Homilies

Archbishop Seraphim - Sep 19, 2010 - Holy Resurection, Vancouver

Points to Ponder

Please find in the "Points to Ponder" section short excerpts from the homilies of Vladyka Seraphim.

Almsgiving

POINTS TO PONDER : ALMSGIVING

  • “We often think that Great Lent is simply about going to church much more often, reading more, and eating different things (but not necessarily less). There is more to it than that. As you will hear over and over again in our hymnography in Great Lent, giving to the poor and needy, the widows, the orphans, and so forth, is one of our major preoccupations in Great Lent. This emphasis is supposed to be helping us remember how our lives should be all the time”. See Homily : 1 February, 2009, Zacchæus Sunday, We turn a new Leaf.
  • “Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevitch), of blessed memory, is known always to have had money in his pocket specifically for the purpose of giving money to those who were going to ask for it whenever he was walking on his way somewhere”. See Homily : 28 February, 2009, Saturday before Great Lent, Humble, open-hearted, generous Almsgiving.]
  • “Metropolitan Leonty was not alone, because Archbishop Gregory, of blessed memory, and his uncle, the famous choir director, Nicholas Afonsky, behaved in just the same way. The uncle said to his nephew, Archbishop Gregory : 'If you are walking about somewhere and someone is asking you for money, it is not your business to ask him questions about this money. If he asks for money, he needs it, so give him whatever you have to give him. You do not ask him questions. If he is going to misuse it, that is his business. It is between him and the Lord'”. [See previous homily of 28 February, 2009.]
  • “Therefore, brothers and sisters, as we are about to begin Lent, let us do our best to co-operate with the Lord and His love. Let us begin Lent with the understanding that the main point of Lent is that we need our love for the Saviour to be increased more and more. We need to remember that we cannot do anything good except with His help. He will heal whatever is amiss with us more and more as we offer ourselves to the Lord”. [See previous homily of 28 February, 2009.]
  • “When we are giving money to someone who is asking for it, when we are helping a neighbour who needs help, or visiting someone who is sick in the hospital or otherwise indisposed, when we are visiting someone in prison or we are caring for the needs of others, we are also offering this to Christ”. See Homily : 22 February, 2009, Sunday of the Last Judgement, Everything must be under-girded with Love.
  • “All through Great Lent we are going to be reminded, ourselves, that in order to express our love for Jesus Christ we have to give alms to the poor. All sorts of people are forgetting this element of Great Lent, thinking that the fast is mainly concerned with depriving ourselves of meat, with bemoaning ourselves and our sins, and so forth. Lent is not just that”. See Homily : 10 February, 2008, Zacchæus Sunday, Repentance as applied Love.
  • “What we are almost always forgetting in North America is that the other significant half of Great Lenten activity is almsgiving, caring for the poor, paying special attention to people who are in need”. See Homily : 6 March, 2005, Sunday of the Last Judgement, How to observe Great Lent.
  • “This openness, this hospitality in the love of God, is what is important. It is not that someone might take advantage of us that is the main concern. If someone tries to take advantage, that is between that person and God. Our responsibility is to share, and to embrace people in love. Who knows if the person who begins taking advantage might not be healed by the encounter with selfless giving and caring ? A person could wake up from the deception of grasping and greediness, and learn open-armed hospitality, open-hearted hospitality”. See Homily : 22 August, 2009, Marriage is a serious Business.

Forgiveness

POINTS TO PONDER : FORGIVENESS

  • All the excerpts on this page are from the homily The Foundation of Forgiveness. See Homily : 9 March, 2008, Forgiveness Sunday, The Foundation of Forgiveness.
  • “It is important for us to forgive those against whom we have something negative. It is crucial that we forgive anyone who hurts us. It is crucial that we forgive anyone or everyone about everything, because our Lord says : '"If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your trespasses"' (Mark 11:26). This is what He says to us. It is really serious. It is not merely a statement of principle. It is a statement of fact directed to each of us personally. The foundation of our Christian life is completely rooted in this forgiveness”.
  • “Non-forgiveness continues to sow poison in my heart : it continues to paralyse my life. Non-forgiveness continues to hurt other people, too, because it clouds my judgement. Non-forgiveness clouds my reactions to other people when they are inter-relating with me. Non-forgiveness poisons everything. Even if there is only one person or one situation in my life that remains unforgiven, it still makes everything cloudy and messy. It is really important that even though we may do nothing else great in our lives, we, in harmony with the Lord, must find the way to forgive everyone everything in our lives”.
  • “When we do, in the Lord, forgive everyone everything, finally we become free. We become truly free. We become free to be our real selves. We find our real selves in a loving relationship with the Lord. We exercise this real self in loving relationships with human beings and with creation, in healthy, loving relationships that are full of selfless love”.
  • “Therefore, needless to say, we have to forgive. How do we do this ? Saint Silouan of Mount Athos is a person of the previous century who (directly or indirectly) has told us how to do this simply. He tells us that we can come to forgiving by saying this simple prayer : 'Lord have mercy'. We say it over and over and over again for any person or anything or any situation that requires forgiveness. As Archimandrite Sophrony says, when we are saying 'Lord have mercy', we are actually making a statement which, all by itself, summarises the Gospel. We are confessing that the Lord is the Lord, and we are asking Him to have mercy on me, and on the person or the situation, everyone, everything, whoever”.
  • “When we are saying 'Lord have mercy', we are asking that He do exactly that : be His loving, healing Self to us all. Saint Silouan and Archimandrite Sophrony say that when this prayer passes through us to the other person, it passes through our heart, and opens our heart to this mercy from the Lord. It enables the other person to have some possibility of accepting the same mercy. Ultimately, it is always up to the other person freely to accept or to reject this mercy. The Lord does not force Himself, but this prayer enables the possibility”.
  • “Moreover, on top of all that, people are finding over and over again that when they are saying this prayer in this way, even though there may not be such a big change in the other person or the situation (because sometimes you cannot change the situation), the poison from that situation is removed from the heart. The Lord takes the poison out of the situation in the past that is so painful. He also takes away the poison of the memory of the wrongdoing from another person. The more we say this prayer, the more He extracts the poison. Through this prayer, the pain is dissipated, along with the death sown in our hearts by the anger and the bitterness that we may sometimes feel towards other people. Finally, it is taken away altogether, so that there is no remaining poison. I may remember the event, but it does not any longer poison me. I may remember the wrong, but it does not any longer poison me. Instead, I feel sorry for the person who wronged me”.
  • “When we come to the point of remembering a situation or a person or an event or whatever, and it no longer reflexively stirs up anger, no longer stirs up disturbance or depression or darkness or whatever else, then we will know that we have actually, with God’s mercy, been able to forgive. Because we have co-operated with the Lord and listened to Him, He has healed our heart, and healed our memory”.
  • “Sometimes, when something is particularly painful and particularly stubborn in our lives, the pain does not easily or quickly go away. It is important for us to offer this pain and suffering repeatedly to the Lord. It is important to supplement our supplication with taking holy water, and anointing with oil, through which the Lord does convey His healing love to our souls and bodies”.

Great Lent

POINTS TO PONDER : GREAT LENT

  • “What truly has meaning is my offering to God of my abstaining from flesh-meats and other delightful things, in order to spend more time with Him because I love Him”. See Homily : 6 March, 2005, Sunday of the Last Judgement, How to observe Great Lent.
  • “We offer our fasting, our abstinence to the Lord because of love, so that we can spend more time with Him, and less time cooking. Let us not worry about the ‘exact’ rules of everything in Great Lent. Rather, let us worry about deepening our loving relationship with the Lord. That is the purpose of everything”. [See previous homily of 6 March, 2005.]
  • “Let us be concerned about what we are doing for our brothers and sisters, and how we can be good to them. It is about precisely those things that the Saviour is going to be asking you and me at the end … “. [See previous homily of 6 March, 2005.]
  • “It is all very well to know how one ought properly to fast in a particular season. However, if the love of Jesus Christ is not at the foundation of that, if the love of Jesus Christ, and the encounter with Jesus Christ in the heart is not at the root of all of this, then, as the Apostle Paul said in his Epistle to the Corinthians, it is ‘sounding brass or a clanging cymbal’ (1 Corinthians 13:1)". See Homily : 24 September, 2005, The Example of Saint Peter the Aleut.
  • “Some people are tempted to turn the observance of Great Lent into a sort of ‘reign of terror’, one might say, where we are afraid everyday of breaking some rule about what we can or cannot eat”. See Homily : 11 February, 2007, Sunday of the Last Judgement, True Freedom in Love.
  • “The first reason I am offering a fast or an abstinence from certain foods is that I want to be pleasing to the Lord. Offering to Him this act of not eating (when almost my whole life can otherwise be pre-occupied with eating) is an attempt to take the emphasis off ‘me’, and to put the emphasis on the Lord instead, where it should be. The not-eating, and the doing of good works for people who need help and support of one sort or another, feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, and so forth, are all expressions of the love of God”. See Homily : 24 January, 2010, Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, Fasting enables the right Focus on Life.
  • “Let us ask the Lord to renew our strength, to renew our focus, to renew our hope, to renew our love. Knowing that no man is an island, let us ask Him to enable us to be an encouragement to those around us by our love, by our hospitality, by our joy, by our peace, by our stability, by our service, and by how we glorify the All-Holy Trinity”. See Homily : 27 February, 2010, 2nd Sunday in Great Lent, Encouraging one another.
  • “We have a Sunday in Great Lent given to … the reminder of this 'Ladder'. The book itself is read in monasteries throughout every Great Lent. In regard to the ladder, we do not begin stepping onto it and making progress towards Christ, who is at the top end of the ladder, unless we begin with Christ and understand that Christ, Himself, is, in effect, the whole ladder. There is no separation between ourselves and Christ in the whole course of our progress of deepening our love in Him, of becoming more and more focussed on Him, more and more mindful of Him, more and more full of His love, more and more identified with Him, and more and more like Him. He is with us at all times". See Homily : 14 March, 2010, 4th Sunday in Great Lent, Christ, Himself, is the Ladder.
  • “Acquiring the heart, the mind, the love and life of Christ is always achieved through prayer and fasting. Giving up ourselves to Him, throwing away anything that is not of Him, allowing and asking Him always to unite us to Himself, to fill us with His love, is what constitutes this progress". [See previous homily of 14 March, 2010.]
  • “May the Lord grant you the heart to increase in love, and increase in your knowledge of your real self as a beloved child of Him, who created you”. [See previous homily of 14 March, 2010.]
  • “May the Lord increase your joy as you pass through these days, and multiply your ability to serve Him. May you be a shining and effective witness of His love …”. [See previous homily of 14 March, 2010.]

Humility

POINTS TO PONDER : HUMILITY

  • "I am not the centre of the universe. Jesus Christ is". See Homily : 14 August, 2005, Learning how to trust the Saviour.
  • "If we are truly following in the footsteps of Christ, we do not exalt ourselves. We do not make ourselves out to be anything more than what we are – which is, a servant of God, a lover of God. We are not something great. The Saviour Himself, who is the Lord of the whole universe after all, came in our midst, washed the apostles’ feet, and said : '"I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you"' (John 13:15). This means that we have to be servants of each other, as He continues to be our servant to this day. We are not greater than God. We are not greater than this Master who served all of the time that He was amongst us in the flesh". See Homily : 9 February, 2009, Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, We conform ourselves to Christ.
  • "That is how we like to think : I am just like everyone else ; I am just a regular sinner like everyone else. This is not the way it is. It cannot be the way it is, because this is not how the Lord teaches us in everything He is saying to us and doing amongst us. The publican is not making any comparisons with anyone else. He is saying : 'Have mercy on me, the sinner'. He is only speaking about himself and his own condition to the Lord, and asking the Lord to save him, heal him, correct him and help him in repentance". [See previous homily of 9 February, 2009.]
  • "The fact is, my dear brothers and sisters, that the Church is a hospital for sinners. We are all more or less in the same boat. We are all more or less tempted in rather the same way, as anyone who is hearing confessions will tell you. The sins of human beings are very repetitive. We are all just about the same". See Homily : 24 September, 2005, The Example of Saint Peter the Aleut.
  • "Our Lord says that it is important for us to humble ourselves like little children. This, according to my understanding of it, truly is the essence of the way of a Christian". See Homily : 27 August, 2005, Child-like Humility.
  • "The child looks to the parents for everything, and expects the parents to protect him or her in everything. This is precisely how the Lord wants us to be towards Him. I think that people who are on farms are still in the best position to experience this sense of child-like humility. ... Farmers have always had this basic relationship of trust with the Lord which has been life-giving". [See previous homily of 24 September, 2005.]
  • "This child in us is a direct connection between us and Him. Let us ask the Lord this morning in our worship to renew this child-like love in our , and to freshen up this confidence in Him. It is this that is life-giving". [See previous homily of 24 September, 2005.]
  • hearts

  • "This is the way for you and for me – self-emptying, self-sacrificing, selfless love – not putting ourselves first and in front of everyone and everything (which Canadian society says we are supposed to do). We must do the opposite : to be the last, and to be happy to be the last ; not to be praised for everything, but to be satisfied to be serving Christ, to be doing good things in our lives, to be living according to the talents that God has given, and offering them to Him ; not to be asking to be thanked for everything that we do, but to be grateful that we can serve the Lord in helping other people, in feeding other people who are hungry, in consoling other people who are grief-stricken for one reason or another, in being useful to God according to the gifts He has given. I do not need the thanks of human beings. It is enough satisfaction to know that these things that are being done are being done to His glory". See Homily : 28 August, 2005, Being Imitators of the Mother of God.
  • "The Saviour emptied Himself and became least of all so that the Father ultimately raised Him up and exalted Him above everyone and everything. Exaltation comes only after self-emptying humility. Humility is not being a grovelling creeper, like Uriah Heep. It is knowing who we are in Christ, having confidence in Christ’s love, and knowing that we were created to be good. At the same time, humility is understanding that we do not need to be noticed ; we do not need to be praised. We do what we do because of love of God, in the same manner as the Mother of God did, and still does. She loves God above everything". [See previous homily of 28 August, 2005.]

Prayer

POINTS TO PONDER : PRAYER

  • “This is what we are supposed to be doing, you know, in our life of prayer – having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ risen from the dead”. See Homily : 8 May, 2005, Thomas Sunday, Complete Confidence in His Love.
  • “We have baptisms by fire : this is the Orthodox way. We learn best by doing. We jump in and do it. How do we learn to swim ? We jump in the water and we just start swimming. How do we pray ? We just begin. We open our mouth and our heart, and we start. That is always how we go about it.” See Homily : 10 December, 2006, Ceaseless Thanksgiving.
  • “When people are unkind to us, it is important for us to be patient, to give thanks to God, to pray “Lord have mercy” for the people that are treating us badly. Part of this is simply waiting. Through our prayers, sometimes people who treat us badly ultimately find themselves turning about, as the Apostle Paul himself was turned about in mid-track". See Homily : 23 October, 2005, Giving and Forgiving.
  • “If someone misuses the gift of love towards me, and betrays my love and my openness and my sincerity – that is that person’s responsibility to answer before Christ. It is that person’s responsibility, period. My responsibility is to make sure that my heart stays clean and pure towards that person. I, in Christ, have to be able to pray for that person, as Archimandrite Sophrony and Saint Silouan say. I have to say at least “Lord have mercy” repeatedly for that person. In doing this, I am offering that person to Christ in the hope that that person may yet see the error, turn about, and repent”. [See previous homily of 23 October, 2005.]
  • “The Lord uses our prayers as He wills. I have seen how the Lord truly does use our prayers for the living, and for the departed. He touches people who need our support even if we do not know that. People are praying (in general and in specific). The Lord hears our prayers. He meets our needs. He touches us. He looks after us all, the living and the departed together. He cares for us. He wants us to be united with Him in His love because He created us because of love. He wants us to live in Him eternally in love, in life, in joy, in everlasting bliss.” See Homily : 1 March, 2008, Soul Saturday, Keeping our Priorities straight.
  • “Let us ask the Lord to give us anew the Grace, and the outpouring of His love today, so that we will be able to take courage, and apply this basic, little prayer that He has given us : “Kyrie eleison ; Lord, have mercy ; Doamne milueste ; Seigneur, sois miséricordieux”. In saying this simple prayer, let us let the Lord heal our hearts, and keep our hearts always healed, whole, and in clear, unblocked, loving communion with Him”. See Homily : 9 March, 2008, Forgiveness Sunday, The Foundation of Forgiveness.
  • “This is how we all must be towards each other. We must be loving fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters. We must be revealing Christ to each other. We must be referring each other to Christ. In prayer, we must be bringing each other into the presence of Christ, lifting each other up before the Face of Christ, always, and in everything looking only to Christ”. See Homily : 24 August, 2008, Prayer and Fasting.
  • “We are always praying for those persons who are difficult. How do we pray ? As Archimandrite Sophrony taught (and I believe that he is right), following his spiritual father, Saint Silouan, we simply say “Lord, have mercy”. We ask the Lord in His love to be present to the other person. The more that I say “Lord, have mercy” for the other person, the more my own heart is straightened out towards the other person. I cannot make the other person change, but the Lord’s love can change my heart. This is what is important : how I am towards the person who is so difficult for me because of pain inflicted or feelings hurt by so-and-so or whatever. It is I who am responsible for me. I am responsible for how I react”. See Homily : 16 January, 2010, Learning how to forgive.

Repentance

POINTS TO PONDER : REPENTANCE

  • “It is God’s call for you and for me to be holy : to live a life of repentance, turning away from sin and selfishness, turning away from darkness and turning to light, obedience, to serving everyone else with selfless love, to being like Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of our Orthodox Church in Canada. That is why we are here”. See Homily : 27 June, 1994, Sunday of All Saints, Reasons for celebrating this Feast each Year.
  • “We see our Lord coming to Levi (who is actually Matthew), sitting at the customs office where he is a tax collector. What happens ? Our Lord says to him : ‘“Follow Me”’. Immediately Levi gets up, leaves everything behind and follows the Saviour. He immediately responds to the Lord. In other words, this man repents. He turns away from his unrighteous way of life of greedy gain (as was the way of tax collectors in those days). He turns away from it all and follows the Saviour.” See Homily : 21 March, 2009, 2nd Sunday in Great Lent, Let us turn about and follow our Saviour.
  • “This is the whole point of everything when it comes to life in Christ. The Church (and any congregation of faithful Christians) is not the society of the perfect. It is the society of those who are sick, who are wanting to be well, who are turning to the Lord. They are trying to be faithful and to follow our Saviour as Levi did just now”. [See previous homily of 21 March, 2009.]
  • “Today, we are celebrating the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt, the most important example of repentance for us all (as far as I can see, and as far as I can understand). In her Life and in the hymns, we heard what sort of a life she had lived before the time came for her repentance. She, in fact, was living a very, very twisted and ruined life, and she took people into ruin with her. Yet, when the Lord gave her a clear sign that she could still be loved, she repented. Because of the way she turned about her life (she became very holy, as we find out at the end), she is truly an important sign for us”. See Homily : 13 April, 2008, 5th Sunday in Great Lent, Will we accept the Lord's Forgiveness ?
  • “How did the apostles survive that test of walking with our Saviour on the way to His Passion ? According to our standards, we would likely say that they failed badly. Why do I say that ? Well, they kept falling asleep ; then they were afraid ; then they ran away ; and then the Apostle Peter, himself, denied three times that he even knew Jesus Christ. When it comes to this denial, it is nothing trivial, because this is betrayal. Betrayal is even more serious than what Saint Mary of Egypt did, one could say ; and yet, the Apostle Peter and the other apostles repented with tears. They were sorry that they were so weak and so overcome with fear, and they returned to our Lord. They begged forgiveness (which they certainly received, or we would not be standing here today).” See previous homily of 13 April, 2008
  • “It is important for us to remember that repentance is not what many people think it is. Many people say : ‘Boo-hoo, I am so sorry for what I did wrong’. They weep and weep, feel dejected and morose, and all those things. There may be weeping involved, but weeping and saying : ‘I am sorry’ is not the main thing. Repentance is doing. It is not talking. The word ‘repent’ means to turn about. Zacchæus is showing us exactly what this means : he had led a corrupt and broken life ; it was a life that was obviously completely selfish, and he turns about today in front of us, in front of the Saviour. He says : ‘I’m correcting everything that I did wrong insofar as I am able’”. See Homily : 1 February, 2009, Zacchæus Sunday, We turn a new Leaf.
  • “The Saviour enables Zacchæus to do what his heart is telling him to do. That is why he wanted to sneak up into the tree and see the Lord in the first place – to turn about, to serve the Lord, to follow the right path of life. Zacchæus turns from darkness to light, from death to life, from fear to love, from selfishness to selflessness. He turns about completely today in front of our eyes. This is a very big lesson for us all to be learning today”. [See previous homily of 1 February, 2009.]

Year 1987

Putting the Lord first

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
Putting the Lord first
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
8 February, 1987
2 Timothy 3:10-15 ; Luke 18:10-14


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. We could also call it the Sunday of the Tax-collector and the Pharisee. On this Sunday, we start our journey towards Great Lent in a serious way. This week there is no fasting. On Wednesdays and Fridays this week, we have the blessing to eat whatever we like. The reason that we do this is partly to remember that the Pharisee’s way of behaving did not do him any good. He was bragging that he was fasting twice a week, and so when we do not fast this week, we are saying to the Pharisee (as it were) : “Your way of fasting was not doing you any good”. Why was it not doing him any good ? He was making a big production of it. He was pointing out everything that he did. In essence, we might say that every single solitary cent that he gave to the Temple, he had to publish. He had to make everyone know how much money he gave. Every time he did anything that was good and proper, he had to stand up and proclaim it and let everyone see what a good person he was. This man could be compared to some Orthodox Christians today who behave similarly. This is an easy trap for any of us to fall into. However, if we fall into it, we have to get out of it because as the Lord says (as it were) at the end of the Gospel today : “Those who puff themselves up and make something of themselves in front of everyone, are going to have their legs cut off, or at least have the rug pulled out from under them ; they will find themselves sitting instead of standing tall”.

Why is this ? It is because being an egoist cuts a person off from God. It cuts a person off from other people. It cuts a person off from life. Being an egoist, looking after one’s own things, one’s own children, one’s own concerns, one’s own property, one’s own affairs, drives a person back and brings a person no friends (except friends who know that one has money or influence or something else). People who are so self-centered will have friends only who will use the friendship in the same way. People who are self-centered and care only about themselves, will have friends who, when trouble comes, will disappear in a flash. Just as this sort of self-centered person uses other people and relationships with other people only for what can be gotten out it for oneself, other people will use him in exactly the same way. Of course, that is the way of the society in which we live. In this society’s mentality, very often we have friends not because we love the person. Rather, we gather around ourselves the “right sort of friends” who can contribute to our status in society. We become something that we are not, and we become even more inflated. Then, when difficulties and hard times come along, where are these friends ? They are nowhere to be found. When we have become weak, an unwanted and unexpected by-product of our pride, this weakness shows that we have declined in prestige and influence. It shows that we are no longer dependable and that they can get no more from us, and so they leave us alone.

It does not do any of us any good to insist that everyone see what a good Christian I am. It only does me good if the Lord knows that I am trying to be a good Christian. I know myself as a sinner. I know that everything good that I have would not be mine to use unless the Lord gave it to me to use. Each of us is supposed to be like that tax-collector (even though we may not have committed such great sins as he did). Our hearts are supposed to be like his heart. That condition is one of humility. He knew himself. He knew that he was a sinner, and he knew that all he could say was : “‘God, be merciful to me the sinner’”. The Lord was merciful to such a person. If we look in the New Testament, we can see every single solitary time that the Lord is teaching us this very lesson. Time after time there are people who think that they are someone, make a big production of who they are and what their position is in society. The Lord says : “Think again. Find out what your priorities really are”.

We always see Him pointing out the so-called lower person, the people who know who they are, those who have their hearts in the right place and their priorities straight. These are the persons who really know : the ones who are like children in the Kingdom of God. These are the ones who are like children with hearts that are single-minded, directed towards the Lord, and interested in serving Him alone, first and foremost in life. These are the people who are the greatest because they do not make much of themselves. Perhaps they have a lot of money and perhaps they are well off, but that does not mean that they therefore draw attention to this fact. They use what they have well and glorify God in everything that they have. That is what the Lord is asking of us. He says : “Do not be a letter-man with a big “I” on your chest. (That was my Mother’s favourite expression when someone was being a very prideful person. She would say : “That guy is a letter-man all right, with a big ‘I’ all over his chest”). We are not supposed to be this letter-man, with a big “I, I, I, me, me, me” written all over us. We are supposed to be thinking of the Lord first and ourselves second (if not third). The Lord comes first, and the needs of other people come even before ours. The Lord Himself said that we cannot do more for our friend or someone we love than give our life up for someone we love. Sometimes other people’s welfare comes even before our own when we are living in accordance with the Gospel. Sometimes other people’s lives are even more important than our own when we are living in accordance with the Gospel. So we sacrifice our lives for the sake of theirs and for the welfare of the Kingdom of God.

It all boils down to what our priorities are. Are we interested in ourselves only ? Or are we interested in being our true selves, and our true selves as found in relationship with God ? Are we interested in putting Jesus Christ first in our lives and interested in serving Him before anything else ? If we are interested in serving the Lord before anything else, at least we can say : “Thank God. I hope that I am on the right track”. Life is so uncertain that we are never sure of our salvation until we have finished this life completely and crossed into the Kingdom. However, our hope is increased every time we take the Lord’s hand, every time He saves us from our sins, from our selfishness, from our wilfulness and from our pride. Every time we take His hand and He saves us, our hope is renewed that we will be able to live with Him in the Kingdom. Always, in our lives, we have to be aware of the Lord and serve Him first and only. Everything else will be added ; everything else will make sense. Everything else will be fulfilled, and all things necessary will come to pass only when we put the Lord first, as the good publican did.

May the Lord give us the Grace so that our hearts will always be aware of Him and keep Him first in and above everything. May our whole lives glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Love in concrete Action

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
Love in concrete Action
Sunday of the Last Judgement
22 February, 1987
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2 ; Matthew 25:31-46


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the fundamental lesson of the Christian life. The big temptation in living the Christian life (especially in North America), is to spiritualise our Faith. This “spiritualisation” shows up as we try to tell ourselves that everything is all right as long as we are meditating and praying and not doing anyone any harm. Therefore we try to live a good life by ourselves and be sort of upright in ourselves and take pride in being honest. That is approximately all there is for most people’s attitude towards religion and religious life : be good ; live a decent life ; do not do anyone any harm. That is what most people seem to think has to happen in what they perceive to be a spiritual life. Today’s Gospel reading shows plainly that that is anything but enough. Much more is demanded of us than merely some sort of abstract “good life”.

We are expected by the Lord to do something in our lives – something concrete, something touchable. Many times I have talked about living Love. Love love, love. The Gospel is full of examples of living love. However, loving God is not some abstract, warm, fuzzy feeling in the heart. Loving God is not merely standing in church and saying : “Oh, isn’t it wonderful ! The choir is so beautiful today. It’s so lovely”. It is not simply sitting in church and saying : “Oh, what a wonderful preacher the priest is” (if he happens to be one) or “Can’t he sing nicely” (if he happens to sing nicely). This is the least part of Christian living. It is true that standing in church and praising God is the first thing that we must be responsible for doing, and be full of joy about doing. However, if that is all that we are doing, then we had better think again. The Gospel says today from the words of the Lord Himself that in order to expect to live in the Kingdom, we have to be ready to do concrete acts of love towards our brothers and sisters. The Lord says that if we visit the sick, if we go and visit those who are in prison, if we put clothes on those who have no clothes, if we feed those who are hungry, then we are doing the will of God, the Father. Then we have hope of entering the Kingdom of Heaven and being with those on the right hand of the Lord.

If we live just by ourselves, and say : “I live a good life. I don’t hurt anyone, but that’s all. Don’t ask me for anything. I don’t bother anyone. I don’t trust anyone”. If that is how we are, we had better look closely at today’s Gospel reading. Love must act. Love must do. You might remember seeing the musical My Fair Lady. In the movie version, Eliza Doolittle has a young man who is very much in love with her. He sings songs outside her window and he reads poetry to her. All his poetry and all his songs say : “Oh, how much I love you, Eliza Doolittle”. In the end, she gets fed up with it because pretty words do not mean anything. I am sure that anyone here who has been married for a long time (or even a short time) or if you have been part of family life, you will know that the words “I love you” do not mean anything by themselves. Meaning comes when love is evident in action. The one who says that he or she loves has to do something about it. Love is meaningless if it is only words. Love is real if it is accompanied by acts, deeds, things. That is why we are always giving each other flowers and candy : to show that our love is more than just words. That is why we help those who are ill, and look after each other when we are ill, and look after each other when we cannot look after ourselves. That is why we do dishes when we are not expected to do dishes. That is why we clean when we are not expected to clean. That is why we open doors for each other and say : “After you”. That is why we shovel the sidewalk without being commanded to do it. All these little tiny actions carry love with them. Why do I do the dishes ? Why do I vacuum the floor ? Why do I shovel the sidewalk ? Why do I polish the car ? Why do I help to make meals ? Why do I do anything ? I do it because I love, that’s why. If I did not love, I would not do anything at all.

However, these acts of love have to go farther than just our family living. We have to be ready to visit those who are sick. In our parish there is Mrs. n who gets some visitors, but she does not get very many. As far as I know, only three or four of us go to see her regularly. She is 95 years old. She is almost blind now, and can hardly see anything. It gets very lonely. She cannot watch television ; she cannot read letters ; she cannot see to do anything as we can. However, she has first-class hearing, and she likes to talk. It should be our responsibility to go and see her. There are more. There is also Mrs. n who is ill and does not see anyone either, these days. We can at least phone her and talk to her. In our own community we should be more attentive about seeing who is not here on Sunday. We should find out who is ill. It should be our job. It is not just the priest’s job. If someone is absent, we can call them to see if they are all right and if they need any help. That is actively doing the love of Jesus Christ.

If things are going well in the parish, and no-one is ill, what can I do ? I can give money to Oxfam. I can help people who are starving somewhere else in the world. I can send money to help the Orthodox refugees in Lebanon who have had to leave their homes because of war. I can do all sorts of things. I have to listen to God saying in my heart : “Do this ; go help this person ; go visit that person”. If I have arthritis and I am not strong enough to move around very well, what do I do then ? We can listen to God speaking. Sometimes during the day, someone’s name will come into our mind. Those names do not come by accident. Those names come to us from God. What He wants us to do when those names come to us is to pray for those people. It may be that the person has some need, or is ill or sort of depressed and does not know why. If I do pray for those people whose names come to my heart, just saying “Lord have mercy” for those persons, then I am helping the Lord to do something for them. I may not find out what my prayers do, but they do good for the person. Sometimes when the Lord brings a name into my mind and I cannot forget that person, that means that the Lord wants me to pray in a serious way for that person. Therefore, I pray many times that day for him or her, saying “Lord have mercy” ; or “Remember n and have mercy”. That is the least we can do. If we are able to do more, then the Lord expects it of us.

All these ideas that when we die we just simply go to Heaven and everything is wonderful are dreams. We are not likely to go to Heaven unless, with the Lord’s help, we put ourselves on that road now. We put ourselves on that road now by doing good to those around us and helping those around us by prayers and by actions. When the chips are down, we even love those who do not love us ; we even love those who hate us ; we even love those who kill us. That is the Christian way. That is the work of the Gospel.

How do we do this ? There is only one way. We come here every week and receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, in order to let Him live in us, so that He Himself will give us the strength and the will and the love. That is the only way. Therefore, let us now come to Him and stretch out our hands to Him and let Him give Himself to us. Let us live in the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The right Attitude about Fasting

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
The right Attitude about Fasting
Saturday of Cheese-fare Week
28 February, 1987
Romans 14:19-23 ; 16:25-27 ; Matthew 6:1-13


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel and Epistle readings are both preparing us for Great Lent. They are speaking about food, because in Great Lent food is one of our chief occupations, preoccupations and sometimes even manias. (It can sometimes be a phobia, but it is mostly a mania.) Although the Lord and Saint Paul are speaking about food, primarily they are concerned about the attitude that is necessary when we fast.

The Lord is pointing out that, first of all, our attitude in fasting must be one of prayer. We do not fast simply because the rules say that we have to fast. If we are going to fast, we have to pray while we fast. Prayer goes with fasting like horses and carriages, hands in gloves, and ducks to water. If we undertake only to fast, we might as well be on a diet. It would not do us any more good than possibly losing weight. Fasting has to be accompanied by prayer and that is one of the reasons why in Great Lent we have many services in order to help us along in our praying. We need each other when we are praying. We can, of course, fast alone (the Lord exhorts us to fast alone in our closet and not to fast with fanfare). However, we pray together because we need each other. We give each other encouragement and strength to pray when we do it together, particularly in Lent when the devil is busy trying to keep us from doing what we are supposed to do. He is busy trying to make us interested in and nostalgic for a T-bone steak every day. He is anxious to try to make us think that praying is too much trouble, too tiring, too much of a struggle. All that discouragement and despair he tries to throw under our feet so that we will slip on a banana peel and forget where we are going and what we are doing. That is why we need to be here as much as possible.

However, even more, the fact that we are praying is not enough. The Lord is asking of us a certain attitude of heart : an attitude of heart which is sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of other people. Although I may be strong and have liberty in the Lord, I am not going to exercise my freedom when I know that my brother or sister is going to fall because of my strength. And so I appear weak in the presence of other people. For instance, perhaps I know that the Lord is going to forgive me if I do not keep the strictest, total vegetable fast in Lent because I work hard or because of some other reason. Yet I know that I have a brother or sister who is a fanatic about the vegetable fast. Therefore, I do not cause my brother or sister to stumble and fall into sin by my insisting on eating cheese in front of my weaker brother or sister. Instead, I eat what that person eats when I am around that person. However, the same thing should go for the strict vegetable-faster, too, who knows that someone may have a physical weakness or some other reason for not keeping the strictest fast. If a person in good faith and with a good heart is able to keep a very strict fast in Lent, when he or she is with those who are unable by reason of heavy work or whatever other reason to keep a strict fast in Lent, then one, in one’s strength, bends the rules and does not cause another to stumble.

The Lord is calling us to be sensitive about each other. He calls us to care for each other, and to love each other enough to know what our weaknesses are and not to play on them but to be sensitive and considerate of them. By being like this, we will be able to encourage each other to live the Christian life as we cling to the Lord and persevere in the fast. May we be able together in a little while with joy to glorify and worship the Lord in His Resurrection from the dead. As pre-Lent comes to an end, tomorrow we will be ready to forgive each other for everything visible and invisible, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary that we have done or not done to each other. We will begin the fast with a clean slate, asking God to help us keep the fast.

May that same Lord, indeed, help us to pass through this Great Lent in such a way that we will be yet stronger in our ability to remember Him, to imitate His love, to do the work of His love at all times throughout the year. May our lives thus glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Why fast ?

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
Why fast ?
Forgiveness Sunday
1 March, 1987
Romans 13:11-14:4 ; Matthew 6:14-21


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Cheese-fare Sunday. That means that traditionally when we go home, we will fill ourselves up with bliny and all sorts of cheese and really enjoy this last day before Great Lent begins. Tomorrow we begin our journey towards Pascha in a serious way. As much as we may enjoy the bliny on the last day of dairy products before Great Lent, we have to remember the fundamental lessons that are being taught by the Gospel today.

Tomorrow, we begin to fast. What are we supposed to be about when we are fasting ? Why are we fasting anyway ? The Lord warns us against fasting as the Pharisees did. The Pharisees fasted in order to let everyone know that they were fasting and how hard it was for them to do this. They showed that there was so much pain and that their stomachs were in agony ; they did not clean themselves, and they did not wash ; they threw dust on themselves to show everyone what good fasters they were. When we fast nowadays we do not do these sorts of things. However, what do we do that is like the Pharisees ? We may be at someone’s house and be offered food that is not lenten and we may say : “Oh, no ! I cannot possibly eat that because it is Great Lent”. However, hospitality is very important, and if the host has made a mistake, it is not our job to beat him over the head with the mistake. However, even worse than that, we could be looking around to see how other people are eating in Lent. For instance, if someone is weaker for some reason or other, it is rude enough to go up to someone and ask why he or she is eating non-lenten food. However, the very worst thing that we can do is to gossip about it, and tell the whole parish how terrible it is that n is eating fish on a non-fish day in Lent, for example. What we are called to do is to be sensitive to each other in Great Lent.

Why do we fast ? We fast because we are remembering Eden, as Adam is remembering Eden. Today, we are celebrating the memory of Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden. In the hymns last night, Adam was sitting down and remembering all the beautiful flowers in Eden. He was moaning because he had been exiled from the beautiful garden, his true home. We are remembering those days, ourselves, and we try not to eat anything except vegetables in memory of those days. More important than that, we fast in order to make certain that our bodies are our servants and that we are not the servants of our bodies. We discipline our bodies in the fasting days so that our bodies co-operate with our spirits in every way to help us live in the Kingdom. It is not a negative thing at all ; it is a positive thing. It is not something that we should hate to do, but rather something that we should enjoy, because we do it in order to draw ourselves closer to the Lord. We try not to waste time cooking elaborate dishes but we simply eat some boiled vegetables that do not take a long time to prepare. We do not worry too much about it so that we can spend extra time praying. Fasting is absolutely no good unless it is accompanied by prayer. Fasting and praying go together. Without prayer, fasting is completely useless. We might as well follow the “Weight Watcher’s diet”, or something of that sort. We are fasting in order to draw ourselves closer to the Lord, and we try to spend more time in prayer during fasting-time for that purpose.

Besides drawing near to the Lord, the most important demand is drawing near to each other. These fasting-times are intended to help us to grow in being more loving and more sensitive to each other. All the readings in the New Testament that have prepared us for Great Lent have to do precisely with this sensitivity to each other. They prepare us to pay more attention to the weaknesses of each other – not so that we can gossip about them, but so that we can help each other be stronger by praying for each other. The important thing is to recognise that each one of us is a sinner. There is no-one who lives and does not sin (see 1 John 1:8). We sing that all the time in our Panikhidas and it is absolutely true. There is no-one on this earth who is not a sinner. If we think that we are so good that we are not sinners, then we are on our way to the hot place fast. Every last one of us is a sinner.

Remembering all these details, let us ask the Lord to keep us mindful not only about what fasting truly is, but also what is the true and correct spirit which motivates it. Fasting is not a diet. Fasting is also not eating nothing all day and then feasting all night. Fasting is spiritual athletics (see 2 Timothy 2:5) which strengthen us so that with God’s help we may know and love the Lord more deeply. As CBC’s Friendly Giant always said : “Let us look up. Let us look 'way up”, and thus keep our hearts and minds in the Lord and nurtured in His love.

In doing so, may our whole lives during this coming Lent become more transparent with the Lord’s love. Thus, when we come to celebrate our Saviour’s Resurrection, the joy of that great feast will carry us all the way through to the next Pascha. May our whole lives glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Collaborating in Goodness and Love

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
Collaborating in Goodness and Love
Soul Saturday
Saturday in the 2nd Week of Great Lent
14 March, 1987
Hebrews 3:12-16 ; Mark 1:35-44


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Paul says in his prayer : “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, … make you complete in every good work to do His will” (Hebrews 13:20). Indeed, the Lord is able to help us perform every good work. He is more than able to help us to do everything that He wants us to do. However, in every case there is one thing that stands in the way. The Lord is able, but are we ourselves able to let Him work His work in us ? Are we ourselves able to let Him ? Actually, we are not, not instantly. Even before we are truly able to let Him work His good work in us, transform us, transfigure us and raise us, we have to be ready to ask Him to help us.

When we have asked Him to help us, we open the door to Him to come into our hearts and enable us to ask Him to do more, and to let Him work His work in us. Why am I saying this ? The simple fact is that we have to realise that we do not enter the Kingdom of Heaven on our own strength. We do not enter the Kingdom of Heaven simply because we live such a good life. We do not enter the Kingdom of Heaven for any other reason than that God loves us, and He forgives us. All that He wants from us is for us to love Him back, and to live a life that shows this love. Living the Christian life is very simple and straightforward. It is, however, not so very easy. The demands are few, but not easy : love and forgiveness. Loving, at least in the way God wants us to love is not all that easy. We must have His help to be able to love in the way that He wants us to love. If we are not ready to ask for that help, if we are not ready to let Him work with us and in us, if we are not ready to co-operate, He is not going to make an invasion. He gave us freedom, which is part of our being made in His image. We are free to reject, just as Adam and Eve were free to reject, and they did. So we, as well, are free to reject the Lord and His help. If we want to follow the devil’s path, then we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we are good enough to get into the Kingdom of Heaven by ourselves.

If we want to live in the Kingdom, we have to remember, first of all, that the Lord is all-powerful and all-loving. He loves me. He loves us all, each of us – all. He wants us to be living with Him forever in the Kingdom. It is up to you and to me to take those steps that will help Him work in us. One of those steps is being here right now, today, praising Him, standing here in the Kingdom as we are always when we praise Him, standing in the Lord’s presence, serving Him, united with our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

On this Saturday, we pray for all our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep a long time ago at the very beginning of this parish and even beyond that. We pray for them because we are not separated from them. We are united with them in the Body of Christ. As we stand here today, so our brothers and sisters who have gone before us are standing together with us in the Kingdom and offering their praises to the Lord. We all offer to the Lord our praise, and the Lord feeds us all with Himself, with His Body and His Blood. As we continue to ask Him to come into our hearts and to continue to work in us, He works little changes in us little by little. We become stronger, better able to love in the right way. We become less and less selfish, more and more caring of other people, more and more concerned with Him, also. After a time of this co-operative living, when we look back on ourselves as we were some years ago, we can actually see that the Lord has done something (although we cannot see everything that the Lord has done). However, the Lord is merciful and He allows us to see that there are some changes for the good. We can immediately say : “Thank God that He helped me out of that mess. I did not think that I could come along that far”. “The God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep”, who loves us and knows each one of us by name (and then some), will make us perfect if we work with Him. If we let Him, He will make us perfect and give us not only the image but the likeness of Himself.

Let us commend ourselves and each other to the Lord, and let His love work in us and amongst us. May that love build us, all of us together, up into the Body of Christ. Let us be transformed by Him, and let us glorify in our lives the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Co-operation brings about real Unity

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
Co-operation brings about real Unity
Memory of Saint Gregory Palamas
2nd Sunday in Great Lent
15 March, 1987
Hebrews 1:10-2:3 ; Mark 2:1-12


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of what one of our professors called one of the greatest of Orthodox theologians, Saint Gregory the Theologian. Professor Sergei Verhovskoy used to say that he is the only one of the Fathers who is 100 percent Orthodox. That is a very good recommendation from Professor Verhovskoy, who was rather critical.

How does a person get to be this sort of theologian and bishop of the Church ? It is by living the Gospel, by following the directions of Saint Paul, and by not allowing pride or personal gain to get in the way but always doing the work of the Lord. It is also by exercising the gifts that have been given as described by Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 12), and by building up the Church on the Truth, which is Jesus Christ. This truth is not gained by being a philosopher, a journalist, a private investigator or a law-maker. A true theologian is a person who knows God and then speaks as clearly as possible about the experience. That experience is consistently the same sort of experience that all Christians have always had. We can tell if a person is on the right track by whether what he has to say about his knowledge of God is correct. We measure the correctness by how the writing fits what the ancient Fathers have to say. By contrast, we can also tell how he has been “led down the garden path” by certain strays. If the person speaks about God in the way all the Fathers and Mothers of the Church have spoken, then the person remains a Father or Mother of the Church. There are Fathers and Mothers of the Church today just as there were in the days of Saint Gregory the Theologian about 1500 years ago.

Since we are all expected by the Lord to become theologians, since we are all expected to build up the Body of Christ and be saints by our baptism, therefore, we humble ourselves and give ourselves to God not as slaves, but as loving children co-operating with Him. We allow Him to work in us and we allow him to create in us not only our true selves, but the true selves of all those around us. We allow ourselves by humility to be transfigured as the Lord was transfigured on the mountain and as other saints have been transfigured since then. We allow ourselves to be transfigured into our true selves that are found in Christ. We allow ourselves, then, to share this transfiguration with those around us. By allowing ourselves to be transfigured, we become an example to other people. By allowing ourselves to live in Christ, and to put on all the weapons of the Gospel, all the armour of which Saint Paul speaks (see Ephesians 6:13), we allow ourselves to be prepared to be a good example. Then we are exercising those gifts that the Lord has given us.

The Lord does not give us all the same gifts because we are not all just the same. The individual gifts, although very similar, are not identical to each other. Each person exercises his or her own gifts. Exercising our own gifts teaches other people that they have gifts as well. As we exercise our gifts in the love of Christ, we encourage other people to do the same. The more we exercise our gifts and strengthen others in the Body of Christ, the more they strengthen other people. Thus, the whole Church becomes stronger in the world because people are exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are supporting, strengthening, healing, loving and lifting up other people.

That is essentially what we have to do as members of the Body of Christ. We co-operate. The fundamental lesson for us is to remember that we are the members of the Body of Christ. In order for the body to function properly, the members must co-operate. Our arms cannot do things by themselves ; neither can our legs or any other parts of our bodies walk by themselves or function independently. The whole body functions by co-operative effort, and each individual member is only able to function at all because it is joined to the rest of the body. That is what our living together is supposed to be : co-operation, mutual encouragement and strength (and sometimes correction), general building up, and overall co-operation. This co-operation is what brings about real unity. We humble ourselves. We remember that we are members of His Body. We recognise that we are not the Head ; but as the members of the Body of Christ and for the sake of the rest of the Body, we allow ourselves to be governed by the Head, Jesus Christ. In this way the whole Body is able to function well together and be saved by healing, strengthening, renewing and re-creation.

Therefore, as we come to receive the Lord this morning, let us ask Him to renew us and bring us to that transfiguration so that we may be truly properly functioning members of the Body of Christ, able to know Him well so that in due course, we may be given the “O” stamp of approval of Professor Verhovskoy (and the “O” means Orthodox). Thus, each of us will be a true knower of the Lord, and therefore a true theologian, glorifying in our whole life the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Taking up our Cross

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
Taking up our Cross
Veneration of the Holy Cross
3rd Sunday in Great Lent
22 March, 1987
Hebrews 4:14-5:6 ; Mark 8:34-9:1


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are singing : “Before Your Cross we bow down in worship, and Your holy Resurrection we glorify”. The Cross comes to us in the middle of Great Lent, not so much to remind us that Good Friday is coming, but to give us fresh courage in our attempt to be refreshed in our walking towards Christ. The Cross comes to us in the middle of Lent, and we bow down before that sign, as we glorify the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We bow down before the Cross, and bowing down before it, we offer the Lord our worship. We do not bow down before a piece of silver or wood, and kiss a mere piece of silver or wood. We are venerating the true Cross whenever we kiss these signs of the Cross. Even if we were to be able to kiss a piece of one of the few remaining pieces of the true Cross, we would still be glorifying Him who was crucified on it, Jesus Christ. We know that whenever we venerate one of our icons or make the sign of the Cross, our veneration goes straight to Christ. All these items are windows to Heaven, and these windows take us always to Christ. They take us directly to Christ Himself, or they take us to Christ through the life, example, and prayers of those who have been holy, noticeably holy, in their living and who have shown us the Lord. All this is clearly set out in the writings of Saint John of Damascus.

The Cross comes to us and reveals to us that Jesus Christ was crucified and died, and that He also was victorious over death and rose from the grave. That is why the Cross comes to us in the middle of Great Lent. It comes to us also to remind us about how we are supposed to be living. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is saying, we have a High Priest who was tempted in everything as we were, and are. Although He is the Son of God, He emptied Himself and became a Human Being in order to save us (see Philippians 2:7). He was tempted in everything, and He allowed Himself to be put on the Cross to suffer and to die for us. Not only did He die for us, but that Crucifixion brought life. That sign, which was the most horrible sign of defeat in the days of the Roman Empire, became the sign of victory, life and light. As this great High Priest lived, so we are called to live. As this great High Priest was victorious over sin and death, and gave life to the world, so we are called in Him to be victorious and bring life to the world. We bring life to the world by living love. We bring life to the world by encouraging and strengthening each other in living in Christ and following Him no matter how difficult, no matter how painful that is. How do we do that ? We take up our Cross every day and follow Jesus, said the Gospel today. The Lord Himself holds us in our path. Our path is to take up our Cross and follow Him.

I have been serving the Lord now for more than fifteen years in parish work, and every year at least one person (if not half a dozen people) says to me : “Why don’t you leave time for yourself, and why don’t you take better care of yourself ? Why do you run yourself ragged ?” It is a good question to ask again today. I cannot say that I have been anything like the best priest in the past fifteen years, and I cannot say that I am the best example by any means, because I know how much I am a sinner and how great my weaknesses are and how much they paralyse what God would do through me if I did not paralyse myself. I do not know about you, but the example that I had when I was growing up was the example of parents who loved me very much and who gave up all sorts of things for the sake of selfish me. They gave up all sorts of things. You have no idea, and neither do I of how much they gave up for the sake of me, my brother and sisters. I know that you not only experience the same thing, but I see that you do the same thing yourselves for your children. All the time you are giving up all sorts of things that you could be and do for the sake of your children, and for the sake of those you love. It is a way of life, especially for Christians.

However, in the world, it is not unnatural that people should do this because that is how real love operates. In the world there are some shadows of that real love, not only selfish love. Especially amongst Christians, this way of life : giving and giving up opportunities and all sorts of advantages for the sake of children, is the way we are and how we live. We are trying to live out our love the best way we can. It is because I had that sort of example that I can do as I do, even if it is reckless, and even if I stretch myself. I can’t do anything else. I can’t operate as a parish priest in any other way. I have tried over the years that I have served in parishes, to limit what I should do and conserve energy. Probably I could have done a better job of rationing the things that I have done and the amount that I have been available to you. However, no matter how much I try to do it, it does not work. I am a perpetual “yes-man”. If you phone me up and ask me to do something, or if you need me for anything, I am going to say “Yes”. Unless it is absolutely impossible, I am going to say “Yes”.

I am going to say “Yes”, because I am anxious that the life of this parish should grow, and that the love between brothers and sisters should grow. That is why I do that. That is why I answer the phone in the middle of the night. That is why whenever I am home, I always answer the phone even if it is three in the morning. That is the only way that I can exercise the gifts that God has given to me to exercise – to be available. Even though it is not logical and even though I know that I should not do many of the things that I do, I cannot stop. That is essentially what taking up the Cross entails. It is trying, as much as we can, to put other people first, to help build up the love of Jesus in other people so that they can have the hope of being saved.

The reason that Christ stretched out His arms on the Cross was not only so that He could die. Rather, He stretched out His arms in order to accept everyone, to accept the whole world in His love. He reached out on the Cross to embrace the whole world : all its sin, all its death, and all its selfishness. He did this in order to give us life. The same attitude ought to be our attitude in life. We stretch out our arms, and we give love. We give ourselves. In giving this love, we give Christ to one another, to our children, to our neighbours, and to people whom God sends. In reaching out in this love, we give them the life that Christ wants to give them.

Therefore, let us remember who we are : Orthodox Christians. Knowing that we glorify Jesus Christ, let us remember to make our prostrations before the Cross with joy. By bowing down in this way, we show that we are ready for the Lord to be the Lord of our lives, for Him to enter us and to live in us, and to give life to our sacrifices, to our offering of ourselves for His sake and for the sake of all those around. Therefore, with our whole lives let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

A Sign of our Response of Love

Priest Seraphim Storheim : Homily
A Sign of our Response of Love
(Memory of Saint John of Sinai)
4th Sunday in Great Lent
29 March, 1987
Hebrews 6:13-20 ; Mark 9:17-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we are repeatedly hearing how Jesus is that perfect High Priest who fulfilled all the Law, who fulfilled all sacrifice, who fulfilled everything that was required for our salvation. What we see today is evidence of how He is, in fact, our High Priest not only because the sacrifice of Himself is predicted at the end of the Gospel reading, but because He is the Agent of God’s love in that perfect way.

Wherever Jesus is, wherever Jesus is present, there is always a reaction of some sort. We see that always in the Gospel. Wherever Jesus is, something happens. In this case, it is a devil tormenting a child. We are told that this torment had been going on for a long time. Although His disciples had tried more standard methods to get rid of it, only Jesus Himself is able to do it and He does it with just one word of command. He says : “‘Come out of him and enter him no more’”. Instantly the child is healed. Wherever Jesus is, life comes. When He comes into our lives, there has to be a similar response. We ourselves are called to live in the Kingdom. We are called to live as sons and daughters of the King. The characteristic way in which members of the Kingdom live is in an open and active response to the Lord : an immediate desire to give of oneself for the welfare of other people as well as for proper worshipping of the Lord.

It is true that the devil does not come out except by prayer and fasting. He does not come out of our lives except by our prayer and fasting. In part, anyway, that is why we Orthodox Christians spend so much of the year in fasting days. During these fasting days, we actively turn away from sin. We try to bring our lives into conformity with the Gospel. We are supposed to spend all these days praying even more than usual, and building up our resources in the Kingdom. We should be preparing ourselves for doing whatever the Lord has called us to do.

Prayer and fasting. This is one of the essential characteristics of growing in Christ. What is another ? Here in this parish, we can speak about one very practical way in which believers are supposed to behave. For a long time now, this parish (like many other parishes, but not by any means all parishes) has operated more or less for itself. People seem to have grown to believe that the only way to contribute to the life of the parish is by paying the dues. We all know how sensitive the issue of the dues is. We can never talk about dues without someone getting upset. That is, perhaps, a reasonable reaction because paying dues is not the proper way for a parish to operate, even though we do operate that way and even though we seem to be stuck with this system for the time being. Nevertheless, paying dues does not allow us to behave naturally the way Christians ought to behave. Paying dues puts a block in the way of our response to the Lord. It tempts us to be minimal. It tempts us to say : “Those few dollars are all I have to give. I will throw a dollar on the plate now and again, and that is all that is necessary”.

However, that is not how Christians have always responded, and it is not what the Bible tells us to do, either. Even in the Old Testament, we are told that the natural response to God is simply to give. The suggestion in the Old Testament is that we should first of all recognise that God gives us everything and that without the Lord we are not at all even alive, let alone active. Everything that we are and that we have is because the Lord blesses us and gives us life. Because of this, the Old Testament (and the New Testament also) as a strong suggestion says that we should give at least one-tenth of what we have to the Lord. We see that always in the Old Testament – one-tenth of the harvest goes to the Lord, to the Temple. One-tenth of everything that people have goes to the Lord. Even Abraham, when he had been successful, gave thanks to the Lord by giving one-tenth of everything that came to him to this priest-king, Melchisedek (see 1 Moses [Genesis] 14:20) whom we heard about today.

However, one-tenth of all that we have is not only one-tenth of income. One-tenth of time, one-tenth of energy, one-tenth of talents, one-tenth of everything that I am and that I have should go back to Him as a sign of my love for God. This is a fundamental Christian attitude. If this parish operates on the basis of dues (to help determine who is a member of the parish), that should not mean that that is all I am expected to give as a Christian. The Lord expects me to give much more. The Lord does not demand that I give everything back, but as a sign and a symbol of everything, one-tenth is not very much. It is ironic, but even in this secular world, we can deduct twenty percent of our income for charitable giving. Some people give away twenty percent of their income. That is pretty good. We believers often tend to fall into traps. Some people might criticise me for talking about this sort of thing. The fact is, however, whenever we might turn on the television, and listen to Jimmy Swaggart, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell or anyone else of these Protestant evangelists, what do they say ? They are all the time quoting the Bible and saying : “You must give ten percent. Ten percent belongs to the Lord. It doesn’t belong to you, and if you don’t give it to the Lord, you are going to be in trouble”.

Orthodox Christians tend to be subtler about these things, but that does not mean that the demand of the Scriptures is any different for us. One of the funniest things that I can imagine is when Orthodox Christians sometimes criticise Calvary Temple or maybe even one of these Anglican Churches, and yet they envy how much money goes in and out, and how much they can do in their parishes. Do you know why ? It is because the people are reminded over and over and over again that God requires a sign of devotion from His people, a sign of this response of love. Therefore, people give. If we Orthodox Christians do not manage to produce and to be effective in society, there is only one reason – we do not give. We do not share. We do not honour the Lord with our gifts. We do not respond to Him. We only give Him peanuts instead of giving Him our whole selves. We just throw a kopek or two towards the Lord instead of saying to the Lord : “Here I am. Everything that I am, You give me. Help me to use what I am to Your glory”.

Whatever we do, let us not allow ourselves to be limited by bottom-line giving of ourselves, or of our energy, or of anything else that we have. Let us not wait for someone to come begging and to say : “We have a big project, and so we need money”. The response of Christians does not wait for such things. The response of Christians is giving because of love without asking any questions, without waiting. We give ourselves, our energy, our time, our abilities, not just money. Let us ask the Lord to help us to pray always ; to give thanks always every day ; to act out that love which we have for Him, and to show in all the visible ways that we can how much we love Him and how much we love each other. May every aspect of our life proclaim our love for our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Monastic Tonsure as Repentance

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Monastic Tonsure as Repentance
Saturday in the 5th Week of Great Lent
4 April, 1987


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Some of you might know that this week I was away at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, and while I was there I was tonsured to be a monk. What does this really mean ? Monastic tonsure is called a “second baptism”. It is called a second baptism because a monk is called to live a life of complete repentance. In other words, from the time he is tonsured, he is expected every day of his life to be turning towards Christ. Every day his life is supposed to be dedicated to serving the Lord above everything else.

If for no other reason, I suppose that this is one reason why it is a good thing for a bishop to be a monk, as long as he pays attention to this particular pre-requisite. He must put Jesus Christ first before anything else for the rest of his life, serving Him, and Him alone. He must put away everything of the world and put Jesus Christ first.

Although I do not look or dress any differently, nevertheless in my heart I have to be much more serious than I have been until now about what I am doing and how I am serving the Lord. One of the first things that I must do is to ask everyone to forgive me, and that is what I am doing right now. I am asking you all (and not just because I became a monk but also because we are getting close to Pascha) to forgive me for all the things that I may have done or said which may have upset you or made you angry sometimes. Also I ask forgiveness for all the things which I did not do with and for you all together that I should have, because I do know that I did not do many things that I could have done and should have done while I have been here. For all these things I am asking you now to forgive me.

We all know that now we are in a transition time and there are many things that we are going to be tempted to be anxious about. However, if we hope to get the right priest for us, here in this parish, this will not be achieved by our political manoeuvering. It is not going to come by badgering the Metropolitan, and phoning him every day saying : “Vladyka, who is going to be our priest ?” The right priest for this parish is going to come for us when all of us remember together to ask the Lord to send the right one. Such a person is very hard to find. There are plenty of gifted people in the Church, but there are not many who have the right combination of gifts for serving this community. It takes hard searching to find the right person out of all the priests that there are in North America : the one who has the right gifts and is willing to come and to serve the Lord here. Our first responsibility as the Body of Christ is to pray together to the Lord that He will send the right person.

I am going to do that myself, and I am asking you to do that every day. Every day, ask the Lord : “Please, Lord, send us the right priest”. Let us ask Him to show us how we can pray better and help Him by our prayers to bring the right priest here to serve us, so that we can all serve Him together better here. Let us from this day dedicate ourselves to this prayer ; every day asking the Lord to send the right priest. Let us also ask the Lord that together we may enable this Temple to be a shining beacon of love for the one God in Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

"Come forth !"

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
"Come forth !"
Resurrection of Lazarus Saturday
11 April, 1987
Hebrews 12:28-13:8 ; John 11:1-45


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When He is working with His creatures, the Lord does not do anything without preparation. Always He is preparing the way for the works that He is going to do. That has been the case from the very beginning. Today we have an example of this preparation. The raising of Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days is a preparation of the hearts and minds of those who follow the Lord for what is to come – His own Resurrection from the dead on the third day. It is not as though Jesus had never raised anyone from the dead before, but anyone else who had been raised from the dead was very briefly dead and people could say : “Oh, he was just in a coma”.

However, Lazarus was already in the tomb and decomposing. He was certainly dead, and there was no doubt about it. We cannot make the excuse of a coma with Lazarus. Lazarus was “dead as a doornail”. The Lord, the Giver of Life, came and spoke the word, and Lazarus came to life. He went on to be a leader of the Church. The Lord works very hard at preparing. Clearly there was careful preparation for the resurrection of Lazarus. When it happened, it was something that no-one in the world had ever seen. Nevertheless, it was not quickly that the Lord’s followers understood what was going on. When He Himself was speaking about His own Resurrection, they always tried to detach it from reality, and thought in vague terms just as Lazarus’ sister had said : “‘I know that he will rise again on the resurrection at the last day’” (John 11:24). However, Jesus had something much more immediate than that in mind.

It is the same thing with resurrection as with teaching. Not only did Jesus Himself raise people from the dead, but great prophets in the past also raised people from the dead. Elias and Elisha are two famous examples (see 3 Kingdoms 17:23 and 4 Kingdoms 4:35-36). However, in none of these cases was the person dead long enough to be decomposing. All through history, there have been plenty of teachers speaking about God and His love. There have been many great, enlightened men and women throughout the history of creation, who have been speaking for the Lord to His people, and telling them what He is like and Who He is, and how much He loves His people, and how His people should behave. Always His people do not pay attention. Always, predictably, His people “do their own thing”. Always, predictably, His people detach themselves from facing God. Even when Moses came down from the mountain, they could not stand to look at the glory on his face and even made him put a veil on his face as a woman in those days put a veil on her face (and in Muslim countries today, women still veil their faces). They made him veil his face because they could not stand to confront the glory of the Lord which was present in Moses and shining from him so that anyone could see it. It was not like Saint Seraphim of Sarov : only Motovilov and only very few others could see the glory shining in him. However, with Moses, everyone could see it and they could not bear it.

People, in their sin, usually put a distance between themselves and the Lord. Thus, they keep the Lord at arm’s length, so that He does not bother them too much. That is how sin operates in our lives. Every time that we are putting the Lord at arm’s length, and keeping Him away like this, we are being just like those Israelites, and just like those followers of Jesus, and just like the Pharisees who were so hard-hearted. We will not let the Lord in. We will not let the Lord work. We will not let the Lord bring that Resurrection into our lives now because we are afraid of what might happen. We are afraid of what the Lord might ask us to do and what He might ask us to be. We are afraid to be different. We are afraid to stand out. The Lord does not ask us ever to do anything bad. He sometimes may ask us to do things that appear strange or difficult, but He never asks us to do anything bad or anything that will endanger our souls. He will never desert us. He always looks after us. Even if someone kills us – big deal. He loves us and gives us eternal life. That is where our hope is.

It is easy to be dull and to keep the Lord far away. We do it only because we are sinful and rebellious and selfish and stubborn. We do not really want to do what the Lord wants us to do every single solitary moment of our lives. We want to be able to do what we think the Lord wants us to do a few days out of the week at the most, and even only a little part of them. We start looking at our watches when His worship goes on longer than we think it should. We get impatient instead of letting ourselves rejoice in being in God’s presence, in being with the One we love. Our attitude in worship and in life is supposed to be like that of people who are deeply in love with someone. People who are deeply in love with another person never want to be separated from that person. They always want to be near the person that they love. When they are not immediately close, they always somehow feel the reality, the nearness and the presence of that person. That is how it is supposed to be between us and the Lord. We are supposed to have that sort of love for Him. It should be love that rejoices in being in His presence whether it is here, or at home, or while driving, or while we are working in the garden or while we are making bread, or while we are doing whatever we are doing, whether we are in offices or digging ditches. This is the nature of true Christian love.

When we can rejoice in being in His presence, rejoice in His worship, rejoice in glorifying Him and praising Him, then we will know that our love has taken at least a baby step towards being what it should be. We will know that His Resurrection life is truly, actually working in us. However, He is not going to force us. Lararus could be raised from the dead because Lazarus loved the Lord. It is not only just because the Lord loved Lazarus that He raised him from the dead. It was because Lazarus also loved Him. Therefore, Lazarus was able to hear the Lord’s voice and come forth.

There are many people whom the Lord is calling and calling and calling and calling, but they are the living dead. They are like zombies. They walk through this life looking after themselves and no-one else. They cannot hear the Lord call. If the Lord’s voice came with a trumpet call, blaring so that everyone could hear it, these people would not hear it. They would refuse to acknowledge that it was the voice of the Lord. They would say : “Oh, it’s the spirits calling” before they would acknowledge that it was the voice of the Lord. They would find every possible way that they could find to keep the Lord away because they do not want to have Him interfering and messing up their programmes and lives. They would stay in the tomb because they refuse to hear the Lord’s call. They will not accept His love.

You and I are here today offering our praise to the Lord. As we come to receive Him, let us be like Lazarus this morning and come out of our dead ways. Our lives are often dead ways : dead ways of thinking, dead habits, hard-hearted customs, hard-hearted pre-dispositions, negative thinking, and all sorts of junk in our lives. Let us hear the voice of the Lord speak to us : “Come out of those deadnesses. Come out of that dead space in which you are. Come out to life. Come out and live. Come out and be filled with the Spirit and live in the Kingdom. Do the work of the Lord. Give life to others”. Therefore, as He gives Himself to us, let us take His hand ; let us love Him, and let us be filled with His Resurrection life. Let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Hosanna to the King

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Hosanna to the King
Feast of Palm Sunday
12 April, 1987
Philippians 4:4-9 ; John 12:1-18


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, the Jewish people are escorting Jesus into Jerusalem. They are waving palm branches and branches of olive trees (we have pussy willows because there are no palm trees handy). They cry to Jesus : “Hosanna”. “Hosanna” is what was given for the king of Israel only. The people were sure that Jesus, who is coming, is going to be the King of Israel. He is going to make everything right. He is going to get rid of the Romans, who were occupying their country. A few days later, when they discover that Jesus, in fact, is not going to take over and boot out the Romans, they turn on Him and the Jewish people very much contribute to His Crucifixion on Friday. We will see this as we come to church this week and hear the readings from the Gospels day after day. We will see how the people (and even His own disciples) turn away from Him, desert Him, and wonder who He is.

Too many people have preconceived ideas about who Jesus is. They think that they can use Him to fit their own plans and make Him over into their own mould. They can use Jesus to suit their own purposes. The Jewish people at that time were soon to find out that they were very much mistaken. Jesus is more, much more than merely some sort of king, some sort of earthly ruler, some sort of person who is going to bring justice on the earth and make everything nice and warm and cozy and “at home”. Jesus is much greater than that. There is no such thing as an earthly king who can make everything right. It does not matter what political party we belong to or what ideals we hold in politics, whether we are socialists or conservatives : it does not make any difference. People are sinful, selfish and greedy, and no matter which political system we embrace, there is going to be at least some injustice. Political systems are no end in themselves. They only help us govern our country. They only help keep order.

What really matters is : Is there justice in my life ? Am I treating my brothers and sisters with justice ? Do I behave as God wants me to behave ? Do I treat all my brothers and sisters in this world as equals ? If I do not, I have no business saying anything about what happens in South Africa. I do not even have too much business complaining about the way the federal government treats the Inuit and the Aboriginals in this country unless I, myself, am ready to treat everyone as equal, as a child of God, no matter where we come from on earth.

Where does this fixation on an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem lead us now ? Contrary to expectations, the fact is that Jesus is not King of any ordinary kingdom. He is the Ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven which includes every creature that God makes, especially us, human beings. When God set about to save us human beings, He did not say that only the Jews are going to be saved. Even back in the Old Testament times, He never said that only Jews are going to be saved. He said that all the world would be saved through them because they were supposed to be an example (except they shut everyone out).

Therefore, God gave the Kingdom to us to spread the Gospel all around the world. Our ancestors who came from Russia did a very good job of that when they came to Alaska, and established the Church in Alaska. They converted all sorts of people there. Our ancestors in Russia were also very good at bringing Christianity to people in Kenya and in Persia. In fact, the mission that the Russians established in Kenya is still going on, and is nurtured within the Alexandrian Patriarchate with help from the Finnish Orthodox Church.

We have to be their legitimate spiritual children. Our behaviour in the world should be as theirs was only 100 years ago. The Russian missionaries would still be doing the same thing today if Alaska had not been sold and the Western government had not closed the door to Russian missionaries. The result of that closure was the need for the Aboriginal Orthodox to hold on tightly to Christ with very little spiritual support from human beings for over a century. What is this behaviour that we ought to emulate ? It is speaking with power about the joy and the life of Jesus Christ : the life that He gives us, and the ability to live with meaning, hope and power. We show that Jesus is Lord of all that is, and that He is able to take us out of our darkness and the dirt of our sins, and give us the ability to live a life that is positive, powerful, life-giving, and healing to other people. Jesus is the One who, as Lord of all creation, and Lord of our lives, heals broken hearts, heals broken relationships, brings forgiveness between people, restores everything to unity and gathers everything together. Earthly kingdoms separate, break up, and destroy. Greatly were the political Jewish people disappointed in Jesus Christ, because He did not come and establish that Israel that they thought would save the world. The Messianic Kingdom was going to keep everyone out and be stronger than anyone else. It was going to subdue the world. They were very greatly disappointed.

You and I are standing here today in the Temple of the Lord, in the New Jerusalem, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. Every time we stand together like this, we are gathered as the Body of Christ, and we are standing in the New Jerusalem. Are you and I going to be like those political Jewish people ? Are we going to be like our unfaithful spiritual forefathers ? Are we going to betray Christ ? Are we going to kill Him with the way we live ? Are we going to kill Him with our sins ? Are we going to kill Him some more by not forgiving other people, by hating, by holding grudges, by being like everyone else in the world ? Or are we going to be able truly to say : “‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’” Are we going to live as children of the true Kingdom, the Kingdom which has no earthly barriers amongst people ? There are no borders in Christianity. We are all one Body. We are all members of Christ. We are all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are all sons and daughters of the King, and it is time we all behaved like that.

This coming week we are all going to be walking with Jesus as He walks toward the Cross, which He did voluntarily for our sake. No-one made Him do it. Only His love for us made Him do it. He offered Himself. He was killed. He rose on the third day. All this we are going to be celebrating during this coming week. Let us give ourselves to Him. Let us offer our lives to Him, and try to behave in love as citizens of that Kingdom so that we will never deny Him, never betray Him, and never give Him a kiss as Judas did. May we confess Him as the thief did : “Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom” (see Luke 23:42). And in that heavenly Kingdom, may we with joy eternally bless the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Let our Lives reveal Christ

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Let our Lives reveal Christ
Saturday of the 2nd Week of Pascha
2 May, 1987
Acts 5:21-33 ; John 6:14-27


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we hear the Lord saying : “‘Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’”. Already Jesus had been feeding this crowd on Himself, the Word. He gave them the words of hope and eternal life. Then He nourished their bodies. In all this He was busy trying to show them where their priorities ought to be. Of course, He withdrew to pray, and we know that the apostles went ahead of Him by boat. The Lord caught up to them by walking on the water. No-one ever expected such a thing. He did this not to demonstrate how fantastic and wonderful He is and what wonders He can accomplish. They had already seen that. Certainly He gave His disciples a scare when He walked up to them on the water, but as soon as they knew who it was, they willingly received Him.

The fact is that the whole world is looking for Jesus all the time. They are looking for Him and His love. They are busy trying to find that fulfilment which in their hearts they know they must have. They are looking for that food which gives eternal life. They are striving to be fed, but no-one feeds them. We feed enough people nowadays with regular bread, as we send all sorts of food to places such as Ethiopia (although certainly we do not do enough). However, on the other hand, what are we doing about giving people what they are actually looking for, especially here at home ? Very often the things that we do are equivalent to that question that Jesus asked : “‘If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?’” (Luke 11:11) That seems to be more or less what we do. For instance, when people are looking for Jesus Christ, very often we give them “Orthodoxy” instead. We give them the rules of our Fathers. We give them tradition with a small “t”. It is not the tradition of Jesus Christ. We very often speak to people about whether we should stand up or sit down, whether we should cover our heads or not cover our heads, but we generally do not give them the love of Jesus Christ. The love of Jesus Christ comes first. That is what we must give first, and that is what people are looking for. How do we live out this love of Jesus Christ ? Do we do it by making pysanky at Pascha ? by cracking eggs ? by how we do our poklons ? by how we cover our heads or how we do not cover our heads or by whatever else we might do ? In fact, it is not in externals alone that we live out our love for Jesus Christ. The first thing we have to be ready to do is to reveal to others through our lives Who Jesus Christ is. He wants to give them this Bread that is eternal life. The Bread that gives eternal life is Himself.

Since the whole world is hungering for the Lord, let us be like Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who, every day of his life, after he finally was certain that he knew Who Jesus Christ is, went around always saying : “Christ is risen”. Every day of his life, to every person that he ever met, he said : “Christ is risen”. We should be like that. We should be people who reveal Jesus Christ to each other in such a way that no-one can doubt that we know Him and no-one can fail to meet Him through us. It should be that when you and I are going around, people are always aware that they are somehow involved with Jesus Christ. When we are with our friends, our family, at work, it is not necessary that we mention His Name (or rarely, if we do). We can help the Lord to touch them and reach them through expressing in practical ways this renewing, life-giving love, and this support that love gives. Even when we criticise, we still support in our love. When we criticise something that is wrong, we do not slash with our swords and chop someone in half. We support. We say : “Brother or sister, such-and-such a thing is wrong, and we have to do something about it”. We do not have to say aggressively : “You are wrong !” We have to be careful how we approach each other. We have to approach each other in love so that every time we speak to each other, the power of Jesus Christ’s love is meeting the people we are with. They are being fed. They are being introduced to Him, and they are learning how they should live, and why, by observing how we live.

A huge amount of our lives is filled with words : talk, talk, talk, all the time. The fundamental way for Christians to preach Christ (even when someone wants to know about Orthodox Christianity), is to be just like the Apostle Philip and say : “‘Come and see’” (John 1:46). The only way people can understand anything about us as Orthodox Christians or about Jesus Christ is to come and see ; to come and experience ; to come and be. We do not have to talk to people about Jesus Christ all the time. We just have to live Him. We just have to be Him for other people. We do not have to speak and explain and explain and explain : we just do. If someone is sick, we go to visit him or her. If someone needs something, we provide it. We do not have to talk ; we just do. One fundamental characteristic about Orthodox Christians and their prayer life is silence. We learn after a while that in our prayers we do not have to talk, talk, and talk to the Lord and wear Him out by our gabbing. All we have to do is look at Him and love Him. We adore Him. We hold our hands up to Him like this and worship Him. We do not have to blather forever and ever. It is the same thing about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we have to speak, but mostly we have to be and do. There is a saying : “Preach the Gospel incessantly ; if necessary, use a few words”.

Let us ask the Lord this morning as we come to receive Him, to help us to be like our spiritual Fathers and Mothers who are not all known so much by their words. Of course, Saint Basil the Great is known for his writings, and Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Gregory the Theologian are known for their words, too. They had a special service to provide from the Lord. However, Saint Seraphim of Sarov is not so well known for his words, and neither are Saint Nicholas, Saint Vladimir or Saint Barbara, for example. All these persons were recognised quite soon after their repose for their actions. Just by their lives, they proclaimed that they loved Jesus Christ first before anything else. We do not have big books left by most of these holy people but we do have the testimony of their lives. All we have to do is to be Christians who live our lives in Christ. We practise. We do. We do not have to babble on ; we just do. We show that we are Orthodox Christians not by how much we talk about it, but by how much we live His love and by how much we bring Jesus Christ to people around us. By that, by our silence even, just by our being, we proclaim that Christ is risen. May our lives in the love of Jesus Christ, just as Saint Seraphim, proclaim the Resurrection of Christ and glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

How can we be Myrrh-bearers ?

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
How can we be Myrrh-bearers ?
3rd Sunday of Pascha
3 May, 1987
Acts 6:1-7 ; Mark 15:43-16:8


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Today, we are remembering that time when those women, called the “Myrrh-bearers”, came to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone already rolled away.

An angel is sitting there and telling them that Christ is risen from the dead. These women were women who had been accompanying Jesus everywhere. They were helping Him and serving Him, and they are called “women disciples”. That means women followers, women imitators of Jesus Christ. These women also went on to bring about the conversion of other people, just as the men did. By their serving, these women ministered to the Lord in extremely important ways. I think that they set some sort of a precedent for how the service of women is really the foundation of Church life throughout the centuries.

That is why most of the sisterhoods in our Church are called “Myrrh-bearing Women”. I mean parish sisterhoods and not monastic sisters. The sisters of this particular parish are called the Myrrh-bearers and all the women of the parish are part of it. Their responsibility above all is to serve Jesus Christ. Of course, men also are supposed to serve Him, as Joseph of Arimathea served Him, and as the holy Archdeacon Stephen served Him. The manner of service of men and women, although they are sometimes different in the Church, are sometimes the same. All the modes of service of men and women together in the Church perform the same function. All are for serving Jesus Christ and for exercising the gifts that He has given to us. The purpose of all these gifts is to build up and strengthen those who are believers first of all, and secondly and most importantly, to testify to Jesus Christ, to bring Him to where we live so that other people may see Him, and believe.

Other people see Jesus Christ in you and in me, and that is how they come to know Him. That is how we also came to know Jesus Christ in the first place. We were touched by the example of others who knew Him and live in Him. It is the same with our spiritual fathers and mothers. We can only have one set of biological parents : one mother and one father physically ; but in the course of our life we can have many fathers and mothers spiritually. Their responsibility as mothers and fathers is to bear Christ, to carry Christ themselves and to introduce Him to us, and us to Him. Once they have introduced Jesus Christ to us, they help us grow in Jesus Christ, if we will. No-one forces us to believe in Jesus Christ. No-one forces us to serve Jesus Christ, just as no-one forces me to be friends with anyone. Vera can introduce me to Stefan as many times as she likes, but if I do not want to be friends with Stefan, I will never do it. If Stefan introduced me to Vera, it is the same thing. He could introduce me to Vera a million times, but if I do not wish to be friends with Vera, it will not happen. It would be too bad (but thank God I choose to be friends with both in this case). The principle is the same as bringing Jesus Christ to each other. Our responsibility is to introduce. Other people’s responsibility is to accept the introduction and to become friends with Him, as we are, although we have become more than just friends with Jesus Christ. We have become His brothers and sisters. We have become the adopted children of God, the Father. We have become princes and princesses of the Kingdom.

In the Acts this morning, we heard about how much work there was for the apostles to do in the early days. There was so much work to be done by these apostles that people began to criticise, because some of the widows were being neglected in the distribution of food. In those days, there was no such thing as pensions, welfare or insurance. Therefore, if the husband died, the widow was left without any way to get an income unless she had children who were old enough to support her. Once in a while she could survive if she had a business sense and had some money to get going. She could survive if perhaps her father had money. However, when their husband died, very many widows were left completely out in the cold and they had to beg. The early Christians behaved very differently from society which left the women alone and did not pay much attention to them. Even the Jewish society which was supposed to look after widows, did not bother too much. Thus, our ancestors in the Early Church and afterwards were very careful to look after the widows, orphans, and other people who were in need. The Church supplied them with food, housing, clothes and looked after them in general so that they did not suffer from need. That is how they shared everything in those days.

It seems to me that one way in which we can apply the life of those days to this day is as follows. Nowadays, we have a reasonable amount of welfare. Nowadays, we have a reasonable amount of pension money. Nowadays, we also have all sorts of institutions to look after people. When a person gets old, often the person goes to a nursing home. Once the person goes to a nursing home, the person is forgotten, like Mrs. n, for instance. I talk about her all the time because she is an example of this. She is in the nursing home and she is far away. Not very many people go to see her because she is far away. If these were the old days, the days of the Apostles Peter and Paul, Philip and Bartholomew and all the apostles, Mrs. n would not be living there. If she were not living with her family, then she would be living in some sort of a house that the rest of the parish would provide for such old people who cannot live by themselves. They would look after her in every way.

We do not need to do that nowadays, but we do need to visit because our old people who cannot get out get very lonely. Mrs. n gets lonely. Even though she lives at home and has someone to look after her, she gets lonely. She has the phone, but the phone is not like having tea with someone. It is not the same. There is also Mr. n and so many others who do not see very many faces from their spiritual families here. Most often these people do not get out as often as they would like to. I am saying that, as Myrrh-bearers, it is our responsibility to take care and to remember who is sick. There are many people like this and it is our responsibility to pay attention to their needs.

We are very busy but we should discipline ourselves once a month to go and see someone. Our sisterhood has appointed one person already to make certain that people (especially sick people in the hospital) are visited sometimes. However, it is not that person’s responsibility to do all the visiting because we are all the brothers and sisters of these people who are too old or too sick to come to church as often as they want to. It is the responsibility of us all to phone, or once in a while (perhaps once a month) to go and visit them, have a cup of tea, share a few words, bring an orange or something and say, as it were : “You are my brother, you are my sister. I care about you and I am interested in you”. That is what our responsibility is supposed to be like, I think. That is the most practical way in which we can apply today’s Gospel. Let us remember how those deacons were chosen to look after the people who were in need. Let us remember that our responsibility is like their responsibility. Although each of us has different gifts, we are each of us called to look after each other with the love of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

That is how we demonstrate that we love. It is no good simply to say : “I love you”. By showing up and having a cup of tea with Mrs. n, for instance, or by trying to surprise someone else, we show that we care. Perhaps some day when we are driving on our way somewhere, we could just drop in for twenty minutes for a cup of tea and say : “How are you ?” That is all that is necessary. People really sense the love of Jesus when we do that. They really understand how the love of Jesus works when we do little things like that. A telephone call, a little visit, a cup of tea is not much, but it is everything, on the other hand.

This morning, as we come to receive Him, and as He gives Himself to us, let us ask the Lord to help us put His love more into practice. Let us ask Him to open our eyes, our minds and our ears (but most particularly our minds together with our hearts), and to remind us what we could and should do. Let us ask Him to remind us whom to visit, whom we can go and see, who needs to hear a word of care or a word of love from a brother or sister. Let us then listen for Him to speak to us. Some day when we are in the car, perhaps we will drop in to visit Mrs. n and surprise her. We could have a quick cup of tea and say : “How are you ?” and “Christ is risen”. By doing this, we will truly glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Good Intentions are just not enough

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Good Intentions are just not enough
4th Sunday of Pascha
10 May, 1987
Acts 9:32-42 ; John 5:1-15


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, on the fourth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the healing of the paralysed man. This man, who had been paralysed for 38 years, had been lying by this pool called “Bethesda” for an exceptionally long time. He had been hoping that he would be able to be first in the water when the angel stirred up the water so that he could be healed of his disease. However, someone always got there first. He was very much exasperated, but still he was full of hope. Still he kept trying.

When Jesus came to him and healed him, He said : “‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’”. When the Lord later found him in the Temple, He said to Him : “‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more’”. As I have said before, many of the things that are wrong with us come from sin. It is not always our own sin. Sometimes it is just because we are human beings, and all humanity is terribly sinful. That is why some terrible things occur to us, and sometimes that is why we get sick. However, there is a way out, and the way out is Jesus Christ. He is the Life-giver, and wherever Jesus is, there can only be life – no sickness, no sorrow, no sighing – only life. When Jesus told the paralysed man that he should not sin any more, He was telling us something that we must remember. That something is that sin paralyses us. As long as we participate in the works of darkness, as long as we do not unite ourselves to the Lord, as long as we insist on “doing our own thing”, we are paralysing ourselves, like that man who was lying for 38 years on the ground.

The Lord does not want us to be like that. He does not want us to be paralysed by our selfishness, by our greediness, by our anger, by our unwillingness to forgive. He wants us to put all this away. He wants us to live powerfully and healthily in the Kingdom. However, the only way we can have any sort of spiritual or physical health is to be united to Jesus Christ and determined to live in the Kingdom, to live in His life-giving love.

