A sermon of Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov and Porkhov
The Divine Liturgy is for us a great and incomparable experience, which begins with the words of the deacon to the priest: “It is the time to do the Lord’s work”. Earlier, some supposed that this means that the time has come to do service to God. But in fact in the Greek originals, in the thoughts of the holy fathers it is what somewhat different. The deacon says, “Now the time has come for the Lord to labor and create. We cannot serve the Liturgy; this is beyond our strength. Now the Lord will act. It is time for God to work.” While we, obedient to His will, obedient to the Holy Church, perform the rite of Divine Liturgy. And the Lord Himself comes and offers Himself as a sacrifice, He gives us His Body and Blood, He gives us unification with His Divinity, He grants us eternal royal life, life like unto divine life! In the Liturgy we partake of divine life. We don’t simply save our sinful souls, but endlessly exalt it higher and higher in the Heavenly Kingdom; we become God’s heirs. In this is the mystery of salvation, the mystery of Divine Liturgy.
No matter what we say about how unworthy we are—we speak correctly! No matter how often we repeat that we are unworthy, the Lord leads us precisely this way and precisely to this: to create true sons and daughters of us according to grace. I have one acquaintance who has six children, and he has adopted fourteen. He does not make any distinction between them, because he is a Christian. He is a wealthy man and has granted each of them an equal inheritance regardless of whether they were born of his wife’s womb and his seed, for out of his love he has taken them and made them his daughters and sons.
Before the Lord begins to act in the Liturgy, we must do it all. This is the general law of the world. It is the general law of the Church and a spiritual law. First, we must do all that maximally depends upon us, and then the Lord comes into action. Without Him we can do nothing! In Holy Scripture the Lord teaches us this very thing many times: Do not be tempted by thoughts of fatalism, even in our failures, saying, “Ah, the Lord will straighten it all out!” But if we do everything we can, then the Lord will come and help us. The Lord returned from the mountain and saw His disciples and the unfortunate father with his demoniac son. The father said that they can’t cast out the demon, they couldn’t do anything. But they tried and labored. The Lord reproached them for their unbelief and impurity. But only then, when the disciples had already labored, when they had done everything humanly possible, He manifested His divine aid.
In the Gospel we understand how the Lord together with His disciples was in the midst of the Sea of Galilee; a storm arose, and the boat began to sink. He saved them, calming the storm. But what happened before that? The Lord slept, but kept vigil because God never sleeps! God always provides for and is vigilant over every person. He saw how the disciples (some of them were skillful sailors, fishermen, who had been caught in storms many times before) had done everything they could to save the ship, to save themselves and their Teacher in that storm. But only after doing everything they could and accepting their total failure and impossibility to be saved, they woke up the Savior and said: “Teacher! We’re perishing!” And then He arose and calmed the seas.
It is only a little, but a person must do it! This is what the Lord is waiting for. The Lord fed the multitudes with a small amount of bread and fish. But first He asked, “How much do you have?” And they said, “Not much: five loaves and two fishes.” But they had saved up at least that much, they had taken at least that much thought; they had done at least something according to their own human reason and effort. And the Lord multiplied the apostles’ little labors so that everyone gathered there—over five thousand men, besides women and children—were filled.
The same thing is before us. The Lord expects us to labor to our limits, to do everything we can. And only then will He come and help. Only then! Lazybones, people who care only to let lazy and unlawful fatalistic ideas into their souls such as, “Ah, the Lord will straighten it all out; we won’t do anything—the Lord Himself will do it all”: It’s never worked that way! Our ancestors labored! Jacob wrestled with God! Abraham walked a long way to the Promised Land! Moses, regardless of all the trials and temptations, led God’s chosen people to the Promised Land. They all labored—all the apostles and all the saints! But having done all that depended upon their own human powers, then received the power of faith within their hearts and souls, and said, “Now the time has come for You to act, O Lord! We have done everything we can.” In the rite of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great it says basically, “We have fulfilled all according to our strength and possibilities. But do Thou O Lord all the rest.”
That is why it was bitter to see the perplexity of some of us when this temptation, which will go on for another year and a half (we have to get ready for this), in this plague say, “Ah-ah, the Lord will take care of it; we won’t do anything, only pray.” But what about work? What about doing everything that the spirit of discernment requires, about which Fr. John (Krestiankin) spoke of so highly? Isn’t it just lazy and deceitful to shrug it all off, as if onto the Lord? The Lord does not play games, especially not games like this! At the beginning of Holy Scripture, He said, “Ye shall earn your bread in the sweat of your brow.” You have to work! Do everything you can, and I will help you with the rest.”
I congratulate you all, that we have once again been vouchsafed in our lives to be at the Divine Liturgy, at which the Lord Himself acted, as always! We, however, have only fulfilled all that was assigned to us. May the Lord preserve you!