Year 2010

Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
“I must be about My Father’s Business”
Feast of the Circumcision of Christ
(Memory of Saint Basil the Great)
1 January, 2010
Colossians 2:8-12 ; Luke 2:20-21, 40-52
Hebrews 13:17-21 ; Luke 6:17-23


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

Putting first things first, and having things in their proper order has always been our difficulty as human beings. Because of this, it is no wonder that when Jesus was in the Temple, both listening and asking questions (and also teaching, even at His young age), His parents did not expect to find Him there. It is not necessarily the first place that any of us would be searching for our child who is missing. Nevertheless, our Saviour gives us a very good word in His response to His parents, and that is : “‘I must be about My Father’s business’”. These are words for us all, all the time. We have to be about our Father’s business.

The first priority for us all must always be the Saviour, and the worship of God. This must be our first priority. Why ? It is because of love, and only because of love. It is not because it is written in stone that we must do this, or else. It is because of love. The relationship between us and God is always, only, about love. It is the response of love to God who loves us first (see 1 John 4:19). Our whole lives must be lived out in this context if we are Christians and we profess Christ. The Apostle reminds us : We are buried in Christ (see Romans 6:4). We are raised in Christ in our baptism. We are alive in Christ. Everything must be in the context of Christ in our lives.

It is true that we get distracted by all sorts of things : by worldly cares, by business, by activities, and by responsibilities. It is not for nothing that at every Divine Liturgy (except two), we are singing the Hymn of the Cherubim, and we are exhorting one another “to lay aside all earthly cares”, to put them aside for a while. We do this in order to allow the Lord to be first today, so that when we leave this holy Temple He will continue to be first in our lives. The rest of the day will be in the context of His being first in our lives. The next day we will have hope of beginning with Him and His service first, asking Him first : “Lord, what do You bless me to do today ?” “With Your blessing, what can be done better today than before ?” “How may I serve You better today ?” Everything for us must be in, of, and focussed on the love of our Saviour Jesus Christ, because He is the only reason for our life. He is really our only joy, our only consolation, our only protection, our only healing, our only hope.

As we saw Him coming down to the multitudes today, and healing all the people, so He continues to heal us all to this day. He Himself is our prime example of service – this self-emptying love which is so life-bearing and life-giving. This self-emptying love is, and always has been characteristic of us Orthodox Christians. It produces endless hospitality, endless concern, endless care and endless intercession one for another, for the living, for the departed. We are constantly praying and interceding for people who are in trouble and in sickness. That is the nature of our prayer and worship, and of our daily lives. Everything is in the context of Jesus Christ who is the Head of our Church, who is the Head of our life.

As the Apostle Paul points out in his words to us, we very often get confused and distracted by one thing or another. This happens especially when we are trying to explain our hope to people who are in the world and who do not understand Christ. They do not understand why we should have such joy, such peace, such hope. When we try to put it into words that they understand more clearly, we can sometimes get mixed up ourselves. People may not be so conscious about it in daily life, but most non-Christians are living according to some philosophical principle or other which they may have learned from their parents or the circumstances of life, or from listening to the radio or reading some sort of interesting books. When we are explaining our life in Christ to them, we have to use terms that they understand. However, we have to be very careful in using their words, lest we, ourselves, get confused by these philosophical principles, and forget our experience of Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God. We cannot forget Who He is. We cannot make excuses to change and soften up Who He is in order to make it easier and more palatable for people.

This is where we have always gotten into trouble. That is how Arianism and other sorts of distortions showed up. They came about because of an over-accommodation with philosophy. We always have to be checking ourselves in our words, our conversation, our reason, and our logic : Am I conveying to others Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) ? In the words that I am using, am I faithful to Him ? Every day of our lives, everything must always be measured by Him, who is the Truth. He is our Truth, the one Truth. There are not multiple truths. There is only one Truth. Everything else that is true comes from Him.

Are we measuring ourselves by Him ? Are our lives conformed to Him ? Do our lives reflect Him ? Do we allow Him to give us the strength that we need to live our daily lives ? Do we accept the healing that He is constantly offering to us day by day, as He is doing to the people today, healing them ? Do we let Him heal us, also?

Let us ask the Mother of God, who is our prime example of obedience, conformity and unity with the love of Jesus Christ, to intercede for us, so that the Grace of the Holy Spirit will come upon us more today and tomorrow. May we be enabled more and more, with greater and greater joy and peace to glorify our Saviour Jesus Christ in everything, in 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.

Sunday before the Feast of Theophany

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Taking seriously our Baptism in Christ
Sunday before the Feast of Theophany
3 January, 2010
2 Timothy 4:5-8 ; Mark 1:1-8


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

This “Winter Paschal” feast that is fulfilled in the Baptism of the Lord is all one. There was a time in the early Church when both feasts were celebrated together as one. We cannot have one (the Baptism of the Lord) without the other (the Incarnation of the Lord). In fact, the work of salvation is dependant upon the Incarnation. I think that it is very good for us to keep greeting each other with the Greeting of the Nativity of Christ right up until the Baptism of the Saviour (which is coming right away).

Today, we see the Baptiser, Saint John the Forerunner, standing in the River Jordan and baptising people. He is baptising people unto repentance (see Matthew 3:11). The baptism with which we were baptised also was a baptism of repentance. What does this “repentance” mean ? Repentance is not being emotionally weepy about things that we have done wrong. It is not perpetually beating ourselves up and accusing ourselves endlessly about past wrongs. That is not repentance : that is being morose. Repentance is recognising that we have fallen short of what God has directed us to do and to be. By our waywardness, we have distorted what He has created. We have agreed to turn around, or to “turn about” which is a better expression. (We say “to turn around” because we are Americanised in our speech, but “to turn about” is the real way.) When we say “to turn around” we could be doing a pirouette (as one of our previous prime ministers has done). We are not talking about doing pirouettes ; we are talking about turning about. What we clearly mean is the making of a 180-degree turn, not a turn of 360 degrees or more.

We see this actualised in the process of our own baptism. If we were baptised as adults, then we can remember the experience very well. If we were baptised as children, then we may only remember something when we see other children being baptised later on in our life. If we were baptised at about forty days of age, then what could we remember (unless we are one of those gifted children with amazing memories) ? Most of us do not remember our fortieth day (I certainly do not). When we are baptised, we stand at the entrance of the Temple (or at the entrance of the place of baptism) ; we face the west, and we reject the devil and all his ways. We breathe and spit on him to make sure that we are rejecting the devil : his ways, his darkness, his delusions and his illusions – we are rejecting it all. We have to breathe and spit on the devil because throughout our whole lives, we have to remember, ourselves, that we have done this. This rejection is a physical thing. It is not just some sort of political or philosophical principle. We are rejecting evil. We are rejecting darkness. Having done this, then we turn about, and face the east. We face Christ. We face the Light. We affirm Christ. We affirm the Light. We affirm the Life. We have rejected fear, and we affirm Love. This is what we have done in our own baptism.

This baptism is precisely the continuation of what the Forerunner has been doing. The Forerunner has said today that our baptism into Christ has something more about it than what he has been doing. He has been giving the baptism of repentance. However, he says to us, as it were : “Look, here comes the Person whose sandals I am not worthy to untie, and He will baptise you in the Holy Spirit”. It is this Gift of the Holy Spirit that we have been given in our baptism into Christ. It is more than simple repentance. We, when we have been baptised, have also died, and we have risen again. When we have been immersed in the waters of baptism, that has been our death to sin, our death to the devil, our death to darkness, and our death to separation from God. When we have been raised up out of those waters, that is our resurrection with Christ, in Christ. We have been raised up into life. Already, in this participation in Christ, we have received the Gift of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is not separate from Christ. However, to emphasise it completely, it is necessary for us to receive the oil of chrism in which we are concretely, sacramentally, given the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The Grace of the Holy Spirit is applied to all our senses and to all our extremities. The Grace of the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us and lead us during the rest of our lives in Christ. This is true not only for the rest of our earthly lives, but also for the rest of our eternal life in Christ, in whom we have died in our baptism (as the Apostle Paul reminds us in many places), and in whom we have risen. For you and for me, everything is in Christ.

We are Orthodox Christians. We are lovers of Jesus Christ. We are followers of Jesus Christ. We are bearers of Jesus Christ. We sing at our baptism : “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (see Galatians 3:27). In putting on Christ, we have access to His love at all times. We have access to Him at all times. We do not have to look outside us for Him because Christ is not “out there”, somewhere. He is in our hearts, right in the centre of our being. It is true that after our baptism we still slip and fall sometimes, but this means that we have to get up again, and turn about. If we have difficulty in getting up, we have to ask the Lord to help us get up and turn about to face Him. This is the way of monks, who are supposed to be living an exemplary Christian life not necessarily by being perfect, but by being repentant. Once upon a time, there was a person who asked a certain monk : “What are you doing in that monastery every day ?” The answer was : “We fall, and we get up ; we fall, and we get up, and we fall, and we get up”. That is what we all are doing, too. Our whole lives are about slipping, falling, and calling to the Saviour : “Help me. Save me”. We get up in Him. Our lives are continual repentance. Luther did have one thing right (he had a few other things right, too, but this is one thing in particular that was right) : we have to get up every day, and we have to repent every day. There cannot be a day passing without our repentance.

That means that we affirm Christ every moment of our lives. When we get up in the morning, we determine again to follow Christ. We make the sign of the Cross on ourselves, and on the day that is coming. We offer the day that is coming to the Lord. Even if we do not have time for long prayers, we still offer the day that is coming to the Lord. During the course of the day, we try to refer everything to the Lord, blessing everything in the course of the day. This is the Orthodox way. When we come to the end of the day, we recall the whole of the day, and we ask the Lord to forgive our shortcomings, to forgive us for the times when we have been overcome with fear, and did not do or say what we should have done or said. We ask Him to forgive us for the times when we have actually, deliberately, strayed from His way, listening to the powers of darkness instead of to the Lord. We apologise at the end of the day to the Lord, and ask Him to protect us during the night so that we may have hope the next day of serving Him better. Every day is a day of repentance for us. In fact, if we are going to be truly honest as Orthodox Christians, every moment is a moment of repentance, because in the course of our day we have to choose constantly between : Will I follow Christ, or will I follow “me” (or some other sort of direction). We know that when we follow any direction other than Christ, we get into trouble, and distortions occur. Every day is a day of repentance.

We have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit sacramentally. In the course of our lives, we have experience of the Grace of the Holy Spirit periodically, sometimes to a greater or lesser extent. We experience the Grace of the Holy Spirit, who moves us in our hearts always to follow the path, the way of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is the Way. The Grace of the Holy Spirit, with which we have been baptised, enables us to find Christ in our hearts. When we are every day nurturing the life and the light of Christ in our hearts like this, then our lives grow in peace. They grow in joy. They grow in stability and confidence in the love of Jesus Christ. Our lives become characterised by Him.

Orthodox Christians should be different from everyone else. We get into trouble with other people sometimes because we are different. However, we are supposed to be different, because the way of the world is not the way of Christ. The people in the world who have fallen and are broken, are suffering because they do not have this light and this love. However, they are looking for it. It is our responsibility to be different so that when they need to find Christ, they can find Him in us. They can see our joy. They can see our peace. They can ask us : “Why do you have such joy and peace in this terrible, dark world where everything is such a mess, and where there is such turmoil ? There is always war, and people are always dying inexplicably. Why do you have joy and peace in this context ?”

We can tell them. We can tell them that it is because of the love of Jesus Christ, who raises us up over all these terrible things that happen in this world. He helps us to pass through these terrible things, turning pain into joy, turning brokenness into hope. This is what our Saviour means when He asks us to be yeast and salt (see Matthew 5:13, 13:33). He asks us to be different, so that when people who are in need come to us, approach us and ask us : “What is the meaning of this joy ?” We can respond : “Jesus Christ, who is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8) is the only reason that I can have joy, hope, peace, confidence, and stability in the middle of all these trials and difficulties. It is because He is here, and He is nurturing me. I know Him personally.”

Protestants very often are talking about the importance of having a personal experience of the Saviour. Indeed, we Orthodox Christians have (and always have had) this personal experience and encounter with the Saviour. This experience, this encounter, this relationship begins with our baptism. The relationship might even begin before that, but this personal encounter and communion with our Saviour Jesus Christ, is really rooted in us in our baptism. He is with us every day, and we do have experiences of Him : sacramentally in the Divine Liturgy, when we are receiving His Body and Blood, and when we are venerating icons (especially this icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv). Because He is with us, we have experience of Him when we are talking to each other. This is one of the reasons that we say to each other very often : “Christ is in our midst”. He is always amongst us and in us. He is involved in everything that we are doing.