How do we do that ? The answer is very simple. We just do it. Of course, the question comes : “But how do we do it ?” By living as Jesus does. When we meet someone who is spiritually or physically ill, we bring the healing love of Jesus Christ to that person. If someone is ill, we go to that person if we can. Whether we can go to that person or cannot go to that person, we pray for that person to be healed physically or spiritually. We unite ourselves to Jesus Christ every Sunday when we come here. We unite ourselves to Him and share His love and His life with those around us. If someone is hungry, we feed them. If someone does not have enough clothes, we give them clothes. If someone is short of money, maybe we can lend them something, or even give them something if possible, depending on how God moves us to act. No-one can say how we are supposed to act precisely in any individual case, because human beings are all different. The circumstances in life are all different also. God calls you and me to behave towards each other in love.

The only way we can know for certain how to exercise this love is to be united with the Lord, who is the Source of love. He is the One who gives us the love in the first place, and He is the One who teaches us how to exercise it rightly in each case. For instance, if someone does not have any money, we should perhaps give them money. On the one hand, that would work for certain people and be “just the ticket”, but on the other hand it might be an occasion for sin because of the particular weaknesses of that person which we cannot know. I discovered that by listening to the Lord. That does not mean that just because we sometimes make mistakes in the exercising of our love we should never give of ourselves. We must give of ourselves. We must act. Unless we act, there is no love. Love must operate. It must do. It must express itself. I cannot just sit around saying : “I am a good Christian. I love”. That is no good. That does not do a thing, except say to everyone that I am a big talker. Maybe I have good intentions, but my mother said to me time after time that good intentions pave the road to hell. She was quite right. “I was going to do something” does not get us anywhere when we have to face the Lord. “I was going to be nice to so-and-so” ; “I was going to go and visit ” ; “I was going to take a pie over” ; “I was going to do this and I was going to do that”. That does not hold any water. It is a leaky bucket before the Lord. When we face the Lord it is just like when I was facing my mother. “I was going to” does not get us anywhere, but it got me a red bottom a few times, anyway. It will get us the same thing with the Lord. If I say : “I was going to do this or that”, then I can expect the Lord to say : “Why then did you not do it ?”

If we are not prepared to exercise our love, if we are so “chicken-hearted” that we cannot do a thing, then we have to be prepared for what the Lord is going to give us. The fact is that the Lord loves us. He strengthens us. He protects us from all harm. He corrects us. There is no reason at all not to be prepared to do something. The Lord is going to say to us : “Why did you not … ?” I might make an excuse that I am selfish or scared. However, perhaps I am more likely to be selfish, because, if I am selfish, that is a reason to be scared. If we cannot say that we did not do it for a good reason, then we can expect to get slapped around a bit, as it were. In fact, we can expect to get slapped around a bit right now by the Lord because the Lord disciplines the ones He loves. He loves us, and He wants us to wake up and He wants us to do what is right. He wants us to exercise this love with each other. The Lord says in another place : “If you do good things : visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go and see those who are in jail, or do whatever else is necessary to meet people’s needs – if you do it to these people, you do it to Me, also” (see Matthew 25:34-36). However, if we do not look after the people who are in need, if we do not go and see Mrs n once in a while ; if we do not go and see how Mrs n or Mrs n is doing today ; if we do not check up on one of them, then we did not do it to the Lord, either. He is going to say : “Why ? Why did you not at least phone ?”

We have to exercise this love, because this love gives life. If Jesus Christ did not exercise His life-giving love, the paralysed man would never have stood up. If He did not exercise His love through Peter, the man who was paralysed would never have stood up, and Tabitha would never have been raised from the dead. We are reading the Book of Acts right now in Pascha because the Book of Acts shows us how the apostles lived out the love of Jesus Christ, and how the love of Jesus Christ built up and strengthened the community. If there is anything we believers here need to do now, it is to read the Book of Acts once a month for the next year, and try to put into practice what is said in that book about the deeds of the apostles.

Let us consider what happened to Peter when Peter was going into the Temple (see Acts 3:1-10). A man was begging for money. Peter said : “’Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you’”. He took the lame man by the hand and he was healed ; he got up and walked around. He was able to earn his own living after that instead of begging. That is what the Lord expects of you and me. He expects us to put our love into practice. We are united to Jesus Christ and we have all the tools that are necessary in this love. All we have to do is to do it. We just have to reach out a hand, and touch and do.

Why not make that our commitment today ? Let us read the Book of Acts once a month (which means about a chapter a day) for the next year, and try to act on the Acts ; to do what the apostles did, because how Jesus lives and works amongst us is no different from how He worked and lived amongst them. His love is the same. We try to let ourselves off the hook, saying : “The times are different”. However, they are not that different. People are people, like they were then. The only difference between people at the time of the Acts and people now, is how much money most people seem to have now, how many machines people have to do their work for them, and how fast they can travel around the world. It is how many gadgets we have that makes us different. Human beings remain the same and they have been behaving the same throughout all the thousands of years of history. Nevertheless, the promises of Jesus Christ are the same. His love is the same. We can be like the apostles, and He wants us to be like them, so let us read the Book of the Acts. Let us act on the Book of the Acts, so that our whole life says : Christ is risen. Let our lives always proclaim the Resurrection of Christ, and glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

“Come and See”

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
“Come and See”
5th Sunday of Pascha
17 May, 1987
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30 ; John 4:5-42


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

All through the Paschal season, we are hearing readings from the Book of Acts, and readings from various Resurrection Gospels. Most of all, what we are hearing in these passages is what we heard this morning in the Gospel reading about the Samaritan Woman. In the Acts, we see how the communities in those early days were formed, how they were assembled, what their life was like and how they grew.

The Samaritan Woman gives us the perfect example. She meets Jesus at the well. Jesus reveals to her Who He truly is by the things that He says to her. Instantly she accepts what He has to say about Himself. She does not even question it because of the way He presents it to her. He presents Who He is directly, and even though she is a very sinful woman, she still has the eyes to perceive what is the truth. Right away she accepts it. Her immediate response is to ask a question. After she has the question answered in a way she really does not understand, then she runs to the town to tell everyone else : “‘Come and see a Man who told me all things that I ever did’”. The town came out. This town was full of people who by Jewish standards certainly were no good. However, by their own standards, they considered themselves to be better than the Jewish people of Jerusalem.

The people of this town came out. They saw Jesus. They met Him and accepted Him right away. Some of them believed in Him because of the words of the Samaritan Woman even before they had set eyes on Him. As soon as they could see Who He is, they begged Him to stay a little longer. Jesus was only passing through because He was on His way elsewhere. However, the people begged Him and He agreed to stay a little while. This was unprecedented because Jewish people did not even speak to Samaritans, let alone stay with them. He spoke to them. He taught them and He revealed the Kingdom to them. They received Him and they accepted the Kingdom. Instantly a believing community of people turning away from sin and turning towards the Lord was formed in this little Samaritan village called Sychar. Those villagers were ready to have the Holy Spirit living in their hearts.

In the reading from the Acts, we saw people running away from Jerusalem because of persecution. Wherever they went, they immediately established communities. They preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those around them and converted them to the true Faith of Jesus Christ. New communities grew up everywhere. As we are reminded, it was in the city of Antioch in Syria that the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians”. Our call is the same as that of the early Christians, because we here today are the same sort of people as all those that we have been hearing about. We are not any different, even though we do not live in the Middle East and we do not speak Aramaic, Hebrew or Arabic. We are the same sort of people. We are all children of God created by Him to live in the Kingdom. That is why we are the same as those people. Even if we live in the machine age where there are all sorts of gadgets, we are still essentially like all those people we hear about in the New Testament.

Jesus comes to us in the New Testament. When we read it, we meet Him. It is the duty of all Orthodox Christians to read the Bible all the time so that we can truly know Jesus and live the way He wants us to live. He meets us as He is meeting us right now in the Divine Liturgy. He comes to us in His Body and His Blood. As He gives Himself to us, He fills us with Himself. He gives us life and power to live in accordance with His will and to live the life of the Kingdom. He enables us to live that life which is full of love, full of strength, full of power, full of healing, full of light.

It is for you and for me to be like our spiritual ancestors. Our fathers and mothers hundreds and hundreds of years ago responded to Jesus Christ whom they met either in the flesh or in the lives of other people. You and I have met Jesus Christ in the Gospel, in the lives of each other, and in the lives of our mothers and fathers, or at least our spiritual mothers and fathers. We meet Him here, now, in the Divine Liturgy, as we do every time at the Divine Liturgy. We receive Him ; we accept Him into our hearts. Now we must live this life. We must live as the Samaritan Woman lived, as all those other disciples lived, and as the people of Sychar lived. We have to be ready to say : “Come and see. Come and meet Jesus Christ, who gives life to me and to all those who will receive life from Him. Come and see Him. Come and meet Him. Come and know the joy of living in Him as I do, and as we do here”.

That is what we are called to do. We are called to live as believers amongst ourselves so that when someone else comes to visit us, someone who has never met Jesus Christ, someone who has perhaps never even heard of Him, this person will be able to sense this love, this power, this life in our midst and be eager to share it with us. That is how we are called to live. We are called to live as our spiritual ancestors did, as we see in the New Testament. This has been the call to Orthodox Christians for the past 2,000 years : to live as these people in the New Testament lived, hearing about Jesus Christ, meeting Him, receiving Him, and living Him.

It is perhaps a little difficult to think of foreign and unbelieving people coming to meet us here where probably most people around the country are already somehow believers. I suppose that even in a country like Greece, which has been Christian right from the beginning of Christianity, there are occasionally some people who are not believers. It is our responsibility to strengthen each other, first of all in our living in Jesus Christ. If we see one who is not a believer, we are not supposed to run at him or her with our Bible, wave it and quote Scripture. We are not to shake our finger and ask : “Why aren’t you coming to church ?” We are supposed to live an example of love, invitation and acceptance. Thus, without our even having to speak about it, this person will sooner or later be able to see the love of the Lord working amongst us and living amongst us. If this person has fallen away, s/he will turn back to Christ. Or if s/he has never even been told about Christ, this person will come and ask why our lives are so powerful, why our lives are so full of joy, why our lives are so full of selflessness and true love.

Everyone on earth is thirsting for this love. Everyone on earth is parched and gasping for this love even if the person does not know it. Nothing else in the world will satisfy except the true Faith, the true love of Jesus Christ. Only we Orthodox Christians know about it ; only we know how to live it, and only we know how it can be given to such a person who does not know about it and who needs it. Of course, sometimes the Lord intervenes directly. As we come to receive Him this morning, let us ask the Lord to give us the courage to live without any fear this life of love, to share this love amongst ourselves freely, so that others may see and believe. Let us live with each other so that other people may see, believe, and desire to be part of this loving, life-giving, strengthening, healing community in the Kingdom which proclaims every single, solitary day of the year : “Christ is risen”. Likewise, may this community in every way, every day, glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Following the Shepherd

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Following the Shepherd
Saturday of the 5th Week of Pascha
23 May, 1987
Acts 15:35-41 ; John 10:27-38


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the Epistle reading today, we see how the Lord manages to make something positive out of something negative such as the dissension today between the Apostles Paul and Barnabas. Because they could not agree, they went in separate directions. However, the Lord used this disagreement to multiply the proclamation of the Gospel. These were two strong leaders working together, which was a very good thing. However, when the time came for them to separate and to go on to do work individually, the proclamation of the Gospel spread even farther and deeper. Now the Gospel was being proclaimed not only in Asia Minor, but also it was being proclaimed in Cyprus when the Apostle Barnabas went there.

We have to remember always that this is what the Lord is doing all the time in our lives as well. Sometimes we commit serious sins. However, as long as we keep turning towards the Lord and admitting that we have done wrong and that we wish to do what is the Lord’s will, He turns the wrong that we have done to His glory. He is the One who heals what is broken. He is the One who makes up for or fulfils everything that is lacking. The Holy Spirit (as we are always saying) heals what is broken ; He unites what is disunited ; He brings together and unites everything.

The Lord speaks of Himself as the Shepherd of sheep and we are the sheep. A shepherd is someone who looks after sheep, and there is a unity or bond between the shepherd and the sheep. The shepherd is what he does. He is responsible for, and he protects the sheep. When our Lord speaks about being a shepherd, He refers to us human beings as being rational sheep, as it were. After Him, every human shepherd of the rational sheep remains, himself, a rational sheep. This sort of unity is evident when this perfect Shepherd is the God-Man. A shepherd has to know each one of his sheep individually if he is to do a proper job. He has to know the whole flock and he has to know every member of that flock. Not only does he have to know them, but he has to love them and care for them because sheep (as we all know) are quick to wander off and do stupid things. They get lost easily ; and if they get lost, they do not know what to do, and they do not even have the sense to go and find the flock. Therefore, the shepherd has to go hunting for the sheep and bring them back to the flock.

That is what the Lord is always doing in our lives. That is what He is always doing in our lives together in the Church. That is how He administers the Church – as a loving Shepherd gathering and uniting the sheep. The Lord is not sitting up in Heaven detached from the Church. The Lord is here in our midst all the time. He is in the middle of our lives. He is living by His law in our hearts, as He said He would do. He is in the midst of us, stirring up love for Him all the time ; and love for each other increases all the time. The more we co-operate with Him, the more united we all become, and the more united and strong the Church becomes. There is only one thing that is really required of us, and that is the commitment to do His will : to find out what His will is, and then to do it. This is how we live in Him in love.

We are to be obedient, following the Shepherd. That is another big misunderstanding that we have about how flocks operate. In western Europe shepherds are known as drovers because they drive the flock from one place to another. However, in the Middle East, shepherds do not drive the flock. Shepherds walk in front of their sheep and the sheep follow them. The sheep will not follow anyone else but that one shepherd because they know that this shepherd loves them. That is how the Lord is with us. He is not driving us anywhere. He always goes before, making a way for us so that we know where to go. If He were behind us, driving us on, we would always be scared ; we would always be afraid because we would not know exactly where we were going, and we would not even know why we were going there. We would just know that there was a dog and a stick behind us pushing us somewhere we do not know. Instead, our Shepherd, who loves us, goes in front of us so that there is nothing to be afraid of. We know where we are going. If there is a dog, that dog is there to make sure that we do not run away and get lost. In this way, the whole flock goes forward together following the Shepherd whom they love. The Shepherd and the sheep together are one being. That is what the Church of Jesus Christ is : all one being together, Shepherd and sheep.

Our Good Shepherd is with us today. He is today not separate from us. He is today in our midst. He is the One who offers Himself to the Lord and He is the One who offers Himself to us. When we come to Him to be fed by our Shepherd, He Himself feeds us with Himself. He fills us and renews us in His love. Let us come today to that great Shepherd of the sheep, and renew ourselves as sheep in the flock of the Lord and be fed by Him. Let us live in Him and follow Him wherever He leads us. May all our hearts willingly and lovingly follow and imitate our good Shepherd, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and glorify Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Who is blind in Today’s Gospel ?

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Who is blind in Today’s Gospel ?
6th Sunday of Pascha
The Man born blind
24 May, 1987
Acts 16:16-34 ; John 9:1-38


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This is one of the longest Gospel readings that we have (outside of Holy Week). Who is blind in today’s Gospel ? It certainly is not the blind man who is blind because he who was blind from birth is able to glorify God by the fact that he instantly responds to the Lord. As soon as he knows who the Lord is, instantly he falls down, worships the Lord, and says : “‘Lord, I believe!’” More than once in the Gospel, Jesus said, as it were : “If you cannot believe Me, at least believe the works. Believe what happens ; see how God acts, and understand. Do not be unbelieving but be quick to believe and quick to understand how God’s love works”.

The Jewish people and the Pharisees were not ready to listen. They absolutely refused. They were the ones who were completely blind. They were the ones who could not see the action of the will of God even when all the evidence was right in front of their faces and there were all sorts of witnesses that this was the case. They absolutely refused to believe and in the end they threw people out of the synagogue. They were that angry at not getting their own way. There was no justice whatever, not the slightest bit. Nevertheless, the blind man is not worried about justice from the Pharisees or from anyone else. The blind man is glorifying God because he has been given sight. Our hymns last evening said that he had never in his life been able to see human beings who are made in the image of God. Instead, he had only been able to touch and to hear. When he receives his sight, he is able not only to see with his eyes, but more deeply with his soul.

There is more than one way to approach life and our relationships with each other. You and I are all images of Christ, our Lord. We are icons of the Lord. Time and again, Saint John Chrysostom says (and other Fathers also say) that we are to respect that presence of Christ in each other. We are to look for it and to help it grow. Sometimes we too are just as blind as those Pharisees who could not with their physical eyes see that this man had been healed, and that he had been healed by the love of God. They were angry because he had been healed on the Sabbath Day. The Lord had technically broken the Law by working on the Sabbath Day. They wanted to get revenge and justice, and that is all that they were interested in. What are you and I interested in ? Are we interested in getting justice for ourselves at the expense of everyone else ? Are we interested in getting our own way at the expense of everyone else ? What is important to us ? This is where our blindness comes in. Our blindness has to do with our relationships with one another. Can we see Christ in each other ? Do we affirm Christ in each other ? Do we build up the presence of Christ in each other or do we deny the presence ? Do we live as Christians must live – giving life, being honest, being supportive, healing, and building up the Body of Christ ? Or are we like the world where people eat each other up, slash each other with their words, kill with their words (not to overlook killing with weapons) ? Are we like the world where we serve our own selves first and only, or are we living in the Kingdom as we must ? Do we put the Lord first ? Do we put the service of others and their welfare even before ours ? Which way do we live ? Do we see with the eyes of the Kingdom or do we see with the eyes of the world ?

Today, we are standing in the Kingdom. Do we see that we are standing here in the Kingdom, or is this merely some sort of chummy gathering that we attend because we like to see our friends ? Are we here to glorify God first above all things ? Can we see with our hearts the presence of our spiritual ancestors, our mothers and fathers who have been here before us and who have offered their praise to the Lord, and have given this particular place such an uplifting and prayerful atmosphere ? Can we see them ? Can we feel them ? Can we sense them ? Can we know that our loved ones are here still in the Body of Christ, here in the Kingdom ? Can we see the Lord standing in our midst today, giving us Himself, giving us His life, His love and feeding us with His love ? Can we see Him standing in our midst with His arms stretched out to us, saying : “‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28) ? Are we here instead simply out of habit or obligation ? Do we come to refresh our Russian culture and language ? If we are here only for the last reason, then we are like the Pharisees with blind eyes and we have to wake up. Our first reason to be here must be to offer our praise to the Lord, to unite ourselves to Him, and to be united with all our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who have gone before us, as well as with each other. The blue ceiling above us is to remind us that we are standing here in the Kingdom, under the dome of Heaven. We are standing here in Heaven in the presence of the Lord before His throne.

As we come to the Lord, He gives Himself to us. He makes us one, all together. Let us ask Him to open our eyes so that we can see Him here, and in each other, and also in other places in the world. Let us ask Him to help us see Him in people that we meet, so that we may bring the presence of the Kingdom out there to the world. The unity in Christ that we find here may we bring to the brokenness of the world out there. May we bring the love that we find here amongst ourselves to those out there who have no love. There, where there is only hate and death, may we bring the life and the love that we find here. Let us ask Him to enable that, so that our lives may glorify the all-holy Trinity and that every minute of our lives we may proclaim : “Christ is risen”.

The Ascension brings abundant Life

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
The Ascension brings abundant Life
Feast of the Ascension of Christ
28 May, 1987
Acts 1:1-12 ; Luke 24:36-53


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We are all very anxious to pin things down. The disciples were anxious to pin things down. In the middle of everything that had happened, they continued to ask the Lord, as it were : “Is it now, Lord ? Is now the time ? Are You going to establish the Kingdom of Israel now ?” The fact is that they were not yet able to understand that the Kingdom of God is a mystery beyond seeing and beyond the limitations of earthly boundaries.

Palestine (as it was known) was a province of the Roman Empire. It was not an area that could contain the Kingdom of God. Even the farthest extents of the kingdom of David and Solomon were not big enough to hold the Kingdom of God. The Russian Empire was not big enough to hold the Kingdom of God and neither was the British Empire, which was even bigger, nor the American Empire, which is big enough, too. Canada, the second biggest country in the world, is not big enough to hold it and in fact, the whole world is not big enough to hold the Kingdom. We cannot pin it down like that. The Lord ascended into Heaven in order to send the Holy Spirit to us. If He had remained with us as His disciples who loved Him wished that He would, He would have had to limit Himself in His ability to be with us. However, He chose not to limit Himself permanently in His ability to be with us. The Lord ascended in order to send the Holy Spirit to us so that He would be with us always just as He promised when He departed from His disciples.

The Holy Spirit did come and spread the Kingdom of Heaven to whatever hearts are prepared to receive Him. All around the world today, as we stand in the Divine Liturgy celebrating this Event, the Kingdom of God is present. All around the world, believers have assembled in places like this, at all different times, to worship the Lord and to be in the Kingdom. Here we stand today, gathered in the Kingdom. However, we ourselves seem to be anxious to put limits on that Kingdom, too. We want to put limits of language, culture, and some other sorts of limits on the Divine Liturgy. In the presence of the Kingdom, this cannot be. How can we put a limit on the proclamation of the Kingdom ? How can we confine it ? The Kingdom has to be proclaimed. Souls have to be saved. People have to be allowed to enter the Kingdom. They have to be welcomed with open and loving arms and raised up in the Kingdom with us.

These souls that are hungry for God’s love have to find it in us Orthodox Christians because they will likely not find it anywhere else except by divine intervention. They must find His love in us and amongst us. Thus, our responsibility is to live in the Kingdom, to live as the sons and daughters of the King to our greatest ability. By reaching out our hands in love together with our hearts, we bring life to the world. That is what our responsibility is. When He parted from us, as He ascended into Heaven, the Lord said, as it were : “Preach the Gospel, the good news of reunion with God, the good news of the love of God for His creatures, and of love and life amongst all human beings in this Kingdom”. That is the responsibility that comes to us from today’s readings : the responsibility to take our Christian lives seriously.

In a manner of speaking, the Ascension into Heaven expresses what is to come for us. We must prepare by exercising our membership in the Kingdom here and now. We must proclaim the truth of the Lord. We must live His love. We must build up and unite the members of the Body of Christ and draw all together to the Lord. He stands amongst us, drawing us to Himself, offering Himself to us, saying still : “‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:20). Let us let Him live in us. Let us let His love and the presence of the Kingdom radiate from our lives together. May this Kingdom bring healing, life, love and victory to many souls hungering and thirsting for Him. May our lives transparently reveal the life-giving love of the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Communion in Love

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Communion in Love
Saturday of the 6th Week of Pascha
30 May, 1987
Acts 20:7-12 ; John 14:10-21


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel reading today is reminding us of that perfect communion which is between the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity live in perfect unity and perfect communion, and yet each Person retains a distinct identity. The Father is the Father. The Son is the Son. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit.

I am not going to go into a recitation of the Athanasian Creed to explain the Holy Trinity this morning. What is important is this matter of perfect communion in love which Jesus says that He has with the Father. It is very difficult for us to understand things like that because we are generally very slow about such things. Even though the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit upon us and filled us, we are still slow. He gave us everything that we need to understand, but we still cannot put two and two together to make four, and come to understand life in the Kingdom. This perfect communion that Jesus Christ has with the Father is what He came to give to us through Himself, through our being members of the Body of Christ, through our being baptised into Him and chrismated with the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord wishes to take us up, we who are members of the Body of Christ, into perfect communion with the Father through Him. He wishes us to be in perfect communion with Him so that we can be in perfect communion through Him with the Father. He wants us to live always in love. How we learn to be in perfect communion with Jesus Christ is to be in communion with each other.

The devil is always trying to break up communion in Christ. He is always trying to throw around distractions, get people angry, get them upset, get them perturbed, and distract them from what their true purpose is, which is being one with Jesus Christ. This is one of the tactics he was using when he encouraged this young boy to fall asleep in the middle of Saint Paul’s sermon and fall out of the window. The devil’s scheme was that he should cast doubts on the apostolic ministry of Paul, and that he would cast doubts also on the power of the Lord to give life by making people discouraged and filling them with sorrow in the midst of the joy of being with the Apostle. He wanted to stab them right in the heart so that they would not listen to the Apostle. That is why things happened more or less as they happened. Even though the boy fell out of the window and everyone thought he was dead, the Apostle went down and said : “‘Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him’”, and they took him up alive. Most of us would not survive a fall out of a window, and even most boys would not survive a fall out of a window of more than one storey in height. Nevertheless, the prayers of the Apostle were such that, in his unity with the Lord, the Lord gave life to this boy who should have been dead. We see that the Apostle is in no way calling attention to himself.

As we see in the Acts of the Apostles, the Lord is continually giving life to those who have physically died. However, more importantly, He gives life to people who are spiritually dead – those who are dead in these sorts of sins : bitterness, anger, jealousy, envy ; people who are dead in the sins of selfishness, pride and rebellion against the Lord. He gives them life. There is more than one way to be in the tomb and have the Lord give life. One can be a zombie. Zombies (as you may remember from the movies) were the living dead. They were supposedly people who had been dug up out of a grave and robot-like were wandering around, catching people and making them zombies like themselves. Figuratively speaking, there are people who behave similarly all around us. They are so full of themselves that they do not have a second for anyone else. They do not care about anything at all except self-preservation. Their lives are lost in themselves, and they are dead to everything. There are also people who are dead because they are full of hatred, full of bitterness, full of anger, and their mouths are used only for vicious words and cutting remarks. Such people, also, are like these zombies : they appear to be alive, but they are not.

The Lord calls us to bring true life to these people and to show them what true life, eternal life actually means. True life consists in giving oneself in love selflessly with no strings attached : I give myself in service to others. The Lord is calling each one of us to be servants of everyone else, and to be seeing what we can do to help everyone else. He is calling us to see what we can do to bring life, hope, love and power into the lives of those who are all caught up in themselves, and totally lost, taken up in the sorrowful emptiness of serving themselves only.

It is our responsibility to teach them forgiveness, to teach them how to forgive. Most of the world does not know how to forgive but instead knows how to wreak vengeance and to take life. The world is getting more and more bloody and bloodthirsty all the time. It is our responsibility to break that cycle with our love, with the power of our prayers and with the power of our union with Christ in His life-giving love. It is our responsibility to bring life to the world, to bring light to the darkness and to raise out of the living tombs those who are wandering around dead but still capable of hearing the word. Living the love of Jesus Christ, it is for us to give them this word of life, by being in communion with each other and with God, and by bringing them into communion with us in Him.

This morning, let us once again strive to unite ourselves to the Lord and unite ourselves with each other. Let us remember that our calling is not to get something out of anyone but to give and forgive. Let us see what there is that we can do to help everyone else, not expecting anything in return. Thereby we will truly live Orthodox Christian lives. Thereby we will truly be united in Christ. Thereby, we will be taken up into perfect communion with the Father. Thereby we will be showing that we are alive in the Holy Spirit and that our whole lives glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Grace-filled Action in the Grace of the Holy Spirit

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Grace-filled Action in the Grace of the Holy Spirit
Saturday of the 7th Week of Pascha
(Memorial Saturday before the Feast of Pentecost)
6 June, 1987
Acts 28:1-31 ; John 21:15-25


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are reading the conclusion of the Book of Acts, and with it we come to the end of the Paschal season. Tomorrow we begin the Pentecost season. As I have said before, the reading of the Book of Acts is necessary for us. It is important that we remember how the Christian community is built up and strengthened, how we are supposed to be living together, and how the Holy Spirit is still working in and amongst us. Tomorrow we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as He comes to us. During the liturgical services, we will be with the disciples and apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit comes down in tongues of fire and gives power to those who love the Lord.

It is for us also, in harmony with the action of the Holy Spirit, to be prepared to live in accordance with the Gospel, and in accordance with the love of the Lord. We must remember to be continuously building up and strengthening the Body of Christ, Christ’s Holy Church. More than anything else, it is our responsibility to be nurturing and strengthening the body of believers here in this place by supporting one another, encouraging one another in love. Thus, we are urged to continue following the Lord, living in the Lord, all together and individually. At the same time, we are to exercise all the gifts that God has given us. He has given us all gifts of wisdom, gifts of understanding, gifts of knowledge, gifts of insight, gifts of prophesy. It is for us to discover these gifts in our lives, and to let the Lord work in us with these gifts. He has given us these gifts not just for our own strength, but so that we can exercise love in the community. In our relationships in the community, we can work together with the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. When we can put this love into practice amongst ourselves in the community, we will then be better able to do acts of love amongst people who do not know Christ and whose hearts are searching for Him. It is not all that easy to proclaim Christ to people who have not heard of Him. There are walls that have to be penetrated. It becomes more possible if we believers are able ourselves to exercise this love amongst ourselves in Christ, and all together to save ourselves in Christ.

We are not to be individual human beings concerned about “individual salvation”. That is one of the big mistakes of the television evangelists. We are not so much interested in “individual salvation” since individual salvation can only truly be achieved in community salvation. When we are all working together, encouraging and strengthening each other, there is much less focus on us as individuals. Individuals might be saved somehow, but that is up to the Lord. It is not likely that only one person in a community would be saved, because that person who is being saved is already exercising the love of God amongst others around so that they may be saved as well.

It is not possible to be a Christian and live outside of community awareness and community responsibility. Even Saint Symeon Stylites (whose memory we are celebrating today) who lived on a pillar in North Syria and never moved from it for many years, was not being saved by himself. Through his prayers, he was part of the Church all the time. People did not leave him alone sitting there on his pillar out in the country on a hill. They came and bothered him all the time, asking him to pray for them and asking him to speak to them.

Even hermits are called to serve others, and that service is what our Lord is referring to today when He is speaking to the Apostle Peter. The love of the Lord produces the feeding of the sheep, the caring for the sheep, and the tending of the flock. The love of the Lord must be demonstrated in concrete action. When our Lord says to the Apostle Peter : “‘Feed My lambs’”, “‘tend My sheep’”, “‘feed My sheep’”, He says it to us as well. It is important to remember that the number one fundamental lesson when we are reading the Bible and hearing about the works of all the great people who have gone before us (work done by the Lord through them, I should be careful to say) is that we have the same calling that they have. People throughout the generations are not different from one another. It does not matter if some people lived 4,000 years ago and were great and did wonderful works in the Lord. Living in 1987 or living in 1997 makes no difference. Human beings (although they become much more sophisticated in technology) remain the same in the heart. Their fundamental desires and needs are still the same. Their fundamental requirements are the same, and their call is just the same. The Lord calls His followers to act, and that is why we have read the Acts. Love of Him must be put into action. He calls us to work His works of love in His Kingdom amongst us, reaching out to those who are lost and in darkness.

Just as our spiritual ancestors, our fathers and mothers answered that call, we, too, today answer that call. We come to the Lord today ; He comes to us today. We receive Him today ; He gives Himself to us today. As much as He lived in those disciples and apostles 2,000 years ago, and enabled them by the power of the Holy Spirit to do great deeds and to save souls, He does the same for us in 1987, and God willing, if we should live until 1997, He would do the same thing for us in ten years’ time. May our whole lives now and forever glorify our Saviour who loves us so much, together with the unoriginate Father and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Grace to live in the Kingdom

Priest-monk Seraphim (Storheim) : Homily
Grace to live in the Kingdom
Feast of Pentecost
7 June, 1987


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today is our parish Altar Feast. We call it an Altar Feast-day because it is indeed the name-day of the Holy Table of this Temple. This Holy Table is sanctified in honour of the Holy Trinity. Thus, we gather today as a family to celebrate at this family Table. Brothers and sisters, we know that this is our place, our home. This is where we belong. Gathered around this Holy Table, we are where we are supposed to be. This is where we know ourselves, we who are His family. We are the Body of Christ. This is where God reveals Himself to us. This where God gives Himself to us. This is where He feeds us. This is where we are truly ourselves more than any other time. We are truly ourselves when we are here together, gathered in the Lord’s house, in our Father’s house, gathered around our Father’s Table. In our Father’s Kingdom on His Day, we are offering ourselves to Him. We, offering ourselves to Him, are asking Him that we may be seen to be truly be His sons and daughters.

On this day, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. When we look at the festal icon, at the top we can see the Heaven bending down, where there are all sorts of flames of fire heading for the disciples and apostles and the Mother of God. It was not only the twelve apostles who received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The room was full of 120 people. They all, even the Mother of God, are called apostles. In the same way, you and I are called apostles. “Apostle” means one who is sent. You and I are sent into the world to bring the Kingdom with us into the world. As the apostles and the Mother of God all together received the Holy Spirit with fire and were given power, so you and I are given power by the Holy Spirit.

You and I are given the power to go out and live the Christian life in the midst of the darkness of this world. You and I are given the power to bring Jesus Christ to people whose lives are broken, whose hearts are broken with sorrow, whose lives are all burdened with darkness and care, sorrow, selfishness and sin of every sort. You and I are given the power and the authority to bring Jesus Christ to their sorrow, to their brokenness, to their need. You and I, who have been given the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit when we were baptised, are given the power and the authority to bring Jesus Christ to such people, to scatter the darkness with the light and the life of Jesus Christ. We are to bring His life, His light, His love to the lives of those who are wandering, looking, hungering, thirsting for this love, this light and this life that we have.

You and I, just like the apostles, have been given power. Maybe we did not see fire come down, but fire did come down. Maybe we do not realise it, but every time we come and stand here, the Lord comes from the Throne of Glory and gives Himself to us. Every single solitary time He comes to us in this way, this fire comes to us. This fire of His life, this fire of His light, this fire of His love comes to us and it burns away sin. It burns away darkness. It burns away all sorts of sins and hatred and selfishness and pride and envy. The fire burns it all away. It purifies us, this fire which comes to us when we come to Holy Communion. This fire enters us and renews us ; it nourishes us and fills us.

On this fiftieth day after the Passover of the Lord, the Holy Spirit came down in power not just on selected, chosen individuals. If you were here last night, you heard in the readings how the Holy Spirit came down on the prophets, on certain kings, judges and law-givers in the Old Testament days. Some of the Old Testament persons demonstrated His power only once in their whole lives. In those days, the Holy Spirit was only given to a few. In our days (the Day of the Kingdom, the Last Days in which we are always living), and particularly every Sunday (the eighth Day, the Last Day of the Kingdom), on this day and every day the Holy Spirit comes to us as to all the prophets. He comes to every believer, and not only selected believers. Every believer who is baptised and chrismated receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills us with this power and this life, just as He did for Elias, Elisha, Eli, Samuel, Zadok, Ruth, Rebecca, and Sarah. The Holy Spirit comes and gives us power to be in the Kingdom, to live in the Kingdom, and to bring this Kingdom with us wherever we are in the world in order to bring the whole world back to the Lord. Our responsibility as Orthodox Christians is not merely to pass through this world, but to be in this world and transform this world. Our responsibility is to bless the world by bringing it back and offering it to Jesus Christ, who made it all.

This morning, as we come once again, gathered as a family and as the Body of Christ at the Lord’s Table, let us give ourselves to Him. Let us receive Him with open arms because every single day of our lives, the Lord is standing here with His arms open, waiting for us to come to Him. He is waiting to enfold us in His loving arms to protect us and strengthen us and build us up. With our arms open, let us come to Him and let Him enfold us. Let us receive Him as He wishes to receive us. After we have blessed this water and this whole building, and after we have sat at dinner, let us go to our homes and approach the whole world with open arms. Let us receive those who would come to the Lord and who are looking for Him. With our arms open, may we let the Lord come from our hearts and bring love to His sons and daughters who are lost and bring them back into the family where they belong. We know where we belong. We belong here, together in the Lord’s House, in the Lord’s Kingdom, at the Lord’s Table. All the people out there belong here, too. Let us with our arms open bring them, and offer them with us in the Kingdom so that all together we may truly be the sons and daughters of the King gathered rightfully at His eternal banquet Table where hunger and thirst are no more. Here we are always fed with the water that never ends, from the well that never runs dry, and with the food which never allows us to be hungry again. On the Day of the Holy Trinity, let us glorify the Holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Our Work of Love and Reconciliation

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Work of Love and Reconciliation
Saturday of the 18th Week after Pentecost
11 October, 1987
1 Corinthians 15:39-45 ; Luke 4:31-36


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Everything has to be in its right place. Everything has to be in its proper order. That is one of the reasons why, in the Gospel readings, every time we see the Lord encounter people who are oppressed and overtaken by the devil in one way or another, there is always a dramatic encounter. Things are set straight right away. The forces of darkness are creators of chaos, mess, ruination and disorder. The Lord, who is the Source of light, puts everything in its right place. He makes everything be known as it ought to be known, and everyone known as she or he ought to be known. The Lord sets the prisoners free, and gives sight to the blind (see Psalm 145:7-8). The Lord is the One who made everything to be in its proper order in the first place. The forces of darkness try to upset and bring confusion to this order. It is the Lord who restores the order again. We are part of that work of restoration, ourselves.

There is an old Gospel hymn, a really sentimental one : “O to be His hand extended, reaching out into this world of sin”. It is very sentimental and very emotional, but on the other hand it does express what we are supposed to be doing. In some way, we are supposed to be the Lord’s agents, reaching out in this world, doing His work, helping Him to bring things back into their proper perspective and order. We begin with our own lives by putting our own lives in order with the Lord, by going to confession regularly, and getting things straightened out inside. We must get our house in order so that the devil will not have the opportunity to deceive us, to make us think that we are something that we are not and somehow twist our understanding of ourselves.

I think that going to confession regularly is one of the most important things that we neglect in our lives. Of course, no-one likes to go to confession. However, if we are going to keep our lives in order, then going to confession is truly a fundamental tool. When we just go on our own strength and try to live day-by-day, when we try to be satisfied with our own daily repentance, somehow, if we do not go to confession in public, we allow ourselves to get off too easily. We probably use the famous, old excuses and say to ourselves : “I am no worse than anyone else”. “I am just as good as the next person. My sins are not so bad after all”. We let ourselves off too easily. The fact is that our sins are not very good at all. They are worse than not very good at all. They are bad. Our sins separate us from the love of God. Confession is the discipline of coming in front of the rest of the church in order to admit our sins before God and the assembly, with the priest as the witness for the rest of the church. Our spiritual ancestors used to make a confession openly and publicly. We get off easily compared to them. For them, although smaller sins might be dealt with more circumspectly, it was certainly anything that was larger (which could separate the penitent from receiving the Holy Mysteries) that was confessed in this open manner. Such was their humility. Even so, it is now possible sometimes to see that sort of humility.

For us to go to confession before our priest, who is our witness on behalf of the Church, and confess to the Lord in front of everyone else that we are sinners, and to name the sins, is to remove the power of sin over us. By naming the sin, we “undress the devil”, as it were. We expose him. We reveal to him that we know his tricks with us and we confess to the Lord (we are confessing to the Lord and not to the priest) that we have fallen into the trap. Whether we fell into this trap willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly, we nevertheless did do it. We are sorry for it and we wish to put things right.

In such a situation, sometimes the Lord even speaks to us through our priest. Amazing as it may seem, there are occasions when the Lord does inspire the hearts and minds of priests in confession. Things are uncovered that are not even verbalised by the penitent, because the Lord knows us so completely that He will even go so far as to uncover things that we are too afraid to say ourselves. But also, even if that is not necessary, the Lord, through the mouth of a priest (sometimes even the most unlikely and unworthy priest) will say something to us that will set us straight. He shows us not only how we should get over our weakness in sin, but even how to be strong in avoiding sin in the future. These things do occur.

This world in which we live is full of chaos and confusion. For the most part, in this society nowadays, people do not know what their places are. They do not know how they properly relate to other people nowadays because relationships are all confused and messed up. Our roles are mixed up. Things that were generally expected for many generations are now all “up for grabs” in this society. It is up to us, in the midst of all this confusion to find some order, and to bring the Lord’s order back. Perhaps precisely the way things have always been done for generations is not what is going to be found for us in North America. However, it is up to us Orthodox Christians (more than to anyone else) to help to find this order in relationships.

Year 1988

Perpetuating Abraham's Call

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Perpetuating Abraham’s Call
6th Sunday of Pascha
The Man born blind
15 May, 1988
Acts 16:16-34 ; John 9:1-38


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Orthodox Christian inheritance is a very profound inheritance, indeed. However, what do we make of this inheritance, and what do we understand about this inheritance ? As we see in the Gospel reading this morning, do we treat the inheritance as the Pharisees treated their inheritance ? If we understand our Orthodox Christianity to be just a bunch of rules and merely a bunch of customs or even simply a language, then we are just like those Jews. We are no better than they. We are no better than the Pharisees were then, and we are no better than the Jews are now. To reduce Orthodox Christianity to something so shallow is to throw it away and spit on it. That is essentially what the Jews were doing, and are actually still doing. They are spitting on their own inheritance.

The Jews in those days and especially certain Middle-eastern parties of Judaism today who are in power and who are running the country, are in fact spitting on their inheritance. They have made Judaism into race-protection as they did 2,000 years ago. They have simply not stopped. Judaism was not a national characteristic. It was not ever intended to be limited to one race. It was intended to be a chosen people who knew that God loved them and wanted a relationship of Father and children with all His creatures. From the very beginning, through Abraham, the Lord proclaimed to those chosen people that that is what they should be proclaiming to the whole world. However, they have not so far done it.

When the Father gave His Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ to us, who took our humanity upon Himself, our Lord declared finally, and as completely as is possible, that it is this loving relationship that He desires from us and with us. If we behave as some Orthodox Christians behave in this world today, and say that I am Greek, or Arabic, or Russian, or Ukrainian, or Serbian or Byelorussian first before I am Orthodox, then I am not an Orthodox Christian and I am spitting in the face of what God wants to do with me and with us all. I am spitting on my Orthodox inheritance and I reject it.

Orthodox Christianity is a continuing relationship with Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. He was born, lived, died, rose again, ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father for our salvation. He has done this because he loves us and because He wants to unite all His children to Himself in that love. It is that which we have inherited : this loving relationship with our God. This is the meaning and work of Orthodox Christianity. This is what made Greeks, Arabs, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Byelorussians, Poles and even Norwegians into Orthodox Christians. The Pharisees seemed to be incapable of understanding how Jesus Christ could give sight to a man born blind. They did not see it because they had no understanding of this loving relationship with their loving Father.

The Lord is building His Church in this country. He is building it out of Greeks, Arabs, Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and even Norwegians. Unless we are living in that loving relationship with Him, we are going to behave in the same way as those Pharisees. We are not going to be able to accept what the Lord wants to build in and amongst us. We will be as guilty as the Pharisees 2,000 years ago and as the Zionists are today.

The Lord is building His Kingdom amongst us. He is reconciling us to Himself. He is uniting us to Himself. In the midst of a world full of blind people, people born blind (and I do not mean physical blindness), the Lord is calling us to bring sight to them. He is calling us to bring His light to them. He is not calling Orthodox Christians to be on television every Sunday in order to preach and make a big production. He is not calling us to say things that are easy to hear, things that will make money and make us all rich. It would be nice, but that is not what the Lord is calling us to be. The Lord has called us to a loving relationship with Him and with each other. In this loving relationship we proclaim that He is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and giving life to those in the tomb. He is calling us to show, as our Fathers and Mothers have done for the past 2,000 years, that Christians are characterised by their love for God and by their love for each other. They are characterised by their compassion, and by their readiness to be reconciled with each other in ways that are not logical for the world and that are completely different from the way of the world. We are not being called to behave as the world does, which eats itself up with hatred, envy, jealousy and submits to all sorts of strife and brokenness. He is calling us to unity, to healing, to reconciling, and to forgiveness. It is not easy. It is not easy, certainly, if we attempt to do any of this with our own strength, with our own power. It is only possible if we do it in Christ, when we take up the weapons of the Gospel, and when we put on Christ.

Sometimes I am tempted to think that we should stop singing “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” every Sunday in the Divine Liturgy, and that for several years we ought to be reminding ourselves to sing : “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (see Galatians 3:27). We need desperately to be reminded that it is we who have been baptised into Christ, who have put on Christ. By putting on Christ, we put on His armour ; we put on His love ; we put on His strength and we put on His energy. It is no good to be intellectualising about His divine energies, and to be thinking about His divine energies, unless we are participating in His divine energies. To be an Orthodox Christian is not to be a philosopher. It is not to be a great thinker, nor to be a guru or to be a wise man. To be an Orthodox Christian is to be a lover and a knower of God. It is to be a participator in His life, a child of His Kingdom, and one who lives in that Kingdom. That is what we are called to do here today, and that is why we are here. We are here for no other reason than to remember that we have put on Christ. We are here for no other reason than to be nourished by Him, to come to His Table and to be fed by Him, to be united to Him, filled with Him, strengthened with Him and to be living with Him. We stand here today as His children, brothers and sisters of each other in His Kingdom, princes and princesses, children of the Kingdom. Let us behave as such and let our lives proclaim every day : Christ is risen. Let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 1989

Year 1990

“Follow Me” means “Be Holy”

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
“Follow Me” means “Be Holy”
All Saints of North America
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
17 June, 1990
Romans 2:10-16 ; Matthew 4:18-33


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We Orthodox Christians in Canada over the past 100 years have allowed ourselves to fight with each other in family squabbles so much and so successfully that that is what our characteristic has become. That is what we are now known for. We are known for our divisions in Canada. What does this division produce in Canada ? It produces large numbers of people who have been until now interested in maintaining purely social customs imported from somewhere. The Church for many of these people has been an excuse for maintaining certain customs. The Lord will call us to account for this behaviour.

In these particular times, there are some very strong signs of hope in this country. Many of you will know that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada has had conversations with the Patriarch of Constantinople. People insist that we use the name Istanbul as in the old popular song : “Istanbul, not Constantinople”. The result has been that the Ecumenical Patriarch has offered to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to accept the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada (not the one in the States) under its omophorion and into communion with her under certain conditions. The major condition is that the Ukrainian Orthodox in Church will not have the independence that it has had for the last sixty years. In July, they will have a sobor (an assembly) in Canada to make their final decision about this offer of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Will they, or won’t they ? If they do accept, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada will be in communion with world Orthodoxy, which would be a very big improvement in their situation. However, more than that, a year ago, when I happened to be in New York, Father n from Saint Andrews College happened to be there as well for some conversations. He said that the spirit of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church just now is that it really, seriously wants to be the local Church in Canada. If that is really what the Ukrainian Orthodox Church wishes to do and to be, then the Lord has worked wonders and the face of the Orthodox Church in Canada will change greatly over the next few years, and God will give the increase. However, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been formed by some very strong, nationalistic opinions, and those will take some time to soften up a bit. We cannot expect a complete change in appearance overnight, but the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada would be part of world Orthodoxy would be a huge improvement for which we ourselves should serve a moleben of thanksgiving.

Be that as it may, we ourselves have, and have had a responsibility here in this city getting on for 100 years now. This community will be able to celebrate its 100th anniversary of existence (not in terms of the building) before the year 2000. In four years, it will be the 90th anniversary of the construction of this building, and in five years, it will be the 90th anniversary of the sanctification of this building. It was consecrated by a man who (it was revealed later) is a saint : Patriarch Tikhon, an extremely holy man, a bold man, a clear-thinking man. When he was the archbishop of our Church, he understood that this Church must be the Church in North America. If he were here today, he would say that this Church must be the Church in Canada, and that the job of the Church in Canada is to baptise the country.

Because of our stubbornness, our blindness and our general darkness, I wonder very often how our own baptism has taken, let alone our attempts to bring the baptism of Christ, the light of Christ, the love of Christ to anyone else. I wonder very deeply how much our own baptism has taken. We ourselves who are baptised have not been able to recognise the holiness of those who are holy amongst us. We have not been able to see Jesus Christ shining in the lives and hearts of people. Because we have scarcely been able to recognise these holy people who have been living in our midst for the past 100 years and more in this country, we have not bothered to ask for their prayers. We have starved ourselves of their prayers because we have been so blind, so careless and so neglectful. We have starved ourselves of their support, their participation, and their intercession.

Three weeks ago in the Egyptian Church in Ottawa, a number of women came to clean the Temple and they put the children whom they had brought with them into a little side-chapel to play. The children were in this chapel having a very nice time. While the mothers were cleaning, they heard all sorts of excitement suddenly coming from the chapel and they came to see what was going on. The children were very, very excited. About this time the priest came in. He said to them : “What is going on ?” The mothers could not quite figure out what had happened. The priest took the children into the chapel one by one and all ten children told him exactly the same story. Over the Royal Doors of the iconostas of this chapel there is an icon of our Lord. He is holding the chalice in His right hand, and in His left hand, He is holding a prosphora. The children said that while they were playing, our Lord began to smile at them. Then His eyes began to follow them while they were moving around in the church. Then He put down the chalice, and He put down the bread, and He put His hands together, telling them to pray. When He did that, they became extremely excited and began to call Him : “Father Jesus”. They began to glorify Him. They knew quickly how to respond. They knew Who He was and what He was asking them to do. The Church in Egypt is loaded, flooded with such indications of God’s love for His children, for you and for me. That is today. That is now. The children were able to recognise the Lord immediately because these families obviously have not forgotten what the home church is all about. They have not forgotten to pray together ; they have not forgotten to look for the Lord all the time. If the Lord did such a thing to bless you or me now, how would you and I react ? Would we react like those children, and as their parents, and as their priest, instantly responding in love and glorifying the Lord ? Or would we say : “Naugh, it can’t be. I’m seeing things”. Would we send the children straight off to the psychologist or psychiatrist for a thorough examination ? Would we immediately think of the movie Poltergeist and think it was a ghost ? What would we think about and how would we respond ?

What is in the front of your heart and my heart ? What is in the front of your mind and my mind ? What am I looking for and what are you looking for in life ? When the Lord came to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee, He did not say : “Listen to what I have to say. Listen to all the nice things that I have to expound to you. Listen to all the interesting philosophy I have. Listen to my world view. Participate in my social action, my political rebellion”. He said none of those things. He said only : “‘Follow Me’”. He intended that you and I hear those same words, and, hearing those same words, respond as the apostles did. Our Lord is here today saying : “Follow Me”. Our Lord is here today with His arms open towards you and me, saying : “Follow Me. Live in My love”. He says to you and to me : “You have clothed yourself in Me. Let Me shine through you. Let Me be revealed through you”. When the Lord says : “Follow Me”, He means : “Follow Me in My love”. It means work. It means to walk with Him.

Even if in Canada we do not yet have any saints that we have been able to recognise officially so as to write icons, ask prayers of and even have an official following for, we do have Saint Herman who somehow belongs to the whole continent. We can turn to Saint Herman. Saint Herman is not without his concern for our life here, and by his prayers and his love for Christ, the Lord has touched many lives in this country already for the good, for healing, for repentance, for strength. We can turn to him, and we had better be turning to him on a regular basis.

This parish, this city, our whole diocese had better begin paying more serious attention to Saint Herman, and begin remembering today, right now, to do everything as he directed. In many of his icons we see written on a scroll the very words that he directs to us, along with the Lord who says those same words in His call to you and to me to follow Him : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all”. And let us glorify Him in every part of our life, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 1991

Voluntary, life-giving, loving Submission

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Voluntary, life-giving, loving Submission
Sunday of the 5th Week after Pentecost
3 June, 1991
Romans 10:1-10; Matthew 8:28-9:1


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel we see very clearly once again that in the presence of the Lord, evil cannot remain. Time after time we see that when the Lord comes into the presence of evil, it is immediately unnerved, causes a disturbance, and has to go. However, it does not automatically go. The evil has to be removed by the Lord. It requires that the Lord act visibly. He speaks. He touches. The Lord acts, and the paralysing and enslaving action of evil is scattered.

How do we know that evil is active in our life ? If anyone thinks that evil is not active in his or her life, then that person is full of pride and blinded by that very evil. In fact, that is what happened to the devil in the first place – he wanted the first place. The devil, who was the prime angel of light before his fall, considered himself to be equal to God. He was blind to the difference between himself and God, and in this blindness he became separated from God. All this happened faster than the blink of an eye. He separated himself from God in deciding that he was the same as and equal to God Himself. He separated himself from union with God. He continues to this day in the very same delusion.

How do you and I know that evil is active in our lives ? There are plenty of signs. I am not going to get technical. However, if there is confusion, that is a clear sign of the devil’s activity in our heart. We do not usually speak about confusion as being such a sign, but in fact, it is a prime sign. You and I know who we are in the Lord, and where we stand. We know where we are going and we know right from wrong. If there is confusion, I do not know very well any of those things. If I do not know clearly who I am, I have been deluded. If I do not know that I am loved by God, I have been deluded. If I do not have peace in my heart, this is also a sign of the activity of Big Red. If I do not have peace in my heart, I have been destabilized by Big Red. If I have continuous anger and hatred in my heart, I have been taken in.

We can forget our sense of direction because we forget the ABCs of living the Christian life. We forget to read the Bible, and we forget to pray. We forget to practice love between us and we forget to recognise Christ in our neighbours and in our friends. We forget to look for the activity of Christ’s saving and touching of your life and mine while we are working, while we are at home, while we are walking down the street, and while we are shopping. We lose track of what is what, where we are going, and how we are supposed to live. We lose track of the fact that we are Christians. We put all sorts of adjectives in front of our Christianity to dress it up and give ourselves excuses for misbehaving. The Lord will not accept any of these excuses. He will not accept any substitutes for the life in Christ. He will not accept any sort of substitute for the living out of His love.

We forget what submission means, as well. The submission that Saint Paul speaks about in the reading today is the same sort of submission that he speaks about everywhere else, but it is we who misinterpret it because we are so broken. The image of submission that pops straight into our mind is that of some poor wretch grovelling on the ground, wringing his hands and saying : “O master, master, don’t chop off my head”, or something like that. This is the submission of slavery and fear that usually is in the front of our minds. However, the submission that is given to us by Christ in the Gospel is the submission which comes with love. The plain facts are that in our relationship with God, in our relationship with Jesus Christ, you and I will not find our salvation unless we submit ourselves to His will. You and I cannot get away with having our own way, with making everything in accordance with our own standards and patterns. We cannot get away with it. Because we have the strong tendency to insist on doing everything our own way, we undermine, destroy, distort, twist and smash the image and the plan of our Lord, God, and Saviour for us.

The Lord wants us to love Him first of all. We know from our human experience that if we love someone, then we try to do the very best we can for that someone. We offer our very best always to that someone. When people have lived well in marriage for a long time, it is clear that this mutual offering of self, of love, of service to each other is active, productive, and life-giving. I have seen people who have been married for sixty years, and couples married as long as that have been deeply in love with each other. They are deeply concerned about each other, and deeply interested in the health, welfare and salvation of each other. They have mutually built up, strengthened and nurtured each other. They have truly been a sign of how Christian love operates. If you know how it works in a good marriage (especially if you are one who has been married for a long time and have lived this way with your spouse), you know that this is what happens, hard times or no hard times (there are always hard times).

The way love properly operates is to do all that is possible to give life, to nurture, to strengthen, to heal, and to build up – that is the sort of submission that we are apeaking about. It is the submission of love, the conformity to God’s will as it is seen in the Gospel and as it is acted out in the Gospel. The Gospel is not a fairy tale. It is the beginning of the common experience of Christians which continues to this very day. It is the experience of how God loves you and me infinitely. He cares for us and saves us on the street, in the air, and at sea. He is involved in our lives. He blesses us, protects us, renews us, and encourages us. He sends people out of the blue for no particular, apparent reason to say something to encourage, heal, strengthen and help us when we are feeling particularly blue and distraught.

Thus we must do for the Lord and for each other and look to the welfare of each other. Let us look to building up, nurturing and strengthening each other. Let us read the Gospel so that we can live the Gospel. Let us read the Gospel so that we can encounter Jesus Christ more and more, not only in the Gospel, but in each other so that we can live in love.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord says to you and to me : “‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me’” (Matthew 16:24). What are we doing in response ? Do we take up the Cross ? Do we take up the Gospel of Jesus Christ ? Like Judas, do we give Him a kiss and deny Him and betray Him ? There are only two ways : the way of repentance from sin, like Peter who denied but repented ; or the way of death, like Judas who denied, betrayed and did not repent. There are only two ways. On which path are you and I walking this morning ? On the way of life in the love of God ? In His love, let us love God above all, and in doing so glorify the all-holy Trinity at all times and in every place and in every way : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

High Time to repent

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
High Time to repent
4th Sunday after Pentecost
23 June, 1991
Romans 6:18-23 ; Matthew 8:5-13


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The last verse of the Epistle reading today : “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” is a Bible verse which I had to memorise when I was quite little. When I was little, I did not understand very much about the meaning of that verse. In my life I went blithely on my way, having that in my memory, but not knowing the first thing about it.

Saint Paul himself is very clear this morning. The way of sin leads to darkness and death. Life in Christ, the following of Christ, brings us to eternal life in the Kingdom. It has only been after plenty of stumbling, falling on my face and derrière that I have begun to learn something of what this interior darkness means and what this sin means. It is part of becoming an adult, I suppose. When I was little, I thought that this sin to which the Apostle refers was something gross and horrible, or perhaps something dramatic and terrible. However, I have come to see that it is not necessarily gross sins. It is not only living a soap opera sort of life that leads to death and destruction. In fact, it is the much more mundane, boring, simple, straightforward sins that lead most surely to destruction. It is these boring, uninteresting, humdrum, everyday sins that enable a person to be pre-conditioned to engage in soap opera sort of immorality. In fact, these small sins produce the famous “slippery slope”. This slippery slope brings a person to be able to live the sort of corrupt, degraded life that is shown to us in these soap operas day-by-day. In order to be able to do the sort of gross, corrupt, terrible and bloody things that we see in the so-called “entertainment” programmes on television now (blood and gore flow on television), we have to be pre-conditioned to do that. To be jumping from bed to bed, to be killing people, to be stealing, to be committing adultery left, right and centre, one has to be pre-conditioned and hardened up.

The Lord has built into your life and my life the testimony of our conscience. Our conscience teaches us right from wrong. When we are inclined to do something (or when we have already done or said something that was wrong), there is a burning inside that says : “Oh, Oh !” We listen to that (or we do not listen to that). Either we pay attention to those times when the alarm bells have rung and we say : “Oh, I had better pay attention here, and straighten out my life” ; or otherwise we say : “Aaagh, that is an old-fashioned idea. Where did that come from ?” If I keep saying often enough : “Aaagh, who taught me that sort of fairy tale ?” I harden myself and pre-condition myself to do much worse things. I become capable of doing those gross and terrible things.

We talk and we behave these days as though we are terribly shocked that all around us in the world there is horror after horror. We behave as though we are surprised, somehow, that this should be the case. However, there is nothing surprising about this sort of behaviour in the world. We can see in ourselves how we have led ourselves astray and not listened to the conscience that God gave us. We have not listened to the inspiration and the tugging of our Guardian Angel away from the darkness. No, I have led myself away from the teaching of that Guardian Angel, away from the pleas and the tugs of that Protector sent from God. I have gone on to talk on the telephone at great length about my neighbours, about my friends, about the people I work with, to destroy their reputation and to pass on lie after lie that I have received on that same telephone. In fact, by my tongue I have murdered my brother and my sister. I have ignored the needs of those around me, people who are hungry, thirsty and lonely. I have not met their needs. I have said : “I have better things to do. I am more valuably occupied than to spend my time doing those things which are necessary”. I have hardened myself up and pre-conditioned myself to do worse.

If I have murdered my brother or my sister with my tongue, why is it so surprising that there are many people who have got yet harder and allowed their anger and their hatred to go much farther so that they kill, steal, rob, rape, poison, abuse and oppress ? None of that is surprising. None of it should be surprising because you and I can see all that in our own hearts. I am rebellious. I insist on having my own way. I do not want to read the Gospel. I do not want to be condemned in my heart about my darkness and my wrongs by reading the Gospel and having the Lord confront me face-to-face.

The wages of sin is death”. The product of sin is death because ultimately, when I go on that path away from the Lord, I take myself away from life, itself. Where am I going to find life except in the Lord ? Who is the Giver of life except the Lord Himself ? If I am not going to pay attention to an incident such as we see today in the Gospel reading where, because of His love, once again the Lord heals without even being there physically present ; if I am not going to put my trust and my confidence in His love for me and call out to Him and say : “Save me. Help me” ; if I am not going to put my confidence in Him, then I cut myself off from being myself.

Brothers and sisters, the fact is that you and I can only be ourselves when our life is found in Christ and our life carries the characteristics of this presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts at all times. Our life must bear the tangible marks of His presence which are found in feeding, clothing, visiting, speaking good, encouraging, uplifting, and interceding in prayer for others.

Your life and my life are judged by what we do to and for each other. Have I had patience with my brother’s and sister’s shortcomings or have I condemned my brother or my sister for what I perceive to be faults ? Have I condemned my brother or sister in my heart ? If I condemn my brother or sister in my heart, I have set myself up to be a judge as God. That sort of pride comes straight from the depths of hell. It will take me, and not my brother, to my Judge. If I let my anger turn to hatred, instead of turning myself to repentance and asking God to help me forgive the wrong that has been done to me ; if I have allowed my anger to flare up and turn into hatred, so that I practically wish that my brother or sister would die, I am the one who will die instead. I will not die in the Lord, but I will die in the devil and be taken straight to join him in separation from the Lord of life. I will live in perpetual death in separation from the Lord of life whose love penetrates everywhere.

This morning, as always, the Lord comes to you and to me face-to-face. The Lord stands in our midst and He addresses you and me not only in this Divine Liturgy, not only in the reading of the holy Epistle and the holy Gospel, but He addresses you and me in each other. He says to you and to me as it were : “Inasmuch as you have done good (or have not done good) to one of the least of My brethren, you have done it (or have not done it) to Me” (see Matthew 25:40-45). The Lord comes to you and to me today to say : “Turn away from the ways of darkness that lead to your self-destruction”. He says to you and to me : “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (John 14:6). He says to you and to me that life is found only in Him and in being like Him. The only way we can be ourselves is to allow Him to shape us and form us into that image that He prepared for us, into that plan He has for us and into that way which He has prepared for us and opened for us.

In this church, we are supported by the prayers of all the believers worshipping the Lord for almost a hundred years. We are supported not only by those prayers, but also by the presence of the continuing prayers and love of all those who have fallen asleep before us. We are surrounded even on the walls by these great and holy people – Saint Job of Pochaiv, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Sergei of Radonezh, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Barbara, Saint Olga, Saint Nicholas – we are surrounded by them all. They in their love exhort you and me to do as they did : to give up selfishness and self-will and to live in Christ. By their prayers, may we co-operate with them, say “Yes” to the Lord and be able to join them in glorifying our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, it is time for you and for me to put our priorities straight and get our house in order. It can only be done by following the exhortation of our beloved Father Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, who says to you and to me today : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all” and glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 1992

From the Paralysis of Fear and Sin to the Fulness of Life and Love in Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
From the Paralysis of Fear and Sin to the Fulness of Life and Love in Christ
4th Sunday of Pascha
17 May, 1992
Acts 9:32-42 ; John 5:1-15


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

The paralysis of this man who lay for 38 years next to the pool of Bethesda was not necessarily caused by his own particular sins or even necessarily the sins of his parents. It is clearly, one way or another (we do not understand these things), the product of the sinfulness of human beings as a whole. You and I, in our life, encounter many instances when people are very, very ill or terrible tragedies occur to them. When these unexplained tragedies happen, we very often hear people say : “Well, this is payment for sin”. That is a very cruel thing to say. That sort of thing was being said in the same way by our spiritual ancestors in Jerusalem to that man who had been lying there for 38 years : “Well, you must have sinned. If you didn’t sin, your parents or your grandparents sinned. This is God’s punishment on you, or on them or on all of you together”. These are not very comforting words to someone who is lying paralysed and cannot get into the pool when the angel stirs the water. He has no-one, no family, no friends to throw him into the pool when the angel stirred the waters. It is a cruel, cruel thing to say but that’s the way we are. Is that not what people say to each other ?

It is not only mama, papa, uncle, aunt, grandfather, grandmother, brother and sister who may contribute to our illnesses which come from sin. In fact, it is not so much because of God’s punishment and judgement on us that illnesses come to us. Rather, we are the ones who bring it upon ourselves. Sickness and death are the direct product of our rebellious, prideful sinfulness. The sickness and the death that results from it are the result of the breaking of the healing, life-giving loving relationship that exists between ourselves and God. The Lord is the Giver of Life. Our Saviour said that : “‘[The Lord] is not the God of the dead but of the living’” (Luke 20:38). Yet, we who say that God is love and keep speaking about His love, dare to say and dare to think that God punishes in this sort of sadistic way these little sheep whom He wants to save, to whom He wants to give life, and whom He wants to unite to Himself in everlasting bliss and life and love in the way He created us. We dare to think these things because we have become so twisted in our pride. We cannot really comprehend God in His wonderful, marvellous workings in glory. Therefore, we translate our understanding of God into a mere projection of our own brokenness and darkness, and we say that God is like us.

When we start speaking like that, then we have really fallen into the pit. When we can speak like that, we have forgotten Who Jesus Christ is. We have forgotten His love for us. We have forgotten the effects of His salvation. We have reduced Him to a mere man, a mere, ordinary human being, some wise man who said nice things for us to remember.

The paralytic was paralysed because all mankind is rebellious, and all mankind is diseased. Because of this rebellion, because of this pride, because of this rejection of God’s love, most of mankind appears to be going away from God, away from life. It seems that most of mankind is choosing deliberately to die, and blaming God for it. The paralytic was raised from his paralysis through the forgiveness of sins by our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ as we see in the subsequent conversation. Because of His love, our Saviour told the man to get up and walk. Later He said to him : “‘Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you’”. There are worse things than being paralysed and ill. There is spiritual death which is the result of deliberate sinfulness.

Because of His love for us, the Lord does wonderful things. The Lord, the Giver of Life, does wonderful, amazing things for you and for me. Today, we hear how the Apostle Peter prayed for Dorcas (Tabitha), who was so much needed and admired, and who had died suddenly and prematurely. Because God loves us, the Apostle Peter through his prayers restored Tabitha to the community of the faithful until her time should fully come. In His love for you and for me, the Lord saves us from all sorts of disasters, for which we usually forget to give Him praise. He protects us when we are sleepy on the highway and wakes us up. He preserves our life so that we will have the maximum time to be saved and to work out our salvation. When we are anxious about a child of ours and we pray to Him to relieve the child’s illness or to protect the child’s welfare one way or another, the Lord hears us. This brings healing, protection and it opens doors. When we pray for each other in our love for each other and ask the Lord to do this or that, more often than not (if we have the eyes to see) the Lord does touch the lives of those for whom we pray (even though we do not always get precisely what we asked for all the time). He brings hope, life, healing and salvation.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear the truth of His Gospel. Let us ask Him for the readiness to walk in the steps of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and to be like Him. Let us ask Him to give us the heart to want to be like Him. Let us today ask the Lord to help us turn away from rebelliousness, wilfulness and stubborn pride of heart ; and instead lovingly and willingly turn to Him to accept His will for us. Let us ask Him to help us care for each other as He cares for us ; to pray for each other as all the saints pray for us in their love for us. Let us look freshly into the hearts of our brothers and sisters, our neighbours, our friends and see there the activity of the love of Jesus Christ. Let us pray for and encourage our brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends in their willingness to live in Christ and to serve each other for the glory of Jesus Christ. From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us determine with all our heart to love and glorify God above all : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Encountering the Lord’s life-giving Compassion

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Encountering the Lord’s life-giving Compassion
20th Sunday after Pentecost
1 November, 1992
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Luke 7:11-16


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the very disconnected mind of us who live in the West, Christianity is accepted to be a religion. In the Orthodox Church, no-one ever told us that. Nevertheless, we live in the West in the midst of a society that believes, in fact, that Christianity is a “religion”. Our government says it is a religion, so we tend to give up and say that it must be a religion if everyone says so. A religion is a system of belief and governance.

It is a blessing that we are Orthodox Christians. No matter how much we try to live otherwise, we cannot be any other way. The way we live shows that there is no system in Christian life. There truly is no organisation. In fact, although our Church government works, it does not make much sense to most people. However, it works. It is really odd being an Orthodox Christian. There are people coming to Orthodox Christianity from outside who are well-organised, highly systematised people. They become Orthodox Christians and then they begin to be frustrated because all the organisation which they were successful at before does not work. They get the distinct impression that they are swimming in very thick, cold porridge.

In fact, that is just the way it is and that is the way things are. This is so because it is as we heard in the Gospel today : to be a Christian is to encounter the Lord’s compassion. This poor mother has just been deprived of any hope of any sort of secure living. She is a widow with only one son who has died. Society at that time had no provision for women in that situation, and she would now have to be on the street begging for any income and hope of having food or shelter for the rest of her life. The Lord encountered this procession and He had compassion on her. As the Lord of Life, He gave her son back to her alive.

The Apostle Paul tells us this morning that he did not receive the Gospel from man. This is not a religious system engendered by humans. This is not a system of belief developed by humans. By the mercy and love of the God who has compassion on a widow deprived of her son, our Faith is a response to the revelation of God Himself in His compassion for us who are lost in our sin, our darkness and our brokenness. He revealed Himself to the Apostle who was persecuting Him, and He saved him. He saved him because the Apostle was ready to accept the loving, waking-up revelation of the Lord to himself, and to unite himself to the Lord. The Apostle was ready to do what the Lord said and to go where He willed.

You and I are Orthodox Christians because of this loving relationship with our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God has revealed Himself to us. It is not we who made anything happen – it is He who loves us and has revealed Himself to us. We respond, and He unites us to Himself. Our life as Orthodox Christians gets messy sometimes because our life as Orthodox Christians has nothing to do with (or very little to do with) by-laws or with any sort of organisational structures. It has to do with relationships. We have relationships of love in Jesus Christ with each other. Some of you in this congregation have been married for a long time. You know that your relationship with your spouse is a continuing mystery. You know that there is a constant mystery about your spouse. Even after many, many years you are finding out new things about your spouse. I know this is so because my parents and grandparents (who were married for 55 years) said so. I have met couples who have lasted in marriage for 65 years, who said so, thus this must be the case. If it is so about husband and wife (which is about the closest one can get in a human relationship), how much more is it so in terms of relationships in a Christian community ? We are always finding out new things about each other. Our love is not drastically affected by these new things, but as each person develops in life in Christ, it affects how we interact with each other.

Our life can be like walking through cold porridge if we try to find our way using logic and not listening to the Lord. We have Church government for instance, led by bishops. However, a bishop is not in any way a chief executive officer of anything. He is not even to be understood as such. The bishop is given to the Church by the Lord to be as Christ to the flock. He is to be like a father to the whole diocese. The relationship between the bishop and all the people in the diocese is supposed to be like father and family. For the bishop, the whole diocese is like his wife. There are all sorts of mixed up allusions : “wife”, “children”, “sheep”, but you surely catch the idea. In a somewhat similar way, the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep is a personal relationship. We have in our lives deanery meetings, diocesan councils and diocesan assemblies. We have all these organisational things to help our relationships with each other along. They are not created by God to increase the number of laws we have to obey. They are given to us as ways in which we can help and assist each other. Diocesan councils are not given to the Church in Canada for legislation. They are given in order to provide advice to the bishop from the believers on how to go about administering and organising our life as well as we are able. Sometimes the bishop can be the advisor of the council.

The main point is that it is very important for us not to allow ourselves to think of our life in Christ in terms of mere structures. Our life in Christ is a work of daily prayer to the Lord, and service to other human beings. If I want to serve God, I certainly serve Him by being here and worshipping Him week after week, and also day after day in my home. However, I serve Him just as much by phoning up someone who is sick at home and cannot get out and come to church. I serve Him just as much by taking someone who is ill or feeble and cannot do things to the grocery store to get groceries. I serve Him just as much by hugging with love people who are bereaved and deprived of loved ones through death, and being present and supportive to them while they are being healed. This is where being a Christian is revealed – how we behave in our lives.

This parish is the parish where I was placed the longest. Somehow, it was in this parish that the Lord established a particular sort of loving relationship which makes it quite difficult for me every time to go away from here even if I am here only for a short time. This parish somehow became my spiritual family. That is precisely how it is supposed to be. I give thanks to God for the time that I have spent here and for the many times that He allows me to come back here and to be in your midst. I wish I could be here all the time. I cannot, and it is impossible because that is not what the Lord is giving me to do. However, that does not prevent us from loving one another and being brothers and sisters, encouraging, strengthening, praying and helping each other in Christ to grow and mature. That is what the Lord desires for us and that is what we all desire – simply to love Christ. Therefore, let us put our priorities straight once again and remember what Saint Herman exhorts us to do. Let us ask God for the Grace to do it : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute let us love God above all”. In doing so, may our lives glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 1993

Christ is our only Hope

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ is our only Hope
Funeral Service
20 February, 1993


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we come today to lay to rest our brother n, who has fallen asleep, we, who are left behind, are grieving. However, it is clear that we are not grieving as those who have no hope (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Over and over again we are assured that our hope rests clearly and squarely on Him. The Lord is our hope. We live our life for Him and in Him.

At this time, particularly in North American society, because people are so afraid of death and so uncomfortable with it, it is customary to hide from it (or at least to try to hide from it). Now we have either funerals where the coffin is kept closed or even worse, funerals where the person who has died is not even present at his own funeral. Already that person has already been put away somewhere. This is not the way Christians should be behaving. This body, which is in our midst which we are lovingly putting to rest today, is the body of n, who, Sunday after Sunday, was sitting in this front row where his family are sitting today. His body has been a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Lord, the Giver of Life, breathed life into him. Despite his mistakes and whatever his sins may have been, nevertheless, n was faithful. It is for you and for me who are now left behind, with our various memories and experiences of him, to pray for him because we still love him. It is for us to continue to pray for him and we continue to pray for him that the Lord will have mercy on him and forgive him his sins.

We live in a world which is full of ideas and attitudes which are not those which the Lord wants us to have and live for. It is hardly likely that any human being can survive a whole lifetime without being poisoned at least somewhat by these ideas. However, the Lord is not expecting us so much by our own strength to be pure from start to finish. He shows His love for us because He does not expect us to do all this without His help. If we do sin, if we do fall from His love and His Grace, if we do betray Him from time to time in our life, He expects us to repent. He expects us to say that we are sorry for our sins, for our rebellion, for our selfishness. He expects us also to do something about making it right again, and to turn away from it. Thus it is necessary for you and for me now at this time and in the coming weeks and months to continue to pray for our brother n. In praying for him, we will work on prayerfully forgiving him for anything that he did or said which hurt us deeply. Not only that, but also we will ask for his forgiveness for our behaviour – whatever we may have done or said to hurt him, to cause him to fall into temptation. As we have begun today and the day before, let us continue to ask the Lord to have mercy on him, to forgive his sins and to have mercy on us and forgive our sins.

The whole point is that, as our Lord Himself said : “‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’” (Matthew 22:32). It is His love which gives life and maintains life. What love we have in Christ for each other is not broken and ended by the death of the body. The Lord promises us that if we are faithful and if we live in Him a life of repentance, then there will come a life of resurrection – eternal life which does not end – just as we have been praying today. Love in Jesus Christ keeps us all alive and united with one another even though our bodies will get old and die. We do not end up separated from one another, because if we follow Him and live a life of repentance, we all will continue to live in Him. The Lord truly does not want us to die in darkness, to die in rebellion, to die in our own stubbornness. It is we who condemn ourselves to death by our own pride and stubbornness and rebellion by separating ourselves from His love. It is we who do it. The Lord wants us to live in Him.

Let us today, as we must always do every time we are faced with death, take this opportunity to remember that our lives are short. Time is short for repentance ; time is short for doing good and being good towards each other. Let us make the most of this life in doing good and being good to each other, being reconciled to each other, forgiving one another, encouraging one another and strengthening one another so that we may have clear hope of participating in the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. May we glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The concrete and tangible Action of Love

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The concrete and tangible Action of Love
Sunday of the Last Judgement
21 February, 1993
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2 ; Matthew 25:31-46


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we prepare for Great Lent, today is the last day for eating meat, so I hope you enjoy yourselves today with whatever roast beef, pork, or kolbassa that you particularly enjoy. However, do not let it touch your lips again until Pascha. One of the real, sad dangers of living in this county, Canada, is living in the midst of this attitude which has grown up and which says : “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. “You can do anything you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. You have all heard that. Even the former Prime Minister Trudeau said it in an oblique sort of way when he started to adjust the laws of morality in the country : “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. For such an attitude to grow up in a nation which is reputed to be Christian is really pitiful because it shows a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian.

In the Epistle reading today, for instance, the Apostle Paul is speaking about meat that was sacrificed to idols and about whether it was all right to eat it. He understood that a Christian has this liberty to eat anything because as long as we bless what we eat, it is God who gives us the food, and it is God who blesses what we eat. It does not matter if it is poisoned, because we can still eat it if God gives the blessing. Some people tried to kill the Apostle himself with poison, and they were surprised when nothing happened at all, and they converted to Christ. Remember the time when an adder bit him ? It was expected that he would swell up, fall down and die in no time at all (see Acts 28:3-6). Nothing at all happened to the Apostle, because he was about the Lord’s business.

Christians have a certain sort of freedom, a powerful sort of freedom, but it is a freedom which has to be exercised in accordance with God’s will, and in accordance with God’s will only. If we start to get cocky with this freedom, it turns into licence just like that, and then it is sin, and it is against God’s will. If we try to drink poison or get bitten by snakes, we are liable to die very quickly. We can die very quickly if we are not depending totally on the Lord’s will and witnessing for Him totally. The Apostle said that even having this liberty, this power and this freedom in Christ, he would set it all aside if one of his brothers was weak in faith and if he was going to scandalise one of his brothers or sisters by the way he exercised his freedom.

Let us take today’s Gospel reading, for example. We all know this Gospel, but are we really paying attention to it ? It is clear from this passage that the Lord wants us to understand that if we want to serve Him, if we want to do good for Him because we love Him, then we cannot be satisfied with saying : “I love the Lord. I come to church every Sunday. I do good, and I don’t hurt anyone. I don’t rob ; I don’t steal and I am no worse than anyone else”. That is just nothing. That is zero for being a Christian because our Lord says in effect : “I want you to do good for Me by doing good for My children (in other words for each other)”. He says very clearly that as much as we visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit people who are in jail, take care of people’s physical and spiritual needs, we are serving Him”.

We learn two fundamental and extremely important facts about Christian living today. If we want to serve Christ, we cannot be abstract about it. It is very popular in Canada (in particular for people who are not Orthodox Christians) to look at Orthodox Christians and say : “Oh, how we admire you and your worship. It is so lovely. It is so mystical. You Orthodox Christians are so spiritual”. Well certainly, I suppose we are spiritual, but not in the way they understand. Spirituality does not have to do with levitating off the ground or walking on air. Orthodox Christian spirituality does not have to do necessarily with being some sort of ascetic guru who eats nothing but potato leaves and says very wise, wonderful and profound things. For the Orthodox Christian, that is not spirituality at all. The Orthodox Christian is a Christian who is very much aware of the concrete reality, the materiality of our environment and what God expects of us. In all Orthodox Christian history and in the greatness of all our saints is found care and love for human beings and for all God’s creation.

We cannot say that we love God or are in love with Christ unless we are life-givers ; unless we are love-givers ; unless we are doers of good for human beings ; unless we are protectors and healers of the environment ; unless we are integrated human beings who care well about our bodies (not for selfishness) but for how well we can serve the Lord. We care for the welfare of each other, our brothers and sisters. We care for all the people whom we encounter every day on the street who are wandering along with blank looks on their faces. It is easier to care about people and be concerned about the welfare of people who are actually physically hungry by giving them some soup, than it is to be truly concerned about these people that we live with every day, whom we mix with every day who have these blank, empty and sometimes very angry faces. These are people who are lost, people who are wrapped up in themselves, interested only in making money, money and more money. They are interested in building walls around themselves and protecting themselves from everyone else for fear of what people might say or do to them. They are paralysed and enslaved by fear. Those are the people who are the neediest of the needy in our society. Their numbers are not just increasing slightly. They are multiplying exponentially these days.

What can you and I do about them ? When the Lord presents such a person to you or to me, do we diligently pray for that person ? Do we try to show that person that emptiness is not the only story in life, that it is not the end of everything ? When we are busy doing good for people and meeting their needs, that is when we Orthodox Christians are living our spirituality because our prayer-book conversation with the Lord then has flesh on it just as His love for you and for me has flesh on it. He took flesh, human flesh. Without falling into sin, Our Lord took all our humanity, everything about us, all our darkness and He allowed us to kill Him. He did this in order to save us and in order to rise victorious over that rebellion with which we are enslaved. His love has substance, and His love active in you and me must also have substance. It must be concrete and tangible.

As much as we demonstrate our love for God by the good that we do, and as much as we demonstrate our love for God by strengthening, renewing, encouraging, praying for, healing and meeting the needs of other human beings, it works also the other way. Contrary to that popular Canadian saying : “It doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t hurt anyone”, the fact is that the Orthodox Christian knows very well that when you or I commit even small sins, we are hurting our brothers and sisters. It is high time that we began to be open about this. In every small or large sin, we are sapping courage and strength to follow Christ from our brothers and sisters. Not only that, we are increasing the poison which we have already inflicted on this environment, the earth on which we live, which the Lord gave to us to be the custodians and caretakers of it. In either direction, whether we do good or whether we do evil, everything that we do affects all our brothers and sisters, all humanity (not just here in n) all around the world. It affects everyone and everything. That is what Saint Seraphim meant when he said that if you save your soul, thousands will be saved with you. Conversely, if you lose your soul, thousands will be lost with you. If you are struggling to follow Christ, your struggle to follow Christ and the good that you do, makes a wake just as a boat does, which makes it easier for other people near you to do the same thing. It encourages them, strengthens them, and makes a sort of current in that direction. You yourself are not breaking new ground, because you also are following in the wake of others who have shown you the way to Christ, the way to be a Christian and the way to live the Gospel. You yourself are following a way that has been made easier by the suffering and struggles of others.

Today, the Lord is asking you and me : “Which way are you going ? Which way is your life going ? Whom are you following – yourself, or are you following Me, the Giver of Life ? Are you going to do as I have shown you or are you going to do as the thief of souls teaches you to do ? Which way are you going ? How do you live your life ?” Sooner or later you and I will all come to face the Lord. Precisely how you and I live our lives now is going to determine what will happen at the Last Day when we come to face Him in His love. Will you and I by our loving lives now be able to accept Him then or will you and I, because of our stubbornness, be afraid of our Lord and run away from Him ? Which way shall we go ? How is our life today ?

If I have been going the wrong way, the Lord has this to say to me (and to anyone who has been going the wrong way : “‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28, 30). He says : “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Matthew 14:6). He says : “Come to Me, all of you, and I will give you life”. He wants us all, everyone, to enter into His Kingdom and live and reign with Him forever. Today, let us renew our determination to repent : to turn away from selfishness, to turn to selflessness : to turn away from darkness and turn to the light. Let us turn to the Lord and serve Him in each other as Saint Herman has taught us and exhorted us : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”. Thus will we glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Are we responsible Tenants in Christ’s Vineyard ?

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Are we responsible Tenants in Christ’s Vineyard ?
13th Sunday after Pentecost
5 September, 1993
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 ; Matthew 21:33-42


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For me, to come back home here to n this time is especially pleasant. For the first time in many years, there are many children. I am not sure if I can even remember having heard them here before. I hear a baby. That is a special blessing. That there are children and babies encourages me very much about the life of this parish. May God grant that these signs of life and hope will in time be concrete evidence of the future life and growth of this parish. Even now, this morning, there is a Sunday School and there are children able to ask the bishop really intelligent questions. That is so refreshing. This gives so much encouragement. I hope that you yourselves understand what a blessing these children are.

Today, we heard in the Gospel reading about people who are tenants in a vineyard owned by someone else. They try to steal the property and make it their own. When this story was told by the Lord, He had another situation in mind, but it applies to you and to me now, today. Here where we are together today is the vineyard. The Lord comes to you and to me and He says, as it were : “It is time to reckon up, to give to Me what you owe”. He comes to you and to me here today in this Divine Liturgy. In fact, He comes to us almost every day saying the same thing : “Give to Me what you owe”.

