Voices From St Vladimir’s Seminary:
Very Rev. Fr. John Behr: Welcome, everybody, this evening. We have the wonderful opportunity this evening to hear from Archimandrite [Zacharias] who was a disciple of Elder Sophrony, Archimandrite Sophrony of blessed memory, who himself was a disciple of St. Silouan of Mount Athos. Fr. Zacharias is a monk in the monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, the monastery founded by Elder Sophrony. It’s a stavropegial monastery under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Fr. Zacharias was born and raised in Cyprus in an Orthodox Christian family. His mother became a nun towards the end of [her] life. He came from Cyprus to England to study chemistry back in 1964, and became acquainted with the monastery in Essex. After he completed his studies in London, he moved into the monastery to become a monk. He abandoned his studies in chemistry, preferring to answer God’s calling and to following the monastic way of life in the Orthodox Church.
[He] didn’t fully become a monk at that point. Elder Sophrony sent Fr. Zacharias to study at the Theological Institute of Saint-Serge in Paris, where he spent five years before moving on to Thessalonica for a further 14 months. Elder Sophrony made a point of sending all his young monks to study at seminary in order to prepare them in their theological understanding, the depth of their knowledge, and specifically to be able to answer questions and talk with everybody who might come to visit. In Thessalonica he obtained a second degree in theology. Then in 1972 he finally became a monk at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist.
He wrote his doctoral dissertation under Professor George Mantzaridis, who really is one of the leading Orthodox theologians in [the] 20th century in the realm of Christian ethics. And the work that he published was called Christ, Our Way and Our Life, published by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press. He’s also the author of a trilogy of books which we have outside on the bookstore here: The Enlargement of the Heart, The Hidden Man of the Heart, and Remember Thy First Love, all reflections, theological reflections, derived from his interaction with Elder Sophrony.
It was in 1984, on the feast of the Three Hierarchs, our patronal feast, Fr. Zacharias was ordained to the diaconate. I mention that specifically because it was just a month or two later that I came to stay at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, which was actually the biggest change in my life. I dropped out of school and came to stay at the monastery there. My debt to the monastery, to the monks, to Fr. Zacharias, is simply incalculable.
Fr. Zacharias has lectured in various places around the world on the theology of St. Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony: the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology, at the University of Balamand, in Tripoli, Lebanon, as well as in Cambridge in England, Finland, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, in Russia at St. Tikhon’s University there. He’s lectured extensively at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania. He’s given numerous retreats to clergy, especially Bishop Basil of Wichita, to his clergy retreats in 2001, 2007, and again just now. So he’s familiar with the clergy there. He’s also been invited by the Athonite monastery of Vatopedi to be the keynote speaker at the first international conference held in Athens in October 2007, devoted exclusively to the life and work of Elder Sophrony of Essex.
His primary work is being a monk at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist. He functions as one of the spiritual fathers, humbly ministering the word of God to his brethren and his visitors. Fr. Zacharias really is one of the most profound witnesses to the tradition of the holy Orthodox faith alive today. We are fortunate to be able to hear his words, and I’m sure when we hear his words you will hear the depth, the clarity, the profundity, concerning his lived experience of the holy Orthodox faith in a contemporary voice.
So, Fr. Zacharias, it’s my joy to welcome you here this evening and to address everybody who’s here. Thank you. [Applause]
Archimandrite Zacharias: After such an introduction, I won’t be able to speak. I’m a very simple person. I know very little of anything. All I know is a little bit of domestic theology, the theology of Fr. Sophrony, my father in God. I prepared a paper to read to you—“Theology is a Spiritual State in Archimandrite Sophrony”—but it’s a long paper and I don’t think in the evening will be appropriate, because we are all tired in the evening. So I will say a few simple things, and then you can ask questions and maybe we can say something more.
