15 turned to us with tears rolling down his cheeks. “I would have fought! I wouldn’t ever have given up!” Father stooped down to pick up a small bruised petal from the brick pavement. Tenderly he inserted it into his buttonhole. “That is good my son,” he told the youngster. “For Holland’s battle has just begun.”
What is the common thread beneath the stories of deliverance from invasion, oppression, and hostile takeover? Those who receive deliverance by noticing and appreciating the smallest of things. For Lazarus, It was the dogs licking his sores. for the Russians color it was the carrying of an icon rediscovered by little girl. And for the Ten Booms’, it was the hope embodied in a fallen cherry blossom. All of these are little signs of God’s abundant mercy and grace for us his children.
By grace we have been saved. from the jaws of so many terror’s known and unknown. Let us learn to be grateful for this great gift. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.