What do I owe to the Lord ? Two dollars ? A loonie ? What do I owe to the Lord for all that He has given ? For the fact that He died for the sake of my sins and rose again in order to give me life, what do I owe Him ? Two dollars ? A loonie ? Five dollars, perhaps ? For the Lord’s enduring my perpetual rebellion, for His endless suffering and patience with me in my continual ignoring of His love, what do I owe Him ? Two dollars ? Three dollars ? Five dollars ? One dollar ? For the love, the hope, the encouragement ; for the many times that He comes to me through my brothers and sisters and gives me hope, encouragement, correction ; for the many times that He wakes me up in time on the highway when I am driving and saves me from a terrible accident, what do I owe to the Lord ? One, two, five, ten dollars ? In fact, what I owe the Lord cannot be measured by money alone. Indeed, I owe Him everything that I am and that I have.

If I am going to be a good Christian, if I am going to be like Christ and if I am going to be an Orthodox Christian, I have to understand that it does not matter how much I work in order to acquire this or that thing, how much property, how much money I may have in bank accounts, what good farmlands, gardens, cars, what good church buildings : it is not mine. Even though I have it, it does not belong to me. It belongs to the Lord. If the Lord is so generous to me as to allow me to build up a nice bank account, a nice house, nice land, even a nice church, I am like that tenant in the vineyard. Either I honour the Lord who has rented out and lent to me this vineyard, this house, this land, this car, this bank account, this church, this anything that I have, or I dishonour Him by claiming it all for myself alone.

What am I going to do ? If I insist on being selfish and wicked, only looking after myself, at the end of my life I will come in front of the Lord. The Lord will say to me : “So, I gave you a great deal in your life. What did you do with it ? What have you got now ? Where is that house now ? Where is that car ? Where is that bank account ? What will you do with it now, here in Heaven ?” He will say : “As much as you were so selfish and did not care about the needs of anyone else and only looked after yourself in your life, you made it impossible for yourself to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You make yourself stay out now because you care still only about yourself”.

If we want to be with our Lord who gives us life, who saves us, it is necessary for us to be like Him, to do as He does for you and for me. It is necessary for us to be filled with love for other people as He is filled with love for us. It is necessary to help, strengthen, encourage, and save other people as He helps, encourages and saves us. Most of all, it is necessary to do what Saint Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to do and what he is encouraging you and me also to do today. If we are going to be like Christ, and if we are going to have any hope of salvation, any hope of being with the Lord in the Kingdom to come at the end of our life, then we must do as Jesus Christ, who said : “‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’” (Matthew 20:28). You and I, out of love, must serve each other. We must do the best we can to be good to and for each other. We must be careful to pray for each other all the time.

When someone is hurting, we should be aware of it. If the person is not answering me in the way that I would like to be answered, it is not for me to get a crooked nose, but instead it is my responsibility to pray for that person. That person is not behaving normally because of pain. Why should I be afraid of anything ? I hope and I pray that that person has not changed towards me. How can I help that person who is hurting ? This or that person might have been late for church, when the person is usually on time. Maybe that person is not well. Instead of being quick to criticise and condemn that person for being late, I should be praying for that person who might be unwell or might have had a traffic accident on the way to church. Who knows what happened ? If that person is actually lazy, then it is my responsibility to pray and not become the judge.

It is my responsibility to serve, and serve only. If my brother or sister is ill or weak, then I should be phoning my brothers or sisters to say : “Let us pray for so-and-so who is ill or weak”. We should be demonstrating our care, our genuine love and concern for each other in these concrete ways. If we are going to be like Christ, if we are going to be good tenants in the vineyard, let us “from this day, from this hour, from this minute, love God above all and do His holy will”, and serve Him and serve each other. Thus we shall glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Bicentennial Celebration of Orthodoxy in North America

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Bicentennial Celebration of Orthodoxy
in North America
21st Sunday after Pentecost
17 October, 1993
Galatians 2:16-20 ; Luke 8:5-15


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear a history of our diocesan life in Canada (except our life does not work out exactly as the Lord described in the parable). In the soil of Canadian Church life, the Lord sowed the seed one hundred years ago. As we are celebrating the bicentennial of Orthodoxy in North America, we celebrate also our one hundred years of Orthodox life here in Canada. About a hundred years ago, the seed was sown through immigration. People came mostly from Galicia and Bukovina.

This seed took very well and quickly in the soil in which it was planted here in Canada. It spread all around and in no time, within ten years, there were already churches and parishes scattered all over the prairies and eastern Canada. Some of these Temples still remain to this day in northern Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. People say that it became like the old country : every five kilometres there was a church somewhere. Although today they may not belong to the same bishop necessarily, in those days they did. There seemed to be churches everywhere, just like home. By 1910 there were Temples built as well in most of the major cities of Canada. Even in Ottawa, there were services already in 1899 on a fairly steady and regular basis, although there was not yet a formally organised congregation.

We had in Winnipeg, as I heard recently, the famous phenomenon of Metropolitan Seraphim (Ustvolsky) and the “Tin Can Cathedral”, built in 1904. In 1993 there was a play written about this messy phenomenon. Metropolitan Seraphim was a pretender who was ordained by no bishop. He was quite a character. Despite everything, he really has my admiration because he was a brave man. Tin Can Cathedral has a famous story about him and the blessing of water on the Feast of Theophany. They cut a hole in the ice in the Red River as usual, and they blessed the water of the Red River. Then, as one would expect Orthodox people to do, and much to the surprise of the mayor of Winnipeg, his office was invaded one day by this “bishop”. There were standards, deacons, clergy, and water all over the place. After the Revolution, unity and order began to break down, as you know. We did not lose our characters – we still have some around to this day. However, the life of this particular diocese went through turmoil, deprivation, confusion and severe lack of communication. The effects of this remain until the present time. Nevertheless, the Lord has not finished with the building of His Church in this country. Setbacks and difficulties there have been, but the Lord has now given us the rebuilding. We see by God’s mercy (and only by God’s mercy) once again the beginning of the flowering of Orthodox life in this country. It is only the very beginning, but it is a beginning.

We are now at a particular crossroads in our life as Orthodox Christians in this country. No matter with what difficulty, and no matter how hard it was, with seriousness and stubbornness even, our spiritual fathers and mothers for the past one hundred years have planted and kept alive tiny remnants of the Orthodox Faith in this country. Now we, their spiritual children (if not their blood children), are being called by the Lord to imitate their zeal with new seriousness. We are being asked to put things right in our own time, so that the second chance that we have been given right now will develop fruitfully.

When I was in Alaska, I felt quite at home there because, in fact, there are many similarities between life here in Canada and life in Alaska. However, we have a distance to go. We have been through many of the same struggles, many of the same difficulties (neglect and priestlessness for a long time, and all these sorts of things), but we have farther to go than they do. I really encourage any of you who can manage it somehow, to go to Alaska (but not on a tour boat). That is not the way to see Alaska. You will never see the real Alaska on the tour boats. If to nowhere else, you have to go to Kodiak. You have to go to Anchorage. Anyway, there is no way to escape Anchorage. Go to Kodiak. At least it is easily accessible. Pray with the Faithful there. Metropolitan Theodosius describes these Alaskan people as being supremely faithful people, truly Orthodox Christians. These people, who actually do not have great houses themselves, make sure that the Lord’s house (even though it may be modest) is scrupulously clean, bright, and definitely prayed in. I intend to do everything I can to enable others to get there.

The Alaskans say (for whatever reason) that we Canadians should definitely go there. In fact, I know many Canadians who have actually gone on those nasty tour boats, but they have not encountered the Church there, except by accident. I know of one lady who went to Sitka on a tour boat and she accidentally managed to get to church. The people there were surprised that she was an Orthodox Christian. She had a nice time because she had the opportunity to pray. Most of the time you do not get that opportunity if you are on a tour boat. You might be able to organise a pilgrimage in the diocese, or get there with some organised Orthodox tour group. FOS Tours no doubt has pilgrimages to Alaska arranged on a regular basis. We ourselves need visits to Alaska to help us remember where our priorities are, because we are definitely going in the same direction as Alaska, and the challenges we face are much the same.

Brothers and sisters, with new seriousness, with new zeal and with new commitment at this crossroads here in our country, let us really put the steam on in being Orthodox Christians, renew ourselves, and once again do as our beloved Saint Herman exhorts us always to do : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”.

Year 1994

Sunday of All Saints

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Reasons for celebrating this Feast each Year
Sunday of all Saints
27 June, 1994
Hebrews 11:33-12:2 ; Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38 ; 19:27-30


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

If we look at our calendar of saints, we will see that there are many listed every day. Sometimes we can find dozens of saints on a particular day. In fact, there are so many that usually, when we are serving, we only mention a few of them – the more “significant” ones.

We can ask the question : “Why, then, do we have today’s commemoration of all the saints ?” Indeed, there are two such Sundays in a row, and the second Sunday keeps the memory of the local, regional saints. For us, that means all the saints of North America. We are starting to get more and more of them. By the end of the year, the number could be probably ten or eleven officially recognised saints. There are still three more who are going to be glorified this year.

Three weeks ago, we glorified Saint Alexis Toth (Toft) of Wilkes-Barre. Saint Alexis was a priest 100 years ago, who came from Presov in what is now Slovakia. He came to North America as a Greek-Catholic priest. Like very many of these Greek-Catholic people, he considered himself to be Orthodox, and was somehow trapped into the situation, shall we say. When he came to North America, he found re-establishing life very difficult. The local Latin bishop was not very friendly to these Greek-Catholics, and tried to persuade them to become regular Latinate priests and deacons. That opened a door of opportunity to return to Orthodoxy. This they willingly did.

The return to Orthodoxy began first in Saint Mary’s Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it continued later in Holy Resurrection Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Do you know where Wilkes-Barre is ? It is a mostly absorbed suburb of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Saint Tikhon’s Monastery is a half-hour’s drive over the mountains from this. Saint Alexis personally brought about 30,000 people back to Orthodoxy (and indirectly, over 100,000). However, that is not the main or only reason why he was glorified as a saint in The Orthodox Church of America three weeks ago. People have considered him to be a holy man anyway. Personally, he was holy. He was a God-lover, and he suffered a great deal for his Orthodox Faith. That is why he is called a Confessor. He confessed the truth of Jesus Christ against all sorts of oppression.

Saint Alexis is also significant to us here in Manitoba because the first priests who served Winnipeg and rural Manitoba at the turn of the century in this area came from Minneapolis, from that very church and mission whose head was this very Father Alexis in those days. This began in 1898-1899 when the first Divine Liturgies were served in this area.

Saint Alexis, lying in his tomb, remains mostly incorrupt to this day, after about ninety years. Such incorruption is traditionally, for us, a sign of a person’s holiness, a sign for us from the Lord to pay attention and to turn to the saint’s intercessions. In fact, Saint Alexis’ intercessions have accomplished quite a bit for us already, and will continue to do a lot more. He is not going to play an insignificant role in the history of our Church. It is our job to remember to remember him and ask him for his prayers.

Towards the end of the year, in the middle of October, in Anchorage there will be the glorification of another holy priest-missionary, Jakob Netsvetov. God willing, I am going to be there. These things are necessary. He was a co-worker with Saint Innocent. He brought to the Faith many of the Yupik people. Do you know who Yupiks are ? (The Americans call them Eskimos, but we Canadians would never dare to use that word in this country.) The Yupiks are an Inuit people who live on the very far southwest coast of Alaska. He was himself half-Aleut and half-Russian. His Mama was Aleut and his Papa was Russian. Because he was himself an Aleut, and he came from the island of Atka in the Alaskan chain, he first began his mission amongst the Aleuts and converted many. He then went on to convert the Yupik people. Father Jakov finally setted around Sitka (which should be the west coast of British Columbia) amongst the Tlinkit people.

In the first part of October, there will be two other glorifications, but they will not happen in North America, even though they are our saints. These are two priests (this is a year of priests’ glorifications). One of them is John Kochurov from Chicago, and the other is Alexander Hotovitsky from New York. They were serving as priests in the Russian Mission (as it was then called) in North America. In 1917, they went back to Russia because there had been convoked an All-Russian Sobor. After the Revolution, the Church in Russia had a window of opportunity to gather and make some decisions. Amongst the first was the election of the now Saint Tikhon to be the patriarch. These two priests rushed back to Russia to participate in this Sobor on behalf of the Church in North America which had sent them. They never came back.

Father John was the first of the priest-martyrs after the Bolshevik October Revolution. Father Alexander suffered frequently and for a long time, until his death in a camp in 1937. The Russian Church and the OCA share these two priests because at that time we belonged to that Church, and because they died on Russian territory. Because their bodies are there, we asked the Russian Church to glorify them for us. Our Metropolitan will go there in October and participate in that glorification. In fact, there is a pilgrimage in October of those going with the Metropolitan to participate in the glorification.

We have numerous saints. The question may be asked : “Why do we need to have this particular Sunday to remember them all again ?” The question can be answered : “Why not remember them all again ? Why would it be difficult ? We love them”. The fact is that we do not know who all the saints are, anyway. There are many holy people who have never been recognised by the Church, by the Faithful. This is because of their humble service of the Lord and their being satisfied with complete obscurity. We do have plenty of saints – there are hundreds of thousands, even millions. There are the forty martyrs of Sebaste, who were frozen to death, and the 14,000 infants who were murdered by Herod, and the 20,000 who were killed in Nicomedia. There are the 10,000 and the 40,000 martyrs of Antioch, the 100,000 killed in Tbsilsi, and the innumerable martyrs of the 20th century in the Soviet territories. There are still innumerably more that we do not know about.

If we knew what the Lord knows about sanctity, we would be astounded at how many people are really holy people, and they pray for us. Even though we never think to ask for their prayers, they pray for us and support us because they love us. Because of the mercy of God, we can turn to them and rely on them in these times particularly, especially here in North America where it is really tough to be an Orthodox Christian. Therefore, we remember them all : the ones that we know, and the ones that we do not know. We give thanks to God for their witness and for their prayerful support.

Another reason for today’s commemoration is that the Lord has told us from the very beginning of His revelation of Himself to us in the Old Testament times : “Be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 11:44). This reminds me of a certain Christmas pantomime (skit) that I once saw. Some happy-go-lucky subdeacons were adjusting a popular song, and exhorting us : “Don’t worry ! Be holy !” Be holy because God is holy. Be good, because God is good. Yes, it is God’s call for you and for me to be holy : to live a life of repentance, turning away from sin and selfishness, turning away from darkness and turning to light, obedience, to serving everyone else with selfless love, to being like Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of our Orthodox Church in Canada. That is why we are here.

We are to be holy, to be signs of the love of Jesus Christ to everyone around us ; to serve other people just as Jesus Christ does and did, and not demand to be served ; to be holy because our life is in Him. He is holy. He makes us holy. He makes us worthy. The Lord calls us to be holy because He created us to be sharers in His Kingdom, sharers in His life, sharers in His own activity. He calls us human beings to a special relationship with Him which none of His other creatures has. He calls us to be like Him. He even gives us the freedom to ignore Him. Such is His love for us that He does not turn us into robots and slaves. Instead, He gives us the freedom to fall on our faces (and other parts) and to make mistakes. Our behaviour often suggests that we do insist on exercising the freedom to fall. The Lord is always there to pick us up and to help us to carry on in the right way.

It is necessary that we understand that there are many saints recognised and unrecognised, and we are called to be like them. Not only are there saints around the whole world, holy people of all sorts, all ages, known and unknown, but there are also actual saints close to us – next door. We Canadians, living in our scatteredness, living in our separation, and sometimes our Eeyore-like “woe is me” attitude, often are tempted to believe that all the saints in all the “real” Church life are not here, but are somewhere else faraway where people can “do it right”. However, that is not the case. Holy people are here amongst us. Real Church life is here amongst us. It does not require all sorts of apparatus : large Temples, very expensive and big episcopal palaces. It requires you and me, without all sorts of fanfare and tra-la-la, to serve Jesus Christ, ourselves.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord calls you and me to serve each other, to love each other, to suffer for each other, to pray for each other, and build each other up in Jesus Christ. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry too much about yesterday. Don’t worry about anything. Be holy. To do that, we have to do one thing. It is important that we remember every day what Saint Herman says to you and to me : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”.

Love your Enemies

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Love your Enemies
17th Sunday after Pentecost
2 October, 1994
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 ; Luke 6:31-36


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The society in which we live is a society that “wants to have its cake and eat it, too”. That is the old saying we are taught when we are young. Our society wants both to eat the cake and keep it. Why is this ? It is because of a loss of direction, a loss of purpose. The only purpose our society seems to have is to satisfy every imaginable passion and desire. Our society is like a spoiled child. “No” has never been said to that child, and every time there is an obstacle that child throws a terrific tantrum. This is what we have become. Take, for instance, the fact that in our society in North America crime is rampant. People lament that there is no order, and things are going to pieces everywhere. At the same time, this very society at every opportunity lambastes Christianity, which is at the foundation of North American culture.

In these days it is not “in” to be a Christian. In these days, if you are a Christian, then you are “out of it”. You do not fit in. You are fanatical, and they say you are a hypocrite. So what ? We are all hypocrites. Who is so honest as not to be a hypocrite ? Who is so righteous as not to be a hypocrite ? It is hard to find such a person. Greek philosophers went around looking for honest people, and did not find them. No-one finds them. Why ? Because we are all enmeshed with sin.

North American society is trying to deny the existence of sin. Therefore, our society is full of crime, and we have uprooted the source of righteousness in our society. We cry and lament. We recognise that in our society we have done bad things to each other. We say : “Oh, but that is not sin, and it is not my fault either. Someone was bad to me ; therefore, even if I steal your purse, take your life, rip your eyes out or destroy your reputation, I cannot help it. Thus, we give people in society the ammunition to say that it is everyone else’s fault (except mine) that I do bad things – that I misbehave, that I steal, that I kill, that I do horrible things, that I lie, that I cheat”. We say : “It is someone else’s fault, not mine”. W S Gilbert may have already comprehended this attitude when he wrote the aria : “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one” in his lyrics for the operetta “Pirates of Penzance”.

Our society in the face of all of this becomes very defensive. We do not want people abusing us in various ways. We do not want to be the object of theft, slander, rape, murder, pillaging, and looting. We want to be protected. So, what do we do ? We really do not lead people into repentance any more, because repentance does not exist in our society any more. We punish. Because we are afraid, we enact legislation. When people do bad things we put them behind bars, and then let them out again in a couple of months. All of this is nonsensical and irrational if we pay attention to it.

We want order, but we rebel against order. We want morality, but we rebel against morals. We want joy and happiness in life, but we uproot that very source of joy and happiness. We want people to be good to each other, but we make ourselves so afraid of each other that we do not dare to be good to each other, in case we get sued (that is coming to our country, too). Day by day, we fall deeper and deeper, subtly, into this crazy mire. Our own Christian foundation, our Orthodox Christian foundation gets eroded and eroded because the society in which we live is so pressuring and so subtly persuasive that it is very hard to stand firm.

The Lord has very clear things to say to you and to me about this. The fact is that things have not changed. We think that here in almost the twenty-first century, we are so modern, so up-to-date, and so far ahead of anyone before us. However, the fact is that what we have done is conveniently to forget all about history. We like to think that everything was naively rosy before (or primitively stupid), and that people did not know how to live until now.

The fact is that all those primitive people did know how to live. Where they are still alive in the world (and where they have been left more or less alone to themselves), they do know how to live. We do not. Perhaps we can hear the Lord say to you and to me, as it were : Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your consolation with your big houses, your “electric everything”, and every imaginable comfort, and you got it on the backs of the poor around the world. Maybe we do not get it on the backs of the poor right next door, but we have surely extracted it from the poor overseas. Because we are so comfy and cosy now, we cannot expect to be so comfy and cosy after this life.

The Lord says : “Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:25). Probably we will find ourselves hungry in this life. As a result of the unleashing of deadly passions around the world, societies which have been relatively stable and self-sufficient are ripped apart, and people are dying of starvation on land that could perfectly well sustain them, and meet every need. However, because they are filled with such hatred, and killing each other, and stealing from each other, no-one except the most evil has enough to eat. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep”(Luke 6:25). The first part of this next one is what runs our society : “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets”(Luke 6:26). What happened to the false prophets ? They went down with the society that they were pretending was all right (but it was dead).

We live in a society that is full of hatred and fear and self-interest. What does our Lord say to you and me ? He says the opposite : Do not kill or put in prison your enemies. Love them. Do not sue and do not put in prison those who do bad things to you. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27028). How far are we going to get with trying to do this in society these days ?

In fact, people laugh at us about what the Lord says next. He says : “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 6:29). Here is another good one : “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30). By contrast, we are nowadays told : Do not give to those who beg, because they might use it to buy a drink or drugs. By contrast to that judgemental cynicism, Bishop Gregory of Alaska gave me a reminder last year. Talking about these Dominical directives, he said : “I do what my father and my uncle said : ‘If the person asks something from you, then he must need it’. Who am I to ask what he needs it for ? If I start to say : ‘I am not going to give’, then I am judging him. Maybe I will give something to the person begging on the street, but I do not simply give ; I give with God’s blessing”. If this person is misusing that gift, then with that blessing will come God’s ruler on the knuckles, as it were. The conscience will prick that person (if there is any opening) when we give to that person who is begging ; and if there is any possibility of good coming from it, then some good will come.

This following directive is even harder to take : “From him who takes away your goods do not ask them back” (Luke 6:30). His next words are ones that some make fun of, and twist around, because they cannot stand the Truth. The Lord says : “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). There is no person with any sort of real sanity, half-sanity, quarter-sanity, eighth-sanity who says : “Go ahead and beat me up ; I do not care. I just love it”.

People want to be loved. They want people to care about them, to pay attention to them, to respect them as creations of God. That is why, as we have just heard, our Lord says, in effect : Do to others what you would have others do to you. We want people to love us, to care for us ; but we cannot wait for them to love and care for us first. We have to be ready to do this first, because (as we will sing a little while later) : “We have seen the true Light; we have received the heavenly Spirit”. We have been filled with the love of Jesus Christ. We have to be the example.

This is what the Apostle is saying to us this morning. The world thinks, in its cynicism and hatred of Christ, that it is the weak and flabby way to go, to be a Christian. In a sense, I do not blame them, because some people who call themselves Christians have namby-pambied themselves into a lump of stale Jello. This is a distortion of the love of Christ. The love that Jesus Christ is talking about has nothing to do with warm, fuzzy, gutless, shapeless, formless feelings. It has to do with raw courage, acts of the will, determination, love with no strings attached, willingness to suffer even unto death for the sake of Christ. That is not wishy-washy, fuzzy emotionalism. That is life-giving, no-strings-attached love.

The Apostle Paul said to his disciple, Timothy, what is said to all the clergy, but which is especially applicable to every last one of us : Be an example to the faithful. Be an example of love (see 1 Timothy 4:12). Have the intestinal fortitude to do what Jesus Christ said and did, and be like the saints. Be powerful. Be strong. Be defenders of the Truth. Be those who live the Truth. Reveal Jesus Christ in your lives in the way you love so that by your example others will see and believe, and become completely a part of the Way.

Our first responsibility here, today, is to ask the Lord to come into our hearts more deeply, more fully, with greater power by the Grace, the inspiration, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In this way, despite our sins, despite our shortcomings, despite our selfishness and our brokenness, others will see His love, will be touched by His love as we live our lives, and they will come to be united with Him. Then, they too, will have the same joy, the same hope, the same power, and the same victory that you and I have, and that we participate in.

In two more weeks, God willing, there will be in Alaska the glorification of Saint Jakob Netsvetov. Yet another of the courageous saints of North America, he is the first half-Russian, half-Aleut priest to be glorified as a saint. He was not the first of the mixed-blood priests, but he is the first to be glorified as a saint. He was a co-worker with Saint Innocent of Alaska, and with him, translated Scripture and the Divine Liturgy into the Yupik and Athabaskan languages in south-west Alaska. The legacy of these great warriors for Christ is that the Yupik and Athabaskan peoples are the most stubbornly faithful Orthodox people in all of Alaska. If we think we have it hard now, then let us then read the lives of these holy men, sailing all over on the stormy North Pacific and Bering Sea waters, freezing half to death, starving part of the time (and lacking an electric anything). What Saint Innocent and Saint Jakob accomplished in their lives !

Later this year, God willing, two more saints will be glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church, since they were part of the original Russian mission. One priest, Father John Kochurov, was a great builder of the Church. If you go to Chicago and see our Cathedral, it was built in his day. This man, together with Father Alexander Hotovitsky (also a priest brought here in the time of Saint Tikhon, a co-worker with Saint Tikhon), worked in the Chancery in New York City. They then went back to Russia in 1918 as representatives of the Church of North America at the Assembly of the whole Church of Russia. This assembly was prayerfully deliberating while the revolution was in progress. Father John Kochurov became the first Priest-Martyr of the Revolution when he was killed by a mob during one of the revolutionary riots. Father Alexander Hotovitsky was not able to leave Russia again, and he died in a labour camp fifteen years later.

Can you imagine the strength of such persons ? What would it be like to be a First- Martyr, like Father John Kochurov, and refuse to deny Jesus Christ, and to die ; or to be like Father Alexander Hotovitsky – to serve, love, and witness to Jesus Christ as a slave labourer in Siberia ?

Perhaps the Lord does not call you and me to such outstanding and heavy tests of our commitment to Jesus Christ. However, He says the same to you and to me as He said to Father Jakob, to Father Alexander, to Father John, and to all the others : Be an example. Reveal Christ. Show by your love to Whom you belong. Show by your love to what Kingdom you belong, and let us all do as Saint Herman, the first and foremost among North America’s saints, teaches : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”.

Year 1995

See no Evil ; hear no Evil ; speak no Evil

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
See no Evil ; hear no Evil ; speak no Evil
11 July, 1995


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I remember that when I was quite young, my mother used to say to me that I should pay attention to that Oriental proverb expressed in the three monkeys : See no evil ; hear no evil ; speak no evil. In those days I thought that that was cute, but I did not understand it. It became harder to understand it as life went along because, in fact, in society all around me I saw the precise opposite of those monkeys. I was hearing plenty of evil ; I was certainly seeing enough evil, and I spoke evil also, along with everyone else. It was the Canadian way that I grew up in. People see other people’s sins ; they hear about other people’s sins and faults, and they talk about other people’s sins and faults. No-one can convince me that anything has changed since I was young because amongst the young people who speak to me, I hear that the same habit that people had when I was that age is very much alive.

In fact, it seems to me that this habit is far stronger than it was when I was that age. This is so much so that not only do people (adults and also children) see, hear and speak evil about other people, but they even invent it. This is especially shocking when it happens amongst children. People imagine evil about other people and turn the imagination into facts. That is a really bad sign for us, because when people believe that an imagination is true, we say that such people are insane. In the old days, people who would say that such was really the truth, got locked up for a while and took cold baths and Epsom salts and other things until they connected again with reality. However, it seems to be becoming commonplace in Canadian life that people will, in fact, not only see, hear and speak evil, but they imagine it and make it into facts. We are so deeply poisoned by this sort of behaviour that we often do not pay attention to it. It is important that we do ask ourselves what sorts of things are we actually thinking ? What sorts of things are we actually saying ? How are we seeing other people and how are we interpreting them ?

The Lord says today in effect that if your eye is evil, everything else becomes rotten as well. If we cannot anymore perceive the truth, then we are truly lost. If we cannot see good and righteousness in other people, we are truly lost and we have surely gone beyond the edge as Christians. A Christian must live differently from the fallen ways of the evil world. It is not that the world by itself is evil. God created it good, but we are the ones that make evil out of it. In human society, the fallenness with its poison is very far-reaching. It is also very deadly. If we go along “lock, stock and barrel” without any criticism of average Canadian society, we will, in fact, not see good in other people. We will not hear good about other people and we will not be speaking good about other people. The way of Canadian society is like a sculpture I saw many years ago for the first time in Oslo, Norway. It is a sculpture by an artist whose name is Frogner. This sculpture consists of a very high pillar with nothing but human bodies all twisted together. It represents how human beings live. In other words, all those human beings are standing on each other and pulling each other down so that they themselves can get to the top and be on the top. That is the way Canadian society is, and it is that way because it is not a Christian society. That element was always there because of fallenness, but now Canada is denying its Christian character. This attitude and this disposition are running rampant.

One cannot go anywhere in society now without encountering precisely that disposition. People are jumping on each other and stabbing each other in the back, gossiping about each other, lying about each other and destroying each other’s reputation in order to get ahead. The Christian must not behave like this. The Christian must behave as Jesus Christ. The Christian must be able to see the goodness that God created in other human beings, even if they are fallen and even if they are doing bad things. Christians are the sort of people who must be ready to help that goodness come out and win over the darkness and the badness. When a Christian sees someone else doing something wrong, it is not proper that he or she starts telling everyone about the things that that person has done wrong. Even more is it not correct for this person to sit in judgement on the one who has done wrong because none of us can do that. None of us is righteous enough to sit in judgement on anyone else because every last one of us is a sinner. There is not one of us who does not do, say, hear or even think wrong things, bad things. We cannot judge other people.

It is our responsibility, when we see our brother or sister falling down, not to snicker and point fingers (as is the way of the world) and tell everyone about it. Instead, it is our responsibility to pray for that person, and ask God to help that person to see the right and to repent. We ourselves have to repent of our own sins. We ourselves have to admit that we do, think, say and hear wrong. We are not greater than anyone else. The Christian has to understand like the Apostle Paul that we are least, not greatest ; worst, not best. When we understand the darkness in our own hearts and our own fallenness, it is then that we have the possibility to get rid of it. We have the possibility to let the Lord come into our hearts, to clean house, to wash us and to change us. The Christian has to understand that being a servant of everyone else is the first responsibility. Our Lord, Jesus Christ says that the servant (which is all of us) is not greater than the Master (who is Jesus Christ) (see Matthew 10:24). If Jesus Christ Himself, our Lord, our God, our Saviour can wash people’s feet, feed people who are hungry, talk to people who are rejects, encourage them and turn them to the truth, are we greater than the Lord ?

N happened to wake me up about this. When I was a priest here, and since I became a bishop, n would often say to me : “Do you ever take a day off ?” I would say : “No, I am too busy”. Then he would say : “So, you think you are greater than the Lord, do you ? Even the Lord rested on the Sabbath Day, but you don’t take any time to rest”. N was speaking prophetically to me at that time. He was speaking from the Lord to me at that time because I needed to hear that. I cannot say that I have really managed to take a day off in the way that he thinks I should, but at least I have gotten closer to it. Now I do manage to take a little time and get myself out of the office sometimes and work in the garden instead of answering letters and answering the phone all the time when I am home. Instead of talking to people and seeing people all the time when I am away visiting, I do spend a little time being quiet, and I feel better for it. The Lord sends people to you and to me to speak to us for the Lord even if we do not know it just at the time. Later I have understood.

It is important for us to have our hearts open to the love of Jesus Christ first, in order to serve, and second, to be able to hear the love of Jesus Christ speaking to us in our brothers and sisters. It is a fact that we all sin and for certain we all do, say, hear and think things that are wrong. However, it is also a fact that we are all here together in this Temple worshipping the Lord on the Lord’s Day and other holy days because we care for the Lord and we are all trying somehow to be Christians. Even if we do not manage very well, we are still trying to live the Christian life. It is important that we do not pay too much attention to the sins of our brothers and sisters. The sins of our brothers and sisters are real, but they are real enough in ourselves, too. It is more important to encourage and strengthen the good in our brothers and sisters. In encouraging the good, in giving hope, strength and prayerful reassurance, talking about the Lord, asking the Lord even in front of the brother or sister to help in need – things like that help to encourage the one who is weak to become stronger and to overcome the sin.

To talk about the good and what is right in a brother or sister is not to ignore the sin, to hide it behind rose-coloured glasses or to act like some sort of Pollyanna who never sees anything bad. Instead, it is doing what the Lord does. We ourselves do wrong. We ourselves tell the Lord that we are sorry that we do wrong. The Lord does not boot us out because we do wrong. The Lord does not throw us away and say to you or to me : “You are nothing but a no-good-nik ; do not show your face here”. He does not say that to you or to me. He says, in effect : “I love you. All right, so, you sinned”. As He said to all the people that He healed in the Gospel, He says to us, as it were : “Get up ; go and do not sin any more”. He says that to us and He accepts our repentance. How can we be different to our brothers and sisters than our Lord is to us ? It is important for us to encourage each other in the right instead of harping on the wrong. It is important for us to remember the good things that we have done, have said, and do for each other instead of remembering all the bad things. In fact, painful as the bad things are, the good is far more numerous and far stronger. It is only because we make the mistake of listening to Big Red that we do not remember all those good things. We remember only what hurts, and forget what is healing.

Brothers and sisters, as we come to the Lord’s Table and offer ourselves once again to Him, let us ask Him to come into our hearts freshly today and give us the heart to change, to be more like Him, to turn away from the darkness and the ways of fallenness. Let us imitate Him in love and service, in doing and being good. Let us be as Christ to each other. Let us allow the Lord to give us the eyes to see Him in each other, to hear Him speak to us in each other and to be ready to speak what He has to say to each other. Let us not just be like monkeys who see, hear and speak no evil with all their senses covered up. Instead, with eyes opened as Orthodox Christians, let us see good. With ears opened as Orthodox Christians, let us hear what is good. With mouths opened as Orthodox Christians, let us speak only what is good to the glory of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Emulating the two Apostles

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Emulating the two Apostles
Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-style)
12 July, 1995
2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9 ; Matthew 16:13-19


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We have heard a fair amount about the Lord’s attitude towards suffering and about the Christian life itself. What a difference there is between the usual Canadian attitude to life and the attitude to life in the Gospel. Unhappily, what a different attitude there usually is even amongst us who are Orthodox believers as compared to what the Gospel is giving us. There is such a difference there because we are so poisoned by the attitude of the world and, for the most part, we are not immersed as we ought to be in the Scriptures, in the Gospel, and in the Orthodox Christian disposition.

We are frequently satisfied with second best. We allow ourselves to be bitter, to hold grudges, to be proud, to be vainglorious, to resent poverty, to resent suffering, to resent inconvenience, to resent discomfort, to be unhappy if we are too hot or too cold (and even to complain to God if we are too hot or too cold). Then we have a look at the example of the Apostles Peter and Paul. What is even worse is that we have the effrontery in our fat, cosy, comfortable 1990s of Canada to look at the Apostles Peter and Paul and to think about them vaguely as some sort of holy guru guys, who were sort of professional holy persons. We say : “They had it nice. Saint Paul saw wonderful visions. He was caught up into Heaven, and isn’t that lovely ! It would be nice if I could do the same”. We tend to think no farther than that. We do not bother to pay attention to the fact that the Lord Himself said that the world which hates the light loves the cosy, comfortable, familiar darkness. The world tries to put out the light and tries to destroy the Master (see John 1:5). Why should they treat us who are the children of the light any differently ?

The fact is that those apostles were human beings just like the rest of us. They were not sinless men who coasted through this life in some sort of perpetual aura of unearthly holiness. They were sinners. Let us not forget that the Apostle Paul was holding coats while others were stoning the holy martyr Stephen. Let us not forget that the Apostle Peter denied the Lord three times. What is significant about these two apostles is that they repented of their sins. Regardless of their sinfulness, they determined to turn about and conform themselves to the love of Jesus Christ.
Nowadays in Canada, we who are believers are being called to account for our belief more than ever before. We who call ourselves Christians (and especially Orthodox Christians) are being called to account for our belief and our behaviour. Previously, people used to pay very little attention to Christian behaviour in general. This is because everyone thought that everyone else was Christian and so people were just vaguely tottering along in life. Nowadays, when there is a general rejection of Christianity in Canada and a sidelining of Christianity to a museum, as it were, Christians are relegated to some sort of irrelevancy. Sadly it can happen that even Orthodox Christians become rather like Fort Garry, or like Upper Canada village in Ontario, where people are all dressed up and are playing “Let’s pretend”. This is how we tend actually to behave when the general attitude towards us is like this. We go through the motions and forget the essence.

People are nevertheless measuring Christ by our behaviour. They are measuring Orthodox Christianity by our behaviour. They are reading the Gospel themselves and they are asking how we measure up to what they are reading. They are asking : “Is that person able to suffer ? Why is that person behaving just like my neighbour when he or she gets betrayed or hurt or disgruntled ? Why is his or her behaviour no different from anyone else’s ? I thought Christians were supposed to be different. If they are no different, what is the point ?” This question can be legitimately asked because we do in fact often behave badly. We very often as Christians give a very bad example of what it is to be a Christian. Indeed, we are too often culpable of behaving as the world does : vicious, nasty, unforgiving or whatever else it might be (the options for sin are numberless). If we behave like the world and do not show the love of Jesus Christ concretely, then we become a stumbling block to others who are looking for Christ. We become the occasion for other people to say : “I don’t need that. I am going to go away somewhere else”. We become the occasion for another person to fall away. That is a dangerous position to be in if we purport to love the Lord.

It is easy for us all to fall into the traps of the world. When we are faced with the example of the Apostles Peter and Paul, it is necessary for us to allow the Lord to bring us up short, to cause us to examine our hearts, to cause us to examine the motivation of our lives, to ask ourselves how we measure up to the yardstick (or the metre-stick) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How much do we reflect His example, His love ? How much are we conformed to Him ? It is important for us to pay attention to our life as measured according to the example of the measure of the repentance of those two apostles. The Apostle Paul was not granted visions of the third Heaven (or whatever level it was of Heaven) just because he was such a nice guy and such a professional guru and such a levitator, or whatever else (or because he did something special to acquire it). That is precisely the attitude of the world today : if we do this or this or this, then presto, we get that. God is not milked like that.

The Apostle Paul was given such a blessing, such a vision, and obviously many other revelations of the heavenly Kingdom, because God loves him. The Apostle was living a life of repentance. He was suffering greatly. He needed encouragement, reinforcement and concrete, intimate demonstrations of God’s love for him in order to carry on. That is why it is important for us to love God, to do everything we can to open our hearts, our minds, our souls and our whole life, in fact, to the Lord’s love so that He can tell us that He loves us. It is for us to co-operate with Him so that He can heal our wounds, change our hearts, lighten our darkness and enable us to have the strength (like those apostles) to go out and face the very betrayals, the denials, the rebukes and other sorts of suffering that the world inflicts on us. We will be enabled to suffer with Him for His own world.

Brothers and sisters, on this Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, let us ask the Lord to come to us and renew us with fresh strength, with fresh injection of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit may we accept the strength to turn away from our selfishness and to turn towards His selflessness. May we accept the strength to remove ourselves and reveal Him only to those around us. May we accept the Grace, the courage and the strength to make our will identical with His will so that our hearts and our souls will glorify Him, our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 1996

Year 1997

Year 1998

“It is high Time to wake from Sleep”

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
“It is high Time to wake from Sleep”
Winnipeg, MB
10 July, 1998


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It seems that most of us tend to go about our lives in a semi-conscious way, simply living each day, and not thinking about anything too much. We just get up in the morning and live our lives as everyone else does, not paying attention to the foundation of who we really are. Living in this world as we do, living in this country as we do, we tend very much to fall asleep, as it were. We become accustomed to live in the self-satisfying, self-serving routine that everyone else falls into. Many of us (although not all of us, thank God) allow the distractions and the temptations of everyday life to put us to sleep. We can forget to do basic things such as saying our prayers first thing in the morning. We forget to say “good morning” to the Lord as we were taught as children to do. In the course of the day therefore, we likely forget to give thanks to God for the good things that happen to us. We forget to call on the Lord for help when we are having difficulty. We forget to ask for His blessing on everything that we are doing.

When we come to the end of the day, instead of remembering the Lord, perhaps we sit down comfortably in front of the television to watch various programmes ; and then we do the very worst thing that a person can do, which is to watch the news at ten or eleven o’clock. The news, itself, is one of the most disturbing things that comes into our lives on a daily basis because it reports 98 percent evil activities. The news reports disturbances, evil and catastrophes which are all laced with fear. Fear makes money. Then perhaps we try to go to sleep, our minds disturbed by what we have seen. We wonder why we have difficulty sleeping and why we are restless during the night. If we watch the news at the end of the day, we should be aware that there will also come a tendency to forget about the Lord. We so easily fall into simple reaction to the news that we easily forget to treat the news as fuel for intercession. We should never dare to think of going to bed without first offering all this suffering in the world to the Lord. Thus, we ask the Lord to intervene in the suffering and the waywardness of the world. It is important also that we bless the Lord, giving thanks to Him for everything. Of course, we also ask the Lord’s forgiveness for the mistakes we may have made during the day.

Our responsibility as Orthodox Christians is to do something different and not do as other people do. We are not to fall into the sleep and forgetfulness of sin. Our responsibility is to be a light that shines. The Apostle exhorts us : “Awake you who sleep … and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). “It is high time to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11). Our responsibility is to be an example of hope and a force of hope to all these people who have fallen asleep in the forgetfulness of sin, and who are paralysed. We are the ones who are called to action. The Lord asks action of you and of me – the action of love. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear in a Scripture verse that I had to memorise when I was a child : “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Sin is a word whose meaning properly comes to us from Greek, and means “missing the mark”. Most people will think of it as breaking laws, but this is not the case, although “missing the mark” could mean that too. The mark that we aim for is the state of being in complete harmony with God’s will for us. This harmony means that our love for Him should be pure and selfless, the same as His love for us. When we are in this state of harmony, we are truly ourselves, and we are truly alive. However, when we depart from this way, Christ’s way, we turn away from love, light and life to selfishness, darkness and death. We become distorted. This is what the Apostle was talking about when he said to us that “the wages of sin is death”. We choose another path than God’s, and its payment to us is death. The world in general is walking on this death-dealing path. Therefore, the way of the world brings paralysis and death, whereas our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ gives us life. He sets us free. He gives us energy. He gives us power.

Brothers and sisters, it is important that we take hold of this free gift and allow the Lord to set us free, and keep us free. Let us allow the Lord to lift up our hearts and give us energy and enable us to be alive and active. The Lord did not create us to be enslaved by forgetfulness and pettiness. The Lord created us to be alive and to be free. May our Saviour today transform each of us so that we can be a centre of love for all those around us. May He give us the courage to accept the free gift of God and to live and glorify Him all the days of our life, in everything that we do and say, from this moment onward. Let us with our whole being glorify the All-holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 1999

Year 2000

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (Old-Style)

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Breaking down Barriers
Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)
12 July, 2000
2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9 ; Matthew 16:13-19


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We, in our comfortable North American way of living, seem seldom to reflect upon the life that the apostles lived. We really do not have an awareness of what life was like for the apostles. It is true that both the Apostles Peter and Paul sometimes lived in decent quarters (especially in their earlier years). However, when it came to the time of the preaching of the Gospel, and their witnessing for Christ, they were always living in other peoples’ houses as they travelled from place to place. This was especially the case with the Apostle Paul. He travelled almost everywhere in the Roman Empire for the sake of speaking about his love for our Lord Jesus Christ, as he tried to introduce people to Jesus Christ, as he tried to win them for the Kingdom of God.

Both the Apostles Peter and Paul suffered misunderstanding, and very often rejection, because people did not want to hear about this love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Often enough, it was because Jesus, as they encountered Him, did not fit their expectations of the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. Therefore, they rejected Him. With this rejection, they rejected the apostles as well. Both of the apostles suffered a great deal because, as we hear the Apostle Paul admit, he was shipwrecked many times. This means he was floating around in water, holding on to pieces of wood.

Ships in those days were not like the ships these days, with fancy lifeboats. It was broken pieces of wood that kept the Apostle Paul from sinking into the Mediterranean. Many times, he was put in prison for the sake of his love for Jesus the Christ. As we hear time-and-again in the Epistles, he was beaten, sometimes very severely. Prison life in the Roman Empire was not like it is now. There were no such things as carpets, beds, and televisions. In the days of the Roman Empire, there was straw-and-mess everywhere in the prisons. Often enough, too, there were chains holding the prisoner to the wall, sometimes by the feet, the wrists, and even the neck (and in the course of all this, beatings, beatings and more beatings).

These are the sorts of things that the Apostle Paul suffered for the sake of his love for Jesus Christ. In Canada, you and I are not likely to face that sort of physical suffering for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ (although once in a while it does happen). However, with the Apostle Paul, we will indeed experience rejection by people who are afraid of the love of Jesus Christ.

We may be rejected because we are Orthodox Christians, because everywhere we go, we carry the love of Jesus Christ in us and with us always. Because we live and act out of love for our Saviour Jesus Christ, people who do not understand this can reject us because of their fear of this love. It is odd that people are afraid of love, but that is the case. People become very much afraid of this sort of selfless, serving love which is so characteristic of Christians, especially Orthodox Christians. It is that which people run away from.

That does not stop you or me from loving our Lord Jesus Christ, and it does not stop you or me from serving other people in the same way as our Saviour Jesus Christ. However, we have to understand that our Lord said in more than one way (and more than one time) in the Gospel that if the world is rejecting Him, He being Who He is, it will reject you and me (see Matthew 10:25 ; John 16:2). Therefore, we have to expect this sort of rejection, and yet carry on loving, and praying for, and serving people, regardless.

What happens is that in due course the Lord overcomes the fear of other people, and the fear of being rejected by other people. When we persist and persevere in loving and serving them, the Lord breaks down the barriers of fear that imprison other people. In due course, they are able to come with us to love and serve our Saviour. However, it takes our remembering first of all that none of us is here on this earth to be served. Every one of us is here to serve. Jesus Christ washed the feet of the apostles. The King of the Universe, Himself, is taking care of you and me, down to the numbering of the hairs of our heads. If He is serving you and me in this way, then who are we not to serve in the same way, always? We are not greater than our Master (see Matthew 10:24).

This is why it is especially characteristic of Orthodox Christians that we be hospitable people. We welcome people as guests. We treat people who come to our home as though they were Christ, Himself (see Matthew 10:40 ; John 13:20 ; Hebrews 13:2). We are not hurt people who hurt people. Rather, we are a serving people who are serving people. If people have needs, then we try to meet the needs. Russian and Ukrainian literature is full of stories about people who are doing exactly this : serving and caring for other people. We are being true to the path of our Saviour, Jesus Christ when we are behaving in this way.
The Apostles Peter and Paul are setting a very good example for us. They gave their lives completely to our Saviour, and we should do the same. However, also note that the Apostles Peter and Paul had some strong differences of opinion as to how to go about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can see in the writings of the Apostle Paul how strongly he disagreed with the Apostle Peter on some occasions (see Galatians 2:11).

The fact of this disagreement does not mean that they were enemies because they disagreed. They had different opinions. The Lord prospered the multiplication and the spread of the Gospel just because of these different opinions. As usual, He used an unedifying situation to bring much good fruit in reconciliation. These two very different men preached the Gospel in two different ways to different groups of people. They were suited to different evangelical tasks ; and as a result of this, many more people were converted to the love for Jesus Christ than if they had gone about doing their preaching and serving in exactly the same way as always.

True, they had disagreements. In Acts 15:37-39, we see that the Apostle Paul had disagreements with the Apostle Barnabas and with Mark, too, about how to go about things. Still, the disagreements did not mean permanent division. Even though there was disagreement, there was always amongst the apostles reconciliation and harmony. There were differences, to be sure ; but, by the mercy of the Lord, they became co-operative differences.

To illustrate this, we can see in the death of the two Apostles Peter and Paul an expression of their unity and of their harmony. In the same city, Rome, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down as he wished, and the Apostle Paul was beheaded. This characterises in a very visible way how the Lord, who is the Giver of life, gives so many gifts to His children – to you and to me ; how He creates all of us uniquely and differently ; and how He uses all these uniquenesses, these differences, this variety of gifts, to give life to this world, to heal the broken-hearted, to heal the sick, to re-unite the separated, to bring home the lost, to give life and light where there is darkness. The Lord uses all these gifts in us for the good, to His glory, and for giving life.

In a few short years, this parish will be celebrating a century of witness in this very building, here on this very corner, because of love for Jesus Christ. However, 1904 was not the actual beginning of this parish. This community’s worshipping life is four or five years older than that. This Temple was, glory be to God, consecrated by Archbishop Tikhon, now Saint Tikhon.

Many people have come to our Saviour through the love of Jesus Christ which has been so active over the decades in this community. The Lord is working, and He will continue to work in this community, showing His love, and giving life. More people yet will come to Him, to know His love, and to have life in Him along with us.

Let us ask the holy Apostles Peter and Paul to pray for us today, that the Lord will give us the strength and determination to be faithful to Him until the end as they are, and to serve Him with our whole hearts. With these apostles, may we enter also into the Kingdom, and glorify with them our Saviour Jesus Christ, together with His unoriginate Father, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 2001

Year 2002

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Foundation of Love has to come first
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
24 February, 2002
2 Timothy 3:10-15 ; Luke 18:10-14


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On this Sunday of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, we are beginning our serious preparation for Great Lent. The Publican and the Pharisee are given to us to remind us what must come first in our lives – how to live as Christians.

Thus, our Lord says to us that there was a Pharisee who observed the Law very carefully. There was also a Publican. Do you know what a Publican was ? He was a tax collector. A tax collector in those days was not like today’s Canada customs and revenue agent who operates according to very strict rules. It was not like that in the Roman Empire. The Emperor in Rome had many tax collectors throughout the empire ; and he simply said to them : “I need this amount of money. Get it for me”. The tax collectors then went to everyone, and they extracted from them that amount of money, in one way or the other, “by hook or by crook”. Of course, the people were very careful to hide their money and goods as much as possible, so that when the tax collector came, he would not be able to get everything. The tax collectors had no restrictions placed on them. They took as much as they wanted. For example, if they were nasty, they could take all the cows, or all the horses, and this very often happened.

Last week, we encountered Zacchæus, another tax collector. When he repented of his behaviour and turned to Christ, he not only gave one-half of everything he had to the poor, but he also gave back four times as much as he had taken from everybody. Can you imagine how wealthy this man was ? Can you imagine how much he had taken from people, so that he could return four times as much as he stole and still had money left over ? He was not only an expert tax-collecting thief, but he was also a very responsible developer of his goods and belongings (even though he had gotten them wrongly). This sort of man changed his ways, and he turned to Christ.

In today’s parable, the Publican standing in the temple knows what sort of person he himself is. That is why he says : “God, be merciful to me the sinner”. The Pharisee, a very careful observer of the Law, standing up in front of everyone, and showing himself very obviously to be a perfect observer of the Law, sees the Publican. He says : “Thank God I am not like that”. The Lord makes very clear to us who is saved. It is the repentant Publican who is saved. Even though the Pharisee is a strict and careful observer of the Law, his heart is full of pride. His heart is full of himself, not of God. By parading all his right observances to everyone around him, he inflates himself and his pride, saying : “See what a good man I am. See what a good observer of the Law I am !”

What the Lord wants from us is not merely a careful observance of the Law, although it is a very good thing to obey His commandments. However, He wants us to obey Him out of love, not out of fear, or because of pride. Zacchæus repented. Out of love for the Lord, he began to observe the Law, and to do what is right. Until that time, the Law was the only way given to us so that we might know how to live life rightly, in accordance with God’s will. In fact, the Law is all concerned with love. The Ten Commandments (the Law), given to us in the book of Exodus (second Book of Moses), tell us the same things that our Saviour says to us in the Gospel. The first part exhorts us to love God first, above and before anything or anyone else. All the rest is about loving God in the right way, revealing that love to other human beings.

If people are in love with God, if our hearts are filled with love for God, we will fulfill the “Law” naturally. We will naturally have the love of God in our hearts. We will not make idols. We will honour the Sabbath day. We will honour our parents. We will not murder, lie, or covet. We will do all these commandments naturally out of love. That is what the Lord wants from us. He wants us to love Him. The Christian live consists in deepening our love for Jesus Christ, getting to know Him better and better, and showing this love by loving each other.

This community is growing. How is it growing ? It is growing because Christians are learning to love each other, to trust each other, to work together in love. Other people see this love, and they feel safe to come into our midst. In the world, we find plenty of deception and lies. People are mostly living in fear about one thing or the other. As we live our Christian lives, we spend a lot of time asking the Lord to take that fear away from us. Fear poisons our lives as we live in the world. As that fear is taken away from us by God, we become more and more our real selves. The more we know our Saviour Jesus Christ, the more we love Him, the more we can tell the difference between truth and lies. We can see the truth about ourselves much more, and we can see the lies about ourselves too. Many people suffer agony about themselves because they have accepted lies about themselves. These lies come from the devil and from the way people have been mistreated by other human beings. In general, we do not have the correct knowledge of ourselves ; we do not know the truth about ourselves. Deepening our love of Jesus Christ heals our spirit and enables us to become truly ourselves – in Jesus Christ. Because of the love of Jesus Christ, a community of believers becomes a place where people can find healing in their hearts and souls, and where they can find out the truth about themselves. They will find out that they are not so bad, that they are healable, and repairable. In other words, they will discover that there is hope. Then they can witness together because of this love so that others in turn can find themselves, and, in due course, they can find a place amongst us.

I have already heard how this community has been developing just like this. This means that the Lord is preparing this small community (small right now) to become an important witness in this city. We must make sure that there are no divisions amongst us and that we resist the devil. Rather, knowing the truth about the love of Jesus Christ, we should live in forgiveness of one another all the time, praying for each other all the time, so that God will strengthen, heal, renew and perfect us in due course. Once the foundation of love is solidly laid, the Lord will send more people. This has been the case everywhere in this country. However, the foundation of love has to come first. The sooner this foundation is laid, the sooner the Lord will send others to participate in this foundation of love. Please persevere in this, and let this coming Great Lent be a time for you all to deepen your love for our Saviour, and deepen your love for each other. Clean the house of your heart and your soul of whatever dirt is lying around, so that when you come to the greatest of all feasts, Pascha, you will be able to rejoice with great joy, having made some progress in love and in repentance in the Lord. You will thus come to Pascha a little bit closer to the Lord, a little bit more loving of our Saviour — each and all of you personally, and together.

May God grant that you all be just like the Publican. May you all, and I also, be able to repent, but to repent of our sins knowing that God loves us, that He will heal us, and, as He promised, He will always be with us. Do not be shy to speak about Him when He gives a clear sign to your heart to offer someone a word of encouragement, hope and love. In so doing, you will glorify Him, our Saviour – your Saviour – to Whom, together with the Father and the life-giving Spirit, be glory now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 2003

Confessing Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Confessing Christ
21 September, 2003


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We must always be prepared to confess Christ. We do not know what is going to happen on any day. We do not know what the Lord is going to ask of us at any particular time. For instance, let us recall all those Orthodox Christians who lived 100 years ago or so in Russia and Ukraine. What happened to them ? They were living their lives peacefully, and along came the Bolshevik Revolution. During this revolution, people were being killed right, left and centre, very often only because they were Orthodox believers. These Orthodox Christians had no idea that they would end their lives as martyrs for the sake of Christ. They were just plain, Orthodox Christians, living their lives faithfully.

However, when the time came that they were challenged to deny Christ, they responded : “Absolutely not” ; and they suffered terrible tortures. All this is described in the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. There are also the two books written about Archimandrite Arseny (Streltsov) in the prison camp in North Russia. There are also the words of Father Alexander Men, who was himself a martyr in the same way. These writings help us understand what sort of suffering people endured for the sake of the love of Jesus Christ. All these people were ordinary, everyday people like you and me.

I hope that most of us in North America are not going to be put in such a position (although anything is possible). Open persecution could happen here, too, but God forbid that it should happen. In the meantime, it is important for you and for me to confess that we are Orthodox Christians, that Jesus Christ is everything in our lives. There are people all around us who are hungry, thirsty and looking for hope. In this country which has become so secular, there are people who have nothing to live for except some sort of small creature comforts. They have no hope. Hope has gone from them. However, if we live our lives with joy, and if we show love to people around us, then we can bring Christ to them. We can bring Christ to them, even if they are not ready to recognise Him yet ; and maybe, eventually, in due time, they will be ready to ask questions, and perhaps to accept Him. They may even become Orthodox Christians.

We Orthodox Christians in North America are here not just to be comfortable, to have a good life, or to have things better here than anywhere else. As Orthodox Christians, we are here to show the love of Jesus Christ to those people around us. Because we are Orthodox Christians, this is our responsibility. We, Orthodox Christians, carry without any distortion the whole truth about Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. He is the Truth that people are looking for. In Canada these days, it is so popular to hear : “Well, that is true for you, and this is true for someone else”. What is being said is that something is true for this person, and something else is true for that person. However, if truth is like that, there is no such thing as truth. By definition, there can only be one truth. If there is more than one truth, then one of the so-called truths has to wrong, deficient or lacking. There can only be one truth. That Truth is Jesus Christ, our Saviour. He is the Only-begotten Son of God, who took on our human flesh, our human condition, and our fallenness out of love in order to save us.

We have with us here, today, Mrs. n, who was not long ago in the hospital and was expected to die because of a heart problem. The doctors did not expect her to live. However, the priest and the people of the Church prayed, and here she is with us in the Temple of the Lord. Like Father n, she was and is confessing Christ with her life. There is also Matushka n, who had a very serious case of pneumonia only last year. She had double pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. However, the Church’s priest and people prayed, and she is here with us, strong as ever, serving the Saviour and confessing Him. Then we have n, who is in the hospital right now. Very recently, she was in a coma for a whole week. Her sister told me that the doctors gave her a 1% chance to survive. After the prayers of the Church (by priest and people), in due time, she woke up ; and even without any life-support system, she is walking around the hospital as though nothing had happened. She is definitely praising God and giving thanks to Him.

God is merciful. The Grace of God is amongst us here in this congregation. The Lord is hearing our prayers, and that is really what I want to emphasise. We can get very much carried away with the burdens of our daily life, and our responsibilities in maintaining this Temple and glorifying God here. Being carried away with such burdens, we can let these wonderful things I have mentioned fall into the background of our memory, instead of remembering every day what glorious things God has done for us, and is still doing for us. Even when we are having difficult moments, He is still with us. During Great Compline of the Great Feasts of Christmas and Theophany, we love to sing that God is with us. Truly, He is with us. We also love to sing : “Who is so great a God as our God ? Our God is the God who does wonders”. We are right in loving to sing these glorious praises of God. We are right to rejoice in Him in this way in these verses from Psalm 76.

In this Temple, the Lord has given us as a sign to this city, and not only to this city. Do not forget that this community is the mother community of all the other Orthodox communities in this city, and in this province. If there are Orthodox communities anywhere in this province at this time, then they are children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of this parish. The witness of this community of believers has been here almost 80 years and it has borne good fruit in this province. However, there is much, much more to do yet, because this city is very far from being an Orthodox city.

It is our responsibility to continue praying, working and witnessing for Jesus Christ as those who have gone before us have done. May those around us be able to see, believe, and come to our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and glorify Him along with us. May we all together have the hope of entering the heavenly Kingdom, there to glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 2004

Sunday after the Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Being Obedient to God’s Will
Sunday after the Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)
(Memory of King David, Saint James and Saint Joseph)
11 January, 2004
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Matthew 2:13-23


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There is a tendency especially in these days (as there was in other times), to re-make the Christian faith into something that is an intellectual exercise, or into something that is equal to one philosophy or another. As long as we pander to this idea, we can adjust all sorts of things to our liking. This is what is happening now in our day in North America, and in the western world in general. People try to reduce Christianity to some sort of philosophy, and we try to tinker with it to make it more suitable to our whims, fads and fashions. What we easily forget is what the Apostle Paul is saying today in the Epistle. He encountered Christ personally. Christ appeared to him, and in His compassion, He straightened him out from his wrong way of thinking. The Lord put the Apostle on the right path by leading him in the right direction.

As Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, it is most important for us Orthodox Christians to acquire the Holy Spirit first. By that, he meant that we must allow the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled in us, to work in us by virtue of our baptism and chrismation when we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us in order to renew and build up this relationship of love between us and Christ. The way of the Orthodox Christian is not only an intellectual way. It is a way of love between us and Christ, a way of loving harmony with Christ. In harmony with Him, we lovingly and willingly obey His will. This harmoniousness might even become instinctual.

This is exactly the way of the Mother of God. In every part of her life, she said “Yes” to God’s will, even though it was not logical. At the time of the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her, and told her that she would bear a child although she was not yet married, and still a virgin. She asked how this could be. The Archangel answered her (as it were) : “Not to worry. The Holy Spirit will overshadow you, and all will be well”. When she heard this amazing assurance, she accepted this, and it came to be as the Archangel had said. The rest of her life was a life of obedience, even though she still asked questions. Sometimes, she even prepared the way for her Son, as at the marriage of Cana. She prepared His way by ordering the servants to do what He was going to ask them to do.

It is high time that we, ourselves, like the Mother of God, learned to be lovingly and willingly obedient to God’s will. Even though we are often afraid of it, God’s will is always life-giving, and saving for us. It is always Life for us, even though we do not know where it will lead us, and what will happen to us. If our hearts tell us that God wants us to do something, or to go in a particular direction, then what He asks is not to endanger us but to increase true life in us. We are often afraid of losing our temporal life, of losing the sense of being comfortable in the world. However, the Lord does not want us feel that we are so comfortable in this world that we will be afraid of leaving it when the time comes. Our life in this world needs to be fulfilled in the Kingdom. Our end is eternal life with Him in the Kingdom. We have no idea what this means except that it is eternal life, eternal light, eternal love. Life in the Kingdom is far better than anything we could have in this life. This life is a vale of tears, pain and difficulty as a result of the Fall. However, in His mercy, the Lord shows us His love. He gives us hope. He gives us a sense of direction. He puts us on the path to the Kingdom and to eternal life with Him.

Today, as we are keeping the memory of King David, Saint James, the Lord’s brother, and Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, it is important that we correctly understand the will of God in their lives. It is especially important today when we are so prone to distortion. David, the King, was the direct blood ancestor of the Lord. Christ was born of the house of David. However, David is also two other things to us. In the first place, in his Psalms, David wrote many prophesies about the coming of and the life of Christ. When we read the Psalms, we are reading the life of Christ. Many Psalms are very explicit about the Birth, Life, Suffering and Death of Christ, as well as about His kingly reign. David prepared the way of Christ. In the second place, as we all know, he fell into temptation very severely. He was not a small sinner when he sinned. However, he knew how to repent, and when he repented, he repented greatly. David sinned as we all do. Being a king and head of government, as well as an autocrat, he was subject to many temptations. This is why we have to pray that our leaders be protected from the great temptations of their office. Nevertheless, even in the face of these temptations, David turned about, repented, and became an example of repentance for us. He accepted God’s correction, turned about completely, and tried to follow the Lord’s will. This happened more than once in his life, as it happens in our lives, too.

There are those who like to say that since James is the “brother” of the Lord, the Theotokos had children after she gave birth to Christ. This has always been incomprehensible to Orthodox. From the beginning, Orthodox have believed that the Mother of God was ever-virgin because she gave birth as a virgin. It is incomprehensible that she would then have children in the normal way, after she had given birth to God the Word. She gave herself to the service of God in purity and love. This is why we venerate her to this very day. Then why is it that, in the Holy Gospels, James is called Christ’s “brother” ? An article in the Canadian Orthodox Messenger (Winter 2003/2004) explains this quite well. In short, brotherhood and sisterhood is not confined to the immediate blood family in oriental, Semitic (Hebrew) thought, but means all the close relatives. Therefore, first cousins can be called brothers and sisters in popular, everyday terms. That is exactly who James, the brother of the Lord, was to Jesus Christ. He was a brother as in first cousin.

Saint Joseph, the Betrothed, is also an example for us. Although we often forget about him, and treat him as a nice piece of furniture, a convenient person to have around, we should understand the service that he rendered to our Lord as the foster-father of Christ. He provided a home for Christ and protection so that He might grow up in a good atmosphere. All these things are important, as is the fact that he was a good person, a man of prayer, and one who understood God’s will. Out of negligence, we often dismiss him. At the time of the Annunciation, he could not comprehend what was going on, and wanted to send Mary to what we would call a home for unwed mothers. According to the Law of Moses, she was supposed to be stoned because she was expecting out of wedlock. However, being a merciful man, he wanted to hide and protect her until she gave birth. When God revealed to him in a dream what was going on, he accepted the whole thing, and provided protection for Mary and the Child. When he learned in a dream that God wanted him to take Mary and the Child to Egypt in order to escape from Herod (who was going to kill all the small children in the region of Bethlehem in order to protect his kingship), Joseph obeyed the dream. When he was in Egypt, God told him when it was time for him to go back, and where he was to go. Joseph did as God had directed him. We see that Joseph was not just anyone. He was a man of God. His heart was open to God’s direction. He was worthy, like the Mother of God, to prepare the way of Christ.

The important thing in all of this is to emulate, to try to be like these people. James was the leader of the Jerusalem community from the very beginning as its apostle and bishop at the centre of the early apostolic community. All these holy persons were people who loved God. God perfected them, and they became His instruments for good. The same thing is true for you and for me. We must love God and allow His love to grow in our hearts. He wants you and me to be His instruments for good.

Here in n, people are not going to take this small community very seriously, because it is small and hard to find at the present time. Nevertheless, by God’s love and mercy, this community is going to take a big step, and become more independent and visible. People will be better able to find this community, and perhaps to find the Orthodox Faith in the process. Our responsibility is to love our Lord Jesus Christ, to befriend the persons He sends to us, and to be loving to them. The Lord will send yet more people to come to this community to encounter Christ’s love, and to experience healing, encouragement, hope, and joy. They will perceive Christ’s love, and will follow Christ in the same way, loving others and living in His love. Despite what is often mistakenly believed and done, the Orthodox Faith is not taught ; it is caught. Love is not taught ; it is caught. We want to be contagious with the love of Jesus Christ, so that people around us will sense this love, will be encouraged by this love, and will be attracted to it. Let us open our hearts with loving devotion to the Lord in order to receive Him, and allow Him to increase in us, so that we may glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Triumph of the Love of God

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Triumph of the Love of God
Sunday of Orthodoxy
29 February, 2004
Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2 ; John 1:43-51


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews today, we heard about all the things that were suffered by so many people long before Christ came to us. They endured everything that they did suffer because they loved God. They trusted God. They were waiting for the fulfilment of His Promise of a Saviour. In due time, the Saviour did come. He fulfilled all their hopes, all their desires and all their concerns. Our Saviour began the new life in the Kingdom. In the Gospel reading today, we heard about the beginning of the call of the disciples, starting with Philip. It was Philip who found Nathaniel. This is what the Lord brought us into, along with Philip, Nathaniel, all the other apostles, and all the followers of Christ – the relationship of love with the living God.

Human beings have always had a difficult time accepting the depth and the extent of the love of God for us. Human beings have always fallen into temptations and resistance. So, in the course of many centuries, there has been one heresy after another, invented by people who could not understand and accept that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Instead, they tried to turn Jesus Christ into a “nice guy”, or a very interesting and great philosopher, or maybe even a prophet greater than John the Baptist. For them, perhaps they will even admit that He was the greatest prophet of all times, but they will not accept to say that He is the Son of God. That He is, in fact, the Son of God is difficult for some people to accept.

Such people say : “How could God do such a thing ? It is too much for me to accept”. The fact is, however, that God is God. As we are singing in our hymns all the time, God is God, and God is Love, and because of the way His love operates, God can do whatever He wants. During this last week, we were singing this very thing in the Great Canon of Saint Andrew. God does whatever He wants. This does not mean that God is impetuous or frivolous. God, the Lord, always does things for a purpose. Therefore, when it suits Him for the salvation and the good of human beings and the world, He overturns the usual order of nature. For instance, there is the miracle that occurred in Cana of Galilee (see John 2:1-11). When our Lord told the servants to fill up the giant vessels with water, and then to take some out and to give it to the master of the feast, it was found, upon being tasted, to be the very best wine. The Lord bypassed the years of the fermentation and maturing process, and He took the water straight from being water to being wine (with no grapes in between) because the people had a need. They had run out of wine, and the Lord knew that this wedding feast required wine. His most pure mother made certain that He was aware of the situation, and she knew that He could meet the need. Therefore, out of love, the Lord short-circuited nature (as it were). He does many other things like that, and not only in the Gospels. He still does things like that for human beings today, for those who love Him and who pray to Him. Even in our days (sometimes, but not very often), there are some people who have died and have been returned to life by the prayers of the faithful. I have heard of some cases in my own lifetime. It does sometimes still happen (although not every day), because the Lord knows what is necessary in people’s lives and in particular situations, for building up the faith of the people and reassuring them of His love.

Let us take as an example the famous stories about the priest-monk, Father Arseny (Streltsov). There are two books about him now translated into English from the Russian. This priest-monk spent more than twenty years in a prison-camp in Siberia. There is the story about him when he was sent for punishment in the middle of a particularly cold period of the winter, into an unheated, uninsulated storage shed, along with a young man, another prisoner. This was done in order to kill them because they were Christian believers, and because they were doing good. The young man was very afraid that he was going to die. Then he suddenly realised that he was not cold. He further realised that Father Arseny was shining with uncreated light. When the guards came to check on them more than a day later, they found that Father Arseny and the young man were just fine, well rested and warm (at minus fifty degrees Celsius !). It did not completely impress the prison authorities, so as to convert them. They only admitted that they could not understand it – some people are very stubborn. However, other people in the camp very much understood, and they came to Christ because of this. The Lord is with us, and He loves us. He cares about the small things and the big things of our lives. The Lord is with us in His love.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of the Seventh Ecumenical Council and what we call the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”. It is the triumph of the truth about Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. This commemoration is not only about the icons, themselves, but it is also primarily about Jesus Christ Himself. The icons are a gateway to Him ; and they are given to us by God, so that we can easily communicate with Christ. We like to call them our windows to heaven, and that is truly what they are. This is because of the truth about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is what the Seventh Council is concerned with. Icons are an expression of the Love of God which became visible and tangible as the Only-begotten Son of the Father, in accordance with the will of the Father, took flesh through the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and the Theotokos, in order that we might be saved. The Son took up into Himself all our sinfulness, all our brokenness, all our fallenness, all our rebellion, all our darkness, all our despair, all our depression, all our hopelessness. He took it all up into Himself. He cleaned it ; He repaired it, and He is still doing that for you and for me out of His love. This is what we are celebrating today : the triumph of the Love of God, and the truth about Him who is the Truth.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council was the last ecumenical council to solve such problems, and it was a long time ago, in 787. There have been other local councils since then that have solved smaller problems. Probably we need an ecumenical council nowadays in order to clean up some of the big messes that afflict us these days, although the Church cannot very well afford such a council (we do not have a rich emperor to pay the bills). I think that it will still be a little while yet before we will manage to have such a council. Nevertheless, the Church is carefully preparing for such a council ; and even in the preparation for this council, some problems are beginning to get cleaned up. Any council is concerned with cleaning up the messes that are created by our sins, by our limitations, and in particular, by our fears. These councils resolve the fears, straighten out the messes, and reassure the faithful, because they meet in the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The Grace of the Holy Spirit brings about the corrections that are necessary, and this Grace maintains the whole truth, only the truth about Him, who is the Truth, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Lord and Redeemer.

Remembering this love, let us today pay attention to our Lord’s care for us. He sees us in the same way as He saw Nathaniel under the fig tree. He knows about our sorrows ; He knows about our depression ; He knows about our difficulties ; He knows about our sicknesses. He knows, and He cares about them. Let us run to Him through the intercessions of the Mother of God, and through the prayers of many saints, as we plead for His help. Let us allow Him to give that help to us, because He is the Hope of the hopeless, the Saviour of the bestormed, the Physician of the sick, the good Shepherd who cares for us, loves us, and is with us. Let us open our hearts more to Him, so that we may realise that He is truly with us. Let us allow Him to work more and more in and with us, so that we can work more in and with Him to His glory : the glory of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Pentecost : God is with us

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
God is with us
Centennial Celebration
Feast of Pentecost
30 May, 2004
Acts 2:1-11 ; John 7:37-52, 8:12


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All we who have been baptised and chrismated have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, although the gift of the Holy Spirit does not come to us in the way that it came to the holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us, and it is our responsibility to live in accordance with this gift of the Holy Spirit. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that our main responsibility was to acquire the gift of the Holy Spirit. What did he mean by that ? He did not mean that it is something that we do not have. What he meant is that this gift is very often something that we do not let be alive and working in us.

Most North Americans, if they think about God at all, and if they are searching for God and trying to communicate with God, think that He is somewhere “out there”, far away and distant. This is one of the big difficulties of life in North America. Because people think that God is somewhere else, they ignore Him for the most part, and life is all divided up and broken up. Therefore, we have secular life, religious life, school life, work life and all sorts of little compartments into which people fit their lives. People then tend to have somewhat different personalities, depending on which environment they happen to be in at the time. It is no wonder that our North American society is in such great need of psychiatrists, psychologists, and all sorts of other psychological therapists, because life is broken. Life is divided. People really do not know who they are, and they do not know how to cope with everything. They think that it is nice that at least the Aboriginals of North America “have it all together”, and they do know that all things are one. However, for the most part even the Aboriginals have lost this correct awareness, although they once did know in the traditional way that everything was a unity and everything was interconnected. Many of them got poisoned by our way of going about things. Even though they pretend that they understand that everything is a unity, very many of them do not anymore live in accordance with real unity for the most part, because so many have become like us in the worst ways.

All the spiritual fathers tell us that we if we hope to find God, then we are going to find Him here in our hearts. If we, Orthodox Christians, are looking for God, then it is not outside that we have to look for Him, but rather, it is in the heart that we have to find Him. That is where the “Prayer of the Heart” comes from. However, strangely, many people try to practice this prayer, all the while keeping the mentality that God is “out there”. Still, trying to practice the Prayer of the Heart with the mentality that God is “out there” is quite a juggling act, and it does not necessarily work. Nevertheless, God will pour out His Grace upon a person, and He shows Himself to be here, now. We, Orthodox Christians, have inherited correctly what is the state of human beings and what is the nature of human beings : that we find God here, in our hearts. As a result of finding God here in our hearts, everything else can be understood to be in unity. Everything else finds its oneness in our lives because God is here.

Because God is here, now, it is possible for Orthodox Christians to keep everything in life together and connected. We can be one and the same person, whether we are working, whether we are in school, whether we are in church, whether we are on vacation or whether we are playing. Whatever we are doing, we can still be, more or less, the same person. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we are bringing Jesus Christ with us. He is with us, not beside us, but with us, in us. He is part of us. Because we are members of the Body of Christ, we are in Him. When we can live with this understanding properly, we can live our lives as God intended that we should live our lives, and we can be some sort of witness to people around us. People can see just by how an Orthodox Christian lives his or her life that there is something different (in a good way) about this way of living. They can come to desire to follow the same way, to be as we are, to have the same unity, the same joy, and the same all-encompassing belief.

It is because of this understanding of unity that Orthodox Christians have always been prepared to make the sign of the Cross on, and bless everything that they are doing in their life. They ask for the blessing of houses, cars, horses, birds, wells, workplaces and work. In the course of their daily lives, when they are cooking, they bless the ingredients of the things that are being cooked ; they bless the process of cooking ; they bless the eating of what has been cooked. They bless the beginning of a car-ride ; they bless the beginning of any sort of a journey with the sign of the Cross. Everything in the Orthodox way has the sign of the Cross applied to it. That is our inheritance.

If we really want to be Orthodox Christians who are faithful to this inheritance here in Canada, then it is very important for us that we follow this way. Let us remember how our parents and grandparents lived their lives, and let us recover it in our own lives – bringing God’s blessing on everything that we are and everything that we do, because God is with us. Jesus Christ is with us and in us. Because of our desire to serve, to be like Him, we will follow Him out of love for Him.

Brothers and sisters, we have Christ in our hearts and our lives because as we just sang : “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ”. For more than 100 years, faithful Orthodox Christians have been worshipping God here in the Orthodox manner. They have been witnessing to this way of life. Because of their love and the witness of people in this Temple, many people have come to Christ. By the Grace of the all-holy Trinity, this community is being renewed, revived and enlivened. Make sure that Christ, Himself, is always in the centre and in the heart of this renewal and revival. Never let your awareness of Christ be other than that He is in the middle of everything that you are, and in the middle of everything that you are doing. In so doing, you will be a faithful Orthodox Christian. In being a faithful Orthodox Christian, you will be faithful to the inheritance that has been provided by the people of this Temple a century ago. In 1904, Saint Tikhon (who was then the bishop of North America), blessed and consecrated this holy Temple, and he blessed the faithful offering which the founders had built. This foundation provided the inheritance which is today our responsibility to perpetuate. Saint Tikhon, himself, went on later to become the Patriarch of Moscow ; he renewed the Patriarchate of Moscow, and he then suffered and died for his faithfulness in 1925 at the hands of the godless.

Most of us are not called to that, but we are still called to be faithful witnesses in the love of Jesus Christ. By God’s mercy and Grace, a special blessing has been given by our Metropolitan Herman to this community because of this particular fact of our history. Although the requested icon of Saint Tikhon has not yet arrived from Russia, it will eventually get here in Orthodox time. Nevertheless, n, the comptroller of The Orthodox Church of America, on behalf of Metropolitan Herman, has brought here a small piece of the body of Saint Tikhon to stay here in this Temple. Saint Tikhon has returned to this Temple which he consecrated 100 years ago. As you will in due course be able (with the icon) to kiss the holy relic of Saint Tikhon, himself, remember to ask for his prayers. Obviously, he has been praying all this time for the many whom he blessed in this community and also for the community which he put in order when he was here. Remember to pray to him and ask him to support you by his prayers, also.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask our Saviour to renew our hearts, and to refresh our hearts with His love so that we will be able faithfully with love and all devotion to worship Him today, together, on this great centennial anniversary celebration. In the same way and with the same love, day-by-day, always and everywhere, let us glorify the most Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Remembering who we are, and what we have to do in Canada

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Remembering who we are,
and what we have to do in Canada
Archdiocesan Assembly,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
20-23 July, 2004


Glory to Jesus Christ.

The biggest problem that we have living here in North America is that, in its own way, this continent is a land of forgetfulness. It has come to be so, not because the Lord created it in this way ; but rather, it is so because of the abundance that our land produces, and the comfort we consequently find in all this abundance, and in all the consequent coziness. A professor I once had remarked frequently on our obsession with softness. Perhaps we might think that we, ourselves, do not have all that much comfort in our lives. However, we very likely have more than enough of the companion of comfort and coziness — distraction.

Living in such an environment, we are living in the midst of a mist, or worse, in the midst of a fog. Of course, being self-sufficient Canadians, we try to find our way in this fog all on our own. This particular fog is special, also, because while we are trying to find our way, we generally forget what we are looking for. This is one of the reasons that it is pastorally difficult for the bishop and the clergy to try to help our parishes and parishioners to “wake up”. You may well ask what I mean by the need to “wake up” ? I will try to explain now.

We all know that, in the history of our archdiocese particularly, we have gone through very many trials. Up to now, we have existed for only a little more than a century, but in this short time there have been many tests. We began with immigration from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, and those who immigrated were not well-treated by the government which imported them. They were sent to populate remote and difficult places, and they had little support. There, in the places where they settled, they characteristically began by building Temples to the Lord (even before building their own homes). There was plenty of prejudice also against these people who were so different from their predominantly British and West-European neighbours. During World War I, some were sent to internment camps because their passports said that they were Austrian citizens. The after-effects of the Bolshevik Revolution wrought havoc in the Church in Canada after this war, and those effects remain to this day. Although the hard-working people began to prosper, the diocese which ought to have supported them remained only in skeletal condition because of the many divisions that had arisen. Despite the best efforts of our holy Bishop Arseny and his successors, it was always very difficult to provide enough priests and deacons to lead, educate, form and nourish the faithful people. This difficulty remains to this day.

There were some times in the course of our history when the obstacles were so great that the diocese was nearly extinguished. Because of these trials, it seems that in many smaller places our self-sufficient people came to be content to try to manage on their own. Because of insufficient reinforcements and reminders about the essence of the Orthodox way of life, many people throughout our archdiocese fell into living for themselves, in imitation of the society in which they live. Living in this way can be described as going to sleep spiritually ; it can be described as forgetting “in the arms of morpheus”. This old expression can mean more than simply sleeping ; it can mean being comatose. When any pastor sees that this is how things are spiritually, it provokes a great compassionate concern.

By this present time, the Lord has accomplished a great deal in this archdiocese. There has been a pastoral renewal, and a renewal of relationships amongst the parishes and amongst the faithful believers in the archdiocese. Because of the serious work of many clergy and lay-persons, there has been a development of better administration and better communication. Nevertheless, the fog in which we have subsisted for many years has not yet lifted. There is still a great tendency to “sleep in”, to “take our rest”, to “get comfortable” in this world. This is the great danger of the self-indulgence which we are so much encouraged to embrace in our secularised society. When we do indulge ourselves, then we can come to understand that we have fallen into a typical worldly trap, a trap which is not at all new. Solomon addressed this at least twice,

How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep—so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:9-11 ; see Proverbs 24:33-34).

Although these words address physical laziness and its consequences, it is much worse when there is spiritual inertia. We have a term for this in the Orthodox Church : “accidie”. We do not often use this word nowadays, and I reckon that this is because most of us are so affected by it as to be unaware that it is our condition. The dictionaries usually describe the condition simply as “spiritual or mental sloth”, or “apathy”. It is not so simple. This English word “accidie” comes to us from the Greek word akedia. This word was imported into Latin with the same meaning, giving acedia. The words differ by one letter, but are pronounced the same. Accidie implies that the one suffering from it has fallen into a state of listlessness or torpor. As a result, the sufferer does not seem to care (apathy) or to be concerned about one’s position, condition or responsibilities. As a result of this state, the sufferer can become unable even to perform daily duties in life. The person forgets. It can, obviously, be mistaken for depression, but it is truly a common and very well-known spiritual condition. This is, in part, what I am referring to when I say that we forget what we are supposed to be doing ; we forget the priority of living as Christians ; we forget that the Lord loves us ; we even forget who we are supposed to be. A reader of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings will recognise this experience in Frodo as he journeyed towards Mordor, and significantly also when he was poisoned by Shelob. When we fall into this, we may recognise that this forgetfulness is a symptom of the terrible poison that is accidie. It is a paralysing poison for which we have no antidote by ourselves.

In order to avoid the worst consequences of accidie, it is the crucial responsibility of anyone who has any understanding of the Gospel, of Christ, of the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints, to be constantly calling on them all for help at all times. Indeed, we are not going to survive in our Christian life anywhere, anytime, unless we come to the so-called bottom, unless we come to the point of crisis, unless we come to the turning-point, to the point of encountering the fair-judgement of the Lord. Then, as indicated by the twelve-step programmes (which are geared to those who are addicted), we realise that we cannot get out of this paralysis, out of this inertia, out of this fog by ourselves or on our own. We need help. We need the help of the Lord, of the Mother of God, of the saints, of those who love us. We finally call out to the Lord for help. When we cry out to our Lord and Saviour for help, it comes. He sends it. He does help us. This is why it is so necessary that we, with His help, develop the habit and the mindfulness, and acquire the heart to do this every day, and not only once a day. It is necessary that we begin to ask for help as soon as we become conscious in the morning, and to keep asking for this help throughout the day. It used to be common that we would say something such as : “with God’s help I will do this or that”, or “God willing, I will go here or there”. It is time to recover such habits of thinking and speaking.

“Who am I ?” I am a person who has been baptised into Christ, who has put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27). Because I have “put on Christ”, the people I encounter every day (whether they are aware of it or not) are expecting something through me from Christ. They are expecting a sign of His love for them, a word of encouragement, a word of support, perhaps a word of correction. As far as it is possible, it is my responsibility to live in Christ in such a way that those I meet may see something of Him, may sense His presence in me. It is my responsibility to be transparent enough in His love that He will reveal Himself through me to others. I may not always be conscious of His acting in and through me, but it is my responsibility to co-operate with Him for the sake of these other persons who are, in one or another way, lonely, hungry, thirsty. They are hungry and thirsty for love, for hope, for some reasonable sense of direction and purpose in life. It is He who can and does provide all this.

The Apostle reminds us to put on the whole armour of God,

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints [...] (Ephesians 6:10-18).

He exhorts us to carry all this Gospel-equipment, and to use this Gospel-equipment. In effect, the Apostle is exhorting us to keep our prayer consciously alive, and our community in Christ alive, and to pay attention every day.

