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An Excerpt from “Homilies on the Divine Liturgy" by St. Seraphim (Zvezdinsky)

Forthcoming from Uncut Mountain Press

& available Monday, April 15th.

Translated by Fr. Zechariah Lynch. You can visit his personal blog here.


Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth

Last time I explained the first part of the Eucharistic canon, which is called the glorification. The second part is called the hymn of the Seraphim. My friends, we are willing to devote a lot of time to the thorough study of the writings of famous authors. If we are willing to give so much attention to the works of the human mind, which is rotting, always imperfect, and nothing, then how much more diligently, thoroughly, and attentively should we study the works and creations of a mind established by the Holy Spirit.

What grateful delight, what holy trembling should seize our souls when we pronounce the name "Hymn of the Seraphim." It is the song of the Seraphim who are the closest to the Throne of the Almighty, and who are aflame with the fire of God's love, as it is written in one holy text. The Seraphim's love is a fiery flame. These fiery servants of the Lord unceasingly glorify Him and never grow tired of singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory."97

Who heard this miraculous song, what composer gave us this heavenly music? Five people, my beloved ones, have heard this heavenly song; five composers reproduced the words of the fiery Seraphim—three are from the Old Testament, and two are from the New. The divine Isaiah heard the song of the Seraphim as he rapturously proclaimed the Divine Liturgy of the Old Testament. In the sixth chapter of his book, he tells us the Seraphim cover their faces in awe, not daring to gaze upon the face of God. How much more awe should we have when He grants us not only to see but also partake of Him with our very own mouths in the Mystery of Holy Communion. Contemplate on what a great mercy of God is revealed to us at this time!

The devout Ezekiel was the second one to hear the hymn of the Seraphim and see them. He beheld the Throne of the Lord supported by the four living-creatures, which are now depicted around the four Evangelists.98 In remembrance of these living-creatures, these words are proclaimed during the Divine Liturgy, "Singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming, and saying." Singing relates to the eagle, shouting to the bull, proclaiming or in the Greek "roaring" — to the lion, and saying to the man. At the proclamation of these words the deacon taps the diskos four times with the star in remembrance of the voices of the living creatures, who support the Throne of the Lord of Hosts.

The third one to behold the glory of God was the man of desire, the prophet Daniel. The Ancient of Days was seated on a Throne and thousands of thousands, innumerable myriads, attended to Him. A river of fire flowed before Him.99

In the New Testament the divine apostle Paul beheld the Lord, for he was lifted up to the third heaven and heard ineffable words that are impossible for anyone to utter.100

And finally, John the Theologian, the seer of mysteries and apostle, while on an island 101 saw the Lord in the image of the majestic Son of Man and recorded this vision in his Revelation. It is he who told the apostle James and the other authors of the Divine Liturgy of the Seraphic hymn. You, my friends, just meditate on whose hymn we are singing that of the Seraphim and of the angels. This one name has already sanctified our mouths-do not imagine that it means nothing when we pronounce the name of angels, the saints, the Most-Sweet name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Most-Pure Theotokos. No, in saying their names we are not simply pronouncing words because if they are pronounced with due attention and reverence, they sanctify us and call upon us the grace-filled mercy and help of the One Whose name we pronounce, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner," "Most-Holy Theotokos save us." Pronouncing them first with our mouths, they then pass over to the heart. But we do not pronounce them as we should and this is why we do not sense the grace-filled action of these words on us. Maybe if we would at least call on them as fervently as we call for our cattle that have yet to return home, even then we would feel the power of these holy names. But we don't even do that. Our cold mouths do not raise our words of prayer up to the saints, nor do they unite us to them.

"Holy, Holy, Holy," sing the Seraphim day and night; with two of their wings they cover their faces, so reverent are they before the Almighty that they dare not count themselves worthy to gaze on the holy countenance of the Lord. With two wings they cover their feet and with two wings they fly. As the faithful in the temple are repeating the Seraphic glorification, the priest quietly prays, "With these blessed powers ...." This prayer explains why we must give thanks to the Lord and why the Seraphim unceasingly sing to Him, "Holy art Thou and All-Holy." The Father so loved the world to give His Only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish102 this is the reason for such exultation in heaven and such trembling reverence.

