Saturday, March 18, 2017

Last Words of Father Zachariah (+1936)

  In his last months the elder lay in bed almost all the time. He spoke seldom, and if he did say anything, it was for the benefit of souls. "Do not forget that the first commandment of the Gospel summons us to repentance: "Repent and believe in the Gospel. These are the words of the Lord Himself" (Mark 1.15).
   "Acquire virtues, which oppose sins."
   "Never be depressed on any occasion or under any circum­stances. Depression is a hangman which kills the energy essen­tial for the receiving of the Holy Spirit in one's heart. A depressed person loses the ability to pray and is dead as far as spiritual feats are concerned."
   The elder's illness was so terrible that anyone else would simply have shouted with pain and complained unceasingly, but the elder Zachariah suffered in silence, offering up thanks to God for everything he sent.
   The elder's face became like a face painted on an icon. It was obvious that he was retreating entirely into deep and secret prayer.
   One day the elder got up from his bed, barely able to stand, went up to the icons, and, with a kind of special reverence, crossed himself. Then, turning to us, he said: Make the sign of the cross over yourselves more often. Remember: when the cross is lifted up, the ranks of the spirits of the air will fall. “O Lord, you have given us your cross as a weapon against the devil.”
   To my regret, I have seen that some people simply wave their hands about, without even touching their forehead and shoulders. This is pure mockery of the sign of the cross. Remember what St Seraphim said about making the sign of the cross correctly. This is his admonition:
   My children, this is how you should order your prayers, which are an appeal to the Most Holy Trinity. We say: "In the name of the Father" holding three fingers together, showing by this that the Lord is One in Three Persons. Touching the fore­head with three fingers, we sanctify our mind, offering up a prayer to God the Father, the Almighty, the Creator of angels, of heaven, of earth, of men; the Creator of all that is visible and invisible. And then, touching the lower part of the breast with these fingers, we experience all the torments of the Saviour, who suffered for us, we live through the crucifixion of our Redeemer, the only-begotten Son, born of the Father, begotten not made. And we sanctify our heart and all our senses, raising them up to the earthly life for the Saviour, who for our sake and the sake of our salvation came down from heaven and was made man. Then, raising our fingers to our shoulders, we say: "And of the Holy Spirit." We ask the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity not to desert us but to sanctify our will and graciously to help us; to direct all our strength, all our actions towards possessing the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Finally, humbly, reverently, with the fear of God and with hope, and with deep love for the Most Holy Trinity, we end this great prayer, saying: "Amen", that is, "So be it".
   This prayer is always united with the cross. Think this over.
   How many times I have felt with pain that many people say this prayer quite mechanically, as though it were not a prayer but something one should say before beginning to pray. Never do this. It is sin.
   No business on earth is more important than prayer - none. Prayer gives birth to the simple virtues. I could tell you a good deal, but I don't have the strength, said the elder, scarcely able to reach his bed. When he lay down, he seemed to be already dead. One of us burst into tears.
   Immediately, in a barely audible voice (it was obviously difficult for him to speak), the elder said to console us: "My children, after death I shall be much more alive than I am now, so don't grieve when I die, be afraid of excessive grief - it can lead us into depression. Only be sure to remember that your endeavour to possess the Holy Spirit, your love for the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and your endeavour to fulfill all his commandments, your trembling, reverential bowing down before God the Father in awe and in the greatest humility, will fill my heart with joy, for after all I am your spiritual father. I in­struct you to endeavour with all your strength to achieve this."
   In silence the elder blessed us all and shut his eyes. We bowed down to the ground to him and dispersed.
   Here below is an extract from the con­versations of proto-priest Rodion Putyatin, "On the One God, glorified in the Trinity", because it is very helpful in under­standing Christian teaching on the Holy Trinity.
   Here is the extract:
   Brothers, why do we so often remember in our prayers the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?. We pray to them at every divine service, there is hardly a single prayer in which we do not make mention of them. Why is this?. It is because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are our God.
   Why do we not call God simply God, but the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?. Jews and Mohammedans also believe simply in God, even in the One God, they do not know that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; only we Christians know that, who worship the true God. And true Christian faith is distinguished from wrong, false faiths above all by this, that it teaches us to believe in the One God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
   Why is it necessary to know this, that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that He is One in Three Persons?.
   If we did not know that God is One, but in Three Persons, then we would not know how God loves us. We would not know that He gave us His Only-begotten Son to be our Redeemer, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. We would not know that we have a Saviour, the Son of God, who came down from Heaven to be our Saviour, was made man, suffered, died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father; we would not know that we have a Holy Spirit, who lives and works in us, to be our Sanctifier, who edifies and puri­fies us. To put it briefly: if we did not know that God is One, but in Three Persons, we would not be Christians.
   The One God, who appeared on Mount Sinai and laid down through Moses the law: the Lord your God is One Lord - he is the same who revealed himself in Jordan in three persons.
   And what did Christ order His disciples to teach everyone, when He sent them out to preach?.  Just this, that they should believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus, the fact that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a shortened form of Christian teaching, a concise symbol of our faith. Faith which does not teach belief in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is not Christian faith, not faith from grace, not saving faith.

Ellis J. (1976), An Early Soviet Saint: the life of Father Zachariah, A.R. Mowbray & Co. Limited, The Alden Press, Osney Mead, United Kingdom.