Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov) is one of the most famous living Elders in Russia today. He was born in Kasimov (Ryazan province) in 1919, to a family of believing peasants. From the age of twelve he lived with a non-believing brother and, under his influence, ceased being religious. Drafted into the Red Army, he served in World War II, during which he participated in the defence of Stalingrad as the commander of a platoon. During the war he returned to faith. He recalls how one day in 1943, while serving on watch duty in desolated Stalingrad, he found a book in a destroyed house: "I began to read it and felt something native and dear to my soul. This was the Gospel. I found for myself such a treasure, such a comfort! I assembled all the pages together – the book was broken up – and I kept that Gospel with me at all times. Before that I had been in a state of great confusion: Why the war? Why are we warring? Much had been incomprehesible because there was complete athiesm in the country, lies, and one could not find the truth... I went about with the Gospel and did not fear. Never. Such was the inspiration! The Lord was simply by my side, and I did not fear." After demobilization he entered the Moscow Theological Seminary and then, upon completion, the Moscow Theological Academy, from which he was graduated in 1954. On August 25, 1954 he was tonsured a monk, and in time became the spiriutal father of the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra. He was the spiritual father of both Patriarch Pimen (+1990) and the late Patriarch Alexy II (+2008), and later moved to the Patriarchal residence in Peredelkino, while still remaining the spiritual father of the monastic brotherhood at the Lavra. (Prior to moving he had never left travelled outside the Lavra.) He remains there to this day, although bed-ridden. The following is my translation of a sermon he gave on Holy Tuesday on the necessity of vigilance or wakefulness:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Dear brothers and sisters, when the Lord was nearing the days of His suffering, He was especially close and candid with His disciples. The Savior said to the Apostles: Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you (Jn 15:15). He told them no longer in a hidden manner, but rather with special clarity, that He must suffer, that in this way he would prepare them for His suffering: Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified (Mt 26: 2). Seeing the sorrow that was overtaking the Apostles, He comforted His disciples with the promise that He would not abandon them.
Yet along with this the Lord did not hide from them that they too, and all Christians in general, likewise await the same lot as He, their Divine Teacher: Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (Mt 15: 20, 18, 19).
Once again, seeing that they were sorrowful, the Lord comforted them: In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you… Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (Jn 16:33, 14:16; Jn 14:27).
The Lord asks His disciples to abide in Him and fulfill His commandments, for without Him they can do nothing: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again (Jn 15:4, 7; 14:3).
The Lord comforts them, revealing to them that joy will follow from sorrows, that prizes have been prepared for them in the Coming Kingdom. Inasmuch as His disciples were interested in how the Lord would come to earth, the Savior announces to them the Divine truth that at the end of the world He will come in great glory to judge the living and the dead, and that all those who believe in Him sincerely and who have lived in repentance to the end of their lives will be found worthy of His Kingdom, and that the unbelieving or apostates, who have gone without repentance to the end of their lives, will be condemned to eternal torment.
When shall these things be? (Mt 24:3), the disciples asked. The Lord answered them that of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only (Mt 24:36). In this way the Holy Scriptures preserve in deep mystery, and do not reveal to us the assigned time of, the Second Coming, in order that we might keep ourselves in purity and chastity, preparing at all times to meet the Lord.
Therefore the Lord cautions his disciples: Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. Watch therefore (Mt 24:42; Lk 17:26, 27, 30; Mt 25:13).
In our time more than ever one needs to remember this warning, for today there are especially many who slumber and sleep. Spiritual sleep is not like physical sleep, which strengthens the organism; to the contrary, this is an unhealthy sleep, a sick lethargy, in which people pursue vanity while thinking they are living a real life, forgetting about the soul, about God, about the future Eternal Life. In order more deeply to impress in us the feeling of danger, the necessity of wakefulness, and to awaken our conscience from spiritual drowsiness, the Lord tells the parable of the ten virgins, which we heard in today’s Gospel reading:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh (Mt 25:1-13).
This parable teaches us that, accepting faith, we must accompany it with good deeds, which can and must support our spiritual life. The foolish virgins, going out to meet the Bridegroom, did not prepare the oil of good deeds for their lamps. The wise stored up good deeds along with their lamps in order to meet the Bridegroom worthily. So too our life must be a preparation for meeting the Lord, and for the rest of our lives we must constantly work towards the acquisition and preservation of living faith and burning love of God, the Source of life, and love of one’s neighbors.
The concerns of this age obscure the essential concern and aim of our life: the illumination of the soul with the light of Christ, its salvation and preparation for the Eternal Kingdom. Let us be sober so as to enter the Heavenly bridal chamber with the wise virgins and be found worthy by the Lord of eternal good things.