However, we forget. We forget that we have such resources. We forget to turn to the Mother of God, most particularly, for help. We live in an environment of forgetfulness about these essentials. Of course, also, since we are North Americans, we are lacking many of the resources more easily available to Orthodox Christians elsewhere. This is most particularly so in Canada. We are bereft of relics of saints and of wonder-working anything (or at least we think that this is so). Because we are living in such a cynical, secularised society, and because this environment is always eating at us, always eroding us, we tend not to be able to recognise the gifts when the Lord does give them. Indeed, in Canada there are wonder-working icons and relics, but we do not talk much about them, or do anything about them. We neglect the supports He gives us.

The secular, cynical, materialistic environment in which we live is always eating at us, and most of the time we are unaware of it. If I may personify metal, a piece of steel is unaware of the fact that it is rusting, and it does not notice the corrosion. This is how it can be for me, for us, in our lives. I also often take no notice of the fact that there is something being corroded by rust. This obliviousness has been shown up in many of the automobiles I have driven in my life. I often did not notice the rust until it began to bubble out and something was ready to fall off. The rust is very insidious in its quiet, subtle work. So it is with our lives and the work of the tempter. As we are surprised when a muffler or a fender suddenly might fall away from our car, so we can also wonder what happened when a big chunk of our interior life can suddenly disappear. Well, it happened because I was not paying attention. I did not apply the oil of God’s mercy and love, and then it fell off. Then I have the trouble of welding this lost portion back on. This is certainly something that I cannot do by myself. It has to be the Lord who does this work. This work of repair can be very difficult and painful, just as it is with the re-integration of a severed limb. The process of re-welding also requires repentance, the complete turning about of our hearts and lives, and we generally are not so very competent at that.

In this context, it is not for nothing that, in this week of our Archdiocesan Assembly, we have had some important feast-days. Such co-ordination was not by simple human planning and design. Rather, Divine Providence prepares well. The Lord organised this, and it is His gift to us. This is why our meetings have happened during this particular week in July.

For instance, the Lord gave us this week the example of the Prophet Elias, whose life and words repeatedly exhorted the wayward to repentance. Despite his doubts and fears, the Lord was always with him and guiding him and protecting him. The Lord also gave us this week the example of the repentant and bold Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene. Using a red egg, she went so far as to proclaim and explain the Resurrection of Christ to the emperor. As did the Prophet Elias, so Saint Mary Magdalene served the Lord in and with her whole life. Now, today, it is the Feast of the wonder-working Pochaiv Icon of the Mother of God. This icon commemorates the miracle in the 17th century of the deliverance of the Pochaiv Dormition Monastery in Ukraine from the attacks by a Turkish army. The deliverance was not because of any supposed strength of the people there. It was the Mother of God herself who visibly defended the monastery. The army retreated. Some of the soldiers became Christians. During the same century, a very similar situation occurred at the Tikhvin Dormition Monastery in Russia. Because of the wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God, the Tikhvin monastery was spared from a Swedish invasion. The same protection was given later to the city of Novgorod, not so far away. The Mother of God herself was protecting the children of her Son. The Mother of God does not confine her activities and her protection only to monasteries in Russia, Ukraine and other Orthodox countries. She is involved in our lives here, in North America as well. Indeed, she is very much involved with and interested in our life here on this continent. Indeed, it was an icon of the Theotokos that Saint Herman used to stop both a tsunami and a forest-fire. Now, in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, there is an icon of the Mother of God which has for a long time now been myrrh-streaming, and which also miraculously survived a very destructive fire. I saw this icon not long after that fire, which destroyed the whole Altar area and the iconostas — except for this icon alone, on which there was not even smoke-damage.

The Mother of God is trying to encourage us to do what we are supposed to be doing as Orthodox Christians : remembering who we are, remembering that we are the children of her Son. This means that we are not Orthodox Christians in name only. It means that we are people who know the Gospel, and who live it out in our daily lives. We are those who are strong in Christ, who is our true Strength. Some may recall the books and movies called Star Wars, and the rôle of “the force”. People still talk about this “force”. The principles behind the stories may not be called Christian, but there is a useful element of truth involved. It is that we must remember who we are, and who we are in Christ. If we do not put our trust in Christ, and if we do not constantly rely on Him, then we cannot be strong. None of us can be strong without constantly calling out to the Lord for help, without constantly turning to him, without constantly putting our trust in Him.

From where does the Mother of God receive the strength to do what she does ? How does she turn away armies ? How does she protect from invaders ?

Today, we sang these hymns :

"Those who pray before your holy icon, O Lady, are vouchsafed healing and receive the knowledge of the true faith, and they repel the attacks of the Hagarenes. Therefore, entreat remission of sins for us who fall down before you. Enlighten our hearts to thoughts of piety, and raise a prayer to your Son to save our souls".

"Your icon of Pochaiv, O Theotokos, has become a source of healing and the confirmation of the Orthodox Faith. Therefore, deliver us who have recourse to you from calamity and temptation. Preserve your monastery unharmed. Confirm Orthodoxy in the surrounding lands, and forgive the sins of those who pray to you ; for you can do as you will".

"O victorious Leader of Triumphant Hosts, we, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos. As you possess invincible might, set us free from every calamity, so that we may sing, 'Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride'".

The Mother of God is the leader of glorious, triumphant hosts, of hosts of angels. From where does her strength come ? It comes from her perpetual “Yes” to her Son. She knows Him, and she knows how to ask Him for what is needed in complete accordance with His Love, with His Will.

When we listen to these reminders of the Mother of God to turn to her Son, we are able to have such strength. We can have such strength when we turn to her for her support and for her protection. We can, then, have the strength of those who have served in this country, such as the holy bishops Tikhon and Arseny. Through her intercessions, the Lord will give us the Grace to accomplish His will in wonderful ways, just as He did with them, and just as He did with other holy persons to whom we do not yet pay attention (because our eyes are not open enough to see clearly).

When we have been talking about our ancestors, we have been recognising that they understood these things. They arrived here with such a formation in their lives. They continued to live in this way, and they passed this way on to their children as well as they could. Let us remember this. Let not any one of us think that we who are newcomers are not, as well, the spiritual descendants of these Christ-loving and brave people, who came here more than a century ago and planted firmly and permanently the Cross of Christ. When we are at worship, we constantly remember the founders and benefactors of our Temples. These founders and benefactors are the spiritual ancestors of every one of us. They are our spiritual parents and grand-parents. In and through them, our Saviour has established His Church in this land. We are either blood-descendants of these founders, or we are the spiritual descendants who have been made a living part of this vineyard. We pray for them, those who are our ancestors, and they pray for us, who are their spiritual descendants. This is the inclusivity of the Orthodox Church, of the Body of Christ.

We are standing here today, doing what the Lord has created us to do. We are worshipping Him, and we are expressing our love to Him, and we are trying to be faithful to Him. Being who He has created us to be, standing here, glorifying Him and offering our lives to Him, let us ask the Lord to enable us to remember who we are ; to remember that, today and tomorrow and after tomorrow, we are His children. Let us ask Him to help us to remember that our focus and our home is at the Holy Table. This is our home : this Table. This Offering which we are making today, and yesterday, and the day before ; this Offering which we will be making day after day afterwards : this Offering is our home ; it is our place ; it is where we want to be ; it is where we must be. Our ancestors knew this well.

Come and see : Taste the Heavenly Banquet

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Come and see : Taste the Heavenly Banquet
14th Sunday after Pentecost
5 September, 2004
2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4 ; Matthew 22: 1-14


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel and Epistle today have to do with the more difficult side of Christian life. Particularly in the Apostle’s case, I, myself, would have great difficulty in doing what he had to do, which was to impose some discipline and order so as to correct people. Because they were particularly self-willed and rebellious, he had to correct them somewhat sharply, and that is why he is apologising at length in case he might hurt their feelings too much. Nevertheless, what had to be said, had to be said. There is always the temptation in Christian living to fall into ... well, there is always the temptation to fall into temptation. We all do that in one way or another, and to a greater or lesser extent. There is also the temptation in this whole environment to puff ourselves up and to think that we are something, and to try to make something of ourselves. This has always been a part of human fallen society, but it is especially the character of western societies, and of North America in particular.

The way North American society forms us is the opposite of what the Christian life is supposed to be about. Whereas in Christian life, we are supposed to be learning how, like Christ, to love selflessly, western society teaches us to love ourselves above everything. It teaches us always to have strings attached. By this, I mean that there are conditions. As people popularly say : “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”. There are many sayings of that sort. If we do something for someone else, we only do something good for someone else if they are going to do something good back to us. “Do not do good for someone else if there is nothing in it for you”. That is the way Canadian society has been tending to move for a long time now. Indeed, I have heard throughout my whole life : “What is in it for me ?” If I am going to do something, or refrain from doing something, then what advantage is it to me ? What advantage is it to me if I do something good for someone else ? “We have to look after number one (i.e. me)”. These are all secular, selfish and egocentric attitudes that completely clash with the Gospel.

On the other hand, the teaching of Christ, the example of Christ, is that we do good because Christ is good ; we love, because Christ is love. Furthermore, we do not expect anything back. If we get nothing back but abuse, we still give love and we do good to the others. We do what is the right thing, in accordance with the standard of Christ. That standard is — whether we pay attention or not — one of the reasons the Beatitudes come to us every Sunday (and even on weekdays if we offer the Divine Liturgy). The Beatitudes are with us all the time. If we were in a monastery (as I was a couple of weeks ago in Romania), every single solitary day there is the Divine Liturgy. Every single solitary day, they are hearing those Beatitudes. The Beatitudes come to us because our Saviour is telling us in them about how to love even if people do not love us in return. The Beatitudes show us how to behave in accordance with His will, even if people do go so far as to abuse us.

In the context of this subject, I always seem to have to talk about Saint Juvenaly, our first priest-martyr. He was not the first martyr in North America, but he was the first priest-martyr in North America (in Alaska), near the end of the 18th century, just before the turn of the 19th century. Saint Juvenaly had been one of those who had been zealously active in Alaska, doing missionary work. Thus it was that he went to western Alaska where the Yup’iks live. As he was approaching them on his boat (I am told by the actual descendants of those people), he was misunderstood in two ways. When he was approaching, the fact that he was wearing his gold Cross appeared to be a threat to the shaman of the area, and to their faith, because it seemed to be some sort of religious invasion. Thus, they were going to try to stop him. It was a sort of religious invasion, but it was not what they thought it was. He was not a foreign shaman trying to take over. Nevertheless, as Father Juvenaly was nearing the shore on this boat, they started to shoot arrows at him. The descendants of these Yup’ik people say to this day that their ancestors thought that he must have been “nuts” (a sort of a crazy man), because he was waving his hand. Mistakenly, they thought this hand-waving was to brush away those arrows as though they were mosquitoes or some other insect. What they did not understand was that Saint Juvenaly was doing exactly what the Gospel teaches, and what our Saviour directs us to do under those circumstances. When the arrows started to come at him, he knew what was going to happen and what his end would be. Therefore, he began with his hand to make the Sign of the Cross upon them, upon the people who were killing him. That is exactly what happened. The descendants of those people now understand. They were converted by someone else afterwards ; and now, for almost 200 years these descendants have been faithful Orthodox Christians living in that same area – very faithful and strong Orthodox Christians. In addition, they have Saint Juvenaly in heaven to pray for them. He is their own martyr at their own making, as it were, and he continues to protect them until this day.

A considerable amount of the Christian life is backwards according to the standards and ways of the world. Regardless, it is important for us, despite what the world thinks of us, to persevere in what seems to be so strange to the world. This is because it is only in this way that there is life-giving freedom and true, real love, substantial love, eternal love. It is love without borders : love without conditions. It is just plain life-giving love in Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel today, the Saviour is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven : the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven, and what happens when people do not take seriously their invitation from Him to this banquet. As we heard, there were people who were frivolous about the invitation. They did not take it seriously, and they did not bother to come. In some cases, they even killed the messenger. Now this parable is exactly directed at the people of Christ – the Jewish people of those days – because they had been given a responsibility in God. This responsibility was rooted in the fact that long ago God had revealed Himself to the ancestors of the Jews that He is love. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jakob, and many others besides them and after them had a personal experience of God and of His personal love for them. It was to be their work and responsibility as a people to show to all their neighbours what joy and hope there is in this loving relationship with God. They were expected by the Lord to be a witness to the world as a nation, as a people. Just as our Saviour speaks about our need to be yeast and salt, so was it the responsibility of the Jewish people, the chosen people of God, to give a good and lively example to everyone else. However, since we human beings so frequently tend to take the easy way, and so frequently do nothing, even this is a visible sign of God’s love for us, because of the unimaginable extent of His patience. Going their own way, they decided instead that because they were the chosen people, they were therefore the exclusive people.

Instead of being a light to everyone else and revealing the truth about the one true God and about His love for us, they became a closed and exclusive club, as it were. This, of course, is contrary to what God had sent them to do. Therefore, when our Saviour speaks about sending out into the highways and the byways and bringing in anyone – anyone at all – to fill up His banquet hall, this is exactly what He was addressing. He was letting us know about what would come : the mission to Gentiles — to us. He was preparing us for the mission to the people who would hear the voice of Christ and respond. They would hear His voice and say “yes”. They would hear His call, and come to His banquet. They would hear His call, and even more importantly, they would try to do His will. It would now no longer be understood to be an exclusive call. Indeed, this call cannot at all be interpreted as an exclusive call. With their hearts responding readily, large numbers of Jewish people have, from the very beginning, heard the call of Christ and come to Him, and entered into His banquet-hall. The whole idea of having an exclusive nation was broken with the coming of Jesus Christ, and the development of the Christian mission to us, the Gentiles.

Sometimes, Orthodox people still fall into the temptation about this idea of exclusivity. It is very important for us, especially here in North America (where we are still relatively free of this), to be diligent about keeping out the idea of exclusivity. This is important because as always, if I think that I merit something (regardless of what my ministry or call is), if I dare to think that it is my own ministry, my own call, my own privilege, my own anything, then our Saviour is very quick to respond, as it were : “All right, you can think like that if you insist, but I will find someone else who is ready to listen to Me and to do My will”. He does do just this. Therefore, even in our ministries in Christ, even with our particular gifts that Christ gives to us in living our Christian life, none of us had better dare to think that it is “mine” exclusively and alone. It is so sadly ironic how we human beings can be. It seems that we never grow up. It seems that we very much tend to stay emotionally and even spiritually for the most part at the age of two. At that age, of course, everything is “mine”. It belongs to no-one else. It is “mine”. We seem to be frozen in this condition. It is amazing. We tell ourselves that we have grown out of it, but if we were to look at ourselves honestly, that attitude of “mine” is still there. We can recall the story of The Lord of the Rings, with Smeagol-Gollum and his “Precious” and his all-consuming, obsessive fascination with the precious ring. We seem rather often to tend to be too condescendingly dismissive of the poor benighted chap. Even in flash-back recollections of how his torture began, not many readers or viewers seem to grasp the full import of the death-dealing process and the depth of distortion that occurred in him once he became the slave of the ring and of the evil associated with it. Not many see how Gollum, himself, became a lie.

When we come to the point of considering the details about our lives, about the seasons in our lives, about the portions of our lives, in what way are we so different from Gollum or from a two-year-old ? With His love, Christ breaks us out of this possessiveness, this obsessive, exclusive possessiveness. It is important that we learn how to grow up, and to break out of any ideas at all – in any part of our life – about exclusivity. Orthodox Christian faith, which is life in the love of Jesus Christ, is inclusive, not exclusive. Yes, it is true, there are some regulations, and there are some boundaries, but these are not for the sake of exclusivity. Rather, they are for the sake of good order. Our Lord Jesus Christ on His Cross, with His arms outstretched, was forgiving all those who were killing Him. With His arms outstretched, He was welcoming you and me into His Kingdom, along with the Repentant Thief. Our Saviour is inviting all peoples into His Kingdom. Christ is the Light and Life of the world. It is our responsibility as Orthodox Christians to be, in and with Christ Himself, a light shining in the darkness, a light to the Gentiles, a light to the nations, a light to the world, a light of Jesus Christ’s love. It is our responsibility to be bringing people into the Body of Christ. It is our responsibility – each one of us – with the net of the love of Jesus Christ, to catch human beings with His love, to bring them into His light, to bring them into His love, to unite them to His Body, and to bring them to this Banquet-Table in which we are about to participate.

It is our responsibility to use the talents and gifts that God has given to each one of us, gifts of love, compassion and mercy, to bring His love, His life, to the people around us : to the person that God is sending to us everyday, and perhaps especially to beggars on the street. It is our responsibility compassionately to bring His love to those He sends, with the hope and the prayer that they will seek His love and ask to come and see. It is not for us ever to be bashing people over the head with the Gospel as some people seem to do. When we turn on the radio or the television, we very frequently see one or another person doing just this : bashing other people over the head with the Gospel, and preaching to them about things that do not yet make any sense to them, because they probably do not yet know Who Jesus Christ truly is. It is indeed odd. People are ready to quote long passages of the Scriptures to people who have never read the Bible, and yet they expect such persons to understand what all this means.

What does the Gospel mean ? No-one can know what it means until after having been introduced to it. Nowadays, very many persons have no exposure at all to the Bible, quite unlike the environment of my own youth (in Alberta in the 1950s), when most children already knew very well Who is Christ, and already knew many scriptural passages by heart. Indeed, most people in those days regularly went to church services. How did and do children get introduced at an early age to the Gospel ? They were introduced in the first place by the love of human beings, by the witness of the love of human beings who knew and loved Christ personally. It is not different with adults. They, too, must be introduced. They will often ask us us : “What is this love ; what is this hope ; what is this joy that you have ? How can you manage to live your life in the midst of all this pain and sorrow with such joy and such hope, when it seems that no-one else can do it ?” Such a moment is precisely when we would say : “Come and see”. They would come ; and as there are in this parish, there would be some people waiting to talk about their love for Christ, and for the Gospel. When they speak, they will not start talking about this or that prophesy, or about who is this or that prophet. They will, out of love, and as a loving reflex, talk about Who God is to us. Newcomers have to be shown, little by little, for instance as in Genesis 1 (also called 1 Moses 1), how God created everything. We have to begin at the beginning with the ABCs, because we in North America are really very much like those who lived in the early times of the Christian faith, times in which no-one knew anything. Now, we can again say with some certitude that no-one knows anything about the Gospel. We can very safely assume that no-one knows anything about the Orthodox Christian way, either. We have to start from zero, and before anything else, show them that God loves them.

We also have to try in some fashion to fit in elements of the Twelve-Step Programme in which so many people are finding some sort of consolation in their difficulties in life. It is a good introduction to Christ and to the Christian way to give people some form of the Twelve-Step Programme to begin with. This is because one of the first things that a person has to do in the Twelve-Step Programme is to admit that whatever one is addicted to (and people can be addicted to very many and surprising things), whatever it is, one cannot get out of the addiction by oneself alone. They say that we need a “higher power”, but we know that this means God. We need God’s help. We can help them to realise that they are truly in need of God’s help to get through life, to get out of whatever holes they have gotten into.

When we are beginning to introduce people to Christ and the Church, we first teach them about Genesis, just as was done in apostolic times. In so doing, we teach them about the evidence of God’s love in Genesis, and then we continue, following this theme of God’s love, in Exodus. Once we have talked about Genesis and Exodus, we will have hope that they can begin to understand something about everything else. We really have to begin with the beginning. We certainly still speak about Jesus Christ, but we have to talk about Him in His full context. We cannot begin simply by reading the entire Gospel according to Matthew, for instance. If we read the Gospel according to Matthew to someone, the Gospel according to Matthew is full and overflowing with references to the Old Testament (also called the Old Covenant). Matthew cannot be understood properly without understand also the references to the Old Testament. Therefore, if we would begin with Matthew, then we will be required at the same time and immediately to make the necessary connections with the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings which we find referred to in this Gospel. Perhaps Matthew is in fact a good catechetical tool to begin with, because we begin with the fulfilment and the foreshadowing found in the Old Testament. However we may begin this introduction, it is the Lord Who is guiding it all in and through us.

Witnessing really involves how I, as a Christian, treat other human beings. How do I behave in Christ ? Do I bring Christ, His love, His hope with me when I am shopping at my grocer’s ? When I am standing in a very long line and being impatient because it is hot and people are being grumpy, do I bring Christ with me then ? Do I, as a bank teller, bring Christ with me when I am encountering someone who is really nasty ? Bank tellers seem to receive the worst of this sort of behaviour. This is because when it comes to people and money, well, people seem to become angry and impatient and aggressive very quickly. This is surely why banks offer so many machines now. People can be very nasty about their money and any small mistakes — a penny here and a penny there. On the other hand, it may be that just because they are feeling grumpy, or they have had a fight with someone that day, they take it out on the nearest bank-teller or clerk in a store. When such people are doing that sort of thing to me, do I show them Christ’s patient love in response, or do I tell them that their mother is a hamster ? Which way is it ? What sort of response do I give ? If I say to them that their mother is a hamster, I am then behaving just as everyone else in the world would. However, if I am patient and I do not answer back with the same ill-treatment, but instead if I have some sort of real peace within myself, then while I may be suffering this abuse, they will not take it out on the next person. Two and two sometimes add up to four. If I go so far as to pray for such an irate person, perhaps it may help that person to make two and two add up to four faster. Indeed, we may well understand that we meet such wounded and angry people every day.

Our Saviour invites us to His banquet. As we participate in this banquet, He gives us a responsibility to become co-workers with Him : co-workers with Him in His field ; co-workers in building His buildings ; co-workers in strengthening the members of His Body, in grafting on members to His Body. Let us be the good respondents to His invitations, those who are (because of love) eager and willing to work together with Him in His Kingdom, to eat together with Him in His Kingdom. Let us, in our co-working, glorify our Saviour in every part of our lives, every day of our lives, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Sharing our Hope

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Sharing our Hope
80th Anniversary of Holy Resurrection Sobor
12 September, 2004
Hebrews 3:1-4 ; Matthew 16:13-18


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The readings of today are those of the Altar Feast of this Holy Temple. This feast-day is the Dedication of the Temple of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem, which took place originally just before the first time the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was served there in the fourth century. This feast-day is usually offered on 13 September ; but we are marking it today, Sunday, when the most people can be present to mark this day, and this very significant anniversary.

When the Apostle speaks about our being like members of a building, and that the Builder is God, it is important for us to remember that it is the same Apostle who talked to us about being members of the Body of Christ. In both cases, the same principle applies in our Christian living. If a building is not properly built, if the stones or the wood that constitute the building are not properly put into place and each part is not doing its job, the building can very easily fall down (especially if there should be any sort of stress, such as an earthquake or windstorm). However, if a building is properly constructed, it cannot easily be shaken down by an earthquake. Vancouver has many buildings constructed in modern times according to the modern disciplines of physics and architecture that are built for this exact purpose. So then why do we now hear about various buildings falling down here, and in other parts of Canada ?

It is not only because of our descent more and more into crime and corruption, which causes the production of low-quality structures that unexpectedly collapse. It is also because are making more and more laws to try to protect ourselves from each other. The more we make such laws, the more complex every operation becomes, and more opportunities then can be found for the unscrupulous to circumvent the laws and regulations. There is a great loss of honour and respect for ourselves and for the other as we become obsessed with making money and acquiring power. The next consequence of this selfish attitude is that we can have no concern for the health and welfare of those who live in, work in, and use these structures. The laws that we are making now in great number were not necessary before ; but even so, it does not seem to matter how many laws we make. These laws of protection do not work because we in Canada, in general, are forgetting all about Jesus Christ. Especially since the 1960s, people have been more and more forgetting (apparently often quite deliberately) about Jesus Christ. They have been reducing Him to some sort of philosophical idea (at the very best). They want to reduce Jesus Christ to something or someone that they can control, and as a result, they lose Him altogether. Jesus Christ is not some sort of philosophical idea. He is not some sort of system. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and no-one can control God.

On the other hand, there is a strong tendency nowadays to misunderstand completely our relationship with Jesus Christ, and to forget that He is the Love of God incarnate – the Love of God who has taken flesh for us. Jesus Christ is the One whom God the Father sent. He is His Only-begotten Son. Because God so much loves the world that He wants us to be saved, He sent His Only-begotten Son (see John 3:16 ff). He allowed us to abuse Him, and to kill Him so that His Son could rise victorious over sin and death, and finally break down the barriers between us and the Lord, that we, human beings had established. We humans seem to want to blame God for all the things that are wrong in the world. We habitually blame God for all the terrible things that are happening. In fact, I hear this sort of thing said rather too frequently. It is not at all the case that the Lord is to blame for the mess. These horrible things that are happening on earth are our fault. Just last week, I was asked why God is allowing all these horrible hurricanes and typhoons to happen and to cause so much destruction. It is not that God wants all these hurricanes, horrible storms and earthquakes to be afflicting us. Rather, it is because we human beings as a race are so stubborn, so rebellious, so rejecting of Him. The fact is that we are so sunk in our selfishness and our criminal activities in the world that the weather is deteriorating very rapidly, and the condition of the earth, itself, is deteriorating rapidly.

If we Christians, especially we Orthodox Christians, would remember to pray, and be willing actually to pray, then things could be better. For instance, just recently Hurricane Yvonne was supposed to cause horrible destruction on Jamaica. It did cause much destruction, but the main part of the hurricane missed the main part of Jamaica and went to the west. Of course, everyone was surprised at this last minute change. Why did that happen ? The people of Jamaica have nothing ; they have no resources, and they are poorer than Russians or Romanians. They are very, very poor. They have nothing, except prayer. It was nice that they said this on the news, because the news broadcasts (especially Canadian news) usually erase that element. However, God is merciful, so the news reports said that the Jamaicans could only pray. Even the government said that there was nothing left to do but to pray. The people of Jamaica did pray, and I believe that this is why the hurricane moved and did not go straight over Jamaica as the meteorologists were predicting that it would do. The people prayed and trusted God to save them, and they are not even Orthodox Christians (see Acts 10).

We Orthodox Christians have a very great responsibility to pray, and to take our Saviour, Jesus Christ, very seriously. In a similar way, people would like to say that communism was overthrown because the American government was very clever in sowing the seeds of discontent, desire for material goods, and that there was American manipulation behind the scenes. The fact is, however, that these activities were not accomplishing anything. The American and western European interference in Russia made things much worse, in general. Communism went down for only one reason, which is very much neglected in people’s consciousness. In the first place, communism was overthrown because of the many millions of martyrs that Russia has had in the last century. In the second place, very many faithful people continued to pray to God to save them. It is because of their prayers, and because of the blood and the prayers of the martyrs that the whole system began to change.

There are many prophecies about Russia and its future contribution to the world. Orthodox prophets predict that Russia will be the source of future peace and growth of Christianity in the world. If it is going to be so, it will be because people were faithful to Jesus Christ throughout the course of the horrible suffering in the last century. It will also be because, in Russia and in other countries, people are still being faithful, and they are still depending on Jesus Christ. The faithful people are continuing to trust our Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation. Our Saviour is answering their prayers. We, Orthodox Christians in North America, have to remember our responsibility and to act on it. We are called to witness for Jesus Christ. We are called to witness for Him who is the Truth, plain and simple. He is the Truth. Truth is not some sort of philosophical idea (contrary to what many Canadians think). There is only one Truth, not many truths. Jesus Christ is the one and the only Truth. We Orthodox Christians understand that, and we live in accordance with that. It is our responsibility to show everyone else around us how it is that Jesus Christ brings joy to our hearts and our lives in the midst of all sorts of difficulties, sorrow and pain. He brings joy ; He brings hope ; He brings power to our lives. He brings a sense of direction. He opens doors in front of us. Things that seem to be impossible do happen.

Just a short while ago, I had the blessing to have lunch with a man who was told by the doctors two years ago that he had just one week to live. However, this man and his family are believers, and they prayed. Even though he is supposed to be dead, he is not. It is not God’s time for him to depart. This man is not taking it lying down either – he is building his house even though he is not supposed to be able to do any of that. This is because of the love of Jesus Christ. Perhaps in due course he will die, as it happens to everyone sooner or later. However, it will happen in God’s time and it will happen when this man will have testified enough to the love of Jesus Christ and to the hope that Jesus Christ brings. The Lord brings much hope to this man and to his family. He is not the only one, but he is the most recent example that I can mention to you. God is exceedingly merciful to us, and it is important for us Orthodox Christians to trust in His mercy. It is important for us to turn to Him and to turn to the Mother of God who is always protecting us. It is important to run to them in hope, and to pray fervently for those things that we need, so that we may glorify Jesus Christ. Our Saviour will give us what we need in accordance with His will ; and in doing that, He increases our confidence and our joy in Him.

It is our responsibility to share our hope and our love with our friends, neighbours and the persons that Jesus Christ sends to us day-by-day. It is important for us to share this love. We do not have to talk all the time, as do the television and radio evangelists. In North America, words are so cheap. In North America, it seems not to matter what anyone says ; people do not find it convincing. In North America, you have to do the love of Jesus Christ to other people. In this community, you are celebrating eighty years of Christian witness. This parish was the first Orthodox community to be established in Vancouver ; and throughout the years, you have drawn many people into the Body of Christ because of the loving hospitality you have shown to them. I can tell you that I am one of them. I experienced this love and this care for me amongst you thirty years ago when I first came here as a student. Because of this love, many people have come into the Body of Christ through this community. It is important for each one to pay attention to how well you take care of each other ; how well you support each other, nurture each other, and encourage each other in being faithful to Jesus Christ. It is important for you to go in the right and life-giving path, living in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you do these things, anyone coming into this community who is suffering from the terrible pains of life in this world, will feel the love, concern and care in Jesus Christ that you have for each other. They will be drawn to this community by your love, and by the doing (not just the talking) of your love. It is important to do the things that show that you love each other : you telephone each other and ask how you are ; you find out if someone is ill and you take care of that person ; you find out if someone is out of work, and you help that person to find work in one way or another. If the Lord gives it to us, it is the responsibility of each one of us to help and nurture the other person.

There are many amongst you, who have arrived recently from Russia or Russian-speaking lands, or from other Orthodox countries abroad. Between these Orthodox countries and Canada there are similarities and dissimilarities. I really hope that you would do your best, if possible, to avoid imitating the typically Canadian habit of standing in the back of the Temple and as far back as possible (and even outside the Temple). Everywhere I go in Russia, Ukraine and Romania, the faithful people are not hiding in the back. They are coming near to the front. Canadians avoid being in the front because they still remember sitting under the nose of the teacher in school and being afraid that the teacher might ask a question. No-one wants to be the first to answer a question in school because of fear of giving the wrong answer. However, here in the Temple of the Lord, we are not in school. I do not usually ask questions during a homily, but if someone were to give a wrong answer, I would not make fun of the person (or bite). What matters is that we are here in the Temple of the Lord. Throughout two millennnia, Orthodox Christians everywhere have always tried to come as close to the Holy Table as possible. That is why when you go to a Temple in Russia, Ukraine, Romania and other countries, you will find that people are all crowded up at the front. They want to be as close to the Grace of God as possible. There is Grace pouring from the Holy Table, from the Altar of the Lord, and they want to be near. That is why, when I am giving Holy Communion, I always want to stand in the Royal Doors (which is the old, historic way) in order to allow the people to come as close as possible to the Holy Table when they are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It is normal for you to come and be near, but it is not so normal to be crammed in the back like sardines. It is nicer to be up front where the windows are open and you can breathe. Please remember your heritage. Do not be afraid to come near to the Lord. The Lord loves you. He is waiting to give you His Gifts and His Grace. Do not be afraid to come close to the Lord and be near Him. You will receive His love, His nurturing care and His Grace (and you will not be bitten). I remember very vividly that, in Constantinople, in Greece and Egypt, the faithful are very comfortably moving near, coming up to the icons, touching them and kissing them all the time. If you get caught in the traffic of liturgical movement, you should not worry but just step out of the way, and then return to you place again. This is the living nature of our liturgical assemblies ; this is why we do not usually have much furniture in our Temples, and this is why all Orthodox cultures have this spaciousness in their Temples. Orthodox worship does not entail our being a spectator or part of a sedentary audience ; but rather, living, active, moving participation. Our worship is truly organic.

We are co-workers with the Lord, and this is expressed in our worship. Everything in our worship, everything in our life is focussed on our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our worship and our whole life are testifying, along with the Apostle Peter : “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. We understand that if we are doing anything good, if we are building anything, then we are doing it in, with, and for our Saviour. In this case, a beautiful community has been established, which worships in a beautifully appointed Temple. This was possible only because the faithful people here have done everything in, for, and with our Saviour. Therefore, it is and has been because of love. It is because of Christ’s love, love beyond expressing, that we can confess, along with the Apostle Peter, Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is because of this love that we can have faith, which also means confidence and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of this faith rooted in true love that our Saviour might say to us, as He did to the Apostle Peter, “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”. Our building (which really means this community) will resist all spiritual storms and spiritual attacks as long as it is firmly and resolutely founded in Christ, and only Christ.

Let us, carried by the prayers and love of all those who have gone before us, offer ourselves whole-heartedly to our Saviour today, tomorrow and always. Let us offer our single-minded co-operation to our Lord. Let us ask our Saviour to refresh us by the Holy Spirit, so that our whole lives will proclaim every day the glory of the Most Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Healing of two Women

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Healing of two Women
24th Sunday after Pentecost
4 November, 2004
Ephesians 2:14-22 ; Luke 8:41-56


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel, when our Saviour was surrounded with people, one woman who had had a hemorrhage that had lasted for many years, and who could find no cure, was so desperate that she sneaked up behind Him, and touched just the hem of His garment. Immediately she was healed. Then our Saviour said : “‘Who touched me ?’” The Apostles answered (to paraphrase) : "Lord, how can You say that ? There is a big crowd around You, and everyone is pushing against You. What do You mean ?"

There is touching, and then there is touching. In this case, our Lord knew very well the faith of the woman who had touched Him. She had strong hope that if she were able just to touch Him, and not disturb Him at all, God would have mercy on her, and heal her. That is exactly what happened. Because of her faith, she was healed by touching the hem of His garment. Every time I hear this passage from the Gospel, it reminds me of the times that I have had the blessing to visit Ukraine. During this past year, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Romania for the first time. When you are in these countries in particular, it is very much like what we just heard and saw in today’s Gospel reading. Our Saviour is surrounded by people who are pressing close to Him. Why are they pressing close to Him ? They are trying to get as near as possible to Him in order to receive some sort of blessing. They want to be close to our Saviour, partly because of love, and partly because they want to receive Grace from the Lord God. This woman, in particular, wants healing, and she receives it. If a bishop is going anywhere in Ukraine or in Romania (especially at the end of church services), he becomes surrounded by people. He then has to touch their heads, and they are anxious to touch his vestments in order to take a blessing from the Lord God.

There is a monastery in the village of Putna (in the north of Romania), and the feast-day of this monastery is the Dormition of the Mother of God. I especially remember that on the Feast of the Dormition, there were about 10,000 people there, and three bishops serving (it was out-of-doors, on a special stage). When the bishops left the Altar, it was almost impossible for us bishops to move because the people surrounded us. They were asking for blessings right, left, and centre. It was a Grace-filled moment. For me, in particular, in such moments, it is possible to feel drained because of such a press of people, and because so many people are asking for so much all at once. It is more than a human being can give. This situation forces me, the bishop, to rely on God simply to pass the Grace through me to them as I touch them, and give them the blessings that they are asking for. As a result of that, such an experience is no longer wearying, tiring, and dragging. Instead, it becomes life-giving, and renewing to me. While the bishop is allowing God’s Grace to pass through him to the people, the Lord’s Grace is renewing him ; and the faith of the people is renewing him. As the bishop is giving to the people from God, the people are giving back to him their love, and their faith in Jesus Christ.

This is the way it is in the Body of Christ. The bishop or the priest may give God’s Grace to the people, but the people’s love for Jesus Christ comes back to the priest or the bishop, and renews his strength at the same time. We are all together members of the Body of Christ. In Christ, we are like the building about which the Apostle Paul is writing in the Epistle today. We are all together supporting and strengthening each other, no matter what is our function in the Body of Christ. We all need each other. We all support each other. We all strengthen each other. We pray for each other. We nurture each other. We encourage each other in the love of Jesus Christ.

Today, our Lord resurrects the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. Everyone knew that the girl was dead. However, our Saviour had more things to show them. People think that they know everything, but they do not. They think that we are limited by a normal, average way of life, and when people die – that is it. There are two reasons why our Saviour did what He did. In raising the little girl from the dead, our Saviour reveals that He, Himself, is the Lord of the living, and not of the dead, and that He is the Giver of life (see Matthew 22:32). However, this does not mean that when anyone dies, the Lord abandons him/her. On the contrary, when people die, this is not the moment of eternal death or ceasing to be. Rather, after death we live in a different manner. Our Lord shows us Who He is. He shows us that His love for us is bringing this same life, and this same resurrection from the dead in the future as well as in the present. In her rising from the dead, He shows us what was coming with His own rising from the dead.

Our Saviour is also assuring you and me that, in our love for Him, we can have confidence that, as He has promised us, the resurrection from the dead really will happen. We can have confidence that it really will happen. If we love Jesus Christ, and if we are alive in Jesus Christ, then His Resurrection will be to eternal life for us. That is our hope for ourselves, and it is our hope for everyone we love. Because of the love of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and life eternal in Him are, in His love, possible.

Our Lord is calling you and me to live in love with Him. This means that as much as possible, we should be trying to live a life of purity and of cleanness. There are no human beings who do not sin ; but, in confession and Holy Communion, we have the way to healing and cleansing from sin. Our Lord gives us the possibility to renew our baptism in confession and in Holy Communion. If we slip, we can be healed, and cleansed from the dirt of sin. We can be renewed in confessing our sins, and in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. This enables us to do better. The way of the Orthodox Christian, the way of the Gospel, the way of Jesus Christ is not the way of the world. It is not the way of secular Canada. People very often make fun of those who try to do what is right, who try to live in accordance with what is right, and who try to follow the way of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the mocking, let us persevere in the love of Jesus Christ. Let us keep on doing and being what is right. With God’s help, let us not worry if people make fun of us or if they say negative things about us. Let us pray, saying : “Lord have mercy” for those who do not like us, and for those who are abusing us (as in the last phrases of the Beatitudes that we sang this morning). If we, in Christ, through praying for others, can find the way to forgive them, then we open the door for them to find the same strength, the same hope, the same love in Jesus Christ that sustains us. It is this love that enables us to overcome all sorts of pain, betrayals, and difficulties in human life

Brothers and sisters, our Saviour is with us here today. He is giving Himself to us in this Divine Liturgy. We are here because we love Him. He is offering Himself to us because He loves us. In effect, He is saying to you, and to me : “Come to Me, all you that labour, and all you that are weary in your labour, and I will give you rest” (see Matthew 11:28). Let us come to Him this morning. Let us receive Him. Let us allow Him to give us rest and peace in our hearts. Let us allow Him to give us hope in our lives, so that we may have strength to carry on, and to glorify Him today, tomorrow, the next day, and the rest of our lives : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 2005

Sunday before the Feast of Theophany

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Witnessing to the Love of Jesus Christ
Sunday before the Feast of Theophany
2 January, 2005
2 Timothy 4:5-8 ; Mark 1:1-8


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Forerunner is in the wilderness. He is proclaiming the way of the Lord ; he is preparing the way for the Lord. Very soon we will be celebrating the Theophany of the Saviour. We will be celebrating His Baptism. Actually, it is the first of the feasts of the Holy Trinity. We always think of the Feast of the Holy Trinity as being celebrated at Pentecost, but, in fact, this is the first one. When the Saviour is baptised in the waters, we hear the voice of the Father, who says that our Lord is the beloved Son, and the Spirit appears in the form of a dove.

The Prophet and Forerunner is preparing the way for the Lord. This is our universal Christian responsibility since that time. Our responsibility is, as we live our lives, to prepare the way for the Lord. Each one of us, having been baptised into Christ, and having put on Christ, bears Christ. Each one of us bears Christ wherever we go, and whatever we do. Because people are aware that we are Christians, they measure Christ by what they see in us.

People have a hard time accepting Christ. They really do. The whole world resists Christ because people cannot believe that God could love us this much, and in such a way. Therefore, the world is constantly inventing substitutes – every sort of alternative possible – except the real love of Jesus Christ Himself. Our responsibility, therefore, is to be faithful to Jesus Christ, to try our best to live as a Christian ought to live. This is not an easy thing because the Adversary is always looking for ways to undermine and distract us. I cannot remember where it was because I am getting so old, but some years ago I read that forgetfulness is one of the chief tools of the Adversary. In self-centredness, people become separated from each other, concerned only about themselves, forgetting who they are, and why they are. In this case we could check The Great Divorce by C S Lewis.

With this focus on the self in the midst of which we are living in Canada (one might as well say in the whole world now), one could say that we are becoming an insane race. I have come to understood through health care professionals, that one of the chief signs of mental illness is preoccupation with one’s self, obsession with one’s self, thinking only about one’s self. That is what makes a person get completely off balance, and sometimes quite sick. One becomes fascinated with one’s self, and afraid of everything. Everything circles around “me”. Our whole society is like that. That is why I say we are coming to some sort of collective insanity now.

The Orthodox way is the opposite of this. It is true that we ought to have a certain concern about ourselves, because our Saviour says that we are to love others as God loves us. Love for others and concern for oneself must be in balance. God loves us with self-emptying love, and we have to love other people with the same love – self-emptying love, not selfish love : no strings attached. The Saviour came, and what did He do ? He washed the apostles’ feet. He healed people. He taught people. He resurrected people. He cared for people. He served them. He Himself says : “‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’” (Mark 10:45). The Orthodox way is the way of service. If we are going to imitate Christ, and if we are going to show Christ to people around us, we have to be doing what He did and what He still does to this day for us, and with us, and that is, to serve. We serve Him by caring about other people’s welfare, taking care of other people in practical ways, helping other people, saying a good word when a good word needs to be said, supporting, strengthening, nurturing people, praying for people so that God might heal them.

If, however, on the other hand, we allow “Big Red” to mess around with our minds and hearts, we quickly forget. We quickly forget, and get distracted by this and by that. Distraction of all sorts is one of Big Red’s chief tools. Then the Lord has to send someone to wake us up and remind us about who we are, Whom we are serving, and which way we are going. Sometimes, in this distracted forgetfulness, we can end up going quite far down. We have to be careful. We have to watch out. Saint Seraphim, for much of his life while he was living in the desert of the forest, was doing things like wearing chains and sleeping on a bed of rocks. To this day, if we were to go to Valamo Monastery in Finland, or to the museum of the Orthodox Church in Kuopio in Finland, or to other places also, we could see chains there on display, heavy chains that the monks used to wear. Saint Seraphim said that that was not really necessary, so why would they do that ? Essentially, monks would wear these in order to help them remember, in order to help them not to forget who it is that they are – sinners, and Who is their salvation, and Whom it is that they are serving – Jesus Christ. That is not to say that we should be wearing chains, necessarily. I think people might lock us up if we did, and give us all sorts of “nice” medication.

The time of the chains is past. The purpose of them is to help us remember Who is Jesus Christ ; who am I ; and Whom we are serving. Whom am I supposed to be like ? I am supposed to be like Jesus Christ, full of His love. Saint Seraphim said that our first purpose in life is to acquire the Holy Spirit. We have been given the Holy Spirit when we were baptised and chrismated. However, it is for us to allow the Holy Spirit to grow in us, to nurture our hearts, to enliven our hearts, and to give us the ability to live in the love of Jesus Christ. We have to be doing what is necessary to allow the Holy Spirit to grow. What do we do, then ? How do we acquire the Holy Spirit ?

First, we ask the Lord to be with us and to give us the strength to follow Him. We ask Him to fill us, to renew us, and to refresh us in His love. Then we ask Him to help us establish a rhythm in our daily lives. To grow in Christ and to pray, we have to have a regular rhythm. To pray requires that we have to go to the same place approximately at the same time, and say approximately the same things. Repetition, as the Latin saying goes, is the mother of learning. When it comes to spiritual life, it is even more so (because of our strong tendency to forgetfulness). Our spiritual teachers always say to us that we have to have a prayer corner. We have to have a place in our homes, in our rooms, where we pray. We have to go there regularly. We have to go there approximately at the same time. We should be saying the morning and evening prayers if we can possibly do it. However, at least we should be saying “Lord have mercy” over and over again, or the Jesus Prayer in the longest form, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”. We should be saying this over and over again in front of the icons before the Lord. Saying this prayer before the icons, over and over again, with a bit of concentration, warms up the heart, and, as well, it softens our heart towards people who are not nice to us.

We must say “Lord have mercy” about people who are, shall we say, at the least, irritating towards us, or at a greater level, very tempting to us (as some people are). Even in our families it can be a big temptation when people squeeze the toothpaste the wrong way, or when they eat with their mouths open, or do something else (as in Shrek 2, where the donkey makes noises with his mouth all the time). People do things like this, and it can become a big irritation. Saying “Lord have mercy” under those circumstances can settle things down considerably. I can say this because I have experience. These things do happen. The Lord’s Grace comes when we say this prayer. That is the point of our saying it. We have to open our hearts and be in the Lord’s presence. We have to put ourselves in the Lord’s presence.

People are often saying to me that life is so chaotic, and it is so difficult in the circumstances of daily family life to pray as we are supposed to in the prayer corner before the icons. They find that the only place where it seems that there is time to pray is in the bathroom, in the car, or on the bus. All right – why not, as long as it is regular. If we can pray on the bus, so much the better. It is a good thing for us to pray on the bus, because Canadians, like Britons, do not talk to each other on the bus very much. No-one will disturb us, unless someone starts a conversation. We can sit there and pretend that we are reading a book. No-one will say anything to us most of the time. Thus, we can say our prayers quietly on the bus or on the train. Some people use cassettes. They record the morning or evening prayers for themselves, put the cassette in the car, and they pray while driving. There are all sorts of ways to put ourselves in the Lord’s presence. To pray while we are driving is an important thing, especially because of the way people drive nowadays. People get angry and impatient so quickly. It is good for us not to join the angry, impatient crowd, but instead to be quick to say “Lord have mercy” while driving. All these things help to nurture the growth of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. All these things help us to acquire the Holy Spirit.

How do we know that there is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives ? The only way we can tell is by love. Do we love ? Do we love like Christ ? Is there at least some inkling of this selfless love ? Has serving other people started to be a more primary motivation in my life ? Am I, in fact, not so comfortable in this world as I used to be ? All these are signs that the Lord is active in our hearts. Can I hear and accept it when the Lord sends me someone who says to me : “Wake up. Such-and-such is out of focus in your life”. Can I accept it ? If I can, even if it is grudgingly, there is hope that the Holy Spirit is active and working in my heart. If I play the “Egyptian game” of living in denial, living in “denial” is dangerous, because “de-Nile” is full of crocodiles (not that I saw any crocodiles the last time I was on the Nile, and that was only two months ago). Nevertheless, when we live in denial, when we pretend that everything is all right, when we pretend there is nothing the matter, that is when we become prime prey for those spiritual crocodiles that are ready to eat us up. (I am glad you are able to tolerate these jokes.)

It is necessary for us to remember that forgetfulness of who we are, what we are, and Whom we serve, is the prime tool of the Adversary in our lives. The Adversary’s prime tool is to help us forget. (Indeed, he does not have to work very hard at that ; we seem to do that very easily ourselves.) He helps us along, and greases the way of forgetfulness for us. He distracts us, and we forget. It is important for us to remember this, and to ask the Lord to help us to be watchful, mindful, and to accept His reminders. In remembering, as we live our lives together, we can encourage and strengthen each other by our prayers, by our example, and by the way we serve each other and care for each other. By doing this, in strengthening each other, we can help each other be a clearer witness of the love of Jesus Christ to people who do not yet know Him, or have forgotten Him, having previously known Him. We can be agents of the Lord to renew their memory of Him, or to introduce Him to the people whom we meet in our lives. The world is full of lost, lonely, hungry people, spiritually-starving people. In our lives, let us give them a little food, the food of the living Bread, Jesus Christ, by showing them love in concrete ways, by doing good for them (even when they sometimes bite the hands that feed them). Still, let us do some good for them, and entice them with the net of Christ’s love into His Kingdom. Let us all, together with the saints, glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Making visible the Love of Christ
Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)
7 January, 2005
Galatians 4:4-7 ; Matthew 2:1-12


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All sorts of articles have been written by people who have a hard time accepting that the Word of God could take flesh and become a human being. They try to reduce Jesus Christ to a mere legend. They try to pretend that He never existed, or perhaps they try to make Him into a simple, nice-guy-philosopher. People do all sorts of other things in order to avoid facing Who is Jesus Christ, because they are likely afraid. They seem to be paralysed by fear, in fact, and therefore they are allowing themselves to try to escape from reality. It is a very sad thing to see such things written in public magazines and newspapers, because these escapist tactics that people are using for themselves lead many other people who are weak, away with them. That is why it is so important for us, who are Orthodox Christians, to celebrate this feast in particular, because the whole life of the Orthodox Church is rooted in making visible the love of the Lord.

The Word of God takes flesh today and dwells amongst us (see John 1:14). He is born today of the Virgin Mary in a cave in Bethlehem. For people who have doubts about that, there is a great deal of historical evidence that these things are true. There is a great deal of secondary historical evidence, too, that Jesus Christ did walk this earth, and that people understood at that time already that He was, indeed, the Son of God. They understood that He was not just like everyone else. He was like everyone except for sin (see Philippians 2:7 ; Hebrews 2:17 ; 4:15). However, besides being a human being, He is also the Son of God. The Word of God took flesh because of love, as the Apostle John says in a passage which so many children learn in their early years to say from memory : “‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’” (John 3:16). These words are quoted in the Divine Liturgy in one way or another.

We know that the Lord loves us. He takes flesh today in order to bring us to salvation. That means that He is returning us to our true selves. He is bringing us to spiritual health. He is bringing us into the right focus and the right relationship with God, so that we should no longer have to be afraid, like the people who are writing these sad and sometimes crazy arguments. We do not have to be slaves of fear. We can be free in the love of Jesus Christ – free, healthy, full of joy, full of strength, full of love, as He created us to be. That is why He did this for us : to open again the door to Paradise, the door which we, in our rebellion, closed. Let us remember that it is we who closed that door. It is we, not He, who closed that door. He broke down all the barriers that we established between ourselves and God. Jesus Christ, in Himself, gives us access to God the Father. He sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to live in this love, and to maintain this personal relationship of love with Him.

That is why our Saviour gave us icons of Himself such as this one here. We have a Tradition, 2,000 years old, that says that we know more or less what Jesus looked like in the flesh. This icon is a good icon. It represents well, in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, what is the likeness of Jesus Christ. If the shroud of Turin truly is the very burial cloth of Jesus Christ (as many people believe it to be), the Face on that shroud, also, is very like this Face. The Lord gave us these images so that, as Saint John of Damascus says, when we come and kiss this image of Christ, our love passes through the icon, which serves as a gateway or window to Heaven. Our veneration passes through this wood and this paint straight to Jesus Christ Himself.

We need to have these concrete ways to contact Jesus Christ. That is why we carry Crosses on our bodies after we are baptised. That is why we venerate these icons, because we need these concrete attachments to enable us to express our love. If Jesus Christ were completely invisible and inaccessible, it would be extremely difficult for us. However, He knows that as human beings, we have to have tangible things, things that we can touch and feel. He has given us these icons from the very beginning so that we can kiss them, and at the same time, kiss Him. It does not end there. When we kiss Him because of love, His love comes back to us. It is not as though He were not kissing us back. He loves us. How would He not kiss us, also, with His love, when we are kissing Him ? It is the same with the Mother of God and any other of the saints. This love is the foundation of our Orthodox Christian life.

Saint John Chrysostom says of us that we ourselves are living icons of Christ, because, as we sang today, we were baptised into Christ. When we were baptised into Christ, we put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27). We carry Christ with us, especially when we are receiving Holy Communion. Saint John Chrysostom says that when we receive Holy Communion, Jesus Christ is so present in each of us that we should be making a prostration in front of each other, because of love for the Lord, who is present in each of us. We, as Orthodox Christians, are carrying Jesus Christ everywhere that we go.

We are living icons and representations of Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to be renewing this love, this relationship of love with Jesus Christ, everyday in our prayers. We should receive Him regularly and frequently in Holy Communion. Then, everyday when we are at our work, when we are in public places, when we are shopping or doing whatever we are doing, we will be able to carry Christ with us in such a way that people around us will see our love, our joy, our hope. They will see how we care about the people around us. They will see how we, like Jesus Christ, serve people, take care of people. By encountering Jesus Christ in us, they may find some hope in this very painful world, and find some encouragement to carry on living in this very difficult and broken world.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is born today in Bethlehem in Judea because of love. Because of this same love, let us allow this love to be visible in us, too. Let us ask our Saviour to strengthen us, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, so that our love may be strong enough that people may be able to see and have hope, and believe in our Saviour. May our lives glorify Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Everything is possible with God

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Everything is possible with God
23 January, 2005
Matthew 19:16-26


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Human beings are almost always the same. We generally have the same failings and weaknesses. We always are extremely slow to learn. However, God is merciful, patient, and waiting for us to open our eyes. Sometimes it does become possible for us to learn something. The main thing that we have to learn in our life is to trust God, to accept that He loves us, and that He is there for us.

At the end of the Gospel reading today, our Saviour says to us that some things might be impossible for men, “‘but with God all things are possible’”. It is important for us to pay attention to these words and remember these words. It is true that many things in life are extremely difficult for us, if not impossible. They certainly seem like that. One of these is, just as our Saviour is saying today, the difficulty that a rich man has to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why is this ? It is because these things are cares and burdens that become between us and the Lord. Carrying all these burdens and cares (of wealth, riches, and responsibilities) can very easily put a block between the person and God and thus it is difficult for the person to enter the Kingdom.

What does it mean when our Saviour is saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven ? This is not such a self-evident expression (although a person might take it literally, and that is all right). In fact, however, there is more to it. There was a gate in Jerusalem in the old days called the “Eye of the Needle”. This gate was meant to regulate the amount of goods going into the city of Jerusalem. A camel laden with goods could not go into the city. It had to get down and have the goods taken off before it could go into the city. In fact, they did not want camels in the city in those days so they made it very difficult by making the door very low. Human beings and donkeys could get in easily enough but not a laden camel.

Regardless of which way one wants to interpret it, as long as we have any sort of burdens or cares that are the first priority in our life (and when God is not the first priority in our life), we will have great difficulty entering the Kingdom of Heaven. The apostles are asking our Lord : “‘Who then can be saved ?’” Our Lord says, as it were : “Well, maybe on your own you could not be saved, but with God you can”. In other words, we human beings have to learn, finally, that we have to ask God for help in everything. We have to ask God for His help, and pray that He be with us. It is necessary that we call to Him for help in doing everything. Then things that are impossible become possible.

For example, one of these things is the existence of this diocese. Talk about impossibilities ! Our diocese is now about ninety years old. There have been Orthodox believers in this country for well over 100 years but we did not begin to be a diocese until 1916. Regardless, in the course of all of these years, there has been nothing but difficulty in establishing a Church here in Canada. There has always been trouble one way or another and some sort of turmoil. The revolution in Russia was not the least of those turmoils, a turmoil whose effects last until this day in this country. Because our Church in its missionary infancy was cut off from “Mama”, we almost starved to death. However, God is merciful, and we continued to exist. Yet in the face of other Orthodox Churches in this country that are very rich and financially well off, we are still more or less living hand to mouth. This is not such a bad position to be in. Our brothers ask how we exist. The reason we exist is because God wills it. We have work to do in this country. In fact, we have the biggest work to do here, in this country, because we are the local Church in this country. We are responsible for everyone in it, whether or not they visibly belong to us. We must feed everyone in this country with the Gospel, whoever they are, and wherever they come from.

Thus I always like to say, as I was told, that according to the laws of aerodynamics in physics, a bumblebee cannot fly. Its body is too big, and its wings are too small. Yet, it does fly, and it does because God wills it. God helps that bumblebee to fly. According to all sorts of human logic and expectations, our diocese should never have survived. In fact, our Orthodox Church in Canada in any form should not have survived all the turmoil that was facing it and gripping it for so long. Yet, the Church has survived, and not only survived. In many ways, it actually flourishes

Here in n, we are in the midst of difficulties. In fact, today we have a blizzard. Those who managed to get here, trusting in God, will be praying to God for those who were unable to make it. This community has already had all sorts of difficulties in its short existence. Yet it has established itself, and here we have this big, new locale with a kitchen and meeting room. This is luxury compared to that tiny basement. The Lord is, in fact, opening doors for this parish. However, nothing grows very fast in Canada, and that is just as well because when it does not grow very fast, it has time to put down stable and strong roots.

As our Saviour says in one of His parables (see Matthew 13:5,6), sometimes a plant will grow very fast, flourish and flower but it does not have a proper root system. When the ground gets dry, the plant dries up very fast, and withers away. In every one of our missionary communities, everything takes time. That fact is a good thing for us. It allows us to put our spiritual roots deeply down, and to deepen our confidence in Christ. When the more difficult times come, when we have dry times and other challenges, our roots are deep enough that we can still get water, the living water of Christ. We should always be confident enough in the Lord to know how to pray when times get difficult, to know how to draw on the Saviour’s strength. Then, we will not only be able to endure, but also flourish and spread, and become really strong for the glory of Jesus Christ. In our country, and in the whole western world, people expect that everything should develop quickly and immediately. They forget to ask God to help them, especially when things get difficult.

The most important thing for us all to remember is always to call on the Lord for help and support. We must always remember to ask Him to help us to love Him and each other, and to persevere in the establishment of this community. In everything, trust in the Lord and do not forget that He can arrange and rearrange things in order to accomplish His will. God is in charge of everything, and He is the Creator of everything. Not only is He able to arrange everything, but He also very often does just that. We love to sing “God is with us” when we serve Compline. Indeed, God is with us, and it is essential to keep Him and His love for us in front of our consciousness at all times. Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

How to observe Great Lent

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
How to observe Great Lent
Sunday of the Last Judgement
6 March, 2005
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2 ; Matthew 25:31-46


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

At the time of the Great Entrance, n will come out with the aer over his head. He has not been seen doing this before, and he will not be seen doing it again. Why is he doing this ? It is because at this time he will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood, God willing, and he will be offered by us. That is why his head is covered with the aer. He is part of our offering, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist. It will be his responsibility afterwards to feed the flock by celebrating the Divine Liturgy. The priest is part of our offering, therefore, at this particular time. That is why it is important for you to pray for him when the deacon comes out and makes a prostration in your direction, saying “Command”. He is prostrated in your direction, because he is asking for your blessing, concurrence and agreement that he be part of this offering.

On this day, Meat-fare Sunday, the day of the Last Judgement, we are presented with a theme which seems to run all over the place these days (and not only these days). I grew up in Alberta, and when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I first heard Gospel radio programmes talking about the end of the world which they said was going to happen in five minutes. These things were generally scary. I had a very interesting conversation last night with the youth group, who brought up the same subject, because this theme is still running around : the end of the world is coming in five minutes, and it is a scary thing. The young people were right to express their concern about the gravity of all this.

The whole point of the Second Coming is not to be making us run scared, because when we are running scared, we are not paying attention to anything around. If we pay attention closely to both of today’s readings, we understand that they refer to the nature of our relationship with each other and with God. The Apostle Paul is saying that if a person is going to eat meat offered to idols, then one has the liberty to do so because we are blessing it anyway, and giving thanks to God. God’s blessing overcomes anything and everything associated with what is offered to idols.

However, for the sake of a brother or sister who might be tempted by our exercise of liberty, we restrain ourselves for their sake. The weaker person is not to be led into temptation by the exercise of my liberty. It is true that we have great freedom in Christ, but this freedom is not wild-fire freedom that is to be exercised on a whim. It is freedom that is to be exercised having regard to everyone around us, and first of all, having regard to whether it is being exercised in accordance with God’s will. We have the freedom to live in harmony with God’s will, and the freedom to live against God’s will. We have always had that liberty in God’s love. That is how the Fall came about in the first place, because our first parents listened to the Tempter and accepted the hypothesis which he presented.

When it comes to the Last Judgement itself, people have a strong tendency to focus in on little details about this – who exactly is going to go left, and who exactly is going to go right, and what do I have to do to make sure I go right. We are often so obsessed with these details and mistaken in our belief that God is interested in our fulfilling these details so that we can somehow “qualify” to get in. God is not interested in our fulfilling of all these little details. God is interested in the condition of our hearts, and the effect of our life on the people around us and on the environment. That is what He is interested in. Celebrating the Divine Liturgy well, beautifully and correctly, for instance, is necessary, but we are not going to be judged by that alone by any means. Observing the fast is very important. However, we do not observe the fast in order to “qualify” to get into the Kingdom of Heaven and to get “brownie points” from God. That would be blasphemy. What truly has meaning is my offering to God of my abstaining from flesh-meats and other delightful things, in order to spend more time with Him because I love Him.

What do we do with Great Lent ? Instead of spending less time cooking (having salads, and things that take little time to prepare), we seem to involve ourselves in observing the letter of the law of Lent, so that there are no dairy products, no fish, no meat, no oil of the wrong sort in the food, and we spend three times as long making this food. It seems that perhaps we even go to the Seventh Day Adventist shops, and get nice food which looks like chicken, but is not chicken (it is soy). Perhaps we purchase nice, good-tasting hot dogs that look like hot dogs (but are soy), and nice turkey and beef things that look like something they are not. They look good – they taste good – but they are probably not all that pleasing to God. I suppose they are pleasing to the palate, but I doubt that it is pleasing to God when we go about observing Lent like this. Is our God our stomach and our taste buds ? We have to ask ourselves this question.

The fulfilment of Great Lent, the true fulfilment of Great Lent, is, and always has been, not in observing the strict letter of the law (observing the dietary prescriptions which are good in themselves, but taken in the wrong direction they can be deadly), but in how I am to other human beings. What we are almost always forgetting in North America is that the other significant half of Great Lenten activity is almsgiving, caring for the poor, paying special attention to people who are in need. That is one of the reasons why this lesson comes to us at this particular time. As this parable from our Saviour indicates, we have to take care of those who are around us. The need may not be a material need. The need may be a spiritual or an emotional need. People have all sorts of needs, and God gives each of us all sorts of different gifts in order to meet those needs. The Christian way is, and always has been to ask : “How can I serve ? How can I help someone else ?”

N is about to be ordained to the priesthood in order to help in the nurturing of this flock, in nurturing those gifts that we all have, which are for the building up of the Body of Christ. Now we will have two priests here. Much more is going to be expected, somehow. God will give everyone more and more Grace, but more will be expected.

What is important to remember, brothers and sisters, is that the indications that we have been given are indications of how we should go about our lives, but they are not rules. The Pharisees went wrong with the Ten Commandments, for instance, by losing sight of the summary of the Ten Commandments, which was, and is, to this day : “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5). Our Saviour added here : “and your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). All that is in the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees enshrined the Ten Commandments in such a way that the commandments had to be protected to minimise the risk of breaking them. The Pharisees invented thousands of other rules about how to live life in order to protect oneself from offending the great Ten Commandments. However, that again was all because of fear. The Lord is not interested in our being afraid of Him. The Apostle John says : “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). He is, of course, right. God is love, and His relationship with you and with me is all life-giving love. Fear comes from Big Red down below. Love, liberty, and life come from the living God who loves us, and is interested in our life, our eternal life. He is interested in our interior healing. He is interested in our well-being.

The Lord is not interested in holding swords over our heads and threatening us all the time, even though sometimes when He disciplines us, it might feel something like that. Anytime I have been disciplined by the Lord, I have definitely deserved it. I do not as a result feel that God is “after me”, somehow, much less, “against me”. In the same way, in my childhood I was disciplined rather firmly, corporally, frequently. I do not resent my parents and grandparents, or even the teacher who embarrassed the life out of me in grade three when she slapped me over the knuckles with a ruler. That was after I had said no to her. I do not resent that at all. I was not afraid of them either, because I was very wilful, very wilful. It was difficult for people to put me on the right path, and it took a lot of pushing and shoving, because of their love, to keep me on some sort of straight-and-narrow. The Lord does the same with you and with me in order to keep us well directed and focussed.

It is important for us, brothers and sisters, to keep our focus and our priorities straight in the coming Great Lent. This means that we offer our fasting and our abstinence to the Lord because of love, so that we can spend more time with Him, and less time cooking. Let us not worry about the “exact” rules of everything in Great Lent. Rather, let us worry about deepening our loving relationship with the Lord. That is the purpose of everything. Let us be concerned about what we are doing for our brothers and sisters, and how we can be good to them. It is about precisely those things that our Saviour is going to be asking you and me at the end as He says in the Gospel today. He is going to be asking you and me : “How did you love Me ?” “How do you love Me ?” “How did you show your love for Me ?” “How do you show your love for Me ?” Let us ask the Lord to help us to have our hearts attuned to Him, His love, His will, so that we will know what His will is, and so that we will do what He is asking us to do, quickly, with love, to His glory : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Thomas Sunday

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Complete Confidence in His Love
Thomas Sunday
8 May, 2005


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we have the doubt of Thomas. This doubt is a big blessing for you, for me, and for the whole Church. It is not that the Apostle Thomas had some sort of intellectual doubt, as we have sometimes. In this case, it is simply that no-one had ever seen resurrection like this before. Yes, it is true that the Apostle Thomas himself had been there at the time of the resurrection of Lazarus. This apostle should have been prepared, but he was not prepared to believe so quickly that Jesus would rise from the dead. Although his brothers, the other apostles, as well as Saint Mary Magdalene and the other Myrrh-bearing women, said that they had encountered the Risen Christ, the Apostle Thomas said : “‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe’”.

This determination to have proof was good for you and for me, and for the whole Church. It absolutely underlined the fact that Jesus did rise bodily from the dead. The Apostle Thomas today is told by our Saviour : “‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing’”. As we see and hear, this invitation by our Saviour produces instant acceptance by the Apostle Thomas.

His acceptance can be very strengthening for you and for me when people say that perhaps Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, or when they come up with some other strange idea about the Resurrection. All the apostles saw, experienced, and touched Jesus Christ risen bodily from the dead. It is their universal experience and testimony to us that enables us to continue our Christian life in hope, confident that Jesus Christ really did rise bodily from the dead. In rising bodily from the dead, He conquered death by His death. Death could not hold eternal life : Jesus Christ, the Author of Life.

We see in the icon of the Resurrection here on the wall, the Risen Christ breaking down the doors of Hades, and bringing up with Him Adam and Eve and all the others who were held captive by death. The Giver of Life is giving life to you and to me, as well as to the apostles. It is because of His victory over death that we have hope. We have sure confidence in His love for us, because He Himself said that He did all this only because He loves us. He loves you and me and all His creatures so much that He suffered and died, and rose from the dead. In all this, He is giving hope to you and to me. He is giving strength to you and to me, and He is enabling us to live the difficult lives that we have to live.

At the end of today’s reading, the Apostle John says that there were many other things Jesus did and said when He was appearing constantly and repeatedly to the apostles and others over the forty days after His Resurrection. It was not only one time, but many, many times over the forty days that our Saviour appeared to the apostles and other disciples, and many other people. In His appearing to them, He was showing them concretely that He is risen from the dead. The Apostle John says that our Lord said and did many other things. However, what has been written, has been written so that you and I truly will be able to believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Son of God, that He is the Giver of Life, that He is victorious over death, that we do have life in Him, and that He is truly with us.

The testimony of His Resurrection has not stopped there with the writing, because the person-to-person experience of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, has continued amongst Christians generation after generation up until now. It is true that for many people, for many believers, it is sufficient that other believers speak about their experience of the Risen Christ. Such people accept it, believe it, and live by it. They eventually have their own experience of the Risen Christ. This is what we are supposed to be doing, you know, in our life of prayer – having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Sometimes, for the good of the Church, Jesus Christ actually does show Himself to people in order to strengthen them.

Besides, we have the experience every year at Pascha of the New Fire coming in Jerusalem during the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. The Fire comes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Temple of the Holy Resurrection. Once, when the Orthodox Patriarch was excluded from the Temple, the Fire came from one of the pillars by the door and split the pillar. Anyone can see that today. It is a Fire that is not lit by matches. It just comes, by the Grace of God, to the candles that the Patriarch is holding while he is praying in the tomb. If people have doubts about that, one can read the recollections by and about a certain man who, as a child was in the school and the monastery of the Brotherhood of the Resurrection 100 years ago. Because he was doubting, he hid himself in the tomb of Christ. He saw with his own eyes that the Fire came out of nowhere to the candles of the Patriarch.

The Saviour does everything to ensure that we have complete confidence in His love. One can read about this Fire on www.holyfire.org on the internet. Even on the internet, there are all sorts of writings and examples about the coming of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem for the strengthening of Orthodox believers. There are books written about it. There are videos produced about it as well. People who have been there from North America, Russia and Greece have told me that this Fire, coming from the tomb of Christ, does not burn a person for the first half-hour. It does not burn beards. If people put their hands in the Fire, it does not burn their hands.

Two years ago, I was in Washington for the enthronement of Metropolitan Herman, and one of the bishops of Jerusalem was there. We asked him about his experience of the Holy Fire. He said that he had been in the Brotherhood of the Resurrection since he was a young boy in school. After school every day, it was his responsibility to come into the Temple of the Holy Resurrection, and, using ladders, renew the oil lamps, and keep them burning properly. “What about on Pascha ?” we asked him. He said : “On Pascha, I did not have to do anything because when all the lamps had been put out, they lit themselves. The Fire came to the tomb of Christ, to the Patriarch’s candles, and when the Patriarch came out, these lamps were lighting themselves. They do that to this day”.

My brothers and sisters, we see how far the Lord goes in order to confirm His love for you and for me, and to remind us not to forget that He is with us, even though we are burdened with so many cares. The Apostle Thomas, after he had been confirmed in his faith, and had confessed Jesus Christ as God, went as a missionary first to Egypt, and then to India where he converted very many people, including a king. He established the Orthodox Faith in northern and southern India. On the southwest coast of India is the state of Kerala, a state of India that people say is the closest to the garden of Eden that one can find on earth : it is so beautiful and so full of light. There are Orthodox Christian families there that can trace back their family histories to the time when their ancestors were converted by the Apostle Thomas. Then the Apostle Thomas went to the east coast of India, to a city called Madras. It is there that he was finally killed by pagan troops.

His witness for Jesus Christ lives until this very day in India. We, who are Orthodox Christian believers here in Canada, have the same responsibility to witness to the love of Jesus Christ by how we live, by how we behave in society. We have the responsibility to share our hope, like the Apostle Thomas shared his hope in Jesus Christ, so that people around us can find their way to Jesus Christ. In n, especially, there are many who are lost, who are searching for the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth that their hearts are longing for. May we, by our hope, by our love, by our Christian behaviour, bring this hope to them so that they will have the same hope and the same strength that we have for living through all sorts of difficulties. Let us ask the holy Apostle Thomas, by his prayers, to strengthen us today in our following of Jesus Christ, whom he loves, whom he served, and for whom he gave his life. Let us ask him, by his prayers, to enable us to glorify with him our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The feeding and the healing of the rational Sheep

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The feeding and the healing of the rational Sheep
Saturday before the Feast of Pentecost
18 June, 2005
Acts 28:1-31 ; John 21:15-25


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

With today’s Gospel and Epistle readings, I could keep you here for a long time, but I will be merciful. I actually would like to talk about many of the things that are in those two readings because they are so rich in sources of encouragement for you and me in our attempt to live our Christian life. Instead of my talking about everything in those two readings, why do you not later on this evening when you are home having a cup of tea or coffee, and relaxing for a little bit, open your Bible to the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and the last chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, and read them over. They are very easy to find. I think that after all the things that have happened today, when you look at these passages again, you will get some encouragement and strength, and be able to put things into perspective.

God’s mercy and Grace are beyond our ability to understand, just as the depth of His love is beyond our ability to understand. That is one of the reasons why the Lord is repeating to the Apostle Peter today : “‘Do you love Me?’” “‘Do you love Me?’” “‘Do you love Me?’” The Apostle Peter got somewhat irritated by the end. Our Lord was trying to make a point : “If you really do love Me, then you are going to look after My sheep”. Who are these sheep – except human beings ? This is the primary responsibility of every priest and bishop – to feed sheep. That is the purpose of this Divine Liturgy – feeding sheep – and we are the sheep in this case (except the Church always talks about human beings as rational sheep, not dumb sheep). I have seen sheep at work, and we can be like that too, it is true.

Confession is repetitive. It is all the same. Everyone commits the same sins. Each of us has a tendency to think that he or she is especially horrible somehow. It is a good thing that we think that, by the way, because we should think of ourselves as nothing so that God can make something of us. However, we tend to focus on how bad we are, and we forget about God’s Grace and His love, which help us overcome our weaknesses. Sometimes our confessions are rather repetitive. If anyone ever thinks that it must be interesting for a priest to hear confessions, it would be better to think about giving priests caffeine pills instead, because it is so repetitive. Yes, there is Grace there, and what is good is that God’s Grace acts during these confessions. God is able sometimes to speak through the conversation between the priest and the penitent in order to provide the right word of hope. That is what is interesting – to see how God provides. The priest often does not know what he is saying ; he does not know always the significance of the words that are coming from him. But God knows what the person has to hear. God gives the priest the words that he needs to give to the people who are opening their hearts to the Lord before this priest. That is where the interest comes. The sins are the same, over and over. The priest could just put on a record if he wants to hear these things. It is always the same, so do not think that it is anything fantastic to hear confessions. It is a duty, nevertheless, a heavy duty.

I am saying these things today, because since we are ordaining Deacon n to the Holy Priesthood, these are things that will involve him and your relationship with him. Deacons are not distinguished from priests in terms of feeding sheep, but the way they feed the sheep is different. Deacons, in particular, are people who embody Christ as a servant. Christ is our servant. We are always running to Him, crying to Him : “Help me ; give me ; give me”. He often does give (although not always precisely what we are asking for). However, He does look after us. This is part of His continuing service. It is a reflection of the depth of His self-emptying love, the love that He is speaking of in the last chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. This love is selfless, and it does not make distinctions. It is even. It is self-emptying. Therefore, when a deacon is doing his service in the church one way or the other, according to his particular gifts, he is showing what Christ does for you and for me. He is showing us that we are supposed to be doing the same thing. By how he serves in the way of Christ, the deacon is supposed to be showing a Christian how to live his or her life.

A priest also, as the Apostle Paul says in the Epistle to Timothy (see 1 Timothy 4:12), has to try to give the best example possible. The Apostle show us how a Christian family lives in love and in service, focussed around Christ, so that the believers in the parish will have some hope that they can do it, too. Now, I know, because I have heard it too many times, that many people think that a priest or a deacon is the way he is because we pay him to do it. However, that is not at all how it is. People do not pay the priest or the deacon to do what they are doing, because if they tried to pay him, they could not afford it. For instance, nowadays even doctors are not on twenty-four hour call. However, if someone is having a heart attack in the hospital and needs him to come, most priests will still answer the phone at two in the morning.

God’s Grace and God’s mercy are poured out on the Church because the Lord loves us, and He wants to feed us and nurture us. He wants us to be like Himself. What does this mean ? How could it be ? In case we have any serious questions about what it would be like, all we have to do is to look at this last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles in the context of the whole book of the Acts of the Apostles. Very close to the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Apostle Paul before he was an apostle : how he was a zealot for God, how he was misguided, putting Christians in prison, and even killing them (although not personally, but he contributed to it). We have to look at that, and then look at the end of the Acts of the Apostles, and see what sort of a change, what a transformation there has been in this man who was a real fanatic in the wrong direction before.

The Apostle Paul is now, at the end of the Acts, full of love. In a previous chapter, when the ship was sinking near the island of Malta, and the soldiers were going to kill all the prisoners (including Paul) he convinced them that no-one would survive the shipwreck unless they kept everyone alive. Some of them tried to abandon ship, swim, or escape in boats. The Apostle Paul spoke, and they listened, and they were all saved. Not a life was lost in that shipwreck. Then we see the Apostle Paul being bitten by a viper. When a viper bites, it is not that long before the end comes. It is a quick death from a viper bite. (It is not as quick as death from certain snakes in Australia, I am told. In Australia, there is about thirty seconds after the snake bite. It does not hurt to be always prepared to meet your Maker.) Well anyway, this viper bit the Apostle, and they were certain that divine justice was being administered to this man. Then they found out that nothing happened to him. Nothing at all happened to him, and he carried on as though it were a mosquito bite. Then, of course, they decided that he was a god. That was yet another distortion. Everything about this is so typical of the way we are – from one extreme to the other. It took him a while to convince them that he was only a human being, but that he had God’s Grace. He showed God’s Grace and His love by healing people on that island.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be a pagan soldier, standing next to this man, connected to him by chains for much of the time ? Here we have this unbelieving soldier, standing next to this man who is healing people, raising people from the dead even, doing things that no-one else could do, and that they had never seen before. Can you imagine what an effect it would have on someone ? It did have an effect, because our martyrs’ lists are full of soldiers. In the first 300 years of our Church’s life, it is amazing how many soldiers there are – soldiers who were converted because they saw the suffering of Christians being killed for their faith. They became Christians themselves. They turned to Christ, and became saints and martyrs themselves. They intercede for us.

Our lives can be fruitful like that, and that is the point. Our lives can be fruitful like that if we continue in our daily lives to try to let the Lord’s love grow in our hearts. Let us look for opportunities to do good in, for, and with Jesus Christ. Let us not allow our fears and our timidity, our shyness and our embarrassment to overcome us because we are behaving in a way different from general society. We cannot behave in a way that is as different as that of the apostles. I do not think we can. In the first place, even though our society is so secular now, it still has enough Christian vestiges that we do not stick out quite so much as a sore thumb (although I do a bit because I dress the way I do). Most Christians do not stick out at all. They do not look any different from anyone else, but their lives testify that in Jesus Christ there is hope, life, strength, victory, health, healing. There are all these things and more in the love of Jesus Christ.

Let us do our best through the prayers of the Apostle Paul, and through the prayers of all the departed Orthodox Christians for whom we are praying on this Soul Saturday. Through the prayers of all the founders and benefactors of this holy Temple, through the prayers of our personal ancestors – our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters (spiritual and physical) who brought us to Christ – through all their prayers, let us do our best to follow their example, and glorify Jesus Christ with our lives, saying with Saint John Chrysostom : “Glory be to God for everything”. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Pentecost

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
You are our God doing Wonders
Feast of Pentecost
19 June, 2005
Acts 2:1-11 ; John 7:37-52 ; 8:12


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Coming back to this Temple on this feast-day reminds me of how this community has been progressing in so many good ways and so many unexpected ways over all these years. It reminds me of how much Grace God has been pouring out on this community, as He pours out His love and His life on this community. This illustrates very much what our Saviour was saying just now about rivers of living water flowing. That has been exactly the case here. Yes, it is true that there has been a lot of hard work done by not very many people. However, what is most important is that this hard work has been motivated by love of Jesus Christ, and has been accompanied by prayer. There is a saying in Russian : “Patience and work accomplish everything”, but that saying is only half-right. Patience and work accomplish everything only when there is prayer backing it up. We can have plenty of patience, and we can work very hard. However, no matter how hard we work and how patient we are, if it is not accompanied by prayer, the work will not be properly accomplished. It is extremely important to remember this.

It is because of the faith and the prayer of the believers here for over 100 years (even though there have been many difficult times) that this community has still been here witnessing for the truth of the Orthodox Faith on this corner in n. That history of 100 years was very difficult – the beginning was very difficult. This community began, one could say, not in 1904 when this Temple was built, but probably in about 1898. In those days there was a blend between Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox, and it was not easy to distinguish who was who. When the Ukrainian Catholics decided not to be part of the Orthodox Church, but rather to continue on their own as Uniats, then this very community became clearly an Orthodox community.

Although the beginning was difficult, it was still based on the faith of the people who loved Jesus Christ, and who were faithful to Jesus Christ in the Orthodox way. I have been told stories about how parishioners used to bring coal to church on Saturdays, Sundays and other days, because there used to be a coal stove here to warm this Temple. In those days, this parish was very, very poor. People had no money. In the 1930s, especially, it was terrible. No-one had anything. They could scarcely eat, but they still brought coal from their own homes, and shared here in order to warm this Temple in the winter-time. They pulled the coal behind them on a sleigh as they walked. Not very many people in this parish in those days had a car, I think. However, the people were faithful. They believed in Jesus Christ, and they lived their Orthodox Christian Faith. It is because of this faithfulness and this witness that it is possible for us to be worshipping here together.

In this Temple we can see also the fruit of the Holy Spirit in two other significant ways. First, there is the reappearance of little children in this parish these days. It was so touching to my heart to see, when I was standing in the middle of the Temple, a child kissing the Cross on the analoy. I see this in other places, but I have not seen it here for a long time. Such children’s piety is so beautiful to see : children kissing Crosses on the furniture of the Temple. It is such a beautiful thing. Many of you probably did the same thing when you were two or three. It is a wonderful thing to see.

The other thing that is beautiful to see in this Temple is precisely the fulfilment and the repetition of what we heard in the Epistle today in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles : about the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit gave the preaching of the Gospel to all sorts of people in all sorts of different languages. Likewise, in this Temple, we do not use only one language. This is a church in which many languages are spoken by the people who come here. This is the normal way for the Orthodox Church to be. Even when some parishes want to be only one language, the Lord seems to say : “No, you cannot just be limited to one language”, and He sends people who speak other languages. He makes them loosen up, because we have to be reaching out.

Jerusalem in those days could be compared to Toronto today. It was a city to which people came from every different sort of nation. All sorts of people were coming to Jerusalem from various parts of the Roman Empire to do business, and almost every language in the Roman Empire was heard (and from beyond it also). Included in the list was Persian (Persia in those days was not part of the Roman Empire). The point is that all these different languages were being spoken there. When the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, not only the Twelve, but also the Seventy and others were given to speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all these languages. The people were shocked that these relatively uneducated people were able to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all these different languages.

The Orthodox Faith has been spread around the world precisely on that principle. As the Apostle Paul would soon remind the others, this phenomenon clearly demonstrated that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was to be shared with everyone in the whole world. That is why in the whole world to this day we have Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Greek, Syrian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Egyptian, and we have to say, Japanese, North American, West European, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, and Chinese Orthodox Christians (the Chinese Orthodox Church has returned to life now). In Canada, we have parishioners in some churches who are Chinese, Japanese, Philippino, and African. I forgot Korea, where there are many thousands of Orthodox Christians, and Africa, which is one of our biggest mission fields. Apart from the original Ethiopians, Eritreans, Tigrayans and Sudanese, there are now Ghanaian, Nigerian, Congolese, Angolan, Ugandan, Kenyan, Zimbabwean, Madagascan and South African Churches. For instance, in 1984, a very small Greek-speaking parish in Madagascar that was dying, called for a priest to come and serve them. An Australian Orthodox priest went to them and began to convert the people of Madagascar amongst whom they lived. The dying Greek parish became a full parish and multiplied itself on the island of Madagascar, so that there is a whole diocese now with a bishop, and 22,000 believers. This is the increase of the Orthodox Faith.

We have to remember, too, that the Orthodox Churches persecuted in communist-dominated countries for seventy years have also been completely revived. Here are two examples. Last November, I was in Tbilisi, Georgia for the consecration of their new cathedral. It is the biggest church in the country, and I have to say, has a better design than Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. The territory of the two Temples is more or less the same, but because of the way that Christ the Saviour Cathedral was designed, there are big spaces taken up with huge columns and other things (because it was designed around 1864, and built in a different way). When it was rebuilt, it was built exactly according to the original model. Although the big stones that it was built with in those days were replaced by concrete, they felt that they had to make it exactly as it was.

The cathedral in Tbilisi is not limited by that, because there never was in Georgia such a big church before. Therefore, they were able to build it with modern concrete and reinforced bar style from the beginning, and it is very open. They are able to use this territory for accommodating people. There was one choir of 500 children at the time of the consecration. It was amazing – they were so loud that they were almost deafening when they were singing. There must have been more than 1,000 people singing all together amongst all the choirs up above on the balcony. The Temple can hold about 15,000 people but there were not so many allowed in the Temple on that day because the president was coming. It was very odd actually, because I think that there were that day only about 8,000 people allowed in the Temple. There were about 30,000 people outside who were complaining that they were not allowed in (security is security). It is so beautiful to see the love of the people and their desire to be in the Temple.

