The Fruit of Tribulation
S. Ivleva, Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion on Solovki
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Today we commemorate the uncovering of the relics of our heavenly protector, Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky). The Gospel reading for today (Mt. 12:38–45) is about how the people came to their teacher and demanded a sign from the heavens—a sign as pay for their faith in God. “We would see a sign from thee” and we will believe, they said. However, Christ did not accept that plan. He said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.
So, what is that sign? It is the sign of overcoming tribulations and understanding the meaning of trials, suffering, and the cross. The prophet Jonah received great mercy from God—Divine wisdom—but not before he had been cast into tribulation, and through this tribulation he received the gift that he had requested: wisdom, eternal life—a foretaste of eternal life. Thus did our Lord Jesus Christ say. So should you also be emulating this example. He Himself emulated His own servant Jonah, who was once unwise but later became a God-seer and prophet, when He said, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. He would have to endure mockery and death, and all those tribulations that we are talking about today.
There is no other path to the knowledge of God, and there is no other path to the knowledge of eternal life, other than this path. Why? Because it is God’s will. A Christian (and we are now talking about Christians) should through their own life experience be cast out of this world, oppose this world, so that having rejected the world he might have the opportunity to receive eternal life; to have the opportunity to receive a higher understanding of the eternal ways of God. We have to reject the temporary in order to receive the eternal.
During St. Hilarion’s time, probably many were saying, “Such tribulations! Where can we find the strength to have faith?” These were the times just after the Revolution—times of terrible trials. But in order to preserve their faith they may have said, “Give us a sign, if only to have something to grab onto.” But for all times and for all peoples, the Savior’s words have resounded about how when we ask for a sign, we become a part of that evil and adulterous generation. The tribulation itself and our overcoming it brings us the greatest fruit. The tribulation itself gives us a sign, wisdom, an understanding of God’s ways, and the strength of spirit to endure. Holy Hierarch Hilarion showed us to the fullest measure that acceptance of this sign. Time has to pass; trials and patience must have the quality of completion, the term must be completed. A woman must have nine months for a new life to be born. The human soul must also have a certain time period, and an overcoming of trials, so that an understanding of God’s will can be born.
Yes, people wanted it to come more quickly; they wanted the terrible yoke of godlessness to end right away. Many tried inwardly to speed up the process; but God-seers such as St. Hilarion knew that sooner or later that time would come, and they remained joyful and calm, as we can read in people’s reminiscences of him—especially of his concentration camp period. He was joyful and peaceful. Just like a new Jonah in the belly of the whale, experiencing fear, confusion, temptation and sorrows, he knew that God would nevertheless lead His people to the truth.
An ascetic of our very recent history, a man of holy life although not yet a canonized saint, Elder Paisius of Mt. Athos (who died in 1994) said, “What I see around me would drive me insane if I did not know that no matter what happens, God will have the last word.” Neither did St. Hilarion demand any signs. He knew, just as all of us should know, that sooner or later the time will come for tribulations. No one can pass by Golgotha if he wants to follow Christ and consider himself a disciple of Christ. When that time comes, do not ask, beg, or demand a sign, or that this cup would definitely pass you by. But say only, “May God’s will be done,” just as our Lord and Teacher Himself said. Then and only then, after having drunk that cup, we will begin to understand that no matter how bitter and sorrowful it might be, at the bottom is its fruit, which is the most precious thing there is in the world.
The apostle says that you are called not only to be disciples of Christ, but also to co-suffer with Him. Why? So that you can become like Him. So that you can receive sonship, become sons and daughters of God. To do this you must travel the path that He travelled. This path is inescapable for the Christian. The cross is unavoidable for a person with a conscience, and even more so for a Christian. The cross is unavoidable for a disciple of Christ. Having carried the cross to the end, a person receives the fulfillment of that sign in the kingdom of heaven—the sign of God’s omnipotence, the power of His divine love, His endless care for mankind—His amazing gifts that He sends down to us. However, not only in the kingdom of heaven but even here on earth we begin to be aware of this, to feel and perceive it, and understand. It is the “higher math” of Christianity, and we have to approach it gradually.
Not in vain did Christ speak to His disciples only in stages about His death and not all at once. Because a person who is striving for happiness—human, earthly happiness—for a painless path, a life without problems, will find this very difficult to hear. It is hard for us to hear that we are sick and in need of healing. It is hard to understand that we are mortal, yet called to immortality. We will inevitably have to walk this path, and due to a great many circumstances this path is painful. We will pray to Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion, who, like no one else, nobly, wisely, calmly, and joyfully walked that path to the end. His last words were amazing. He was in a horrific prison hospital in Leningrad, sick with typhus. He had just returned from Solovki, sent from there by prison convoy to Central Asia, to what could have been an even more horrible prison. How they had tried to grab his soul and his freedom—the OGPU, who demanded that he submit to them, the schismatics, and his brother clergymen who fell into faintheartedness. He experienced a multitude of sorrows—we cannot even imagine all that he had to endure in prison. He was beset upon from all sides. But as people testify who knew St. Hilarion, he was always joyful and even merry. He never demanded of God or of people that this would “pass him by”, because he understood that he must bear all of it to the end—for his own sins, for the sins of others, and of all Russia. He knew that he must bear that burden. But in those difficult moments when he could feel he was already passing over the boundaries of this world, when he knew his soul would be free of it, his last words were, “Now, no one will be able to reach me.”
Let us pray to pray to Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion that he would strengthen us in courage, that he would free us from faintheartedness, and from all those demands that the Lord does not bless us to make of Him—demands of special signs, demands of special status among His disciples. Because we have to remember always that when it is needed He will send us consolation, awareness, and signs; but only when our divine and omniscient Teacher sees it all and says, “Now you it is time for you to know this.” Amen.
Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)
24 / 07 / 2013