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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Sunday, 29 December 2013

BEAUTY SHALL PREVAIL by Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok of St Elizabeth'e Convent, Minsk


Why am I publishing an article on the Transfiguration at Christmas?   Because the Transfiguration reveals the secret of Christmas - Fr David

Meeting of Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok with the House of Love of Labour Staff 

Dear Father, can you please tell us about the spiritual meaning of the feast of Transfiguration?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: There was a miracle on Mount Tabor – the Lord was transfigured. However, there had been lots of miracles – healings, resurrections, etc. - why did this act of God become one of the twelve major Christian feasts? What bearing does this feast have on us who live two thousand years later?

You know, I have been to Mount Tabor. It is very beautiful. There is a very nice Greek monastery and picturesque landscape. A cloud is said (and it is not a myth or legend, it is a fact just like the Descent of the Holy Fire) to descend on Mount Tabor every year on the feast of Transfiguration.

You see, the disciples witnessed the divine nature of Christ on Mount Tabor. The light that shone on them was the uncreated divine light. The Orthodox believe it to be the sovereign act of God, the spiritual light, rather than the light that we use for illumination.

This uncreated light is present in every human being. I saw this light in Father Nicholas on the Isle of Zalit. It was a precious moment! The light we are talking about is completely different from the light perceived by our senses. In spite of this difference, it cuddles up our souls and makes them satisfied, delighted, and vibrant. God touches humanity, and we can see it with our own eyes.

Is it a mystery. This miracle was revealed not for no reason. Before the Crucifixion, before the fading of the earthly light, the Apostles could see the light of God's love, the beauty that made Apostle Peter spellbound; he could only say, “It is good for us to be here” (Cf. Matthew 17:4). He was shocked...

There was a voice from above after their meeting with God. The Apostles descended from Mount Tabor and went to another mountain, where they saw the wounded and dying body of their Master instead of this light. This is what happens in our lives sometimes: we come to God and the light of God's love is revealed to us, our souls are revived but then they lose touch with God and suffer, ache, and die. Nevertheless, the memories of this beauty, of these moments of genuine life must revitalise us and give us strength to follow Christ.

The fact that we live two thousand years after this event... You know, there is no such thing as time for the Church because eternity dwells here. When we take part in the service, we break through time, and it ceases to exist... This is a mystery. When we partake of the Flesh and Blood of Christ, it is the otherworldly life, the eternal life, that we partake of. This is the reason why the entire Orthodox calendar is based not on memorable dates but on leading us humans into the new life where Christ reveals His divine self and beauty to us, so that we could follow Him all the way through to the Great Friday, when the Holy Shroud is venerated, when we see the sepulchre where the Saviour lies. And then we experience the most crucial moment in our lives – the Resurrection, the victory over death. Indeed, you see that there is no death but life instead! We simply have to believe it, we should enter into this life, and everything will definitely change.

Father Andrew, do you watch fiction films? If yes, what are your favourite films? Would you like to watch certain old films again? What would you recommend to watch?

In fact, I dreamed of becoming a film director, and I still dream of making a film. I like films that inspire and call the audience to eternity. It does not necessarily mean religious films: in fact, such films are the least likely to inspire. I feel bored when I watch religious films: sometimes they resemble a theology textbook for schools. They are boring and uninteresting.

There are plenty of wonderful films, both old and new ones. I watched Solaris soon after I graduated from school, and it overwhelmed me. Such films require a special mood to watch. For example, Human Fate – I do not think there is a better film about the Great Patriotic War. The Ascent is also a great film. Unfortunately, there are few films like these.

I suppose that the following films are the best out of the more recent ones: “Yurev Den”, “Wild Steppe”, “Journey with Domestic Animals.” “Ostrov” is a very good film; it is evident that God blessed and inspired this work. However, in The Tsar the same director made attempt to do better than he could – and failed.

I believe that every film has both positive and negative sides. Time is money, so it seems to me that if you want to watch a film, you can decide whether it is worth watching at a glance. If the film deserves your attention, every shot must be concise and harmonious. If it isn't, don't waste your time: there is enough ugliness and pain in life nowadays. If you watch a film, it must be useful for your soul.

I have watched Olga Sergeyevna film series recently, starring Doronina; I was astonished...  Tenderness, starring Nakhapetov, is also a good film.