Brothers and sisters, let us take seriously our baptism in Christ. Let us take seriously the relationship of love that has been firmly established and rooted in us when we were baptised. Let us take seriously the declaration of the Apostle John that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that “we love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Right until this very day, the experience of all the apostles and the saints of Jesus Christ is that He loves us all together (and personally and particularly, as well). He knows each one of us, despite the fact that we number more than six billion on this planet already. Whether we accept Him or not, He knows each one of us particularly and personally. He loves each one of us particularly, personally, and uniquely. He says to each one of us : “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He means it when He says that because He loves us.

Let us take seriously His invitation always to follow Him, always to have confidence in Him, always to seek Him in our hearts. Finding Him there, 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.

Feast of the Theophany of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ, our Life-giving Way
Feast of the Theophany of Christ
6 January, 2010
Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 ; Matthew 3:13-17


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

When we sing the tropar today, we are understanding that this Feast of the Theophany of Christ is also the first feast of the Holy Trinity in the calendar year. The voice of the Father comes from heaven, and says : “‘This is My beloved Son’”. The Son is standing in the waters of the Jordan. The Holy Spirit comes in the form of a dove, and rests upon the Saviour standing in the water. The word “theophany” means that today, we have a manifestation, a revelation of God. God reveals Himself today as Community-of-Being : Three Persons who live in perfect love and perfect harmony with each other, and at the same time completely one. The Symbol of Faith which we will soon pray together clarifies what I am trying to say.

On this feast, we have been singing that we, who “have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ” (see Galatians 3:27). It is important for us to pay attention to this particular hymn because the words are describing our life in Christ. We, who have been baptised into Christ, have been baptised with Christ. We have put on Christ. This means that in our baptism we have died to the world in Christ. We have died with Christ. When we have risen from those waters of baptism with Christ, we have put on resurrection in Christ, and with Christ. We are alive in Christ. This means also that we have the possibility to live in proximity to the Holy Trinity in a manner which is beyond the angels, because we have put on Christ.

The Holy Spirit who came upon the Saviour at this moment did not come upon the Saviour in the same manner as He comes upon us at our baptism. This is because the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Saviour are already One together. Jesus Christ has always been the Son of God. The Holy Spirit has always been the Holy Spirit. They are always One. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit whom we see today in the form of a dove, is the same Holy Spirit who is given to us when we are baptised and chrismated. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be members of the Body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be alive in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who fills us with the power and the ability to live in the way of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be like Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to show Christ to people around us. It is the Holy Spirit who enables the blessings of Christ to be extended through us to other people around us.

We have put on Christ. In the course of our lives, we, who have put on Christ, will suffer even as Christ suffered, because His love is vulnerable love. It is powerful love. It is life-giving love. Nevertheless, it is vulnerable love. There is no Christian who lives in this love who does not suffer, because this sort of love, the love of Jesus Christ, must be able to suffer, to feel compassion for people around us, to share pain and sorrow. Very often, a Christian living in this love will be persecuted for the sake of Christ. Our Saviour said : “‘If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you’” (Matthew 10:25 ; John 15:20). When the light of Christ is shining in the world, the darkness is not comprehending it (see John 1:5). The darkness is always trying to extinguish the light because the darkness does not like having its emptiness and everything about its falseness exposed. This is why the darkness resists the light. It is preferring to live in its lies rather than to be healed, corrected, and cleaned. There are many human beings who are in this condition. It is for this reason that Christians very often are suffering all types of abuse of one sort or another. In Egypt, for instance, I do not believe that there has been a year (or even perhaps a month) that has passed in the last century or so in which there has not been at least one person killed because he or she is a Christian. In Egypt, it is sometimes on a daily basis that people are killed, even to this day, because they are Christians. This happens in other places in the world, also. It is not at all easy to be a Christian in China or India (and in many other places, too), because the light shining in the darkness makes the darkness uncomfortable and very reactive, sometimes.

In our country, we Orthodox Christians very often have difficulties living our life because people do not understand us. They think that we are strange people, and they sometimes try to get rid of us, somehow. It is important for us to remember in Whom we are baptised, and Whom we have put on. It is important for us always to be turning to the Saviour for help. He understands our suffering. He understands our pain. He is compassionate towards us. Indeed, we might say that He is Compassion. No matter how difficult it might be for you and for me sometimes, our Saviour, who loves us, is with us. He is in us, and He is giving us the Holy Spirit to renew us and strengthen us so that we will be able to share His love with those who can hear, and who will hear ; with those who can see, and those who will see ; with those who can understand, and those who will understand.

In this province in particular, the Orthodox Christian witness is difficult to share, because there are so many people who have been either malformed or hurt in one way or another. People have difficulty accepting the truth of the love of Jesus Christ. However, as long as we are able to continue persevering in this love, we can show them that in our lives we have hope, joy, and peace which they, also, can have. Some of them, at least, will be brave enough to come and see. Some of them will be brave enough (or perhaps broken, and needy enough) to turn to our Saviour with us, and to ask Him to save them with us. In His love, our Saviour empties Himself for you and for me. This is what His standing in the Jordan today is showing us. In His love, He is emptying Himself for us. He, who is the Creator of the River Jordan into which He is about to descend ; He, who is the Creator of the water that is going to be covering Him ; He, who is even the Creator of His relative, the Forerunner, is emptying Himself, and making Himself lowly today. In His love for us, He is allowing Himself to be subjected to baptism in the same manner as He has been obedient to the prescriptions of the Law from His birth until this day. In His love for us, He is emptying Himself for our sake.

By the Grace of the Holy Spirit which is poured out upon us, let us also be prepared to live in the same love. With joy and with strength, let us follow Christ. Let us follow in His foot-steps and in His Way because, as our Saviour says : “‘I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (John 14:6). He is the Way : there is only one Way. He is the Truth : there is only one Truth. He is the Life : there is only one Life. Let us follow in this Way, Truth, and Life so that having put on Christ, living in Christ, we may enter the Kingdom, and glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in the Kingdom (as we are now doing in this Divine Liturgy) 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 (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Responding to the Gift of Love
Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)
7 January, 2010
Galatians 4:4-7 ; Matthew 2:1-12


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

Herod the King is a very troubled man. He is very troubled because, on the one hand, he believes in God, in a manner of speaking. On the other hand, he is afraid that what God will do will deprive him of his kingship. Therefore, when the wise men come from the East to look for the new-born King, he is very disturbed. He understands that these wise men could read signs in the stars, and that they had seen a sign in the stars that a king had been born in his territory. Because he is afraid of losing his kingship, and because he is comfortable with the distance between himself and God, he continues to try to control everything. When the wise men are reporting to him, he is trying to discover where is this Child. Herod wants to find out these details because he wants to kill this Child, and remove any competition for his kingship.

We will be celebrating very soon the feast of the 14,000 baby boys under the age of two that were killed by the king. He thought that he was going to kill for certain this competitor (that was spoken of by the wise men) if he killed every boy under the age of two. In seeing this example of a man who is trying to stop God from accomplishing His will, we see very well that believing is not enough because, “even the demons believe — and shudder” (James 2:19).

The Lord wants love from you and from me, and from us all. He wants us to respond to the love that He gives to us. The Feast of the Incarnation of the Word of God that we are celebrating today is a celebration of this love of God for us. The Lord takes flesh and lives amongst us as a human being. God shows to us His love and His humility. He is offering life to you and to me in the Incarnation. He is offering life to us in His eternal and heavenly Kingdom. He is not presenting to us a philosophical principle. He is not offering to us a political movement, either. He is offering to us love and life.

It is important for you and for me to ask ourselves often : “How am I responding to this, God’s offering of love and life to us ? Am I accepting His gift to me ? Am I responding in love, or am I behaving like Herod ? Do I accept what God is giving to me, or do I try to change what He is giving to me ? Do I think that God does not know well enough what I need ? Do I try to make God give me what I myself think I must have ?”

It is very important for us Orthodox Christians in Canada to remember Whom it is that we are serving. In this country, we are prepared all the time to look after ourselves with self-will, and to look to our independent sense of our own needs. “I” always comes first in our Canadian culture. How many times in any week do we hear the saying : “You have to look after ‘number one’”? It was not always this way in Canada, but it is so now. I recall that when I was but a lad, my mother would comment about the egocentricity of certain persons, and say that the person likely wears a sweater with the letter “I” sewn on the front. Egocentrism was unusual and discouraged then, but now it is encouraged and customary. This way of understanding things is the opposite of the Orthodox way. It is the opposite of the Gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Because of this, our country has a very large number of psychiatrists, psychologists, and self-help groups trying to meet the psychological and spiritual pain that people in Canada are feeling.

The Orthodox way, the way of Christ, can bring healing to people. We have just sung : “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (see Galatians 3:27). As Orthodox Christians, we are carrying Christ wherever we go. We know the love of Jesus Christ. We have experience of the love of Jesus Christ. We know how to give love, also. We know how to allow the Lord to heal our broken hearts. For us Orthodox Christians, it is possible to have joy in the middle of sorrow. We are not like Herod : we are not slaves of fear. We are not like too many of the citizens of Canada : we are not slaves of fear. We Orthodox Christians understand what is true freedom in the love of God. Since the Lord has given us the gift of love and life in the Incarnation of His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we have a gift to give to those around us in this country. This gift is the joy and the peace which we know.

Let us ask the Lord to renew our strength so that in the coming year we will be able to be faithful to Him. In the course of this year, may His love be seen in us more and more by those around us, so that those who are looking for the Truth may find Him. There is only one Truth, and that Truth is Jesus Christ. Christ is born, and we rejoice. Christ is born, and we have strength to live. Christ is born, and the light is shining in the darkness. May this light shine in every one of us every day of our lives, and may our whole lives glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Saturday after the Feast of Theophany

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ is our Armour, our Protection
Saturday after the Feast of Theophany
9 January, 2010
Ephesians 6:10-17 ; Matthew 4:1-11


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

The words that our Saviour is speaking to us today, when He is being tempted by the devil, are important for us to remember : “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’”. This is a very important lesson for us to learn. In general, we are usually so self-sufficient that we forget about details such as this. We blithely go on trying to feed ourselves, one might say, and to look after ourselves, without remembering that the Lord is the Provider of everything. In our North American cozy comfortableness, we forget to render thanks to the Lord for all the things that He has provided for us. We are under the delusion that we provide it for ourselves. We think that we ourselves are an island unto ourselves. In this context, it is evident to me that very many people are entering the realm of spiritual warfare (which all Christians must engage in if we are being serious followers of Christ) in a very dangerous manner.

The Apostle speaks to us today very clearly about what sort of armour we need for living this life in Christ, and for fighting spiritual battles. What sort of armour is this ? Every aspect of the armour that he describes has to do with the Word of God, with faith, with love, and with hope. In other words, all the armour that we are supposed to be putting on has to do with Christ, Himself. In fact, the Apostle is saying to us that our armour is Christ. There are all sorts of people who talk about doing spiritual battle as though they were some sort of soldier. They are struggling this way and struggling that way ; they are going to do this and they are going to do that. They are telling the devil where to go and how to get there, and so forth.

In fact, if we start speaking to the devil at all, we are in danger of being completely lost right away. Not one of us ought ever to dare to engage in any sort of exchange with the devil. The Christian way is very different from our experience of battle in normal, military warfare. The attitude of engaging in spiritual struggles by myself is exactly the same as going to war with no weapons and no armour at all, but simply waving my arms and shouting strong words. That behaviour would get me perhaps one step forward in a modern battle-field (let alone an ancient one). In an ancient one, I might have gotten a little farther, because I would have had to approach the enemy, and then I would have been done-for. In a modern field, I would simply be immediately exterminated on the spot.

At all times, it is important for us to remember that our strength is the Lord, about whom we just sang : “He has revealed Himself to us” (see Psalm 117:27). He has revealed Himself to us as Love and Life, and also as our Protector. It is not for nothing that people have, in fact, depended on Him ever since the Creation. For instance, we have had two major events in recent years regarding icons of the Mother of God. The Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God was resident in North America for many years, and we mostly did not pay any attention to her (we are so wonderful in North America). However, when the time came for us to return her to Russia (as did happen some years ago), we finally remembered her, and we paid much more direct attention to her.