I really am very happy and honored to be here in this sacred institution which serves the Church in such a special way. I feel that I share the same destiny with you here, because I also live in the West, and our destiny is to give a word to everybody who asks us so that they know that we are not just by chance Orthodox, that we are members of the great body of Christ, the great Orthodox Church. We are all sharing this identity which is above any other identity, whether we are Greek or Russian, American or English. It’s absolutely very secondary. Our first and primary identity is that we are members of this wondrous body of Christ.
The Lord knew that no one can contain the fullness of his gifts, the fullness of his grace, so he perfected a body in history. No individual could contain all the wealth of his Spirit, so he perfected a body in history so that all the members of this body can contain all the wealth of his Spirit. That is the greatest… That is the incredible goodness of God, and the result, the fruit of his Incarnation. He came to perfect a body in history to which he imparted all his life. Like all divinity dwelt in him bodily, the same divinity dwells in the Church, in the energetic form, of course.
So we are members of the body of Christ. We read in the gospels that the Lord has ancestors in the flesh: all the righteous of old. And these ancestors of the Lord believed in his word, expected his coming, and received even circumcision in the flesh to seal their belonging to him, that they are members of this chosen people of God. And the Lord came, and, as I said, he perfected a body, and from then on he has descendants, not ancestors: descendants. We are his descendants. And in the same way as the ancestors of the Lord received circumcision as a seal of their belonging to the people of God, so the New Israel, through baptism, receives the circumcision of the heart, the circumcision that is not made by the hand of man but by the Spirit of God.
In the same way, it’s the seal that all these people of the New Israel, the members of the body of the Church, they belong to the Lord. They believed and they loved his appearing in the flesh, and they expect his coming again in the last day. Of course, this belonging to the Lord and bearing the circumcision, the spiritual circumcision of the heart is accompanied with the consolation of the Lord. You know, the God of the Christians, as we read in the Scriptures, is the Father of mercy and God of every consolation, and the only way to relate with this God is to approach him with a contrite spirit, a humble heart.
I remember an elder saying, “You want to know God? It is very easy. Just approach him with a painful heart, and it’s easy to relate with him, with a contrite and humble heart.” And it’s easy to relate to him and with him and receive his incorruptible consolation. And this incorruptible consolation overshadows the life of the members of this body. When this consolation abounds in the life, it brings the end of the world to them and to us the ends of the world have come, says St. Paul. That is to say, the members of this body, they live in an eschatological way. Like the Lord suffered for their sake outside of the camp of this world, they also come out of the camp of this world, renouncing all the vanity, the futility of this world, the values of this world, the illusions of this world, and the greatest illusion of this world is to want to make compatible the love of God with the love of the world. The love the world is enmity to God, says the Scripture.
So the true members of the body of Christ, they live continually in the presence of God, overshadowed with the incorruptible consolation of his Spirit, and they hasten to his second coming. They do not just simply wait for the second coming, but they hasten to the second coming, because of the great consolation that abounds in their life.
I say these things because, for us who are priests and have received in the Church the ministry of reconciliation of people with God, it’s very important. We are not just the celebrants of sacraments; we are not magicians. Forgive me for this exaggerated word. We are not just celebrants of sacraments. Of course, the sacraments are holy, and the Lord is present in them, but above all we are comforters of souls. God has given us such a grace, and he wants from us to be comforters of souls. But how can we be comforters of souls? Simply by entering the presence of the living God. Every time we approach this living God with a contrite heart and a humble spirit, we enter his presence, and coming out of this presence of the living God we find ready words in our hearts which we are ready to transmit to our fellows, words that will impart grace to them, words which will inform their hearts with grace and gain them for the Lord, and be co-workers with God for their regeneration.
This is par excellence the work of the priests, continually, whether they celebrate the sacraments of the Church, whether they prepare for the Liturgy, whether they offer the Liturgy, whether they preach. Whatever they do, they must have a living word for their fellows, to transmit a living word. Even when we are churching a child, we must say a few sentences, a few words to the parents, to make them understand that they are stewards of this child and co-workers with God for a great edifice, for a wondrous work in God. So whatever we do, whether we marry people, whether we bury people—forgive me—whether we church children, we must always be ready to give a word, a word which will impart strength, grace to the people.
