Митрополит Антоний Сурожский

Sermon by Archbishop Anthony to mark the commencement of the work of cleaning and repainting the interior of our Cathedral

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

With what pain do we hear of the closing and destruction of churches, and how horrified we are to see a church sunk into decay, not merely abandoned but forcibly closed, ruined. A church is indeed God’s domain. On our earth where there is hardly a spot unsullied by human blood, un­spotted by human sin — on our earth which since the time of Cain has been crying out to God for desecration that man perpetrates on it, small bits of land have been set aside, through people’s faith, to be God’s absolute possession, so that He should have some place on earth that is His own. In these places we build churches, so that God should have somewhere to lay His head. And in countries and periods in which the faith is persecuted, it stands out so clearly that in a sea of estrangement and even of hate these churches belong wholly to God; these are places where he is Lord and Master, and in them people find consolation. These are places where only love is preached, where there is no room for human hatred; these are places where people coming disfigured from the outside world can gradually, and only very gradually, come to their senses and repentance, and at least begin to change. They begin at first with difficulty and a grieving heart, then slowly there is a flowering of life amid desolation, death and destruction. To these churches comes human joy as well, it pours in like a torrent and spreads like a limitless sea because it meets with God’s love. The joy truly flowers into an earthly paradise, grows to the measure of heaven and erupts beyond the limits of the created world.

We have been given this church; with what gratitude to God and man we accepted it, and with what care we made it a house of prayer. Now it is undergoing redecoration. This temple will once again become more beautiful, more worthy of our love. The people who are working here are strangers, unknown to us; let us pray that every man who puts his hand to this work, every man who enters under the cover of this church should receive the message of God’s peace, should receive a blessing from the living God whose house he is putting in order. For us the people who will be working here not just workmen, they are people who will enter God’s domain. Let us pray that having entered it, they may find in it what we have all found in the church — the living God, loving, life-giving, capable of changing our life. And let us regard this church restoration reverently; this is God’s domain, let us preserve it lovingly.

It is not enough to make it outwardly beautiful, it is necessary that our church should become inwardly beautiful, not only its stone walls, but our hearts which so often are stony also. Our hearts should become truly human, hearts of flesh and blood, loving, responsive, capable of bearing one another’s burdens, of being crucified, if the need arises, with suffering and compassion, so that our neighbour might receive peace and joy and a new life. Let us grow to the measure of that beauty which is the beauty of God’s creation, let us build this Temple to be an expression of our reverence to God and our love towards men. But all let us work on our own selves so as to be worthy to enter God’s domain, not unto our judgement or condemnation but as the publican came, repenting and receiving forgiveness, conscious of his own unworthiness and of God’s outgoing, all-forgiving and at the same time transfiguring love. Amen.


Published: Newsletter N. 33, November 1972