Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
I thank the Lord and the Most Holy Mother of God that He has willed to embellish this feast day of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos through the angelic voices of the children who sang so beautifully. This reminds me of the days of my youth, before the war, when I was a monk in the holy Patriarchate of Pech, the Serbian Zion as some call it. The choir from Pech used to sing the responses at Holy Liturgy every feast day at the monastery. It was a mixed choir, very well organized, and the choir director was a remarkable person. I have heard many choirs from Belgrade and other places, but that choir from Pech was quite extraordinary. Today, when I said, "Blessed is the Kingdom …,” the children responded with "Amen." This reminded me of those days of my youth and it touched my heart.
When the chanting is as beautiful as this, we are freed from all our cares and our interest for earthly things and we ascend into eternity with the Lord, His angels, and the saints, where our true Fatherland and our Kingdom is. If our Fatherland were of this world, then we would live here in a state of well‑being, peace, and joy. However, this life for us Christians is, so to say, an epitimia. In this life we must prepare ourselves for life in the Heavenly Kingdom and we must attain Divine peace. No one can give us that peace; only God can give peace to created beings and to us if we seek Him and long for Him with all our heart and if we desire to become one with Him. He wants our souls to be united with Him, with His Divine will. He wants our entire being to become one with Him in order that we may feel the joy of living. We, on the other hand, get very involved in this material life and we have no time to think about our soul, about our inner peace. We are always shattering our inner peace.
We have many examples by which we can learn. The Lord gave us first of all the Most Holy Theotokos. It was His will that the Most Holy Theotokos remain with the holy Apostles to comfort and encourage them after His Resurrection and Ascension. One of the God‑bearing Fathers, a native of Athens, St. Dionysios the Areopagite, wished to see the Most Holy Mother of God. When he arrived in Jerusalem, they took him to the home of St. John the Theologian, where the Most Holy Theotokos lived. When he entered her chamber, he was at once free of all cares and worries and was overcome with ineffable joy and peace. This is how he describes his meeting with the Most Holy Theotokos: "Had I not learned in my Youth about the True God, for me the Most Holy Theotokos would have been God."
See what peace, stillness, and joy radiate from the Most Holy Theotokos! God has allowed peace and joy to radiate from every soul that is one with Him. Divine peace and joy emanate from such a person and we feel good in his presence. Do you see what the Kingdom of Heaven means? The Kingdom of God is… righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14: 17).
The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly,. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.
You have seen that in this life anyone, even our closest of kin, can abandon us. We all have our weaknesses and often hurt the people closest to us. They can turn their backs on us because of our rudeness, or they can forgive us but still be hurt. But the Lord and His Most Holy Mother ... Oh, how many times have we insulted God and the Most Holy Theotokos, but when we repent and turn to them in our hearts, they forgive us everything, never remembering our sins and evil deeds!
You have already realized how unbelievably quickly life goes by. One does not notice this as much in one's youth, but when the years bear down upon us, we see that a lot of time has passed and that very little is left of this life. Where do we go when the end of our life comes? We know where we are going while we are still here, but what happens afterwards? Where are we going? Have we prepared for the Heavenly Kingdom, for our true homeland? Only the meek and those with pure hearts will enter it. Have we taken care to cleanse our heart while in this life, the heart that gives us such a hard time in this life? Have we said to ourselves, "Heart, you have caused me enough pain; humble yourself and be a patient, long‑suffering heart!"
The Lord has said that we save our souls by patient long-suffering. We know that many misfortunes and sorrows come upon both the pious and the impious, both the righteous and the sinful. We all receive our share of misfortunes––this is a means of learning to accept everything in peace. On our own we have no strength, but God has strength. It is to Him that we must turn, deep down in our heart, and He will give us the strength to overcome all difficulties, for it is very important to rise above all those little things that take away our inner peace. We rarely pay any attention to this but allow the injustice that we come across everywhere in our lives to shatter our inner peace. Often we are the ones who do injustice to others. It may seem to us at the time that we are doing the right thing, but later it turns out that we were very wrong. We must learn to overcome all these little things with peace, united with the Lord, so that disquiet will not enter us from the outside, and so that we will always have our inner peace.
God is at the center of every persons life. He is in our heart whether we accept Him or not. He never separates Himself from us because He is the Giver of life Who gives life to every created being. We have buried Him with our worries and worldly cares, which destroy the peace within us, and that is why we have no peace or rest. No one on earth can give us unshakable inner peace. Money cannot give us peace, neither can fame, honor, a high-ranking position, nor even our closest friends and family. The only Giver of peace and life is the Lord. He gives peace, stillness, and joy to the angels and the saints, to us and to every created thing. Therefore we must repent and turn to the Lord.
What is repentance? Repentance is a change of one's way of life; it is discarding the old man and all of his evil habits and turning toward God, toward the Truth. Repentance means becoming quiet, peaceful, humble, and meek. Everyone knows that it is very pleasing to be in the company of a person who is meek, peaceful, and kind. A person who has no peace generates restlessness and radiates it all around, so that in the company of such a person we feel unsettled, and we too become restless. This is because we have not united with the Lord through unceasing prayer. We have peace when we are with the Lord and His Most Holy Mother; she is always here to help whenever we call upon her. In her we have unshakable support, which remains the same for all ages and which will not change. We cannot find this support anywhere else on earth, not even among our family members, let alone in things like riches, earthly power, and honor. We can be left without all these things, but the Lord and His Most Holy Mother will never leave us.