A week and three days ago, I was in Christ the Saviour Sobor in Moscow for Ascension. I was serving with Patriarch Ilia, Patriarch Aleksy and 109 other bishops. The cathedral was full of people, which means that there were probably around eight or nine thousand people. I was talking to a priest afterwards, and he said to me that when they built this Temple just five years ago, they did not know how they were going to build and sustain it. No-one is living in the center of Moscow : it is all offices, and government offices next door to the Kremlin, and then there is the Moscow River. This priest said that now, for some reason, people are going to this cathedral all the time. Every Sunday, every feast-day, the Temple is full of people. Thousands and thousands of people are going to church there. Now, he said, the Russian Orthodox Church has so many bishops that the Temple is too small to hold them when they are assembled together. I was there for the consecration of that cathedral, and there were 208 bishops serving. There was no room in the Altar (the Altar of that Temple is bigger than this church). With the Holy Table and everything, there was no room, and the bishops were bumping into each other. It was like standing squashed in a very tight church.

The Church is renewed, and renewing. In Russia, they are building churches faster than they can actually manage economically. At the end of the communist era, there were only about fifteen or twenty churches open in Moscow. Now they have opened, rebuilt, and built some new ones – up to 750 churches. However, they still have a long way to go because, before the Revolution, there were more than 1,000 churches in the city of Moscow. In the Moscow region, outside the city, there are already more than 1,000 churches opened (and they are building more). This is to demonstrate how the Church is being renewed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on these countries. These are just two little examples. I can give you more, but we have other things to do today.

The Grace of the Holy Spirit has been poured out on our Church (although we do not see it so well in Canada, sometimes). I see it in this parish because of the renewal of life in this place, to God’s glory. Here there is a renewal of people’s lives, the strengthening of their faith. God is working very much with our Church because we have a lot of work to do.

Glory to God because of His love for us. Glory to God that He pours out His love upon us in such a way. Glory to God that He is renewing our life. Glory to God that He is multiplying our witness here in n. Glory to God that He is also using this community to be an instrument of His unity for the whole Orthodox Church. Glory to God that He works with us in ways that we do not understand, and cannot understand. Glory to God that He pours out the Grace of the Holy Spirit upon us, and renews us.

Let us remember to give glory to God for everything. Let us try to have the eyes to see where and how He is working amongst us : to see the change and improvement in each other’s lives. Let us support each other prayerfully in the renewal of our lives, and let us encourage each other in hope, because God is with us. Glory be to Him for all things : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of all Saints

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Who is holy ?
Sunday of All Saints
1st Sunday after Pentecost
26 June, 2005
Hebrews 11:33-12:2 ; Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38 ; 19:27-30


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Long ago at the beginning of our existence as human beings, God said : “‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:2). What does that mean ? It means that we should be holy, because God is holy. Holiness is the main characteristic of our relationship of love, and this love is between ourselves and God. Those whom we love, we always try to emulate. That is a standard human principle. I remember that from my childhood. I remember that from when I was five, there were beautiful, older people whom I wanted to be like. They were so wonderful, so full of love, so caring about a silly little kid like I was. Not only was I silly, but I was rather unrestrainable because I was so high-spirited. I was very independent-minded, and a daredevil, which is why my mother got grey hair early.

Be that as it may, it is a human way always that if we love someone, we try to imitate that person. How much more is this the case when it comes to our relationship with God our Creator. He wants us to live in this relationship of perfect love with Him. He wants us to be like Him, because to be like Him means to be alive, truly alive. When we are not like Him, we are caricatures ; we are twisted caricatures – we are actually like zombies, the “living dead” walking around. To be like Him means to be alive, to be free.

Power, life – that is what He wants for us. He created us to be full of power and life. He does not want anything less for us. If anything less happens to us, it is because we choose it. It is because we are afraid of His love. It is because we do not dare to approach this love. We run away from love out of fear. It is because of this that we become twisted caricatures and paralysed zombies. The Saviour wants us to live in Him, to have life, and to have it “more abundantly” (see John 10:10). Let us not forget that the Saviour’s love for us is not limited to the time immediately after the Incarnation. After all, He is the Word that spoke everything into being. There are saints who come from far before the Incarnation, even from the time of our first parents, Adam and Eve. These Old Testament persons are saints of our Church, too. The Body of Christ is not limited only by the point-in-time of the Incarnation. The Body of Christ encompasses all God’s creation. Therefore, when the Apostle Paul today is speaking about all those people who suffered such horrible things, he was trying to impress on us that they suffered for the sake of their love for God and their trust in His Promise. They suffered in the Saviour who was yet to come whom they had never seen, and would not see in their lifetime. Ultimately, they only saw Him face-to-face, when, after He was crucified, our Lord descended into Hades and preached to them. They recognised Him and He lifted them up with Adam and Eve.

Before the Incarnation, these people trusted God’s love, lived in accordance with it, and did “crazy” things (like Abraham). For no apparent reason (except that God said : “Do it”), Abraham got up and moved himself and his whole household, and became a nomad, wandering all over the place on land that did not belong to him. He was not the most welcome person in this foreign territory. Besides this, what about all the other people from the Old Testament who did weird things (according to the standards of the people around them) ? There is no point in my going into that whole list right now. We can read the Old Testament for ourself, or listen to it (there are all sorts of ways). There are very interesting people for us to learn about and understand. These people did all these weird and strange things because of their love for God, so that God, through them, would speak to His people who were lost in their “zombiness”, in their selfishness, in their stubbornness and self-preoccupation. The Lord wanted to wake up His children, and He used people like Abraham, and all sorts of others . Very often the people were just so obstinate that they did not listen at all (at least not the principal ones). However, others listened and were touched.

Nowadays, at the beginning of the 21st century, all sorts of people have the idea that to be a saint is like being some sort of “professional Christian”, some sort of Christian guru, super-specialist, super-example. They suppose that one comes to be called a saint because one gets all these “brownie points”, and that designated committees examine all these points and say : “This person is a good person to be a saint, and so we will make that person a saint”. That is not at all how it is. In fact, today, we are remembering all the saints. There are many saints whose names are not even known. In fact, there are many people who are martyrs in the Church, and they are known only to us as one of thousands of martyrs, such as those 14,000 babies in the area of Bethlehem. There are 40,000 martyrs here, and 100,000 there. All those people who were burned to death on Christmas Day in Nicomedia – we only know that there were about 20,000 of them. We only know their number. However, they are all saints ; they are all holy people – people who gave their lives for the love of Jesus Christ.

In North America, we have glorified saints. There are holy people who are well- recognised by the whole Church. It very odd that we, of all people, we who have freedom to understand things, seem to be the most guilty about thinking that in order to be declared officially to be a holy person, someone must fulfil the requirements of a point-system. We tend not to look around us. We leave it to some bishop somewhere to say that this or that person will become a saint. That is not how the Church works, not at all how the Church works. It has always been that the Lord Himself tells us who is a holy person, and to whom we should be turning in order to have encouragement and intercession and support. It is the Lord who tells us and shows us. A holy person of the past may somehow appear to us and say : “Straighten out your life”. “Do this or do that”. “Correct your life”. “Repent. Turn about, and follow Christ”. People will realise what is happening, and say : “Aha, the Lord is speaking to me through this person. This person has been sent by God to be my helper. I should remember this”.

Sometimes people are healed by the intercessions of those who have gone before, and it is through that that we can recognise who is a saint. How does all this come about ? It comes about through our normal Christian life. There is, for instance, the custom that we have to pray regularly for people who have reposed. Sometimes those persons, after their repose, come to us and correct us. God shows to us these persons who have been gathered into His bosom. They are messengers of His to us in order to correct us. Sometimes these persons are used so many times, and so many wonders come about, that the faithful people recognise that this is a person who is holy. Then it is the people who tell the bishop that this person should be a saint and recognised officially. There are many people in the Orthodox world who are not even recognised officially by any bishop, and yet who are recognised by the faithful people to be holy. They are holy. People pray to them. People go to their tombs. God answers their prayers. It is not necessarily only the ones who are on the official Church list of saints who are holy. Who is holy ? It is the person who loves God, and tries to be like Him. That is all. A saint is not some sort of “professional person” on a list.

I have been researching a list of names of saints for the sake of our people who tend not to know who the saints are, and also who do not know what a variety of names there are. Christian people have usually named their children after the saints : i.e. “George”, “Anne”, “Sophia”, and the like. However, there are so many other names of saints as well. The oldest custom about how to name people is to open The Synaxarion to the day on which the child was born, and see which saints are remembered on or near that day. The child is then named after one of those saints that seems to be appropriate for that child. This requires prayerful discernment. There is a large selection per day. For example, that is how we have people named Barsanuphius (in some parts of the world, there are people called that, and not only monks).

We, like the saints, must grow in the love of Jesus Christ. We are meant to put nothing between ourselves and God. That is what our Saviour is saying in the Gospel reading today : “‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me’”. Why is He saying that ? He is saying that because if I put any human being or any picture between myself and Him, I have made that thing into God. Instead of God, I have put it between myself and God. I have made it into an idol, in fact. It can be anyone or anything. It can be money or a car or anything else. That is what the Lord is speaking about in the Ten Commandments. Whatever or whoever it may be that comes between the Lord and me, between me and the Lord, has therefore become an idol to me, and usurps the rightful place of the Lord. That is why the Lord would say that the person who has done this, is not worthy of Him. If I have done such a thing, if I have put anyone or anything between me and the Lord, I have to repent, fix up my life, and put the Lord first again. No matter how much I love someone, that person has always to come after the Lord. No-one can come before the Lord in my life if I am going to be a lover of God.

The Lord wants you and me to be this sort of person who truly loves, because, as I said in the beginning, such a person is free ; such a person has a true sense of himself or herself, has peace, has joy, has a sense of direction, and does not have to have a particular job or profession. This person knows that it is because of the Lord’s loving concern and care that he or she has been called to this or that situation in order to demonstrate concern about particular persons. That is truly the purpose of life. The purpose of our life has not to do with one’s profession, or success or money. Rather, the purpose of your life and my life is to become a person who loves. All the rest is an aftermath. If I do not love people, if I do not care for them, then I am empty. Then I cannot truly call myself a Christian because I am not bearing Christ in my life, and I am not demonstrating His love to people around me. That is what it means to live a Christian life – to reveal Christ’s love to people around me, and let them have a little bit of hope.

In Canada these days, where so many people are so very lost, our responsibility is great : to live this love, to reveal and share our joy and our hope to people around us, to give people hope. We do not have to go preaching. We just have to live. We have to do this love. Let us not merely talk about it. Let us do it. That is what our Lord wants. “Do My love”, the Saviour says to you and to me. “Show your love for Me by doing it. Love each other as I love you”. That is what He wants. Then we will be becoming hope, ourselves, when we do these things. Therefore, let us take confidence in the witness, the service, the example of all the saints (both known and unknown, recognised and unrecognised) that we are remembering today, who love Jesus Christ, who are alive in Jesus Christ, and let us, ourselves, follow Him. Let us do our best to be like Him as the saints are like Him, and live in Him. By our love, let us help other people around us to find Him who loves them, and to glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Opening Homily at the 14th All-American Council

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Being Salt and Yeast
Homily at the Divine Liturgy
Opening of the 14th All-American Council
Toronto, Ontario
Sunday, 17 July, 2005


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

By the Grace of the all-holy Spirit, once again, The Orthodox Church in America is assembling together to listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, and to try to accomplish the Will of God in our life together in the Church. Once again, we have assembled because we love our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, and it is our desire to serve Him.

This is now the fourteenth time our Church has assembled as an autocephalous Church ; and the context in which we are assembling is different now, by far, from what it was, when the first of these assemblies took place. Right now, we are living in times which could be described as “out of joint”. We are living in times in which right has become wrong, and wrong has become right ; black has become white ; white has become black. Society’s understanding of how to live life has been turned upside down.

Because of this, we Orthodox Christians of The Orthodox Church in America (who are supposed to be the local Orthodox Church in, and for, North America) are called to be yeast and salt in this territory, as our Saviour has called us to be (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). We have a huge responsibility. We have a huge responsibility, because, in the context of this distortion and this turmoil and the atmosphere of constant war, it is so difficult to persevere on the right path. I do not think that there has been a time without war during my lifetime. It seems that there have always been wars since I was a child. I have this phantasy that when I was a child, during “the good old days of the British Empire”, things were quieter. Probably I am deceived. Indeed, the more I read, the more I know that I am deceived about this. I must change my sentiments. Regardless, the times in which we live require a great deal from us, because everything around us works against us.

It is a time in which, as the Gospel according to John describes, darkness is trying to overcome the light (see John 1:5). It is difficult for us, very difficult for us, to maintain a sense of equilibrium, a sense of where we are going, in the midst of all this. It is very difficult indeed. If we are not careful, we will fall into some dangerous traps, traps mostly of the intellect or of the passions, traps which will divert us from our sense of direction. That is the environment in which we find ourselves this morning, as we stand in the presence of our Saviour and of the centurion, and as we witness the healing of the centurion’s servant (see Matthew 8:5-13 ; see also Luke 7:1-10).

Our Lord found in this centurion, converting to Christ, more immediate faith than He found in the children of Israel – children who had inherited the promise and the covenant. This was because people had become distracted from the right course. They had forgotten their sense of perspective, and what comes first in life. As a result, they were floundering, as human beings always do under similar circumstances. I am noted for saying that “human beings are very slow learners”. I have yet to be proven wrong, because I cannot see how human society has truly progressed in any way in more than 5,000 years. I recall talking to one of the best Egyptologists on this continent last year, and asking him the question : “Is anything different or better, in over 5,000 years ?” He replied : “No, it is worse”. We are not learning anything, because we cannot keep our eyes on what is our end, and what is our purpose in life. That end and that purpose is only one – Jesus Christ : loving Him, knowing Him, and serving Him.

Regarding the heretics, whose failures and foibles we recalled in our hymns last night at Great Vespers commemorating the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils : those conciliar Fathers kept a sense of direction, not because of their intellectual powers alone, but because their great intellects were informed and guided by the love of Jesus Christ. Their hearts knew Who Jesus Christ really is. The heretics, on the other hand, fell into intellectual traps. They were afraid of the implications of the depth of God’s love. They tried to rationalise around this love in order to make the Incarnation of the Love of God – Jesus Christ – more “acceptable” to humans, somehow. They tried in their various ways to “box in” God’s love. That never works. The Fathers, who preserved for us the Orthodox Faith, did so because their hearts and their minds were not separated, but rather united, and they knew the Lord. They knew Who the Lord is, and they also knew who the Lord is not.

You and I, as salt and yeast on this continent, are not going to be winning people by intellectual games and arguments, because this society in which we live is far too clever for all that. Our society is far too clever for the standard debates and arguments that we have used in the past to help people find God. These days, because people are so cynical in North America (they have “seen everything”, or they think they have seen everything), it comes down to the “brass tacks” of what sort of life you and I live. “Big Red” still has some surprises in store, I think ; but we, ourselves, are not responsible for the turmoil others are living in. We, ourselves, are responsible for keeping our hearts and our minds on Jesus Christ. We, ourselves, are responsible for living a life that is conformed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This life, conformed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is characterised by self-giving and self-emptying love. Actually, this life is characterised by nothing else than self-giving, self-emptying, serving love, imitating the Master Himself, Jesus Christ – who, when He washed their feet, said to the Apostles, as it were : "You have to do as I am doing". We have to imitate Him. I, myself, still have to learn a prime lesson that I was taught by a parishioner many years ago in Winnipeg, who said to me : “So you are greater than God, are you ?” I wondered what he was getting at. He answered : “I notice you never take a day off. God took a day off, don’t you remember ?” I am afraid that I still do not quite catch and apply his meaning, and that was more than twenty years ago. When I talk about “slow learning”, I know what I am talking about.

People around us, who are lost in all sorts of webs of deceit, pursuing the emptiness of trying to be comfortable in this world ; people who are broken and damaged badly by the pain of life ; people whose hearts are “dried up” – they are the ones who are looking to you and to me, Orthodox Christians, who profess to inherit the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth of Jesus Christ. They are looking to us to show Jesus Christ to them. The only way in which we can show them Who Christ is, is by how we truly love each other, in conformity with the Gospel.

In my early days as a priest, I was really depressed – a lot and often – by how little I found the people reading the Scriptures : by how ignorant people in our Church were of the Scriptures. Now, things are a little bit better. I now hear that people at least read the prescribed daily Scripture-portions. That is all right ; and after these twenty years and more of serving, I am glad to see that much. However, my brothers and sisters, those Fathers who “saved our bacon” 1500 years ago and more, were people who read deeply from the Scriptures every day. They were “bathing” in the Scriptures. They were “swimming” in the Scriptures. They knew the Bible by heart — not by memory, but by heart — because they read it so much. It is important for us to remember that if we are going to know Who Jesus Christ is, then it is in these very Scriptures that we are going to find out Who He really is, and how we are supposed to live.

I really took heart when I was a “green” seminarian, and a “one-year-old” priest, when I went one day to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. I met for the first time the now departed Archimandrite Vasily of very blessed memory ; and I heard, through secondary sources, that his kellenik (cell attendant) had, not long before, been commenting about how nice it was that Archimandrite Vasily (who by this time was an old man) had asked his cell attendant to read the Bible to him every day. Then, when they had come to the end of the Apocalypse, Archimandrite Vasily had said : “Oh, that was so nice, let’s start again !”

That is exactly how we would feel when we are “normal”. There are people these days who do have that attitude towards the foundation of our life in Christ – the Holy Scriptures. You and I, brothers and sisters, have got to grow up in our life in Christ, in our love in Christ, because it is not in systems, it is not in techniques (although they help), it is not in our use of manipulative or political strategies, it is not in any of these alone that we can put any trust. It is only when we know in our heart Who Jesus Christ is, and when we are testifying by our life to that Truth, to Him who is the Truth – our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ – that we can truly grow up.

That is what this coming week is all about : deepening our love for Jesus Christ, encouraging each other to persevere (no matter how difficult it is) in serving Jesus Christ ; in being salt and yeast, imitating our Saviour, as He calls us, in His love, to do. He calls us to be life-givers and light-givers to those around us – in all humility, with no pride, but only with the love of Jesus Christ, whom, with all love, we here all glorify, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Learning how to trust the Saviour

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Learning how to trust the Saviour
8th Sunday after Pentecost
14 August, 2005
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 ; Matthew 14:14-22


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There is a great deal about the Christian life that involves simple and plain trust in Jesus Christ, even when He asks us to do strange and difficult things. Had I been there amongst the crowd, I can hardly imagine being able to comprehend what Christ is doing today : feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. Yet, it happened.

The apostles, even though they had questions, nevertheless went ahead and did precisely what our Lord asked them to do. They gave Him the five loaves and the two fish ; He prayed, and they distributed them. To prove the whole point, our Lord said to pick up what was left over : twelve baskets full of leftovers. The leftovers were more than what they began with. This is just to prove to them, and to us, Who Jesus Christ is : the Lord of the universe, the Lord of everything, the Provider of everything. He knows what He is doing with us. We do not know anything. He knows everything.

It is important that we put our hearts towards the Lord. We have to put our hearts first, our minds second. With the eyes of our hearts on the Lord, we will be able to trust that He knows what He is doing with the universe that He created, that He knows what He is doing with your life and my life. We will be able to accept this even if things are not working out the way we had hoped for them to work out. The Lord knows what He is doing with us. In this case, we cannot find our own property and building yet, because the time is not right. That does not mean that we do not keep looking. We do keep looking, but we wait until the Lord blesses one of the things that we come up with to offer Him, or, until He sends something to us that we do not expect at all. However, we keep offering our part, which is our looking and our growing together.

This community has been stable for a while, and is slowly growing. This slow growth at the very beginning is very important. It is important for the founders of any community to know each other, and to trust each other in Christ. It is important for them to trust that each one loves Jesus Christ, and to trust that each one is going to do the best he or she can in building up the church here. It is greatly important that we nurture one another here. When the time comes to grow substantially, visibly, you will need jet propulsion at that time. You need this time (although it seems long, and you might be impatient). You need this time for putting down deep, spiritual roots, and learning how to trust the Saviour, as the apostles did.

The Apostle Paul in the Epistle today was speaking about how some people in the church in Corinth were being divided, and were saying : “I belong to this apostle” ; and “I belong to that apostle”. It seems that they had forgotten all about Christ. Nevertheless, they all belong to Christ. Ultimately, Peter, Paul and Apollos are only there for Jesus Christ. The devil is the great divider. He plays with people’s hearts and emotions in order to break up Christian communities, so that the light of Christ will not shine. It is our responsibility to trust our Lord as the apostles trusted Christ with the five loaves and the two fish, and as the Apostle Peter trusted our Saviour when He called to him to walk on the water with Him (see Matthew 14:29).

It is up to us to learn to trust the Saviour with our lives and with the growth of this community. It is up to us to trust each other, and not to allow the devil to divide us with silly suspicions, silly ideas, and silly fears. That is all he ever needs to do with us, because we usually are such stupid sheep about these things. He only needs to plant suspicion and fear in our hearts one for another and we, like silly, silly sheep, fall for it. I begin to believe that my brother or sister does not like me. Very often, a brother or sister does not behave normally towards me on a particular day because he or she does not feel well on that particular day, or has had bad news about the family, or is worried or pre-occupied about something. I am not the centre of the universe. Jesus Christ is. If someone is behaving strangely towards me, it is my responsibility not to say : “Poor me, my brother or sister has got something against me”. It is for me to say “Lord have mercy” for my brother or sister for what is bothering him or her. “Lord have mercy ; help my brother or sister”. It is important for us to keep our hearts warm towards our brother or sister, no matter what, and to live in forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ with each other.

It is on this firm foundation that this community will shine brightly here in n, and will grow for Christ. It will grow new Christians, and grow rehabilitated Christians for Christ. Thus as Saint Herman of Alaska said : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In doing this, we will glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Leave-taking of the Feast of the Transfiguration

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
“Lord, it is good for us to be here”
Leave-taking of the Feast of the Transfiguration
26 August, 2005
2 Corinthians 1:12-20 ; Matthew 22:23-33


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is a dangerous thing to be presumptuous. The people who were addressing our Saviour today with the silly question about the seven brothers, and whose wife the woman was going to be in the Resurrection, were in fact tempting God. This is a very dangerous thing to do. Our Lord shows them mercy. He is prepared not to admonish, but instead patiently, patiently to say, as it were : “Look, wake up and smell the coffee !” When you come to the matter of what happens after death, there is no more marrying or being given in marriage. Everyone lives as do the angels. Our Lord was not saying that they are angels (because human beings never change their nature – even in heaven we are still human beings), but we are like angels. There is no more concern about being married or anything like that. However, that does not mean that the bond of love is dissolved for any reason. What exactly is the relation between this woman and all the seven brothers who were married to her in the course of her life ? All becomes a mystery understood by God, Himself, alone. Obviously, there is some bond of love.

By the way, just so that you know : despite Hollywood behaviour (or misbehaviour), Christians cannot be married seven times. In the Orthodox Church, the absolute, maximum number of times for a person to be married under any circumstances is three, no more than three (and even that is by stretching compassion). More than one is not looked on with favour in the Orthodox Church. Anything more than one is a toleration because of our weakness. It is blessed by God, but it is not the ideal. The ideal for Orthodox Christians is one marriage – just one. Understand that. Because of our weakness (and for certain other reasons), we tolerate more than one marriage in the course of a person’s life, and this toleration as been with us for a very, very long time. It is not some sort of new, liberal idea. That does not mean that the Orthodox Church is somehow encouraging this trend or is following in the footsteps of Hollywood.

The Lord is trying to make a point here. He is saying that His love for us is stable. His love is patient. He loves us. He wants us to be like Him. To be like Him means that our lives need to be transfigured. Today, we are celebrating the ending of the Feast of the Transfiguration, the week-long celebration of the time on Mount Tabor when our Saviour is transfigured on the mountain before His disciples and apostles – Peter, James, and John. He is shining with a radiance beyond our ability to describe. The words in the English translation are insufficient because the meaning of the Greek word which is translated as “radiance” here, is something that is very, very bright, very intense, very great. If we look at the icon of the Transfiguration, we see the disciples falling down on the ground in awe and amazement because the light and the radiance of God are so great. The radiance of His love is so intense that they cannot bear it. Even though they feel that they cannot bear the radiance of God because it is so bright and so intense, the Apostle Peter nevertheless says : “‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Matthew 17:4). Even so, this is not allowed by the Lord because this moment is a taste of the Resurrection that is to come. Yes, it was awesome ; yes, it was overwhelming ; yes, it made the apostles fall down on the ground because it was such an intense experience. Their legs would not hold them up.

What was the foundation of this experience ? The experience made this apostle say, as it were : “This is hard to bear. I do not think I can bear it at all, but I want this experience to last forever”. That is essentially what the Apostle Peter said. What was this experience ? It was the experience of the Lord’s love. It was the peace and joy that come from the presence of the Lord’s love. That is why he and the others all wanted to perpetuate that moment forever. We can understand something about what this moment of transfiguration was like. For you and for me, there are times in our life when we have a taste of what it feels like when the Lord pours out His love on us. Sometimes when we are praying during the Divine Liturgy, for example, the peace and joy of the Lord are so present, and so intense that the Liturgy could go on for five or six hours ; and we would not notice the length, or even care about it, because everything is so beautiful. There are moments like that in our lives when the Lord reveals to us His love which is so life-giving that it makes one moment be prolonged and prolonged and prolonged. There have been times in my life when I have been serving in churches in one place or another, where the service has been going on for four or five hours (occasionally Pascha has been like this), but somehow people are all focussed together by some miracle. Their hearts are in harmony on that particular day. The devil is not distracting them too badly, and they are together in the Lord. The sense of the immediate presence of the Lord can make those four or five hours feel like one hour, but not much more. When the service is finished, people often say that it would have been good just to stay there and hold on to that moment forever (just as the Apostle Peter desired to do at the Transfiguration). The Lord gives us moments like this to encourage us, and to remind us that He is with us and that He loves us.

The Apostle Paul says that everything is “Yes” in Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:19). Everything is true in Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ, Himself, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as He says (see John 14:6). Although many people in North America are trying to say nowadays that there are many truths, this is all wrong. There are not many truths. There is only one Truth. In Jesus Christ is found all Truth. We have to remember that there is not a variety of truths. There is one Truth. Everything that is true finds its truth and its rightness in Jesus Christ. If anything is true, it is because it is in Jesus Christ. That is how we must understand truth as Orthodox Christians. Everything is in Jesus Christ. Everything comes from Him, and everything points to Him. As the Apostle says : “Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). (Evil, however, has no being or substance. It is all illusion and fakery.) He who loves us and brought us into being, gives us these moments I have been describing, like the moment of the Transfiguration. The Lord in these moments gives us courage and strength to go on, and to persevere at times when we feel that it is really hard and heavy, and when we do not necessarily feel the presence of the Lord close to us. Nevertheless, He truly is close to us. We just have to have faith in Him.

The Lord knows that difficult moments will come to us. He gives these Mount Tabor moments to us so that we will have courage to persevere, knowing that the difficulties will pass, and we will feel the sense of His love again. The moment of the Transfiguration happened close to the time of the Crucifixion, the Death, and the Resurrection of Christ. The Lord gave this experience of the Transfiguration to the apostles so that they could eventually understand His Resurrection. Even when He did rise from the dead, they were a bit slow to catch on. Our Lord had to remind them in various ways, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to see in their hearts the connexion between the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. He gives us these moments for the same purpose – to remind us that these are tastes of Heaven. These moments are tastes of the sweetness, joy, peace and love of Heaven, and the timelessness of being in His presence.

In conclusion, I would like to tell you about how the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated every year on Mount Tabor in Palestine. I think it is important to hear about God’s love for us as a word of encouragement. I heard this story first from a bishop who used to serve in Palestine as a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate. He served the Feast of the Transfiguration every year on Mount Tabor where the Transfiguration itself happened. I have also heard the same story from many other people who have lived at one time in Palestine, and who have been at the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of the Transfiguration at the top of Mount Tabor. They all say the same thing. In Palestine at that time of year, it is hot, dry, and it never rains. The sky is clear blue, and 45° C is the normal temperature in that part of the world. In the evening, on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration, year after year, there is always a circle of small clouds round about the top of Mount Tabor. Because the Roman Catholics own the large, main church building on top of the mountain, the Orthodox are serving in the nearby Orthodox Temple of their monastery in the middle of the night. They serve Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy, which takes a good 6 hours. They go up to the top of the mountain with all their baskets of fruit which they leave outside of the church. This is unusual, is it not ?

While they are in the Temple in the middle of the night, singing God’s praises, and celebrating the Divine Liturgy, all the twelve or thirteen clouds merge and become one single cloud on the top of Mount Tabor. The humidity from this cloud makes all the fruit wet. I do not think that there is an Orthodox believer who would deny that God Himself blesses the fruit. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy (unlike everywhere else in the world, where we have the blessing of the fruit with Holy Water), on Mount Tabor, they do not have that service because the Lord Himself blesses the fruit. In the morning, the cloud dissipates.

The Lord has given us this (and the fact that people around the world know about it) as an encouragement to us. He loves us, and He is with us in concrete ways. However, it is for you and for me here in difficult North America to open the eyes of our heart, and to let the Lord show Himself to us. We must allow ourselves to see, and hear, and smell, and taste the Lord’s presence with us. He is very close. Sometimes He even allows us to smell His presence. I know of many people who have sometimes smelt the sweetest and most beautiful aroma of incense in their homes, and even in their cars. This is the presence of God that is meant to encourage them, telling them : “I am with you. I love you. Be with me. Be faithful. I am with you”.

That is why it is important for us to remember today on this feast-day, and also here in this Temple (which almost came tumbling down), that this community is again being called to witness to Christ’s love in n. However, in effect, the Lord is saying to us : “I am with you. There is a reason why this building is being restored. It is a sign of My love here, where I have loved people who have served Me here for a hundred years, and where I have served you for over a hundred years”. Other people are going to continue to serve here – we have no idea who – but hearts have been moved. The Lord will do with this Temple as He wills. Let us offer this Temple to Him in love, as we have to do also with our lives. Trusting Him, let us glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Child-like Humility

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Child-like Humility
Saturday of the 10th Week after Pentecost
27 August, 2005
Romans 15:30-33 ; Matthew 17:24-18:4


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel reading this morning, when the Lord is speaking to the Apostle Peter, He begins by asking (as a result of the tax-collecting requirement) what is the correct order of things. This apostle answers Him well. Ultimately, our Lord demonstrates just through the fishing how things are all in God’s hands.

Our Lord says that it is important for us to humble ourselves like little children. This, according to my understanding of it, truly is the essence of the way of a Christian. What is a child to his or her parents ? The child is the object of the parents’ love, obviously. To some extent it depends on the parents’ ability (and other factors) how this love is played out in the course of life. Sometimes it gets distorted. Nevertheless, it is the intention on the part of the parents (even though there may be weaknesses and emotional baggage) to love their child. The parents want the best for the child, who is the fruit of the parents’ love. Most parents that I have known will give anything of themselves for the welfare of their children. Sometimes they almost die from self-deprivation so that their children will be well. That is one of the characteristics of behaviour of prairie settlers. People arrived in Canada with nothing, and still at the end of their lives they found that they had very little. They had given their all for their children. They did this so that their children would have a better opportunity to have a stable and good life. They deprived themselves in order that their children do well.

I have met a number of poor families even in these days, who, when money is short between paycheques, will deprive themselves of food. They eat very little, in order that their children have enough to eat until they have enough money again next paycheque. I am not referring to people on welfare, either. There are plenty of legitimately poor people whose income is very small. Sometimes there are accidents that happen that require extra money for something or other. Sometimes there is a miscalculation, and the last few days before one gets paid the next time are rather tight. Parents will give everything of themselves for the sake of their children. This is how God made us. It is the working out of love.

This is also a reflection of how God is towards us. I have said many times in many places that if I had been the creator of the universe, I would have wiped it out a long time ago. It is so awful how people behave, and how ungrateful people are towards the Lord. We have a loving, merciful God who is patient beyond our imagination, precisely because He has this sort of love that parents have for their children.

From the child’s perspective, the child knows that the parents love him. The child looks to the parents for everything, and sometimes this can come to an irritating level. I remember in my own childhood a number of occasions on which I was saying to my parents : “Give me this ; give me that”. I was asked : “Who was your slave last year ?” It is the parents’ job to put things into perspective. A child can become unbalanced in his or her perspective when taking the parents’ love for granted. The parents’ love requires that they give to the child a certain correction. “Who was your slave last year” is a very mild correction. I remember feeling embarrassed when I was told that. Nevertheless, I remember it to this day.

The child looks to the parents for everything, and expects the parents to protect him or her in everything. This is precisely how the Lord wants us to be towards Him. I think that people who are on farms are still in the best position to experience this sense of child-like humility. No matter how much a farmer may be able to work on and with the land, everything depends on the weather. We can do everything correctly according to the book, but some flies are going to come or there is too much dryness, or there is too much water, or things are out of balance, and we can have a very bad harvest that year. Sometimes we can wonder whether we are going to eat properly at all during the winter (and even more so these days because the financial output of farmers is so great). Farmers have always turned towards the Lord, and said : “Help me, Lord, while I am planting. Help this crop to grow. Help me while I am harvesting. Help me while I am preparing for the next year”. Farmers have always had this basic relationship of trust with the Lord which has been life-giving.

This is actually one of the reasons that I have always enjoyed going to the country parishes. The believers in the country still have a more direct sense of this relationship between themselves and the Lord than those in urban parishes, it seems. They are dependent upon Him to provide what is right. I have seen, as a result of this, in one place or another, how a believing farmer in a difficult year (because of the climate) can be praying to the Lord, and asking the Lord for protection. The result is that even though the crop may not be great, it is often better than the crops of people who are merely tossing on chemicals and then going for coffee, expecting that science will do it all. People who are turning to the Lord have this way of allowing the Lord to bring about the best that is possible under the circumstances. It will not completely change the climate, but it might save you from a tornado. It might save you from excessive hail sometimes, for instance. These sorts of things the Lord can protect us from.

The Lord sends rain and sun on the righteous and on the unrighteous (see Matthew 5:45). Nevertheless, He measures each person according to who he or she is. If He is trying to give a lesson to the whole neighbourhood for one reason or another, He will still take into account the faithfulness of one person there. For example, in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, the angels were going to visit Lot to see who was faithful there. They were prepared to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of its people. Nevertheless, these angels listened to Abraham because Abraham cared about his family. Lot, of course, cared about his family, and he cared about the people that he lived amongst even though they were awful, and they abused him and his family terribly. They even tried to abuse these angels (as we read in 1 Moses [Genesis] 19). Nevertheless, Abraham said, as it were : “You will not destroy the city if there are fifty faithful people here ?” The Lord said : “No, I will not destroy it for fifty”. They went on bargaining like that, and ended up limiting it just to ten righteous persons. (In fact, in Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not any good people left, except Lot’s family.) Only Lot and his family escaped. Everyone else was destroyed.

Human beings are slow learners. Overall, it seems that from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah, people have not learnt how to live properly. We always seem to fall right back into the same old junk (as our society is doing today). It will serve us right if our economies all collapse and everything falls down because we, as a society, have taken our eyes off the Lord. We have stopped trusting in the Lord. In fact, we have rejected God. In Canadian society that is simply how it is. As a society, we have rejected God.

We, who are faithful, have to remain faithful and save something of the good that remains. There are a great many good people. As a whole, the rot is very pernicious and takes a lot of people down. People are quick to take their eyes off the Lord, and to turn them on themselves and on really empty self-satisfaction (which is temporary), instead of looking to the Lord and to what is eternal. We ourselves need to remember that the Lord values the love of the child. He values that love in us. This is the part of us that we need to keep alive – this child in us, that still trusts that the Lord loves us, and still has confidence that the Lord will look after us. Everything is balance. I do not deserve anything. If I try to grab too much, the Lord will put me in my place.

Nevertheless, the Lord does love us. He does want to protect us. He does want to nurture us. He does want us to be well here in this life. He wants us to be productive persons in our life. He will give to each one – to you and to me – the resources we need to become the productive plant, the productive person that He created each of us uniquely to be. There never was a person like you or me in the world before, and there will not be after (no matter what reincarnation likes to say about things). We are unique creatures. God’s love is not in any way limited that He cannot keep on creating people who reflect Him, like you and me. This child in us is a direct connection between us and Him. Let us ask the Lord this morning in our worship to renew this child-like love in our hearts, and to freshen up this confidence in Him. It is this that is life-giving.

I know that in a small community like this in rural parts of Canada (especially in Manitoba and Saskatchewan where rural population is such a significant thing), people think very often that because the numbers get greatly diminished, it means that the end somehow is quite soon. However, this is not necessarily so. It is possible that certain communities decline. They cannot continue because of various factors. Sometimes the people have completely gone away. Sometimes a congregation is even closed down.

Let us consider Sifton, for instance. Sifton, almost gone, is now starting to wake up and come back to life. We never want to focus on what might be the end of anything because we simply do not know. I have seen this happen in a lot of rural communities in Saskatchewan and Alberta. People thought that because there were so few left, it was too difficult to carry on. Yet the Lord gave them the resources to continue. Somehow, out of nowhere, new people arrive and life continues and is renewed. The Lord wants His Orthodox Christian witness shining in all corners. The Lord wants this Orthodox life and His love shining in all corners because people in this really depressing environment in which we live, need hope.

We, who have the love of Jesus Christ, have inherited the right way to live the love of Jesus Christ. Our perseverance, our loving treatment of each other – just that alone can give people what they need to continue, themselves. Let us use these resources of God’s love, and glorify Him in our lives as we continue to live to His glory, and as we worship Him now : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Old-Style)

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Being Imitators of the Mother of God
Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Old-Style)
28 August, 2005
Philippians 2:5-11 ; Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are celebrating the death of the Mother of God. We are also celebrating her resurrection, because, as the icon of this Feast shows us, the soul of the Mother of God is being taken away by Christ at the time of her death. However, we also know from the earliest Tradition of the apostles that when the apostles went to look for her body, they could not find it because it was already gone. Therefore, we have to say that she was the first-fruits of the Resurrection.

Why is this the case with her ? It is because she lived out the very last words that we heard today in the Gospel. She became, in the living out of those words, the example for the rest of us of how to live the Christian life, how to gain eternal life, and how to enter the Kingdom of God. The two readings today come together to show us precisely how.

Very many times I have heard certain people (who do not know the Scriptures very well) say that when someone in the crowd comments : “‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts that nursed You’”, and our Saviour replies : “‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it’”, these words are putting down the Mother of God, somehow. However, nothing of the sort is the case. Our Saviour is putting in their place the people who said such things. It is not simply because the Mother of God bore Christ that she is blessed as a woman. It is not only because she gave birth to the Saviour that she is “more honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”. It is not only because she gave birth to the Son of God and raised Him to adulthood. It is because she heard the word of God and kept it.

The Apostle Luke tells us precisely that. The Mother of God kept in her heart the things that happened when Christ was a Child, and she treasured them (see Luke 2:19). She kept God’s word her whole life through. From her earliest childhood she was dedicated to the service of God. Her life, her whole life, was a life of obedient service to the Lord ; loving, obedient service to the Lord.

When the Archangel Gabriel, sent from the Lord, told her that she would give birth to a Son (and she was not even married), she said : “‘How can this be?’” (Luke 1:34). Nevertheless, she accepted the promise even though she could not understand. Also, Joseph, her betrothed husband (who had all sorts of doubts and struggles about the whole situation), when the angel visited him, trusted God and accepted His word.

These, our spiritual ancestors, heard the word of God and kept it. What does this mean : “to hear the word of God and to keep it ?” It means, in part, being like the Mother of God herself. It means being like Christ Himself, who did not think it “robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself”, as the Epistle says. He limited Himself – He who is not limitable. He who created everything, and is creating everything, became Himself a creature. He emptied Himself. He became a human being in order to save us, in order to save us from ourselves, in order to save us from our darkness, our fear, our fallenness.

Why did He do all this ? It was because of love, selfless love, love with no strings attached. Why did the Mother of God live such a life of obedient service, and hear the word of God and keep it the way she did ? She did this because of love, the same love of the same loving God. This is the way for you and for me – self-emptying, self-sacrificing, selfless love – not putting ourselves first and in front of everyone and everything (which Canadian society says we are supposed to do). We must do the opposite : to be the last, and to be happy to be the last ; not to be praised for everything, but to be satisfied to be serving Christ, to be doing good things in our lives, to be living according to the talents that God has given, and offering them to Him ; not to be asking to be thanked for everything that we do, but to be grateful that we can serve the Lord in helping other people, in feeding other people who are hungry, in consoling other people who are grief-stricken for one reason or another, in being useful to God according to the gifts He has given. I do not need the thanks of human beings. It is enough satisfaction to know that these things that are being done are being done to His glory.

“You can never please everyone”, my Mother said to me many times. “Do not even try to please everyone ; you cannot do it, because people are too different”. People are too different ; people are too moody ; people are too selfish. You cannot please all the people all the time. We have to be pleasing to the Lord. After all, God is eternal. God is our Creator. In God, we have hope of eternal life. Which is better : to try to please God or to try to please fickle people ? God, I believe. However, we usually fall into trying to please fickle people because we are so easily distracted.

The Mother of God, in her life and in her death, is an example of how to live our lives in hope and to come to the end of our lives in hope. We do not have eternal life just because we are human beings, just because God saves us, just because God loves us. We have eternal life because, already in this life, we begin to participate and share in it. Already, in this life, in our behaviour towards other human beings, in our behaviour towards the creation around us, we have the possibility of participating in the beginning of eternal life. That is how we find the hope of eternal life : in experiencing this love now, in practicing this love now, here, amongst each other. The life which we are now living is the preparation, the entry-way to eternal life with Christ. What this is going to be like very much depends on what we are doing with our life now.

The Mother of God was, and is salt and yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) because of her love, her obedience, and her service. Her whole life was love, and obedience in love and service. She lived this way not because she was even asked, but because she saw what needed to be done. She understood in her heart what God was directing her to do, and she did it. She became like Adam and Eve before the Fall, whose hearts were completely, 100 per cent in tune with God’s will. God did not even have to tell them what to do because their hearts told them what God would like them to do in certain circumstances : how to name this animal, how to name that animal, how to name this tree or that tree, how to live amongst these animals, how to be good and nurturing to these animals and these trees and these plants in the garden. Even when they fell, they did not lose all communication with the Lord right away.

The Mother of God became like that. You and I can become like that as well. Probably there are other people alive today who have, in the course of their lives, lived as salt and yeast in this world (and there certainly have been quite a few people who have lived this way before us). Salt and yeast are not visible – we cannot tell where they are. We cannot see them, but we can certainly tell what they do. When we taste bread, we can tell that salt and yeast have been at work. That is what you and I are to be like in this world – like the Mother of God.

The Saviour emptied Himself and became least of all so that the Father ultimately raised Him up and exalted Him above everyone and everything. Exaltation comes only after self-emptying humility. Humility is not being a grovelling creeper, like Uriah Heep. It is knowing who we are in Christ, having confidence in Christ’s love, and knowing that we were created to be good. At the same time, humility is understanding that we do not need to be noticed ; we do not need to be praised. We do what we do because of love of God, in the same manner as the Mother of God did, and still does. She loves God above everything.

Keeping the word of God means understanding what He wants us to do : to live according to His love, and to do what this love, this selfless love, directs us to do. Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, who was a wonderfully holy man, was one of those imitators of the Mother of God in the way he lived his life in Alaska around 200 years ago. He said over and over again so that all the people in the region remembered his words after 200 years without writing them down : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”.

Let us indeed love God above all, and do His holy will. Let us ask the Mother of God to pray for us, to protect us, to support us, so that we will be able to love God above all, and do His holy will, as she did and does. Let us also ask Saint Herman to pray for us, too, and to support us by his prayers, so that we, in our imitation of their loving service, may imitate Christ as they imitated and do imitate Christ, and live in love, being yeast and salt in this world. May we come at the end to the heavenly Kingdom and hear our Lord say : “‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you’” (Matthew 25:34). May we love God above all, and do His holy will, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Altar Feast

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord works in and through us
Altar Feast
(Feast of the Dedication of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem)
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Transferred to 11 September, 2005
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ; Matthew 19:16-26 ;
Hebrews 3:1-4 ; Matthew 16:13-18


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Every year as we celebrate the patronal feast of this Temple, we are celebrating at the same time the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This church is named for that Temple and that feast which always happens the day before the Elevation of the Holy Cross. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross happened in that Temple in Jerusalem the day after the church itself was dedicated.

In celebrating this feast, we are celebrating the mystery of God’s love for us, and how it works out. It is a great mystery how Saint Helena could find the true Cross which healed people as soon as it was found, and demonstrated to people that God is still with us. It is God Himself who led Saint Helena to this Holy Cross. It was not because she was a good detective that she found it. It was because she had a good heart that was listening to God’s leading. She paid attention to the words of believers who remembered where it was kept. She listened to the Holy Spirit moving in her heart, and that is how the Holy Cross was found.

Ever since that time, the Holy Cross has been for us an example of God’s self-emptying love. The presence of parts of this Holy Cross in many corners of the world has been an encouragement to believers where there has been a lot of suffering and difficulty. People have been able to turn to the Holy Cross and find healing. Saint John of Damascus has told us that every time we venerate any representation of the Holy Cross, the veneration goes straight to the original Holy Cross, and through it, to Christ Himself who was crucified on this Holy Cross. It is He, that through His Cross, gives us life in His Resurrection. It is He, that through His suffering on the Cross, brings us healing and life today through the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord, in His love, is with us. We built this Temple a long time ago, and before that, its ancestor farther downtown, in order to have a place in which to worship the Lord. It was built not only so that we can worship the Lord, but also so that people around would be encouraged by seeing that there is such a Temple of the Lord, and that there are believers worshipping there. When the bell is ringing, even though the neighbours may not come, they are touched in their hearts by the sound of the ringing of the bell. Some of them may sometime come, as other people have come to this holy Temple and have found Christ. They have worshipped Him with us, and have become part of us over the years.

It is good for me to see this Temple again with blue domes. It was nice while they were gold, but for me, sentimentally, it is better now that they are blue. When I first came to this Temple more than thirty years ago, they were blue. These blue domes are also reminding me of the blue domes of Ouspensky Sobor in Trinity-Sergius Lavra, for instance, because they have a similar character to them (although I did not know that when I first came to this Temple). These blue domes and the shiny Crosses upon them will catch peoples’ eyes and make them think : “What is this lovely church ? Maybe I might be able to go there sometime”. And sometime they might.

It was because believers in this community were loving and caring (and were in some ways related to believers I knew in n), that I was able, when I first came to this city as a student, to be brave enough to come here, even though I did not yet know anyone. However, the people I had been told to look for, met me. They were expecting me, and they welcomed me. Then people like n, who did not know me, met me, and greeted me, and warmed my heart. This is how it has to be. When that door opens, we do not know who it is that the Lord is sending through that door, and what will come with that person who comes through that door. It is our responsibility to be welcoming in Christ, to be receiving in Christ.

God moved the hearts of Orthodox believers eighty or more years ago to build this Temple to His glory. As the words from the Epistle this morning say : It is the Lord who is the Builder. People helped Him build, but it is the Lord who built this Temple (first the one downtown, and now this one). It is He who moved the hearts of faithful people to do this work. They worked with Him to build this Temple to His glory, in which we have been able to worship Him day by day, and week by week until now. It is important for us to be grateful for the founders who established this Temple and its predecessor. They listened to God. They listened to the moving of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Because they did this, they were able to erect a Temple to His glory here in this city. From this very community have, in fact, grown up all the other Orthodox communities in the whole of this province. This one was the first. It is because this church was established to the glory of God that other communities of believers were able to establish themselves in various parts of this city and province.

I still remember well how the welcoming disposition of this community enabled a second Greek-speaking worshipping community to develop. It was in the hall over there that for a number of years that fledgling community was worshipping at the same time that we were praying here. Because of the generosity of the people here, because of their willingness to support other believers, there came to be a second Greek church. It was because of the welcoming and God-loving disposition of the people here, that various Romanian communities were able to establish themselves in this city. People here welcomed them, and gave them a start.

A great deal of good fruit has come from here, not the least of which is that Mission in n, which for many years waited for the right and opportune time to come for it truly to grow. Back in the days of Vladyka Ioasaph, when n was a deacon (well over thirty years ago), they went over to n and were serving in that Mission, establishing a seed. The seed had a hard time growing, I guess, because it is very rocky spiritual ground over there. Eventually there was enough soil around for the plant to grow, through the prayers of Vladyka Ioasaph and the people who originally went there. Because of their love and their service so long ago, now we have a thriving community there. It still calls itself a Mission, but it actually is not. It has regularly sixty people in church already. It is advanced enough to be called a parish. This is because faithful people have been ready to co-operate with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. People who have come before us, because they always have been welcoming and loving to people who came through that door, enabled a great multiplication of the Orthodox Faith in this province.

The Lord has been building through you and in you. The Lord speaks to us today in the Gospel about that rich young man (who could obey the commandments but who could not give up everything and follow Christ) : “‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’”. When the apostles ask who then could be saved, our Lord says to them : “‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’”. In this community, even though some people have become well endowed with financial resources, most of them have still been ready to put the Church first in their hearts and lives. They considered these resources to be God’s blessing, and they have used these resources to God’s glory. That is one reason why this Temple is in such good condition. We have such nice doors, windows, and cupolas. The parish hall is in good condition, because people have been prepared to share their personal resources for the glory of God. They have been ready to share with the rest of the church what God has given them, to glorify God, to give thanks to God, and to show their gratitude in a material, as well as a spiritual way.

The way of the Orthodox Christian is to show and express gratitude. That is why we are here today. We, Orthodox Christians, are standing here today in the Temple of God’s glory, which our ancestors erected (our spiritual or physical ancestors). All the people who came before, if they are not our personal, physical ancestors, are definitely our spiritual ancestors. We are standing here today in the Temple which they erected to God’s glory. We are continuing with them and in their footsteps as we glorify our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are doing what the Lord is asking us to do. Every week, and very often during the week, we come here to give thanks to Him, and to praise Him for His love for us, for His presence with us, for the Grace that He pours out upon us, for the love that He shares with us, for the healing that He gives to us, for the doors that He opens for us to find work, for the way that He helps us to reconcile our differences one with another. We are giving thanks to Him today, and praising Him in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, as the Apostle Paul says (see Ephesians 5:19), because we are responding to His love for us. We are grateful that He is with us, that He is helping us, that He is supporting us, and enabling us to do the supposedly impossible for ordinary, unbelieving persons. He helps us to do the impossible.

One of these apparently impossible things is to remain hopeful, joyful, strong, vigorous, with a sense of direction in the middle of a time and a society where everything is inside out and upside down ; in a time when people are depressed because their selfishness is leading them into nothingness and complete emptiness. Psychiatrists are so overloaded with appointments these days that all they can do is give people pills. Very often, these doctors do not even have time to listen to their story. People are in such a wrecked condition. However, we Orthodox believers are still able to go about life with a sense of direction, with a sense of God’s being with us, with a sense of hope, with joy, knowing that no matter how bad things are in our society, no matter how much people have turned their backs on Christ, we have not. God is with us. His love is with us, and we are going to share the light of His love by going about our lives in this way. Hopeless people are seeking help from psychiatrists. Hopeless people grasp at empty straws in weird philosophies and theories. Hopeless people struggle to find meaning through magic. All these paths are ruinous and empty. Indeed, may it be possible that because of the activity of the light of Christ in us, they may find true hope.

Dear brothers and sisters, God in His mercy is with us today as we celebrate to His glory the Feast of the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. He is with us today as we give thanks to Him for His love. He is with us today as we give praise to Him for His love, and in His love. He is with us as we go from this Temple today and tomorrow, and as we go about our lives. Let us offer anew our hearts to Him, our lives to Him, and allow Him more and more to direct our lives. Then everything about our lives will be directed in Jesus Christ. Then everything about our lives will point others to Jesus Christ just as the Mother of God herself always directs everyone to her Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, so that we, and others with us, may glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Lord is in Charge of Everything

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord is in Charge of Everything
Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
18 September, 2005
Galatians 2:16-20 ; Mark 8:34-9:1


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Since the very beginning, everything has been, and ought to have been about the relationship of love between the Creator and the created. We are the created, and not the creators. This is where we get confused sometimes and follow in the footsteps of him who thought he was equal to God, then rebelled, and fell from Grace. Actually, he did not think he was equal to God ; he even thought he was greater. At least, that is how we understand it.

Pride can actually be like that. It is very plausible. There are people in mental hospitals who think this way. That is why I am saying that it is plausible. When people fall into a delusion, they can fall very far. A lie can become all-consuming. This lie, this self-preoccupation, this self-centredness, is a very dangerous thing, a very deadly thing. It is important for us to remember how deadly it is, because this consumer society in which we live is consumed with this sort of selfishness. It is consumed with this sort of self-preoccupation : me, me, me, I, I, and I. We can see around us what is the result of that in the decay of human society, in the inability of human beings to live together in harmony (which is at an all-time low). We can see it in the decay of all creation, which we are causing ourselves because of our self-centred way of going about life.

There are many consequences to this self-centredness : many deadly consequences. If we examine human history, we can see that human beings over the whole course of their existence have learned the equivalent of zero about how to live. We have gained a terrific amount of technical knowledge and ability. We can fly to the moon, but we cannot live on earth. We poison our own nest, as it were. We are really a wreck as a race.

That is why the challenge for us who are Christians is so great. We are the ones who have the experience of God’s love. This self-emptying love is revealed in the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. He emptied Himself, became a human being, and allowed us to kill Him upon the Cross whose image is before us. He allowed us to kill Him so that He could rise from the dead, conquer death, overcome sin, and restore to us the possibility of communion between ourselves and our Creator which we ourselves ruptured.

In allowing Himself to be killed upon the Cross, the Saviour made what was a disgusting instrument of torture, a symbol of shame, of death, and of defeat become instead a symbol of life, victory, and love. We, who venerate the Cross, venerate Him who was crucified upon it, as Saint John of Damascus says. Every time we wear our Crosses upon our bodies, every time we venerate the Holy Cross in our homes or in the church, we venerate the true Cross, and through that true Cross, Jesus Christ, Himself, who was crucified upon it.

It is this Cross that conveys life and healing to us. That is, after all, how they found out which of the three crosses that Saint Helena discovered in Jerusalem was the authentic and true one (because they were all fragrant). Which one was the true one ? It was the one that raised someone from the dead. That is how they could tell. That true Cross continues to convey Grace, and there are pieces of that true Cross amongst us to this day. In this parish there is the blessing to have such a tiny particle of the true Cross. Do not underestimate the blessing of having such a relic of the true Cross. (Relic means remains. In this case, it means a particle of the veritable Holy Cross.) Thus the Holy Cross throughout the world today still conveys the healing love of Jesus Christ, who died upon it and who rose again from the dead. I say “throughout the world” because of the very many tiny particles of this Cross which are shared amongst Christians throughout the world. We Orthodox Christians share in that life, in that victory, and in the love which conquered and conquers everything that is evil, dark and deadly. We are the ones who are responsible for carrying Jesus Christ with us wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, and showing Him by our behaviour (not solely by our words) to people around us.

Why do I say not solely by words ? I say that because we are living in such a corrupt time that words do not have any meaning to most people. Today, words are just something that you use for some sort of minimal convenience. Words themselves do not have much meaning nowadays. I still remember, when I was a child, seeing the musical My Fair Lady. Eliza Dolittle was being courted by this poet, and she said (to paraphrase) : “Words, words, words, I am sick of all these words. If you really love me, then show me that you really love me. Do not just talk about it”.

This is what the whole world is saying to us, Orthodox Christians, too. It is saying to us : “We have plenty of words, and most people who are using words do not mean anything they say. Therefore, if you are really Christians, show it to us ; prove it to us by how you live. The rest is all window-dressing. People say one thing, but they do another thing. We want to see a people, a believing people, who follow through, who say that they are Christians and live it ; a people who are not like everyone else, betraying, deceiving, etc”. They want people they can trust so they can understand that the love of Jesus Christ is, in fact, what we say it is, what Jesus Christ says He is. He says : “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (John 14:6).

In order to do this, brothers and sisters, we have to work at our lives. We have to remember the words of people who were around Jesus Christ, words like : “‘He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:30). That is really important for us to remember. Jesus Christ must increase, but I must decrease. I am not the engineer of my life. Jesus Christ is in charge of my life. It is my business to listen to Him, and to let Him guide me on the path I am supposed to be treading. If I do that, through me He will accomplish all sorts of wonderful, seemingly impossible things.

However, if I continue to try to engineer, I will continue to wreck things. Human beings, as I said, are non-learners, not just slow learners. As a race, we are non-learners. For instance, the United Nations was a so-called bright idea for people who did not believe in God but thought that they could organise the human race, and make human beings work together. They thought : “If only we have a nice system, everyone will say : ‘Yes, that is the way we will work together. It is only logical’”.

What dreamers ! The United Nations has turned into nothing but a political wrangling place where people beat each other up with money and power. Human beings, as I have said, are non-learners. It is no different right now from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. It is no different from the time of the tower of Babel, and we know what happened to the tower of Babel. It is no different from the time of ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs, and I have proof. One of our priests, newly retired from his secular job in n, was a teacher of Egyptology at n University (where he became, I am told, the fifth best Egyptologist on the whole continent). I asked him : “Is it any better now or any different now than it was in the time of the Pharaohs ?” He said : “No, it is worse”. He ought to know. He is an excellent, respected scholar of ancient Egypt. What I like about him is that even knowing all that, and knowing that things are worse now, he still has a sense of humour. I think you would like him. However, it is not easy to meet someone in n, 8,000 kilometres away. Because I have been there, I can tell you. However, Father n has been here, so maybe some of you know him. He is lovable, and he is eccentric as a Christian ought to be, but he does know his Egyptology, and he does know human beings.

It is our responsibility to remember what the Apostle Paul said to us this morning, that for him to live is Christ. Everything is referred to, and in, and about Jesus Christ. That is what we, Orthodox Christians, have to work on in our lives, giving up our selfishness and our stubbornness. Stubbornness can be all right as long as it is stubbornness with Christ. However, if we are stubborn because we are exercising our own independent will, we are going to get broken on our stubbornness. I can tell you that because it has happened to me a few times in my life. I do not wish the same for you. That is why I am telling you : “Do not do as I sometimes do myself. Do what I say”.

What the Gospel says and what the Apostle Paul says in effect is this – put the Lord Jesus Christ in the driver’s seat of your life. Allow Him (hard as it is) to guide every detail of your life. Ask Him : “What am I supposed to do today in this or that situation ?” Learn how to listen to your heart. Learn how to look for peace in your heart about this decision or that decision. Look for where there is disturbance, and if there is disturbance, do not go there. Look for where there is coldness, and if there is coldness, do not go there. Look for where there is peace : go there. Look for where there is warmth : go there. Look for where there is joy and love : go there. That is your heart telling you by the Grace of the Holy Spirit and with the help of your Guardian Angel, what God’s will is for you, and what He wants you to do. When you are tempted to do something, when you get a warning sign in your heart, you had better think twice about doing something. If you get this warning sign in your heart, or you hear : “I would not do that if I were you”, then maybe it is a better thing (instead of being stubborn, and doing it anyway because you want to do it) to be safe, and say : “I will not touch it because it is hot. I do not want to get burnt”.

We have to learn to listen to our hearts. We have to learn to listen to the Lord. All these saints that we are surrounded by on the walls, whose lives we read (whose lives were kindly prepared for us in summary by Father Lawrence, along with many other writings he has provided for our convenience), these lives tell us about people who have struggled to do the same thing. One way or another, all human beings are no different from you or me. They are all the same sort of ordinary human beings. Do not get any idea that these saints are some sort of spiritual professionals who have a Ph.D. in how to pray. Many of them did not know how to read or write. However, they did know how to love. They did know the Gospel by heart, because they listened.

Recently I was being told about a priest who was serving in Greek in some village somewhere where people did not have a very high literacy rate. He read the Gospel, and at the end of the Divine Liturgy, when he was giving the Cross and people were leaving, one of the grannies came to him and said : “Father, you missed a word in the Gospel today”. She was illiterate. How did she know ? Because she had grown up hearing this Gospel her whole life. She had listened intently with her heart, and she knew the Gospel. That is why some people in places like that have no texts. We Canadians so love to have our little books right in front of our nose as we follow the Divine Liturgy text, that we cannot see anything that is going on around us. Those grannies do not have the possibility of putting their noses in the text, but they use their ears and they use their hearts. The Lord puts the word of the Gospel in their hearts. He puts the Divine Liturgy, all the tropars, and the services in their hearts.

How many times I have heard of people in churches in those ancestral countries of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, who could sing Matins or Vespers by heart, with the stikhs. Come to think of it, I remember hearing not long ago that in an English-speaking parish, there was a problem with texts. Somehow the people who were the singers and the readers remembered enough together that they were able to sing Vespers by heart. That is how the Lord does things with us. He does things like that with us to make us wake up. He says : “Yes, you can do it. You do have it in your heart. You do not have to depend on that piece of paper. You can speak to Me and sing to Me straight from your heart, and I will help you remember how to do it”.

He does. Usually He does it not just one person at a time, but all together. Thus we start to sing to the Lord, and we all help each other to do it. No matter what little bit one might forget, another remembers, and it all goes well. In fact, that is how the people in the Gulag Archipelago in the days of the Soviet Union in Siberia managed to pray. They remembered the Gospel, and they remembered the Epistles by heart, together. No matter how hard the Communists tried to wipe them out, they did not wipe out the Church.

Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. We do have to remember that, because the days of communism, especially in Russia, were very tough. In the days of the Second World War, when Stalin was being invaded by Germany, Stalin had already put so many of the bishops in jail that there were only three bishops left who were not in prison (and they were old and decrepit). It was a providence that the war came as it did because Stalin was not born yesterday. He knew that the only way the people would rally behind him (because he had already slaughtered many millions of people in Russia and in Siberia) would be if the Church said so. Therefore, he let the Church out of prison in order for that to happen. The Lord does what He does. It is amazing how the Lord organises things.

The Lord Jesus Christ is in charge of everything. He is in charge of our lives. He is in charge of the Church. He will not abandon our Church. He said that He is the Head, and the gates of Hades will never prevail against the Church. Let us all together offer our loving hearts to the Lord, as we praise and glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

5th Sunday in Great Lent (Memory of Saint Mary of Egypt)

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
A Beacon of Light and Hope
(Memory of Saint Mary of Egypt)
5th Sunday in Great Lent
17 April, 2005
Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Mark 10:32-45


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

During the course of today’s Gospel reading, when our Saviour begins telling the apostles about what is going to happen, as is typical with us human beings when being told about impending suffering, they do not accept what He is saying. They (as we all often do) pretend that it is not going to happen. They (as we usually do) pretend that everything is going to be all right.

There is a pun in use these days which can help us to understand this : people today are suffering from “the Egyptian disease” of living in denial. However, I am not talking about the Nile River. I am talking about denying that there is going to be suffering or that there has been suffering. Human beings have always been doing this since the Fall. Ever since our first parents Adam and Eve, people have been hiding from the truth of suffering and pain. Because they hide from the truth, the poison goes deeper, and they do not allow the Lord to heal them. Then the poison goes even deeper ; and as a result, it is passed on from generation to generation. As it is passed on, it remains undetected and unnoticed in the depths of many persons, while it festers and, from time to time, provokes a behaviour or a response in these inheritors of the poison. Sometimes, they may try to discover the trouble, but usually they simply grit their teeth and bear with it, all the while perceiving themselves falsely because of it.

It is important for us to overcome this tendency to deny that there has been something wrong ; to deny that I am in pain, and to deny that I need to repent of my willfulness and my self-centredness. We all have to get over hiding from the truth. The only way any of us can get over that is by turning to God and asking Him to help us. Our Saviour shows us the way today. The Apostles James and John were not catching what our Saviour is saying. They were interested in the arrival of the Kingdom which had been talked about. They were interested in the glory of the Kingdom of Christ. They did not understand. Therefore, they ask : “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory”. In other words, they are asking : “Can we be the very first in Your glory, in Your Kingdom ? Can we sit right next to You as You reign in Your Kingdom ?”

Then the Lord tells them the blunt truth, which is, in summary : “If you want to be first in the Kingdom of Heaven, then you have to live in accordance with the Orthodox Christian perpetual paradox, which is to be the least. You cannot be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven unless you consider yourself the least”. Therefore, He says to them, as He says to you and to me : “If you are going to follow Me, then you have to be able to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with”. He says to you and to me : “If you are going to follow Me, then you have to be baptised with the same suffering that I am going to suffer”. We have to be able to drink the same cup of bitterness, betrayal and pain that He drank. When the apostles naively say : “We are able”, they do not understand what they are talking about.

However, our Lord in His love says to them, as He says to you and to me : “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant”. Why is it great to be a servant ? The world thinks that being a servant is the lowest and dirtiest thing that you can be — just some nameless person who works in a hotel, for instance, cleaning rooms, or someone who waits on tables, or someone who cleans up after others. How is that so great in the Kingdom of Heaven when the world considers it to be nothing ? We take such people for granted.

It is great because our Saviour does precisely this. He was and is always serving the apostles and people around Him who come to Him asking for healing, asking for this and for that. He was and is serving because He emptied Himself in love. The way in which you and I will find our way in the Kingdom of Heaven can only be to imitate Christ in everything. How are you and I going to be able to be servants unless we first have His love ? Unless we first have His love, His self-less, self-emptying love, we are merely lovers of ourselves. We human beings are notoriously lovers of ourselves only. However, we cannot be like Christ while we are loving ourselves. Christ did not turn in on Himself. He emptied Himself and gave Himself to everyone round about. He served people. As we will see on Great and Holy Thursday, our Saviour will show the apostles the excellent way in serving by putting a towel around His waist and washing the feet of His disciples and apostles. The One who is the Word of God and the Son of God, by whom all things were and are made, washes the feet of the disciples. If you and I are going to be like Christ, be great like Christ and imitate Christ, then we have to find this sort of love that gives us so much freedom that we can imitate Him and do these things. However, we are mostly afraid to do this, because we are slaves of fear. You and I are afraid to be so low. We are also afraid to be thought to be lowly by anyone else.

Today, we are keeping the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt. She lived a life of the lowest of the low because she had been a prostitute, and she had delighted in taking people down with her. This is a 100 per cent classical illustration of how evil works. Her Life tells us that she was in absolute degradation. She was so degraded when she was this low, that she seemed to be happy to bring people down with her. As the English saying goes : “Misery loves company”. Thank God, Saint Mary of Egypt was not a stupid person. When she wanted to enter into the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, the Lord would not let her in. She tried to go in the door, but she simply could not even put her foot inside, no matter how she tried. It was not because someone was visibly stopping her. It seemed to her that there was an invisible wall in the doorway. In fact, she was four times pushed back by some mighty power. As she said : “The church would not receive me”. It was only then that her heart understood what was wrong in her life. Her heart broke. As she, herself, said : “The word of salvation touched the eye of my heart, and showed me that the impurity of my actions obstructed my entrance. I began to weep and grieve, beating my breast and groaning from the depths of my heart”. She then saw the icon of the Mother of God ; she repented, and only then did the Lord allow her to go into the Temple. Then, in His love, He sustained her afterwards in the desert for more than forty years, during which she had nothing.

This woman, who considered herself to be nothing and no-one, lived in the desert and became to you and to me one of the absolute, greatest signs of our hope that we could be saved in the love of Jesus Christ. She became a bright light of His love to Saint Zossima, whom she met in the desert more than forty years later. She became a bright light, a beacon of light to him, just as she is to you and to me. She, who led one of the most corrupt sorts of life that a person can live, turned everything about in and by Christ’s love. She became not the worst, but the best. She became our encouragement (yours and mine), in that no matter how much we may betray Jesus Christ by our sinfulness, our selfishness and our fear, and no matter how much we may hide from Him and deny Him (as the Apostle Peter did), the Lord still loves you and me just as He loves Saint Mary of Egypt. Just as He did everything in order to turn the heart of Saint Mary of Egypt, so He also does for you and for me when we get lost in the darkness of our selfishness and our fear. He loves us.

When we say : “My Saviour, I am sorry that I have done such horrible things and that I have betrayed You”, He accepts you and me in His love, just as He accepts Saint Mary of Egypt, and also His naïve and blind apostles. Because He loves you and me, He does not desire the death of the sinner but that the sinner turn from his wicked way and live (see Ezekiel 33:11). He wants you and me to live with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom. The Lord loves you and He loves me. If we are ready to say that we are sorry, He is ready to accept us. Even if we are not ready to say : “I am sorry”, He is ready and waiting for us to say it, like the father of the prodigal son. He already is accepting us, but we have to accept His acceptance. His arms are outstretched to you and to me, but we have to enter those loving arms. He is waiting for you and for me.

Let us follow the example of these holy apostles who gave themselves and suffered for the sake of Jesus Christ, just as they said that they thought they were able. They were able, because our Saviour enabled them. You and I are able in Jesus Christ. Let us entrust ourselves to the same Saviour, Jesus Christ, who turned Mary’s life around ; and let us glorify Him, together with His Father, who is from everlasting, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Example of Saint Peter the Aleut

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Example of Saint Peter the Aleut
Temple Feast
24 September, 2005


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the Scripture readings we heard today what it is like for believers in the world. We are not at home in this world, and this world does not receive us very kindly, overall. We can all attest to that from the experience of our personal life, I think. Who really does take Christians seriously in Canadian society today ? The government certainly does not. For instance, I belong (out of necessity) to various groups and institutions that write to the Prime Minister and other government authorities from time to time. We tell them that they could do things in a better way, and they reply : “Thank you very much for your comments”. That is all that they say. We, being Canadians, know what is behind that sort of thank-you-very-much. “Go away and do not bother me” is what they are saying.

This is the attitude that Canadian society has developed towards Christian values and Christian ways in general ; to Orthodox Christians and the Orthodox Christian way in specific. “Go away and do not bother me”, because I am having so much fun in playing the game of denial, and living with all my goodies, my comfortable things, chasing after wild geese, and so forth. This is exactly what our society is about : wild-goose chases – looking for comfort in things that give no comfort ; trying to find some sort of substance in things that are empty. However, the only hope that we have is in Jesus Christ, Himself. He is the only One who does not fail us.

We Orthodox Christians have a difficult time growing in the context of the western ways of our environment. The west is, willy-nilly, all intellectual. Christians of the west are (if they examine themselves) more often than not intellectual. People in the west know about emotion, but the truth about the heart is not so well known in the west. There is a confusion made between emotions and the heart. Orthodox Christians live by the heart, with the intellect, in fact, guided and informed by the heart. It is not the head that runs the heart. People in the west tend to talk about the heart as though the heart were all emotions. They usually say that a person cannot let the heart run the head because one would then become an emotional wreck. However, that is not how it works.

The heart is where the Lord is. The heart is where we encounter God. It is the heart’s encountering of God that informs the intellect. It is the intellect that is all scattered and running around, and very often it is empty. It is through the intellect that we get caught up in every sort of fear. That is one of the reasons why the North American way is so scattered and actually so fear-driven these days. We merely have to observe how many ways the North American way of life is driven by fear. We merely have to observe how we are making laws to protect ourselves. Human beings in the long run are not different from how they were when I was little, but our fear of each other is much, much greater.

Saint Peter the Aleut, the patron of this Temple, was probably still a teenager when he had been conscripted into the Russian-American Company’s service, and was sailing around in the fur trade, and other sorts of trade. This took him from Alaska as far south as San Francisco (because Fort Ross, the last most southerly Russian trading post, was just north of San Francisco). The fort is still where it was then (I have been there), but it is not operating as it was in those days. Saint Peter encountered a hostile reception, and a complete misunderstanding of his Christianity. He, knowing Saint Herman, had accepted Christ, had encountered Christ, and in his heart, knew Christ. It is because of this encounter that he entrusted his whole life to the Lord. He knew what was right. He knew that he believed in Jesus Christ. People who encountered him in San Francisco were determined that that way was absolutely foreign, and could not possibly be right. They tried to force him to give up what he knew was right, and to change his ways – to become a “real” Christian, they said. However, Saint Peter already was one. He knew very profoundly that he was a real Christian, even if he could not give a rational defense of it. Saint Peter was too young to know many details of the why-and-wherefore of his faith as an Orthodox Christian, but he certainly did know that he and his family had encountered Jesus Christ in Saint Herman and the other missionaries. They had experienced the Orthodox way in the lives and witness of Saint Herman and the other missionaries. They were not going to change for anyone or anything.

This is how our lives should be. It is all very well to read books about the Orthodox Faith. It is all very well to know the canons, and all sorts of rules about what one ought to do as an Orthodox Christian. It is all very well to know how one ought properly to fast in a particular season. However, if the love of Jesus Christ is not at the foundation of that, if the love of Jesus Christ, and the encounter with Jesus Christ in the heart is not at the root of all of this, then, as the Apostle Paul said in his Epistle to the Corinthians, it is “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). It is all empty noise. The rules of the canons, and so forth, all of these things are important. The details of fasting are also important. However, if the tail wags the dog, it does not work. If the cart goes in front of the horse, it does not work. If we put rules in front of Jesus Christ, rules in front of the love of Jesus Christ, the rules are senseless. The love of Jesus Christ is what makes all those rules make sense. It is because of the love of Jesus Christ that we behave in all these ways. It is because of the love of Jesus Christ that we fast. We offer this fast to Jesus Christ, whom we love.

It is important for each of us, who are parishioners of this holy Temple to remember what comes first. What come first ? Jesus Christ comes first. If we say we are Orthodox Christians, then Jesus Christ must come first in our lives as in the life of Saint Peter, the Martyr. By the way we live our loving relationship with Jesus Christ, we must reveal Him to each other in our daily life. We do not have to be preaching to each other. We do not have to be teaching each other. However, we do have to be serving each other because Jesus Christ, our Saviour, on the night in which He was betrayed, washed the apostles’ feet. He said, as it were : “Whoever wants to be great amongst you has to be as the least. You have to do for each other what I am doing for you” (see Luke 22:26-27). We have to be servants of each other.

I learned that lesson in a long-term way. This only began really to make sense in my life in later years as I gained experience in the Christian life, and the Lord finally woke me up to some extent. I, like most other people, am a slow learner about some things. In this case, I remember how, in my childhood, I came to take my parents and my grandparents, even, for granted because they were so good to me. I started to treat them as though they existed for me – I was the centre of the world, and they were there for me. I would tell them to do things for me. Then I got the response : “Who was your servant last year ?” That was a shocking thing to hear a few times, and I did hear it a few times, because I am a slow learner. I realised later on in my adulthood that my parents were like that towards me because they loved me. I could not presume on that love. I had to accept that from them, and learn from them. Ultimately, I think I got somewhere in that direction.

What, nevertheless, is important is that we remember that Jesus Christ must come first. We must be like Him. If we are going to be like Him, we have to serve as He serves (see Luke 22:27). We have to care about each other as He cares about us. We have to be supporting each other and nurturing each other deliberately in each others’ lives. More important yet, because of the difficulties of living the Christian life in Canada these days, we have to try to be together in Christ as often as we can. It is easy for us to make excuses (because of how busy we are, and how many things we are doing) not to be with our brothers and sisters in the Temple of the Lord sometimes when it does not seem so important.

However, this actually is a temptation. There are many times when I, too, do not feel like going to church. Many times. Before Vespers, for instance, it sometimes feels so heavy. I am so tired. It has been such a long day. It is so hard, and I am really tempted not to go. Then, of course, the Lord speaks to me in my heart, and says : “Wake up”. Then I do go. I find that every time I might feel like this before Vespers or the Divine Liturgy or any service, when I get to the Temple of the Lord all that heaviness sooner or later during the service goes away. Being here with my brothers and sisters, and offering praise to the Lord sends those clouds away. Two and two make four in the end. Why do I feel heavy and reluctant to go to church ? It is because You-know-who-down-below is trying to drag me away. Yes, it does happen to bishops. Bishops can be tempted, too (in fact, you have no idea how much and in what diabolical variety).

We have to use our head, our common sense. If I am feeling that it is too much ; it is too hard ; it is too expensive ; or I do not know what – all these are ideas that come to keep me at home away from the Temple. Why is this ? Well, if I stay home, I can continue to feel sorry for myself, and say : “No-one loves me ; no-one cares about me, and so forth”. These are the sorts of things that I have been tempted to fall into, and did, many times in my life before. What is even worse is to think : “Well, I stayed home, and it did not really make any difference, anyway. Maybe I can stay home some more”. Then, I do not go, and I do not go, and I do not go. What has actually happened here ? By listening to the Tempter, I have separated myself from the fellowship of the Faithful. I have separated myself from the people who support me by being there, co-struggling. I feel sorry for myself, and say : “No-one loves me”. However, in fact, my brothers and sisters, who are co-strugglers, have lost me as their support. That is how it goes. I have given up my responsibility – I do not go. I do not support my brothers and sisters. I am not washing their feet.

Therefore, I have betrayed my brother and my sister by giving into my self-will, my self-indulgence. The fact is, my dear brothers and sisters, that the Church is a hospital for sinners. We are all more or less in the same boat. We are all more or less tempted in rather the same way, as anyone who is hearing confessions will tell you. The sins of human beings are very repetitive. We are all just about the same. As Father Schmemann once said : “The devil is not all that creative in temptation. However, we certainly are gullible”. If I come to the Temple (even if I do not feel well or I do not feel like it), by my being here I am encouraging and supporting my brothers and sisters. Without doing anything seemingly active, but being here, offering my praise to the Lord, I am supporting my brothers and sisters. I am supporting each one who is struggling in the same way that I am. In the heart, we are loving Jesus Christ. In the heart, we are knowing Jesus Christ. In the heart, we are trying to be faithful to Jesus Christ, but suffering all sorts of obstacles on the way. Just by being here together, we renew the joy of this love in one another, and we give each other hope. We can see Jesus Christ ministering to each other in our mutual presence.

Let us, brothers and sisters, remember the example of the patron of this holy Temple, Saint Peter. Let us remember his example of faithful love, and, through his intercessions, be like him, loving Jesus Christ. Let us be faithful to each other, and encourage each other on the way of life. Let us together glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Complete Confidence in the Lord

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Complete Confidence in the Lord
25 September, 2005
Luke 5:1-11


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we are struggling to live our Orthodox Christian lives day by day in this difficult environment, it is extremely important to keep our hearts and minds in the Gospel. If we are Orthodox Christians, everything in our lives has to be related to and referred to Christ. If we are going to try to do this, we have to keep remembering Who He is. I remember not long ago being reminded about a particular river of Greek mythology, a principal river of Hades called Lethe. If a person should drink of the water of this river, then everything would be forgotten. There is much about the world in which we are living right now which is like drinking from this river of forgetfulness. There are very many distractions in everyday life. There are many pressing needs of one sort or another (or shall we say “apparent” pressing needs). Therefore, it is very easy for us to pay so much attention to these so-called needs that our conscious awareness of the Lord can drift into the background or even the sub-basement of our lives. It is a very dangerous thing for us to allow this to happen. When our consciousness of the Lord drifts into the background of our lives, then we become prey to the temptations of “Big Red” more than ever. Then we are in greater risk of being pulled away from the Body of Christ. We are in greater risk of being separated from the flock, and being eaten up by the wolf. These are real metaphors that the Lord gave us : flocks of sheep, shepherds.

For our sake, it is important every day to ask the Lord to help us have the strength to remember to read a little bit from the Scriptures. The readings for every day, which we find in all sorts of Church calendars, are not all that long. If we read those readings for every day, in the course of a whole year we will have read almost the whole New Testament. It is not that hard. A year to read these little portions is not all that hard. However, You-know-who-down-below makes us think that it is a very difficult thing to open the Bible, and read six or even ten verses. If it is a whole chapter, it seems that it is going to take so much time, and this becomes an obstacle. Actually, it takes three or four minutes. However, he helps us to think that it is so much to read that it feels like wading through porridge to open the Bible. That is how it feels. That is the way the Deceiver deceives us. That is how he plays with us.

However, when we manage actually to open the Scriptures, we encounter Christ in those Scriptures. He makes us realise that even though it felt like wading through porridge to get to opening the Scriptures, once we start to read, it is refreshing. It is refreshing because we remember Who Christ is to us, and Who He is to the world and to the Church. We are renewed in our hope of being able to survive. That is why it is important to try to read the Scriptures at the beginning of the day, not at the end of the day (because at the end of the day we are tending to fall asleep even after a couple of verses, especially if we have a big dinner).

Once having opened the Scriptures, once having encountered Christ, we are refreshed. We are renewed. We are given the ability to survive the rest of the day by beginning the day reading the Scriptures. We have food to remember and a correct perspective of life for the rest of the day. It only takes a few minutes to read those Scriptures. If we want to get into reading a Kathisma of Psalms, that is a more serious chunk of time – a whole ten minutes. However, even just a few minutes like that with the Lord and a couple of prayers will give us focus, and will help us to keep going for the rest of the day.

Who is Jesus Christ to us ? Jesus Christ to us is just as He is to the Apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John and all the rest (especially the ones today who are encountering Him by the Sea of Galilee). Our Lord borrows the Apostle Peter’s boat so that He can sit in it and teach people from it. That sounds rather strange from an average Canadian perspective, because it is not so obvious to us how it is easier from a boat to teach a crowd of people on the shore. I will tell you how it is easier.

In the first place, there were a lot of people. There always were a lot of people around Jesus Christ when He was teaching. How was He to be heard ? When one is sitting on a boat on the water, already the voice carries better. Simply the acoustics of being on the water makes the voice carry better. Besides that, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by fairly steep hills. It is not some place where the land merely slopes gently into the water. By the Sea of Galilee there is a fairly steep rise, and it almost gives the effect of an amphitheatre. There is the water and the rise, and the people being able to see the speaker (in this case, Christ) in the boat. There is a possibility of being able to concentrate on who it is that is speaking, and being able to hear the one who is speaking. This is sort of an ideal place and way to teach. In the Gospels on more than one occasion we see the Saviour standing or sitting in a boat doing exactly the same thing. He knows His creation. He knows His creatures.

The Lord shows how He knows His creation, and knows His creatures by telling the Apostle Peter : “‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’”. The apostle says : “‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net’”. They go out ; they fish ; and as we heard, they get so many fish that they have to fill several boats with these fish. Now they know Who He is. Now they know what would be necessary for them to do when they would come to shore, and He says : “‘Follow Me’” (Matthew 4:19). They leave everything and they follow Him because they have complete confidence in Him.

Saint Euphrosyne of Suzdal and Saint Sergius of Radonezh, whose memory we keep today, also have complete confidence in the Lord. They were both contemporaries, more or less, at the time of the Mongol invasion in the fourteenth century. They withdrew for different reasons : he, because God called him into the wilderness ; she, because she was widowed on her wedding day. Saint Euphrosyne withdrew to pray. Saint Sergius withdrew into the forest to pray. Both of them depended on the Lord to look after them, and He did. As we heard last night, the monastic brethren were grumbling sometimes. I am sure that that happened in Saint Euphrosyne’s community as well. Sometimes food gets scarce (or very repetitive) with preserved apples, buckwheat and sauerkraut – that is the likely diet. There is an old Russian proverb that says : “Cabbage soup and buckwheat – that’s our food”. The brethren easily become rather irritable when there is no variety in the diet for a long period of time. Sometimes monastic communities have had to live like that, but the Lord does always provide. Many times in these monastic communities, they have seen as concrete evidence of the Lord’s providing that when there is nothing left (and they think that they are going to begin starving), someone sends money so that they can buy food or someone brings food to them, and the day is saved just in the nick of time. Why is this ? It is because the brethren of those monastic communities, who have withdrawn to serve the Lord and the Lord only and above all in their lives, have to be reminded that it is the Lord who is feeding them. He is feeding them in the same way as He feeds the birds of the air. This is precisely what it says in the words of Christ (see Luke 12:22-31).