We can take a few moments to recall details of the history of the icon of the Tikhvin Monastery (which is about 100 km or so from Saint Petersburg). When the Swedes were attacking long ago (in 1613), the Mother of God appeared to some monks, and said : “Take my icon in procession around the monastery”. The monks got up, and praying to the Lord, asking for the protection of the Mother of God, they processed around the monastery enclosure with this icon. Then the Swedes simply went home. This happened more than once in that area. Such an event of protection has happened at more than one monastery. It has also occurred in various cities. There are many such occurrences having to do with the protection of the Mother of God. Simply bringing her icon stopped tidal waves and forest fires in Alaska, for instance. This is putting on the armour of God. When the icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv visited Canada a few months ago, we were reminded about the events that are associated with her protection of the Pochaiv Monastery. We are also reminded of these events in the Akathist we are singing to the icon. There is more than one occasion when she has protected the Pochaiv Monastery, but this particular occasion is a spectacular one, because there was an invasion by the Turks in 1675.

The Turks were passing by, and they decided that they were going to take over this monastery because it is situated on a very high hill. The hill rises sixty metres from the surrounding level land. From a military point of view, it is a very good position to have in order to protect all the surrounding level land. As they were trying to take over the monastery, some monks were killed in the process. However, the monks prayed. The Mother of God appeared with Saint Job of Pochaiv above the monastery so that everyone could see them. The Turks began shooting at the Mother of God, and everything that was shot at her came back on them. It was very nice that they were quick learners, for immediately all the hostilities stopped. The Turks either went away or they settled there. Many of the Turkish soldiers seeing this became Christians, and some even became monks. (Not all the soldiers became monks, because there are descendants of those Turks in the Volyn area to this day.) These soldiers were people who saw and understood right away what was happening before their eyes : the monks prayed to the Lord ; the Mother of God appeared ; the Mother of God protected. This is an example of why we call her the “Champion Leader of victorious hosts”.

It is important for us, when we are having difficulties in life, and we are facing darkness and attacks of evil, not to start engaging in physical or other conversational battles and struggles. Those are losing enterprises every time. Instead, it is important for us quickly to flee to the Lord, and to ask Him for His help and His protection. It is important to flee to the Mother of God, and to ask her for the protection of the Lord. She brings to us the protection of the Lord. Even that is not her own – she brings the protection of the Lord because she is so close to Him.

It is important for us to remember to turn to the Lord. He is our Armour. He is our Protection. When we are turning to Him, we are in fact, then, fulfilling the words of our Saviour to us today : “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’”. Every word that proceeds from His mouth is full of love, life, and light for us. When we are living by His word, everything else comes into order. All provision comes that is necessary for us, and the Lord blesses us. We, in return, give thanks to Him in the way we were created to do and to be. Then we become co-workers, and even co-creators with Him (as may be said). In this spirit of harmony with Him, co-operation with Him, and love for Him, let us glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday after the Feast of Theophany

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Light shining in the Darkness
Sunday after the Feast of Theophany
10 January, 2010
Ephesians 4:7-13 ; Matthew 4:12-17


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

Today, our Saviour is withdrawing into Galilee. We are reminded that this withdrawing into Galilee is connected with the fulfilment of a prophecy : “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1). This part of Galilee is a part of northern Israel around Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) where a large number of Gentiles were living, hence its being called Galilee of the Gentiles (as we just heard). This was certainly the case in the time when Jesus was growing up in Nazareth (a town in Galilee). There were many of the occupying Roman army in that area at that time. They were building cities in that area. Thus, it is not for nothing that the Sea of Galilee became known as Lake Tiberias, because of the Roman army and the Roman occupation. In one of the foot-notes that I read, it was said that, in all likelihood, the Jews in this part of Galilee were very much influenced by the pagan Romans in one way or another. It is neither here nor there whether the people were or were not influenced. The fact is that there were many non-Jews living in this area of Galilee. Indeed, the town of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, was built in honour of the Roman Emperor Tiberius by King Herod Antipas of Galilee. This town, built over a Jewish cemetery, prohibited any Jew from living there. When our Saviour went into that region, it was He, who is the Light, who went to the people, the pagans, who were living in darkness. This means the people of the Roman army : the Latin and Greek-speaking people who were occupying this territory.

The Light, our Saviour Jesus Christ comes and shines in the darkness. So much is our Saviour identified with light, that He says of Himself that He is Light, and He is described as Light (see John 1 ; 8:12 ; 9:5 ; 12:35-36, 46). It does not matter so much whether we are strict observers of the Law, or whether we are actually blameless before the Law (one might say) – there is still darkness in us. Even in us, Orthodox Christians, there is still darkness because, in the first place, we are influenced by our own self-will. In the second place, we are influenced by the powers of darkness. This self-will and the influence of the powers of darkness are contrary to the way of the Light, to the way of Him who is the Way.

The Saviour, the Light shining in the darkness, is shining in the darkness of our lives, also. He is busy transforming us from various sorts of distortions which we actually invite in. They do not just happen to us. We invite them in because of our co-operation with the powers of darkness through our wilfulness. The Lord, the Light, is shining in our darkness. He is healing us. He is transforming us.

When our Lord is saying today : “‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’”, He is saying to us, in effect : “Turn about. Turn away from your selfishness. Turn away from your darkness. Turn away from your distortedness. Turn to the Light. Turn to the Love, away from the fear. Turn to wholeness. Turn to healing. Turn to your real self in the light of Christ”. That is our exhortation from the Saviour every day. Every day, He is saying to us, in effect : “Turn away from those dark things and come to the Light”. Every day, He is saying to us, as it were : “Let Me heal you, My brothers and sisters. Let Me restore you. Let Me give you life. Let Me take away from you the heavy burden that you carry”. This is His perpetual invitation to us. Every day, He is asking us to return to Him and to become like Him. When the Light is shining in the darkness of our lives, and when we co-operate with that Light, we progressively become more and more like that Light, who is our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the invitation is simple. Please let us turn about. Let us accept the Saviour’s invitation. Let us turn away from darkness, and let us turn to the Light. Let us stop putting ourselves first, and let us start putting Christ first. Let us stop putting ourselves first, and let us start putting others first. Let us stop conforming ourselves to the world, and conform ourselves instead to the one thing that matters – the love of Jesus Christ. 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.

Learning how to forgive

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Learning how to forgive
Saturday of the 32nd Week after Pentecost
16 January, 2010
1 Thessalonians 5:14-23 ; Luke 17:3-10


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

The words that our Saviour is giving us today are very important, because they are reminding us of what are the fundamentals of our life. Of course, loving the Lord above all things always has first place in our life, and it is the foundation of our life. After this, forgiveness comes immediately. The Christian way is characterised by forgiveness. That is why, when the Lord is giving the example today, the apostles, recognising their own limitations, say to Him : “Increase our faith”. They understand how difficult this project of forgiveness is. Yet, our Saviour does not allow forgiveness to be an option for us. It is a fundamental necessity for us who are Christians to learn how to forgive. So much is this the case, that we say every day in the “Our Father” : “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

As much as we are forgiving others, we ask the Lord to forgive us. In other places the Lord has said very clearly : “‘If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses’” (Mark 11:26). Why is this so ? It is partly because (and even greatly because) if we have not come to the point of forgiving other people, our hearts are therefore hard. If our hearts are hard, we are not going to accept God’s forgiveness for us even if He is giving it to us. There are many persons, sad to say, whom I have met in my life who are in exactly this condition. They are so broken by life, and so bitter because of the pain of life, that they will not forgive ; they cannot bring themselves to forgive. It is partly because the habit of not forgiving is a very familiar habit, and they are afraid of what life might be like without this grudge that is always there in the background of their lives. This is a sort of insanity, but human beings are not especially known for sanity.

Where is this forgiveness coming from ? Forgiveness can only come from love. It can only come from loving the Lord above all things, and living in communion with Him at all times. As we have been taught by many elders, this forgiveness is found in praying for the person who has hurt or abused us, even if it happened unintentionally. Today, our Lord gives us the example, saying : “‘If he [your brother] sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him’”. Although our Lord gives this example today, on another occasion (see Matthew 18:22), He does not add this condition that the persons say : “I am sorry”. Nevertheless, we are to understand that before the other person (who may be difficult for us) even asks for forgiveness, it is important that we have already forgiven. The Lord says to us that the foundation of our life has to be that of forgiveness — forgiveness without any conditions attached.

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.

When it comes down to it in the end, the Lord is not going to be asking me (as I am grumbling about this other person) : “What about this other person here ?” The Lord is going to say : “All right, that is between that person and Me ; but what about your heart ? Is your heart bitter ? Is your heart angry ? Is your heart hard ? Do you still love Me ?” This is what the Lord is going to be asking us, as He does ask us all the time. This is our way of life.

This underlines the lesson that I keep repeating, the lesson which I was taught many, many years ago by a nun. When I tried to thank her for her hospitality, she insisted very strongly that I must thank the Lord, and not her. In my stupidity I tried to teach her, but she said : “It is THE LORD”. This is what is behind the Lord’s words at the end of this encounter with Him this morning. He says that we should not be expecting thanks for anything at all, because “we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do”. Our duty as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ, as carriers of Christ, is to live love, and to live in forgiveness. That is our duty. That is who we are. If we are not living like that, it is difficult for us to brag that we are Christians, let alone Orthodox Christians.

When the Apostle Paul is talking to us today about praying unceasingly, he is not saying that we should be asking for things. Many of us in our lives have naïvely thought that in prayer, we should be asking for something. It is too popularly misunderstood that the conversation between us and the Lord is similar to that of a two-year old child with his father or mother : “Gimme this ; gimme that ; gimme, gimme”. This is not at all what the Apostle is speaking about. “Praying unceasingly” is referring to the communion of love which is prayer in its best form, and which has no words at all. I still remember the story I heard as a child about a person who spent a great deal of time alone in the Temple. (This was obviously at a time when our Temples were open most of the time.) The priest came to him, and asked him : “You are here almost all the time. Do you like it very much ?” The man replied : “Yes, I like to be here”. The priest asked further : “Then what are you doing all this time ?” The man responded : “Nothing”. The astute priest inquired further : “Are you praying ?” The man answered : “No, I do not think so”. The priest asked once again : “What are you doing, then ?” The man replied : “I look at Him, and He looks at me, and we are happy”. That is a simple way of speaking about it ; but ultimately, that is precisely the nature of the relationship of love between us and the Lord (and between ourselves, too).

I know of couples who have been married for sixty or seventy years, and their lives together appear to me often to be mostly wordless. They do not seem to need to say anything to each other, because they simply live in this community of love with each other, and everything is “just fine”. They are happy together. I still remember one little couple I used to know many, many years ago. I can still see them sitting outside the seniors’ residence in which they were living. It was a sunny day, and they were just sitting there in the sun holding hands, leaning on each other. It was very touching. That is what I am talking about. Our relationship with the Lord is like that. Our relationship with the Lord consists of love which is beyond words. We do use words ; but ultimately, the love between ourselves and the Lord is beyond words. Such love is completely inexpressible. We use words to help it grow, but then words become completely useless after a time.

This is what the Apostle is referring to. When he is saying : “Rejoice always”, it cannot but be the fruit of that relationship with the Lord. We rejoice perpetually because this love is so alive, so inexpressible, so life-giving. The Lord is giving us plenty to digest today ; and I pray that we will be able, even in a very small way, to live up to His words, His way, His life, and His love. Ultimately, may we come into His Kingdom, and glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Zacchæus Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Turning away from Darkness
Zacchæus Sunday
17 January, 2010
1 Timothy 4:9-15 ; Luke 19:1-10


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

Today, we once again encounter Zacchæus, the short person who climbed into a sycamore tree to try to get a glimpse of our Saviour as He was passing by that way. Every time this encounter with Zacchæus comes to us, we also know that something else is about to happen. Great Lent is coming, and we begin to use The Triodion (the Book of the Three Odes). We will use this book until Pascha. After Pascha, we use the extension of this book, which is sometimes called The “Bright” Triodion. Anyway, just so that you know, it is time to get ready to get ready.

This morning, the Apostle is telling Timothy, his disciple (who is also a bishop), that he is to be an example to the faithful in everything that is good, and that is characteristic of the Christian way of life. This is what a leader of the flock has to do. A shepherd (which is what a bishop or a priest is) has to lead the flock, and show them the path in which to go – not by driving them, but by showing them the way, himself. It is right that the leader should give the example, as well as he can, of how to live as a Christian. The sheep should follow that example. If the shepherd should fail (as all of us shepherds do from time to time), it is important for the shepherd to admit to the sheep that he has made a mistake, and that he say to the sheep : “In this case, do as I say ; do not do as I do”. However, the shepherd is responsible for leading the flock as well as he can, despite his mistakes. When the shepherd is identified with Christ so that people can see the Christian way (which includes repentance) in this leader, then the faithful can be confident that if they are living their lives similarly, then they are on the right path.