So we see from this that our identity—to be members of this great body—is far greater than any other human identity we may have, because in this body, as I said, we can enter the communion of grace, the communion of gifts of all the saints. When we prepare for the Liturgy, for example, not only the priests but all the faithful, we work in our secret room in our home. We work a little gift in preparing for the Liturgy. That is to say, we try to repent, to warm up our heart with the expectation of his gift, and we come to the Liturgy with this little gift. Each one of us to be members of the body of Christ has to have a small gift, and that small gift will be a key to open the door to the gifts of all the other members of the body.
We come to the Liturgy with a little gift that we have worked in the secret. In the secret—we mustn’t be seen by men. That is a rule of life: not to be seen by men, says the Lord, and that was the rule the mother of God had. That’s why the Most High beheld her humility and did great things to her. So in secret we must work. We must work out a little gift, fill our heart with humble dispositions, with dispositions of repentance, of humility, and even of love for God. And with a heart full of such dispositions we come to the assembly of this body, to the other members, and this gift we bring into the assembly. If we don’t bring any gift, we do wrong to ourselves and also we are not just to our fellows. We must all contribute something in this assembly. We must bring our little gift to this assembly, and this will open up for us the way to share in the gifts of all the other members who are gathered there together in the name of Christ, and that’s how we become rich in this communion of gifts, in this communion of grace, because when we assemble to form the body of Christ, the Lord himself is present, and wherever the Lord is, there are all the orders of saints and all angels. Wherever the Lord is, there are all the armies of heaven present, and that is the kingdom of God in the Liturgy, come in power in the Liturgy.
So when we go to the Liturgy, prepared with a little gift, and we invest this gift in the gifts the priest offers to God on our behalf, we put in those gifts all our prayers, all our repentance, all our humility, all our love, all our expectation we have of him, all our life, and we offer it to God through the words of the priest who does it on our behalf, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in all and for all.” Then God, who is faithful to us in his promises and his covenant he made with us in baptism, he does the same. He puts his life in the holy Gifts, the grace of the Holy Spirit, in making them his body and his blood, containing all the grace of the Holy Spirit.
And at the end, the Lord speaks to us, and he says: “The holy things unto the holy.” We offer him these gifts full of our life, saying, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in all and for all,” and the Lord, he accepts our humble and small sacrifice, small life, and he returns to us his infinite and boundless life. “The holy things unto the holy.” And we have the possibility in this gathering, in this assembly of the body of Christ, to make an exchange of our little and small life with the boundless and great life of God. In every Liturgy, we make an exchange of our life with the life of God. That’s why after we have communicated in the holy Gifts, after we have received holy Communion, the Church sings a triumphal song for this exchange that has been accomplished: “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith, worshiping the true and undivided Trinity,” and so on.
There is our life: in this body. And we mustn’t forget that St. Paul says to the Ephesians that we can only comprehend the depth and the height, the length and the breadth of the love of God with all the saints. That’s why our Fathers, and especially St. Cyprian of Carthage, taught that outside this body there is no salvation: extra Ecclesia, nulla salvus; outside the Church, there is no salvation, because only in the Church we find this communion of grace, this communion of the gifts of all the saints, the strong ones in heaven and the chosen people of God on earth in every place of his dominion. And in this communion of grace, in this communion of the gifts of the saints, we become rich, and we find salvation.
It was a mystery which was known even in the Old Testament, when the children of the Jews ascended to the temple of Solomon, coming down after having entered the wondrous presence of God in this temple, because the glory of God filled the house of God, as we read in the Scripture, in the old Scripture. When they entered this glorious presence of God, they came out as those that dreamt, says the psalm. They were so happy to enter the living presence of the God in those times, and in those times, the children of the Jews saw the Son, not directly, but reflected in the water, in a pool of water. It was the only way for them to see the Sun of righteousness, Christ.
