Sermon by Archbishop Feofan (Bystrov, +1940) of Poltava on the Nativity of the Forerunner
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
It is not only the life we celebrate today, that of St John the Forerunner, but the entire history of Christianity that proves to us the verity of these words of the Savior. The moment that Christianity arose in the world, it was met with hatred by the world—first by the Jewish world, then by the heathen.
The first Christians sealed their love for Christ with the blood of countless martyrs. The grand edifice of Christianity was established upon ground abundantly crimsoned with their blood. Later, the world of the Jews and of the pagans was conquered--but not eliminated. It continues to exist, even within Christianity itself, but it has taken on new forms. As proof, one must simply look upon the chronicles of Christianity. Who was it who so often caused enmity, division, strife and persecution among the best of Christians, seeking to extinguish them? Who filled Christianity with martyrs, who suffered at the hands of others who called themselves Christian? Who transformed the life of Athanasius the Great into that of a wandering exile? Who so persistently dogged Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian? Who imprisoned Chrysostom? Who was it who caused a multitude of saints to flee Christian cities to find greater safety among the wild beasts? Was it not the world, though overcome by the strength of the faith in Christ (1 John 5:4), but not destroyed, that continued to live even within Christianity itself and harboring hatred for those who are true Christians, or who strive to be?
As we approach the end of history, the expression of hatred of the world grows towards the true followers of Christ. At the dawn of modern history was it not the hatred of the world for Christ and true Christianity that flooded almost all the countries of the West with blood, wherein through the promise of supposed civil freedom, true Christian freedom was suppressed? And in most recent times was it not the hatred of the world for Christ that destroyed the sole Christian sovereignty of its kind, Russia, and covered the vast Russian lands with blood? Are not we refugees, scattered throughout the world, the victims of this hatred of the world for our Homeland?
Though we have become the victims of the hatred of the world, let us not be led astray. Let us not think that for this reason we are completely foreign to the spirit of this world and its hatred for Christianity! Even if it is not crudely expressed in pure anti-Christian forms, then it might exist in a more subtle form. As we observe the life of the world, we cannot but notice with sadness that this “world” truly exists even among us. Yes , indeed .
If any of us, by our situation in society, publicly, utterly devoted to the direction of the Christian spirit, decided to reject all forms of entertainment, amusements, and sold our worldly possessions for the sake of the poor, adhering to nothing else but the Church of God: would not this world not persecute us with disdain? Would not clever barbs be aimed at us? Would not people doubt the sanity of such a person because he does not adhere to this world, but harbors misconceptions and “false” rules? It is not difficult for Christian wisdom to condemn the dancing talent of Herodias, who was repulsively rewarded with the head of the prophet of repentance and chastity. Why is it that Christian men and women frequent the venues of such performances? It is not with condemnation but with understanding that many can be excused, for their appreciation of such entertainment is bound to the fear that the world will punish them for denying its customs.
Fellow Christian! Do not fear the hatred of the world towards you, whatever form it takes. The arrows of the world aimed at you are useless. They may only wound those who are weak in faith and can never bring harm to the staunch Christian who dons the wisdom of Christ. No, you should fear something else! Fear becoming a slave to this world! Fear that being accepted by the world will lead to your rejection by God. For in the words of the Savior, “no man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24 ). And in the words of the Apostle “ friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Amen .
June 24, 1923