Acts 11: 19 – 26; 29 – 30 talks about the first and, by all standards, most fruitful and joyful times of the Church of Christ. It was the time of zeal and flourishing, when all the people who believed were “of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common… And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:32-33).
The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).
One sentence of St. Luke especially stands out. St. Luke talks about how the disciples scattered after the persecution which arose over Stephen, and preached the word of God. “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21)
It is the hand of the Lord, the good and compassionate hand that blesses, and also the terrible hand that strikes and punishes, that will be the subject of my sermon
Every one of us, and I am speaking from my own experience, can feel and must feel the hand of the Lord in his or her own life, and recognize it as such. I have often, almost physically, felt the Lord’s hand in my life. I am convinced that when someone has “no luck in anything,” it means that the hand of the Lord is not with him. Such a person ought to double or even triple their prayers and labours in order for the Lord’s blessing to be upon him again.
We are witnesses of how evil has spread its roots everywhere and has taken over all walks of life. The Evil One is working overtime to leave a deep imprint of his seal of evil and lawlessness. People are increasingly comfortable with evil. We are being made to feel afraid and insecure every day. We are threatened with deadly diseases, viruses, poisons, wars. No one feels secure enough to venture outside the home. We doubt the quality of our food, our water and the air we breathe. Do the medications we take really help us get better and are the vaccines that our children are prescribed really beneficial? Because of all this and other things not mentioned, one would think that the Lord has given up on His creation and that He has handed it over to the Evil One to grind and knead, and to laugh at the Creator and proclaim the Evil One’s supremacy. After all the mockery that has been directed at the Lord through novels and films such as Harry Potter and Da Vinci’s code, I shudder to think of what demonic ideas man will think up next.
Has everything really gone down the drain and has God really left us, dropping us out of His hands? For we know, and epistle reminds us, that if God’s hand is with someone, then His blessing also accompanies that person. If God takes His hand away from an individual, or a nation, then there is trouble and suffering. The answer lies in our faith, which teaches us that the Lord is the Almighty Creator. When the all-magnificent Creator made all things visible and invisible, he continued to be the Master who holds all the laws and the complete order of things in both worlds by His invincible power. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will, as the Son of God tells us in the Gospels (Mt. 10:29). “Not a hair of your head shall be lost” (Lk. 21:18) without the will of the Almighty. St. Nikolai says that in His mighty hand, the Lord holds even the negative, God-fighting powers.
“And the hand of the Lord was with them” (Acts 11:24). I feel that the hand of the Lord is far away from us, the Serbian people. It is as though the Lord has forgotten us. For decades now, evil is multiplying and becoming greater every day. Misfortune seems to be with us at all times. While all other nations are becoming stronger by uniting with one another, we have become divided, each village and each settlement for itself. We have become divided and we allow ourselves to become even more divided. It has been noted that Serbs are unique in that many nations have stemmed from us. It is our great misfortune that these “newborn nations” turn against us with a bitter vengeance in order to prove themselves different from us, their brothers and relatives. Many were the leaders that we hailed, sang praises to and placed all our hopes in. How many times have I envied those who had died before us. They were spared the terrible disappointments and left the world hoping that one day it would be a better place.
I look for the answers to the tragedy of our people, and as I reach out for the answers, even more painful questions arise. As always, I find the only possible answer in the holy wisdom of God, in the Holy Scriptures. Whenever the sons of Israel committed evil deeds in the eyes of the Lord, whenever they forsook the Lord God of their fathers and provoked His anger, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, and they were greatly distressed (Judges, 2:11-15). It is said clearly, without a trace of doubt: “If ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers (1 Sam. 12:15). There is no need to explain that we have turned our backs to the Lord a long time ago and that by our immeasurable sinning we have thrown stones at Him.
Some people ask me, “What terrible sin have we committed against God?” I could launch into a long and painful sermon about this, but I usually answer their question with another question. Is there any other nation under the sun that blasphemes against God and uses swearwords related to holy things as routine, meaningless expressions? Here is an example. Once we were sitting down at a slava dinner. Without blinking an eye, one of the guests swore using God as the subject in the sentence. I raised my voice at him in indignation and he just stared at me in disbelief. He hadn’t even noticed that he had just insulted God. Swearing had become a habit, a manner of speech with this man, a routine expression.
Our return to God is a long journey, but it is unavoidable. The Lord will not look upon our troubles and distress unless we, the Serbian people, change, unless we kneel in repentance before Him and cry out to Him: “We have sinned because we have forsaken the Lord… but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies and we will serve the” (1 Sam. 12:10).
The Lord has not forgotten us, and proof of this are our sufferings. But it is not all in His hands. A lot depends on us, too. It has been said to us through the prophet, “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Is. 59:1-2).
If a person or a nation feels that the hand of the Lord is removed from them (1 Sam 6:3) or, even worse, that the hand of the Lord “is gone out against them” (Ruth 1:13), and touched them (Job 19:21) and is sore upon them (1 Sam 5:7), then let them fall down before the Lord in repentance and the Lord will protect them with His hand and have mercy on them. “For the hand of the Lord is upon all them, for good that seek Him; but His power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him” (Ezra 8:22).