The Lord is the Creator of the world and the luminous spirits103; the Lord Almighty and Fearsome, upon Whom the celestial ones dare not gaze. He it is Who so loved the world-sinful and impure, full of sin, evil, and lusts, full of filth this world He so loved that He gave His Only-begotten Son for its salvation. Think on this, my friends, He gave His Son! And this Son came preaching peace and love but those to whom He came hung Him on the Cross, they condemned Him to unbearable torment, and betrayed Him to death. The heavens shuttered and the Cherubim were astounded with perplexity. The Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels stood in fear and bewilderment. The Only-begotten Son, before Whom they stand with reverence—He is humiliated and crushed and dies on the Cross. The famous artist Vasnetsov 104 amazingly depicts this in a painting that carries the name "So loved the world." The sky is covered in dark clouds, from which it seems peals of thunder sound; zig-zags of fiery lightning pierce the darkness that shrouds the earth and illuminates the Cross, and on a Throne above the clouds the Ancient of Days looks upon the earth. Before Him throng the Seraphim in reverent fear, struck with amazement, one of whom extends to Him his hands in complete wonder at the mystery, which is inscrutable even for his shining intellect. The other one clings to the arm of the Lord of Hosts, full of awe he has even ceased singing and the festal hymn has fallen silent for a time. The other two Seraphim prostrate themselves before the Throne and are enveloped in the clouds like a soaring eagle is enveloped in the blue sky. "God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish." 105

My friends, my dearly loved ones, do you understand these words "God so loved the world"? And His Son full of the same love descended to the earth, took the form of a servant, received every humiliation, and finally died a shameful death. 106 And not only that; He, the Only-begotten Son of God, Consubstantial with the Father, on that night took bread, broke and gave it, saying, "Take, eat;" He gave the cup saying, "Drink of it, all of you." In this way He communed His disciples and has also given these priceless gifts to us who believe in Him. We eat His Body and drink His Blood. 107

Our impure and wicked mouths are moistened with His Blood. This Divine gift permeates our very being and passes into every one of our members. He has given us the Divine Liturgy at which the mystery of the Dread Sacrifice is always offered. So great is God's love toward us, so infinite, that it encompasses the whole world, every creature, and all of creation. It is only because this Sacrifice is offered up that the earth gives forth fruit. The earth was subjected to a curse, under which it brings forth weeds. If we eat bread, it is only because it is needed for the Divine Liturgy, only because every day it is set forth on the table of oblation and the altar in remembrance of the slain Lamb, and every day the Mystery of the Dread Sacrifice is served. As long as the Divine Liturgy is served, I will fear nothing—neither hunger, nor pestilent insects, nor drought, nor hailstorms. I know that bread is needed for the Liturgy and the earth will bring it forth. Even if the sky turns to brass and the earth becomes dry and hardened, still I would not fear that we will perish. No! The Sacrifice is offered and the priest exclaims, "Thine own of Thine own!" The earth will give what is needed at the lifting up and offering of these words. Fear nothing! Hope in God, Who so loved the world.

But woe if the Divine Liturgy ceases to be served; woe if the Bloodless Sacrifice is not offered. Then the world will perish. The earth will not give fruit because it is subject to a curse and is living only thanks to His unspeakable love, and it serves Him with bread. [If the Divine Liturgy ceases] the sun will no longer give its light because it is needed for the bringing forth of bread in the service of the Divine Liturgy; we will, all of us, die because we live only through Christ our Lord. But I believe the Liturgy will not cease to be served and the Seraphim will join with people and eternally sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth."

97 Cf. Rev. 4:8

98 Cf. Ezekiel. 1:4ff

99 Cf. Daniel 7:9-10

100 Cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-4

101 Patmos

102 Cf. John 3:16

103 I.e., the Angels

104 Viktor Vasnetsov, 1848-1926

105 John 3:16

106 Philippians 2:5ff

107 Cf. John 6:53-57

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The Divine Liturgy is the greatest action that can be on Earth. If we really understood the Divine Liturgy, we would die of joy.


Thank you Orthodox Ethos and Uncut Mountain Press ❤️

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