The future Bishop Benjamin was born Victor Milov into the family of a priest on July 8, 1887, in Orenburg. He graduated from the Vyatka Seminary and later the Moscow Theological Academy. He was tonsured a monk in 1918, and soon elevated to the rank of archimandrite. He was then appointed superior of the Protection Monastery in Moscow. From 1946 he was a member of the monastic brotherhood at the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra and taught at the Moscow Theological Seminary and Academy, specializing in patrology and pastoral theology. In 1948 he defended his master’s thesis entitled “The Love of God According to the Teaching of the Bible and the Orthodox Church,” and was awarded the title of professor and appointed Dean of Students of the Moscow Theological Academy. In 1954 he was appointed rector of the St Elias Church in Serpukhov. On February 4, 1955, he was consecrated Bishop of Saratov and Balashov in the Annunciation Cathedral by Patriarch Alexy I and other hierarchs. He reposed on August 2, 1955. What follows is my translation of his sermon "How to Preserve the Joy of the Resurrection," given on Holy Saturday:
Perhaps, beloved brethren, it would be better to keep silence, because the Holy Church today sings: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and in fear and trembling stand, rendering nothing earthly-mined. For the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, comes to be slain, to give Himself as food to the faithful!” (from the Holy Saturday service).
Perhaps it would be better today to recall our sins, to know ourselves and remain silent. But our soul dares to speak and today it dares to tell you something.
Now we must remind you about something and let you know beforehand that all of us are treasures, bought by the precious blood of our Savior. We must remember that this evening or, more accurately, tonight, the Lord will draw nigh the Kingdom of God to our souls, draw it nigh as never before.
This century is a century of extreme malice, envy, self-love, a century of the tumultuous outpouring of passion. All of this, in this great, holy night, loses its power: malice grows quiet, envy ceases to corrode the soul, pride disappears, human passions are blunted, and our hearts are filled with unspeakable spiritual joy, delight, and exultation. This joy comes not because it is joyful in church; not because there will be many people; but because the Lord draws His Kingdom nigh to us, grants us His grace with an especially generous hand.
You see, when someone is in church he is calm and joyful, but arriving home, he is again immersed in the mire of everyday worries and troubles, losing this joy. Sinful feelings awaken in him anew, and he begins to lead his former life.
How do we lose the grace received on such a great day? The Lord Himself said: And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares (Lk 21:34).
Arriving home we will, as usual, break the fast. Normally we break the fast not only with the body, but with the soul as well. One loses oneself in food, forgetting everything, growing satiated. As a result of this one becomes inclined to sleep, carnal thoughts weigh one down, and one often suffers a fall, or is overtaken by a heavy, dark sleep, which poisons all the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. One becomes heavy, too lazy to do anything, even to think.
Therefore, that the joy of the feast not be taken away from us, let us be moderate in food, striving to keep ourselves hale and hearty as long as we can.
Our feast is normally not without wine. Under the guise of taking refreshment, people drink to one another and get drunk with various drinks. From excessive consumption of wine one becomes unbridled, more daring in one’s actions and, under the influence of wine, performs no small amount of foolishness, for which reason the Apostle Paul says: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).
Nowadays not only adults, but even children drink. Today it is considered normal, and even necessary, to give wine to young children. Not knowing limits, adults themselves drink wine with a child and laugh if someone gets this young person drunk. By so doing they divert this child from Christ, Who died and suffered for this child. The Lord Himself said: But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Mt 18:6). For it is a great sin to defile an innocent young soul.
So one must be moderate in wine, and not allow children to drink it.
Then the Lord said we should not let earthly sorrow weigh down our hearts. People return home from church in an elevated, compunctious mood. But, finding oneself among an unbelieving family, one becomes upset and, offended by one’s family members, one loses that joyful feeling, a sense of burning resentment accumulates in one’s soul, and one cries bitter tears. These tears, which so gush forth from one’s eyes, cast a shadow over the soul and remove joy from the heart.
On such a day, if one has such trouble on one’s soul, sorrow over earthly needs, one should not cry, one should hide this woe in one’s heart and remain silent, so as not to disturb the general delight and exultation.
One can also ascribe to earthly sorrows conversations about earthly needs, which in the long run lead to condemnation. These conversations are especially lively during Paschal greetings. Fulfilling the law of politeness, people make unnecessary visits to one another, visiting and conversing with people they perhaps not only do not like, but even hate. These visits are of absolutely no benefit whatsoever, these official visits are simply a formality, a relic of antiquity, which are long overdo to be done away with. To the contrary, one needs to find the sort of person who can, according to the words of the Apostle Paul, rekindle our heart, who can plant a good seed, bring benefit to our soul.
So let our hearts be filled with spiritual delight, radiant joy, and quiet calm in this holy night. May they not grow cold, but be burning lamps, for the Paschal night, like no other night, revives man.
Let us be moderate in food and drink, let us set our mouth not to speak idle words and judgments, and then our souls will be blessed with Christ, to Whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.