JOHN (Maximovich, +1966)
Church of Christ Shall Not Be Impoverished"
Sermon on the feast day of Apostle Matthias
Holy Apostle Matthias, during the earthly life of Christ, was among
the seventy apostles, not among the twelve.
This even occurred after the Ascension of the Lord into heaven:
During a prayerful gathering, at which some one hundred people were
in attendance, Holy Apostle Peter said to all that Judas Iscariot
had fallen away from the ranks of the apostles, having become a
betrayer, and recalled the words of the 109th psalm, in which the
Holy Spirit, through the words of the psalm-singer David, speaks
of the unrighteous one: "his bishopric let another take,"
meaning that another should assume his office. In fulfillment of
the words of the psalm, Apostle Peter offered to elect two candidates
before the Lord, whom the Lord would then select, and include him
among the twelve. Elected were Matthias and Joseph, who was also
called Barsabas, and when the Lord, through the drawing of lots,
indicated Matthias, he was included among the twelve.
So the number of twelve apostles of Christ was restored, and Matthias,
after the Ascension of the Lord to heaven, took his place on par
with the other apostles in grace and authority, and also, as did
they, he preached, healed the sick, performed miracles and suffered
It is a profoundly instructive event for us. It teaches us that
the Church of Christ shall never be impoverished and shall not remain
without the servants it requires. "I will build my church;
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt.
16:18), said Christ.
The Church is a spiritual union of all those who keep the true faith,
headed by Christ Himself, and its goal is the spiritual perfection
of its members. The earthly part of the Church, in preparing its
children for passing into the heavenly part, needs pastors and other
servants for the achievement of its goal. It will not be prevailed
upon by the gates of hell, its grace is inexhaustible and shall
never want for that which it needs.
Great is the mercy of God to be called to be among them, but not
all who achieve it are worthy, and many who are called are not chosen.
It was not only Judas who fell from the ranks of the apostles. From
among the first seven deacons appointed by the apostles, one—Nicholas
of Antioch—fell from the Church and became a pagan priest who established
his own sect. From the ranks of the seventy apostles, four lapsed
from Christianity, but the Church did not suffer this loss and remained
whole. The vacated places were taken by those more worthy.
Despite the falling away of Nicholas, the deaconate established
itself in the Church and it multiplied, existing to this day.
Despite the falling away of bishops, priests and other servants
of the Church in later times, it did not suffer harm, and their
places were taken by others.
Nestor, the Patriarch of Constantinople, fell into heresy, and he
was replaced by one more worthy, St. Anatolius. Dioscurus of Alexandria
fell into monophysitism, other hierarchs fell into other heresies,
but the Church remained undamaged, and the places of those who fell
away were filled by those more worthy, and often by holy men.
Many clergymen renounced Christ during persecutions, and many even
in peaceful times left the priesthood for earthly reasons or for
personal weaknesses, departing the life of the cloth to a lay existence.
But whatever the motivations or reasons for this: whether the servants
of the Church betrayed the Christian faith or simply left their
rank, the Church was never left in need. Those who fell away were
always replaced by others, whom no one had even considered before,
and upon whom those who departed looked with derision.
God's Church will never lack the number of bishops, priests, deacons,
readers, singers and altar boys it needs. For this reason, those
who were called to serve at the altar or on the kliros must bear
in mind that they must not become unworthy and must not be cast
out. The history of the Church shows that the Church does not have
indispensable people, and the Holy Spirit will always find another
who will take the place of one who becomes unworthy. It is a great
mercy of God to be allowed to serve or to help serve in Church,
to enter into the earthly heaven—the altar—to approach the holy
Mysteries, to sing or intone church prayers.
That is why those who earned that mercy must fulfill their work
with reverence, remembering the words of the psalm-singer: "Worship
the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling" (Ps. 2:11),
as well as those other terrible words: "Cursed be the one who
does the Lord's work negligently" (Jer. 48:10). "See that
ye refuse not him that speaketh," that is, do not turn away
from him that speaks to you (Heb. 12:25). "Hold that fast which
thou hast, that no man take thy crown (Rev. 3:11).
It is a fearsome thing to become unworthy of the sacred place, or,
faltering, to leave it. After departing, many sense what they have
lost and desire to return to their previous worthiness, but these
doors are closed, as they were for the five unwise virgins.
May the memory of Apostle Matthias and his prayers strengthen us
in serving without blemish, so that we do not lose our priestly
place on earth, and in heaven that we may be worthy of the Kingdom
of God, where even now stands at the Throne of God he who filled
the ranks of the twelve, Apostle Matthias.
9 August, 1940, Shanghai
Russky Pastyr, No. 40, 2001