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Sermon by Saint John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco


To his Orthodox flock in Shanghai, 1937

 “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? And from Thy presence whither shall I flee? If I go up into heaven, Thou art there; if I go down into hades, Thou art present there. If I take up my wings toward the dawn, and make mine abode in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand guide me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 138:6-9 LXX)

THESE divinely inspired words of David the Psalmist should be particularly kept in mind today when the entire world is wavering, as it were, and the news about all kinds of tribulations, perils and disasters are brought to us daily.

No sooner does one’s attention stop to consider what is happening in one country, than it is deflected by even more severe events which have unexpectedly flared up in another place; before one has time to grasp them, still new events draw one’s attention to a third place making one forget the two former ongoing disasters.

Useless are the conferences where the representatives of different countries try to find the cure for common disasters. They keep reassuring themselves and the others, “saying: Peace, peace! when there is no peace.” (Jer. 8:11).

Calamities show no sign of stopping in the countries where they are raging, but they suddenly strike in places where it was considered to be safe.

Those who escape from some perils run into others, which are often even worse. “It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him” (Amos 5:19), or as another prophet said: “And it shall be that he who flees from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and he who comes up from the midst of the pit shall be caught in the snare; for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Is. 24:18).

Similar things happen in our days. Those setting out to work at peace suddenly become the victims of military actions, which arose where they were least expected.

Those escaping from the dangers of war suffer from natural disasters of earthquakes or hurricanes.

Many find their death where they hoped to be safe from it.  The others, however, are prepared to better expose their life to danger, than to languish in the places considered to be safe, in anticipation of some other calamities which might strike there.

It seems there is no place on the earth, which could be, regarded a peaceful refuge from the world disasters. People are faced with political, economic and social woes.

“In perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils amongst false brethren, ” said Apostle Paul (II Cor. 11 :26).

To these perils, today we should add the particularly terrible “perils in the air.”

When the Preeminent Apostle himself was exposed to all the perils named by him, he had a great consolation. He knew that he was suffering for Christ, and that Christ would reward him for his endurance: “for I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day” (II Tim. 1: 12). He knew that the Lord, if need be, will give him strength to endure even greater perils, and bravely said: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Phil. 4: 13).

Our present day disasters are terrible for us because they befall us not as a result of the strength of our faith but because we do not endure them for Christ. Hence we do not set our hopes on being crowned for them.

We are made helpless in the struggle with adversities because we are not strengthened by the power of Christ, and rely not on God, but on human power and means. We forget the words of Holy Scripture: “Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation … Blessed is he of whom the God of Jacob is his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Ps. 145:3, 5), and: “Except the Lord build the house, in vain do they labour that build it” (Ps. 126:1).

We try to find a firm foundation apart from God, and the prophet’s words come to pass: “Therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach ready to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant” (Is. 30: 13). Woe to those who lean on such walls! Just as the falling wall crushes those who are leaning on it, so are perishing, along with their false hopes, those who relied on them. Those hopes turn out to be “a staff of reed.”

Things are different with those who seek God’s help. “Our God is refuge and strength, a helper in afflictions which mightily befall us. Therefore shall we not fear when the earth be shaken, nor when the mountains be removed into the heart of the sea” (Ps. 45:1-2).

He fears nothing who relies on God. He will not fear an evil man. “The Lord is my light and my Saviour; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 26:1).

He is not afraid of the horrors of war. “Though a host should array itself against me, my heart shall not be afraid; though war should rise up against me, in this have I hoped” (Ps. 26:3).

He is calm when living at home. “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of Heaven” (Ps. 90:1).

He is ready to travel by sea. “In the sea are Thy byways, and Thy paths in many waters” (Ps. 76: 19).

Daringly, as if on wings, he will fly through the air into distant lands, saying: “Even there shall Thy hand guide me, and Thy right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 138:9).

He will “not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the thing that walketh in darkness, nor for the mishap and demon of noonday” (ps. 90:5-6).

He is not afraid of death, “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:35-39).

The Lord says: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am. ‘” (Is. 58:6-9).

O Lord, teach me to do Thy will and hear me on the day when we will call on Thee! Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us according as we have hoped in Thee. Amen+

Reprinted from “Word of the Church” Issue 4, May-June 2000

St. John Shanghaisky

Wondrous is God in His Saints !