For us, there is something greater. For us, there is the possibility to become partakers of his body and blood, to become partakers of his nature, in the energetical form, by grace. So as the Jews of old, when they entered the presence of God in the temple, they came out as those that dreamt, so also are the children of God of the New Israel, of the Church of Christ, when they enter the presence of God in the Liturgy, bringing gifts to God in the manner we try to describe. Then they come out renewed. It’s such a wonderful honor, privilege, that we have, to make this exchange of lives. Of course, if we make this exchange of lives, then we would be true witnesses of his death and resurrection, and then our words might convince some people to accept the truth of Christ’s revelation. If we do not manage first to convince God about our belonging to him, in vain will be our effort to convince anybody in this world.
So we said a few words that I wanted to say. And many of the tragedies of the history of the Church are due to the fact that we are not conscious, we are not aware of this great identity we all have in the Church, that we are, above all, members of the body of Christ, and anything else is a shadow. Anything else is very secondary.
Forgive me. I just wanted to say a few words, and if you want to ask me for anything, maybe I will try and say something more. [Applause]
Very Rev. Fr. Chad Hatfield: Fr. Zacharias, this is the time of the year when all of us as Orthodox Christians are seeking everywhere to find little spiritual treasures that we can put in our backpacks, so to speak, because know we’re preparing for a long journey through the desert as we make our way to holy Pascha, and we thank you because you’ve given us lots of spiritual nuggets tonight, and I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say I’ve packed those away, and I’ll refer to them many times as we now prepare ourselves for that great Lenten journey. So again, our thanks.
We’ll take some questions, but this is how it’s going to work. We’re being recorded for rebroadcast on Ancient Faith Radio, so if you’ll go to the microphone which is on my right, your left, and you might queue up now if you’ve got questions; that saves us time. When you go to the microphone, please state your name, and then in as most concise way possible, ask your question. If you start to give a speech or rebuttal, I may come over and turn the microphone off, you see, because there are lots of questions; we want to make sure we get them all in. So please start to queue; have your question formulated at the microphone.
Fr. Gregory Patsis: Greetings, Father. My name is Fr. Gregory Patsis. I’m the pastor at the Kimisis Greek Orthodox Church in Poughkeepsie, New York, and, again, thank you for your words. I would just ask, since you have just finished a retreat in the Midwest, to, I guess, the clergy, what would you say was the central, let’s say maybe the central concern that the clergy shared with you?
Archim. Zacharias: Here in America, I met many sincere priests who really want to learn about this prophetic ministry. Priesthood is a prophetic ministry. To be a co-worker of God, to be a comforter of souls: it’s not a small thing. It’s a wondrous privilege, and that is what was their concern, their primary concern, and we tried to say a few things: how we can be co-workers with God to build the temple of God in us first and in the believers, because this is the task.
St. Paul says to the Corinthians: Know ye not that you are the temple of the living God? Like if it were a trivial reality, he says to them: Know ye not that you are the temple of the living God? And it’s exactly that. We have to work for building the temple of God in us and in our fellows and the people which Providence entrusted to us.
We emphasized mainly three means of building the temple of God in us. The first is by invoking his name, the name of Jesus which was given by revelation. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. And by invoking this name, we enter the presence of this Person we invoke, the Lord Jesus.
And by invoking constantly this name, there are many things which happen. First, in the beginning, by invoking constantly this name, we become bearers of the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It’s like saying to the Lord: Lord, I call upon thy name, because without thee I can do nothing. What the Lord [said]. Whoever bears the cross of Christ at the same time bears the blessedness of his beatitudes. He’s not only the bearer of cross, but also the receiver of God’s beatitude.
So the first is by invoking the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, always, constantly confessing that without him we can do nothing. And slowly, slowly, when we invoke his name, we gather the traces of his presence in our heart. When these traces of his grace accumulate in our heart, and they attain to a certain fullness, the heart opens wide to embrace heaven and earth, and that is really the spiritual rebirth of the Christian.