What is the essence of this right path ? There are two fundamental characteristics that I want to pay attention to at this moment. The first is love. It can never be avoided, talking about love, because God, Himself, is love (see 1 John 4:8). He implants this love in us. He nurtures us in this love. This love is the foundation of our life. It was because of love, actually, that Zacchæus (who later became, himself, a leader in the Church) wanted to see our Saviour. Zacchæus knew himself to be a man who was very distant from the way of love. He was distant from what our Saviour was saying ; he was distant from what Moses had been saying, because he was a tax collector. In those days, to be a tax collector was to be thief.

In Canada these days, perhaps we sometimes might feel that Revenue Canada is stealing our money. I remember a joke tax form that was being sent around not long ago (supposedly from Revenue Canada). It is called : “The easy Tax Form”. It had one question on it : “How much money did you make last year ?” After that is filled in, then Revenue Canada directs : “Send it to us”. Tax collection in the time of Zacchæus was very much like that, but it was not a joke. He had taken much from many people. Nevertheless, Zacchæus had a spark of something good in him, because his heart was warmed by the things that he had heard about our Saviour, and at least he wanted to see Him on this day. Thus, today, Zacchæus gets the shock of his life, because instead of merely being able to see Jesus walking by on the ground below this tree, Jesus instead walks over to this tree (because He knows our hearts) ; He looks up to him, and He says to Zacchæus : “‘Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house’”. When I was a child, there was a song about Zacchæus (which is, of course, a very British one) which ends with our Saviour saying, as it were : “Zacchæus, come down for I am coming to your house for tea”. Having the odd sense of humour that I have, I begin to think about tea-time in Asterix and Obelisk in Britain (humour about Brittany and Britain at the time of Julius Cæsar) which consisted in drinking cups of boiling hot water with milk. I believe that they actually may have had tea in the Middle East in the time of our Saviour. They certainly had herbal teas, but that is not the point. Our Saviour now goes to the house of Zacchæus, and we can tell that the house was full of people because of the context of what we heard. When our Saviour was coming to his house, Zacchæus prepared a dinner that day, and filled it up with everyone possible. We see here that simply being in the presence of our Saviour produces an instant change in Zacchæus. This instant change is called “repentance”. Zacchæus shows us this characteristic of repentance by immediately, in the presence of our Saviour, changing his way of life. Instead of taking things from people, he begins to be a giver. Thus, in his returning of everything that he had taken from anyone which was in excess of what was required, he was giving back to that person four times what he had taken. Moreover, he was about to give half of everything that he had to the poor. Even with this, Zacchæus did not run out of money, so we can see what sort of bank account he must have had.

Zacchæus becomes for us all a clear example of what it is to repent. In the presence of the love of God, we are given life, and our hearts are warmed. Because of the healing love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we turn away from darkness, and we turn to light. Because of the life-giving love of the Lord, we turn away from fear, and we turn to love. Zacchæus went on in his life demonstrating exactly this love that was shared with him by our Saviour, the Knower of our hearts.

As the Lord knows the heart of Zacchæus, and brings real life, everlasting life to him, He also brings life and everlasting life to you and to me. He knows our hearts. He knows what is good in our hearts. He knows how to nurture what is good in our hearts. If we have made mistakes, or if we have defrauded or defaulted in some way or other, the Lord asks us to turn away from it. He enables us to turn away from it. The Lord is the One who accompanies us on every step of the way, and enables us to turn about. He does not say, in effect : “Turn about. Turn away. Turn to Me”. Rather, He comes with us ; He takes our hand, and He helps us to do this turning. The Lord Himself, who is always with us, is helping us in every way, in everything. This is the Lord whom we serve, who loves us, and cares for us. He is the One who overcomes all our darkness. He is the One who heals our brokenness. He is the One who puts back together again the things that we have willy-nilly taken apart. He is the Healer. He is our Consolation. He is our Joy. The Apostle Timothy and the Apostle Zacchæus demonstrated all this in their lives. It was because of the demonstration of this healing love, this consoling love, this immediate love, that many, many people came to Christ, and have since come to Christ.

This example of Zacchæus is a very strong example for me. Perhaps it has something to do with that song that I learned when I was five. Nevertheless, the example of Zacchæus is important because of his readiness to follow our Saviour, his readiness to be generous, his readiness to be open-handed, open-armed, and open-hearted. May the Lord give you and me more open-heartedness, open-armedness, and open-handedness in the manner of Zacchæus. May the Lord give us all the strength to follow Him with love and hope no matter how difficult some of the obstacles we face may be. May the Lord enable us, by His love, through the prayers of the Mother of God, through the prayers of Saint Nicholas, through the prayers of Saint Anthony the Great, to follow Him with love and hope. May we be consumed with this love so that with great joy we will continue and complete our lives in harmony with, and glorifying the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Fasting enables the right Focus in Life
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
24 January, 2010
2 Timothy 3:10-15 ; Luke 18:10-14


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

We are beginning our serious preparation for Great Lent. Every year when we encounter the scene of the publican and the Pharisee in the Temple, we know that Great Lent will begin very soon. Nevertheless, it is important for us to remember that even if we hear this parable about the Publican and the Pharisee every year, this particular parable applies to us every day of the year, and not just once a year. It is given to us by the Church, by the Lord, in order to help us to keep aware of ourselves.

When the Pharisee in the Temple is speaking today about how he has observed the Law, and about how he has kept the fast, he is not completely wrong. Observing the Law and keeping the fast is what God asks us to do. The trouble arises here because he is inflating himself, and saying, in effect : “I am so good because I am doing these things”. He makes it even worse when he says : “I am not like other men” (i.e. I am better than other people). When we do that, every other good thing that we have done becomes dust (and maybe something worse). Obeying the Law, caring for the poor, and fasting on a regular basis that the Pharisee is talking about, are things which the Lord directs us to do. On the one hand, they are a response of love and an offering of love to the Lord. On the other hand, they are an action which keeps our hearts in balance, and keeps our lives in the proper focus.

If we are fasting on a regular basis as we have always done (these fasts are forever in our history – even before the New Testament), then we are offering to the Lord our stopping of the intake of food (or at least the stopping of certain sorts of food). Besides this, it is something that is good for our bodies.

I will make a parenthesis here about fasting. How do we fast these days ? Fasting is too easily becoming a special sort of “diet that is good for the body”. We can delude ourselves into thinking that the Church is so wise to do this sort of fasting because it is good for the body, and so forth. When we stop talking about fasting as an offering to the Lord, it becomes “me-centered”. If I am going to do this fasting (or abstinence of some sort) only because it is good for my body, and not because I am offering this abstinence to the Lord, then I am out of focus. Certainly, the Lord wants us to do things that are good for our bodies, because He created us to be healthy. He did not create us to be unhealthy and sick all the time. However, He also created us to keep things in balance and in focus. Even though fast is good for my body, that is not the first reason why I am fasting (although it is a nice by-product). 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. These actions are good, and that is how a Christian must live. However, they always have to be undertaken not on the basis of “me” but on the basis of the Lord’s motivating me, and calling me to do these things.

That is why this Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee with its readings constitutes an important moment for us. The publican is a person who has understood how much he has failed the Lord, and how much he has been pre-occupied already with satisfying himself. Because the publican was a tax collector, in most cases that meant robbing other people in order to make himself comfortable. (Let us thank God that Revenue Canada does not operate like that these days.) The publican (or tax collector) had come to the bottom of everything in his life. Standing in the Temple, he says to the Lord : “God be merciful to me, the sinner”.

Our usual translations of this sentence are a bit “iffy” to my mind, because we are always saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner” when, in this pericope, the Greek text says “the sinner”. It is important for us to remember that when we say “a sinner”, we are already living in the world of judgementalism. I am already looking at other people as the Pharisee does, and saying, as it were : “All right, those other persons are sinners, too, but I am not any worse than the rest of them ; I am not so bad, after all, because everyone else is ‘in the same boat’”. I go around making excuses for myself.

Well, that is not what the Lord is asking from us. He is not asking us to make a commentary on anyone else. He is asking me to admit that I am the sinner, and that I need His help right now. This is one place where it is all right to be “I-centered”. Whether other people are in a sinful condition has nothing to do with me. It is not my business – it is the Lord’s and the other person’s business. My responsibility is to get right with the Lord, to have my heart clean towards the Lord, to have my heart full of love in, and for the Lord. It is an important matter for us to keep the right perspective. It can only be kept when we are nurturing the love of the Lord in our hearts.

We nurture the love of the Lord in our hearts by coming, like today, to His holy Temple – even in the middle of a moderate blizzard. We come to be with the Lord, and to offer ourselves and our hearts to the Lord. We open our hearts for the Holy Spirit to refresh this love in us so that when we leave here we will be better able to serve the Lord. The Lord is feeding us with His Body and Blood. He is feeding us with Himself. It is not the bishop or the priest who is feeding us. It is our Saviour Himself who is feeding us. He gives Himself to us so that we can give ourselves to Him, and to everyone around us.

Brothers and sisters, let us learn from the good side of the Pharisee and the good things that he did, and let us do likewise. Let us avoid his weakness, which was to say : “Look at me”. Instead, like the publican let us be grateful to God that He is merciful to us despite our weaknesses, despite our short-sightedness, despite our forgetfulness, and despite our deliberately turning our backs sometimes. He is still merciful to us. Let us give thanks to Him, and allow Him to nurture this love more and more in our hearts so that at Pascha we will truly be able to celebrate with the greatest joy ever, with the purest hearts ever, with the deepest love ever, and with the most focussed lives ever in our history so far, knowing that even this is only just the beginning. Let us glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
“I will arise and go to my Father”
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
31 January, 2010
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 ; Luke 15:11-32


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

From today’s Epistle reading of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, and also from our Lord’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, there is really too much to talk about in a homily. If I were to give a sermon in the manner of Saint John Chrysostom (although I would never be able to preach like he did), it would take a long time. It is not impossible for me to talk about some things for an hour or two, but you would fall asleep (unlike if you were hearing Saint John Chrysostom).

Today, I am going to try to speak as briefly as I can about the things that are important for us to remember. In the first place, we have to remember that the prodigal son, when he took his inheritance from his father, went away and lived a riotous life. The way our Lord describes it at the beginning is polite. When the prodigal comes back, the elder son makes it very clear what was going on in this young man’s life while he was away – in other words, he wasted all his money and his inheritance on having a good time (as it were). This probably meant gambling, drunkenness, and so forth, and in particular, spending time with prostitutes. That is why we have the reading from the Epistle to the Corinthians today. The Apostle Paul speaks about the importance of our attitude towards our bodies, and what is the consequence of being sexually indiscriminate and promiscuous.

In our day especially when “anything goes”, and it does not matter whom you sleep with, or under what circumstances, many people do not understand what is the consequence of all this. In the first place, the Apostle Paul says to you and to me : “You are not your own. For you were bought at a price”. We belong to the Lord. Everything about us belongs to the Lord. It is important that we live our lives with that understanding. Everything that we are, and everything that we have belongs to the Lord. He gives these things to us, and He gives us the responsibility of the stewardship of everything that we are and that we have. He is our Creator. We come from Him. He gives us life. We could not even be, or have anything, unless He blessed it. He blessed you and me into being in the first place. Even if it should somehow be sometimes irregular how we come into being, the Lord nevertheless blessed our coming into being. He created us in His image. He blesses our offering of our life to Him. He blesses everything about our lives.

Therefore, everything we have comes from the Lord. It is important for us to live our lives with the attitude of understanding that this is the case. Everything is from Him. Moreover, because we carry the image of God in us, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are given the Grace and the power of the Holy Spirit so that in co-operating with this gift, we may know Christ and live in Him. Thus, our bodies are not our own. They are temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, then, that when we are united in marriage (citing what our Lord, Himself, says, and what God said right at the beginning with Adam and Eve) : “‘The two shall become one flesh’” (1 Moses [Genesis] 2:24 ; Ephesians 5:31). Normally, when a couple are married, they become one. They are not two, separate, individual persons living distinct and separate lives. Their lives become one. They are physically one, and they are spiritually one. This is how the Lord made it to be when “He made them male and female, and blessed them” (1 Moses [Genesis] 5:2). He created us to live in this harmony and this community of man and woman, who, together, make a complementary whole. This is how He created us. When everything is in the right way, it is very life-giving. When everything is under the Lord’s blessing, there is great blessing in such a marriage, even though living in marriage is not ipso facto an easy thing. No doubt about it, living in marriage is its own martyrdom, but it is a life-giving martyrdom. I have seen many couples who have been married for fifty, sixty years (and some even get close to, and reach seventy years nowadays), living in deep harmony with each other so that they do not need necessarily to speak much. They only speak from time to time when they have to. Their love for each other, and their interior harmony is such that it is a very touching thing for me still to remember a couple who had been married for 55 years, sitting in the sunshine one day after I had gone to visit them. They were sitting in the sunshine on a bench outside their home, and they were holding hands like teenagers. It was a very sweet thing to see. Their love, their devotion to each other in Christ was pure, and it was beautiful, and it was holy. This is how the Lord created us to become.

