FAITH PLUS PATIENCE EQUALS VICTORY
by Fr. Michael J. Buben
The Russian Orthodox Journal, June 1953
An old Russian maxim states BEZ TERRPENIE NET SPACENIE, without patience no salvation. From the life of Jesus we learn the great patience of our Saviour; a patience backed by faith that fallen, free-willed man could find his way to salvation independently by following His examples, and obeying His Church.
Throughout Scriptural history we learn convincing examples which show the value of patience and faith. "Without faith it is impossible to know God." Faith helps us free-willed mortals to be independent and not dependant puppets. Our Nicean- Constantinoplian Creed begins not with the word "I Know" but "I Believe." We all should believe, i.e., have faith that all things of and for God which have happened and will happen, help us to live a good life and prepare us for everlasting life.
The life story of most every saint brings forth examples which show suffering and persecution could not dent the spiritual armour of those who had patient faith. In our atomic age where war, hate, and atheism are rampant, we can obtain an insight to the blessed power of patience and faith from the story of a man who lived long ago under typical conditions and yet received God's greatest reward — SAINTHOOD.
All the land north of Jerusalem where St. Andrew wandered, did become a Holy Land as he had foretold. Its saints and martyrs are legion. Holy Russia — land of Orthodoxy — Defender of the Faith against all enemies. The revolution of 1917 was not the first political disturbance in that land. There have been many would-be conquerors of Russia or its Orthodoxy. Some conquerors have ruled the land for centuries but what power have those who walk in the paths of the ungodly?
It was in the thirteenth century, during the Tartar-Mongol rein in Russia that St. Sergius was born in the village of Rostov. It was he who founded, during a troubled period in Russian history, the world-famed Trinity Lavre in northeastern Russia.
St. Sergius' baptismal name was Bartholomew. He attracted the attention of the Christian world by crying out during a Liturgy while yet in his mother's womb and by refusing milk during fast days as an infant.
At school where Bartholomew's brothers Steven and Peter were outstanding students, Bartholomew was the butt of his schoolmates' pranks because of his dull mentality. His teachers continually punished him and for Bartholomew life was miserable but he continued to pray for help.
One day Bartholomew went to lead the family's horses home from pasture. He came to a lonely hermitage and was fascinated by a bearded monk who was reverently saying his evening prayers. The monk asked Bartholomew why he was not afraid to visit the lonely hermitage, and sensed that this youth was miserable in life. The conversation at this chance meeting and during future meetings, gave Bartholomew the inspiration for his life's work. From this day forward the youth progressed in both religious and secular studies. His scholastic abilities amazed and bewildered those who had earlier rejected him.
Taxes imposed by the Tartars impoverished the family. They moved to the smaller village of Radonesk, and although Bartholomew was prepared for Holy Orders he continued to work in the fields and help the family until the parents died. Together with his brother Steven, who had followed his religious studies, Bartholomew was ordained and they left for the wilderness surrounding Radonesk. Here the brothers built a small chapel — the beginning of what later became a countless group of monasteries, churches, and seminaries; a center of Orthodoxy where the buildings are still in existence today — Holy Trinity-Sergiev Lavre.
Bartholomew had taken the name Sergius with his monastic vows. The loneliness of the wilderness caused Steven to leave for Moscow, but Sergius continued his ascetic life. He cultivated the "inner spark of divinity" to such an extent that he reached the perfection of Adam and Eve before their downfall. Wild animals and fowls would not harm him, nor were they afraid of him. Bear, wolf, birds, squirrels, all came to Sergius and helped to dispel his loneliness. Twelve monks were sent to help him when his deeds were told in the cities by travelers.
The monk Sergius was ordained priest by the Metropolitan Alexi and installed as dean of the growing monstic community. Authoring rules and regulations for monastic life, his Book of Statutes became the model for most other monastic communities. Only the most religious and inspired men could live according to his strict rules and schedules. Those who could not completely dedicate body and soul to God were soon weeded out or left the community of their own accord.
The black clergy of the church concentrate on a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience — believing that hardship and lack of the minutest luxury, help the soul to leave all earthly care and obtain all virtues necessary for salvation. All monks yearn for the perfection called for by Jesus when he said — if thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. (ST. MATTHEW 19.21)
Sergius cultivated his "inner spark of Divinity" to such an extent that he gained the power to perform miracles. Towns grew around the small Holy Trinity Monastery and one day as Sergius opened a window, he saw a bright light. Many birds flew from the light and he heard a voice say — "Your prayers have been answered and you will have as many followers to teach as there are birds around you." Year after year the flock of monks increased as did his miracles. Sergius healed the blind, lame, and sick.
One day while celebrating Liturgy with his brother, now Bishop Steven and other hierarchy, a stranger appeared and served with them. The stranger proved to be an angel before its farewell. At another Liturgy, during the consecration and the singing of the hymn — "To Thee We Sing" — "Tebe Poeme" a fire enveloped Sergius and as he partook of the Eucharist he swallowed the fire. This was The Holy Ghost showing itself to Sergius and his followers to show that the blessing of the Lord was upon them.
The Christian soldiers began to unite against the Tartar oppression. The Tartar strength had weakened because of battles outside of Russia. The ruler of Moscow, Dimitri Ivanovich gathered an army of 150,000 men and came to Sergius for a blessing. Sergius gave the Czar Dimitri an ikon of the Theotokos and the community of monks prayed and fasted as the army went on to battle against the oppressor.
At the village of Kulikov, the Tartars were conquered and Russia was freed of their rule for all time. In gratitude for the prayers and blessing of Sergius, the Czar donated monies for the enlargement of the Holy Trinity Community which was begun in the wilderness by one man who was patient and had an undenying faith that God will help those who choose to do His work on earth.
Sergius was canonized a Saint by the Church. Saint Sergius pray to God for us who may doubt our Faith. Help us to cultivate our inner spark of divinity, with patience.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America