A parable from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
In Russia, 11 September is marked as the day of sobriety. Its celebration resumed in 2014, 100 years after it was abandoned in 1914. It coincides with the Orthodox Christian feast of John the Baptist, commemorating the beheading of the prophet. King Herod had him executed in the middle of a drunken feast. On the day of the feast, Christians observe a strict fast. In the old times, all wine shops used to close, and the sale of alcohol stopped all around the country.
On this day, we share this inspirational story about Bishop Philaret of Moscow and miraculous healing from the drinking habit, as told by Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh.
I remember this story from the life of Bishop Philaret of Moscow about a village priest who was a heavy drinker and a desperate priest from another village where all the residents were always drunk. It occurred to Philaret that he should place the drunkard priest in the village with heavy drinkers, as there was little else that he could do for them. And so he did. The drunkard priest came to the village of drinkers, gathered his parishioners and said,
“Here is the situation. The bishop has lost all hope for you and me, for we are drinkers. But I am also a priest, and I must serve the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and the feast days, and I must take communion, even though I am a drunk. So here is my suggestion to you. Come to church to commune together, lamenting our lives and pleading for the Lord’s forgiveness; we are not worthy to approach His Cup, but we still trust in His mercy.
What happened next? As we learn from the life of Saint Philaret, the people were impressed, amazed and grateful; through the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Sacraments, the villagers began to change, and ultimately, the drinking stopped. The priest returned to a sober life, and so did the villagers.
What a remarkable example this story presents! The people from that village were not fasting or observing the church rule, yet they found God because He was the Only One Who loved them despite their unworthiness. – “Love us bitter, anyone can love us sweet,” goes an old Russian saying. Miracles happen. I am convinced that where someone is breaking a rule through neglect, he deserves a reprimand. But where he does so through ignorance, lack of faith and doubts the rule’s necessity, we must first let him experience the closeness of God, not demand immediate compliance.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
From “Brothers priests, beware” an interview of Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh with the bulletin “Church and Time”