And so, my children, as we celebrate the great feast day of the Most Holy Theotokos, let us prepare ourselves for the heavenly life, let us teach our hearts to always long for God as the angels do, and for the Most Holy Theotokos, for she is our Intercessor and prays unceasingly for us weak ones before the throne of her Son. Whenever we turn to her in our hearts, she is always there to help. Countless are those on this earth whom she has comforted, and countless are the souls she has led from the depths of hades to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us, therefore, learn to become accustomed to the Heavenly Kingdom while we are still in this life. The Heavenly Kingdom is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We need to humble our hearts, which take insults so deeply, and also our so‑called dignity, for we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven in pride, as when we take to heart each slander our neighbor casts. We must accept our lessons from everyday life, for each day brings us cares, worries, and insults. We must learn not to take insults to heart, for who knows what awaits us during the course of our earthly lives? God is merciful to us and has concealed our future from us. Otherwise, not one among us would be able to go on, knowing what the future holds for him. We must live through many misfortunes and sorrows in order to learn how to rise above all these problems that disturb our inner peace. We must learn to acquire the Divine peace and joy of the angels and saints, for the Kingdom of Heaven is acquired while we are still in this life.
In this life we are in heaven one moment and in hades the next. You can see this for yourself and learn from it. When our thoughts are quiet and kind, when we forgive every slander and insult, we have Divine peace, joy, and stillness! But when we become angry because of someone's unkind words, we are at once in hades! Everything collapses, and we lose all the joy of living that we had before. Can you see how terrible living in hades is? Here, in this life, we are given the chance to taste both the heavenly life and the life of hades. We should choose that which gives us peace, the Heavenly Kingdom. We all desire this, without any exceptions, whether our lives are good or bad. All people long for peace and goodness, for ineffable love that never changes, and only God is this kind of love. He alone is unchangeable. He is always the same, and He is the basis of all things––preeminently of mankind. He is ever waiting for us to return to His embrace, but all we do is shy away from Him. He wants to give us peace and to comfort us so that we may experience the joy of living, but all we ever see are the cares and worries of this world.
From the beginning of our lives, we have all sinned gravely. The Lord has warned us to be very careful lest we have a life of hardship and sorrow, and endure much pain until we humble ourselves and realize that we have sinned. For the Lord has said, Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Ex. 20:12). That is the law. The Lord showed us how to honor our parents by His own example when, as His suffering on the Cross was nearing an end, He entrusted His Most Holy Mother to His beloved disciple, John. He said to His Mother, Woman, behold thy son! (John 19:26). And to His disciple He said, Behold thy mother! (John 19:27).
(In the Aramaic tongue in which our Lord spoke, the word “woman" implies greater honor than the word "mother." Today it is difficult for us to understand how the Lord could have addressed His mother as "woman." Likewise, when the Lord was in Cana of Galilee, the Most Holy Theotokos turned to Him and said, They have no wine (John 2:3). And He said to Her, Woman, what is that between Me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come (John 2:4). In our language, when we say "woman" this has a somewhat disrespectful meaning, but when we say "mother" it is much more intimate and affectionate. But in the Aramaic tongue, the word "woman" is much more respectful.)
See how the Lord took care of His Mother in His last hour upon the earth! What do we do with our parents? God forbid that we should continue to treat our parents the way we do. Even from our childhood we do not honor our parents, but we want to live long and well. How can we live well if we have disobeyed this God-given law from our childhood? 'The law of this world, which is ever changing, punishes every violation against it. How then do we expect not to be punished for disobeying the Heavenly Law?––the Word of God, which never changes, but stays the same for all ages, for it is Spirit and Life.
We are the offspring of disobedient parents. When disobedience entered our forebears Adam and Eye, our nature suddenly changed. It became corrupt, foul smelling, prone to decay, and mortal. Death entered us. Before the Fall our forebears were immortal. Only God, our Creator, can bring us back to our original state, as He created us. It is for this reason that He Who is love came down to earth and was born of the Virgin as a child. It is for this reason that He lived for thirty‑three years among men. He wanted to teach us the truth and to show us that He is love. We need to look to the Lord, His Mother, the apostles and the saints as examples and renew our life. We must repent and leave behind our former way of life with all our bad habits, and we must strive to learn obedience. If anyone has hurt us––our parents, our brother or sister, a neighbor––then we must forgive them all from the heart, and when we have done so, the Lord will know. Our forgiveness must not be confined to words only. The Lord wants us to forgive from the heart. Our neighbor will then feel our forgiveness and no words will be necessary. The person will know in his heart that we have forgiven him.
How does a person know in his heart that he has been forgiven? People have thoughts. We are like a fine thought‑apparatus. We are connected to each other by our thoughts. When we think of a person, he immediately receives our thoughts. But since we are distracted and our thoughts are scattered, we cannot discern who it is that is sending us thoughts or the kind of thoughts he is sending us. On the other hand, the person who has peaceful thoughts, who is united with the Lord and whom the Lord has freed from distractions, this person knows exactly which thoughts are his own, which ones come from the enemy and which ones are from friends. Feelings and thoughts coming from the minds of our fellow men reach us. This is why I say to you that when we forgive from the heart, our neighbor can feel this and the burden that has been oppressing his soul is no more.
This is the way to learn about the heavenly life and to acquire inner peace. Let us turn to the Most Holy Theotokos in our hearts and ask her to intercede for us, that the Lord might give us strength and that He might number us among His angels and saints who glorify God throughout all eternity. Amen.
Reference: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, pp163 - 170