The Lord says a great word in the Gospel. The woman, when she gives birth, she forgets about her pain and her travail, because a man has come into the world, but this signifies more than anything when we are born into eternity, when we receive the grace of eternity: a man has entered into the world of God and to the spiritual paradise. So another way is by gathering, accumulating in our heart the traces of his grace, by invoking his name. Slowly, slowly, we build the temple of God, and the temple of God is holy. That’s a few words. We could say many things, but I must save it for the other things.
Second, by reading the word of God, by studying the word of God, and, even more, by praying the word of God, to learn to pray with the word of God, to learn the language of God, to speak to him with the language he spoke to us. When we read the Scriptures, it’s to learn his language in order to speak to him and pray to him with the same language he spoke to us. And when the word of God, as St. Paul says, dwells richly in our heart, the same fruit—it brings the same fruit: the traces of his presence accumulate in the heart, and they build the holy temple of God in us.
Another way—ah, but we have already spoken about that—is in the Liturgy, when we manage to operate this exchange of our little life with the boundless life of God. These are three very powerful means by which we build the temple of God in us, and having built it in us we are able to be ministers of God, to be co-workers with God for the regeneration of many people, at least those who come to us with an expectation to receive something from us.
There are many ways of receiving and accumulating the traces of his presence in our heart very simply. St. Paul says to the Philippians: Let this mind be yours in Christ Jesus, but what is this mind? He explains a bit before. He says that you shall have a competition amongst us. Who loves the other more than us? That is the sign of people who are reborn spiritually: to always want to render greater honor to the other than to themselves. If someone humbles himself to you and you humble yourself even more to him, that’s the sign that you are reborn spiritually. This is the competition: to honor the other more than ourselves, and the other is important, not ourselves. And the primary other is the Lord, but also his people, the least one of these little ones, says the Lord, in the parable of the last judgment.
So it’s a great thing to learn this rule in our life, and then we shall have a golden rule in our life in whatever we do and whatever we say and whatever we think about our fellows, to want a little portion of the humble love of Christ, and at the end we’ll inherit the great love, the infinite love, the love to the end, of Christ. It is a great culture. That’s how it is done. And the one who has this rule in his life, he will never judge or condemn his fellows. He will always bear a humble and a contrite spirit which the Lord will never despise. Such things we were saying in a few words. We were trying to share in that godly assembly, in that apostolic band, as I call them, the clergy of Bishop Basil, in which I see them as an apostolic band. They are wonderful people, and they come with such a simplicity and such a desire.
You know as priests we cannot speak to people unless they want to hear us. When they want to hear us, God gives a word. Even the Lord himself, he couldn’t perform many miracles in his own country, not that he was not able: he didn’t want to impose himself. And even more evidently, in the Last Supper, he couldn’t speak to the apostles until Judas went out, and then the Lord exploded: Now is the Son of man glorified. So this is a great thing, to be able to have this competition and this rule of life in our daily conducts with people. A little portion of love in everything.
Mr. John Miketic: Hello, Father. Thank you for coming. Thank you for your words, and thank you for taking my question. My name is John Miketic, and I’m a first-year seminarian here, and my question is just this: During your initial talk, you mentioned that Christians shouldn’t wait for the second coming but that we ought to be hurrying towards it, and I was wondering if you could say a few more words about that, what that is and what that looks like.
Archim. Zacharias: Thank you very much. Actually, when I finished my talk, I thought that I didn’t explain enough that, and I’m glad you prompted it up; you brought it in.
You know, everywhere where the holy apostles speak of the sublimity of holy life in Christ—St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John the Divine—whenever they speak of the great vision they have of the holiness of life in our Church, immediately they relate it with the second coming of our Lord. The solitary grace of God has appeared unto all men, St. Paul says, in the epistle to Titus, I think, and immediately he speaks that in order to teach us to live properly await him for the second coming. The same, St. Peter—I had it written; now it doesn’t come to my mind, that verse, but it’s not important. St. John the Divine, again, he says: Now we have the children of God, and we don’t know yet how it’s going to be when he will be revealed to us, but we know one thing: that he is light, and we shall be like him when he comes, and immediately he says: And whoever has this expectation, this hope, this living hope, as St. Peter says, then he is continually cleansing himself and perfecting holiness in the fear of God so that he cannot fail to meet the Lord who will be coming in glory and be taken by him and be with him forever.