This is why it is so serious, says the Apostle Paul, when people misbehave and misuse this sort of relationship. He says that when we have a sexual relationship with a prostitute, then we become one flesh and one spirit with that person. I have encountered many persons in my life who have had many such encounters, and they wonder why they feel all fragmented and disturbed in themselves. They do not know themselves very well. This has to do precisely with the words of the Apostle. They have become fragmented because they have become improperly united with very many people. There are consequences. When someone is united to another person like this (who is usually such a very broken person), one does not know what sort of spiritual baggage one inherits from that other person. That baggage infects every person who becomes spiritually united with that fragmented person, and it spreads spiritual poison. It takes a long time for people to be healed from these things, although it is possible to be healed from such behaviour, as this prodigal son is today. He had fallen to the absolute bottom, feeding pigs with food that he was not allowed to eat himself. As a Jew, feeding pigs was the worst thing one could think of. He had given himself as a slave to a foreigner, and was feeding pigs. He had nothing. He could eat nothing. He was starving. It took all that for him to come to himself.

It is important to remember these words : “when he came to himself”, because our Lord does not use words for nothing. Before that, he was “beside himself” (as we say in English). “Beside himself” actually means that he was crazy. He had gone insane. He had lost his sense of himself altogether, and he did not know who he was anymore. By this time, he was certainly living only on impulse and fear. Living in this horrible, degrading condition, finally he came to himself. He remembered what it was like to be a servant or a slave in his father’s house where every servant had more than enough bread to eat. As I would summarise, he said to himself : “I will go home, and maybe my father will let me serve him as a slave. At least I will be able to survive, because I remember what sort of a man he is”.

The scene that comes next is most moving because we see the son in his rags, in his very dirty and terrible condition, living on no food, probably as thin as a skeleton or “as skinny as a rail” (as we say). When he goes home to his father, and while he is yet a good distance away, his father sees him coming. His father runs to his son (which older men did not do in those days), and he embraces him. He could recognise his son, even though he is in such a terrible condition. It is important for us to remember the attitude of this father, who had been waiting for his son to return, and praying for him the whole time. I do not know any parents under such circumstances who would not be praying for their lost and rebellious child. It was because of the prayer of this father that his son was able to come to himself in his horrible condition, and to come to a true awareness of who he is.

When his father runs to him and embraces him, he welcomes him right back into the family. He does not put him with the slaves, and tell him off, saying (as it were) : “Let that be a lesson to you ! You can live like a slave with the rest of my household just as you asked to do !” No, not at all. The father can see that this young man has wakened up, and is again himself. He had come to himself, and he has the humility to say these things to his father. It was a very big lowering of his pride to do such a thing. He has the humility to come and to approach his father in this way. The father reunites him to the family. Putting a ring on the finger is important here, because this ring is a family ring that says that he is the son of this father, and that he has authority as a son of this father to act, and to enter into legal agreements on behalf of, and with his father. In other words, it is a signet ring (and not merely a decorative thing with a jewel on it). It is more than that, and it is very significant. It means that the son is welcomed back into the family.

The animal that they are killing – the fatted calf – is an animal that had been prepared for sacrifice. It is now sacrificed to the Lord for this son. In those days, people sometimes had altars at home, and the father, like a priest in the family, could make a sacrifice. This is what he is doing now. After the calf has been sacrificed, and the offering made, then the custom is to eat the remaining parts of the animal that had not been offered to the Lord (all through the Old Testament, this is how it is done). They eat, make merry and rejoice greatly, because this lost son, who “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”, has come home. By the way, in our families, at our tables at home, we Orthodox inherited these behaviours, and all this consciousness of a father’s responsibility in a family, and the father’s priestly role in a family. It comes to us from ancient times.

Let us not forget that the Lord is precisely like this with you and with me. That is why our Saviour tells this parable. That is why this parable comes to us now, as we are approaching Great Lent, in order to remind us who is our Father, what He is like, and what His disposition is towards us — no matter how rebellious, and no matter how wayward we sometimes can be. This is who the Lord is to us. In our hymns, we equate Christ with this father in the parable.

The older brother hears all this, and goes into a pout and a sulk. He finds out that the father has welcomed back his “good-for-nothing” brother. He would not come into the house, and he says to his father : “You never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends”. (Perhaps we have heard this sort of accusation before from disappointed and envious children.) It is important to understand that the older son has not yet forgiven his brother. He is accusing his brother by saying to his father : “This son of yours”. He distances himself from his brother by that phrase “of yours”. He is still not prepared to forgive his brother, and he is very angry.

His father (who is still the loving father) says to him (as it were) : “Open your heart – everything that I have is yours. I cannot give you anything more, because everything that I have is already yours”. Because he is being selfish, the older son does not recognise that his father’s love is more important than anything else. The younger son has finally come to realise it. The older son still has to wake up. Nevertheless, in the exchange that we are given by our Saviour today, it is implied that this older son is going to wake up. The father’s love is so pure, so intense, so embracing, and life-giving, that even the stubborn, unforgiving older brother will not ultimately resist it. Later, he also will accept his father’s love, understand his father’s love, wake up, forgive his brother, and call him his brother again.

As we are nearing Great Lent now, it is very important for you and for me to remember that the Lord loves us. Our whole life is to be as He intended : a life in a relationship of love with Him. Our lives are to be responding to Him, working together with Him, even co-creating with Him. Our lives in Christ are supposed to be productive and life-giving. That is why I am particularly thankful to God that I have the possibility to come to serve together with you in this parish, because the Lord has given you the responsibility to shine with the light of His love. You have been showing that you are determined to do this. Glory to God that you have inherited from your parents and your grandparents this love for the Lord which propels you, and which keeps you together in this Temple, and glorifying our Saviour.

May the Lord, by the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit, enable you to continue to follow the Saviour, to be faithful to Him, and to shine for Him here. May the Lord enable you to help other people who are looking for Him who is the Truth, to find Him in His love amongst you in the middle of your warm hospitality. Together 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.

Sunday of the Last Judgement

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Do we love the Lord ?
Sunday of the Last Judgement
7 February, 2010
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2 ; Matthew 25:31-46


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

Today is the Sunday of the Last Judgement. The words which we have heard from our Saviour today are all about this Last Judgement. These days, it seems that people around the world are concerned about this subject, this future event. However, they are talking about it in terms which are dangerous. They are concerned about some small details concerning this final Judgement, instead of paying attention to its essence and to its meaning. People are looking forward to the punishment of the bad people while hoping that they are amongst the good people. They are hoping that they will get to see the bad people being punished. With this attitude, it seems that it never occurs to those who hold it that they might be sadists.

This is not at all what our Saviour has just said to us. His judgement is going to be based on the words that He gave to the Apostle Peter right after the Resurrection. Shortly after the Resurrection, we hear our Saviour ask the Apostle Peter : “‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’” (John 21:15) Three times, He asks the apostle this question (see John 21:15-17). The word in Greek that the Saviour is using the first two times is the verb agapáo, which means the love that we give to God. It is the love that has no conditions. It is the love that is free, freely given, open.

The Apostle Peter answers that he loves the Saviour, but he answers with the verb philéo that means family, brotherly love, friendship, hospitable affection. This is not as strong as agapáo. It seems that the apostle (at that particular time) did not comprehend the subtle, but important difference between the two sorts of love. The third time, the Lord asks him : “‘Do you love Me?’” with the same verb that the Apostle is repeating in his responses : philéo. The apostle again replies with the same word. In all likelihood, by the end of his life, the apostle understood very well, and would be answering the Saviour with agapáo every time.

In the Judgement, the Saviour will be asking you and me the same question : “Do you love Me ?” The Saviour says that our answer is going to be measured by how we have behaved towards other people. We can say that we love the Lord, but we can mistreat people very much. We can say that we are Christians, but we can behave as if we were criminals. We can say that we believe in Christ, but we can behave in very dark and evil ways. Thus, our Saviour says that He is going to measure us by how we behave towards each other. He says that we must visit the sick ; we must clothe the naked ; we must feed the hungry, and things like this. We must be aware of each other, and the needs of each. We must be caring for each other. We must be supporting each other. We must be helping each other. This is the way that the Saviour wants us to be. He is very emphatic about it since He says that as much as we do things like these to the very least of His brothers (He considers all of us to be His brothers and sisters), we have done them to Him. This has always been the way characteristic of Orthodox Christians.

If this were not so, then why is it that in Russia and Ukraine after Perestroika, besides rebuilding the Temples, one of the first things that have been happening has been the building of orphanages for children who have no parents ? These Church-sponsored orphanages provide care for the children until they become adults (unlike the state, which throws them out on the streets when they become fifteen). Why is it that hospitals and hospital chaplaincies have been re-established right away ? Why is it that there have been prison chaplaincies established right away in these countries ? It is because people are living according to the Gospel, and they are taking the words of Jesus Christ seriously. In Russia and Ukraine, there are priests and their wives adopting large numbers of children in order to protect them. I know of one priest and his wife in the Orel area of a province near the Ural Mountains (where the old Metropolitan Leonty used to be the bishop) who had adopted 50 children. Then they had three of their own, and they continued to adopt children. It is several years since I have heard the latest number. Not only have they been adopting these children, but they have also been taking into their home older people (in wheelchairs, and so forth) who have no place to live. The last I heard they had 25 babushki and dedushki living with them, too. This family has become a village by itself. There is another priest in Ukraine, who is the head of a monastery, who (with his brotherhood) has adopted 250 children in order to protect them. These things are done by people who love Jesus Christ, and they understand these words of our Saviour that we have heard just now.

Hospitals began with Christians almost 2,000 years ago because people took the words of the Saviour seriously, and they began to care seriously for each other, and their needs. We are coming now to Great Lent, and it is important for us to remember that this call from the Saviour to care for the poor, for the needy, for the hungry, for the shut-ins, is our responsibility and not someone else’s. We have to say : “It is my responsibility to Jesus Christ to care for those who have no-one to care for them”. This is our way. It is the opposite of what people are generally being taught nowadays. Forgetting ourselves, and caring about others first is the way of the Saviour. We who live in Jesus Christ must practice this love. This love must be acted on. We must do the love of Jesus Christ.

In today’s Epistle reading, and in the Epistle reading for yesterday (see 1 Corinthians 10:23-28), the Apostle Paul reminds us of our responsibility to our brothers and sisters who have weaknesses. Some of our brothers and sisters do not understand that we, as Orthodox Christians, do have liberty, and it does not particularly matter to us if food somewhere has been offered to idols. This can happen here in this city, too, in some Asian restaurants or some other place where food is prepared by people who are not Christians. In my childhood, and also not very long ago, while sitting in a Chinese restaurant where there were some representations of gods sitting on a shelf, I have heard the question raised :” Should we be eating this food which has been offered to these idols ?” The answer is : “Yes, of course, because the blessing of God is much greater than any offering to idols”. That is what the Apostle Paul is telling us about. The Lord’s blessing is much greater than these offerings.

However, some people are afraid. The Apostle says that it is important for us not to be pointing the finger at someone’s weakness, but to be patient with that weakness in someone else, cover that weakness in someone else, and support that person to become stronger. Therefore, he says to us that if we know that it is perfectly all right to eat something, but we also know that our brother is afraid, then we ought not to eat it for our brother’s sake. Therefore, we limit ourselves and our freedom for the sake of the weakness of our brother, and in such a way we support our brother or sister to become stronger him- or herself.

The way of the Orthodox Christian is love that is practiced concretely. We cannot merely say that we love God – we must behave in a manner that shows that we do. We have to show this love. Otherwise people will lose Christ. We call ourselves Orthodox Christians. People in our country, in this city, who are looking for the truth, who are so disappointed with all sorts of empty promises, empty philosophies, and empty systems, are looking for the true meaning of life which we have in the love of Jesus Christ. However, if we, who call ourselves Christians, do not behave as Christians, people who are going to be measuring Jesus Christ by our behaviour, are going to be disappointed again.

It is important for you and for me to live our lives in Jesus Christ with as much truth as possible, exercising freedom in love as much as possible, caring for those in need as much as possible.