There have been very many people whom I have known who have been in exactly this boat : lay people, Christian families, who have often been in a very precarious position. Out of nowhere the Lord provides from some unexpected place. Some person sends money saying : “I was thinking of you”. The Lord helped the other person to remember this person three weeks before so that that person would write a cheque, mail it, and the mail would get there on the right day. The Lord knows what He is doing. The Lord is in charge of His creation. The Lord is in charge of us in this community as well. He is leading this community. He is leading all of us personally and all together. He is leading us in the direction of life, and health and salvation.

To underline this again, Saint Euphrosyne in Suzdal was told ahead of time that her father would be a martyr, and he was. This is because the Mongols came and levelled Suzdal, except for her monastery. Her monastery was the only thing left in Suzdal after the devastation of the Mongols at that time. That was because she and her sisters were praying and trusting completely in Christ, and the Lord wanted them to be a witness. The martyrs were witnesses in their own way, but the Lord wanted that community of Saint Euphrosyne in Suzdal to be a witness of how the Lord is with us. Other people have had similar confidence in Him in various other places. For example, there is the wonder-working icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin (which we took back to Russia last year). In the old days, when the icon was first in its monastery in Tikhvin not very far from where St Petersburg now is, the Swedes were attacking (as the Swedes did like to attack Russia in those days). They were going to destroy Tikhvin, except that the brethren of that monastery obeyed the Mother of God and they made a procession with the icon around the monastery, and without a fight the Swedes just went home.

These sorts of things have happened time and again in Christian history. Who is in charge of the universe ? It is the Lord. He created us all. Who is in charge of my life ? It is the Lord. He created me. He gives me life. Who is in charge of the details of our life together ? It is the Lord. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our Saviour. He is our loving Pastor. He is our loving Shepherd. He will not betray us. Every human being, willingly or unwillingly, sometimes betrays other human beings even if we do not want to, just because we are fallen. We make mistakes and we have to repent of our mistakes. Jesus Christ is the only One who is ever faithful, ever trustworthy. We can see Him in failing human beings, but we do not compare Him with failing human beings. He alone is faithful, and He alone will sustain us in every difficulty, every trial, every disappointment, every pain, every obstacle. He will sustain us and He will teach us how to survive, how to live positively, healthily, and with strength.

Saint Sergius of Radonezh and Saint Euphrosyne are very good, positive and strong examples of what are the fruits of trusting Jesus Christ. Let us, ourselves, do our best to trust that Jesus Christ knows well what He is doing with us, and to allow Him to lead us. Let us not put blocks in His way, but let us ask Him : “What do You want us to do ? We will do it. Just show us the way. I am saying this especially for two reasons : this community is being tested a little bit just at this time. It is not too bad, and it will work out all right. However, another challenge will come in the near future probably, and that is : where will be the final permanent place for this parish. Is it going to be a variation on this theme, or is it going to be in a different place ? This will be what has to be discerned in Christ. As I said before, I hope it is a place down the block, but we cannot count that chicken before it hatches. If we count that chicken before it hatches, I can tell you that it will not hatch. We can hope, and the Lord knows that we hope, but we cannot say it must be. Maybe, for some reason, the Lord wants us to re-arrange this Temple, and He will give us the ability to do it. He will show us, and it will be understood by people, together.

Keep your hearts open to the Lord and attuned to the Lord so that you will know what He is saying to you. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ every day. He will not disappoint you or desert you. He will always feed you, guide you, support you and sustain you, and enable you to glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Dedication of Annunciation Cathedral, Ottawa

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Providential Protection, Evangelical Expectation
Dedication of Annunciation Cathedral, Ottawa
1 October, 2005
Hebrews 9:1-7 ; Luke 10:38-42 ; 11:27-28


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is not by our design that this Temple, dedicated to the Mother of God, is being dedicated today, on this particular day, the Feast of her Protection. This has to do with God’s design, because everything happens according to His will. If we had tried to prepare to come to this point on this particular day, it never would have happened. As always, if we try to leave God in charge of our lives, in charge of our affairs, things work out with a much deeper, much more positive, much more life-giving logic than we could ever invent.

These words, underlining the fact that God is protecting and strengthening His people, are not only words for this congregation, but words for the whole Orthodox Church in this city and in this country. Now that we are in this new (to us) Temple, there are some things which this congregation must remember and keep in mind about where we have come from. We have to remember that the process of building the Church is always difficult. It is always full of temptations, and all the people who are doing the building are always subject to feeling discouraged (even when there is nothing necessarily evident about which to be discouraged). The feeling comes because the Tempter is always at work, trying to undermine the resolve of the Christian faithful people to do God’s will.

The cost of this building, and undertaking the huge responsibility that goes with it, was daunting for us. It was very daunting, because there is such a contrast, as you can see, to our previous tiny cathedral. It was very daunting in a lot of ways because that little building was like a womb which enfolded us, and kept us warm and all squashed together. It was hard for people to think about making that move, except that there were so many evidences that it had to be. Where it would be, no-one could know for a long time. It was only by God’s providence, and I have to say (because of things that have happened since) the direction of the Mother of God, and her direct involvement in our affairs, that brought us to this place, to this day, and to this responsibility. When the people who bought the other building from us were having it inspected, it was discovered that the building was full of mould. There were cracks in the foundation. The main beam of the floor was weak. The wiring was deficient. The people who have gone into that building after us have to rewire, clean up, repair cracks, and shore up the main beam.

These things say to me very much how God has been protecting us. We could easily have burned down that building with that sort of electricity, considering how much we were using the power in that building. The mould might have made people sick, but it never happened. So many times that church was over-packed with our generously-proportioned people, and it is a wonder that the floor did not somehow fall in. I really take seriously the fact that we got out of that building with no harm to anyone or anything. On top of that, the people who bought the building were still willing to pay a reasonably good price according to what we needed. It was enough for us to get a foothold on this building. We have a long way to go yet, but still it is by God’s mercy. He will support us. He brought us here. He has established us here. He will show us how we are to use this building to His glory, and also to fulfil our responsibility to those in this city who are in need in one way or another.

As before, we are hidden. This is not a super-obvious place, but it is good for us. We are at least findable, much more than before. The other thing that is important for us to remember is that when the large icon of Christ (once hanging behind the Holy Table in the other building) was taken down, it left behind it a very dirty wall, because it had been hanging there for forty years or so. However, there was one spot which was completely white, completely clean, and that was (and it was determined by measurements afterwards) exactly where Christ’s right hand of blessing was on the icon.

It is important for us to remember these things. God was blessing and protecting us where we were. He is with us now, even if we face challenges and difficulties in growing into this new building. God is with us even now. He is continuing to nurture us. The Mother of God is with us also, even now, and she is nurturing us. As she always does, she points us to her Son. She directs us to her Son, and reminds us in the case of this building itself that it is to Him that we must turn, and that it is in Him we must have our hope. We do not understand all the meanings of this blessing. We do not understand, now, everything that is going to be. We do not even know yet what it is going to look like here in the next year or so. It has only been three weeks, and it cannot look like this for too long, because things get in the way of our proper behaviour (like having only one staircase). There is work to do.

There is work to do. We need patience, because all this takes time. We have to learn how to sing differently in this building. We have to learn how to serve differently in this building. Those are details, small details. The main thing that we have to be reminding ourselves of as we unpack is how are we best to serve Christ in this Temple. How are we best, in this Temple, to be the Orthodox witness with our brothers and sisters, and other Orthodox congregations in this city ? How are we, together with them, to be an Orthodox witness for this city, which needs our Orthodox Faith very much.

It is important for us, as we are growing up here in this building to take every opportunity – it is our responsibility in this building – to be doing as much as we can to offer assistance, and mutually support our other Orthodox brothers and sisters in this city. Precisely how we are going to do this, no-one knows yet, but we have to remember that this is our purpose. We are not given this responsibility for ourselves – we never are. It is part of our being salt and yeast in this city (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33).

Taking the last verse of the Gospel today seriously, let us remember that when the woman said to our Saviour : “‘Blessed is the womb that bore you’”, our Saviour corrected her. He corrected her, not by putting down His Mother (as some persons like to think) when He said : “‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” Clearly, our Lord was saying this about His Mother – that she hears the Word of God, and keeps it. She is thus the example of how to live the Christian life. It is important for you and for me to remember that the Lord’s blessing is upon those who hear the Word of God and keep it. That means not holding on to it, but doing it. Not defending it (because Christ defends it) but doing it. This is our responsibility : to live the love of Jesus Christ according to the pattern of the Mother of God, who is our most perfect example. With her, let us glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

ABCs of the spiritual Life

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
ABCs of the Spiritual Life
15th Sunday after Pentecost
2 October, 2005


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we know, in the environment in which we live, love is a very conditional thing. There are generally, as we say, plenty of strings attached to the giving and sharing of love. Our Saviour made it quite plain that if we give, expecting something in return, or if we love only people who love us, we are no different from anyone else. We, who are Orthodox Christians, are not called in our loving relationship with our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to be just like anyone else. We are called to be their example. We are called to be their hope. We are called to be their encouragement. It is all connected with how we live this love.

We have to be prepared to take the Gospel seriously in order to be the salt and the yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) that our Lord has called us to be, and is calling us to be. It is all operating on the basis of love. We have to be prepared to forgive everyone more than seventy times seventy. We have to be prepared to let people persecute us. We have to be prepared not only to swallow things that people do to us, and the hurts that we endure, but we also have to pray for them, for the people who are abusing us or hurting us. This is how Saint Silouan and Archimandrite Sophrony applied the Gospel to life.

Father Sophrony tells us quite clearly how we have to go about this. We have to pray for people who are hurting us, and for people who are abusing us. We have to pray in a non-interfering and non-judgemental way. In other words, contrary to the behaviour of some mass-media evangelists, we do not try to tell God what to do. God knows what to do with this person. We do not know what to do with this person. For instance, I know very well myself, that if I were God, and the world were as it is now, it would have been gone a long time ago. It would have been burned up and gone. But God is not me – thank God for that. God’s love is infinitely patient. He waits for us, in our rebellion and stupidity, to wake up. Instead of telling God what to do, Archimandrite Sophrony said that we should simply say this little prayer : “Lord, have mercy” for each person. Only “Lord have mercy”. Not even the whole Jesus Prayer, but just “Lord have mercy”.

In saying “Lord have mercy” for people who have injured us somehow, who have hurt our feelings, or whatever they have done, we ask God to be His loving Self towards that person. As much as we say “Lord have mercy” for the person who has hurt us, we allow God’s peace and healing love to enter our hearts. We allow God Himself, in His love for us, to heal the wound, or wounds, in our hearts.

At the same time, our hearts become warmer towards the one who has hurt us. In the long run, maybe we will not exactly get along at first, but at least there is not poison in the heart towards the person who has hurt us. The whole point is to take the poison of anger, bitterness, hatred, and other retaliatory passions to which we are subject, and allow the Lord to extract them from our hearts, to heal us, to pour the balm of His healing love on these wounds. His love removes that poison. His love changes that darkness of our hearts into something that is light. That sort of anger and perpetually-felt grudge to which human beings are so prone is something that is deadly to the heart. It turns it in time to stone. A heart that has become stone has difficulty functioning if it can function at all. It is important for us, truly important for us all, to learn the nature of the love in which we live, the nature of the love which the Lord gives to us all the time, the nature of the love with which the Lord is sustaining us. It is important to live in it as much as we can, co-operating with this love as much as we can. The maturing of this love in us can be seen when we can pray with Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic : “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them, and do not curse them”.

Here in this Temple, we have been given big responsibilities. We all know that it was not easy to come here. Now, it is not going to be super-easy to stay. There is not one particular difficulty. Our main obstacle and pitfall is that the Tempter tries to discourage us. It is our responsibility to be very careful not to take these little difficulties and make them into big ones.

This morning, for instance, here in the sanctuary we were all getting ready, and the light went off. No-one could find the switch. No-one could find the breaker and the fuse box. No-one knows where the breaker is found. Well, it is so predictable, you see. People are going to say that it just happened because someone used too much power somewhere. You can believe that if you want, but I do not believe that it is that simple. Why should it happen just then, just before the Divine Liturgy, and cause people to run all over the place and be distracted ? That it happened just before the Divine Liturgy is a design from the Tempter to undermine us, to distract us, to make us upset, to make us wonder during the whole Divine Liturgy : “Where is that breaker ?”

These are simple ABCs of the spiritual life. They are ABCs that we do not necessarily remember to pay attention to. So, the lights go off. “Big Red” is playing around. They will find the switch eventually. It is probably providential that the light goes out now, anyway. The Lord always turns these things about. The light goes out now, and we are going to find out where this weakness is in the power supply. What is interesting in all this, is that it is an opportunity. It truly is an opportunity for us all, always, to keep our hearts and minds focussed on the Lord, our Saviour. It is an opportunity for us to remember His love for us, His presence with us. It is an opportunity for us in connexion with this to remember and to turn to the protection of the Mother of God as well. She has been involved in our community for a very long time. She prepared the way for us to come here. She is preparing the way for us even now.

It is very, very important for us to remember all those who came before us in this building and in this neighbourhood. Let us consider this particular icon : Our Lady of the Passion (the Catholics call it Our Lady of Perpetual Help). We call it Our Lady of the Passion because the icon has angels bearing the Cross and instruments of the Passion. There are people in the neighbourhood who are still coming here to pray before this icon. Glory to God for that. The Lord has enabled us to keep this icon here, partly because it is part of our service to the neighbourhood : maintaining this icon and letting people come to the Mother of God.

It is to this icon that people (at least Roman Catholic people) turn for help, hope and consolation. They turn to this icon and to the Mother of God. That she is still here with us in this continuity is important for us to remember, because it is a concrete demonstration of her love, her protection, her presence with us. We are not without support. We are not without resources as we live here and take up the responsibility of this building, and learn how to live here, glorifying our Saviour here.

Lastly, we must always remember that it is in Christ’s selfless, self-emptying, self-giving love that we live and must live. It is to Him that we must always, every day, turn, even when there are small things bothering us. We must turn to Him, receive His support, and the protection, the support of the Mother of God. We must take up the whole armour of God, and glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Need to express Gratitude

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Need to express Gratitude
16th Sunday after Pentecost
9 October, 2005
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 ; Luke 7:11-16


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When we are in a missionary situation as is this community, it is important for us to remember and keep remembering Who He is that we are serving, and what we are about. This is the case especially when we continue to make beginnings, as we are doing. This Gospel lesson today about the raising of the only son of the widow of Nain is an important lesson for us in this : Who is He that we are serving ? Just Who is Jesus Christ ?

When the Lord raises the young man from the dead, He does it out of compassion most likely because this widow, with her only son dead, would have no-one to look after her. This was in the days when there was no social welfare, as there was not in most of the world. We, in Canada, tend to get a little bit lax about these things and forget how good we have it here. The fact is (in those days, and to this day in most of the world), if a woman is a widow and her only son has died, it would mean that she would have nowhere to live. She would have no-one to look after her. She would have no home. She would end up being a beggar. It is a horrible situation for any woman to be in, except that in some cases there is a certain amount of relief.

Our little monastery in BC, in a sort of way is avant-garde in this respect, I think, because every year that little community that has nothing buys a cow for a widow in India – a different widow every year. Why do they do that ? If they buy a cow for a widow in India, this cow will give milk (in India they do not kill or eat cows). With the milk this widow can make some money, and she can have at least a basic, minimal existence. I guess there are some other things that you can do with cows, also, to make money (farmers know that sort of thing, and I do not have to explain it).

This widow in Palestine does not have any such resource. In case you do not know where Nain is, it is a little place not far from Mount Tabor, the place of the Transfiguration. We could almost say that it is in the valley at the foot of the mountain. It is here that this is happening. The Lord, out of compassion, raises the widow’s son, and restores not only her son to her, but her livelihood, her protection, her dignity. He restores everything to this woman. The response of everyone around is as we heard it : everyone is completely amazed. They certainly recognise that Jesus had to be at least a prophet, and a great prophet at that. I think that the only other record of resurrection through the prayers of anyone in the Old Testament will have been through Elias and Elisha. Those two are the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and so the people are immediately associating Christ with them.

Who is this that is able to do such a thing ? He is more than a prophet, as we know. He is the Son of God. He is the Lord of the living and the dead. He is the One who is the Word by whom all things were made. As such, He can do precisely what He did : raise the dead. This He did many times during the years of His incarnate service on earth. It is not as though He does not still do it sometimes. There are occasions still when people are resuscitated from the dead by Christ through the prayers of the faithful. Even in these days it does happen. This is Who He is that we are serving : the One who is the Lord of Life.

He is the Lord of all life, and He is the Lord of your life and my life. It is important for us to remember this since we have to ask in association with this : why did He create us, and why does He continue to create us in large numbers (not by recycling, as some people think) ? He creates us so that we might enter and live forever in a loving relationship with Him. He is the Giver of Life ; He loves to give life. He loves to give life in love. The two things, “life” and “love”, are synonymous and go together (it does not matter what cynics say). We are created to love. We are created to give life with Him. We are created to nurture life together with Him. At the same time, we are created to worship God.

How are we to respond ? Love is a two-way street. God creates us. He gives us life. He gives us everything. Even though we seem to think we do it all ourselves, nevertheless, He is the Source of all. He gives us everything. How do we respond if we love Him ? Every polite Canadian knows that we have to say “thank you”. We Canadians are quite good at saying thank you (in fact, if we do not send thank-you notes for numbers of things, the giver can get a crooked nose). We know that we ought to be thankful, and express this thanks. We know that it is expected of us Orthodox Christians with each other.

How much more is it the case with the living God. We should be doing our part to express our thanks to the Lord. Our whole life should be, in fact, a loving response of thanksgiving. Everything about our life should express this thanksgiving. That is why in traditional Orthodox cultures (which Canada has not yet become), people are always giving glory to God for everything. If someone says thanks, the person being thanked gives glory to God right away. I like to tell about when I was a “green” seminarian many years ago, and I was visiting a Greek women’s monastery. The nuns were so nice to us, and hospitable. As a polite Canadian making my departure, I thanked the Abbess, and she said : “The Lord”. I said : “Thank you, also”. She said : “The Lord”. I said : “Yes, Mother”. Of course, I meant : “All right, I catch the drift”. She understood that we have to refer everything to the Lord. Who am I, myself ? God is everything. Everything has to be referred to the Lord Himself.

Ukrainians have a language full of expressions of referring everything : glory, thanksgiving, health – absolutely everything – to Christ. Our English language needs to find the way to do the same. We Orthodox Christians in Canada have to develop this habit. We have to learn from our ancestral cultures (that have been baptised by the Gospel) what they did in response to the Gospel, and do it according to our culture here. We have to find the way to do it. It is not as though we have to find it so freshly, because many Christians (not Orthodox Christians) who lived in Canada (let’s say before about 100 years ago), actually did come from a culture that knew this also. The English language does have some history of this. However, certainly in the last fifty years, it has all gone out the window. Even things I remember from my childhood are generally forgotten. It is important that we Orthodox Christians recover this way of speaking, reminding ourselves to give glory to God and thanksgiving to God for everything.

Primarily, this means that we ought to remember where we belong on Sundays and feast-days, and every possible occasion. We belong here, together before the Lord’s Table, giving thanks to Him. That is primarily the focus of this Divine Liturgy. There is a considerable amount of praise in it, but the main part of the whole thing is thanksgiving. With the praise there is thanksgiving. When we are standing here today in this assembly (in this temporary Temple), we are being what the Lord created us to be. We are doing what God created us to do : expressing together our joy at being one in the love of Jesus Christ. We are expressing our gratitude to God that we can be together. We are expressing our gratitude that we can have this mutual encouragement with, and for each other in this mutual thanksgiving and glorification of God. We owe it to the Lord to be here as often as possible. We owe it to the Lord, who gives us everything. Because of our love for Him, it is part of our loving response. It is part of who we truly are. It is part of what we have to do to be who we truly are. We are expressing our true selves by being here today, together, worshipping Him, giving thanks to Him, expressing our love for Him, and allowing Him by His Body and Blood to feed us, to renew us, to strengthen us and to enable us to persevere.

We heard today what the Apostle had to endure (and that was only a shadow of what he had to endure). All sorts of abuse the Apostle Paul endured. He, along with the other apostles, suffered all sorts of horrible things. They were being tested by people who could not believe that God loved them in this way. This unbelief, this testing happens to this day for us. We do not get beaten up usually (not in Canada, not yet). We do not usually get put in jail because we are Orthodox Christians. We do not usually lose our lives because we are Orthodox Christians in Canada at this time. However, people sometimes are not very nice to us. People sometimes will ridicule us. Sometimes people will say very bad things about us. Sometimes people will shun us and ignore us because we are Orthodox Christians.

When people are unkind to us, it is important for us to be patient, to give thanks to God, to pray “Lord have mercy” for the people that are treating us badly. Part of this is simply waiting. Through our prayers, sometimes people who treat us badly ultimately find themselves turning about, as the Apostle Paul himself was turned about in mid-track. He, himself, who was a persecutor of the Church, was turned about through the prayers of believers, and through the Grace of the love of Jesus Christ, whom he met on the road to Damascus.

When we are blessing those who are persecuting us, and praying for those who are treating us badly, in the course of all this, we open the door for the possibility of their hearts to soften and to change. Very many times in the lives of martyrs we see that the suffering and the death of a Christian will turn about the hearts of the executioners, who become Christians and who, themselves are also killed. It has happened many times in Christian history. It has happened even in the most recent Soviet persecution in eastern Europe. The persecutors, the punishers, the torturers had their hearts softened by the faith of the Orthodox believers.

It is important for us to do simple, straightforward things about being faithful as Orthodox Christians : loving the Lord, remembering to put Him first in everything. Everything else falls into place. If we do not put the Lord first, our lives are distorted, weak and emaciated in the long run. Let us, dear brothers and sisters, do our part now together in offering ourselves, our lives and each other, all together, to Christ our God, glorifying Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Giving and forgiving

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Giving and forgiving
18th Sunday after Pentecost
23 October, 2005
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 ; Luke 16:19-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

People who have known me for a long time, along with my sisters and brother, will admit that I was a geezer long before my time. Because I have been a geezer for such a long time, I have a sort of nostalgic wish that on a day like today, when the readings are as they are, it would be possible to speak about the Scriptures as they used to speak in the old days. That means to pay attention to all the really good things that are in them – even for an hour or two perhaps. However, this is North America, the twenty-first century, so I cannot behave like that. That is good for you, because I would probably put you to sleep in the process.

Nevertheless, I will try to say as briefly as I can what, I think, the Scripture reading has to give to us today. When I was young and I would hear the Gospel that was read today, I used to think : “How could that rich man ignore Lazarus who was sitting there right under his nose every day ?” Dives was being taken out on his litter (it was not like driving in a Cadillac nowadays, or some other big car where you can have tinted windows, turn up the radio so you cannot hear or see anything, and pull some curtains). In those days, they were being carried around on a sort of stretcher with a chair on it. It would be hard to ignore people who are sitting right in front of your nose. There would have been no radio – only the noise of the streets and the sellers all around. How could the rich man ignore Lazarus ?

Since I am grown up, I have come to understand that the fact is that human beings are quite capable of ignoring all sorts of things that are right under their nose (just as I find that I do as I have grown up). It is interesting what we learn as we grow up, and the perspective that comes in life as we grow up. It was easy for a rich man like Dives to ignore others. It is interesting how like him we can be : interested in ourselves, afraid of what is out there, afraid of what is around us, but mostly, self-preoccupied. I am sure that this rich man, Dives, was such a self-preoccupied person. How would he be so different from anyone else, anyway ? When we become very rich, and everyone is bowing and scraping to us, and everyone is doing this and that for us, we begin to think that the world revolves around us. In a sort of way, many do not pass beyond adolescence in that respect, and they think that everyone owes them something.

Everything about the readings today that the Lord has given us describes what sort of life a Christian is supposed to live. A Christian life is open. It is selfless. It is open-handed. As I was taught many years ago, it is open-armed in the way that Christ is open-armed to us, and has been open-armed to us always. This was so especially when He was crucified on the Cross, with His open arms embracing us who were killing Him at the same time. It is true. That was His attitude from the Cross when He said : “‘Forgive them’” from the Cross. His hands were voluntarily nailed to the Cross. He was not forced. He was voluntarily crucified for our sake. He has been open-handed with us at all times. We go crying to Him for everything. He is giving us everything.

Then we have the nerve to say : “I did it myself. I’ve got my career. I’ve got my house. I’ve got my everything”. We forget that Christ is the source of everything. That is how we so easily, so quickly, turn in on ourselves. Yet in His open-handedness, He is always giving to us, always meeting our needs, binding up our wounds, comforting our sorrows, mending all our wounds, tending our “boo-boos”, spiritual and physical.

Sometimes, I suppose, we are grateful. However, we are not nearly grateful enough. Truly, if we were living our Christian life every minute of every day, then we would be filled with a sense of gratitude for God’s love, for His provision for us, and for our ability to be able to co-operate with Him. Freely He gives to us. Freely we receive. It is for us freely to give, and to be ready to give everything : not just money, but ourselves, and everything that we are. We cannot have this sort of mentality, this sort of readiness, unless our hearts are somehow prepared, unless we are renewing and refreshing our love in and for and with Jesus Christ every day.

Here in the seminary, where studies are very demanding, I remember (sometimes too well) that the demand is so intense that it is easy sometimes to let go to the side those moments of daily, regular prayer, Scripture reading, and so forth. We can say to ourselves, for instance : “Well, I am going to hear the Scriptures in Matins anyway ; I will just skip reading the Scripture reading today”. However, the problem is that if I skip looking at the Scripture reading today before I come to the Temple, then my heart is not prepared to receive whatever the Lord wishes to give today. If I have not said at least some sort of basic good-morning prayers to the Lord when I get up, my heart is not prepared to receive what is about to happen in the chapel and in the services. Even if this basic prayer is only the most minimal, it opens the door of the heart just a little, and prepares the heart to receive what the Lord is going to give. If I read the Scriptures ahead of time, then the Lord will speak to me and tell me what I need to hear in order to survive today. That is the whole point.

The heart has to be warmed up slightly at least, in the morning. It has to be opened up and readied to be in communion with the Lord in such a way that I might hear Him say to me what I have to hear today in order to be more who I am supposed to be. This prayer, together with all the study that is going on in this seminary, is a whole life experience. Our life here is not merely an intellectual exercise and the passing of examinations. Even less is it concerned with regurgitating information provided by professors, and returning to them what we think they want to see and hear from us. There is nothing that we are learning here (even in all its technicalities and refinements of meaning) that is not applicable to everyday life sooner or later. It is applicable here in our discussions with each other, and also when we leave here, and when we are going to be confronted by various sorts of persons who want to know what does Jesus Christ mean and Who is Jesus Christ to them. Our hearts must be prepared and ready.

Metropolitan Leonty, of blessed memory, was a man different from the rich man today. He had fallen asleep in the Lord before I ever came to these parts. Some people remember him from their youth. Amongst us there are people whom I know who have known him for a much longer time : Father Sergei Glagolev, Father John Nehrebetsky, Father Vladimir Berzonsky and others. Just this week, Father Sergei was reminiscing about being with Metropolitan Leonty in the Bowery. It is so long since I have been in that part of New York that I do not know what it is like anymore. People are telling me that it is becoming rather “yuppy”. I remember that it used to have Hell’s Angels and all sorts of alcoholics everywhere in those days. Metropolitan Leonty went out on foot very often when he was living at the cathedral, there in the Bowery. Sometimes Father Sergei Glagolev would go walking with him. (I am quite sure that Father Sergei will forgive me for telling this story, as he tells it quite freely himself.) Metropolitan Leonty, as he was going along, had a purse with him, and to anyone who was asking for money, he was giving – not lots, but he was giving. At one point he said to Father Sergei : “So, you do not approve of what I am doing, do you ?” Father Sergei knew that he was caught, and said : “Vladyka, you know that I think that they are just going to drink”. Metropolitan Leonty said, to paraphrase : “Yes, I know you think that. It is entirely possible. However, the point is, that I am not responsible for what that person will or will not do. If he asks, I have to give. I cannot condemn him or judge him according to what he might or might not possibly do. If I am giving openly like this, and freely like this, then maybe there is some hope that he will use it in the right way”.

What is interesting about this is that I heard precisely the same sort of story from Archbishop Gregory about his uncle. Therefore, we have before us this attitude about non-judgemental giving – simply giving openly and freely to whoever asks, as our Saviour says in many places. There is life going with this giving. There is love, and me going with this giving. There is my prayer, at least “Lord have mercy”, going with this giving to the person who has been asking and is receiving. By the act of giving, by this act of open-handed love in sharing with this person just a little bit, comes an opportunity for the person. People are always free to receive in the right spirit or to abuse and to betray. It is their business and their concern.

Everyday life, as we experience it here in this seminary, is similar. This seminary is not merely some sort of ivory tower. We experience real life in this community, and it always has been this way. Here and everywhere, we Christians give ourselves openly and with love to each other. We serve each other in Christ, like Christ, and with Christ. Sometimes temptations grab another person, and the person who has been receiving this love and this trust and this openness so freely can betray that trust. We get a stab in the back, a stab in the heart, a stab in a few places. When that happens (and it does happen all through life), how do I respond ? How must I respond in Christ ?

I cannot retaliate, because Christ never retaliated. I have to be very careful about being bitter and bearing anger, because both of those are deadly poisons for the soul, for the heart. I have to do what Christ did, and does. He said from the Cross : “‘Forgive them’”. I have to learn in His love to forgive the person who betrays and stabs me, as the Lord forgave Judas. The Lord forgave the Apostle Peter for his betrayals. The Lord forgave the Apostle Paul for his over-rambunctious, over-zealous persecuting of Christians, and He turned him completely about.

The Lord’s forgiving love does wonders. I have to be careful not to take onto myself the responsibility that is not mine for how someone else misuses the gift of love towards me. If someone misuses the gift of love towards me, and betrays my love and my openness and my sincerity – that is that person’s responsibility to answer before Christ. It is that person’s responsibility, period. My responsibility is to make sure that my heart stays clean and pure towards that person. I, in Christ, have to be able to pray for that person, as Archimandrite Sophrony and Saint Silouan say. I have to say at least “Lord have mercy” repeatedly for that person. In doing this, I am offering that person to Christ in the hope that that person may yet see the error, turn about, and repent.

Everything in the Christian life involves giving. Even if we all make mistakes, still we must give ourselves in Christ, with Christ, openly, lovingly, and unreservedly. This offering must be with no strings attached (unlike the American teabag). There must be no conditions – only the love freely given of Jesus Christ which we share. In sharing, let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Our Faith is our Life

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Faith is our Life
6 November, 2005
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Luke 16:19-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On this day we are hearing the Gospel reading about Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus sat outside the door of the rich man for many years, and the rich man had many daily opportunities to give to the poor because the poor man was sitting right under his nose. In those days, when a rich person would go out from his house, he did not go out in a Mercedes with dark windows and with curtains so that he could not see around. In those days he went out from his house carried likely in a chair by his servants. Maybe there were curtains, but they were sheer curtains because it was hot where Lazarus and this rich man lived. Every day, this rich man could see and hear Lazarus asking for help. Every day he did not give help.

This lifetime in which we live is our time for doing good for each other. It is part of what God gives us : to do good for each other. It is by what we do for each other that God is ultimately going to measure us when we come to the end of our life. When we come before His throne, He will say : “How did you love Me ?” What are we going to say ? If we never give to the poor, if we never care about each other, the Lord will say (as He said in another parable) : “‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’” (Matthew 25:45). However, if you were good to those poor people, those suffering people, those needy people, then He will say : “‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:40). We cannot be Christians, and merely say : “I am a Christian”. If we are truly Orthodox Christians, we must do something with this Faith of ours.

Our Faith is not something limited only to the head. Rather, it is in the heart. It is our life. The Orthodox Christian way is the way of life. That is what made Russia become Russia ; that is what made Ukraine become Ukraine ; that is what made Byelorus become Byelorus ; that is what made Greece become Greece ; and Romania become Romania ; and Serbia become Serbia ; and Bulgaria become Bulgaria, etc. That is what made those countries what they became : different countries from the places we are living in here and now. That is what made those countries become places where people know the right way to live, the right way to behave, and how to look after each other (even if they are not perfect). No-one is perfect. Not even Russians and Ukrainians are perfect – although they truly can be good. They do know how to care for people in the manner of the Gospel. When someone is on the street asking for something, the Orthodox Christian who is properly formed, knows he must do something.

Metropolitan Leonty of our Church, who died in 1965, was born in Kremenets, in Ukraine. When he was in North America, his wife died, and he became a monk. Then he became a bishop, and later on a metropolitan of our Church. He was well-known, because in New York City our cathedral was in a very poor area. Now this neighbourhood is becoming “yuppy” – more fashionable. However, in those days, it was very, very poor. One of our priests was talking to me (about three weeks ago) about his memories of Metropolitan Leonty. He said that the two of them were walking out on the street one day, and Metropolitan Leonty had a change purse. He always carried a change purse. In it he always had coins to give to people who were poor. He said to this priest as they were walking along the street : “You do not approve of what I am doing, do you ?” The priest knew he was caught because he did not approve, and he said : “Well, Vladyka, you are right”. Metropolitan Leonty said to him : “You think that they are going to drink this money that I give them, don’t you ?” He replied : “Yes. That is what everyone says ; that is what I think is probably the case. They are going to spend it on drinking”. Metropolitan Leonty said : “Well, Father, I am not responsible for what they do with this money. If they ask, I must give. I am not the judge. Christ is the Judge. If they do not use the gift well, that is their responsibility. It is my responsibility to give”.

Metropolitan Leonty was a very holy man. Before some of you younger people die, he should be on the Church calendar, I hope. He always had in his pockets sweet things for children. He was a very special person. Of course, parents are not so happy to have their children eat sweet things. Nevertheless, he was loving them ; he was sort of an uncle or grandfather to them, and they loved him, too. A retired archbishop of our Church, Archbishop Gregory, who was born in Kyiv, confirms this attitude. He said that his uncle always told him that we have to have money in our pocket to give to the poor. This uncle always did, and Archbishop Gregory did, also. He talked about it in order to remind us younger ones to pay attention.

We are responsible for what we give. We are not responsible before Christ for what someone else does with the gift. I am not a social worker. I am not a psychologist. Many times I have given to people with precisely those same fears, because everyone talks about it in North America – they are going to drink ; they are going to buy drugs or whatever. Many times when I have been thinking along these lines, I gave, and they ate. I saw them go and eat. I have been put to shame.

The Tempter is always coming to you and to me to try to pull us away from the right way to live. We Orthodox Christians here in Canada have been brought here to Canada for more than one purpose. Although we have the blessing to come to Canada for the sake of a stabler and more peaceful and more productive life, there is yet more for us to do. Canada is a country that used to be spiritually not too bad. Now it is really getting lost. People are forgetting everything, and especially, they are forgetting about the way of Christ. It is important for us, who are Orthodox Christians, to remind them, to show them by our life what is this right way. Many Canadians used to know it, and when they see us, they are encouraged again to pick up their Christian life, to repent, and to follow Christ in the right way. Nevertheless, we are the Orthodox, and it falls on our shoulders, this responsibility to be in Canadian society the yeast and the salt (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) that Christ is speaking about, because He loves this country. You people, Orthodox Christians who immigrated here, have a responsibility to share this Faith. When the very first Orthodox Christians came to Canada (mostly to western Canada over 100 years ago), even before they built their homes, they built the Temple. They lived in a borday (sod house) first before they built the Temple. When they had built the Temple, then they built their own houses. They had their sense of priorities correct.

It is important for you, coming to this country 100 years later, to have your priorities correct, too. Why am I saying this ? The answer is found in Saint Paul’s words this morning to the Galatians. Saint Paul said, as it were : “I am not preaching something that someone has thought up. I am not preaching something that I thought up. I am not preaching something that is the result of my reading. I am preaching Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead”. Our Saviour revealed Himself to be the Son of God. God Himself revealed the Holy Trinity on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, and on the Feast of Pentecost. The Holy Trinity was demonstrated : one God, Three Persons, on these two feasts, and other times, too. We know for certain, at the time of the Baptism, that the Father said : “‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He reveals Himself to people. He revealed Himself to the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, and many more times in his life in one way or another.

Christ has revealed Himself to Orthodox believers in every century, in every country in which people are believers up until now for the past 2,000 years. Christ reveals Himself to each of us. He reveals Himself to each of us sometimes by a personal appearance (that is not so often) : sometimes He lets us see Him, Himself. Very often He reveals Himself through an appearance of His Mother in one way or another. He reveals Himself very often in the goodness of human beings who do good for each other because they love Him. We are carriers of Jesus Christ. When we were baptised, we put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27). We were baptised into Jesus Christ. We died and rose in Christ in the water of baptism. We put on Christ. When we are doing these good things (like helping someone who is in need or giving sweet things to children or doing other things that God moves us to do that people need), we are sending to that person the love of Jesus Christ with the good thing that we are doing ; we are revealing Jesus Christ in ourselves, too, to the person who is receiving.

Even on Sunday morning, we are standing here and we are supporting each other as we stand here worshipping the Lord. We are giving Christ to each other. As we come to receive Him, He gives Himself to us in His Body and His Blood. He gives Himself to us, also, in the hymns and prayers that we are singing and saying. He also gives Himself to you and to me in the mutual love and support that we give to each other. Jesus Christ is truly amongst us. Jesus Christ is truly alive amongst us. It is important for you and for me, Orthodox believers, to live in this way, because Jesus Christ reveals Himself to you and to me. He tells you and me : “I love you. I am with you. I am protecting you. I am helping you”. We are able to love Him. He is to you and to me a Brother, a Father, a Friend. He is all this and much more to us. The relationship between you and me, between us and Jesus Christ, between us all and God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is one of love. This relationship does not consist in mere mental activity (although the mind and the logic can explain things sometimes). This relationship is characterised by love.

Every spiritual Father and Mother has talked about the relationship between themselves and Jesus Christ in this way. It is all focussed on love. When Saint Seraphim says : “Acquire the Holy Spirit”, it is, again, love to which he is referring. Otherwise, why would he, at the end of his days, dress in white and say to everyone : “Christ is risen”. Indeed, why would he say that if it were not because of love ? Everything he said was ultimately about Jesus Christ risen from the dead, and His love. Healing came to people through Saint Seraphim because he was full and overflowing with this love himself. It was the same way with the Fathers of Optina, and other Fathers and Mothers all over Russia, Ukraine, and the Orthodox world. You and I have a big work to do here in Canada, but it is primarily a work of love, glorifying Jesus Christ in our whole lives, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

God is with us

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
God is with us
25th Sunday after Pentecost
11 December, 2005
Ephesians 4:1-6 ; Luke 10:25-37


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the Epistle reading this morning, the Apostle Paul is speaking to us about how everything is gathered into one in Christ. It would be very helpful if we all kept in mind that particular admonition of the Apostle this morning, because we live in a time and a culture in which the opposite is understood. In most of Canadian society and in most Canadians’ attitude these days, God (where He is considered at all) is merely a sort of philosophical concept, something that we turn to when we have some great need or other. (Notice that I am saying “something” and not “Someone” in this case.) These people think that God is “out there somewhere”, far away, and that we approach Him or it, feeling guilty and full of fear, and so forth.

All these concepts are contrary to what we, as Orthodox Christians, understand Him to be. The Lord is not a philosophical concept or idea. He is not a construct of our imagination. He is not some sort of sociological development. God is the Creator of everything that is. It is He who, because of His love, brought everything into being. If there are any scientific attempts to understand the origin of the universe, all those origins are still very understandable by the action of God’s love. Even the “Big Bang” theory conforms very well to the explosion of God’s love. He brings everything into being because of His love, not merely because of a compression of gases. Where did those gases come from ? If we accept the theory that in the beginning there was a primeval mass which eventually explodes, then the question must be answered : “Where did that come from ?” We understand that the primeval mass comes from God. God is the Creator of everything. He is not only the Originator of everything, who winds up the universe, puts it on a shelf and lets it tick away. God sustains everything. He sustains everything, always. Therefore, when Pope Benedict (at that time Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote a book about the Divine Liturgy, entitling it God is near us, he showed that he was off the mark. God is not simply near us. When we say that God is near us like that, we are suggesting that He is nearby, but separate. This is not at all the case. We Orthodox say that God is with us. Especially at the great feasts of the Nativity and the Theophany, we love to sing at Great Compline that “God is with us”. This is right and true. God is with us. He is not looking at us from some distance. He is with us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is closer to us than we can be to ourselves. That is how “with us” He is.

The Lord in His love sustains with love everything that He created because of love. Since God is love, as we believe, and as the apostles have taught us (and as we experience also in our life), everything is both created by and sustained by His loving presence. It is important for us to remember that, because there are societies where people get depressed so easily that they forget to turn to God at all. They wait for crisis moments before they turn to Him. In fact, we do tend to put God on the back burner of our lives, instead of remembering that we depend on Him for everything. In our very technological and sort of pseudo-scientific age (i.e. “science without God”) we tend to think that we are doing everything ourselves. We seem to think that we are achieving and acquiring everything for ourselves by ourselves. We also like to think (as a poet of a couple of hundred years ago said) that we are the “captain of our own ship”, and the “master of everything round about us”.

However, that is not the case at all. Yes, we acquire many things, and we accomplish many things in the course of our life. Moreover, everything that we have that is good, in fact, we have because God has blessed us to have it. We have it as a responsibility. Nothing that we have is for ourselves alone. The Apostle Paul always makes that clear to us. Everywhere in his writings he is teaching us that what we have been given as gifts (whether they are material gifts or spiritual gifts or intellectual gifts) are not for us alone. They are given to us in order to be of use to other people, in order to build up the Church of Christ, in order to be useful and helpful to people. The Lord gives everything to us to be used as yeast and salt (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). He gives us these things in order to make more life, to make more love, and to increase everything. The Lord is the Giver of Life.

Many of the scientists, for instance, do not ask themselves properly how it is that after some of the cataclysmic catastrophes that have occurred on the earth in the past (with the extinction of dinosaurs, and so forth), life came back so quickly, and in such great variety. After a cataclysm such as that, creatures that had never existed before now existed, and in large numbers. Where did they come from ? It is not that these things just bubbled out of the sea by some sort of fortuitous strike of lightning upon the waters. This had to do with the activity and the result of God’s love. God, who is the Creator and Sustainer of everything, renews creation. He renewed everything in a fresh way when the time of the dinosaurs came to an end. When we finish poisoning the earth in our time, the Lord will likely renew it again. He will clean it up.

The Lord, the Giver of Life, engages you and me, made in His image, and called to be in His likeness, to be co-workers, co-creators and co-guardians in His creation. That is why He gives us these gifts – in order to be this sort of co-worker and co-guardian. That gives us the opportunity to be such a person as the Samaritan today. This Samaritan was, to the Jewish people, a despised and disgusting sort of person. He was an outsider. He was semi-Jewish, but not really believing and worshipping correctly in accordance with the Jerusalemite understanding. The Samaritans were in fact treated like dogs in those days. Yet, according to the Lord’s parable, when a Jewish man, is beaten up and left for dead, several clergy walk by and do not dare touch him because they would be defiled by the possibility of touching a dead body (because they were not sure if he were dead or not). Even if he was not dead and he was bleeding, even that would make them unclean and unable to serve in the Temple. Therefore, they did not touch him. However, it was this very unclean and untouchable person who came along, expressed God’s love, and brought God’s healing to this man. The Samaritan restored him at his own expense and not at the government’s expense. A denarius is at least a day’s wages for a worker. It is not exactly a small thing that this man is giving up of his own substance in order to restore this injured person to health and well-being again.

In many ways in Canadian society, we who are Orthodox Christians find ourselves being like this Samaritan. Very many Canadians say that they are disappointed with Christianity in one way or another, because of the failures of Christians, and because of the poverty of Christian witness in the past. We, who are traditional, do not try to water down Who Christ is for the sake of making people more comfortable. Therefore, we preach and live and teach and serve Jesus Christ who loves all these broken-up Canadians, and who Himself, like the good Samaritan, wants to heal them. He wants to heal them, to renew them, to bring them back to life. It is we who are the hands and feet of that Samaritan. It is we, unlikely people, who are called by the Lord to bring renewed hope throughout the society in which we live.

In all the places throughout the country where there are churches, we are mostly small, and not seen by most Canadians. Our Temples can be sitting on a main street (some of them quite big, and some of them with very nice architecture) and yet people do not see them at all. They are not aware of them or if they are aware of them, they think that perhaps it is some sort of Sikh temple, or something like that. They do not imagine that it could be a Christian church that is standing there. In the long run, people who are coming to us across the country, are people whom the Lord Himself sends to us.

I am very much impressed by the seriousness of some of our parishes in terms of trying to be visible and to reach out. For instance, a parish in n that had recently built a new building, decided that they were going to try to make their church visible. They wanted to let people know that they were there, so they published a pamphlet. It is a nice little explanatory pamphlet (professionally done) about what is the Orthodox Church, and what is this parish. They printed 10,000 of these, and delivered them all by hand, door to door in the whole area around the church. They delivered 10,000 of them. As a result of this, four people came to the church. They advertised in the phone book. They advertised in the newspapers. Once in a while someone would come to the church from that. They were doing something to make themselves visible. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people who come to the church there are people who simply show up one Sunday morning. Some of them come because they know someone in the parish. They have encountered this Orthodox Christian, and they understand that there is something good and different about this person that attracts them. Therefore, they dare one Sunday to come to church. Sometimes they do not stick, but some of them do stick. There are other people who come, and no-one knows why or how they got there. Out of the blue, the Lord did something in that person’s heart one Sunday morning, and that person arrives in the church.

This is the way yeast operates in bread. It hides, as our Lord said in His parable – The Kingdom of God is “‘like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened’” (Luke 13:21). What became of that yeast hidden in the flour (because once it is mixed together we cannot tell one from the other) ? It gives life. It raises the whole thing. What happens when someone puts a little pinch of salt in the flour ? After water is added, where is the salt ? However, we can certainly tell its presence by its taste. That is how we are to be. That is how we are perhaps behaving in this country. Slowly, our Church is growing and developing in unexplainable ways, precisely because the Lord is using us as His yeast and salt. This community has been here for ten years in n, and we have not grown very much visibly. On the other hand, there are people I know who have passed through this parish. They are in one place or another elsewhere in the country, still alive in Christ, and still serving Christ in a different parish. I rather suspect that the service of this community is not confined to this province. I understand also that this area is not one of the easiest places to establish the Orthodox Church. That is partly because this area is so old in Canadian settlement. However, there are yet older and tougher places.

That does not mean that the Church cannot be properly established here. This city, like everywhere else in the country, has people whose hearts are looking for Christ. They are hungering and they are thirsting. They are looking for Christ. It is up to us to live our lives sincerely and lovingly, following Christ, with open hearts, open arms, being hospitable in the way the Samaritan was. Actually, if the Levite and the priest of the Temple had really listened to their hearts on that particular day that our Lord spoke of in the parable, they might have let go their service in the Temple that day for the sake of this broken human being. This broken human being is truly important to the Lord.

It is necessary that we in our lives here in this city, keep the sense of equilibrium, of balance, and remember that the Lord is with us. He is not far away from us. He is with us. He is helping us at all times, giving us strength at all times, and protecting us at all times in this environment. Even if we do not necessarily see it, He is bringing fruit of life from our lives, as we touch people who are around us in our daily lives. He does something with it. He does not ask us to be or do everything : He asks us to be co-workers with Him. However, He does the major work all the time. We are the catalysts. We are the yeast. We are the salt.

The traditional saying of the Jesus Prayer by Orthodox Christians underlines our understanding that God is with us. When people are being taught how to do the Jesus Prayer properly (that applies mostly to monks, but other people are doing it too), they are given to understand in the first place that the purpose of saying the Jesus Prayer is to encounter God, to deepen one’s love for God. We do not just say some sort of prayer in order to become better focussed mentally, or to become some sort of guru or yogi or something like that, because of the ability to concentrate. The repetition of the prayer is all concerned with love. Everything about the Christian way is concerned with love. The person who is being taught how to say the Jesus Prayer is taught to focus. Where ? On the heart. The person has to look not out, but in. One finds Christ here, in the heart, in the center of our being. That is where we find Christ. It is a tricky business, so when most people are asking how to say the Jesus Prayer, that particular direction is not given to them in the beginning. The person is taught to say the Prayer slowly and carefully, and perhaps to look at an icon of Christ. After that, of course, the person can begin to look in. We have to remember for Whom we are looking when we are looking in. When we look in, we are going to see just soot. Everyone of us is in about the same condition. It takes some time to learn how to find Christ in there.

God is with us. The Lord is nurturing us. He is supporting us. He is enriching us with His love, always, and everywhere. Let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Witnessing to the Truth of God’s Love
Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ
18 December, 2005
Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40 ; Matthew 1:1-25


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All those Hebrew names today that are hard to pronounce, represent people who were in a line of those who trusted God’s Promise. God reveals Himself to us. He has revealed Himself to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so forth. There are many people to whom God revealed Himself in the course of our history, not to forget people like Ruth. It is not only to a line of men that God revealed Himself. In revealing Himself to us, He revealed Himself to us throughout Scripture as a loving Father (not like broken, human fathers, but an all-loving, all-perfect Father). He revealed Himself to us as God who is Love (see 1 John 4:8, 16).

Human beings in the course of our history have very often betrayed that love for one reason or another, mostly because we are limited, selfish, and we cannot understand the Lord’s love. We often fall into the trap of trying to control and regulate that love, and that never works. If anyone wants to know why heresies have risen in the past in human history, in Orthodox Christian history, these heresies have arisen because human beings could not manage to cope with the breadth and the depth of God’s love, with the absolute incomprehensibility and unexpectedness of God’s love. People, with their so-called intelligence, have tried to regulate God, to box Him in a little bit, so that He would be more understandable, somehow. By doing that, they have distorted their understanding of Who He is.

We cannot tell God Who He is. We cannot tell Him how to behave with us. We have to accept His love, and live with His love. The prophet Isaiah tells us that a pot does not tell the potter how to make it (see Isaiah 45:9). The potter knows how to make it, and the pot then functions according to how God made it. It is the same thing with us. God loves us. Because of His love, He creates each one of us uniquely. He gives us talent. He gives us ability. Everything is rooted in His love. His love gives us life, and we live in this love. If we do anything good in this life, it is the product of His love.

Thus it is that all these three times fourteen generations of people (whose names we heard today) prepared the way for the coming of the Incarnation of God’s love. They prepared the way by being faithful before the Incarnation, before the visibility of God’s love, before He could be comprehended in such a way as we Orthodox Christians comprehend Him. If we have some difficulty living in the wake of this Incarnation, if we have difficulty living day by day 2,000 years since the Incarnation, accepting God’s love in the fulfilment of the Promise, can you imagine how much more difficult it was for those three times fourteen generations of people who lived beforehand only with the Promise – a Promise not fulfilled. Having seen evidence of God’s abiding love amongst them, and how many times He saved them from this-and-that, they did not encounter the fulfilment of His love. They were not filled with the Holy Spirit so that they could be members of the Body of Christ.

They, in anticipation, were prepared to have everything done to them (as the Apostle Paul said to us this morning in the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning how they were tortured for the sake of this yet unfulfilled Promise). How much more, then, are we responsible for the living out of this love in our lives – we, who call ourselves Orthodox Christians, we who say that we believe. We bear in us and amongst us the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, the undistorted full Truth about the Holy Trinity, and Who is Jesus Christ. We have the responsibility to shine with the light of this love not just on Sunday or on a feast-day when we happen to be here together.

We have the responsibility to shine with this love every day. We have the responsibility to be this yeast and this salt that our Saviour says we are supposed to be if we are truly living His love. We are supposed to be catalysts of love in our everyday life, in our families, first. We are supposed to be persons to whom other people who are suffering and burdened by the cares of life will turn, because they see in us joy, they see in us a sign of hope, a sign of stability, a sign of peace. They can tell that we are Christ-bearers, because we love without attachments, without conditions, and we are servants like Christ. We do not puff ourselves up, exalt ourselves and squash other people, as the world does. We do not care what people think of us. Instead, we serve. We behave as Christ did. We wash people’s feet as Christ did (even if it is only a metaphorical washing).

When we behave like this, people turn to us in order to find Christ. When we behave like this, washing people’s feet (figuratively, or in fact), when we are going about our daily lives (as the servants or slaves of Christ that we are), we live in a certain freedom that other people do not know. People are bound up and enslaved by fear. We, who have been baptised into Christ, who have put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27), who bear Christ with us, are free in His love. We are not slaves of sin. We are not slaves of fear. We are free, free in His love. In doing all this, we are exercising that royal priesthood that all Christians who are baptised into Christ share, and must exercise. This priesthood has all to do with gathering the flock, the scattered sheep, the lost sheep, uniting them to the Body of Christ.

Now I would like to say that, as I stand here today in this Temple, in the midst of this flock, it is really obvious to me how much the Lord has been at work amongst us over the more than 25 years that this community has been serving and witnessing to His love, and the truth of His love. His Truth, by the way, is rooted in love. It does not consist in or of some sort of rules, regulations and philosophy. Jesus Christ, Himself, is the one and only Truth. Only He is the Truth. There is only one truth : living truth, loving truth. This same Saviour, who is Love, who put on flesh, who is Love incarnate, has been active amongst us. When we are singing at the top of our lungs, pouring out our hearts with love in praise of Him, no-one, I think, could deny that they feel the mutual love of Jesus Christ expressed amongst us here.

Thus, as much as the Lord has been building us up, and as much as the Lord has been working amongst us, we cannot at all become complacent in any way. Yes, the Lord has done a lot of good with us. He will do a lot more yet. He has united very many people to Himself through the work of this community. He has increased the community of faith through the life, love, and service of the believers here. However, there is a whole city of almost a million people, the vast majority of whom do not know the whole truth of Jesus Christ. Many of them do not even know anything at all about Jesus Christ. We, and those who come after us, have much work to do. It is not a five-minute job to make this city into a right-believing city. However, living His love, we allow Jesus Christ, the Lord of love, our Lord, Emmanuel, who is with us and amongst us all the time to multiply our meager offerings. He does this, and we allow Him to bring those scattered and lost sheep to Himself by our love, by the exercise of our love. There is much to be accomplished yet, but let us not forget that God is with us. That is one of His titles, and it is not merely a title, it is a fact. It is the expression of Who He is. He is with us. He always will be with us. He promised never to desert us or forsake us (see Matthew 28:20).

Therefore, holding on to our Saviour and being faithful to Him, let us help Him to grow this flock as He wills. Let us help him bring His life, His love, His salvation, and His unity to this city in which we live, so that this whole city may eventually glorify Him with us, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Nativity of Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Everything is focussed on Jesus Christ
Feast of the Nativity of Christ
25 December, 2005
Galatians 4:4-7 ; Matthew 2:1-12


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As the years are passing by, so much more the importance of our celebrating this festival of the Incarnation of our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, because the world is having a yet harder time accepting the fact. We turn on the radio nowadays, and we hear stupid programmes speculating on whether there really was such a thing as the Virgin Birth, and whether Jesus is really the Son of God. (However, I am actually happy that there are more real Christmas carols this year than I have heard for a while – at least it seems like that.) Always, while the light is shining, the darkness is trying to overcome this light, as is said at the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John (see John 1:5). It is more and more important for us Orthodox Christians to take seriously the implications of the Incarnation. The Word of God took flesh and dwelt amongst us – that is the meaning of this feast.

It does not matter how people want to re-interpret the Scriptures. The Scriptures are quite plain in describing what happened, and it is important for us to take the Scriptures for what they say. “‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’” (John 3:16). He loves us, and so He emptied Himself. He took on our humanity in order to redeem it, in order to reunite it to God the Father, from whom we had separated ourselves in the earliest times by our selfish rebellion, by our thinking that we know better. That spirit of thinking that we know better, trying to avoid God’s love somehow – wanting it, asking for it all the time – but running away from it at the same time, has been our perpetual characteristic. And so, in our day, we are in a society that is hungering and thirsting for the truth of Jesus Christ’s love. When they are faced with that love, people frequently run away from it. You and I know how that can be, because we ourselves in our daily lives are not always 100 per cent faithful to our Saviour. We ourselves sometimes give in to selfishness, to our self-will. But mercifully, we have confession ; we have a spiritual physician to go to. We can have this selfishness again and again washed off. Because of the Lord’s loving mercy, we have new opportunities yet again to submit to Him.

People speak about the various interesting Orthodox customs that we have. Often they demean them by calling them quaint. They notice all sorts of details such as holy suppers at Christmas and Theophany, the blessing of homes and other such customs. We have very many daily customs : for instance, how bread is baked on certain occasions (because there are different sorts of breads for different purposes) ; how things are cooked one way at one time of the year, and another way at another time of the year ; even how we dance ; and what sorts of things we sing at what time of the year (because, especially amongst Ukrainians, there are not just Christmas carols – people can sing songs in Ukraine for all sorts of different occasions during the year). Those are the sorts of things that people will say are “quaint”, or even “cute” customs.

In their running away from the Lord, people try to say that somehow these are customs that go back into pre-Christian times. Most of the customs that we follow do not, in fact, go back into pre-Christian times, and certainly not pagan times. Those customs about how we eat, how we drink, when we do this and when we do that, how we sing, and how we dance, are all reflections of how Christ baptises cultures, those Orthodox Christian cultures. And so, while Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Serbs, Romanians, Greeks, Albanians, Syrians, and many others (Georgians in particular) all sing, dance, and eat different ways ; how they live their lives is very similar. Their day-to-day lives are all geared around the cycle of the feasts of Christ during the year. They follow the feasts and the fasts ; and the differences between how they eat, drink, dance, and sing are determined only by the natural environment of the land on which they live. However, their sensitivity about how the Christian lives life is all the same. They have the same concern, really, and that is to be Christians, to be known in and by Christ, to serve Christ, and ultimately to be like the Mother of God, obedient in love.

When we are worshipping here, especially now when a bishop happens to be here, people from outside think it is awfully grand, imperial, and hard to swallow. The fact is that this whole service, with its grandeur, does not have to do with the bishop himself. How we are serving (and serving the best we can) is not for the sake of any bishop, but rather for the One whom the bishop is re-presenting. Who is that ? Of course, it is Christ. As the great martyr Ireneus said : “The bishop is as Christ in the diocese”. Therefore, the bishop has to re-present Christ as well as his fallen humanity will allow. Nevertheless, even if his fallenness does not allow it very well, because he is a bishop, he still does re-present Christ. If there is any respect and honour given to him, it is only because of Jesus Christ. As an icon, all the respect that is given to a bishop or to a priest, is passing on to Christ, whom they re-present. It is because of Christ that a bishop or a priest or a deacon or anyone, has any significance in the Church.

Thus, as Saint John Chrysostom says, when we are receiving Holy Communion, the presence of Christ is so much in us that we really ought to be making prostrations before one another, because of the presence of Christ in one another. Everything about the Orthodox life is focussed on Jesus Christ. Everything involved in how we live, what we say, how we worship, everything is focussed on Jesus Christ, His Incarnation, and our gratitude for it. Everything is focussed on His love for us, and our gratitude for His love. Everything in the Church refers to Jesus Christ. As the Apostle is saying to us and is reminding us this morning : having been baptised into Him and having put Him on, we have become children and heirs in our incorporation into His Body. We are not outside. As members of the Body of Christ, we are inside ; we are with God. It is not for nothing that we love to sing that “God is with us”. He is with us. He is everything to us (see 1 Corinthians 15:28).

Brothers and sisters, our responsibility is to try our best day by day, even with our failures, to be faithful to His love, to call upon Him for help, to take His hand of love, and allow Him to hold us up, to support us, to direct us, to nurture us, to correct us, to feed us, and save us. He gave everything, and He is giving everything to us because of love, even though that love is so beyond our ability to comprehend at all. Nevertheless, let us receive it, and try with His help (indeed, we can never do anything without His help) to live by His love, and give glory to Him in our day-to-day lives. With His help, then, let us shine with the light of His love. May others be able to see the hope that we have, and come to join us in this hope. Let us glorify our beautiful, beloved Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 2006

Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Loving the Lord is the Purpose of our Life
Feast of the Circumcision of Christ
(Memory of Saint Basil the Great)
1 January, 2006
Colossians 2:8-12 ; Luke 2:20-21, 40-52


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

God has revealed Himself to us. That is the beginning of everything. We see that from the first book of Moses [Genesis]. God has revealed Himself to us. Everything after that is our response to God’s revealing Himself to us. It is He who is in charge, not we. He shows us that He loves us, that He cares for us, that He is always with us and nurturing us. How we live as Christians is a response to that declaration of love. The declaration of love that God has been giving us ever since the beginning is fulfilled and completed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

God put flesh on His love in the Incarnation of His Only-begotten Son. He allowed us to mistreat His Only-begotten Son. Nevertheless, in His love for us, His Son rose from the dead, and is with us to this day, giving us not only hope, but, in fact, re-uniting us to God the Father from whom we had separated ourselves in our self-centered rebellion. In Christ, all these crazy things that we have been doing to ourselves over the course of history, have been reversed. It is possible for us in Christ to become whole, to be completely healed, in fact.

Talking about his own experience, the Apostle Paul writes that when he, himself, who had been living in a very misguided way and persecuting the Church (because he thought he was doing right according to the Law), encountered Jesus Christ face-to-face on the road to Damascus, his life was turned about. The Apostle could be changed like this because his heart was in the right place. However, his head was out of focus. He was being led by his head instead of by his heart. That encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus turned things about and put them into the correct focus.

Our Saviour today, as we are singing in the hymns, taught us about obedience. He that created everything, and He that created the Law, also obeyed the Law that He created. Why not ? It has to be understood (and this is where people have been constantly going wrong) that the Law is not mere legislation ; it is not something that can be changed. It is not something that can be modified by an amendment, because it is all governed and regulated exactly by its summary, which most of us neglect to remember. What is the summary of the Law and the Ten Commandments ? Quoted by our Saviour Himself, the summary is : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … and you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37, 39).

Love is the whole basis of the Law. Therefore, the Ten Commandments are not like legislation. They are our sense of direction. They are our compass. If we are truly responding to God’s love and doing what the summary says – loving God with all our being – then we would have everything in the correct order. It would be impossible for us to have another God, except the one God. It would be impossible for us to make idols, substitutes of things created, to put in place of the Creator. We would keep the Day of the Lord holy. We would worship the Lord. We would respect our parents, and we would abstain from murder, theft, lying, and coveting, etc. All these things are positive things. The Law is a positive thing. It is a measure of how a believer lives life, how a believer who has encountered God’s love lives out this love.

It is important, therefore, for you and for me, it is important for Orthodox Christians living here in this city where so many people are preoccupied with making money, to remember not to be distracted. It is easy for people to turn money into one of those substitutes for Him, which come between the Creator and themselves. In so doing, they could even easily lose their sense of direction. If it is not money, it would likely be position or power. They are all related. We, who are Orthodox Christians, have to be careful to remember to keep first things first in our lives. That means keeping alive always the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts, nurturing that love, because that love is the source of our being. That love is the purpose of our living.

It is not an option for an Orthodox Christian to be maintaining the personal relationship in communion of love with Jesus Christ. It is the root of our being. It is who we are. From that comes everything in our lives. From that comes the ability to live positive lives. If people have difficulty in living life, it is often because they have forgotten Jesus Christ. In Christ, it is possible to live through every imaginable difficulty, overcome every imaginable obstacle sooner or later, as long as we are living in Jesus Christ, and in harmony with His love, and therefore, knowing His will.

It is possible for an Orthodox Christian to return to the state of Adam and Eve before the Primordial Fall – it truly is. There have been saints who have done this in the course of their lives, because they have completely given up their self-will. They have given themselves over completely to Jesus Christ, and in this atmosphere of love, they know instinctively what He wants of them. They do not even have to ask Him. Their hearts tell them before they can even ask what they should be doing, what is the right thing to do, to say, to think, and how to be in any situation. It is possible, because that is the direction that the Lord’s love takes us. It takes us to reunion of communion with Him. In reunion of communion with Him, it becomes possible to be like Him as we see and hear Him in the Gospel.

I cannot speak from experience. However, I can just say that I have seen this written in the lives of the saints. I have seen some people myself, in the course of my travels around the world, who, if they are not in that condition already, are very close. It can be done. Such purity of life can be lived by giving one’s self over to the Saviour. In giving one’s self over to the Saviour like this, fear is removed, because as the Apostle John says : “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We do not have to be slaves of fear when we are full of the love of Jesus Christ.

Saint Basil the Great, whose memory we celebrate today, was such a person. He became such a guiding force for the whole Church that 1700 years later his influence is still alive in our Church. Why ? Because he was such a person. He gave himself over to the love of Jesus Christ. This is what obedience to the Law means. It means lovingly doing God’s will (not slavishly and fearfully doing what I am told). I must lovingly offer my compliance with God’s will, so that I might be a fulfilled human being, a whole human being.

It is not a small work we have to do as Orthodox Christians here in this city, but the Lord has been very busy blessing our progress. I look forward to seeing what else He is going to do in this community, and with Orthodox believers in this city. May God grant us the ability to follow the example of our Saviour Himself in His obedience to His own parents, to the Law which He created Himself, to His living in harmony with the creation that He created. May the Lord give us the ability to give ourselves over to Him in love, so that His light may shine in us, so that people may see His love at work in us, and be encouraged and drawn to Him, and see and believe. May the Lord enable us truly with all our lives and with all our being to glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Memory of Saint Gregory the Theologian

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Task of being a Shepherd
(Memory of Saint Gregory the Theologian)
[Bishop Seraphim’s 60th Birthday]
25 January, 2006
James 1:1-18 ; Mark 10:11-16
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ; John 10:9-16


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The task of being a shepherd, especially the sort of shepherd that the Saviour is, is not an easy one, and it is certainly not one that I have ever been comfortable in undertaking, because the difference is so great between Him and me. Yet, according to the Scriptures this morning, according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit gives gifts, in accordance with the will of God, and in accordance with the needs of the people, the sheep. Therefore, regardless of what I think about myself, and whatever my inadequacies may be, my responsibility must be to try to be as well as I can a shepherd with the same motivation as that one Shepherd.

There is, in the end, only one Shepherd – our Saviour, Jesus Christ. There is only One who is in charge of the whole Church, and that is Jesus Christ. There is only One who is in charge of this diocese, and that is Jesus Christ. I have great hope and confidence in Him, that whatever are the shortcomings of me, as the bishop, and whatever are the shortcomings of any priest in the diocese (because we are all simply human beings, and we are all makers of mistakes), nevertheless, the Lord in His love for us will make up the difference between our lack and what is the need of the Church.

This has been the case, anyway, throughout all Christian history. There have been human beings who have failed greatly, who have been led astray greatly by the Tempter. Always the Saviour has been able (because He is the Creator of everything anyway, and because His love is so great) to bring things back into the correct focus and the right direction.

In the other reading for today, the Saviour is emphasising once again the importance of our being child-like. He says, as He accepts children to Himself, blesses them, and lays His hands upon them, that we all have to enter the Kingdom as children. The problem is that instead of being like children, child-like, we often behave childishly, and there is quite a difference, a very big difference.

It is very important for us to remember what sort of person Saint Gregory the Theologian was, and the few others, also, who like Saint John the Theologian, carried the title “Theologian”. It is necessary to remember that they came to this title, this appellation, because they were so full of the love of God. They were so full of the love of Jesus Christ, that, in fact, they became like children. They became like children because of their complete and utter trust in the love of Jesus Christ. Such people are persons who have actually grown up (this is one of the Orthodox paradoxes – we grow up to be a child). To be a truly adult Christian, we have to have child-like, pure faith. Such faith is not confused by fear, and especially not paralysed by fear. In order to arrive at such paradoxical purity, it is necessary that we open our hearts to the Saviour, and give ourselves over to Him. It is crucial that, because of love, we trust Him in everything.

My nephew gave me The Mountain of Silence to read, and I should have read it a long time ago. I am very grateful to my nephew for giving me this book, and pressing me to read it, too, because I have to give it back. He wants to make sure that I read it soon. In The Mountain of Silence there are many stories told about Athonite elders who have lived recently : Elder Paisios in particular, and Father Maximos, who is still living in Cyprus, and Archimandrite Sophrony and others like them. All these men (and women too, because the Eldress Gavrilia of Greece is also mentioned many times in this book), are people who, even though they may appear to be eccentric, have given their whole lives over to the Saviour, and are loving the Saviour completely. Some of them, like the Elder Porphyrios in particular, and the Elder Paisios in quite a similar way, were so full of the love of Jesus Christ that they were able to tell people all their problems, correct their problems, help them at a distance, phone them up and tell them what was the problem – that sort of thing. They are people who have managed to give themselves over so much to the love of Jesus Christ, that their hearts became like those of Adam and Eve before the Fall. Their hearts instantly respond to the love of God, and they know what God wants without having even to ask.

This is not the call of “specialists” only, because this Paisios, this Porphyrios, this Gavrilia and many others, even in the last century, who were of a similar devotion to the Saviour, are not different from you and me. They are human beings with the same sort of temptations and weaknesses, but they were ready to give themselves over to the Saviour, and trust Him with everything in their lives. This call is the call to everyone of us. The Saviour’s love is the same for each of us. He created each of us in His image, and we are supposed to be in His likeness. This likeness is love. This love is selfless. This love gives gifts, and allows the gifts of the Saviour to grow.

The Holy Spirit gives particular gifts to us all, according to who we are. He gives these gifts not for us alone, not at all. He gives these gifts for the sake of everyone else around us. That is why these elders, these Gavrilias, these Porphyrioses, and these Paisioses (if you can say it like that in English), gave themselves over to hours and hours and hours of people coming to them in confession, just as happened to Saint Seraphim. We have all probably read or heard about how many years he lived in the desert by himself (the desert of the forest, that is), and how, when the time came, Saint Seraphim, full of life, was in the monastery, and for hours on end was hearing people’s confessions, and hearing their heartbreaks.

Gifts are given to these people for the well-being of everyone else who is hungry, and thirsty, and lost. The good Shepherd who knows His sheep, knows us. He knows our needs. He knows all our weaknesses. It is, in fact, beyond my ability to comprehend what is the nature of His love, and how it works itself out in our lives. However, I do see, everywhere I go, the fruit of that love : in pastors feeding their sheep, in pastors teaching their sheep, in faithful people being nourished by these pastors. The sheep grow up and become strong believers, who are magnets of Christ’s love themselves, bringing people to the Saviour by their example. I see this more and more.

It is important that we all pay attention to the fact that the Saviour is so active amongst us because He loves us, because He is with us, because He cares for us. Even if we have all sorts of difficulties and troubles, He is still with us. He is still helping us out of all these things ; He is helping us through all these things and healing the pain of our hearts. He heals the scars of our hearts. He renews us. He makes us over into who we are supposed to be in the first place. He lifts us up, and gives us the ability to live in joy.

The characteristic of a Christian, par excellence, is to be able to live in joy : as did Saint Seraphim of Sarov, and the many Greek saints of the last century. It is the characteristic of the way of Christ : this peace and this joy which give life to everyone and everything around.

Glory to God that He has such concern for us, that He has such patience with our stubbornness and our blindness. Glory to God that He is so ready to heal our weaknesses, our fears, our fragilities, and to provide for the needs of His rational flock. Glory to God that we are able to be here together, glorifying our Saviour. Glory to God, also, that there are such Orthodox Christians who are interested in celebrating an obscure birthday of this relatively obscure bishop. Glory to God for your love, for your care, and for your faithful service to Christ, whom we glorify, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord is taking care of us
Sunday of Orthodoxy
12 March, 2006
Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2 ; John 1:43-51


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On this day, we are remembering the Seventh Ecumenical Council as always at this time of year, and we are also remembering the restoration of icons to the Church, and the implications that come with that. The restoration of the icons to the Church has its actual roots in the Incarnation of Christ, because God took flesh. He could be represented in paint and in other matter as well (as He has been from the beginning of the Church’s life).

However, the implication goes far beyond iconography. There is an aspect of Christian living that seems to have eluded people one way or the other over the past 2,000 years. It is true that intellectually we may have a firm grasp of the truth of the Incarnation, but living it out is the hard part which continues to elude us. We live in a society which wants to reduce Jesus Christ simply to being some sort of philosopher, or “nice guy” (which is even worse). There is almost nothing worse than being a “nice guy”. Because we who live in this society seem very often to fall into that trap of the “nice guy” mentality, the true living of Christian life will continue to elude us.

Our responsibility as Orthodox Christians is to know Jesus Christ, and being faithful to Jesus Christ, to carry Him with us wherever we are and whatever we are doing, so that, even if we are not very good at transmitting the image and likeness of Christ, at least we are trying. At least, if we are failing somehow, we are ready to say : “I am sorry. I will try to do better”. And at least, if we are not so strong as we thought we might be in Christ, and not saying and doing things as clearly Christ-like as they might be, we are still able to pray to the Saviour to make up the difference. And He does. We are still able to pray to the Saviour to help us to forgive people, people who ridicule us, people who make it difficult for us to continue to be faithful. And He does. He does bring forgiveness to them, to us. He does bring healing and reconciliation to them, to us.

In this community, the Lord has given many resources, both physical and spiritual, as well as particular challenges (not small ones, either). The Adversary, Big Red, is not leaving this community alone. He has been working one way or another, trying to discourage one person or another through illness. These things are not coincidental. These are the attacks of the Adversary. It is not simply that someone gets sick. It is not only illness. Always, and perhaps more seriously, the Adversary walks around trying to sow seeds of doubt, suspicion, anger, and division amongst us in one way or the other. We, who have been given this opportunity to be part of this community and to participate in the struggles of this community, must, absolutely must, be putting on the whole armour of Christ daily. This container of holy water should be refilled and blessed very frequently. That is part of the armour that we need to be taking up daily. We need to be daily taking up and putting on our confidence in Christ, our Saviour, and His love for us by deliberately asking for His help right from the beginning of every day.

Approximately ten years ago, Archbishop Paul, the Abbot of the Kyiv Caves Monastery, came to Canada, and passed across the country with the relics of some of the saints of the Kyiv Caves. He left these relics amongst us. An icon was written at the Holy Transfiguration Hermitage to carry these relics. The icon contains the relics of the saints whose images are on it. There is Saint Agapit, the physician ; Saint Mark (the grave digger) who is the exorcist. If we go to the Kyiv Caves, his hat (or helmet) is there in the caves, and people are daily exorcised by the application of this hat. There is Saint Moses the Hungarian, the healer ; there is Saint Alipy, the iconographer ; Saint Spiridon, the prosphora-baker ; and Saint Nestor, the chronicler. All these famous, well-known Fathers of Kyiv are founders and protectors in many ways. I believe that the Lord is sending this icon for the protection of the Archdiocese, though it will remain mostly at the Cathedral in Ottawa for encouragement and strengthening.

The Lord, in His mercy and His love, knows us, as He knows the apostles whom He calls today. He knows us. He knows our needs. He loves us. He cares for us. He is with us. He is supporting us. He is never abandoning us. As difficult as we sometimes feel it is, and as dragged out as we sometimes are feeling in looking after the responsibility of establishing our presence and the presence of Orthodox witness in this community and in this building, as tired as we are, and sometimes as discouraged as we are, the Lord, nevertheless, is with us. The Lord, nevertheless, is taking care of us. The Lord, nevertheless, is ahead of us, preparing the way for us. The wonder of it all is that the Lord, in His love, takes the time (He has infinite time) and the trouble, not only to prepare the way of this community together, but also to prepare the way of each of our lives. The Lord, in His mercy, is with us. The Lord in His mercy, is before us, all around us, and in us. The Lord, in His mercy, is working through us.

It is important for us daily not to fall prey to the father of forgetfulness down below, but to embrace the Father of remembering – our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Remembering is loving ; the two things go together. We exist, because the Lord loves us, and He remembers us. Therefore, let us renew our confidence in our Saviour. Let us continue to take up the burden of the responsibility, a burden which Christ says is light. It is light if we are directly connected with Him. Let us embrace His protection, and let us fulfil our responsibility regardless of what comes. Let us fulfil our responsibility in the love of Jesus Christ – His love of us, our love of Him. Let us glorify Him, with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

2nd Sunday in Great Lent : Bringing each other before the Saviour

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Bringing each other before the Saviour
2nd Sunday in Great Lent
19 March, 2006
Hebrews 1:10-2:3 ; Mark 2:1-12


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In these days we are hearing texts about the Second Coming and the need to be prepared for it. Of course it is true that it is necessary to be prepared. It is important that we remember what this preparation is like for us who are Christians. It is especially important that we pay attention to this now, because in these days (and in fact, as long as I have lived), there have been people on the radio who talk about the End Days. They talk about it with great fear and trepidation, and they give people a feeling of guilt all the time. They entice us with something that we want, but at the same time, something that we are deadly afraid of, somehow.

The End of all things is not a small event at all. It is beyond my comprehension. The End of all things is inexplicable. It is serious, yes, and awesome, yes ; but for us who are Orthodox Christians, it is much more than an awesome event and a spectacle. It is the return of the Bridegroom. It is the return of Him whom we love. It is the culmination of all the work of His self-emptying love since the beginning of all. We, who are believers, ought to be anticipating this with a certain amount of uncertainty about ourselves and our preparedness. Nevertheless, with longing we await the Lord who is to come, so that we may be able to live in His love, without any more sickness, sorrow, suffering, dying.

The expectation of the Orthodox Christian is a mix. Yes, there is repentance, and we have to be prepared. Repentance is part of our daily life : it is a fundamental element of our way of life. Our hope is that, in this attempt to repent, to turn about from selfishness to the way of Christ, to the way of selflessness, in our turning about, the Lord will accept our love, our offering of love, our turning about. We love the Lord, and He loves us and we long to be eternally with the One whom we love. We hope that He will admit us along with the wise virgins into His banquet hall in His Kingdom.

The way of repentance is an element of our life which people seem to be forgetting in ordinary parish life. It does not matter where we go, somehow many people everywhere have the very mistaken idea that when we come to church, we should somehow be standing amongst the community of the perfect. When we encounter people’s weaknesses, their shortcomings and their sins, voluntary and involuntary, people tend to become disappointed or disillusioned. The Church has never been anything but a hospital for sinners. We must come to recognise that we ourselves, because of the love of Jesus Christ, because of knowing Who He is and what sort of love He has for us, and having confidence in Him as well, need to be like those four men today who carried the paralytic.

These four men knew what sort of love Jesus Christ had for them and for their friend, whom they carried on his stretcher. Their confidence in Christ was great enough that when they found that the house was packed full (and even the outside as well), and that there was no way at all for them to get their friend in to the Saviour, as we heard in the Gospel reading today, then they went up on the roof, and they opened it. This is something that could be done in the Middle East by moving tiles around, although we could not do it here very well. There obviously would be massive destruction to open this roof, and to let down someone on ropes in order to put such a person before the Saviour. Nevertheless, they did open the roof, and they lowered the man before the Saviour. The Lord saw their faith. He understood their love, and He taught a great lesson to everyone (to them and to us) when He said to the paralytic : “‘Son, your sins are forgiven you’”. In the end, it was through this “Your sins are forgiven you” that the paralytic rose from his bed and walked. Faced with this, people were able to say : “‘We never saw anything like this!’”

It is the responsibility of us all to have confidence in our Saviour when we see the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters, and to be like those four men, and carry that person in our prayer to the Saviour. We must give that person to the Saviour, who, in His love, will touch that person, correct that person, and heal that person. It is not our responsibility to laugh at, or condemn the person for being paralysed, because paralysis in life comes from sin. Sin is all bound up with fear. There is not one of us who is not subject to fears in one form or another. These fears paralyse us from doing the good that we ought to do. Sometimes they stop us from doing anything at all. Fears can be so intense from time to time. It is the Lord who frees us from these fears, from the chains with which the devil binds us. It is the Lord who sets us free from these fears, and enables us to become more and more productive workers together with Him in His Kingdom.

That is why it is important that we intercede for each other all the time, and not only occasionally. We must pray for each other all the time. We should be praying for all the members and friends of this parish on a regular basis. If it is possible, those who have time should pray for all the people on the parish list every day, saying simply “Lord have mercy” for each of them, but at least praying for each of them. By doing this, we are being like those four men with the paralytic, supporting each other, bringing each other before the Saviour, and offering each other before the Saviour so that He might correct, heal, strengthen, nurture, and give whatever we need.

Today, we are here all together before the Lord in His Kingdom, which is the case every week at the Divine Liturgy. Every time we are assembled, standing here together in the Temple of the Lord, in the Temple of His Kingdom, we are standing here all together as He feeds us with His own hand, and with His own life. We are standing here today, as we always will be doing at the Divine Liturgy. We are participating in the whole of God’s saving acts from the beginning to the end, from the time of Creation past the Second Coming. In a mystery, as we are standing here today, we are standing in the Kingdom after the Second Coming, also.

When we are offering the Gifts to the Lord, as we hear in the Divine Liturgy, we are remembering God’s saving acts. After “Thine own of thine own”, if we listen carefully, we can hear that we are offering all God’s saving acts from the beginning, including the Second Coming. For us, in a mystery, the Second Coming is a past event. That is why it is possible for us to have such confidence in the Saviour’s love, in view of the Second Coming. He is already merciful to you and to me in giving us a taste of that banquet, together with the wise virgins, and the others who are wonderful in the Saviour.

As we are participating in these ineffable Mysteries of God’s love, let us ask Him to refresh this love, which is our life, and enable us more and more, day by day, even without ceasing, in our hearts to glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

4th Sunday in Great Lent : The Love of Jesus Christ in Action

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Love of Jesus Christ in Action
(Memory of Saint John of Sinai)
4th Sunday in Great Lent
2 April, 2006
Hebrews 6:13-20 ; Mark 9:17-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Saint John, the abbot of Sinai, wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The metaphor of the ladder describes our progress as Christians in our life towards God. However, this progression is not some sort of technique that we can acquire. Such a technique would tell us that if we simply do this thing, and this thing, and this thing, then God will reward us, and admit us into the heavenly Kingdom. That is not how it works, although many (including the naïve Muslim) believe that this is so.

If we had this sort of naïve, simple system which would give us the password for reception into the Kingdom of Heaven after we had lined our ducks up correctly, then that would be very much like bribing God. That is not how it works at all. Many parents try that with their children, and I have seen that that does not work either. It does not work with human beings, and it certainly does not work between God and us. Any system which presumes that God clearly wants to be placated is just plain blasphemous. God is not interested in correctly lined-up ducks. God is interested in our hearts and our love. A careful reading of the Book of Job will show that this is the truth.

The metaphor of the ladder in the book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is simply a description of how we grow in love for God. There is nothing in Christian life that does not have to do with the love of God. It is true that there are many details involved in the living of the Christian life, and yes, there are some rules. However, those details and those rules are only there to provide some sort of order. The foundation of everything is still only Jesus’ question to the Apostle Peter when He says : “‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’” (John 21:15) That is what the Lord is asking you and me always : “Do you love Me ?” With the Apostle Peter, our answer naturally is : “‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You’” (John 21:15). Afterwards, the Lord says to the apostle : “‘Feed My sheep’” (John 21:17).

The “ladder” is given to us to help us. If we love the Lord, then we will grow up in Him. Growing up in Him means that if we love Him, we have to show it by doing something about it. Some people pray. Some people spend their whole lives praying and interceding for other people. It is true, in fact, that if it were not for these people praying, then the world would have fallen in on itself a long time ago. It is because there are believers around the world interceding before God in love on behalf of everyone else, that we still have opportunities to repent. Imitating the Lord, some people do good things. Some people help other people. Some people encourage other people. Some people feed the hungry, and visit the sick, and clothe the naked, and go and help people in prison, just as we sing about the Lord every Sunday in Psalm 145.

The love of Jesus Christ in action means that we have to do something that is supportive and life-giving to people around us. Mostly, these are not the people we would choose, rather, the Lord sends to us those whom He knows that we can help : people at work, people at school, people on the street, people we bump into. We do not very often have the opportunity to choose who it is that we, like the Saviour, will serve. He gives them to us, and our heart tells us in His love how we are to serve.