We use cinema therapy for the residents of our metochions. Our idea was to show to the people who had spent their entire lives in jail and who had never had families the films that they had never seen. It seems to me that art has a powerful influence on every person. I told the sisters, “You should discuss the films with the brothers and sisters after watching: allow everyone to share their impressions and thoughts inspired by the films.” It is like a sermon because an artist is a preacher; regardless of whether he is a musician, or a writer, or a film director, he is able to share the thoughts and ideas that he has accumulated. Art is both a sermon and a pulpit.

This is why we have a cinema studio in honour of St John the Warrior at the Convent. We hope that we will finally be able to make films that will spread the light, make people think, feel, and get rid of indifference and apathy. I think it is one of the ways to preach. Unfortunately, cinema nowadays is possessed with the spirit of destruction; the ideas that it propagates are devastating and destructive. The fact that they are propagated, that the contemporary cinema is based on special effects while at the same time exterminates the living and the authentic, is terrible.

Are there spiritual authors, apart from Archimandrite Sophrony, whom you like most? Whose works do you like to read and re-read?

My dear friends, I do not have enough time to read and re-read books. I read accounts of sins: I always have a pile of diaries where our sisters write down their sins and let me read them. These diaries are a supplement to confession. They are a great support to those who write them. The sisters feel that when I read their diaries, they get closer to God.

Now I perceive life as a book into which I should write everything I see and hear. You can be reading all the time even if you do not read anything at all, if you are attentive and able to hear what other people say or hide. Confession is when people share things that they were previously unable to admit even to themselves, and it is like thick volumes.

Of course, I would like to read more but unfortunately, I am lazy and careless. One needs to read books. I used to read a lot; I literally swallowed books. When I went to the library of the House of Officers, it was like a miracle – too much choice. We would read books by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoi, Goncharov even during classes, hiding the books under the school desk. As a matter of fact, the Russian language and the classic Russian literature is so rich!

Now one's perspective is limited to a display where you can simply click on some buttons, and do not need to read anything and think about anything because everything is ready for use. You know, when food is cooked – it is a mystery, too. I even wanted to be a cook. I like cooking very much but my wife protests against it, so I do not cook in order to maintain peace in the family. One must have intuition and desire to make food tasty. That is when he can invent new techniques and understand what to put into the meal so that it would be really delicious. There is no comparison between homemade food, made with love and tenderness, and instant noodles brewed in cup.

When people gather at the table and talk, when they are close to each other and start to feel each other better, this is a real mystery. If you do not gather at the table for lunch or dinner at home, even once a week, you are missing out on something. It could unite your family. I understand that there are products that hardly anyone could afford but even fish or chicken (it can be so yummy if properly cooked!) will unite you and your beloved ones. This moment will be so precious, you will enjoy it! I have recently found out that rice can be very tasty.  In fact, whenever one makes anything with prayer, it is great!

We have been to Nikandrova Pustyn. They cook simple meals, such as potato, cabbage, home-baked bread. However, their meals are so delicious! It is because the monks cook with prayer and in an oven. Therefore, food can be used not as a temptation but as an expression of God's grace.

Cinema or computers – everything can become a sermon; everything can help people to acquire spiritual knowledge. Everything can be transformed and sanctified if only we were willing to change our lives and to look for God. We can find Him everywhere, even in the most unexpected places – even where they call us “hey, you!” instead of “brother” or “sister.”

We have taken a small break from our work, haven't we? Forgive me if I undertook more than I should have, but I have told you everything I have been thinking about. I am a weak person, naturally, and I cannot cope with my duties today but sometimes I have to put up with it. If God wants me to leave this obedience, I will leave it. As long as I have to carry it out, I will carry it out, no matter how difficult it might be. I was hearing confessions until 4:30 AM last night, and I will be doing the same tonight. It is hard, I do not complain but it is hard to do it because I want to sleep, etc. Notwithstanding this fact, I have to get up and go on living; I must not allow myself to sleep.

I feel sad when I come and try to speak, and see the monastic sisters falling asleep. On the contrary, you are not sluggish, you are vibrant, good, and nice. May the Lord save you all, dear brothers and sisters! You are holy people who work in the holy place, who carry out your holy obediences; each one of you shows their talents, each one of you deserves a biography film, and I think everything will happen in its own time.

November 24, 2013

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