As we are beginning tomorrow to eat fewer things, and in one week’s time to enter Great Lent, let us be careful to enter this Great Lent not saying to ourselves : “Oh, I cannot eat meat. Oh, I cannot eat cheese”. This is the wrong spirit, because you will be tortured all during Great Lent. Let us enter Great Lent saying : “Lord, I am offering to You my not-eating these things because I love You, and because I want to participate in the diet of Adam and Eve before the fall. I want to offer to You my abstaining from these foods because I love you. Instead of eating meat, drinking milk, eating cheese, eggs, and nice things like that, with Your help I am going to do good things for people who need help. I am going to do more for other people around me”.

Let this be our offering to the Lord this coming Great Lent. Let us offer our love and our abstinence to Him because we love Him (not merely because the rules say that we have to do it this way). If we do this, the point of Great Lent will be achieved by Pascha : we will have become stronger Orthodox Christians, and we will be better able to serve Him during the coming year. We will be able to glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, more and more in every part 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.

Forgiveness Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The most important Element in our Life
Forgiveness Sunday
14 February, 2010
Romans 13:11-14:4 ; Matthew 6:14-21


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

Our Saviour says to us this morning that the extension and the explanation of the central theme of the “Our Father” is that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. The radical forgiveness in this God-given prayer affects and is affected by all the petitions that surround it. Forgiveness for the Orthodox Christian is not an option. Forgiveness is the centre of our life. It is the most practical way of living out the love of God. Forgiveness is the most important element in our life.

It is difficult for us to remember this. We have ironic ways of doing exactly what the Lord has just said not to do. The Lord says to us : “'Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven'”. This treasure in heaven involves loving the Lord first and foremost above everything, and allowing the Lord in His love to heal everything in our lives. It is concerned with putting everything in the correct perspective in our lives, into the correct order in our lives. In fact, ultimately, it means that we are allowing the Lord to make us into the persons He created us to be in the first place.

Because we are so poisoned with and enslaved to fear, we have strange ways of holding on to “pet” fears. In the course of the pains in our lives, we become accustomed to holding on to pet fears which are also connected to “pet” grudges, and “pet” resentments. They can very often burrow themselves so deeply into our hearts that we do not even know that they are there. We wonder why we snap at someone unexpectedly or react grumpily to someone unexpectedly when there is no particular cause. We wonder why we behave strangely (and other people wonder why we behave strangely, too). If we have these characteristics and these strange little quirks about us, it is a good thing to start looking into the interior of our hearts, and to ask the Lord to shine the light of His love into those dark corners of our hearts. Something must be hiding there that is producing these strange reactions : sudden anger, sudden explosions, and so forth. It is weird how we hold on to these things, but we do.

We have a dangerous tendency to hold on to things that are dark like these. The particular strangeness about it is that we hold on to these fears because they are familiar, and we are accustomed to them. In fact, we are used to being a slave to them, although we do not want to admit it. Thus, we go on and on in our lives being afraid of what might happen if we let go of them, and let the Lord heal us so that we would be free of them. We are afraid of what comes with this freedom. We human beings really are very strange. We have such a wonderful, free gift from the Lord of love and freedom, but we are so often inexplicably reluctant to reach out and receive it. Sometimes we can try to be “in control” as we try to take only a little bit here, and a little bit there (some part of it that we feel we can digest at the present time). Because we are irrationally afraid, we do not simply respond to Him : “Lord, here I am”.

I am saying that it is important to pay attention to this characteristic about ourselves, because if we are holding on to these fears, then the ability to forgive is going to be severely limited. Forgiveness is crucially important. Our society talks about forgiveness, but society does not know the first thing about what real forgiveness is. Most people will say : “Oh, forget about it ; let it go ; get over it ; ignore it ; put it away”, and things such as that. These are very glib and very easy things to say. Who of us (and certainly not me) can forgive by simply putting the pain, the anger, the grudge aside. The result of putting it to the side like that means that I stick it into a dark place in my heart, into some catch-all cupboard. Some older persons will recall the infamous and over-stuffed hall-closet of Fibber McGee. This, however, is worse than the Fibber closet, because this closet is really stinky, and its atmosphere is poisonous. I hide the anger, resentment and fear in there, as I try to pretend that what troubles me does not exist anymore. I have not done anything to whatever it is except to put it there. In my own experience in life, every time I have put things into the dark, stinky parts of the heart (which I, myself, and not the Lord have created), these things sit there, fester, turn around and around, get bigger and bigger, and stretch out tentacles. This is what happens when we do what people popularly and very mistakenly think is to forgive. To ignore is not to forgive. To pretend it does not exist is not to forgive.

The Lord’s way to forgive (and it is the only life-giving way) is to face whatever it is straight on. The fact that someone said to me the most horrible, insulting, irritating thing that I ever heard in my life, and which produced great hurt and turmoil in my heart, is something that I may not hide from and ignore if I want to live in the life-giving context of the Lord’s words today. I have to be prepared to pray for that person, saying repeatedly : “Lord, have mercy”. Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex rightly says that this very simple prayer encompasses the whole Gospel in those little words. Saying : “Lord, have mercy” over and over and over again for the person who has so hurt me, heals my heart. I am asking the Lord, in His love, to be between us in His love, to intervene and apply His love to the other person. This has the effect on me of healing my heart because I am praying for the other person. Because I am praying that the Lord be present in His mercy and in His love, and that He bring healing to the other person, that is what brings healing to my heart. Once I start to pray for the other person, the anger, the bitterness, the sorrow and the pain begin to be healed, moderated, and actually neutralised by the same love of the same Lord, so that I come back to my normal self. At least on my part I can have a normal disposition towards the other person, who may not yet have come to the ability to forgive or change his or her opinion of me.

As angry as I may be in my response to someone’s very hard-hearted, pointed, nasty-sounding remarks, there often can be a certain amount of truth in what is being said, about which the Lord can bring a change in my heart. However, it is not so much for us to be looking for what might be true in someone else’s rebuke – it is more that we allow the Lord to show us, and to straighten it out, Himself.

Forgiveness is not an option. It is the centre of our life. If we look at everything that our Saviour does in the Holy Gospel, it is related precisely to this forgiveness, beginning with the Incarnation itself. If we doubt His readiness to forgive us, then why, for instance, are we paying so much attention to Saint Mary of Egypt ? We pay attention to Saint Mary of Egypt because her repentance was so great. The Lord’s forgiveness of her was so great that it gives us hope that in our messes He will do the same for us. However, we, like Mary, have to turn about. We have to turn away from fear, and let go of fear. We have to turn away from these grudges, and other things that are so distorted and poisonous. We have to let them go, and put them in the Lord’s hands saying : “Take it away, Lord”. We have to allow Him to heal us.

I am particularly grateful to be able to be here on this particular day yet again this year, because this day is the putting into practice of this forgiveness. I am also grateful because since the last time I was here, this community has given birth to a way of touching the lives of people in n in a very concrete and practical way. This way has already received approbation by people that I have been talking to who are not of this parish. The love of the Lord is not expressed merely by talking and writing. The love of the Lord must be acted upon, worked, and done. Insofar as we you have been able to participate in developing this presence in the centre and the heart of n, you have begun to meet the very practical needs of people in a practical way ; you are, in fact, living out in this necessary and practical way the love of the Lord.

In the hymns of last evening in particular, we were paying attention to the departure of Adam and Eve from Paradise. It is important to pay attention to the fact that God did not kick them out of Paradise. It is more accurate to say that they talked themselves out of Paradise. If we pay attention to the conversation between Adam and Eve and the Lord after they listened to the lies of the father-of-lies, we can see how quickly the poison worked in them. The poison was instantaneous and deadly. Before that, they had a perfect communion with the Lord. They understood instinctively what the Lord willed, and what is life-giving. They participated with Him and in Him in Creation, and the giving of life in Creation. Having disobeyed because they accepted the lie, they immediately knew fear. Immediately they began to deceive themselves. They tried to hide from God (although no-one can ever hide from God). Then, when the Lord asked them direct questions, they started to make excuses, and blame each other. It is obvious to us as we read all this that the poison worked instantly. The very things that we still do to this day, they instantly did. It is important for us to understand how they talked themselves out of Paradise. Not for a moment did they say : “Forgive me. I am sorry”. They forgot. After the lie, forgetfulness is the next main weapon of Big Red.

Lies, suspicion, deception, and forgetfulness. How many times did I say to my parents when I was embarrassed about being corrected : “I forgot”. I said that many times. I got sore spots (in those days you got sore spots) because I was forgetting, but it did not help very much in the remembering department. Even in my advancing years, this is still a problem.

It is essential that we be mindful of and remembering the love of the Lord. It is crucial that we hold onto the Lord’s love, because no matter how far I try to run away or hide, I can never escape His love (see Psalm 138:9, 10). His love is what enables me even to exist. I exist only because of His love. His love is life-giving. My existence is my opportunity to be alive with Him eternally. I have had many conversations (and I am certain you have had them, too) in which people say : “How can the Lord let this go on : all this death, destruction, war, theft, starvation, people being killed in all sorts of horrible ways, people suffering intensely. Why does the Lord let it continue on ?” This question is unanswerable — except that, in the context of the whole world’s brokenness, there is still enough opportunity for people to find the Lord. That is perhaps why He has not yet called everything to a halt. There are still many people who are calling on the Name of the Lord, people who have not bent the knee to Big Red (see the Prophet Elias in 3 Kingdoms 19:18). Therefore, the Lord prolongs the opportunity for others to find their way. The Prophet Elias helped and encouraged other people to find their way to true worship of the true Lord. That is our responsibility.

In Egypt, it is precisely this way. The persecution of Christians in Egypt is intensifying. It is not decreasing. People are dying more and more often in Egypt now because they are believers. It is a great suffering. Yet the Egyptians are not “taking it lying down”. The last I heard, there are societies of Christians who understand that it does not make any difference what they do about being obedient to the state, or not. Simply because they are Christians, they are at risk. Therefore, they establish societies designed specifically to bring the Muslims to Christ, and they do it with great success. There are web-sites, and all sorts of amazing things and tools available. That is one example of why the Lord allows things yet to continue on.

There are still people who are open to receive the Lord. It is up to you and to me to be available to them in love. If this availability is only through “Sandwich Saturday”, then that is not a small thing in itself amongst all the other benefits being done at Saint Maria’s. It is not only the sandwiches. It is the encounter in love that is significant to people who are suffering, rejected, and thrown out as they are. When we are paying attention to people who are homeless and rejected, do not forget that our whole society (polite as it is) feels the same way about us as it does about these outcast people.

We Orthodox Christians are not understood by our society. The society in the midst of which we subsist is completely preoccupied with its cozy, comfortable myths and illusions about the benefits of building and living in mammoth houses. We deceive ourselves into presuming that everyone is to be rich, and that there are plenty of well-paying jobs available to all who want them. Our self-deceiving society pretends to have a wonderful life ; but in fact, this phantasy is built on the backs of many thousands of poor people. Indeed, when the biggest city in our country has 40,000 people with no place to live in (the last I heard), then we are obviously living in a big illusion and delusion. We are just the same as the rich man who ignored the poor Lazarus. Because of this contrast between the way of the Lord’s love and the way of our secular society, we should not expect to be understood and immediately well accepted. To the people of this secular society, we Orthodox Christians are very strange indeed. For instance, we actually attempt to live out Christ’s radical forgiveness, even while we are immersed in an atmosphere of retribution, an atmosphere in which everyone seems to want to lock up everyone else for years and years, and to “throw the book” at everyone. This attitude is the complete opposite of the way of Christ. It is not a surprise that we are not understood.

When you are doing what you are doing here, you are precisely in harmony with what the Orthodox Church has historically done everywhere when she has been free to be herself. Where do hospitals come from ? From the earliest days of Christian life, it was early martyrs who established the first hospitals. Who are our most famous unmercenary, wonder-working physicians ? Men and women of the first four centuries. This is our characteristic. There are many more that followed Saint Panteleimon and his friends (the great, famous unmercenaries). In the Soviet days of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Byelorus, and other places, everything was supposedly provided by the State. Then the Communist State collapsed. With the renewal of a relatively free Orthodox life since 1988, the first thing that happened was a two-pronged movement. First, there was a renewal of the Temples in which to worship the Lord. Second, there was the immediate addressing of the needs of the poor. Very shortly after perestroika (re-structuring), I was taken to Moscow where I met a priest who was a chaplain in a Moscow hospital. This hospital was populated by Orthodox volunteers and nurses who had already established a chapel in the hospital, and who were praying there. They were holistic, caring for everything about the people who were sick.