In the Gospel reading today, we heard about a child who is possessed by a devil, tormented by a devil, and no-one can do anything about it. This child is brought to our Saviour, and His disciples could not help the child. They wanted to, but they did not know how. We would have to say that they did not yet have enough love. Our Saviour Himself tells the devil to come out, and the devil comes out. His disciples ask Him : “‘Why could we not cast it out?’” The Saviour says : “‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting’”. The apostles were not “grown-up” enough in the love of Jesus Christ to be able to do this. However, in the Acts of the Apostles (which we will be reading very soon after Pascha) there will be many evidences of the apostles doing precisely that, and more, because they had been filled with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. By this time, they were overflowing with love. The power of the Grace of the Holy Spirit was acting in them, and they were healing people in the love of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they were even raising them from the dead in the love of Jesus Christ. It was not that the apostles were employing some technique to raise someone from the dead or heal them from their diseases. It was their love of Jesus Christ, their compassion in Jesus Christ, which enabled the Lord Himself to do this. Through their intercession and their presence, the Lord raised the dead and healed the sick. It was the love of Jesus Christ that was acting and that was giving life.

If we are going to grow up in Jesus Christ, we cannot expect that we should be so different from those disciples and apostles 2,000 years ago. The Saviour calls every one of us to be holy as were the apostles ; He has shown us in the course of the last 2,000 years all sorts of ordinary Orthodox believers who became holy just like them. We have such examples of holiness even into the last century, and probably in this century as well. There are people who love Jesus Christ, who have grown up in Him, and through their prayers, people are healed from their diseases and even raised from the dead.

Those things that are spoken of in the Gospel today and in the Epistle are not merely something for 2,000 years ago. They are not limited only to those apostles. As the writer to the Hebrews says, and I love this phrase (I have heard it and remembered it since I was five because other believers repeated it many times) : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He works the same amongst us now in His love as He did in those days with His apostles. What He requires from us, and what we need to give, is the “Yes” : the “Yes” of those apostles, the “Yes” of the Mother of God. I have not with my own eyes seen people raised from the dead, but I have heard in my lifetime of people who prayed, and as a result of this prayer, people were raised. In my lifetime this has happened in the world. People have been healed many times from diseases, and this I have seen with my own eyes. At the prayers of faithful people, many have been healed from all sorts of diseases since those people who love Jesus Christ, because of compassion, fast and pray, and the Lord blesses. Growing up in Jesus Christ means growing up into His love, so that we are at one with His love. In unity and harmony with His love, we act in accordance with His love. We bring the healing love of Jesus Christ to people near us, and to our environment.

The love of Jesus Christ is not a thing that just sits there on a shelf, and we look at it, and say : “Isn’t that nice !” Rather, His love is life. His love is alive. We are alive in His love. If we do not use this gift of love that Jesus Christ gives to us, if we hold on to it, the same thing happens to that love in us as happens to a pansy or to any other flower. How many times has a child brought freshly-picked flowers to his mother, held tightly in the hand. The child says : “Here Mama, look ! These are for you !” What is left of those flowers ? Some sort of squashed pulp is all that is left of those flowers. A flower is delicate, and has to be held loosely in the hand.

Human beings are like those flowers. They have to be held carefully and loosely in the hand. The love of Jesus Christ can only live and grow if it is offered and shared with an open hand and with an open heart. When we give the love of Jesus Christ to other people, when we share the love of Jesus Christ with other people and with creatures, God renews this love in us. The more we give, the more He gives us to give. That is why the Cross and the “ladder” come to us, and also examples of great repentance, like Saint Mary of Egypt next week. By God’s mercy and His love these examples come to us to remind us that, as difficult as life is, God is with us. He loves us. He gives us the strength that we need. Nevertheless, we have to say “Yes” to Him.

In the few weeks that remain in Great Lent, let us offer our abstinence from food, and our extra time in church (which should actually be the usual time in church). Let us offer all this to Him, asking Him to renew His love in our hearts, so that when we arrive at Pascha, we will be able to rejoice with true Paschal rejoicing. When we arrive at Pascha and we exult in this true Paschal joy, let us ask Him to let this love continue to grow as we offer to Him our abstinences and our co-suffering labour with Him. Thus, may everything about us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

5th Sunday in Great Lent : Repentance : becoming our true Selves

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Repentance : becoming our true Selves
(Memory of Saint Mary of Egypt)
5th Sunday in Great Lent
9 April, 2006
Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Mark 10:32-45


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is a good thing for us to pay attention to what we just heard in the Gospel reading today, not only in the context of itself, but also in the context of what is coming, and how human beings are. Today, our Saviour is telling the apostles precisely what would be coming. He is preparing them by telling them that He would be crucified, that He would die, and also that He would rise again from the dead.

In two short weeks, we are going to be hearing about how the disciples, when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, could not comprehend it, did not expect it, did not know what was happening, and could hardly believe it. Of course, we understand now. However, at that time, resurrection was unheard of. It is not as though they had not been told before, and it is not as though they had not been prepared by our Saviour Himself, that this would happen. Yet, their fallen human experience was so limited that they could not comprehend it. It is not even a question of doubting. It is plain, simple, non-comprehension. The apostles could only comprehend it when they encountered Jesus Christ, face-to-face, risen from the dead. Even then they could not really comprehend it, but they began to make a step in that direction, anyway. During the rest of their lives, they began to live out precisely what are the implications of this Resurrection.

Two of the apostles asked our Saviour if they could sit, one on His right, and one on His left, when He comes in glory. He responded that instead, they would have to be baptised with the baptism with which He would be baptised, and drink the cup that He would drink. When they said that they would be able to do this, they did not know what they were saying. Nevertheless, it came to be. He said that He, the Saviour, the Son of God, did not come to be served. He came to serve. It is in this way that the apostles grew up after the Resurrection. They grew up as servants of Jesus Christ, serving together with Him.

This is the way of Christ – to serve, to be the servant of all. Being a servant in this context is not something that is slavish. It is not something that is done because of fear, since nothing for a Christian should be done out of fear. It is done because of love. We Christians serve. We serve Christ. We serve each other. We serve strangers. We serve the needy. We serve whomever the Lord gives us to serve because we love Jesus Christ. His love propels us into serving in our daily life. One could say that to serve, to try to be of service, is second nature for a Christian. Even if we are compelled to serve, even if we are indentured to serve, the Christian way is, as the Apostle Paul demonstrates to us, that we serve the Master and obey the Master with the love of Christ. We do this, despite any possible maltreatment by a master. Indeed, a harbinger of this behaviour was the Patriarch Joseph before he rose in the court of the Pharaoh.

All sorts of pop psychologists are going to say that if we are busy trying to help people all the time, that is because there is some sort of interior hurt that comes from our childhood and that needs fixing up. They say that we are always trying to help people because we have been bruised ourselves in our childhood, or something like that. There are various theories that are applied one way or another in psychology. Well, when it comes down to it, it is just as well that people might think that we are cracked. I admit it myself, on a regular basis, if you have not noticed. When people ask me : “How are you ?” I say : “I am cracked”. Well, I hope that I am mostly cracked in Christ, but probably there are some other things as well that the Lord is still working on. It does not matter, though, if the world thinks we are cracked, because the way of the Christian is not the way of the world. The way of the world is all focussed on “me” : “I am number one”. “Make me comfortable in this world”. “Let us get as much as we can”. “Let us fill up our barns with wheat (as in the parable the Lord told), and then die bitter”.

That is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is all love. It is all hope. It is all life. It is life-giving. It is service, because this service that we do in Christ, for Christ, in and with each other, is all part of the same life-giving work. It is all life-giving. It is all because of love, filled with joy. It is true that we get tired (and sometimes cranky) because we get overworked. Still, the fundamental of it all is that we are loving Jesus Christ. We are in love with Jesus Christ, and in this love we want to serve. We look for every occasion to serve, to be helpful, to encourage, to strengthen people around us.

It is that sort of love that I have been blessed in my life a number of times to experience simply by being near it. I have never been near anyone so fiery as Saint Seraphim, for instance, and some other saints like him ; but I have been near several holy persons in the course of my life. Just being next to them can give us a strange combination of a sense of intensity of love for Jesus Christ, a real energy, and at the same time, a great peace – great peace. This is peace greater than we can encounter anywhere else, except sometimes, perhaps, here in the Temple of the Lord together with each other. Perhaps once in a while we may have this moment, this sense of peace in prayer. However, in the presence of such a person, the love of God, the peace and the joy all together are so intense that it is overwhelming. This is how we all ought to grow up and become. There is still time for us all to make steps in that direction.

We cannot on this day omit mentioning Saint Mary of Egypt because she is for us such a great example of what is the meaning of repentance. Repentance means simply to turn about (a 180 degree turn) : turn about from darkness, turn to the light ; turn about from death, turn to life ; turn about from selfishness, turn to love. Saint Mary of Egypt, as we hear in her Life, lived an extremely broken life in which with delight she was pulling people down with her into despair. Yet her heart was searching. When she was confronted by the Lord’s love in Jerusalem, in the Temple of the Resurrection, she did, in fact, turn about completely. Then she gave herself up 100 per-cent to serving Jesus Christ, in love with Him, so much so that she withdrew into the desert. She was not seen or heard of for who knows how long, until Saint Zossima came along to prepare her for her death.

All these things are done and accomplished by the Lord’s love. The Lord prepares you and me, too, for the moments of repentance in our lives, in the same way as Saint Mary of Egypt. He prepares us for great blessings. He is always there, going ahead before us, ready to meet us with His life-giving love. Our responsibility is to be prepared to accept that life-giving love when the Lord presents Himself to us. Our responsibility is, like Saint Mary of Egypt, to turn about from our self-serving to serving Him in everyone, to turn about from loving ourselves and only ourselves, to loving Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters. I become my true self in the context of loving Him.

We have two more weeks in which to focus ourselves in our prayers. We have yet time to concentrate our efforts in abstaining from too much eating (and eating things that it would be better not to eat), and in serving Him and caring for other people. Let us ask the Lord to give us this Grace in the last days of Great Lent, so that when we come to the end of Great Lent and we are celebrating the joy of Pascha, we will be able to encounter the Resurrection with joy and love. The Lord has prepared us for this in the same way that He prepared the apostles for the Resurrection. We will be able to live in the Resurrection during the days after the Resurrection. Through this abstinence, and through the Resurrection, our lives will be straightened to serve Him better in the coming year with more love, more focus, with deeper service, with deeper joy. In doing this we will glorify Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Bright Saturday : The Way of the Forerunner

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Way of the Forerunner
Bright Saturday
29 April, 2006
Acts 3:11-16 ; John 3:22-33


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

It is a special joy for me to have the possibility to come today, the last day of Bright Week, to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. It is very important for us to remember the words of today’s Gospel. The words of the Prophet and Forerunner, John, apply most particularly to us and to our daily life in Christ. The Forerunner said that “‘He must increase, but I must decrease’”. That means that even in those early days of the revelation of Who is Jesus Christ, His cousin, the Prophet and Forerunner, John, already understood very well Who He is, and what is necessary. People came to him and said : “‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified – behold, He is baptising, and all are coming to Him’” (John 3:26). In the world, and apart from Christ, that would, in fact, start a competition. People would say (to paraphrase) : “These people belong to me. These are mine”. They would form a party, and start arguing about who belongs to whom, and who is better than whom. This is not the way in Christ. This is not the Orthodox Christian way. Even though we fall into the temptation sometimes, it is not our way.

The way for us is the way of the Forerunner. The Forerunner expressed his great joy that so many people went to Christ to be baptised because he knew that Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom. We cannot have anything except joy that the Bridegroom is amongst us, and that people respond to the Bridegroom. We are the Church, the Bride of Christ. We are responding to the Bridegroom with love and affection, recognising Him and uniting ourselves to Him. The Prophet and Forerunner expressed this joy, and he said : “‘He must increase, but I must decrease’”. The way of the Christian, the way of the Orthodox Christian, is precisely like the way of the Prophet and Forerunner. Everything has to point to Jesus Christ in our lives in the same way as in this icon of the Mother of God, who is the image of our Church. She is holding Jesus Christ in her arms in this icon, and she is pointing to Him. It does not matter what form the icon of the Mother of God takes, whether it is this very expression or not ; nevertheless, the Mother of God is always directing or drawing us to her Son. Everything about her life pointed, and does point to her Son. Even in these days, when sometimes the Mother of God will appear to one person or another, one group of persons or another, she is always directing us to her Son.

This is how our life must be as Orthodox Christians. The way we live our lives ; the things we do ; the things we say ; the way we react in difficult times ; the way we react when we are in trouble, when we are attacked – this always must be pointing to Jesus Christ, and involving Jesus Christ. In Orthodox ancestral countries, we see this simply in the way people talk. People are always saying : “Glory to You, O Lord”, “Glory to God”. They are always saying things like : “Help me”. “Help me, Lord”. “Save me, Lord”. People are always saying these things. They always bring the blessing of Christ upon themselves when there is difficulty. When they want to do anything, when they want to drive a car, when they want to leave the house, they make the sign of the Cross, and bring Christ’s blessing with them. When we go to the grocery store or wherever else we are going in any given day, we are taking Jesus Christ with us.

In certain parts of the Slavic world (mostly in western Ukraine and Carpatho-Rus’), people will not talk to each other until first they have said : “Glory be to Jesus Christ”. The answer is : “Glory be forever”. If Christ is not glorified at the beginning of the conversation, then no conversation is going to happen. We do not find that absolutely everywhere in the Orthodox world. This custom may be a bit extreme, but it is spiritually prudent. In case anyone wonders where that custom came from, I believe that those western Ukrainians and those Carpatho-Rusyns got it from monks a very long time ago. If we are in a monastery, and we want to talk to a monk or a nun, we have to knock on the door of the monastic and say : “Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us”. The answer inside has to be : “Amen”. Then the conversation can begin.

Even if we do not talk just like that, and behave just like that, our life as Orthodox Christians needs to grow into this. We have just sung “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ”. We carry Christ with us. Our life, like that of the Mother of God, must point to Jesus Christ. When people encounter us, they should be able to feel love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, long-suffering, and all those other fruits of the presence of the Holy Spirit that the Apostle Paul speaks about (Galatians 5:22-23). When we have this about us – love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, long-suffering – it is evident that Jesus Christ is alive and active in our hearts, and we are being like Him. That is to say, we are being servants like Him, and our love works like His.

Brothers and sisters, let us pray that Grace will come from our Saviour Jesus Christ, to help us to live in the love of Jesus Christ, and to glorify Him single-heartedly, single-mindedly, putting Him above everything, so that like Saint Seraphim, our whole life will proclaim with love : “Christ is risen”.

Thomas Sunday

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
What is Truth ? Who is Truth ?
Thomas Sunday
30 April, 2006
Acts 5:12-20 ; John 20:19-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

When Saint Mary Magdalene and the other women ran to the apostles and said that they had seen the Risen Christ, did the apostles immediately believe them ? No. The apostles went and saw the empty tomb, and even then they were not sure until finally they were convinced by a series of events. The questions of the Apostle Thomas are in line with the same hesitancy of all the other apostles.

This is important for us Orthodox Christians to remember in our spiritual lives now. In the course of our everyday life there are many people saying plenty of things, trying to draw us away from the truth of Jesus Christ. There are many theories, and much this-and-that these days which is intent on taking us away from Christ.

Also, there are always thoughts, because, while we live our lives, thoughts come and go. There are questioning thoughts, doubting thoughts, suspicious thoughts – all sorts of thoughts. We have to learn how to discern what is the truth.

What is the truth ? As we know also (the Lord Himself warned us that it would be the case), there are many people who come pretending to have secret knowledge about the truth about Jesus Christ. Such people are proclaiming that they have secret knowledge about the end of the world. This is so common. People are afraid of the end of the world. Any time someone claims to know, by some sort of divine revelation, that the end is coming soon, and on a particular day, people become very afraid. However, at the same time they tend to believe this sort of silly talk. No-one knows the time of the Lord’s Coming. Our Saviour Himself said when He was amongst us that only the Father knows the time, the day, and the circumstances of the culmination of all things. That means that only the Father knows the time of the Saviour’s return.

Christians cannot survive unless they read the Bible, unless they know the Bible in their hearts. Also, they cannot properly understand the Scriptures unless they are reading what the Fathers said about the Scriptures. Therefore, when people say one thing or another, make one suggestion or another, propose alternatives, it is important for us to know the Scriptures, and to know what is the truth about Jesus Christ.

What happens, for instance, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons come to your door ? It is important that we know the truth in the Scriptures, so that we will not listen to their distortions of the Scriptures (because they rewrite things). We have to know what Christ, Himself, and the apostles gave us. We have to know our Scriptures. However, to argue about Scripture with people, in my experience, is never fruitful. This is because they have an idée fixe, and they are not going to listen to anyone. The only thing that will affect them is the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts, and our prayers for them. If they are willing to pray with us (and most of them are not), then Jesus Christ may get through to them.

Thus it is with thoughts, too. Thoughts come from all sorts of different places. They are not all only generated by our brain. Thoughts come from our environment and they penetrate us. Thinking is not only the functioning of those cells in the gray matter in the brain ; it is much more than that. Thoughts come also from the Tempter himself. There are many sources of these thoughts.

It is important for us, in knowing Jesus Christ, knowing Him who is the Truth, Himself, and knowing the Scriptures, and knowing the Orthodox way, to be able to discern whether a thought is a truth or a lie. It is not easy, and it is not simple. However, because the Grace of the Holy Spirit is in our hearts, the Lord can teach us to see, hear, and understand clearly what is the nature of one thought or another, and whether we should accept it or reject it. By rejecting it, it is important for us not so much to try to fight with the thought as to turn our backs on it, and to turn ourselves to Jesus Christ and to say : “Save me from this thought”.

All this is connected to the Apostle Thomas in one way or another. The Apostle Thomas, having seen and having immediately believed, then, like the other apostles, went abroad, and took the love of Jesus Christ with him. In more cases than not, when the apostles were going amongst the people, it was not by arguing that they brought people to Jesus Christ. It was by speaking the truth about Him, who is the Truth. It was about living the love of Jesus Christ in their midst.

The Apostle Thomas went first to Egypt. I remember reading that, just a few years ago, they had discovered a little portion of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew in upper Egypt, and that it was to the 50s or 60s that this portion of the Gospel was dated. It was dated to those years because of other documents and artifacts that were found around it. This is less than thirty years after the Crucifixion. The Gospel in written form was already copied by hand, transmitted to Upper Egypt, and then somehow lost or buried. Probably something happened, and the Gospel was buried with other documents of the same period (perhaps to protect them).

Nevertheless, we have a little particle of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew from such an early date. The Apostle Thomas may have been one of the means by which the written Gospel already had reached Egypt in those early days. After going through Egypt from north to south, the Apostle Thomas went across the Indian Ocean to India where he began to live and speak about Jesus Christ. He converted a prince in northern India to begin with. He went first to northern India, and then to southern India. In the state of Kerala (“the pepper state” on the west coast), he converted many people from the Brahmin class, the top-ranking priestly class of the Hindu religion. He converted very many of them, and then he went around to the other side of India, to Madras. It was there that he was finally killed by pagans after he had brought many more people to Christ.

There are Indian families today, Orthodox Christian Indian families in the area of Kerala and also in the area of Madras, who know all their Christian ancestors back to the Apostle Thomas. The rest of us are not usually so sure who our ancestors are past 100 years or so.

However, the people who received the Gospel of Jesus Christ in India 2,000 years ago had the witness of the Apostle Thomas, whose doubt has produced so much fruit. These people are still Christians today. The personal encounter of Jesus Christ has been handed on. This is the true Tradition of the Orthodox Church – the handing on, and the personal encounter with the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are inheritors of the work of all the apostles, the Apostle Thomas amongst them. We have inherited their personal encounter as well. It is the way of the Orthodox Christian to come to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We have met Him. We know that He loves us, and we know that we love Him. We have to be grateful to those apostles for their readiness to share this love with those around them, so that we, today, can experience this love, this hope, this joy, this peace. May we be able to share with others in our own lives this same love, joy and peace.

Our Saviour, who inspired the apostles, who was so infinitely patient with them (and, as we saw today, with the Apostle Thomas), did not wag His finger at the apostle, but He just said, as it were : “Come, touch and believe”. Let us ask the same patient Saviour, in His infinite love and patience, to give us the strength to live in His love, to give witness to His love to those around us, to live in His truth, and thus to glorify the Risen Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Remembering who we truly are
3rd Sunday of Pascha
7 May, 2006
Acts 6:1-7 ; Mark 15:43-16:8


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

It is sad for me as I travel from parish to parish in the Paschal season, because wherever I go, there are many new people coming from Russia, and I see how quickly they have become Canadianised in a negative way. When I say : “Christ is risen” to them they say : “Indeed He is risen” very quietly. That is the Canadian way. Canadian habits are all right in some ways, except when it comes to saying “Christ is risen”. When we say : “Christ is risen”, we are proclaiming what is the centre of our life. We really must say : “Indeed He is risen” with audible strength. The usual insipid Canadian response will not do. That limp response is the equivalent to saying : “Yeah, sure, of course He is risen”. If we are Orthodox Christians, what does this mean ? The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centre of our life. That is why we are here today. That is why Russia survived seventy years of persecution, death, destruction. That is why the Orthodox Church is alive today in Russia. The Church is being resurrected.

Therefore, it is very good that I have a chance this year to come in the Paschal season because I see this happening here, and I have a chance to exhort you to wake up and to remember who you are. You are, we are Orthodox Christians who live by the Resurrection. We live in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us all be strong in our Orthodox Faith, and show it by how we respond on these days.

Today, the Acts of the Apostles is telling us about the diaconate : what is the meaning, the purpose of the diaconate, and how it came to us. The apostles, as we heard, were very busy with preaching the Gospel. However, they were also so busy feeding widows, distributing food to the hungry, and meeting so many other urgent needs, that they had no time to do their first responsibility, which was to preach to the world about Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostles and told them to set apart deacons. The deacons were to do the work of caring for those who were in need in any way. That is precisely what deacons are doing, and ought to be doing until this very day. It seems that our Church has become somewhat forgetful in North America, and does not have nearly enough deacons.

However, God by His mercy is raising up men to become deacons, and they are serving as they follow in the footsteps of Stephen, Timon, Parmenas, and all the others that we heard of today. Their responsibility is to lead people in worship (as they do, and as they have always done). However, at the same time they also care for the people who are in need. As the eyes and ears of the priest, they keep watch in the parish in order to see who is sick, who is in need, who has problems one way or another. They make sure that in some way the needs of these persons are seen to. That is what deacons ought to be doing. It is their work to be helping the priest like this, so that the priest can bring the sacraments to the shut-ins and the sick. Through them, the parish council can make sure that if someone is in a particularly tight spot, perhaps the parish, as brothers and sisters in Christ, can help that person in whatever way that might be.

Service is the way of Christ. Above all, we love Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ loves us. We are here precisely because of that. However, it does no good (and we can see it in the Gospels and the Epistles all the time) for us merely to say : “I am a Christian ; yes, sure, I love Jesus Christ”. It has to be demonstrated in concrete ways. Earlier this week, we had the reading from the Acts about Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11). They were two early Christians. In those days, everything was held in common. By mutual agreement, Ananias and Sapphira fell into a temptation. They were selling their property. Ananias and Sapphira, as the Acts tell us, decided that they would only give part of what they got for this property for the life of the Church, and they hid the rest from the apostles. Therefore, when Ananias came and laid at the apostles’ feet the proceeds from this property, and said, as it were : “This is all there is”, the Lord taught the Apostle Peter that this was not true. The apostle said (to paraphrase) : “You are not telling the whole truth here. Did you not sell it for so much ?” Well, that was true, and because that was the case, Ananias fell down dead. Sapphira came in later, and then the Apostle Peter asked her : “‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much ?’” She agreed in the lie her husband had told, and said : “‘Yes, for so much’”. The apostle then said to her : “‘The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out’” (Acts 5:8-9). And immediately she died also.

The problem here is not that Ananias and Sapphira did not give everything, because that could have been allowed. It could have been agreed that they would keep part of the proceeds for whatever they had to do with these proceeds. The problem is that they told a lie. They told a lie, and this lie is what brings death. That is what happened with Adam and Eve at the beginning. They disobeyed the Lord, and, beguiled by the serpent, they took the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. After that, they hid from God. Then of course, Adam blamed Eve – it was really bad. They began to lie, because to hide from God means that we accept fear and we run away. We cannot be like that. The way of Christ is not like that.

The way of Christ is living the truth. Above where I am standing we see written on the wall (it is Jesus Christ, Himself, speaking) : “‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ Himself is the Truth. We are living in that Truth. There is no other truth. That is another crazy Canadian idea, that there can be many different sorts of truths : there is this truth for one, and that truth for another. That is just plain stupid. There is only one truth. There is only one. Just by definition, truth is truth, and it is only one. If there are alternatives, then there is no truth ; there are only ideas and opinions. There is only one truth, and the one Truth is Jesus Christ, whom God the Father sent to us. When Saint Arseny had those words put on that wall, he knew what he was doing for you and for me. Ever since I became acquainted with those words many, many years ago, I have been impressed with the importance of them. No matter what else he did, Saint Arseny left us a great legacy just in having those words written on the wall. We are living in Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

This gives me again another opportunity to make a correction, in case anyone fell into this trap. Today we heard how Saints Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome (the Myrrh-bearing Women) came to the tomb of Jesus Christ in order to anoint His Body with spices. However, instead, they found that He had risen. These women are the first witnesses of His Resurrection. Because there is so much lying circulating about Saint Mary Magdalene these days, I must say that Saint Mary Magdalene, equal to the apostles (who indeed was the woman who had seven demons cast out of her), was not a prostitute, as the recent phantasy book, The Da Vinci Code, tries to pretend. The Scriptures never said that. The apostles never said that. The Church’s tradition never said that. That is an invention of some Europeans in the Middle Ages. That is not an Orthodox understanding, and it is not the truth. Saint Mary Magdalene was not the woman in the Scriptures who was a prostitute, and who was healed. Saint Mary Magdalene was delivered of demons, and that is quite a different thing.

The other lie that is being circulated, associated with The Da Vinci Code (this is terrible ; this is really bad), is that Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross. The lie suggests that He only pretended to die, but by a clever trick, He appeared to rise from the dead ; He got married to Mary Magdalene, lived in the south of France, and had children. That is such an evil story. It is truly evil. It is especially evil in North America because people are so lost, and they have abandoned the Christian Faith. Thus, they easily believe this lie. They are swept away by this lie.

You and I, Orthodox Christians, live in Him who is the Truth, and we know the truth. We know the truth about the Truth. It is our responsibility when people say that they believe what this crazy phantasy book says, to correct them, and say that it is only a phantasy, and not history. The true history, which is demonstrated in the writings of the Church and in some documents, is that Saint Mary Magdalene, after her missionary journeys, settled in Ephesus near the Apostle John the Theologian. There she died and was buried. Her final resting place was in Constantinople, not France. Let us remember that her relics ended up in Constantinople, and one portion of her relics is in the Monastery of Simonos Petra on Mount Athos.

More important than these details about Saint Mary Magdalene, however, is the fact that Jesus Christ truly did die, and rise from the tomb. He rose bodily from the tomb, and we know it because there are so many eyewitnesses to this fact as recorded in the Scriptures. Until this day, there are very many other witnesses of Jesus Christ, who makes Himself known to millions and millions and millions of Christians. Then, finally, we know it because millions and millions and millions of Orthodox Christians in the former Soviet Union were prepared to die for love of Him, for Him who is the Truth, because of their experience of the Risen Jesus Christ.

We, who are Orthodox Christians, must remain in harmony with all these believers who knew, and do know the truth. We know the truth, too, and when we hear these lies being spread, we have to correct them. It is not our responsibility if people do not believe us. That is their problem. We have to speak and correct them.

Now, back to the Myrrh-bearing Women, who were the first to see the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the end of the Gospel, it is said that they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Would we not be, under those circumstances ? Let us put ourselves in the shoes of those Myrrh-bearing Women going to anoint His Body and finding that He is not there. The stone has been rolled away. At first we might think that someone had stolen Him, and then we find out from the angel that He is risen from the dead. An angel speaks to them and says : “‘Tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him’”. Would any of us not be shaken up considerably ? I have no idea how I would react under circumstances like that.

Finally, the Myrrh-bearing Women did talk. They did tell the apostles. The Apostle Thomas was not there when the other apostles encountered the Risen Christ. The Apostle Thomas is called “Doubting Thomas”, but he is not alone. We recall that the other apostles did not believe until they saw. The other apostles also had to see. Doubt was good in this case, because when Jesus Christ appeared to the apostles and showed Himself risen from the dead, it confirmed their faith. They were unswervable after that.

The Myrrh-bearing Women, themselves, give to the rest of us an example of what is the way of a Christian. Christ, at the Last Supper, washed His apostles’ feet. And He said that you and I are supposed to live our lives in the same way. We are supposed to be caring for each other, not demanding to be cared for. Our Lord said : “‘I am among you as the One who serves’” (Luke 22:27). All we Orthodox Christians are in this world as servants. Those women came to the Saviour as servants, loving Him, wanting to give Him the last rites, the last anointing as it were, because there was no time when they buried Him to finish the ritual of anointing and properly bury Him. They came because of love and service.

In the whole of the history of the Orthodox Church, who has served as the example of service ? We have deacons, men that are expected to be the living examples of servants for the rest of the Church from the time of Christ. However, it is the women of the Church, following in the footsteps of all those women in the Scriptures, who are truly living out this service.

Women in this parish have held this place together year after year. It is women in all sorts of parishes who, because of love for Jesus Christ, make sure that the church has what it needs. The church is looked after. It is women’s groups who have cared for children and made sure that they had money for education. In many parishes, the women would make sure that they knew the dates of the birthdays and name-days of the children, so that they would send them a card from the church to remind them that they are prayed for and remembered. It was women very often in our past who made sure that people who were in the hospital had a flower or a card, and had someone amongst the women who, in addition to the priest, would go and visit. Yes, it is the job of the priest and the deacon to go and visit. However, often a person lying in a hospital bed will say in his heart : “It is nice that the clergy come to see me, but it is their job. When my brothers or sisters from the parish come to see me, it gives me extra encouragement, extra joy” (or words to that effect). This is the way. It is women who have in the past embodied this.

Brothers and sisters, our life is a life of joy, a life of love, a life of service, a life of living in the Truth. Let us ask the Saviour to renew our hearts in His love, so that having confidence in Him, we will not be afraid to step out, and do and say things that He asks us to do and to say, because He said : “‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:20). That is not only until the end of the world, as it says in so many Western translations. It is until the end of everything. When we are alive in Him, there can be no end. His Resurrection means for you and for me that when we are alive in His love, there is no end. God is love, and there is no end of His love. Let us, therefore, brothers and sisters, step forward in faith and in love, and let us glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Keeping the Lord's Day

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Keeping the Lord’s Day
4th Sunday of Pascha
14 May, 2006
Acts 9:32-42 ; John 5:1-15


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, the Lord heals the paralytic by the Sheep Pool. When He heals the paralytic by the Sheep Pool, He tells the man who is healed : “‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’”. It should be emphasised that this man had been paralysed for 38 years, not just a couple of days. For most of his life, he had been lying beside the Sheep Pool waiting for someone to put him into the water when the waters would be stirred up by an angel, so that he could be healed. However, no-one ever did – and then the Saviour came.

The people knew very well who this man was. Nevertheless, they saw him on the Sabbath day, walking, carrying his bed. That is against the Law according to Jewish law because carrying a bed is considered to be work. They did not pay any attention to the fact that this paralysed man was walking normally. They did not, as they ought to have done, give glory to God straight away. Immediately they noticed what was obvious to them – that he was breaking the Law. Of course, when they found out everything, they were angry with the Saviour Himself, too, because He healed on the Sabbath. Healing on the Sabbath was considered by them to be work.

Nowadays, we are in a very crippled condition ourselves. Even though the Sabbath was not done away with after Christ came to us, we do not keep it any more. We do not even keep the Lord’s Day properly any more. Except perhaps for going to church, the Lord’s Day is no different from any other day. Even if people might go to church, very often for them the rest of the day is filled with all sorts of work and all sorts of other busy activities. All this activity fills up and occupies what the Lord gave us as a day of rest for our own good. The Lord, however, always emphasises that : “‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27). That is another thing that was forgotten by the critics of the Saviour. What better day, the Saviour shows us in another place in the Gospel (see Matthew 12:11-13), what better day on which to do good : to heal, to restore people who are created in the image of God ? “This is the day that the Lord has made : let us exult and be glad in it” (Psalm 117:24). What better day, indeed !

Today we have all this brought into sharp focus for us in the healing of the paralytic at the Sheep Pool. We have also the healing by the Apostle Peter of another paralysed man. However, this was not accomplished by the Apostle Peter himself because he always said : “In the Name of Jesus Christ, arise”. He, and all the apostles always did that. They never took credit for themselves for anything that they did. Rather, they always gave glory to God. They always recognised that it was Jesus Christ Himself who was doing whatever was being done through the apostles.

The apostles’ greatness is found in their transparency. It was because the Apostle Peter had become transparent in Christ that when Dorcas (also called Tabitha) had died, and he was called to come, he came and he prayed, and he discerned what was the will of God for Tabitha. It was not that he was praying, girding himself up so as to energise himself by some mysterious technique in order to work a wonder. Not at all. This apostle, or any apostle, never did anything so base or blasphemous as to try to apply some non-existent technique so that by his own will he could, as they used to say in the American south : “Haul off and make a miracle”. It is not like sorcery in any way whatsoever. What he was doing was discerning what was the will of God for Tabitha. When he had listened long enough to understand in his heart that the Lord was going to raise her, the Apostle Peter spoke for the Lord. He told her to get up, and she did. However, it was because the apostle was transparent in Christ’s love that he was able to understand what the Lord directed him to do. Then he did it.

Therefore, why should we not be quiet on the Lord’s Day, and spend time with our families ? We will have just been in the Temple of the Lord, and we will have received the Body and Blood of Christ. In the past, in every monastery I have been in, normally after the Divine Liturgy, those who have been in the Liturgy (and especially those who have received Holy Communion) take a “PLN” (which is a post-liturgy-nap). We take a rest after we have done the work of praising the Lord, and after we have received the Grace of God. When we take this rest, we allow ourselves to rest in Christ, focussed on Christ, and we allow His Grace to renew us inside. Then, getting up, we spend time as quietly as we can. This is the ideal, but the devil comes and tempts us, and stirs us up. If we can, we should spend quiet time afterwards, just being with the Lord, and being with each other in the joy of the Lord. That is the purpose of this day.

In my grandmother’s time, however, on the Lord’s Day people went to church, and then they did nothing. Everything had to be cooked the day before because they would not do anything on Sunday. They drew the window-blinds ; they sat in relative darkness in the house, and if they read anything, they read the Bible, and that was all. It was like this because they chose to obey the Mosaic Law of the Sabbath. It was very strict. This strictness included obedience by force. It was because the obedience was oppressive that my grandmother and grandfather did not go to church for a long time in their lives. It was too strict. On my grandmother’s side it was extremely strict Presbyterian, and on my grandfather’s side it was very strict Baptist, although there was a similar mentality. Their families seemed to be oppressed by the rules, the rules and the rules. It was strict Calvinism. It can be said that they read too much Old Testament and neglected the New Testament. To be sure, they were God-loving people, but rules, rules, rules ! It kept their children away from the church for a while. In Scotland or in southern Ontario in those days it might have worked, but in western Canada it did not work any more. People would not accept those rules.

What they would likely have accepted was the truth of love. They would probably have willingly done those things and they would have been quiet on the Lord’s Day, if it had been understood by them that the parents did the very same things with joy. However, the parents did not transmit that joy very well to the children. If the children had understood that being at peace and being quiet with the Lord, simply being with each other in the Lord was a joyful thing and a good thing, and that one could read something other than only the Bible, that one could read something uplifting, then I am quite sure it would have been all right. Nonetheless, those children never stopped being believers, even though they were rebellious for a time.

Nevertheless, the whole point of everything is not so much how precisely we will observe the Lord’s Day, but rather what sort of person we are. We, as Christians, are loved by God. At least some of us may have been raised in an environment in which God is loved in return. Thus, it is in an atmosphere of loving God that we would have been nurtured. It is a life-giving atmosphere. It is a life-creating atmosphere. This is what we want to provide for each other, even if we are not strictly observing rules about no work. At least on the Lord’s Day in particular, we try to slow down, and we try to keep the Lord in the fore-front of our heart and our memory during that day especially. By doing that, we have hope that when we go to work the next day, the memory of the Lord is going to be with us.

Every day of our lives as Orthodox Christians, we are tested. “Do I love Jesus Christ more than anything ? I know He loves me, but do I love Him ? Is He in the fore-front of my everyday life ? Do I let His love carry me through all the difficulties and the trials of everyday life ?” When people are testing me by snarky remarks or other sorts of teasing remarks, or even by lying, or whatever else people do, when I am confronted with all these difficulties with other human beings, am I listening to my heart to see what the Saviour is guiding me to do and to say in any of these particular situations ? On the other hand, do I forget, and give vent to my negative emotions ? Do I analyse and calculate with my mind, and forget the Saviour ? When I run away with my emotions, and when I am calculating in my mind what is the best thing to do and to say, every time, I am out of kilter. This wild, emotional and tumultuous way is always away from the right way. There might be some good in it, but that is because the Lord makes good out of bad. If I am going to calculate and try to assess something mentally, it has to be with Jesus Christ. If I am going to have my emotions involved in something, those emotions still have to be in, and subject to, Jesus Christ. I have to involve Jesus Christ in everything. If I do, I will be helped. If I do, I will be mostly peaceful. If I do, I will be well-directed. If I do, I will, even without thinking, be able to speak for the Lord, and the Lord will say, through me, what the other person needs to hear. I do not have to think up what someone needs to hear ; the Lord will give it.

However, our hearts have to be open. We can notice, by the way, that when the apostles are doing everything that they are doing, and going everywhere that they are going, and enduring everything that they are enduring, they are doing all of this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus Christ who, when He washed their feet, said that they should be like Him, and do as He does. Therefore, wherever those apostles went, whatever they did (even if they were speaking about Jesus Christ), they always behaved as servants. They were always putting themselves at the disposal of people they were with, and they were helping them in one way or another. The Apostle Peter was definitely helping the paralysed man, and he was helping Tabitha. He was helping not only Tabitha, but all the people around her who depended on her, because she was such a strong believer.

Today, God willing, we are going to be ordaining n to the Holy Diaconate. By how he serves, by how he exercises the particular gifts that God has been giving to him amongst the people, he will be trying to show how Jesus Christ is serving us. He will be trying to show how a Christian is supposed to live. He will also be trying to show how we must serve each other, because serving is the essence of being a Christian. The word “deacon” means servant (actually it means “slave”). We understand in our democratic environment that the word “servant” is nicer. But still, for people who have their noses in the air, being a servant is not at all a pleasant thing. No matter who we are, we Christians must be like Christ : a servant. Deacon n will be exercising this in front of us, and amongst us. It is important for us to pray for him so that we can support him in his serving, so that he will be the best example possible for us of the meaning of Christian service.

Let us, brothers and sisters, do our best to keep our Saviour in the fore-front of our hearts. Let us ask Him to remind us daily (because we do need those reminders) that He is with us, that He loves us, that He is supporting us, that He is educating our hearts and minds, as He promised, and that He will not abandon us. He is always with us, but we need those reminders. Let us ask Him to keep reminding us, so that we will be able to serve Him faithfully and well, with the whole heart and with love, and glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Truly encountering Jesus Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Truly encountering Jesus Christ
(Memory of Saint Photini, the Samaritan Woman)
5th Sunday of Pascha
21 May, 2006
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30 ; John 4:5-42


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

As I go across the country from place to place, I tend to draw attention to the Paschal greeting : “Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen”. The farther we go into the Paschal season, the more uncertain it seems to sound. I generally say that we are too polite as Canadians to respond in a proper way, with some boldness, sense of enthusiasm, and assurance : “Indeed He is risen”. Sometimes when I say : “Christ is risen”, the response is very faint. Ultimately, I think that it is not merely Canadian politeness, shyness, and backwardness about such things that is the problem.

The main problem for us is remembering in our hearts what is the implication of the Resurrection for us. Why is it so important for us ? We are so burdened with cares and distractions every day. There is not any one of us who does not suffer from trials and tribulations in the course of our life. There is not one of us who does not have difficulty with other persons from time to time. There are people that some seem to be able to get along with, but others cannot. There is something about one person or another that does something in the heart – we do not know what it is. If we look into our heart long enough, and ask the Lord long enough, He will reveal what it is, and He will help us, correct, and heal us. However, as long as this sort of irritation or whatever other sort of negative feelings are going on between me and another person, and I do not do anything about it, but just let it be, it is simply going to keep festering, and that’s all there is to it.

We forget to ask the Lord : “What is the matter with me that I am reacting this way ?” “What is there in my heart that has not healed, that I am reacting to such-and-such a person in this way ?” We forget to ask Him. We just live with it. On top of all that, we very often do not even pray for the person that is so inexplicably an irritation for us. Therefore, there are all these factors involved, and many others, in the difficulties of our daily lives. So-and-so does not like me, and I do not know why. This is very common. So-and-so does not like me, and I feel that I am somehow worthless because so-and-so does not like me. What matters is not whether someone or other likes me or not ; it is whether I love that person in my heart that matters. If someone does not like me, that is the responsibility of the person who does not like me. Except for praying for that person, I cannot do anything about it if someone does not like me. I can guard my heart in the love of Jesus Christ, making sure that my heart does in fact respond warmly to the person who does not like me for whatever reason that may be.

We have to be ready to take responsibility, ourselves, for all these situations, and not be immaturely dependant on the approval of, or the liking by someone else. We have to grow up in Christ, and understand that His love for us is unconditional. We have to learn how to love other people with the same unconditional love, and allow the Saviour Himself to look after the deficiencies of inter-human relationships. Human beings are specialists at being deficient in inter-human relationships.

The Lord, the Healer of everyone, straightens everything out, as He does with the Samaritan Woman. In His short conversation with her, not only does He point out that she is living a misfocussed and deceiving life, but that she is off track in how she thinks she is so right in her worship. I have high regard for this woman, first, because she knows her Scriptures – the way she responds tells us that she knows her Scriptures ; second, because her heart is open enough to see immediately what sort of Person is sitting before her and talking with her. She immediately responds and says : “‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet’”. He immediately begins to ask her burning questions, and He straightens her out. Immediately, her heart responds with gladness, and she immediately shares her joy and amazement with everyone around her. She says : “‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did’”. She recognises Who He is : the One giving her living water that wells up unto life everlasting.

She shares immediately. Such is her sharing, and such is the power of the sojourn for two days of the Saviour and His disciples in Samaria, that a significant response comes from those inhabitants who say to her (as it were) : “Now we truly know. We have encountered Christ personally. Now we truly know Who He is. We do not depend only upon your witness. We know for ourselves”.

There is so much to say about all the words of this Gospel reading. Suffice it to say that Saint Photini allowed the Lord to turn her life about so much, that not only did she become a saint both by her manner of life and by her manner of death, but many of her family became saints too, and martyrs, and so forth. They were strong witnesses for the love of Jesus Christ. Having encountered Him, they embraced Him, and lived in Him.

We, ourselves, after 2,000 years, are still participating in the same sort of experience as Saint Photini and the people of Sychar in Samaria. If we grow up in a Christian family as children, we come to know Who is Jesus Christ from our parents because they speak of Him and live in a certain way. However, there comes a time in our life when our heart has its door opened, and the light goes on, as it were, in our personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We, ourselves, like those Samaritans, come to the point where we say to our parents and our friends, those people who bring us to Christ : “Now I know. It is not simply intellectual any more ; it is not simply a mental process that I understand in the mind that it is right what you say about Jesus Christ. In my heart I know. I have finally encountered Him personally in my heart. I know Him. I love Him myself, and my heart confirms everything you have ever said about Jesus Christ. My heart confirms how you yourself live in the love of Jesus Christ”. This is how we Christians grow up.

I consider Saint Seraphim of Sarov to be one of the most mature Christians of all time, precisely because of how far this response went in his life. He submitted himself to the love of Jesus Christ in everything, and allowed Jesus Christ to remake him, and make him whole. The Saviour is the Saviour. He is the salvation of all because He makes us healthy. If we learned Latin in school (as most people do not get to do any more, which is too bad because we have a deficient understanding of our English language because of that), we would understand that “salvation” comes from the word that means “health”. It does not just mean being rescued. It means “health”. Therefore, when we are in Christ, and we are speaking about salvation, we are speaking about being healthy, whole, one, undistorted, unbroken in His love, alive in His love.

Even though Saint Seraphim was battered and beaten up by events in life, and all bent over, nevertheless he was whole. He was healthy. He said at the end of his life, every day of the year, and to everyone who encountered him : “Christ is risen, my joy”. He could say : “Christ is risen, my joy” to everyone around him because his assurance of the reality was so strong ; his understanding of how important it is to remember the Resurrection every day of our life, was so intense. He understood how easy it is for every human being to get burdened down by everything, and to let the awareness of the importance that Christ is risen fall into the background of our perception of ourselves and of everyday life. By God’s Grace, he was able to say : “Christ is risen, my joy” everyday to everyone he encountered. He said : “my joy”, because by that time in his life, no matter how broken any person might have been that met him, that person was his joy in Jesus Christ. He could see, and with his whole heart understand that everyone that he met was a creature of Christ, and a reflection of Christ, even though the reflection might be dim.

That is why Saint Seraphim is so important for us. That is why it is necessary that we remember his example, and keep the Resurrection of Christ in the fore-front of our minds by God’s Grace and mercy. God grant that our hearts be so full of the Resurrection life and love of Jesus Christ, that we will ourselves be inclined to glorify Jesus Christ, saying : “Christ is risen” to people we meet at any time of the year. (If we say it too often, of course, people are likely going to say that we are putting on airs.) Still, we all need to be reminded through the course of the year that Christ is risen – that He is truly risen. If we become so lax in the way we respond after only a few weeks of celebrating the Resurrection, how much more important is it for us, later in the year, sometimes to hear from a brother or a sister that reassuring and strengthening greeting : “Christ is risen”.

Brothers and sisters, it is a serious matter to live the Christian life because nearly everything around us is aimed at drawing us away. Let us ask the Saviour to keep holding our hand, to keep holding onto our hearts, so that we will not be distracted and fall away, but be faithful, like Saint Photini (Svetlana) and all her relatives who are on our Church calendar. Along with many other holy families, of whom many now are on our calendar as holy examples, let us ask the Lord to keep the fire of our love for Him burning all the time. Then when someone will say to us : “Christ is risen”, our hearts will not hesitate, but instead instinctively and immediately, and with fire, will answer : “Indeed, truly He is risen”. Let us ask the Lord to give us the strength to be faithful to Him every minute of every hour of every day, and glorify Him in our whole life always, and everywhere, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

There cannot be too many Saints

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
There cannot be too many Saints
Sunday of All Saints
1st Sunday after Pentecost
18 June, 2006
Hebrews 11:33-12:2 ; Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38 ; 19:27-30


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that very many people in the world have not caught the importance and the meaning of the last word that we just heard from the mouth of our Saviour : “‘Many that are first will be last, and the last will first’”. Certainly, in the world in which we are living, the first thing that matters is striving to be first, striving to be recognised, striving to be thanked, striving to be comfortable in this world all the time. As a poet said : “I am the captain of my own ship…”.

As long as we have this attitude while we are living our lives, there is nothing clearer under these circumstances than that Christ is in the backseat, not in the front. In the context of that mentality, He is on the backburner or even off the stove, and certainly not on the front burner. The way of the Christian is the way of suffering and service, following precisely in the footsteps of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and imitating Him in every way. This means living a life of love, which puts the service of God and doing His will first, above everything else, as we allow Him to direct our lives and to look after our needs. When we are doing everything ourselves and showing how competent we think we are at acquiring everything we need, we are saying, in effect : “I am afraid of the Lord. I do not trust Him to look after me. I do not trust Him to provide”.

It is important for us, Orthodox Christians in North America, to do our best to live in accordance with what is the foundation of the Orthodox way, however that may work out in our lives. Not one of us is the same, and we are not all called to be monks ; but neither are all monks, by any means, the same. Monks or not, all Christians are to have loving Christ and serving Christ as our first priority. Even monks and nuns often do not succeed so well at this. However, still it is important for us, when we wake up in the morning, to try our best to put the Lord, His service, and doing His will first. Of course, we must allow Him to show us how He wants us to live that out. He is not asking every one of us to live in some basement suite or some sort of shack somewhere. He does expect us to live with dignity in this world as well as we can. Nevertheless, because He loves us and gives us everything that we have, He expects us, because of love, in the same way to acknowledge that He gave us everything, and that we owe Him everything. We have to live our lives in gratitude accordingly.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of all the saints, both known, and unknown. It is interesting that there are actually some people who think we have too many saints because our Church calendar is so full, and there are so many names on that calendar. They seem to think that we should be paring it down, and simplifying it all. The fact is that God calls every last one of us, everyone, and not merely some chosen few. The ones who are on the calendar are the ones that are stronger examples, somehow. It could be said that those are the ones that the Lord has set apart as examples for us. We cannot even say that the fact that they are on the calendar is our doing. It is the Lord’s doing that they come to be listed on the calendar.

Not even all the saints are on the calendar of the Orthodox Church throughout the world. There is a list of saints that is in use generally throughout the whole Orthodox world, but there are plenty of other saints that are more locally known. Then there are some saints that are known only in their diocese, and others that are known only in their parish. There are some saints that are known only by a few people. There are plenty of saints altogether unknown to us.

We do not and cannot have too many saints. We have lots, but not enough. There might be enough saints if every one of us were holy, and if the whole world were holy. Then it would be enough, I suppose, but then I am not God to say that. That would be my guess.

It is important for us to remember that being a saint is not being a “professional Christian”. It is the average way, the normal way a Christian should be. We, who are not like that, are far below average. There are many ways of being holy. Some people become recognised as being holy because they die for the sake of Christ. Some people are known to be holy by other people because their faith has been put to the test. They have been tortured in one way or another, and they do not give up. In fact, I think a few of them may have weakened at some moment, but they came back, confessing fully and repenting fully, and they are still named on our world-wide calendar. However, the normal way for us all to be holy is to be trying to live the life of simple, straightforward, honest Christian love and service. Therefore, let us try to remember this when we are living our lives.

Now for the travelogue. For the past two and a half weeks, I have been in Ukraine, leading a pilgrimage of 22. It turned out that many people did not know about this pilgrimage, because for some strange reason it was not advertised in our Messenger. That is because of temptations that befall us before and after any pilgrimage, and even during it. This sort of thing always happens. One cannot go on a pilgrimage without being tested at first, tested during, and tested afterwards. This testing is not from God, but from below. During this pilgrimage, certain parts of our anatomy were very much put to the test, because we spent up to thirteen hours in a day, sitting in an old bus that was not air-conditioned (except for opening the windows). This old bus was nick-named by Metropolitan Onouphry of Chernivtsi the “Pakistan Express”. Mercifully, this time, unlike all the other times, there was cool weather for most of our stay (in the teens, and the twenties). There was frequent rain, and we did not have to live constantly in our personal, private sauna there (not that a sauna is anything to complain about – but 24 hours a day is a bit heavy).

The pilgrimage began in Kyiv. While I was participating in necessary meetings, the pilgrims went to venerate the saints in the Far Caves. After that, we went to the Vvedensky Monastery in Kyiv, which is the Monastery of the Meeting of the Lord. This monastery was founded after the Crimean War, about 150 years ago or so, by Saint Dimitra. She was the widow of a warrior who was killed in the Crimean War, and she was a Bulgarian. After the death of her husband, Dimitra moved to Kyiv, became a nun, and then received the blessing to establish her own community. Because she had some friends in the imperial court in St Petersburg, she got extra funding to help this along. During communist times, the monastery served as a jail for the army, so naughty soldiers spent time in this monastery building. One of the priests, who was serving in one of our dioceses, had been given a discipline in this jail when he was a young soldier and not 100 per-cent obedient. However, in that particular army, 100 per-cent obedience does not necessarily mean that one would therefore escape from that sort of discipline. Therefore, when anyone might see an icon here in this Temple of a nun holding a church in her hand, it will be understood that that is Saint Dimitra of the Vvedensky Monastery in Kyiv. Her relics are in the basement of that Temple. That Temple is Braille-friendly because the iconostasis and the icons are carved in marble, bas-relief.

I will give you a very short account of the pilgrimage. After Kyiv, we drove to Sumy, which is about 300 kilometers to the east of Kyiv, very close to the Russian border in the diocese of Sumy and Akhtirke. We served Vigil for Ascension in Sumy, and the Divine Liturgy in a village an hour and a half bus ride outside of Sumy to the west called Romne. In the evening of Ascension, we went back to Sumy, and then we drove south for an hour to Akhtirke, the second cathedral city of this diocese. There, in the evening we served a Moleben to the Mother of God. In all the places that we were, there are wonder-working icons of the Mother of God. There are many of these wonder-working icons of the Mother of God in Ukraine. Why ? I believe that it is because the people need the encouragement and strength of these signs of the Lord’s love. We need encouragement and reminders in the course of our suffering here. Through the Grace of the Holy Spirit come wonders from these icons : sometimes oil is streaming from them.

From Sumy, we went to Romne. In order to do that, we had to go back through Kyiv, because Kyiv is the only place on the Dnieper River where there are bridges. Having few bridges is an old, long-standing defense tactic, and it helped to minimise the damage of the Nazis on that territory in World War II. The Ukrainians have not changed it to this day. There are still no bridges on the Dnieper River, except in Kyiv. There are not many bridges there, so getting through Kyiv takes quite a bit of time. Kyiv now has 3,500,000 people. For Sunday Divine Liturgy, we went from Romne to Pochaiv. I, and the subdeacon from Edmonton who was accompanying me, had gone there on Saturday to serve Vigil with the monks. In 1994, when I first went to Pochaiv, there were sixty monks. Now there are over 300. That is an example of how life seems to be improving, spiritually speaking, in Ukraine. On the other hand, we might just as well forget it in terms of material improvement. Except for the rich people, it is still a hard life economically. Nevertheless, spiritually, life is really mushrooming there ; Orthodox Christian life is really mushrooming.

Vigil was the typical Vigil for Saturday night for them (four and a half hours in length). Does that sound intimidating ? Well, it is not all that bad. It is not all that bad even for the bishop who might have to anoint many of the 5,000 in the congregation. This anointing alone can take half an hour in itself. It could take the bishop right until the end of Matins (which they serve with no shortcuts). He cannot lose any time on each anointing – there is no conversation. I was not alone doing the anointing. They counted, and said I had anointed about 800 people by the time they dragged me out. However, what I did not notice was that there were six priests also anointing on the side, and each of them had anointed 700 or 800 people too. Those monks are very clever and they know how to save the enthusiastic bishop from himself. (He wanted to anoint everyone.)

Then we went to Chernivtsi, which is about 250 kilometers to the south. We got there rather late because no bishop can get away from Pochaiv very quickly. There are plenty of people to talk to, including the parents of Matushka Irina Melnyk. The local pray-ers pray to God there, and they do so in order to protect the monastery from the dangers of the take-over attempts that sometimes happen on the part of the Autocephalists and the Uniates there.
In Chernivtsi, Metropolitan Onouphry always welcomes us with love and open arms. In fact, this is the province of Ukraine which has produced the greatest number of Orthodox immigrants to Canada in the last 100 years. However, it is important to understand for the sake of information, that the province of Chernivtsi did not belong to Ukraine until World War II when Stalin annexed it from Romania, to which it had always belonged. The diocese of Chernivtsi is still packed with Romanian speakers. In our own diocese there are quite a few Romanian customs that people do not necessarily pay attention to, because we think that all Bucovinians are Ukrainians. The main part of our inheritance in this diocese is from this province of Chernivtsi.

Thanks to Metropolitan Onouphry, a few people went in a mini-van with a Romanian-speaking guide to Sochava, Radaouts, and Voronets in one day. They learned how to drive fast in that van, and they also learned that even if visas are not required to cross that border back and forth, nevertheless it is not so easy to cross that border. The reason they very much wanted to go this time was that Matushka Dianne Kennaugh, thinking that she was Austrian in ancestry, had done some research on part of her family, and found that they all came from Radaouts, and from a village close to Sochava. They did some investigations, and found that there was no-one left from the family, and whoever else was left there had been given a “vacation”, shall we say, to go somewhere else. Stalin was good at that, and so were other Communist regimes good at giving “vacations”, or “tickets to exotic places” like Tobolsk, Vladivostok, Arkhangelsk. They had the opportunity to venerate the relics of Saint John the New of Sochava. Although I have been there, I never got to venerate these relics, so they are more blessed than I am. We never know how God can bless us. He blesses us in many ways that we do not expect, but about what we think that we want now, He often says : “Not now”. We probably do not know why until later sometimes (if we ever really know). The Lord knows why. They were very blessed by the Holy Spirit, and very much uplifted by the whole experience of going into Romania.

After that, we went to the second and most serious part of our pilgrimage (which included not only going to holy places). We visited a village called Kolomeya in which there is a 400-year-old Temple built out of wood, from whose walls sometimes comes myrrh. People are sometimes delivered from demons and diseases just by touching the walls.

Then we began to visit orphanages. For the last three times that I have gone, this pilgrimage has always involved encountering orphanages, and the poor in one way or the other. People who are on the pilgrimage come armed with suitcases full of things that are necessary for needy children, and for some of the adults, too. Orphanages over there are nothing like what we expect of an orphanage here. They have only a minimum of absolutely everything. Many of these orphanages are operated by people who are not, shall we say, those most guided by Christian principles and honesty. Things that should go to the children often go to them and to their families. However, we are concerning ourselves as well as we can with people that are the most trustworthy. At the age of fifteen or sixteen, children from these government-run orphanages are told goodbye, and that is all there is – bye-bye. At that age, the doors open, and – bye-bye.

As a result of this, terrible things happen to these children, and the jails are full of such people. When the children are ejected from the orphanages at the age of 15, they encounter predatory people ready to pounce on these helpless victims. Garbage bins are full of such children who have been killed one way or another. It is very popular for people who run prostitution to snare the young people as soon as they come out of these orphanages. We learned to our horror that at the recent World Cup, there was a whole village set up beside the places where the athletes lived, and there were 4,000 girls between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five who had been taken there from Ukraine and Romania for the purpose of sexual slavery. Annually, a hundred thousand young women are removed from Ukraine because of this sort of slavery. Five thousand of them are in Canada, it turns out, at the present. We, who think that we are so nice, are not so squeaky clean as we think.

This is how denial and deception play with us. We cannot simply look down on the weaknesses of other people. We have to be prepared to say, as my Mother used to say : “There, but for the Grace of God, go I”. We have it good in our lives. We are comfortable, and that is our downfall, because we think that we are so self-sufficient and we do not need to pay attention to the suffering of other people. Those 5,000 and more girls brought to Canada as slaves (and there are probably boys in the same boat) were brought here with false promises of a real job, and not because they wanted to enter this way of living. They were living lives in poverty that Canadians cannot comprehend. They had no one, because they were already abandoned. How can we help them here ? We can remember that everything is not simple, or how it appears to be. We can pray for the captives, and remember that these are captives, also. We can look these persons in the face when we see them, treat them as human beings, and pray for them. If the Lord puts any of them in our lives, we can do what the Lord gives us to do for such a person. The way of the Lord is the practice of love. Again, as my Mother used to say : “Practice what you preach”. Therefore, asking the Lord to help us do just this, let us glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Listening to the Lord

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Listening to the Lord
All Saints of North America
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
25 June, 2006
Romans 2:10-16 ; Matthew 4:18-23


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is good for us to remember what n had to say last night regarding the way in which the Lord has enabled human beings in the course of history to know Him, if they will to do so. It is a question of whether the heart will listen to the Lord. Will the heart recognise the one God as the Creator of all, and try to listen to Him, and be obedient to Him ? As n was outlining last night, this was apparently the case in early China, because the nature of the prayers of the Emperor demonstrate a recognition of God as a loving God. However, the Chinese nation, as well as anyone else, got lost. We got lost in our own passions, lost in doing our own will instead of God’s will. That is where the problems always have arisen for us : doing our own will, and not God’s will.

The Apostle Paul today is speaking about how the Lord in His creation reveals Himself to us. Are we, ourselves, prepared to accept the revelation ? The fulness of this revelation came in the Incarnation of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. In the context of our self-deforming, it is very difficult for us to accept God’s love as it presents itself. As human beings seem always to do, we, using our own intellect, think of a “better way”, somehow. Usually we do not bother to pay any attention to the Lord and to His will, and we do not actually accept Him as Who He presents Himself to be. Instead, we reinvent Him. That is, for instance, what Arius did, what Nestorius did, and others have done ; and especially in these days, this is what many people are doing. They are remaking Christ so that He will fit their idea of what seems easier to take. However, when we do this, our troubles multiply – they do not get less. It is our responsibility, especially as North Americans trying to witness for Christ here in North America, to put Christ first always, at all times, and everywhere. We must let our hearts be open to Him, to His direction, and try to be ready to follow His will, and not what we think might be a “better idea”.

God having His will with me, sometimes, sends me from place to place, it seems. Two weeks ago, I was in Ukraine, serving in a series of little villages outside of Lviv in western Ukraine. This is an area where the Orthodox Church (especially the canonical Orthodox Church) is under a great deal of pressure. Fifteen years ago, all the canonical Orthodox churches (except one) in the whole diocese were taken away from the parishioners and given to someone else. That is because of the way the government operates. At that time, all churches belonged to the government, and the government could do whatever it liked. It still does. All those buildings were taken away, and then the canonical Orthodox faithful had to start over from nothing.

Within a few years, some arrangements were made with Ukrainian Catholics. In a few of the parishes in these little villages, Orthodox and Greek Catholics alternate, taking turns on Sundays. One Sunday the Orthodox go first, followed by the Greek Catholics ; the next Sunday the Greek Catholics go first, followed by the Orthodox. However, in most of the places, they had to find a piece of land, and that was not easy. Then they had to get permission to build, and, finally, they had to build. A week ago, I was serving in a little church on the edge of a town called Chervonograd close to the Polish border. In Chervonograd, there are already two parishes that have been re-established. The one in which I was serving was right on the edge of the town. They were very creative. The building may look strange to us. It looks as though it were part of a ship, a sailing ship without the masts. It is amazing. When we go inside the Temple, we feel as though we are in the hold of a ship. It is a very literal way of expressing through architecture the metaphor of the Church as being a ship. Usually, we expect the church to look like an upside-down ship, representing the ark of salvation. Sometimes the Temple can be cruciform, but the basic idea is that the Church is a ship. The English word “nave” (the middle part of the church) comes from navis, the Latin word for ship.

Because their parishioners had found sponsors who had money, in some other places much bigger Temples had been built, more in line with what we would expect, with domes and cruciform shape. Nevertheless, the way the architecture was done in Chervonograd was very interesting and pleasing. Each of these Temples is unique, with a combination of the traditional shape of the church with domes, and with exterior decoration which makes it look somehow more modern. A person simply has to go to Ukraine and see this, although I think we do not only have to go to Ukraine. I am quite sure that in other countries where building is going on, similar combinations of traditional architecture and modern taste and ideas go together very well. It is the inspiration by the Grace of the Holy Spirit that makes these things possible, because people in these places obviously love Jesus Christ above all. They were willing to listen to the Lord saying to them (as it were) : “Buy here ; talk with this person ; do this ; do that”, and they did. They were able to rebuild. They were willing to listen to the Lord, and listen to Him say to them : “It must be done ; it can be done ; it will be done ; just do it. Do not be afraid – just do it”.

In this building, it is much better than before, because you do not have to take down and set up every Sunday. It is not yet your permanent home, but nevertheless, you have come a long way. You have a visible presence in a good place, and there is a sign that can be seen from the street. The church can be found now, and people do not have to depend on anyone else. You have made a big step forward. The Lord will show you the next step. However, I say to you as the Lord says to the apostles today : “‘Follow Me’”. Immediately they followed Him. Let your hearts listen to the Lord, also, so that when He speaks to you and says : “This has to be done ; it must be done ; it will be done, because I am with you” – then just do it. Do not be afraid. Whatever the Lord is leading you to do next is always scary, and often does not make sense. However, if you do what the Lord says to do, it happens, because He is blessing and He opens the doors.

Through the prayers of all the saints of North America and all the saints of China, may the Lord give you the strength and the ability to hear Him. May you continue growing and building and increasing the Body of Christ here in n, to the glory of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Trusting the Lord to provide

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Trusting the Lord to provide
(Memory of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco)
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
2 July, 2006
Romans 5:1-10 ; Matthew 6:22-33


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is hard for us, generally, to take the words of the Lord about the lilies of the field and the sparrows and live by them. However, the fact is that this is how the Lord created us to be. If we are not like that, we are far short of who we were created to be. If we have not come to this, we are far short of the sort of person we can become.

We have on our calendar many saints, including Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose memory we are keeping today. He was one of those saints, in fact, who in a strange way, I think, did come to live in accordance with this Gospel passage. He was so much like this that people called him a Fool-for-Christ. He behaved in ways that were unusual. In the first place, he went about in bare feet quite a bit. For Orthodox bishops that is generally a no-no. If people do not laugh at the bishop for going about in bare feet, they will criticise him thoroughly for doing so. However, I still remember almost forty years ago in Vancouver when a subdeacon at Holy Resurrection Church was telling me about his encounter one time with Saint John. In San Francisco there was a Church feast-day, and when the Archbishop came to the Temple, there were not very many people there at all. And so, in his mantya, he went out of the Temple with his pastoral staff, and he walked along the street until he came to a hotel. In this hotel there was a ballroom, and a large number of the parishioners were celebrating the Feast ahead of things somehow, in their own order. They were celebrating in this ballroom but they were not in church. Saint John came, I am told, and with his mantya, stood there in the door, and thumped the floor with his pastoral staff a couple of times. People saw him standing there. Everything stopped. He turned around, went back to the Temple, and people followed after him. He did not have to say so many things, but he certainly lived by Whom he followed.

He followed Jesus Christ. He suffered much in the course of his life. He was in exile more than once. Yet, no matter how painful and difficult the circumstances of his life might have been, he continued to be faithful to Jesus Christ, as he looked to Christ to supply everything, just as the Gospel says. The Saviour did supply everything for him. This is a man who died not long ago.

Why should we be able to ask so many things and expect so many things from the Lord ? The answer is that our relationship with Him is all love. Our very life comes from Him. Everything comes from Him and His love despite the times when we yield to the temptation to think that we are the source. It is still because He blessed me to have it that I have anything. Everything comes from Him, beginning with my life. My life comes from Him because He loves me. Everything in creation is the result of His love. Everything, whether we accept it or not, whether we reject it or not, whether we co-operate or not, everything that is (not only on this planet) is the product of His love. Everything is created because God loves it into existence.

Our problem mainly is that we listen to the Tempter. We get preoccupied with ourselves. We say, in response to this Gospel : “Am I not supposed to be taking some initiative here, and doing something myself ?” The answer is : “Well, yes, you are”. However, taking this initiative has to be preceded by asking the Lord : “What is Your will ? I want to do Your will. I love You ; I know that You love me, and I want to do Your will about everything. What do You want me to do ?”

There are, and have been, many people whose hearts have been so connected in love with the Lord that they instinctively knew what was God’s will. Everything that they did bore fruit because it was God’s will. They knew that it was the right way to go. However, if we are not so attuned to the Lord in our hearts as all that, we can still open our hearts towards the Lord when we are faced with choices, and first ask Him the right thing to do.

The Lord does provide. I just heard this week about a certain person who does not have very much of an income at all. However, this person had given away quite a bit of money out of love and care for other people. Within a month, the Lord had re-supplied it all. This person is living on next to nothing, and yet the Lord does look after this person. There are many monks and nuns in this diocese who are living precisely on that basis. They are serving Him. They are helping other people. The Lord does look after them, and He supplies whatever is necessary for life.

Knowing what is the will of the Lord is a very direct product of living in the Scriptures, living in the Gospel. That is why it is important for us to read the Scriptures all the time. The Lord shows us how to live our Christian life by the things that are written in the Scriptures from 1 Moses [Genesis] to the Apocalypse. He shows us how we are supposed to live. He shows us how He loves us. He shows us how we are supposed to behave towards each other. He shows us how we are supposed to live our lives in thanksgiving and in service.

We have Fathers and Mothers in the Orthodox Church who have written many things which give us examples of how we are supposed to be living in response to God’s love. They were able to write what they wrote, not because they wanted to write what they wrote, but because circumstances demanded that they write what they wrote. There was a specific need that demanded that they write, and so they wrote. However, they wrote out of their experience of life in the Scriptures, and life in communion in their hearts with the Lord. As a result, what they wrote for us (I guess one could say as long ago as the second century) is still used by us to help us keep on track.

Living the Orthodox Christian life is not concerned with rules. Rather, it is concerned with love in Christ, with Christ. It is concerned with coming to know God’s will and doing it, so that we always know what is the right thing to do. Ultimately, we do not even have to ask, because our heart tells us right away. I am not saying these things because of having my own experience. Rather, I am saying these things because I have seen it so much already. I have not only read it or heard people speak about it. God is merciful. He has let me see many examples of this, and therefore I can share it with everyone (except that I have a sneaking suspicion that many of you here have seen much of the same thing already in the course of your lives). At a young age, I had not seen very much myself, but it was not long before the Lord began to expose me to such people.

The Lord loves us. It is His desire that we be protected, that we live lives that are productive, that are fruitful, that are healthy, that are constructive, that are supportive to other people. As He gives life to us, we give life to other people in Him. Let us ask the Lord to give us more courage, hope, and strength in the midst of all of the difficulties that we endure in the course of our lives. Let us ask Him to enable us never to take our eyes off Him, so that our hearts will never be distracted from Him, and that the whole substance of our lives always will serve Him and glorify Him in everything, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Lord's tender Care for us

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord’s tender Care for us
4th Sunday after Pentecost
9 July, 2006
Romans 6:18-23 ; Matthew 8:5-13


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When the Apostle Paul is speaking to us today about how we should be living correctly, and the consequence of living incorrectly, he does not get a very good hearing from most people these days. However, what he says is the absolute truth. He says that when people are living in self-will and licentiousness, the result of it is death. Primarily, the root of it all is their turning their backs on the Lord, and doing whatever they think best and not consulting the Lord at all, but just going according to the winds that blow in their minds. If this were my ancestors speaking to me, under those circumstances in which I find myself very frequently (although not quite as frequently as in my greater youth), they would say : “That is why the wind is blowing in your mind, because there is nothing there”. Ultimately, there is a vacuum if Christ is not at the centre of everything. He is our anchor. He is our sense of direction. He is our Everything. If He is not our Everything in life, we are empty-headed, and blown about by every wind of who-knows-what. Ultimately, the result of that is spiritual death. All sorts of terrible things could happen to us.

Often we are going our own way. We invent our own direction. We pay attention to some psychologist or psychiatrist or some philosopher or some popular, money-making speaker or some theorist. Such a person tries to make things appear to be rosy, and the sensible way to go. However, without Christ, we go nowhere at all. As I have said many times throughout my life : “The reason that psychiatrists are so much needed and that they can make a living is that people do not have the real source of healing at hand. If it is at hand, it is ignored”. We are weird people, because the Saviour, who is our Life, who is our Everything, is entirely capable of straightening out everything in our life. We see how He healed the servant of the centurion. We see how He raised people from the dead. We see how He does everything. We see how He heals until this very day. We are somehow afraid of the Lord, who loves us, and is with us, and assures us of His tender, loving care for us. We do not trust Him to do what He says He will do. Instead, we will often turn to everyone and everything else first.

Another example of this is what it is like to go to confession, and what it is like for a priest or a bishop to hear confession. Long ago, when I was in seminary, Father Schmemann said : “People often erroneously think that it must somehow be exciting for a priest to hear the confessions of all sorts of different people”. However, he said : “Such people are absolutely wrong. It is boring. It is boring because people’s sins are all the same. It is all repetition”.

Everyone seems to comes to confession thinking that he or she is committing some unique new sin, and it is so horrible. Well, yes, it is horrible. Sin is horrible. However, there is nothing unique about any of it. It is hardly likely that there is any sin that any one of us can come up with that someone else has not already committed somewhere, sometime. In normal parish life, the priest who is hearing these confessions finds that confessions are all variations on a theme. Over and over and over again, he is hearing the same thing from which people are suffering. Human beings are all approximately the same, regardless of how we like to think otherwise. We are quite the same. Thus we say to ourselves : “Why is it that I keep coming to confession over and over and over again for the same things in one form or another ? It is always the same thing. I am bored with my own confession”. This has to do with the fact that we do not truly grasp in our hearts yet that the Lord is the Lord of everything in my life. All this boringness and repetitiveness is sin. It is all because I forget.

What am I forgetting ? I forget to listen to the Lord first. I listen to my wayward, confused, conflicting thoughts first, instead. I do not often ask the Lord about what is the right thing to do. I just go ahead and do whatever seems good according to my thoughts, according to my logic, according to some book I read, according to some television or radio programme I saw or heard recently, according to what my neighbour said to me over tea recently. I am influenced by all these instead of remembering to ask the Lord first. Even if I do ask the Lord first, I still find myself having to go to confession because I still do not hear Him properly. I still do not live as well as I ought to live, in accordance with His will. We all ought to have the sensibility and sensitivity about trying to live in accordance with the Lord’s will. The confessions of holy people are very profound, albeit that they might be simple, direct and very straightforward. The confession may boil down to sorrow for having disappointed Him who is truly our Everything in life. After all, we love Him with our whole being, and we want to please Him with our whole being. Nevertheless, we know that we fall short. It does not matter how holy a person can become. The holiest of persons is going to recognise how far he or she still is from living in accordance with the fulness of the love of Jesus Christ. That person will know how much better it could still be.

By the way, very often people are misunderstanding what it is to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our society, particularly, is full of all sorts of crazy ideas leading us to think that living in the Kingdom of Heaven is somehow static. The phantasy is that once we have “made it” to the Kingdom of Heaven, we merely sit around on fluffy clouds and have a nice time. That is the way the Muslim think about Heaven. They envisage that we do nothing but sit around and eat grapes and other delicacies ; we indulge ourselves in unmentionable activities and we participate in one unending, eternal party. This childish phantasy is, to my mind, extremely boring. That is not how Christians think about Heaven. That is not the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven certainly has to do with the banquet, the heavenly banquet of the Lord in which we are participating here today. It is very different from how the Muslim have distorted it. Feeding on the Lord’s presence, living in His love, we endlessly, endlessly, continue to grow in love and dynamism. God is unknowable, because He is so great, but He brings us into Himself in His Son as members of His Body. In the Body of Christ we are taken into the Holy Trinity, and we are able in love to grow up in this love which never ends, and always changes, always continues to mature and grow. It is never boring. It is never static. It is always alive, and more alive. If we want to read a nice allegory about how this can be, let us have a look at C S Lewis. His Narnia books, and The Great Divorce, particularly, give some good ideas about how it might be (although it is all allegory). We cannot expect the Kingdom of Heaven to be just as he writes.

There is nothing static about the love of Jesus Christ. The love of Jesus Christ is always providing us with surprises : how He leads us unexpectedly over and over again. We who went to Ukraine on a pilgrimage recently, encountered this many times over in those fourteen days : how the Lord knew exactly what we needed, and what the people there needed. He put us together at the right time in the right places in ways that we could never have organised if we had even tried (even with the strongest computers). We could never have done it, but the Lord did it, and continues to do it all the time. In our daily lives here, He is doing it. However, we have to have the eyes of our hearts open to see and to comprehend what is going on, and glorify and give thanks to Him for it quickly, immediately. The more we are able to recognise the activity of His love surprising us with His tender compassion, and the intimacy with which He is concerned in our lives, the more we are ready to recognise this and give thanks, then the more we are ready to grow up in Him. As a result of this, we are all the more able with joy and divine power to share with others the Lord’s tender care for us.

The Lord’s tender care shows itself today in the healing of the centurion’s servant. The Lord’s tender care shows itself in the Gospel passage that we just read a couple of days ago about the healing of the Apostle Peter’s mother-in-law (see Mark 1:30, 31). The Lord’s love shows itself in all sorts of different ways in the Gospel. His love also shows itself in different ways in our lives here, today, now. This is the way that leads to life, as the Apostle Paul was saying in the Epistle reading today. This is the way that leads to the health and the stability that enable us to live through the worst sort of turmoil and suffering in life. This is how we get to know that the Lord is with us. He is strengthening us, and He will see us through no matter what, because He loves us. He wants us to live with Him and be alive in Him. He does not abandon us. He does not abandon me. He does not abandon this community. He does not abandon even this city as crazy as it seems to be becoming. He gives us work to do. We Orthodox Christians must remind people of Who is their end, and what it is that they are looking for. He gives us as a sign of hope and life to everyone around us.

Brothers and sisters, let us not leave ourselves open to the accusation of my ancestors to me about empty-headedness and its results. Instead, let our hearts, our minds and our whole being be full of Jesus Christ. Let us hope on Jesus Christ, and live in His love, and glorify Him in eternity, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

True Humanity in Christ's Love

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
True Humanity in Christ’s Love
(Memory of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils)
5th Sunday after Pentecost
16 July, 2006
Romans 10:1-10 ; Matthew 8:28-9:1 ;
Hebrews 13:7-16 ; John 17:1-13


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to being a human being, a regular, recognisable human being, there are some standard characteristics that we generally expect to see in such a person, regardless of gender. It is into these characteristics that we normally grow up. If we are really going to be true human beings, then we are going to grow up as human beings patterning ourselves after the most perfect of them all, Jesus Christ Himself, and His Mother, the Theotokos, also. The foundation of that identification is love, and a perfect relationship between this human being and God and His will. As we know from the Scriptures, and as we also know from our inheritance, God is love (see 1 John 4:8, 16). Everything about God and our relationship with Him has to do with this love. We live out and express this love in one way or another.

In the Gospel reading today, we heard about the two demoniacs who are so fierce that no-one could pass by them. These demoniacs are people who became possessed in one way or the other by the devil, and they were living at the very best an irrational life. However, this was far worse than a merely irrational life. It was a completely distorted life. It was a twisted life, a caricature of human life, we might say, because their behaviour was the opposite of how a normal human being should be behaving, and especially a Christ-imitating human being.

When our Lord heals the men, they are instantly restored to being normal human beings. This is like the deliverance that we hear about during the course of the liturgical year in the Gospels of Mark and Luke of a particular demoniac in this region being healed and being restored to his own right mind. Saint John Chrysostom passes to us the apostolic understanding that the other two Gospels focus on the fiercer of the two possessed men rather than present a supposed second occasion. There are other persons in the Scriptures who are being delivered from possession by the devil and being restored to their normal, integral personality. They were restored to a personality in harmony with the Lord, a personality in harmony with God’s will, a personality in harmony even with itself. We know that it is highly irregular for swine to be raised anywhere on Jewish territory. However, human beings have always been like this, and it is important for us to understand that. Yes, the law is the law, and the rule is the rule, but people often take the law into their own hands, regardless. In this particular out-of-the-way region hidden from the sight of most people, swine were being raised.

When the legion of demons enter the swine, immediately the little pigs, that were going about their normal business as pigs do, go insane, jump in the lake and drown. That is a very, very clear illustration of what happens when we separate ourselves from the Lord, and when we play around with the powers of darkness and say to ourselves : “I want to do it my way, and I am going to try to make the Lord conform to my way” (instead of the other way around). As soon as I do it my way (without consulting the Lord first), and I go in a contrary direction, already I am becoming like those demoniacs and like those pigs. I am behaving irrationally. I am giving myself over into the hands of the powers of darkness when I do this. For you and for me, the only way we can live, is to live in harmony with God’s will (in other words, in harmony with His love), and to live out His love.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils. Very many people in our western cultures like to speak about these Fathers as though, in the course of those several centuries and their various Councils, they were developing Christian doctrine on the basis of some logical development (or even worse, on the basis of some philosophical principles). Those Councils had nothing to do with doctrinal development. We Orthodox do not understand development in this way. In the Orthodox Church there is no such thing. There is no such thing as change when it comes to what we believe about God, what we believe about our Saviour, Jesus Christ, what we believe about the Church, and what we believe about all creation in this relationship. There has been no change.

Therefore, why these Councils and why these definitions ? These Councils came about precisely because, in various periods, there were people who had it in mind that they could come up with a better way to say things so that others could understand and grasp things. In their attempt, they distorted everything and ultimately made people crazy. Such thinkers were people who were falling away from true understanding and from living in harmony with what God revealed Himself to be – which is the point of everything. God reveals Himself to you and to me. It is for us to live in response to that revelation of who He says He is. Who are we to tell Him to be different ? Even until this very day, the Lord reveals Himself in the same way to believers everywhere.

As the Epistle says, He is the same : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. The Greek, however, says “unto the age”, rather than “forever”. God is the same. His love is the same. However, as Arius did, there remain today many who think that they can try to redefine Him and to remould Him according to their limited logic. That is why the first Council was convoked. Arius tried to suggest that Jesus Christ is not the uncreated Son of God, but rather some sort of creature who volunteered to be the “sacrificial lamb”, as it were. However, that is not at all the meaning of the Incarnation. If the Son of God Himself had not done what He did, reconciliation with the Father would not be possible. Yet we know that reconciliation with the Father did happen because that has been our experience in common for 2,000 years.

There were others also who came along and thought that they had clever ideas. There were people such as Nestorius, who had a hard time accepting that Mary could be the Mother of God. He tried to change her into being merely the Mother of Christ, thereby reducing Christ Himself. It is very complicated. It is more than just a little bit confusing when people are thinking, thinking and thinking and trying on the basis of their criteria, logic, and philosophies, to make sense of the Christian Faith. The tail cannot wag the dog, and the cart cannot go in front of the horse.

Our experience of Jesus Christ, our experience of His revelation of Himself to us must, absolutely must, lead, define and determine everything. This is what the Fathers were doing in all those seven Councils (actually there were eight, but the eighth has not been recognised universally yet). The Fathers were listening to the Holy Spirit as well as they could. Sometimes the listening had to persist during a meeting which lasted longer than a year in order to come to a true understanding of Who is Jesus Christ. They were asking themselves : “What is our Tradition of Him, and how can we with words as clearly as possible, speak about it ?” That is what theology is. That is all that theology is – speaking in clear, correct words (and one would have to say even in inspired words) about our experience of God.

Nowadays, people are speaking about theology as though it were something that can be learnt in some university somewhere. People go and get a degree, and then call themselves a “theologian”. In calling themselves theologians, such people can very often be heard to say strange things about Jesus Christ, things that do not connect with Him, and our 2,000 years’ experience at all. What sort of theology is this ? It is only philosophy and egocentric idea-systems trying to dress themselves up as theology. Very few people can speak about theology, and those are persons, generally, who do not have a university degree to prove that what they are saying is correct. Papers mean nothing.

Therefore, what is our call from the Lord in the context of these swine, and also in the context of the Epistles today ? Our responsibility as Orthodox Christians is in the context of the love of Jesus Christ, and in living in obedience to the love of Jesus Christ. Our responsibility is to become human beings as closely resembling Jesus Christ as possible. That is also what we should be trying to do as a believing community, as a Christian family : trying to live as closely as we can to the example of Jesus Christ. In doing so, we become an example to the people around us of what is sanity, true sanity, true humanity.

People seem to like to make fun of us Orthodox Christians, however. For us, time is a little bit flexible (sometimes very flexible). Food seems to be an obsession (not that we want to eat so much, but we want to feed others so much). We want to give people food, and we want to offer them hospitality. In all our Orthodox cultures, the faithful practically kill themselves trying to give hospitality to people who come to their homes. This is all the expression of Christian love.