Why do the apostles relate the holiness of life with the second coming? Simply because we humans, we easily get used to everything. We easily get used to everything. We repent fervently for the forgiveness of our sins, for some weeks, for some months, for maybe a few years, and then we relax, but because we get used to it, and also we receive the comfort of the Comforter, and we relax. But when we have this earnest expectation of his who has come and who is coming again, then it is an event which has not yet taken place in history, and we cannot get used to it. That’s why it imparts new inspiration always to us to live in an eschatological way, awaiting for his coming, coming out of this camp of this world, as we said before, as we said in the beginning of the talk, in order to meet the One who is coming. That’s why, in order to keep our inspiration, we need always to have this dimension in our life.
Olga: Good evening.
Archim. Zacharias: Back here, it’s hard to hear. Come closer.
Ms. Olga: Yes. My name is Olga. I’m from Russia. I’m a first-year student here. I actually have two short questions, if that’s possible. The first one: Could you tell, share with us a story about your spiritual father, Sophrony (Zakharov), if that’s possible. Perhaps some memorable moment or something you’ve learned from him, just a life story, something since you knew him personally. I mean, I would profit from it, I think, at least.
And, second of all, as Fr. John Behr said, as I know you’ve traveled a lot, and you’ve spoken before different audiences, and you’ve lived in Cyprus and England and Russia, you’re here—could you tell, is there a difference between people, their reactions, their traditions, their Orthodoxy? If there is, perhaps, a little bit about that. Thank you.
Archim. Zacharias: Oh, they are very big!... [Laughter] Trudnyye voprosy you ask. Those are very difficult questions.
About Fr. Sophrony, I will say one thing only. One day, I entered his office. I used to seek for an opportunity always to have a contact with him. I would go two, three, several times every day to see him. I never asked questions, but I knew he would say something to me, and every time he said something, it was an opening of a horizon, of a spiritual horizon. I could tell you many times when just one word made me understand many things, many things from the lives of the prophets and of the holy apostles and of the saints; just one word.
But one day, I went to see him in his office, and he says to me, “To all who enter this room”—it was his confessional as well—“to all who enter this room, I put myself under them, in order to be able to help some.” And this is the task of the priests. Unless we… We must never have a confidence in the ordination the Church gave us and to walk with authority, but we must try and put ourselves under the people we are trying help, under the people we are trying to serve. If we put ourselves humbly under the people we are serving, they will come to a sense of honor to open their heart and receive our word.
That was the thing which struck me more than anything in Fr. Sophrony’s life. I remember once someone came for prayers. He was suffering from gradual paralysis of his extreme members, and they brought him to pray for him. He was not a man of faith, but his mother-in-law was very pious, his wife hardly believing, and he didn’t believe at all. They brought him for Fr. Sophrony to pray for his healing. Many times we saw healings, many times; not every time, but many times, and we became so used to them that we didn’t pay any attention, and he didn’t pay attention himself to those things.
And this man Fr. Sophrony wanted to help, and I even went with Fr. Ephrem, your friend, to London to his house, and I performed an unction with holy oil, and they gave him one or two books to read, trying to revive him, because he was not faithful, and he was seeking healing from a priest.
Well, he somehow became more soft, more accepting, and they brought him a second time to Fr. Sophrony for prayers. And he told me why the first time he was not healed. Father said he was not healed because of the presence of that person and for that reason: one other person who was there. They brought him the second time. Fr. Sophrony read the three customary prayers from the prayer book, and hardly he finished the third prayer and he lifted up his epitrachelion with sadness, and he says to him, “We are not wonderworkers. We are just priests, trying to help people to be reconciled with God.”