At the same time, this priest had organised a large orphanage. In a Christian context, an orphanage in that society is important, because the State there (to this day) takes in orphans, but then puts them out onto the street at the age of fifteen. This condemns them to the nastiest things that society can provide for them. Not many (in fact, very few) of those coming out of those orphanages onto the street at the age of fifteen are able to establish themselves in a life-giving way. They enter a very degraded way of life because every imaginable predator is waiting at the doorstep of these orphanages. On the other hand, the Christian orphanages receive these children, and keep them after the age of fifteen until they become adults. They educate them properly ; they clothe them properly ; they teach them to read and write ; and they teach them a trade or a skill so they can do something when they come out of school by which to support themselves. In Russia, in the diocese of Orel, there is a priest and his wife who had adopted fifty children (at the last count). Then they had three children of their own. At the same time that they adopted all these children, they also welcomed into their homes twenty-five (it has to be more by now) senior citizens with disabilities. They welcomed all these homeless, sick grandmothers and grandfathers into their conglomerate. This family has become a village by this time.

Last autumn when I was in Ukraine, I encountered two monasteries : one for men and one for women. The abbot and the abbess used to be married to each other, but at some point they decided that they were going to live as monks. In the end they became the leaders of these two communities which are about 25 km apart. At present, the women’s monastery had about 140 nuns who are all squashed into a small territory. The men’s monastery has ninety monks, and they have 200 hectares. The men’s monastery is helping the women’s monastery with food, and the women’s monastery is helping the men’s monastery with the orphanage that the abbot has established because he, himself, had by this time adopted 250 children. This is in the area of the border with Romania, Moldova and Bessarabia. The children live in beautiful buildings with four to seven children in a room. Their ages range from infancy to twenty (they have started to marry them off by this time). Some have very challenging disabilities. The nuns come, the monks come, and the children call them “Mama” and “Papa” (of course, the abbot is the main Papa). These monks and nuns are providing a family for these children which they could not otherwise have had. They also have medical possibilities that they could never have had otherwise. The abbot was declared to be an official hero in Ukraine because he has done all this. It was done with no State help. It was all done by the people supporting this monastery and this orphanage. I am giving you only a few examples (there is much more I could say), because this is simply how Christians would normally behave.

Doing what you are doing here in this city is only normal Christian behaviour. No-one would ever get away with adopting 250 (or even fifty) children here in Canada. You are doing what the Lord gives you to do according to your gifts, and you are practising His love, and giving life and hope to others. May they, with us, glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
True Unity must be visible
Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers
21 February, 2010


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

The words which our Saviour gave to us just now [John 15:1-10 had been read] are really important words for us, especially for us Orthodox Christians in North America. We Orthodox Christians in North America are actually at a crossroads, a time of testing. This is a time of testing, because in North America the vine planted by Christ (see Psalm 79), our Orthodox Church, is trying to grow in very poor and inhospitable soil. This soil is not favourable to the growth of the Orthodox Faith, because our society is completely absorbed with acquiring money and power, and with the primacy of the unholy trinity, “me, myself and I”. By contrast, the Orthodox Faith is primarily concerned with serving the Most Holy Trinity, with serving other people, and with putting “me, myself and I” last.

We are at a crossroads, because the Lord is putting us to a sharp challenge in these days. Are we Orthodox Christians in North America going to live up to our Orthodox Faith here and now ? This is our challenge. These visits that we make to each other every year on this feast-day of the restoration of the icons are very good for us. However, we seem to be satisfied with being together as we are now, once a year, and with not doing anything more. This is not what the Lord is asking us to be and to do.

If we are going to be like branches which are growing properly from the vine, then we Orthodox in North America have to allow the Lord to prune us and to put us in order, because at the present time we are wild. The branches on this vine are growing all over the place in a disorderly manner. What do I mean by that ? Well, I mean that according to the normal Orthodox way of life, the Church is visible. What do I mean by “visible” ? First, let us take this feast-day for an example. On this day, we are celebrating the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that the Word did, in fact, take flesh. God took on humanity. Because of this, we have here before us an icon of Christ, our Saviour. Because of this icon of Christ, our Saviour, we know more or less what He looks like. By coming to kiss this icon of Christ, our Saviour, we are coming to kiss Christ Himself. He took on flesh in order to show His love for us, and to unite Himself to us. However, it did not stop there. We have always understood (according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul) that the Church is the Body of Christ. We are that Church, that Body of Christ. Our Lord became visible to us when He took flesh, and therefore the Church, His Body, is and must be visible and one. The Lord is not divided.

The Lord, our Saviour, is one, and the Church is one. The Church’s unity must also be visible unity. When we, in North America, presently have one city which has in it six Orthodox bishops, then there is something disconnected from the visible unity of Christ. This is very dangerous. That is why I am saying that we, the branches on this vine of Christ in North America, are wild. We need to be pruned. On this feast-day, I am particularly asking for your prayers because we, the bishops of the Orthodox Church in North America, are beginning to embrace the responsibility that is ours of overcoming such overlapping administrations that allow us to have six bishops with a title of the same city. The Orthodox Church in her whole history has correctly known only one bishop in one city, in order to express the visible unity of the Church. In some giant city, we might perhaps have more than one bishop ; but the bishops would not be in the same part of the city or the same territory. For example, in this province, there might be a bishop for Toronto, another for Hamilton, another for Mississauga, or some place like that.

The bishop must be the father (not the ruler) of a visible family on a particular territory. Why do I keep talking about this particular challenge ? A consultation of the Orthodox Church last year in Chambésy determined that it is time to put in order the Orthodox Church in the missionary and non-traditional territories. This consultation of the patriarchates provided for us an outline of how to go about it. The bishops of each area are to begin to gather on an annual basis, and to prepare for a coming Great Council by deciding amongst themselves how they are going to bring about this visible unity of the Orthodox Church on our territory. The first meeting of the North American bishops will be 25-27 May this year in New York City. If everyone is able to attend, that means that there should be something like seventy or eighty bishops gathering for two short days. We will discuss the beginning of what we hope to do in order to be faithful, first of all, to Christ, and to the canon that Christ gave us about how His Church should appear. Second, we have to be faithful to the patriarchates that are asking us to live up to our responsibility.

For us in North America, it is not such an easy task to do this, because our Church exists in at least three countries that have very different laws. It is going to be a complicated business to organise us on this continent. That is why I am asking you seriously to pray for us. Bishops can get distracted by many things. We can lose our sense of direction. We can even get distracted by personal interests. That is why it is important for you to pray for us that the Lord will guide us, protect us from ourselves, and keep us open to Him alone as we strive to do and to accomplish His will. His will is, after all, to baptise this continent. The Orthodox Faith is not on this continent to be some sort of alternative. The Orthodox Faith is here in North America (no matter for what reason it came here) because the Lord willed His Church to be here so that we can fulfil His exhortation to His apostles : “'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'” (Matthew 28:19).

May the Lord enable you, brothers and sisters, to live out this unity amongst yourselves, Orthodox believers, no matter what countries your ancestors come from, and no matter what languages you speak. Our Faith is one ; our Church is one ; our Lord, Jesus Christ, is one — to whom be glory, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Encouraging one another

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Encouraging one another
Saturday of the 2nd Week in Great Lent
27 February, 2010
Hebrews 3:12-16 ; Mark 1:35-44


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

It is interesting that, even when the Saviour has gone away to pray and to be quiet, He is not left alone. This happens to holy people everywhere, always. Rare is the saint who has gone into the desert, and who has not soon been bothered by people. So it was with Saint Anthony the Great, who found himself surrounded by very many people who were so attracted to the Lord’s love in him that they wanted to be near him, and to emulate him in his love for the Lord. However, he was overwhelmed by all the persons around, and he withdrew to another place. He kept on withdrawing, and the desert became very popular and populous.

This happened to many other persons in the “northern desert” (as it is called) in north Russia and Siberia, and other places like that. Other hermits had decided to withdraw there in order to be with the Lord, in order to worship Him, in order to serve Him, in order to put Him first in their lives, in order to turn away from the darkness in their lives. The same thing has happened again and again. The northern desert became populated. There are towns all over north Russia that are there because first of all there were monks hiding in the woods there. The light of Christ that is shining cannot be hidden.

When the apostles come to the Saviour, they say : “Everyone is looking for You”. They ask Him to go back. Our Saviour replies, as it were : “No, let us go somewhere else now”. People love Him so much that they want to hold onto Him. His love is so evident that they feel that they have to be with Him. They want to hold on to Him. They want to make Him their pet, as it were. However, the Lord does not allow this. In a similar manner, we cannot hold on to anyone so as to own and keep that person for ourselves. Even a wife and a husband cannot be like that to each other. So much more so is it the case with a holy person, and even yet more so with the Saviour. They want to hold on to Him, but He says : “‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth’”. Thus, He goes, and He preaches, and He teaches, and He heals. Our Saviour does not go anywhere without healing people. Always, where the Saviour is with His love, there is healing. Things are put back in their proper order, and there is life. Around the Saviour, everything is growing.

In His wonderful and characteristic compassion, the Lord heals the leper who comes to Him today. When the leper approaches Him, it is very significant that he already understands Who He is, because he says to the Saviour : “If You are willing, You can make me clean”. Our Saviour says : “I will”. Modern English-speakers are a little uncertain as to what this expression “I will” really means. We usually take this “will” as simply a future tense. In these cases, we have to be careful when we are speaking English because sometimes “will” means the act of the will. I do believe that that is where this expression comes from. When one says : “I will do such a thing”, this does not simply convey that I shall do it at some time in the future, at some indefinite time. Rather, it has always meant : “I am willing to do this, and it is happening because I will”. Maybe there is a future character about the word, but the will backs up what is coming in the future. Thus, our Saviour says : “I will”, and it happens immediately. He stretches forth His hand, and the man is healed.

To paraphrase, our Lord then says to the man : “All right, do not talk about it. Just go and do what the Law says : show yourself to the priest”. Why does He say : “Do not talk about it” (because obviously the man does not obey) ? He says this because the change in the man from leprosy to a healthy man ought to speak for itself. You do not have to speak about all sorts of things that are happening. The situation speaks for itself. For instance, a person who has lived a rotten life, who has turned about to the Lord and begun to follow Him, should not have to be blathering : “Look what the Lord did”. The change in that person’s life should be obvious to everyone all around. The change in itself should be sufficient. If a person wants to ask : “What happened ? How did this occur to you ?” then is the time to say : “It is because of the Saviour”. That is the right time. When we go around blathering about all sorts of things, our words fall on dry soil, empty ears, and sometimes empty heads. The words go for naught because the person is not ready to hear. People are so used to hearing all sorts of things. The change should be strong enough by itself to provoke a response from the perceiver who might ask : “Why do you have peace ?” “Why do you have joy ?” “Why are you now suddenly so well, when you were so sick before ?” “Why are you alive when you were dead (as has actually happened in some cases) ?” These states of being and these events should speak for themselves.

It is important for us to remember what the Apostle is saying this morning because he is speaking about the basic character of our relationship with each other as believers. In living our Christian lives, it is vital that we continually exhort each other. By “exhort”, he means “to encourage”. He asks that we be supporting and encouraging each other always. Exhortation can even be done without words, as in the example of hermits such as Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, and Saint Herman of Alaska. By their lives overflowing with Christ’s love, they became magnets to people. They withdrew to be alone with the Lord ; but such hermits cannot be left alone, because their light is shining in the darkness. People are drawn to them because the love of these persons encourages them to persevere, encourages them to change their ways, and to put the love of the Lord first.

Encouragement and exhorting each other does not have to be by words (especially in our days when words are so empty and of shifting meanings all the time). Everyone in my family used to say : “Actions speak louder than words”. This is true. We can say things, but not necessarily manage to do them. Others can easily be known for saying but not at all doing, so that those who know them will not believe until it is seen. Therefore, about words, we are, as it were, from Missouri. (For younger people who do not know this expression, the State of Missouri’s nick-name is : “The Show-me State”. Missouri has somehow acquired the reputation of being sceptical.) This action of loving the Lord, giving life in the Lord, bringing joy, bringing light in the Lord is what encourages those around us. That is what is exhorting those around us. Because we are faithful, because of our love, other people are encouraged to love the Lord also. It is not just : “Do as I say”. It is : “Do as I do” which is much more important. Our Saviour Himself says that to us (as it were) : “As I am, so should you be. As I am bringing life, so should you be bringing My life in you. As I am bringing healing, so should you be bearing My healing in you”.