There are still people alive in Canada who remember when very many more Canadians (even Anglo-Canadians) behaved more like that. However, probably since I was about twenty or so, that way of living has catastrophically fallen away from most Canadians. Canadians in general have fallen in on themselves. They tend to look to themselves and they are afraid of other people. It is for us to show the example of how human beings are supposed to live. We do this by not being afraid of other people who are created in God’s image. People are a wreck because they are broken. We can show them how they can be healed.

That is our responsibility. It is not so small, and it is not so easy. However, it is, as Father Alexander Schmemann rightly said, full of joy. Father Alexander always spoke about joy, and he said that if joy is lacking from anyone, then Christ is lacking from us. There cannot be Christ in us without there being joy. Even when we are suffering a lot, in the midst of that suffering, there is still joy in the heart. There is still hope. There is still confidence. There is still a sense of direction and life, even though there is great and intense pain.

Let us cultivate that joy, that love of Jesus Christ in our hearts. Let us exercise that love and joy on each other. Let us do our best to show Christ to each other, and together let us sow a seed in this city that will grow and produce not just twentyfold, not just forty or fiftyfold, but at the very least a hundredfold, to the glory of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us bring people into His Kingdom and join them to His Body, with us to glorify Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Willingly we follow in the Path of loving Service

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Willingly we follow
in the Path of loving Service
Funeral of Igumen John (Scratch)
18 January, 2006


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the life of Father John and his family, we have an example of the working out of what we have just heard in the Holy Gospel. It is important for us to remember this, and especially to remember the words of the Gospel, and the assurances of love that our Saviour gives to us. We, ourselves, must take confidence in these words of love in our living of our lives in Christ. Our Saviour, no matter what, is always with us. He emptied Himself in His love, in order to keep us in loving harmony and in union with Him. Everything about Him and His relationship with us is concerned with this love.

It is important for us to remember the life of Father John in this context, and the life of his whole family, because his inheritance was all concerned with and filled with living in the confidence of this love. He was not the first person in his family to serve Christ. There were five generations of clergy before him in his family. His father was a Pentecostal minister and missionary. In his childhood, Father John was in China and India because of his parents’ love for Jesus Christ. While he was in India, the way that Orthodox Christians whom he met there worshipped and loved God affected him very much, also. It seems to me that, to a great extent, his experience of his parents’ love for Christ, and of the love for Christ of Christians he encountered in other parts of the world, confirmed him in his own desire to serve Jesus Christ in this same single-minded, single-hearted way. That was, as far as I can recall, in my experience of him for about 25 years, completely characteristic of him.

Father John (or “Papa John” as many prefer to say) was full of the love of our Lord, and he wanted to serve Him, to serve Him only. He was willing to do what sometimes seemed to be ridiculous to other people, in order to be faithful to our Saviour Jesus Christ, and to the truth about Him. That is why he gave up everything, and came into the Orthodox Church, because of embracing the whole, full truth about Him who is the Truth, Jesus Christ. He told Archbishop Sylvester that he did this because he had found the Pearl of great Price (see Matthew 13:46).

It is because of his obedience and his love that we ourselves are able to be here today in this building. It is because of his loving obedience (even though there were many difficulties, and he made mistakes, like everyone else). It was Father John’s love for Jesus Christ that enabled him to gather people together to establish one of the earliest English-speaking missions in the country, and then to do what was thought to be impossible. What was the impossible ? I do not know that it is being done anywhere else yet – but by his prayers and by his example, it became possible here : the re-unification of the anglophone Holy Transfiguration community with its russophone mother parish, Saint Nicholas, to make our cathedral community. For the most part, people got along reasonably well after that reconciliation, and a truly life-giving and strong community was formed.

If we are being accurate, then we will accept that it is also because of Father John that we are now in this particular building. I am quite sure that if Father John had not been so convinced by the Mother of God that this was the right thing to do when he was venerating the Kursk Root Icon of the Theotokos (as many know from his own words), then I do not think that we would be here today. Of course, that is just as well, because if it were not God’s will, we should not have been here. It was also because of Father John’s love for Jesus Christ, and the joy with which he lived that love of our Lord, that this cathedral community is able to be such a family in Christ. If we are going to be faithful to his love for our Lord Jesus Christ, and if we are going to live following his example of living the love of our Saviour, then, making mistakes (as he made mistakes) and repenting (as he was repenting), we ourselves are going to do everything that is possible, with God’s help, to maintain this community as a loving family, even though it is quite a big family in quite a big house.

Being a big family like this one is not easy. Sometimes, we have to associate with one another in sub-group families in order to keep together. Nevertheless, the community still somehow has to be maintained as a united family, because the Lord would not have given the responsibility to Father John to bring all this into being if that were not how it is supposed to be. The Lord would not have brought things about as He did if that were not what we are supposed to be doing in this city, in this diocese. Our situation is as it is, because God wills it. Father John has been co-operating with that Will, not necessarily always knowing precisely what he was doing, and why. Nevertheless, this is the fruit of his love of Jesus Christ.

Father John was a good father. He was a good father, and not only to his physical family and blood-relatives. It is a good thing for the rest of us (especially fathers) to remember his example, and to do something similar, as well as we are able. No-one can be Father John again (not even his children). No-one can be Father John again, because there only ever was one – God only created one of him, as He creates only one of you and one of me. That does not mean that there cannot be similarities, however. We can encourage each other by the example of our lives, and by the memory of his good, Christ-loving example. Those of you who heard from him in his last week amongst us, heard how full of joy he was, even when he was faced with the possibility of a cancer (and everyone knows what his family already went through with Suzanne in that, and how the prospect could have been extremely upsetting for him). By God’s Grace and mercy, he was full of joy, full of peace, and full of acceptance of God’s will, no matter what it would bring about. He was radiant with joy, as people have been testifying.

Well, is not that an example for us : how to be encouraged in our own difficulties and struggles in trying to follow our Lord Jesus Christ ? Our Saviour was in him, facing everything he faced. Although he did not have an easy life, as he faced everything he was confronted with, and as he endured everything he was given, he was still able to be so effervescent with the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, so emptying of himself. Even the night before he departed, he was still emptying himself, serving, loving, and giving of himself one hundred percent to people around him, being the father that he was to everyone around, and in the foot-steps of Christ, serving people all around him.

Our Saviour gave him this joy, this strength, this peace, this ability to face something difficult or something horrible, with joy and with victory. Then the Lord took him just like that, in the middle of the night. No-one expected anything. The Lord took him just like that. Well, how merciful was that, because anything having to do with colon cancer is unpleasant (to make a real understatement). The Lord spared him and his family such an ordeal. Yet we know by his love, by his faith, by his confidence in Jesus Christ, that if the Lord had asked it of him, then he would have lived through that ; he would have endured it as he had always gone through everything – with love and confidence in our Saviour, and with joy.

We are full of heartache right now, and we are full of tears, mixed with joy, in the Orthodox way. It cannot be otherwise, as long as we remember the fundamental : that the love of Jesus Christ, and joy in the hope of the Resurrection (which the texts are assuring us about) all have meaning. It is not some sort of crazy, philosophical idea. It is reality. Father John lived, and continues to live that reality. We are following with him in the same path, loving the same Jesus Christ with him. We have him, along with many others now, to intercede for us, and to support us in the work that we have to do.

Let us not get lost in the cares of this world ; but let us remember him, his love, his faithfulness, and be encouraged, ourselves, to persevere in the same love. Let us allow the Lord to give us the same joy, the same strength, and the same sense of direction. Then, when our time comes, we will meet him there in the Kingdom of Heaven, with all those others whom we love, who have gone before us, and who are glorifying the Saviour. With them, we will unite our hearts and our voices in eternal praise of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in the Kingdom, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Example of Saint Seraphim

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Example of Saint Seraphim
5 August, 2006

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of this parish here in n, and its witness in the town of n. The people who have been living and serving here from its foundation fifty years ago have been doing so, following the example of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, for whom the parish is named. They have been doing this to the best of their ability. That does not imply that every parishioner here is therefore a saint. However, it is to imply that people in this parish have been doing their best to live a Christian life.

Saint Seraphim was living very much in accordance with the Gospel in his life. The one thing that is needful in living our life is to live in accordance with, and in the love of Jesus Christ. It is our way and our calling from Christ to follow Him. He is the Way for us, and He is the Truth. Saint Seraphim recognised this, and that is why he gave himself completely to the Lord in this way, to Him who is the Truth. Life in the nineteenth century was not so different from the society we live in now. In those days, as it is now, there were all sorts of people being led by philosophical ideas who thought that there is more than one sort of truth, who thought that there are alternative truths, and that they could develop different sorts of truths. The fact is that God has revealed Himself to us. In His Self-revelation, He has clearly shown us that there is only one Truth, and that is Himself. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the Son of God, said to us : “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (John 14:6). Therefore, if we are following in the Way, we are following Jesus Christ. We will encounter the Truth, and nothing but the Truth, because it is Jesus Christ who is the Truth. In Him we will have life, and life in its fulness (see John 10:10). That is precisely what Saint Seraphim in the course of his life came to experience – life in its fulness, in the love of Jesus Christ. He himself was able, therefore, to live in accordance with the Truth.

Saint Seraphim was not some sort of specialist. He was an ordinary human being just like everyone else. However, Saint Seraphim was able to live the fulness of human life in the way God created us to be. He showed us that, like him, other human beings can do the same. There have been many saints before Saint Seraphim, and there will be saints after him who will teach us the lesson that the Lord is always trying to teach us : that He is with us, that He cares for us, and no matter how difficult life might be for us, He is there for us, and He will help us overcome everything. He will put everything right at the consummation of all things.

Saint Seraphim lived in a monastic community. People who do not live in monastic communities have the idea that in monastic communities people are all perfect, somehow, that they are all Grace-filled, and that they are not fallen people any more. The monks are thought to be (in the popular mind) “professional Christians”, and “experts” in how to live the Christian life. Then, when monks and nuns are found to be making mistakes or arguing with each other (and sometimes not even liking each other so well), people outside this monastic community will tend to think that there is something wrong. However, there is nothing at all wrong. Monks and nuns are human beings like everyone else, and they live in a Christian family like everyone else. They suffer from temptations just like everyone else. If in your family and mine we sometimes have disagreements, why should we expect that amongst monks and nuns it would be any different ? Indeed, in good monastic communities, the monks who are following the Gospel as well as they can, learn quickly how to forgive quickly. They learn how to reconcile quickly as my parents said (following the Apostle Paul) : “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). That is why in good monastic communities every day ends with mutual forgiveness. They do not merely say : “I am sorry”. They actually make a prostration in front of each other, and ask each other’s forgiveness. Sometimes they even get blessed with holy water to make sure that they have strength to forgive.

Saint Seraphim lived in such a community. The single-hearted way that he was following Christ (even though he was under complete obedience to a spiritual father), made some of his brethren irritated. He got a lot of criticism, and sometimes even ridicule. In a Christian family we are not necessarily living in a perfectly supportive atmosphere, and it is the same thing sometimes in monastic communities, too. It is not always just roses. There are thorns there, too, sometimes. However, God is merciful. After some time, Saint Seraphim withdrew into the desert of the forest, and he became so filled with the love of Jesus Christ that in some cases we understand that he was shining like the sun. The Grace of God was radiating from him in a similar way that the Grace of God was radiating from the face of Moses after he was on Mount Sinai. This is because of God’s love. This is because God was reassuring people of His love, and how life can be in the Kingdom. He was giving us hope. Saint Seraphim is an example of this hope that Jesus Christ wants us all to hold on to, to live in, to grasp, to make our own.

If we read the life of Saint Seraphim, we understand that as a result of his love, he was given Grace to help very many people who were facing all sorts of difficulties in their lives. When people become holy, they do not become holy only for themselves, so that they can sit on some rock somewhere, and only be holy by themselves with Christ. Nothing of the sort. When people become full of the love of Jesus Christ, more is asked of them. The Lord gives them Grace to do more and more. They become examples of what our Saviour said that Christians are supposed to be – salt and yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). We are supposed to be salt and yeast. Neither of these alone does anything but be itself. However, each, mixed with the environment (let’s say flour, for the sake of bread), does something very important. The yeast makes the flour rise and transforms it into bread, and the salt gives flavour which makes the bread really good, and tempts us to want to eat it all.

This is how Christians are supposed to be in the world. Filled with the love of Jesus Christ, we are supposed to be able and willing, competent in Christ by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to help people in the way that bread is helped by yeast and salt. Yes, it is true that we will get opposition. Yes, it is true that we will not be understood. Yes, it is true that we might be rejected, and treated as foolish. However, the fact is that our Saviour, Himself, was not treated any differently. Saints in every age have been treated in a similar way – not understood, nor appreciated, until the Lord makes it clear to some people that this person is needed for the Church’s welfare. There are many saints that are not on the calendar and never will be. There are many saints that are not even known to us.

In fact, because I know some of the people who are resting here in this cemetery, I think that I can say that some of those unknown saints are resting here. I encountered them in their lives, and I know what sort of people some of them were (amongst them founders of this Temple). I believe that this is the case. These persons are holy, and the Lord used them for a great deal of good even though they faced considerable difficulty, misunderstanding, and even, sometimes, rejection. Nevertheless, their faithfulness bore fruit, and that is what is important for you and for me today.

We must remember the example of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, his faithfulness to Jesus Christ, and the fruits that came from it, not only in his lifetime when people were healed and their sorrows were assuaged, but even until this day. By his intercessions, people are helped and strengthened. Throughout our life also, the Saviour calls us in obedience to Him, in His love, to help other people find Him. In Saint Seraphim’s life, and in the lives of all the saints, we see that they never pointed to themselves or called attention to themselves, saying : “Look at me ! I made it : I am holy”. None of them would ever admit that he or she was holy. The most that anyone could get out of them, I am sure, is that they loved Jesus Christ to some extent (but they would say not nearly enough), and that they were unworthy. That they would all say, I am quite sure, because I have heard many of them say so to me. However, they clearly loved Jesus Christ, and longed to love Him much more. This is what will be the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven : loving Jesus Christ more and more – endlessly, being more and more and more alive in Him – endlessly.

Through you and me other people can see Christ (even though there may be difficulties because of our weakness). People who are called saints are those whose lives reveal Christ very clearly. The Lord’s Grace flows through them to us. Despite all the distortions of our fallenness, and our inability to be obedient to Christ’s love, despite our sometimes stubborn willfulness, it must become our hope and our prayer that people nearby us will nevertheless see something of Jesus Christ in us. It is our prayer that they find consolation, hope, and courage to continue in whatever He has called them to do. In the life of a Christian, nothing else really matters. When we love Jesus Christ, and when we are living His love to the best of our ability, despite all the difficulties, everything works out because it is He that is leading us. Things do work out (although sometimes we are tempted to think that they will never work out because of the perpetual, repeated difficulties that we face). However, things do ultimately work out for His glory, even if it means that I have to die.

We all have to die, anyway. I was told yesterday, and I believe that it is right, that when it comes to dying, it is not something that we have to accept grudgingly as a reality. In the love of Jesus Christ, it is something that we should be able to give as an offering to the Saviour. When the time comes, we can be prepared in love and trust of Jesus Christ to offer our own death to Him as an offering of love. He knows when the time is right for Him to take up this offering.

Long ago, I knew a monk who was 107 when I first met him. He was saying then that God had forgotten him (he had a sense of humour to some extent). Everyone and everything that he had ever known was already gone, and all these “young people” of seventy or eighty (even strange ones in their thirties like myself) were around him. He did, in fact, live to the age of 111. At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, this monk fled from the monastery where he was living in central Russia, rode a horse until it died, and then walked all the way to the Arctic coast, to Pechenga in northern Finland, further north than Murmansk, and further north than Arkhangelsk.

That is where he finally stopped, and he lived there until the 1940 war in which the borders between the Soviet Union and Finland were adjusted again. Then he had to leave that monastery on the Arctic coast, and go south into central Finland and live in a completely strange monastic community again. When anyone is living as a monk, the idea is to go there, and stay there for the rest of one’s life. Transplanting is not in the picture. However, for some reason in his life, it was God’s will that he should be transplanted twice. Therefore, he was in Valamo Monastery, living in a little room. When I met him, he had been there for about 38 years in his cell by himself, with a cell attendant across the hall. At 107 years of age, he could stand up for his prayers, but could not really walk all that far.

The most important thing about Father Akaky was his regular, faithful, living out of his life. The novices, who were living above him, said that they could set their watches by him. Precisely at midnight they could hear him start to sing : “O heavenly King”, the prayer that starts almost all our services. His reading the midnight hours at twelve o’clock gave us a lesson in faithfulness. Every time I was in church, I saw him in church, too, in his wheel chair. He wanted to be there. He loved to be there. That was his life. By simply giving this example, by doing what was his calling to do, praising the Lord at all hours of the day and night, he was strengthening and encouraging the young men who were wondering whether they should continue or not.

Sometimes we feel that our lives are limited and not necessarily accomplishing all that much. We are not the deciders of what our lives are accomplishing or what is the purpose of our lives. It is the Lord Himself who decides this purpose, and what persons are touched by our lives. We have no say in the matter. We have the responsibility to respond to His love, and to live in accordance with His love. The Lord will multiply our offering as He did with Saint Seraphim and many others, and He will draw to Himself those who are looking for Him.

Brothers and sisters, may God bless you, protect you, and save you. May the Lord give you strength and courage to persevere in your life in Christ, and in all difficulties to hold on to Him, just as the Apostle Peter did on the water. The Lord will keep your head above the waves, and as a result, you will glorify Him, as you were created to do, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Christ is Everything

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ is Everything
10th Sunday after Pentecost
20 August, 2006
1 Corinthians 4:9-16 ; Matthew 17:14-23


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

One of the drawbacks, it seems to me, of being raised in Canadian society is the extent to which we are formed to depend on various sorts of systems, organisations, etc., for things to be accomplished in life. When we are faced with the reality of Christ, there is a big tendency in our country to try to box in Christ. We try to make Him subject to one sort of system or another. Perhaps we try to invent a technique to get out of Him what we want. My suspicion is that today, in the case of this exorcism which the Lord accomplishes (but that the apostles previously could not), what the Lord is driving at is that the apostles had not yet caught on to the fact that it is not a technique. In my experience, I do not think there is a technique for exorcising anyone.

Only our Saviour can be the Exorcist of someone who is possessed. When our Saviour is speaking about the faith that is required, I think that it is truly our Orthodox understanding that He is the one who accomplishes it, that enables us to let Him work through us. They have to have confidence in Him that He can do it, and they must co-operate with Him in order that He will do it. Therefore, if there is a mountain pushed into the sea somewhere, it is because the apostles, knowing God’s will, co-operate with Him in prayer, and it is done. However, it is not because the apostles know some technique. Anyway, when it comes to techniques and such things, what technique can there be when the shadow of an apostle will heal someone (as we read in the Acts of the Apostles). Just the shadow of an apostle passing over someone brings the Lord’s healing (see Acts 5:15). There is no technique in that. It is the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

In our life in the Orthodox Church (especially in North America), we are falling into a trap of systems and “correct”, “acceptable” ways of going about things according to bylaws, and so forth. The Orthodox way has nothing to do with these systems. It does not matter how many bylaws we have. The Orthodox way is not found in the bylaws, and these governmentally-approved, politically-correct manners of doing things.

The Apostle Paul is saying today, in effect : “You have many guides. You have many people who will give you some sense of direction in Christ, but you do not have many fathers”. He not only regarded himself as a father to all the people that he had brought to Christ, but, he, in fact, behaved as their father, whether they always accepted it or not, whether they always understood it or not. He behaved as their father.

The Orthodox way is focussed on interpersonal relationships of love : love in Jesus Christ, reference to Jesus Christ, faith in Jesus Christ, trust in Jesus Christ, living in harmony with Jesus Christ. Christ is our life (see Philippians 1:21). He is everything. We are nothing. He must increase and we must decrease (see John 3:30). He is the reason for our existence. He is the reason we are here, together. We are here, together, because we have some sort of love for each other in Christ. We show Christ to each other and encourage each other in Christ.

This is the Orthodox way. It has nothing to do with prestige ; it has to do with responsibility. It has nothing to do with earthly power ; it has to do with authority in Christ. Not only bishops have such authority. Indeed, lay people also have such authority in Christ.

The laity in the Orthodox Church are not insignificant players. In fact, if it were not for these holy, Christ-loving lay-people, the Orthodox Church would not exist. Most especially, the Orthodox Church would not exist these days in the territories of the former Soviet Union where it was only the faithful who were “free” (even though they paid for it with their lives, sometimes). They were still the only ones who were free to pray and be faithful, and they dared to do what Christ was calling them to do – to be the Church. I have heard many stories of just how the Lord, through the prayers, the faithfulness and the bravery of these Orthodox lay-people, protected the Church in these Orthodox countries that used to belong to the former Soviet Union.

It is still the responsibility of the lay-people here in North America to be faithful, to pray, to be Christ to each other. The responsibility and the challenge have not gone away simply because the economy is better. In fact, our challenge can be even greater because we have become spiritually fat, physically fat, forgetful and neglectful in our cozy comfort. Indeed, the cozy comfort makes our continent a land of forgetfulness. It is my prayer that in this community we will be able to live up to the words of the Gospel, to the example of the apostles, to the example and witness of the Mother of God after whom this parish is named. It is my prayer that we will be able, like her, to be faithful to Christ (to Him, and not just to some system), and allow Him to lead and guide our lives on the right way. There is only the Orthodox way when it comes to following the right way. Have no fear in following the Mother of God’s example. Let us entrust our lives to her intercessory prayers and to her protection, asking that she will enable us to be faithful to her Son, as she has always been and is to this day, so that we may glorify Him, together with her and all the holy Church : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

To forgive is to love

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
To forgive is to love
11th Sunday after Pentecost
27 August, 2006
1 Corinthians 9:2-12 ; Matthew 18:23-35


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we are standing here today, in the middle of a hierarchical Divine Liturgy, perhaps it seems strange to some people to hear the bishop say that the Christian life is actually very simple. Well, it is very simple. It is just not so easy. Very many people are saying these days that Islam is very simple and straightforward, because in one’s life there are only five things one has to do. In the Christian way it is simpler still. There is really only one thing we have to do : that is to love as our Lord loves, and everything else falls into place. If we love as Jesus Christ, then everything falls into its place naturally. Everything follows from loving Him.

The Old Testament summary of the Law (which our Saviour Himself quoted) says : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … and you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37, 39). The two commandments are the same. It is all one thing – love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), says the Apostle John. If we are in Him, everything about us has to be love, too. Everything about the Christian way has to do with love, and there are no two ways about it. I suppose it could be a bit boring and repetitive to hear the bishop always talking about love, love, love all the time, and it is not because I was ever a hippy. (I have been quite hippy in my day but I have never been a hippy. I am supposed, according to the doctor, to get rid of some more of these hips, but that is another story.)

This love is the essence of what it is to be a Christian, and I have to be talking about it, because that is all there is to talk about, really : how to manage to live in the context of this love. That is all we can all talk about. When it comes down to it, when we are speaking about the Lord, and we are speaking about our joy in the Lord, it is all a reflection of one aspect or another of this love, this one thing that is truly the essence of our Christian life.

Our worship is an aspect of that. Our worship is a bit complicated because we have had 2,000 years of various cultures glorifying God according to their ways and their contexts. We, somehow, here in Canada today are worshipping Him in a distillation of all this joy of Christians worshipping the Lord for 2,000 years. It is not only 2,000 years of worshipping the Lord, either. It is far more than that, because our worship of the Lord did not just come from nowhere. It did not appear from some sort of instant, divine inspiration to the apostles. They worshipped the Lord in the context that they already knew : the Temple, the synagogue. Our worship, which is indeed very much based on the Psalms and the Old Testament, all grows out of what the apostles were accustomed to. Were we to make a serious survey, we would be able to understand that our Liturgy has roots that go back 6,000 years and more.

As Orthodox, we are not ever living in isolation. We are living in a living context, and that context is God’s Self-revelation. He reveals Himself to us in the whole course of our history from the very beginning, from Adam and Eve. Even before, when He was creating everything, God was revealing Himself to us in love. We are the fruit of His love. We are living in the eternal context of His love and the fruit of His love.

It is still hard, though, for us to do some of the consequences of this basic love because of how we tend to be turned in on ourselves, and because of the bad choices that we have sometimes made in our lives. These choices are always concerned with turning our backs on life and love, turning our backs on the Saviour. In other words, we have mostly been turning in on ourselves and putting ourselves in front of Him. All the idiotic things that have happened to human beings since we have existed are connected with that : putting ourselves before God and His love, and even trying to escape from His love. In having listened to the devil, we are afraid of God’s love. We are embarrassed like Adam and Eve if we are caught in our rebellion. Like Adam and Eve, we blame each other, blame someone else, tell lies, run away and hide.

There is nothing that has changed about human beings since we began. There is zero change. We keep talking about how much more advanced we are, how intelligent we are, and how capable we are. However, all this technology that we come up with, and all these wonderful and good things that we come up with, ultimately add up to zero unless they are involved in God’s love, unless they are offered in Christ, and unless they are used in Christ. They are all otherwise only escapes. We have become the victims of email, mobile phones, and now BlackBerries – it is true. It is very easy to become a slave of all these things unless these technologies are given to Christ.

If these technologies are given to Christ, and they are used particularly for His glory, if they are used because they are helping us to serve Him better, and we offer these technologies and techniques to Him, then we do not necessarily have to regard ourselves as actual victims of mobile phones, email, and BlackBerries. If they are offered to the Saviour, He gives us the Grace not to be jumping to it every time it rings, but to make it wait, like everything else, until it is its place. Using technologies is like being retrained by the Lord like a child, because a child does not know what interrupting is. A child gets an idea, and says : “Mommy, Daddy ! Do you know what ?” and right away cannot wait to say whatever it is or ask whatever it is. These telephones and these devices can be precisely like that in our lives. As when we are training children, we always have to say : “Now just wait, I have to finish this thing, and then you can say this or ask that”. Everything has to be in its place. It is the same with this thing that is here in my pocket. It has to know that it cannot be turned on during the service, and it has to wait until after coffee-time before it gets any attention.

Almost always, the difficult thing for Christians in life is to forgive. That is why it is important to pay attention to this Gospel lesson today that our Saviour has given us. Our Saviour gives us the parable about the steward who owed 10,000 talents. How much is a talent ? It is fifteen years’ wages for a labourer. One talent is fifteen years’ wages, and this king was owed ten thousand of these. When he was not being paid, the king commands that the debtor and his family and all their possessions be sold and payment be made. The man begs for forgiveness and says that he would pay everything, and the king who was owed forgives him everything. He forgives him the 10,000 times fifteen years worth of income, and he says in effect : “All right, because you have repented, I can have mercy on you”. The king who was owed the money could do this because he was able to love in this way, and so he could forgive.

What does the man himself learn from this ? Nothing. He immediately goes to someone who owed him 100 denarii (the denarius is one day’s wage). He throws him in prison because he could not pay. When the fellow servants understand what had happened, they tell the king about it. Having summoned the unrepentant servant, the king rebukes him, and condemns him to the debtors’ prison until he can pay all that he owed. Therefore, what he got from his master was definitely “just deserts”, because he could not forgive the debt in the same way, even though what he was asked to forgive was small in comparison.

When you and I look at this Gospel reading, we have to connect ourselves with the person who owed 10,000 talents. Who is the Master that is forgiving us this debt ? This debt which we have is there because of our selfishness, our rebelliousness, our turning in on ourselfness – all that. We have accumulated this debt because of our turning our back on Him, and our non-love. We have been turning our back on the Saviour. Let us recall the passage in another place : “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thus, when we are rebelling against Christ, when we are turning our back on Christ, and when we are turning in on ourselves, we are inviting precisely this death, and we are participating in this death. What is death ? Death is the work of “Big Red” (of course you know to whom this refers), because everything about him is against life, against the truth. It is all lies, emptiness.

When we face Christ, the encounter is life ; it is light ; it is love ; it is fulness ; it is reality. There is nothing fake. If we turn our backs on the Saviour, we embrace death. We embrace the opponent of God, and Light, and Love. We embrace the father-of-lies. Our indebtedness to Christ is immense and immeasurable, because He is freely giving us life in His love. He Himself is doing everything for us. We do not have to do anything. We cannot do anything, anyway. He does it all for us. Our Lord did everything on the Cross, and in the Resurrection, and He is still doing everything for us every day, with every breath of our lives. He is saying to you and to me, as it were, as to the Apostle Peter on the waves : “Take my hand. Stand with Me on the waves, and live”.

Instead of remembering all this, we can become very much like the man who was ungrateful. We forget. We punish someone else for doing something so little or offending us in some little way. We nurse grudges about little things against one person or another. We gossip sometimes. We get lost in busyness. We forget the love of our Master who forgave us everything, and not only forgave us everything, but continues to forgive.

People are always asking : “Because I was hurt so much by one thing or another, how am I supposed to forgive ?” The Lord Himself says what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to bless those who persecute us, and pray for those who despitefully use us. When people misuse us, we pray for them ; and when people are even trying to kill us, we bless them (see Matthew 5:44). That is the Orthodox way. That has always been the way of the martyrs. All this “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” so-called justice that we are trying to wage on each other in North America accomplishes nothing. Our penitentiaries seem to have little to do with penitence. They are coming to be just plain prisons these days. There is not really much that is penitential about them. We Orthodox Christians have to teach again the society in which we live (our society did know before, but it has to be re-taught) how to love and how to forgive.

How do you pray for someone who has really hurt you ? As I am always telling everyone, Saint Silouan (and Archimandrite Sophrony after him) taught (and rightly so according to my experience and the experience of many others) that the best way to pray for anyone is repeatedly to say : “Lord have mercy”. That simple prayer asks the Lord to be His loving, forgiving, healing, restoring Self to whomever it is that we are praying for. At the same time as we are praying : “Lord have mercy” for someone who has really hurt us and abused us, the Lord’s love, passing through our hearts, warms our whole heart, softens our heart, and enables the forgiveness. We have so very much trouble forgiving. However, when we say : “Lord have mercy”, He enables it. There is no technique in forgiving. There is no if-I-do-this, this-will-happen automatic forgiveness. I cannot make myself forgive anyone. The only way forgiveness can come is to love. It has to be practised through this very simple, Gospel-based prayer : “Lord have mercy”.

Let me conclude by saying that in this parish we have a long history of the application of precisely this sort of Christian love. It is not perfect, because who is perfect ? However, we have a parish here which was founded on the love of Jesus Christ, founded on the desire to worship Him fully and wholly. This community has lived this way all these years – founded in love, and desiring to worship the Lord fully, with all the understanding, with all the heart. As a result of this long heritage (based on a good foundation which was fed and re-fed with love), this congregation here in n (even though it has changed its composition quite a few times over the years) has, in this love, borne plenty of fruit. There is some visible fruit amongst the people in this community. However, there is also a lot of not-so-visible fruit from this community in this province and in this diocese. You probably will never know all the things that the Lord has been accomplishing through you and your faithfulness, and the exercise of your love.

You have been faithful as well as you have been able to be. You have been put to the test quite a bit, and that part is not going to stop. Everyone who loves our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is put to the test – not by the Saviour (He is the One who protects us and supports us), but by the opposition down below. Also, broken people who cannot believe that He can love us like this will put us to the test quite often.

It is important that we prove that we are for real, and not just another spin-doctoring, window-dressing fake. However, if we continue to be faithful in Jesus Christ, the Lord will continue to multiply the offering. I might as well tell you about n, for instance. She is a product of the love of this community. You do not see her. Where is she ? She is in Ukraine. What is she doing ? She is, on our behalf, applying this Christian love in practical ways for people who need it. She is doing our work for us over there. I hope also that you do not forget to pray for her, and the people who are working with her over there. I hope people are not going to forget about this child sponsorship program, which has been so fruitful, and in which we Orthodox in Canada have been so involved.

Dear brothers and sisters, persevere in the love of Jesus Christ. God is with us. He loves us. He is always with us. There is no doubt about His presence in this community, and the fruit coming from His love in this community. Let the Lord continue to nurture you and nurture the people that He gives to you. He draws them to Himself by your personal witness of love in Jesus Christ. Bring people to Him, and He will do this nurturing. We do not do it. The Lord does it all. With our heart, soul, mind, and strength let us glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Letting the Lord be in Charge of our Lives

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Letting the Lord be in Charge of our Lives
13th Sunday after Pentecost
10 September, 2006
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 ; Matthew 21:33-43


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul exhorts us this morning to be strong and steadfast in love. He is speaking about his love for the Corinthians, although he expresses that love to everyone else to whom he writes, also. His love is quite general, and not partial to one place or another. What sort of love are we talking about ? In fact, there is only one sort of love for Orthodox Christians, and that is the love of Jesus Christ. This has been the case, in fact, since the beginning of creation.

However, we have never been able to understand properly what the Lord has been trying to give to us. He gives to us a relationship of love, a relationship of life, a relationship of co-creating, co-working in His creation. That is why He placed Adam and Eve in the garden : to be co-workers in His creation, to teach them to become complete human beings. However, they got distracted, just as we all so often get distracted. They went according to a different way. They wanted to become like God, since they listened to the temptation of the serpent.

Even with the Incarnation of Christ, even with His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection, even with all His Self-sacrifice and re-opening the way for us to the heavenly Kingdom, we still generally seem to prefer to do things our own way instead of the Lord’s way. From the beginning, our way has led to paralysis and corruption. The Lord’s way has always led to life. It has always led to health. It has always led to joy and energy.

If we hope as Christians to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord, we have to see the Lord’s love, appreciate the Lord’s love, and participate in the Lord’s love. We have to learn to love, and to behave in our lives according to the selfless love of Jesus Christ. It is not even our love : it is His. If we are able to love, it is because He gives us the strength, the energy and the Grace to do it, to live it.

Human ways are almost always selfish, just as we saw in the parable that the Lord told about the vineyard. Instead of understanding that they had life by being tenants in this vineyard, that everything they had was life-giving in this vineyard, the tenants decided that they would rather take it over for themselves. They decided to take over everything because the landlord was away. In the end they killed the heir in order to ensure that they could have it for themselves. However, by doing that, they undid themselves completely.

That is what happens to us every time we do the same thing. In our lives, we cannot run everything. We have to allow the Lord to run everything. According to our Saviour’s own parable, we have to be like birds or flowers, trusting completely in the Lord to feed us and to look after us (see Matthew 6:26, 28). When we are able to put our lives in His hands and to trust Him in this way, He fills in everything else, and enables us to live up to our potential as fruit-bearing creatures. Our responsibility on earth is not to be comfortable here but to be like yeast and salt as our Saviour said (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). It is our responsibility to spread the joy and peace of His love, and to share it with the people around us. We must introduce the people around us to Jesus Christ by the way we live this life, and by the way we have joy and peace in Jesus Christ whom we bear. That is how our lives are to be lived.

That is why the Apostle Paul was able to be so effective, and why, we would have to say, he was able to be in his life so “durable”. Not many people are able to endure the things that he had to endure : being in prison, being beaten (and almost killed a number of times), being shipwrecked, and lost at sea. There is the famous example of what happened to him on his way to Rome for trial and execution. They were lost at sea and landed on Malta, where the Apostle Paul was bitten by a snake, and did not die because he prayed. He could never have done all these things unless he were filled with the love of the Lord. In Jesus Christ we can do what is apparently impossible otherwise : only in Jesus Christ. His strength is what we need. It is His strength, His life that we need.

It is important for us, daily, to take hold of that life and that love. Daily we have to ask the Lord to be with us, and to help us through all our struggles. We have to call upon Him in any sort of need, and trust that He will look after us, save us, and protect us, no matter what is happening to us. This is the Orthodox Christian way : to be conscious of Jesus Christ and His love for us, and to trust Him every moment of every day.

Let us ask the same Lord, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to send the Grace of the Holy Spirit to our hearts to enable us to put our lives in His hands more today, and even more tomorrow, and after tomorrow, that we may mature as He wants us to, and glorify Him in this life, and in the Kingdom of Heaven, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Example of the Apostle Peter

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Example of the Apostle Peter
Temple Feast
17 September, 2006
Hebrews 3:1-4 ; Matthew 16:13-19


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we were hearing our Lord asking His disciples : “‘Who do you say that I am?’” The Apostle Peter replies : “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’”. Our Saviour then says to him that flesh and blood had not revealed this to him but the Grace of God sent from the Father revealed it.

This is the essence of our Orthodox Christian way. The Apostle Peter was a man just like everyone else. He was tempted just like anyone else. He denied Christ because he was afraid. Several times he tried to run away from his responsibility because he was afraid. However, every time he repented, he turned about and he went back to Christ. Christ forgave him. Christ strengthened him. Christ made him strong by the Grace of the all-holy Spirit.

It is important for you and for me to remember that the Apostle Peter had his weak moments too. He was not a perfect person. He was a human being like you and I are human beings. He could be afraid. At the time of the Crucifixion and the condemnation of Christ, he was so frightened of what might happen that he pretended that he did not know Christ. We know all this from the Scriptures. Yet with tears he turned again to Christ.

Our way is the same way as his. You and I sometimes forget our way, and sometimes we forget Whom we are serving. Sometimes we fall down. However, when we have turned back to the Lord with tears and asked for His forgiveness, He is waiting to receive us with love. He is waiting just as He was waiting for the Apostle Peter to turn back to Him. He is waiting for us to turn back to Him, to take His hand, and to stand on the waves of the sea with Him, looking at Him, confident in His love. On that particular occasion when the Lord is walking on the water towards the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and the sea is stormy, and they are afraid, still the Apostle Peter says : “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’” (Matthew 14:28). The Lord does, and this apostle walks on the water (until he takes his eyes off Christ, and notices all the wind and the waves). He begins to be afraid, and to sink. However, as soon as he begins to sink he cries out : “‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30). The Lord takes him by the hand and says to him : “‘Why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31) He pulls him up, and the Apostle Peter stands again on the water with our Saviour.

You and I, in the midst of the turmoil of life in the middle of the waves and disturbance of life, must be like the Apostle Peter and look at our Lord, and not at the trouble around us. We must look at the Saviour, and trust Him. When the Apostle Peter looked at the Saviour and trusted Him, not only did he stand on the water, but the storm was stilled.

Brothers and sisters, we are living in a very difficult time in human history. There are more wars than we could ever have imagined would be happening at the same time. People are feeling afraid everywhere. We, who are Orthodox Christians, must show them the way : the way of love and trust in Jesus Christ. It does not matter what happens to us as long as our eyes and our hearts are focussed on Him. He is our Saviour. There is no other. He will protect us. If the time comes for our lives to end, He still will protect us and draw us to Himself, and in love He will give us eternal life. That is how we live our Orthodox life – loving Jesus Christ, knowing Jesus Christ, and serving Him.

Our whole Orthodox history has been focussed on nothing else but knowing and loving the one, true Jesus Christ, and living in accordance with that love. He is the one, the only Truth. We live in that Truth, the Truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who took flesh because of love for us. He was crucified, died, was buried, rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and sends upon us the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father (see John 15:26). We do not, as Orthodox Christians, have philosophical ideas about who that one, true, same Lord Jesus Christ is. We only explain our love. We only explain our personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and how that affects our lives, and how we live our life because we love Jesus Christ. Everything about us is concerned with that.

Today, when the Apostle Peter confesses Jesus Christ, our Saviour says to him : “‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church’”. Peter in Greek means “rock”. It is not only on the Apostle Peter himself, by the way. The rock is also the rock of his faith in Jesus Christ, and the Rock Himself, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is the foundation of our Church.

When times are difficult, when times are troubling, when we are feeling afraid like the Apostle Peter, when we have doubts like the Apostle Peter, when we are afraid enough even to betray and deny Christ like the Apostle Peter, nevertheless, let us recall the Saviour’s love. Let us turn about, take His hand, and stand in His love. Our life of love affects people everywhere around us. The Lord is using us as His missionaries of love. A person does not have to have a degree to be a missionary of Christ’s love. We just have to know Jesus Christ, love Him, and be willing to serve Him.

Brothers and sisters, like the Apostle Peter let us hold on to the hand of Jesus Christ. Let us look into His eyes and His heart, and allow Him to give us strength, hope, peace and the Grace to follow Him, and to convey His love to those who are hungry, thirsty, and searching. In this way He will draw them to Himself through us. Together, we will more and more glorify our Saviour, and God willing, enable this city to become an Orthodox Christian city.

This has to be the aim of our lives : to be yeast and salt in this city (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) so that the Lord may bring this city to Himself. May we, together with this whole city, glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in eternity as well as here, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Unswerving Commitment to the Lord

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Unswerving Commitment to the Lord
(Memory of the Holy Alaskan Martyrs)
15th Sunday after Pentecost
24 September, 2006
2 Corinthians 4:6-15 ; Luke 5:1-11


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we have heard about the unexpected catch of fish at the command of the Lord. As a result of this, there is in the Gospel according to Luke, the first recognition of the Apostle Peter and the others that Jesus might be the Christ. The apostles trust Him, even though they had not caught any fish all night. They let their nets down again, and they catch more than they could cope with. The Lord reveals Who He is. Always, the Lord’s revelation of Himself is based on love and life. He is giving us everything. It was through Him that all these things came to be, these things that were created. He is the One who spoke them into being at the command of the Father.

The Apostle Paul, who had been a persecutor of the Church, encountered the Saviour and was filled with His love. It was because of this personal encounter of love that the Apostle was able to endure so many things as we heard described in the Epistle this morning. He endured a lot of suffering. He endured it because he knew that the Lord loves him, and he loves the Lord.

Nothing has changed between those days and now. Everything about being an Orthodox Christian always has been based on this loving relationship. People have endured unimaginable tortures, difficulties and hardships for the sake of the love of Jesus Christ. Take, for instance, those Alaskan Fathers (and the martyrs in particular) whose memory we keep today. It was not a simple thing to walk across Siberia, but that is what these monks did. They walked from Valamo Monastery, which is close to the Baltic Sea, all the way across Siberia. Most of the walking had to be in wintertime, by the way, just to make it interesting, because in the summertime (just as in northern Canada) there is muskeg, quicksand, and all sorts of mosquitoes. They walked in the wintertime about 8,000 kilometres and finally came to the east coast of Asia, to around Vladivostok, I suppose. There they took a ship, and sailed through a very stormy area of the North Pacific for a couple of months more, and then arrived on Kodiak in Alaska.

They did all this for the love of Jesus Christ. They stayed there and defended the state of life of the Aboriginals against the money-grubbing fur traders, again, for the love of Jesus Christ. They competed as to who would have what part of Alaska to evangelise, for the love of Jesus Christ. No part of their life was easy, ever. For struggles and suffering, these men were in the same league as the Apostle Paul and all the other apostles, because all the apostles had nothing but difficulties in spreading the love of Jesus Christ.

However, this love of Jesus Christ is very contagious. Glory be to God that this love is so contagious. Those of us living here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with all our conveniences, have a tendency to become lax. The phenomenon sometimes shows itself in Canada in the fact that people have become by and large “Sunday Christians” (not everywhere by any means, but it does show itself from time to time, because the Tempter is so clever with us).

However, it is important for you and for me, always, when there is a tendency to slide in that direction, to say : “Why am I satisfied with Sunday morning only ? Why have I become so lazy, and so ungrateful to God that Sunday morning is the only thing that I am ready and prepared to give to the Lord ?” Sometimes we may say this (or words to that effect) even grudgingly because we have to get up early on a day off. If we have gotten into that condition of heart, it means that we have been listening to the Tempter, and we have forgotten about the reason for our being. It is time then to call out to the Lord, saying : “Help me, and save me from my laziness and forgetfulness”. Let us not forget that the devil is the master of making us forget all sorts of things. Let us say to the Lord : “Save me from the evil one’s traps, and help me to remember who You are to me, Lord”.

The way of the Orthodox Christian is the way of being in His Temple with joy, and worshipping Him with love and with joy. It is the way of supporting our brothers and sisters by being here together, praising the Lord together, and by interceding for our brothers and sisters all together. This is the way of the Orthodox Christian, the way of showing our love to the Lord, and our gratitude to Him for everything that we have and everything that we are. We should not be satisfied just with Sunday, but we should be grateful for the opportunity to be able to be here in His Temple many other times in a given week (as many times as work and other responsibilities will allow).

It is necessary for us to make sure, brothers and sisters, that it is this love, this commitment to Jesus Christ, that is the centre of our life, the driving force of our life, and that nothing will ever get between us and Him who loves us and gives us life. Let us ask the Lord to give us the same love that these Alaskan martyrs had (Saint Juvenaly, the priest-monk, and Saint Peter the Aleut in particular), so that we may unswervingly confess Him with every part of our life in everything that we do, everywhere we go. With these martyrs, in the wholeness of our life, let us glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Giving Thanks to God

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Giving Thanks to God
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Thanksgiving Weekend
8 October, 2006
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 ; Luke 7:11-16


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When the Apostle Paul is saying to us this morning that we were called out to be a distinct and separated people, he is not saying that we should live in some sort of sectarian enclosure surrounded by walls in a fortress sort of environment. He is not telling us to keep everyone else out so that we will not be contaminated by those around us. There are some people who mistakenly interpret those words in the direction of fortress mentality, but that is not at all what the Apostle means. He is saying that we have to be a distinct people, God’s own, and that the way of our life has to be clearly different from the way of the fallen world around us. Why ? We are to be this way because we know Who is the Truth.

We know Jesus Christ. We live in Jesus Christ. Because we live in Him, and because this relationship of living in Him is one of love and life, and joy and peace, we have to share it with the people around us. We always have to be careful to guard the peace that is within us, and to be faithful to Him who is the Truth. It does not take much for any one of us to fall into a hole, and live like everyone else who is without the Lord in this world. It is a complicated thing being yeast and salt in the world (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33), because we have to keep our identity. We have to be active. We have to be life-giving and creative in the world, and yet not take all the darkness of the world into ourselves, and become poisoned and paralysed by that.

You and I who are living in the world must keep our eyes perpetually on the Lord – not just the physical eyes, but the eyes of our heart. We must always remember Whom we are serving. When we are slipping, we must always ask for forgiveness and restoration. It is a daily exercise.

It was very interesting, flying back from Chicago the other day. It turned out that I was sitting next to an important person in the steel industry. He was a person who had an understanding of how life is supposed to be. For a change, I was not unhappy that I had my ear talked off for an hour and a half while I was in the plane, because this particular man, who has travelled, and is travelling all over the world, has a decent sense of how a human being is supposed to live. He is some sort of a Christian. He was talking about this Thanksgiving weekend, and saying that he is always teaching his family (and now he has grandchildren) that if we are going to be thankful in our life, the best way to be thankful is to keep giving. When it is his birthday, for instance, most of the time he does not let people give him presents. He gives presents to his family and his friends on these celebrations. He said that with regard to Thanksgiving, for him it is not just an occasion for eating and being tokenly grateful to God. For him, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity for making sure that other people have something to eat, too. This man had some sense about what is the right way to live.

Just this morning, the Lord Himself who is always giving to us, gave us an example of how this love has to be lived out. When the Lord comes across this funeral procession at the gate of the city of Nain, He encounters something that was very familiar to Him but of which we in Canada with our moderately socialised system are often not conscious. This widow’s only son, who is young, has suddenly died. She has no-one left in the world. A woman who is a widow with no family in that sort of a society (in those days for sure, but in most of the world still to this day), has no way to survive. In certain societies she could work and she could survive, but there are many societies in which a woman is not allowed to work publicly. For such a woman it means starvation ; it means begging on the street. It is a complete catastrophe, an implosion of everything, and it even could mean death. She has no-one to look after her and protect her, because that is how those societies work. The Lord in His compassion restores her son to her. We can imagine, to a certain extent, the joy of a widow, who, having lost her son, has her son restored to her. However, I think we cannot really comprehend the enormity of the joy, the magnitude of the joy and the gratitude to the Lord that she must have felt at that particular time.

You and I also have been given everything by the Lord very much in the way the widow of Nain had been given her whole life and everything about her life back to her. We have been given everything. It is important for you and for me, if we have not developed that habit yet, to begin to learn how to give thanks to God sincerely every day for all the wonderful things that He is giving to us : our lives, our families – everything. As we are raised in our western ways, we are so accustomed to thinking about life as though we are doing and accomplishing everything ourselves, as though we achieved everything that we have through some sort of enterprise in one way or the other. In such a case, the Lord is definitely on the back burner of everything. For us, He is the source of everything. If I have acquired anything, if I have anything that is good in this life, then it is because the Lord has blessed it to be so, and He has given me Grace to accomplish whatever it is. Whatever it is that I have and can do, I have to share it : I must share it.

This is the way of Christ, the way in Christ, the way in love. Nothing can be held in a closed hand. It must always be held in an open hand. Everything in our whole life must be held in an open hand. It is a perpetual offering back to Him in gratitude : an open hand and an open heart. Brothers and sisters, during this Divine Liturgy we are giving thanks. All our life as Christians is taken up with giving thanks. While we are giving thanks, let us seriously do what we are saying in our prayers : “Let us commend ourselves, and each other, and our whole life unto Christ, our God”. Let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

How do I show God’s Love ?

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
How do I show God’s Love ?
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
12 November, 2006
Galatians 6:11-17 ; Luke 16:19-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul hit the nail on the head regarding the behaviour and attitude of people, when he was speaking this morning about how some people in those days were being circumcised only in order to escape the criticism of those who were insisting that the Old Testament Law had to be followed to the letter. People who are behaving this way are behaving simply out of fear. The whole point is (especially from everything the Apostle Paul is saying) that the way of Christ is not the way of fear at all. The way of Christ is the way of love, of life, of actual freedom, freedom which North Americans do not really know and understand. It is the way of true freedom : living in love with Christ, doing God’s will because of love for Christ – not because we are afraid of what might happen if we do not obey the Law, if we do not do what He says. We do what He says because we love Him. We follow His example and we follow His path because we love Him.

This is the way of Christian obedience. It is not : “Do what I tell you ; do it because I say you should do it”. True obedience is imitation of Christ. I am going to offer my imitation of our Saviour because He loves me and I love Him, and I want to be like Him. This is how love works. People who are married have to know about that. People who have ever been in love also probably have to know about that, because we try to emulate the one whom we love. We try to be pleasing to the person whom we love because we love that person. It is not because of some sort of slavish attitude. If the relationship between a loving couple is really honest, if they love each other, then they try to be pleasing to each other because of love.

Thus it is between us and Christ. We try to be pleasing to Him because we love Him. That is the nature of Christian obedience. It is not just rules and rules and nothing but rules. In this parable today about Lazarus and the rich man, we have yet another concrete example of how Christians are supposed to live (or not supposed to live), as the case may be. The rich man is obviously going to the Temple, and he is making the necessary sacrifices. He is being carried in and out of his palatial estate every day, going about his business. Every day, this poor Lazarus is sitting at his gate. I do not think those were the days when they had curtains around the sedan chairs. In all likelihood, it was not possible for this rich man to be carried out, and escape noticing that Lazarus was sitting there. To him, Lazarus was like a piece of furniture. He really was not paying any serious attention to him.

This man sitting outside his door was his opportunity to practice his love of God. However, this rich man (like most people are doing even to this day) would have been saying : “Let him get a job ! What is he doing sitting there, leeching off me ? Let him get a job and do something constructive instead of sitting there, even if he is covered with sores and the dogs are licking him. Let him go and look after himself. Do not bother me !”

In fact, Lazarus had been put there by the Lord so that this rich man would do something for him. We have to remember that this was before the welfare state. If one did not have work, the only other alternative was to beg. Let us turn our attention to Lazarus himself sitting outside the gate starving. Who knows if Lazarus did not starve to death outside that gate because the rich man did not feed him ?

When the rich man dies, he sees Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Then the rich man becomes worried about his brothers, and asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they would be rescued from the same fate as his. However, if Lazarus should go to his brothers from the dead in order to warn them, what would be the effect ? Lazarus, appearing to someone in a dream, is going to be frightening. He is going to warn them that if they do not straighten up, they are going to come to the same place as their brother. Let us take note of the underlying environment of fear : Lazarus should frighten his brothers with fear, so that because of fear they should comply with God’s Law and do what is right, so that they will not come there. The fact is, you know, that the Lord does not want us to come into His Kingdom because of fear. He wants us to enter His Kingdom willingly with love and in freedom, not because of fear. The Apostle John tells us : “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). This is the way of the Christian life : to be without fear. Fear is one of the major tools of the devil by which he regulates our lives and paralyses us. Being afraid of God is not the best motivation for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. He wants us to come into His Kingdom in love, and in freedom.

Sometimes people ask me : “How do I show God’s love ?” Obviously, we are showing our love for God by being here together this morning in His Temple as we are worshipping Him. That is one way of showing our love for God. The second way of showing our love for God is by communicating with Him in our prayers every day at home. People who love each other do not ignore each other. If they ignore each other, they do not really love each other. If they are a married couple and never talk to each other, that is not much of a marriage. Love requires communication. It requires affirmation. It requires renewal all the time. It requires constant, mutual feeling in order to be truly alive.

This is how it is between us and the Lord. We need to be telling Him that we love Him. We need to be quiet with Him sometimes, letting Him tell us that He loves us. However, it does not stop there. It can never stop there, because Christian love must be expressed in concrete ways, beyond just talking. In a marriage, you cannot just say to your spouse : “I love you ; I love you ; I love you”, and leave it at that. That never suffices. Love has to be expressed in concrete ways as well. I am getting old now, and I find that many people have never seen the operetta, My Fair Lady. They do not know about the young poet who tells Liza in all sorts of poetry how many ways he loves her. She gets all irritated and exasperated, and she tells him to stop talking about love and to show her in concrete ways that he loves her. That is precisely what we have to show each other : that we love each other. We have to demonstrate to the Lord in concrete ways that we love Him as well.

How do we do that ? We do that by how we treat Lazarus. By that I mean by how we treat all the odd and strange people that the Lord puts in our path in any given day. How do we behave towards these people ? Do we condemn them for their weirdness, their eccentricities, their weaknesses, or do we thank God for the opportunity to meet such a person and say a good word to this person ? A good word is hard to come by these days. Mostly everywhere you go, people groan, moan and complain about this and that. They do not talk about anything good. They have forgotten all about the movie, Bambi. Thumper’s mother said : “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. People can be really gloomy these days. They need a good word. They need – we all need – to hear a good word from time to time.

The Lord does, in His mercy, send people to speak to us good words, nurturing words, helping words, correcting words sometimes, too. Without fear, we have to try to be an example of what it is to have joy in Christ : by how we behave towards a cashier in a store, for example. I saw two cashiers just the other day. Those poor persons looked so down that they did not want to talk. The relationship between human beings is painful to them, because people are often so grumpy – so they try to avoid communication. We have to show them the light of the love of Christ. Those poor cashiers that are beaten down by grumpy people have to be shown the love of the Lord. We have to show the love of Jesus Christ in countless ways, in all sorts of unexpected ways to unexpected people : people in airports, stewards and stewardesses on airlines. There are all sorts of persons that the Lord sends to us whom we must address with this love, with this joy in Christ. This love of Christ in us will die unless it is expressed. It must be expressed, and it must be expressed in all sorts of ways every day, and not only to our friends, not only to our family, not only to this congregation. It has to be expressed to the people around us every day amongst whom the Lord has placed us. We must express this love of Jesus Christ.

Then we will be following the right path. Then we will truly have hope of being in the Kingdom of Heaven because we will have allowed this love (which is the nature of life in the Kingdom of Heaven) to flow amongst us and through us, now, here, today, and every day. We express this love and share the Lord’s love without preaching, without quoting Scripture or quoting anything. We simply have to be a loving person to everyone around us. If the occasion comes to say something about Scripture, if the occasion comes to speak about Christ openly and clearly, it will present itself. A person will ask a question, and we have to answer. We have to be this love first. The Saviour is saying to us in a number of places that we have to be like salt and yeast in bread (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). One cannot distinguish salt and yeast from the rest of the flour or anything else in the mixture. One cannot see where it is, but it is definitely active. Bread rises because the yeast is active, and the bread has flavour because the salt is active. This is how we have to be.

When it is time to be seen, the Lord will give that occasion. Just living this love with joy is the main thing of our life, especially as Orthodox Christians, because the Lord has given us everything. There is nothing lacking in our Faith. He has given us every tool, every resource necessary to live this life. We have to use those tools. We have to take them up, and we have to employ them.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to give us the strength, the courage, the hope, and the strength of love to do exactly this. Let us concretely express His love, day by day, wherever we are, in the midst of whatever situation He provides for us so that everything about our life will declare His glory, together with that of the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Ceaseless Thanksgiving

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Ceaseless Thanksgiving
10 December, 2006
Ephesians 5:8-21 ; Luke 17:12-19


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’” The Lord is underlining some important matters for us to pay attention to in our dispositions as we are passing through our lives. The Apostle Paul was telling us this morning that our lives as Christians are supposed to be lives that are full of gratitude. Everything about our lives is supposed to be full of gratitude towards the Lord for everything that He gives us, beginning with the gift of our lives. We are supposed to be giving thanks to Him every day for everything. The Divine Liturgy is focussed upon giving thanks to the Lord for everything that He is doing for us, that He has done for us, and that He will do for us. This Divine Liturgy, as with every Divine Liturgy, is rooted in giving thanks to Him for His love, His mercy, His life, for His tender care for us as well.

After they had asked to be healed, these lepers were walking back towards Jerusalem. They were on route to do what the Saviour had told them to do – to show themselves to the priests, which was in accordance with the Law. Why ? In accordance with the Mosaic Law, whoever is healed of a disease such as leprosy, has to go and be examined by the priests. The healing has to be proven, because a leper in those days (as is still the case in many parts of the world), is separated from society because people might catch their disease. These lepers lived in little colonies of poverty all by themselves. We do not see it at all in North America, but in other parts of the world such groups of suffering people still exist. These are people who have been separated out, and who are living in dire poverty. They are rejected. People who encounter them anywhere run away from them. In some movies like The Robe we can see what happens with lepers (although the lepers in movies appear to be too healthy – leprosy really is a wasting disease).

These people had to show themselves to the priests. The priests had to pass them through a series of tests to be absolutely certain that the disease was gone. Then they could be returned to normal society and to normal life. Let us also not forget that anything having to do with any weakness or any disease in those days implied absolute destitution. There was no such thing as welfare or universal health care such as we have here in this country. Even if it does not work all that well sometimes, it is still a big gift from God.

The nine, who did not go back to our Saviour to say thanks, were like many of us as we pass through our lives and experience the Lord’s blessings. Perhaps our experience is not as dramatic as being healed from leprosy (when the Lord healed parts that had already fallen away). When the Lord restores and heals people, He does not do a half job of it. He heals completely. I do not recall ever seeing an instance in the Scriptures when the Lord is healing, and He only half heals. When He is restoring these lepers, He is restoring their lost parts, too. These nine, walking along, going back to the city to show themselves to the priests, saw themselves healed. Just like most people, they probably said : “Oh ! Isn’t that nice ! I deserved that !” They just carried on, very happy of course, very joyful that they could return to normal society, but somehow saying : “Well, I deserved that ! I must have done something right”. They immediately forgot where the healing came from. They immediately forgot God’s Grace, His mercy. They immediately forgot to give thanks where thanks was due. Thanks is definitely never due to ourselves for all these mercies. Thanks must always be directed to the Lord. It is important for us when we are paying attention to these words, and the words of the Apostle, to recall in our future days this way of thanksgiving.

Orthodox life has always been full of little habits that reinforce this mindfulness. It is our custom, for instance, when we are going for a drive, to make the sign of the Cross and ask God’s blessing on the driver. Again, when we go out of the house, it has always been a custom amongst Orthodox believers that we make the sign of the Cross. We may even have a little icon near the door which we kiss when we go out and when we come back in, giving thanks to God for the safe return home (because we never know what can happen to us when we go out of the house – unexpected things can happen). We bless our children when they go out and when they come back in. We bless them when they get up in the morning, and we bless them when they go to bed, as we do for ourself. This is our Orthodox way. We bless food when we are beginning to prepare it. We bless food when we are eating it, and we bless God in thanksgiving when we have consumed it. Because of gratitude, we bless everything all the time because the Lord has given us something to be blessed, something to eat, somewhere to go, health to walk, health to drive, protection in the course of our lives.

Making the sign of the Cross on all these things has been the way Orthodox people have remembered to give thanks to the Lord. We need habits. We are not somehow perfect, intellectual creatures who can remember everything. We need these habitual little things in order to remember, because if we are really honest with ourselves, when we go about our lives without these things, we can be like Pooh Bear, a bear of little brain. At least, that is how I sometimes go about my life, and I do not suppose that I am so different from everyone else. Little brain forgets the most obvious things : forgets to say thank-you when gratitude must be expressed. Why do we forget ? Empty space. My mother accused me of that quite a few times. She was right, of course, because mothers always are.

Giving thanks is truly the essence of the Orthodox way. When the light of Christ is shining in our hearts, as we heard from the Apostle this morning, our lives shine with Christ’s love. This light helps us wash away all the obstructions, all the dirt, all the selfishness. It helps us remember Whom we are serving, where we stand, and what we are doing.

As we are standing here today in this Temple, we also are giving thanks for the twenty years of service that n has been giving to the Church. Looking at this congregation here, I am remembering how it was for us twenty years ago, in another building near by, all crammed in. I am remembering farther back than that. I am remembering almost 28 years ago, when I first came to this community : the garage with a few people. The first thing that happened to me when I came back from seminary that season was that I was instructed to lead the choir. We have baptisms by fire : this is the Orthodox way. We learn best by doing. We jump in and do it. How do we learn to swim ? We jump in the water and we just start swimming. How do we pray ? We just begin. We open our mouth and our heart, and we start. That is always how we go about it.

However, I also am remembering how frightened everyone was. They were loving the Church, and loving Christ, but they were afraid of making mistakes (because many could be and were made). They were wanting to do things right for the Lord. It seems to me that we might be getting into that department in our worship here. Also, to some extent in our general parish life, we are getting into that department. By this I mean that I am referring to the danger of doing things right but paying too much attention to the externals and forgetting the heart. There was such a tendency before and there is such a danger now. In no way can we allow ourselves to think that we can rest on any laurels because You-know-who-down-below is always ready to trip us up when we start thinking that we have “got it made in the shade” or that we are really doing it right. We can always do much better.

Moreover, standing here today in the Temple, with the singing as it is being rendered to the Lord, I cannot help but think about how we are fitting in with other parts of the world where people are singing habitually with their whole hearts as a congregation, as it is being done here. They do it with joy. They do it with harmony. I saw this in Slovakia just last year. That made me remember this congregation. I am remembering you, wherever I go, because of these connexions. It made me also remember how in my childhood I was impressed with how the Welsh sing. I am thinking that Welsh people coming to this congregation and hearing the singing of this congregation would feel right at home, even if they did not recognise the melodies (but they would catch them quickly).

At the same time that we are giving thanks that we are able to give something good to the Lord, something beautiful to the Lord, it is really important for us not to start making any comparisons whatsoever between ourselves and anyone else. That is another one of our big weaknesses as human beings. There is the temptation to think : “Look how wonderful it is in this parish ! It is really beautiful to worship the Lord here ! They cannot do it better down the street. We are better”. We cannot ever think that we are better than anyone else. As soon as we think that we are better than someone else, the Lord is going to come and put out a little stick to trip up our heels, so that we fall flat on our face and recognise where we really are. That is what has been happening to me during my whole life, so I know that it is going to happen. If we take our eyes off the Lord and stop being thankful to Him for everything, we will get into deep trouble. The wake-ups are pretty sharp.

It is better not to have a sharp wake-up or a big trip-up, and fall down with a bloody nose or a black eye that lasts quite a while. If someone asks what happened, we can only say : “I tripped over my own feet (which is really what happened)”. It is important for us to look to the Lord, to give thanks to the Lord for everything, to be grateful to Him that we are able to offer all this worship and beauty to Him, and to be supportive to everyone around us. We must help them to do as well as they can, and even to do better, and not put them to shame. We must encourage them, help them, boost them up, strengthen them, because this is the Orthodox way. Let us not say : “Look at us ! Aren’t we great ?” Instead, let us say : “Do not look at my mistakes and my stupidity. Look to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord for everything, and let me help you, too”. That is our way.

Continuing to give thanks to the Lord for everything, let us praise our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Meaning of Life

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Meaning of Life
Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of the Lord
17 December, 2006
Hebrews 11:9-10 ; 17-23 ; 32-40 ; Matthew 1:1-25


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I suppose by this time that many of you will have seen the very old movie called It’s a Wonderful Life. You can find it at your favourite video store. It is a good story, but it is not especially Christian (especially that bit about angels getting wings when bells ring). That is really a bit too sentimental and too far out. Nevertheless, this film has a good point.

In case you do not know the story, here is a little outline. There is a man who is tempted to kill himself because suddenly his life is in a terrible condition. He had been sort of wishing that he had not been born. He had been thinking that his life was a complete failure and useless. He had gone into bankruptcy, etc. I will not tell you the whole story. An angel comes to him and shows him how different life would have been if he had not been born. If he had not lived, all sorts of terrible things would have happened. He was very much a catalyst for good things in other people’s lives. When people are tempted by the devil in this particular way, that is one of the things that they are blinded to : what life would be like without them. They forget, even though their lives are very painful, that the Lord is using them for good in many unexpected ways.

It is important for us to remember that particular detail today when we remember the ancestors of the Lord. We hear the genealogy of the Lord today going back to the beginning, fourteen generations times three. All these people that are listed in the genealogy are people who prepared the way for the coming of Christ. They are all people whose lives said “Yes” to the Lord. They were preparing for the Mother of God herself to say her ultimate “Yes”. Her “Yes” in life was not just “Yes” to the Incarnation, but “Yes” to the Saviour in everything in her life. If any of those persons had not been born, she would not have been prepared properly to become the Mother of God.

Now we are living after the fact, after the fact of the Incarnation. The same thing goes for us – for you and for me. Each of us the Lord creates uniquely. He loves us uniquely. As painful, difficult, and full of woe as sometimes our lives may be (sometimes to ourselves appearing useless), our lives are not useless. It is important that we go through all these difficulties in our lives with the eyes of our heart on the Saviour and with our confidence in Him.

I had a phone call early this morning when I was just waking up from some place in the east, from a family who are relatively new immigrants to the country, and who have had considerable difficulty. They arrived here as English-speakers, so it is not as though they had all sorts of linguistic difficulties one way or the other. Nevertheless, they were facing the difficulties that immigrants face. They were a whole family of people who had no permission to work. They had no money, and they were struggling and struggling. However, they were determined to keep their hearts on the Saviour, and to do what they had been taught to do – that is to trust Him, even though they just felt like giving up and running away. As a result of their faithfulness, their taking prosphora every morning, and their taking holy water every morning as believers can do, the doors finally opened. They are finally getting their passports and work permits. They simply wanted to call me this morning and give glory to God for the fact that this was finally happening. Despite all the difficulties they had in getting themselves settled in this country, the Lord has opened the doors for work to come. This family I knew in Europe quite a number of years ago. They have the potential to be very beneficial to our Church in this country. They have the gifts to be very good for our agriculture as well. I am looking forward to seeing what the Lord is going to do with this family.

The same thing goes for you and for me. We struggle. Yes, we do struggle, but the Lord is with us. However, without us, without our persevering and our struggling, other people would be falling down and getting lost. The Lord does not always show you and me who it is that is affected by our faithfulness, although sometimes we get a hint. What is important is not what use I am in the world. In the end, we are so materialistic in North America. The value of most things is limited to their usefulness. An ant is useful to a human being for what ? A hippopotamus is useful to a human being for what ? That is too often how we are assessing things. One person is useful to another human being for what ? What a degradation of God’s creation !

Our value is not in our utilitarian merit. Our use is in who we are : the fact that we exist in the first place. That we affect other people for good is all great, but the important thing is that God created you and me. He created us because He loves us. Who cares about the exact processes that doctors and scientists now understand and were taught in school. Human beings have been born and have been created like that for many thousands of years. What matters is that everything is because of God’s love. What is important about creation is what is its unseen foundation.

The source of everything is the fact that God loves His creatures. He loves you and He loves me uniquely, and He loves us all together as His children. Our value rests in this love that produces us and this love that sustains us. This love, this communion between us and Him is the meaning and purpose of all our life and all our interpersonal relationships. Yes, it is good that there are very many unseen, unknown, positive effects from the struggle and the life of each of us. In the end, it is still most important that God loves us. We love Him, and we are living in that love.

Let us respond to the demonstration of God’s love for us, His intimate care for us that is shown in this genealogy : the tender, unique, personal care He gives to each of us. Let us give thanks to the Lord for that. Living in the context of that, let us live our lives glorifying our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Living the Beatitudes
Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)
19 December, 2006
Hebrews 13:17-21 ; Luke 6:17-23


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is necessary for us to have the right attitude when we are going about living our lives in Christ. The Beatitudes, which we just heard and sang, and then heard again read in the Gospel, are important for our everyday life. Through the Beatitudes we may understand how blessing comes from God, and how we live our lives under His protection, with His blessing.

In North America where we are all living (and where most of us grew up), we are taught in every aspect of our secular life that we do everything ourselves, that we acquire everything ourselves, and that we make everything ourselves. If there is any reference to God, it is sort of on the edge. Generally, in North America we are trained to think that God is out there somewhere, disconnected from everything. That is not at all the truth. This is not the way it is. We Orthodox understand how things truly are.

“God is with us”. We love to sing that at Christmas-time and Theophany-time (although that particular group of verses is available to us in Compline and also in Great Lent – although usually only monks get to do it then because parishes are generally not serving that service). We have a musical setting that most of us can sing, which is very beautiful and expresses the emotion of our hearts. We certainly like to sing these verses : “God is with us ; understand all you nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us”. In those words we are asking all the nations, ourselves and everyone else also, to submit themselves to God’s love. That is the thrust of the Beatitudes.

We know that if we want to accomplish anything, it has to be with God’s blessing. Therefore we must turn to Him. We must forget ourselves. We have to stop thinking that we are accomplishing everything ourselves. It is easy to say, but when we are raised the way we are, it is not even possible for us by ourselves to stop thinking like that. We cannot do even that by ourselves. It is necessary for us to understand that even for that, even to acquire a correct understanding of how things are in the universe and in the creation, and in our relationship with the Lord, we have to ask for the Lord’s help. We have to ask for the Lord’s help for everything. That is why, in doing this, Orthodox Christians in various parts of the world have been able to survive the most terrible torments that human beings can suffer, and still have joy, and still have hope. There are all sorts of books and stories about believers in the Soviet Union who lived through and survived the gulags of Stalin, Khrushchev and others. These writings describe how they spent tortuous years there in horrible prison camps. Still the believers were able to express joy. Still they were able to express their confidence in the Saviour. Still they were able to remain faithful and to be blessed by the Lord.

When people came to this country a hundred and some years ago with nothing (I do mean nothing – so much of nothing that modern Canadians cannot even imagine that), they got off the train in the forest, and with an axe and a shovel built themselves a life. Yet these people, believing in God, turning to Christ, with His help managed not only to establish themselves well but to provide well for their children and all their other descendants. It was because they were believers, because they loved the Lord, because they turned to Him and trusted Him for everything.

Saint Nicholas, whose feast-day we are celebrating, was just such a person who put love for the Lord first in his life. Because of this love for the Lord, because he knew the Lord in prayer, in his heart, in the context of the Divine Liturgy and in the context of his whole life, he was able at the First Council in Nicaea to defend the truth about Jesus Christ against the wrong ideas of Arius. He supported the true Faith of Jesus Christ, and the true Faith prevailed at this First Council. Much more than that, however, he is known for how he practiced this love by caring for other people, how he provided for the poor, how he rescued orphans, how he protected widows, how he fed the hungry, how he visited the sick and those who were in prison. He lived the Beatitudes. That is why at the Divine Liturgies which are served for holy people like Saint Nicholas (and he is not alone amongst saints of this sort), we read the Beatitudes, because he, and others like him, lived the Beatitudes. They lived the Beatitudes because they loved Jesus Christ.

As a bishop, Saint Nicholas was truly what a bishop should be to his people : a loving father, a father who cares about his flock, who cares about his children, and who tries to provide for them. He is the example to believers on all levels (from lay people all the way to bishops) because he practiced the love of Jesus Christ. He did what Jesus Christ Himself would do for other people. He always turned to Christ asking for direction and for understanding, and the Lord gave it to him. Until this day, people turn to Saint Nicholas. Mostly, it seems that they turn to him when they are travelling, because after his death, Saint Nicholas is showing us that he is particularly concerned with those who are travelling. He rescues people in danger of death on the sea. We often have an icon of Saint Nicholas in our cars. He still cares about the small details of our lives 1500 years and more after his death. He cares because he loves Jesus Christ. He hears our pleas to him for help in our travelling, and in whatever else we ask of him. He cares about us and he prays to the Lord on our behalf because of his love for Jesus Christ. This love has never changed, but only multiplies after his death and his entry into the Kingdom with the Lord.

This is our Orthodox path : the way of love. It is the way of caring for other people, and the way of caring for the creation in which we live. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is very well known for his concern for ecology. This is not merely because of some basic principle. It is because this is the Orthodox priority. We are poisoning things so badly in our environment ; we have to be responsible in cleaning it up. We Orthodox have to lead the way in this part of our life, too. It is appropriate that the Patriarch of Constantinople is going to do this. The rest of us ought to pay attention to this as well. It is for us to ask the Lord about how we can do our part in caring for human beings, for animals, for the soil, for the trees and rocks. The Lord, as He inspired ( and does inspire Saint Nicholas), will inspire our hearts also. He will renew and multiply our love, and He will help us do what is right. It is not that we have not been doing a lot that is right already, but He will help us do even more. We have the role, the responsibility as Orthodox leaders and examples, to do this. May the Lord give us all strength to follow the Saviour in the same way, with the same love as our holy Father Bishop Nicholas, and with him let us glorify our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

God is with us

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
God is with us
Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos (Old-Style)
22 December, 2006
Galatians 4:22-31 ; Luke 8:16-21


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We live in an environment that is very skeptical, very doubting, very separated from God, in fact. In the West, there has been a long history of misunderstanding about the relationship between God and human beings. I was reading a book by the current Pope which is good in itself. It is about the Divine Liturgy, and is mostly all right, but he shows in the title precisely what is the difference between them and us. In the title he says : “God is near us”. However, we always say : “God is with us”. Especially when we are speaking about the Divine Liturgy, and receiving Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, we must be saying “with”, and not “near”. In the West, God seems to be thought of as “out there somewhere”, “looking at us from a distance”, and therefore disconnected from us. Some people do not even think that He is looking at us.

We, on the other hand, understand that the Lord is with us. He is in us. He is everywhere, and nothing exists apart from Him. We express it in our tropar to the Holy Spirit : “Everywhere present and filling all things”. There is no separation between Him and what He created because, if there were, it would not exist. His love sustains everything that exists. Everything that exists is held together by His love. It originates in and emanates from His love, and continues in His love.

I find it important, every time we hear this Gospel reading, to say : “Pay attention”. The Lord is being told that His Mother, brothers and sisters are outside waiting. (First cousins, and even second cousins are considered brothers and sisters in many cultures.) The Lord is saying : “‘My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it’”. That is not to say that the Mother of God and His relatives did not hear the word of God and keep it (especially the Mother of God). In fact, that is why she is who she is to us and to the whole world. She hears the word of God and she keeps it.

In this way, we are enabled to be brothers and sisters of the Lord, ourselves, in that we hear the word of God and keep it. Our kinship with the Lord is not based on blood, which is the whole point of the Epistle. It is not based merely on blood, inheritance and genes. Rather, it is based on our loving relationship with the Lord. Everything is based on, and rooted in our relationship of love. As the Apostle Paul was saying, rules and laws tend to produce an attitude of slavery in us, and we do things because there is a rule that says we have to do it. However, doing something because we have to do it, even if we do it, does not bear the same Grace as doing something because we love to do it.

There is a blessing that comes with being in the Temple of the Lord on Sundays or on feast-days because I have to be there as an Orthodox Christian, because it is a rule. However, the blessing goes far deeper in our hearts, and has much more effectiveness in our lives if we come to the Temple every week and every feast-day (and even oftener if possible) because we love to be here worshipping in the Temple of the Lord, in the presence of the Lord. It is because of love that we are here. We are here because we are free to be here. We freely choose to be here. We freely want to be here. This being here produces much deeper roots in our hearts and in our lives than being here because I must be here. Still, that is not to say that the Lord is confined to what I just said. There have been many people who have come to the Temple of the Lord because they were told they must. After being in the Temple of the Lord and worshipping the Lord over a period of time, the fire of God’s love is struck in their hearts. They no longer come because they must. They come because they want to, because of love.

When we are living in the environment of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, rules (which are not always the best things to live by because of a tendency to slavery) become life-giving, nevertheless, because of the Lord who is the Giver of life. The Lord is not confined by what a bishop is going to say about rules, regulations, his preference for other ways, and his various sorts of prejudices. The Lord knows the hearts of His children, and He comes to the hearts of His children and turns their hearts softly into love. He brings them to life. The Lord puts them on fire, and He enables these burning hearts, full of love for Jesus Christ, to bear much fruit.

It is not for nothing that there has been even up to the present day the example of women who were unable to bear children for one reason or another. When it became impossible according to normal human behaviour to have children, then they did. Sarah was the first and greatest example, I suppose, but there have been many since then. The Lord does this not only to give consolation to the parents who are childless, but also to show everyone that the Lord is the Lord of all creation. He does what He wills in creation in order to give us hope, in order to give us confidence, in order to remind us that He does love us, and that He can overcome all our limitations.

The Lord prepares the way for the birth of His Only-begotten Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Underlining this preparation by these various sorts of events, He shows His love for us ultimately in the “Yes” of the Mother of God, when the Archangel Gabriel came to her, and in the continuing “Yes” of the Mother of God throughout the course of her life. It is this which enables her to be to us, even to this day, the sign of what it is to be a Christian, the sign of what is the Church. The Lord shows His great love in sending to us His Only-begotten Son, so that we may be able to be united with Him, and live in Him.

We celebrate today His love, His tender care for us and for all our spiritual ancestors. Let us ask the Lord to freshen up the fire of our own love for Him in our hearts today, and ask Him to help us to be able, with the same sort of joy and lightness that the Mother of God had, and does have, to serve our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and glorify Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Hearts attuned to the Lord

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Hearts attuned to the Lord
Sunday after Nativity
31 December, 2006
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Matthew 2:13-23


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Incarnation of the Word of God is what the world has (and always has had) great difficulty accepting, because the Incarnation means the putting on of humanity by the Son of God. All sorts of people, somehow, cannot swallow the fact that God would empty Himself in this way. Such people cannot bear to face the fact that God took flesh, that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God, that this Child who was born in a manger is the Love of God incarnate. They invent all sorts of other theories about who He is in order to satisfy their intellect. They try to reduce Him to some sort of philosopher, or social “nice guy”, or an avant-garde activist of some sort. However, that He would be simply the Love of God incarnate, come to earth to restore communion between us and God the Father, is beyond them. All the substitution theories by the way, all those other theories that people have come up with in their desire to make Christ more “palatable”, do not work, logically speaking.

The only way reconciliation could be achieved between us and God the Father was by the Incarnation, just as it happened. You and I, 2,000 years later, are singing the same hymns, more or less, and reading the same Gospel stories as Christians have been doing all this time. We have been encountering personally the same Lord Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul encountered, and by whose love he lived : the same Lord Jesus Christ that all the apostles encountered, and in whose love they lived and died. It is the same Lord Jesus Christ that Christians have been encountering personally all along. My favourite old man that I love to quote from my childhood, Ole Olson, always used to say over and over again, quoting from the Epistle to the Hebrews : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). That is how it is, exactly. He is the same Lord Jesus Christ, whom we all are encountering, in whatever time we live, and wherever in the world we live, and in whatever culture we live. It is the one Lord Jesus Christ whom we are encountering, in whose love we live, and in whose love we die.

It is very important for us to keep this in mind especially now, at this time of the year, because remembering it now might help us to remember it during the rest of the year. Being an Orthodox Christian is not an intellectual exercise. To be an Orthodox Christian does not require a degree in philosophy. To be an Orthodox Christian requires love enough to do as the Mother of God did, and always has been doing : that is, to say “Yes” to His love. We have to live in accordance with His love.

In order to live in accordance with His love, our hearts have to be in communion with Jesus Christ. We have to be talking with Him regularly. We have to be refreshing in our hearts our experience of Him by reading the Gospels regularly and the Epistles, too (and that is not to exclude the Old Testament, because it is all bound up together). We cannot have the New Testament without the Old Testament : it is all one. Jesus Christ sums everything up. The whole Old Testament prepared for Him. As we were hearing, prophecies were fulfilled in the movements of Joseph and his family in accordance with the Scriptures. No-one would have known what to expect, nor been able to understand the events when they occurred if the way of the Lord had not been prepared.

Even though our Lord came as promised, He did not come as various people had decided He must come. In their minds they turned Him into a political figure, not a Child in a manger in a cave in Bethlehem, the lowest of the low, apparently. They expected Him, as did the three Wise Men, to be born a king in a palace. However, He was not. The Lord is always dealing with us in paradoxes. Our hearts have to be attuned to Him so that we can recognise Him in our hearts.

As they have been my whole life, many people these days are frantic about the Second Coming and the Antichrist, and so forth. Fear, fear, fear. Fear is the primary instrument of the devil. Fear is not the characteristic of people who love the Lord. In fact, the Apostle John said : “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). If we truly are Christians, if our hearts are attuned to the Lord, and we are living in Him, our lives would be marked by lack of fear. Whenever the Antichrist may or may not show up as a person, we, in our hearts, have to be able to know the difference. According to the Scriptures, we will not know the difference by how things appear, by glitzy activities. We will not know the difference by all sorts of fancy argumentation. Like the apostles on the road to Emmaus, it will be because our hearts burn within us, and witness to the love of Jesus Christ that we will be able to tell the difference between the true and the false Christ. It requires a communion of love in our hearts.

This communion of love is accompanied by tell-tale signs. Warmth, joy, peace, stability, goodness, kindness, gentleness accompanied by firmness are all indications that Jesus Christ is present. It is for us to nurture our hearts through continual exposure to the Scriptures, and daily prayerful communication with the Lord. Then we will have real hope of being able to recognise our Saviour at the Last Coming, and, just as importantly, to recognise Him at work in other people around us and in the creation.

May the Grace of the Holy Spirit enable our hearts to have such longing for our Saviour’s presence, that we will every day without hesitation turn to Him in everything and, with love, glorify the all-holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Year 2007

Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Obedience in Love is true Freedom
Feast of the Circumcision of Christ
(Memory of Saint Basil the Great)
1 January, 2007
Colossians 2:8-12 ; Luke 2:20-21 ; 40-52


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are celebrating more than one feast at the same time. The two most important things that we are celebrating are the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ and the repose of Saint Basil the Great. It may seem strange that, as we sing the hymns, the Feast of Saint Basil in some respects takes precedence over the Feast of the Circumcision. However, the Feast of the Circumcision was not established until very long after the celebration of the departure into Heaven of Saint Basil had been firmly established. This is one reason why we still serve the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great on this day. His memory and his writings are extremely important for us. Therefore, the way we are keeping the memory of these two events may seem unusual. This is merely one of our Orthodox paradoxes.

Today, when we are celebrating the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, we are paying special attention to His obedience, and that of His whole family, to the Law. He was raised in the tradition of Moses as everyone else of Jewish tradition was in those days. He grew up in a pious family. We understand that they were definitely observing the Laws of the day. Our Saviour came from a long line of fourteen times three generations of people, many of whom suffered for the sake of the Promise of the Incarnation of the Saviour. All such people were faithful to God even though they were still waiting for the fulfilment of the Promise. Even though, as the Apostle Paul said in one of his writings, they had not seen what was to come, yet they were faithful to God, as Abraham was. Abraham trusted God even though it did not necessarily seem logical sometimes. This is an example for us of trust in the Lord. In fact, there were many other people, likewise, who came before who were, because of love, obedient and faithful to the love of the Lord whom they knew, but could not see. Now we have seen God in the Incarnate Christ. He lived His life in accordance with the Law, but as we see in t