And this man looked at him with a very nice face, pale and shining, and with a smile, and he said to him, “Yes, my body has not been healed, but while you were reading the prayers, my soul was healed, and now I believe.” And Fr. Sophrony, after that, he was so happy and so rejoicing, more than when he saw healings after his prayer, because that was his target. He always said that there is not a greater miracle in the whole universe than the union of man’s heart with the spirit of God, and that was the miracle to which he was ministering, the miracle which he was targeting and to which he was ministering. That was one thing that struck me the most.
And I now, having said all that, I forgot what was your second question. [Laughter]
Ms. Olga: What’s the difference between different parts, different Orthodox people?
Archim. Zacharias: Ah, yes. I don’t know. I don’t like to have such rigid discriminations. I think everybody has been created in a special manner with a deep heart, and the deep heart of man requires a divine sensation that is the destiny of man. And that’s why God targets the deep heart of man, and everybody has a deep heart, but we don’t all know it. We have to bring it, we have to make it surface, and there are many means of making the heart of man surface and be able to acquire this living sensation of the presence of God. And in every nation there are people for that, and every man potentially is created for that.
Of course, in people, in Orthodox peoples like the Russians, the Serbians, the Greeks, the Romanians, all these people who… the Arabs, the Georgians, all these people who have been many centuries living and being formed by the Liturgy, because it’s the greatest school of the Orthodox people, the Liturgy. One is our teacher, even Christ, and one is his school: the Liturgy. So those people, of course, they are more hearty people, but every man created in the image and likeness of God has this potential. When he receives the word of God and invokes the name of God, then the purpose of his coming to this life begins to be realized.
Mr. Ian Abodeely: Father, thank you for joining with us and speaking with us tonight at St. Vladimir’s. My name is Ian Abodeely. I’m a third-year seminarian here, and since you’ve come to us, to a seminary, I was hoping that you might give a good word to those at seminary, those who are in college, those who are studying, and those who want to learn more about their faith. If you could say something to those of us…
Archim. Zacharias: I think all that has been said, it was for that. [Laughter] We spoke what is the nature of priesthood, what is the character of the ministry of the priest, how we become co-workers with God—all that we said, it was for that, but maybe I can add one thing more. I’m sure you’re here studying theology with the blessing of your spiritual father or your bishop, at least. That is to say, I’m sure that you are here studying theology but having also a point of reference which will keep you in a humble spirit and give you a true understanding of theology and of the word of God.
We all need a point of reference. We all need… In order to join a club, we have to see the secretary of the club and make our inscription. In the Church, it’s the same. We have to have a point of reference, a spiritual father, to confess regularly, and in that way to show a dependence to the body of Christ and keep a humble spirit, and that will keep our priesthood alive to the end. Otherwise, we may, God forbid, one can live all his life with dead priesthood. We need to live with our priesthood alive, and to feel and to understand what we are doing in the Church.
And it’s very helpful for the seminarians, for the students of theology, to have come with a blessing and to keep a point of reference in order to have continually this humble spirit which will enable them to understand even the Gospel. Otherwise we cannot understand even the Gospel, because this point of reference keeps a humble spirit. Every time we confess, every time we bear a little shame before God in confession, in order to reconcile ourselves with God, God accepts this shame as a thanksgiving to him, because he himself bore the shame of the Cross. And for this little shame we bear in confession, this thanksgiving to him, he imparts his grace to us. That’s why the one who confesses and bears shame, he has all heaven on his side, as the Lord says. All heaven rejoices for one sinner who repents.
And when you be priests, God willing, and you have people in confession, when they come and they confess with shame and humility, humble yourselves utterly before them, because at that time, the hand of God is upon them, recreating, refashioning their life, and you mustn’t stop that creative word of the right hand of God. So it’s very important for us to confess sincerely and regularly, to keep that point of reference, because we’ll be regenerated continually, and keep the grace of priesthood alive.
And if we are laypeople, lay Christians, to keep the same: the gift of being a Christian. It’s a spiritual gift to be a Christian, and we must keep it alive in our life. But for laypeople it’s much easier. For priests, it’s more difficult, because much is given to us, and much shall be required from us, and in [the] Old Testament there is another verse which is frightening: The strong ones shall be tried strongly. Dynatoi [de] dynatōs etasthēsontai, says the Septuagint text [Wisdom 6:6]. I don’t know how it is in English.
