wooden church

Dedicated to the holy new martyr Maxim, First Martyr of the Lemko people

Somewhere, in the western marches of Orthodoxy, from the hills and forests of north-east Slovakia, the old wooden church speaks:

Many centuries ago, the Apostles spread the Faith of Christ from the very middle of the earth, from the Holy City itself, where the Saviour had been set on the cross and rose again on the third day. The holy men travelled south, to the burning sands of Arabia and Sheba, to the coastlands of Africa, they journeyed east to the shores of India, they sailed west to the Roman peoples, and at last they came north, here and beyond, to the lands where the snows never melt.

The Faith was oppressed by wicked men. After the passing of a thousand years, first to the south, and then to the west, men fell back to the ways from before the time of Christ, calling their old beliefs by new names. But, the last to receive the news, here to the north and east, we lived on. Our brothers in Muscovy took the faith eastwards, across the snowy wastes and forests, through mountains and deserts, over a sixth of Godís earth, to the shores of the Great Ocean and beyond, to the islands in the Ocean, and peoples who had never yet heard the name of Christ.

As for me, for generations I have stood here on the very edge of our world. The other churches around me, spruce and oak, ash and yew, they fell one by one to the advancing enemies of our Faith, but I lived on, because of simple folk whose faith did not waver. For hundreds of years men have fought here, and I have seen the kings and chief men of different nations claim to possess me, with their armies and their hordes.

First, came Teutonic peoples from the west, horsemen with crosses on their backs and swords in their hands. Then they came from the south, Tartars and Turks, who had conquered New Rome, with crescent moons, to burn us. Then they came from the west again, with crosses and beardless, wifeless priests, Poles, Magyars, Austrians. Then Teutons came again and again, the second time with crosses on their steel horses and iron birds, which roared and screamed, as they sped on. Then from the east again, like new Tartars, came peoples who had forsaken their faith, with more steel horses and fiery birds, with red stars on their sides.

Then men closed me, but time passed, and those men died as fools, and they opened me again. All the time I have not moved from my place, I have stood on this hill looking east, I am still the same. Here, in the high lands, on the very western borderlands of our Faith, the spring winds have brought me news of late, of peoples of Old Rome. Some there to the west have languished in captivity, yearning for the old Faith to be again, and have built new churches there. Now, in these times when few are faithful, they have taken our Faith all around the earth, completing the works of the Apostles of old.

Bells ring and birds call out, almost as before. But in the village below, along the forest-track where the green pines sway and rustle, they say that evil is afoot in the great cities of the earth, that most men have not changed, their hearts are still deceived. I, the old church on the hill, one of the last, say to you: Beware, faithful, walk with care, redeeming the time, for the days are evil.

Fr Andrew

11/24 May 2005
Sts Cyril and Methodius, Teachers of the Slavs