So we must have a mind that—I don’t want to frighten you, but it’s good to be always afraid, because the more afraid we are, the more the word of God will find place in us. St. Paul says to the Corinthians: Corinthians, when I came to you, I came with fear and trembling, and my confidence was not in human wisdom. And the word of God was alive in him, to transmit it to them, because he preferred to know nothing else but Christ, and him crucified. Forgive me.
Fr. Chad Hatfield: Fr. Zacharias has been traveling a lot, with canceled flights and other [things]. Roadblocks were put in the way, although the roadblocks were all turned into blessings, right?
Archim. Zacharias: Yes.
Fr. Chad Hatfield: The canceled flights actually moved him faster. So we’re going to take one more question, but then the other questions you can all enjoy sort of privately, because after this question there is a light repast which we may enjoy at the table that’s laden in the back of the room. So one more question, we’ll sing, “It Is Truly Meet,” and the rest of you that have questions can ask them privately when Father’s had a little break and maybe can sit down for those questions.
Archim. Zacharias: I will accept one more question, and I will ask you also one question, and we’ll finish like that. Forgive me for my daring, but I want to ask you also one question.
Mr. Marko Sipka: Hi, Father. My name is Marko Sipka, and my question is: Life can sometimes become routine and mundane, and the future can seem uninspiring, unmotivating at times. How do you suggest, in the spiritual sense, to combat that and to keep the zest alive?
Archim. Zacharias: I didn’t hear the question.
Mr. Sipka: Oh. What I was saying was that life has a tendency sometimes to become mundane and routine. You know, you go through your daily activities and it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. How do you suggest, then, from a spiritual sense, that we can maintain that zest and hope in the future?
Archim. Zacharias: Yes, yes. We spoke about the circumcision of the heart. How do we maintain that? Well, we must all have a good routine. That is to say, when we get up, we must learn to pour our heart before God, like Prophetess Hannah, and receive the incorruptible consolation of God. And that will be a crutch in our heart, accompanying us all the day, and we cannot forget that we belong to him. We must prepare. We must have some moments when only God and us are on earth, only me and God are upon earth. If we have such moments, let’s say in the morning, in the middle of the day, in the evening, there leaves some stamps, some seals in our life, that those are seals of eternity. Slowly, slowly, these seals of the morning, of noon, of the evening, and of every moment we swallow up all the time of our life with eternity. This is the way to receive the seal of God, that seal which people don’t see but the angels of God see, and they will be able to gather us from the ends of the world when the Lord comes into his kingdom.
So we must have some moments when we can speak to God from our heart. The psalm says, “I was prepared, and I was not troubled.” We must prepare ourselves like that, and we will not be troubled by the provocations and temptations which beset us continually. Forgive me.
And may I ask one question? Forgive me. Which is the greatest commandment of the New Testament? Please tell me: which is the greatest commandment of the New Testament? [Inaudible responses] Yes?
A1: To love one another as I have loved you.
Archim. Zacharias: No, no, no, no.
A2: Love God with all your heart, with all your mind…
Archim. Zacharias: No, it’s not that. You seek when I tell you… No one finds. I will tell you, and you will see that it’s not that. Anybody else? [Inaudible] No. [Inaudible; laughter]
A3: Be not afraid.
Archim. Zacharias: No. [Laughter] Yes?
A4: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Archim. Zacharias: I will tell you. I will tell you, not to drag too long [the] meeting. If you open your New Testament and read in St. Luke’s gospel, chapter 17, verse 10, you read there: When you have done all the things I have commanded you—all: to love God with all your heart, to love as I have loved you—when you have done all the things that I have commanded you, say to yourselves, “We are useless servants, and we have done that which we ought to have done.” The greatest commandment is to have this consciousness continually. Then we relate with the God of mercy, with the Father of mercies and God of every consolation. Then we receive him, we receive his chastening, and he will offer himself as to his sons. Forgive me.