As we are now almost half-way through Great Lent, 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 : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Paralytic and his four Friends

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Paralytic and his four faithful Friends
2nd Sunday in Great Lent
28 February, 2010
Hebrews 1:10-2:3 ; Mark 2:1-12


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

I am always deeply impressed by this pericope from the Gospel, and I have been since my childhood. These four men are bringing their friend to Christ because they are certain that our Saviour can help him. They love their friend, and they are really determined to help this man to get to the Lord. However, the house is so jammed with people that no-one can get in. What do they do ? As a child, being a Canadian, I could never understand what was going on because they opened the roof. From my perspective as a child, I could not understand, but from a Middle-Eastern perspective, housing construction is different. In all likelihood, that roof was covered with tiles. Although it is not easy to take them out, it is not the same as pulling off shingles and ripping wood off (or worse).

Somehow they dismantled the roof above the Saviour. They dragged their friend up onto the roof, and let him down on his stretcher in front of the Lord. This is determination. It is also really dramatic. These persons did this because they were so confident that the Lord could do something for their friend. They had obviously had experience of what happens when the Lord is with people, and of course that was the reason that the whole house was so jammed with people that no-one could get in. The Lord, in His love, always and everywhere, was and is putting things in their correct order. Everywhere He has been going, He has been healing people and delivering them from their illnesses. He has been delivering them also from the chains of sin. When these persons let down their friend before the Lord, He immediately addresses the situation by saying that the paralytic’s sins are forgiven. This immediately produces a controversy in the minds of the Pharisees who say in their hearts, as it were : “How can You, a human being, be forgiving sins ? This is really a blasphemous statement. Only God can forgive sin”. To show very clearly Who He is, our Saviour says to the man : “‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house’”. He does just that. He takes up the stretcher on which he was lying, and he walks away.

Human beings are no different 2,000 years later. Were we to be physically present on that occasion, we would be just as amazed and covered with confusion. However, the Lord is showing very clearly today to them and to us Who He is : the Lord who releases us from our sins. He is not necessarily saying that this paralytic was paralysed because of sins (his sins or anyone else’s in particular). The Lord is making a very clear point that He has the authority to forgive sins. He has this authority because He is the Son of God and the Son of Man that has been prophesied to come. He is the Messiah.

The last words of the Gospel reading today have always been a bit amusing to me. Human beings being human beings, they are awfully slow. When they see something right in front of their noses (the Pharisees especially), then logically, they should understand what they have just seen. Instead, however, they just shake their heads, and they say, as it were : “Well, we never saw anything like this before”. From their lips does not come the appropriate confession : “You are the Christ, the Messiah”. They are too caught up in their heads, in their minds, and in their expectations of what the Messiah must be like. They had thought that this Person is obviously a great man of some sort, but He does not fit the mould of what they are expecting. He does not fit their expectations, so in their minds, He cannot be the Messiah. Human beings are like this. We often behave as if we were not sane. Too often, we are too stubborn, and we are too caught up in ourselves to let the Lord work amongst us, and to let Him be free amongst us.

The Lord loves us. The Lord is Who He says that He is. The Lord is the Giver of life, the One who sets us free from our sins. He gives us a very strong object lesson today in how He really does forgive us our sins. He has the authority to forgive us our sins. Just as this man today is set free from His paralysis because of the forgiveness of sins, so you and I are set free from our paralyses (even though they are not physical) through the forgiveness of our sins which the Saviour is constantly offering to us. Let us not be like those persons who hear and see our Lord today. Instead, with the apostles, let us see Who He is, and let us say to Him in response to today’s wonder : “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Through the prayers of the Mother of God, let us ask Him to enable us to live in accordance with this confession so that when we see Him working in our lives, we will be able to give glory to Him for His love and His intimate care for us.

May we have the confidence in our intercessions to be like those four men who carried their friend before the Lord. We cannot physically take someone before the Lord, but we can invite someone to come to the Temple, and bring him or her before the Lord, allowing the Lord to touch that person through sacramental Grace, or through unction, confession or receiving Holy Communion. The Lord has given us any number of ways to convey the Grace of His love and the release from the chains of slavery that sins bind us with. Let us have the confidence of these four men today to bring our friends, our loved ones before the Lord, knowing that He does love our friends and our loved ones as He loves this paralysed man today. He wishes to release us and our friends as He releases this paralysed man just now.

Let us offer each other to the Lord with this confidence that in whatever way we need releasing, He will release us, set us free, keep us free, and keep us on His path, His way, His way of joy, His way of peace and His way of harmony. Let us have confidence that, passing the rest of our days in this peace and joy, we will be able to come in His love to the Kingdom, and be able to glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the all-holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Veneration of the Holy Cross

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us draw near to the Lord without Fear
3rd Sunday in Great Lent
Veneration of the Holy Cross
7 March, 2010
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.

The words that our Saviour is speaking to us today are very important words. He says to us Canadians in particular (who are very happy to be comfortable in this world) that if we are comfortable in this world, we are not likely to find the Kingdom. We Canadians are passing through a very serious time of our life because clearly we have lost our way as Christians, and as Orthodox Christians.

I will explain what I mean. Out of love for us, the Saviour emptied Himself and became a human being. Out of love, He ascended the Cross for our sake and died for our sake. Our Lord gives us the Cross today in the middle of Great Lent to remind us about this. Out of love, He died on this Cross and He rose again from the dead on the third day. Everything that our Lord has done and is doing with us, is because of His love for us. The Lord also says to us today that if anyone is ashamed of Him here, He will be ashamed of that person before God the Father at the Judgement. In this context, we have much to ask ourselves as Orthodox Christians.

How are Orthodox Christians generally behaving in society in Canada ? There is not much generous sharing of the love of Jesus Christ. Instead, in Canada, we are content to stay in our closed families. More and more, we are allowing our service to the Lord to be limited to Sunday mornings only. How are we responding to the Lord who empties Himself for us in love ? It seems to me that here in Canada especially, we are responding in fear. We like to export this fear back with us to ancestral Orthodox cultures, and poison their culture. In the historic, normal Orthodox behaviour in church, people are standing first at the front, and last at the back. Historically, for the last 2,000 years, Orthodox Christians have wanted to be close to the Holy Table in order to be close to the Grace and the love of the Lord. Now, in Canada, two things are happening. In the first place, we are reacting with fear. We keep our distance in case (as in school) the priest might ask us a question. Perhaps we think that we are especially holy and especially humble, and that we should be completely invisible behind some pillar, like a saint we once read about. That sort of humility is very rare and special. The normal place for us is close to the Holy Table. This is so because of love.

In the second place, in Canada we start to put all sorts of furniture into the Temple so that we can sit down comfortably. When we are sitting down, we are looking at the Divine Liturgy as if we were watching television, or a play in a theatre. (It is certainly not as active as a hockey game.) Sitting comfortably, watching the Divine Liturgy from a distance, we stop participating in the Divine Liturgy, and it becomes something that someone else does. We become more and more comfortable, and more and more detached this way. When we do this to ourselves, we make our hearts go to sleep. We become hard in our hearts. From the bishop’s point of view, this is very sad. It is the bishop’s responsibility to encourage people to love the Saviour more and more. I have been speaking about this sort of thing over and over again for 22 years all over this country. Still, after 22 years of talking about these things, and trying to encourage people to overcome their fears, people still stay far away from the Holy Table. Even though this pattern keeps repeating itself, I will not be discouraged.

I must say to you yet again : “Do not be afraid”. These are the words of our Saviour to us all the time. He sends angels to us to say the same thing : “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5). Do not be afraid to be close to the Holy Table. If you have to move because there is a procession happening, or because the clergy and the altar-servers are going in and out, then move a little bit in order to let them come and go, but come back to your place close to the Holy Table. The Lord loves us, each and every one. He wants us to be near Him, not far away. If you have a sore back or sore knees, move your furniture closer to the Holy Table. The Lord loves you and He wants you to be near Him. He said to His apostles : “Let the little children come to Me” (Matthew 19:14). These young people here who are standing close are obedient to the Saviour.

Let every one of us here be obedient to our Saviour in His love, and be close to Him and near to Him. Let us not accept the fear that paralyses so many Canadians. Let us allow the Saviour to set us free from all these chains. We can go so far as to say that it is not only our responsibility to draw near to Him, but it is our right to stand close to Him as His baptised brothers and sisters, members of His Body. The Lord loves us. Let us glorify Him with our whole life, with our whole being : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Memory of Saint John of Sinai

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ, Himself, is the Ladder
(Memory of Saint John of Sinai)
4th Sunday in Great Lent
[Given outside of the Archdiocese]
14 March, 2010
Hebrews 6:13-20 ; Mark 9:17-31


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

Just this last week, at the dialogue between Canadian Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops (convened in Toronto), there was a discussion about the matter of exorcism. The bishops agreed that this has to be approached carefully and properly. However, we have rather different ways of going about the whole matter. Roman Catholics have a tendency to think that an exorcist must be a particular specialist who has graduated from a specific curriculum on the subject. However, Orthodox tend to think that any person who is given the authority through a special, personal blessing can undertake this service. The point is that it is not anyone’s supposed holiness or ability that has anything to do with exorcism. Exorcism has not to do with academic knowledge (so-called). Exorcism certainly has nothing to do with special or secret techniques, nor is it a learnt skill. It has only to do with Christ, Himself. An appropriate example of this is found in the exchange between a demon and seven so-called exorcists (see Acts 19:13-16). The result was disaster for the “exorcists”.

Whenever Christ is present, evil is agitated. When evil has enslaved a person, the evil is especially agitated in Christ’s presence. The agitation begins already when Christ is merely approaching (see Luke 8:28). In every case, just as today, our Saviour sets free the person who is enslaved by the devil. He sets the person free by His love. In the same way, He sets you and me free from sin by His love. Not by any means is everyone who is possessed by the devil afflicted in the way this particular child was today. However, we are all definitely in some ways enslaved by sin.

If we are going to pay attention to particular cases of exorcism (as we were discussing last week), it is true that we have to pay very careful attention in order to distinguish between someone who is truly possessed and someone who has a psychosis. However, we can understand what is truly the case if we have the heart and the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). It is the Lord Himself, in His love, who sets us all free from any sort of enslavement to the devil – whether it be so extreme as possession, or whether it be the regular occurrence of enslavement to sin of one sort or another.

In order for us to be able to live as our Saviour is directing us to live, and to be able to accomplish what He wants us to accomplish in Him, we have to have the heart and the mind of Christ. We have to come to the point in our lives when everything in our life is Christ (see Philippians 1:21). Then, everything that we are and everything that we do is Christ. Regardless, He is with us and in us all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. In this context, I like to say that in naming one of his particularly good books, Pope Benedict XVI made a mistake. He entitled his book about the Eucharist "God is near us". I am not saying anything against the book. That is not the point. However, God is not “near” us. Rather, He is “with” us, and we are with Him. It is a small mistake, but a very significant mistake. “God is with us”, as we love to sing with gusto at Great Compline. Everything about us is in Him. There is no distance between us and Him.

Today, we are keeping the memory of Saint John, the Abbot of Sinai, who is well known for having written "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". So important is this writing, that we have a Sunday in Great Lent given to his memory and 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. In the course of this ascent (which is the whole course of our lives), we learn how to see Christ more, everywhere and always, in everything and everyone. We learn to pay less attention to our selfish concerns in which we are straying from Him.

In the icon concerning the ladder, we see nasty black creatures taking people off the ladder. The people fall off the ladder not because the devils are yanking them off, but because they have decided to listen to the Tempter, to take their focus off Christ, to look at themselves, and to look elsewhere. They fall off, and they have to begin again. Falling off this ladder is not the end of the story for you and for me in the course of our lives. The Lord loves us, and He is continually beckoning us to come up the ladder to Him. He wants us to be with Him at all times, everywhere, and in eternity. He wants us to be with Him because He is the Life-giver. He created us to live in Him. He wants us to be with Him and in Him always.

The Lord loves us. It is the presence, the life and the light of His love that sets this child free today. When our Saviour is saying to His apostles, who could not at that time cast out the devil, that this sort only comes out with prayer and fasting, we are to understand (as the apostles understood) that life in Christ is all about prayer and fasting. 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. The apostles were later able to bring Christ’s love to bear on the lives of many people, and they were able to bring Christ’s healing love and release to all sorts of persons. They grew up in Christ. When He was telling them today about His coming Crucifixion and Death, it scared them because they had no idea what this meant. It frightened them, as it would frighten you and me (except that we know what happened). We know the end of the story, and we are living in the consequences of His sacrifice in love, His self-emptying love.

As we are progressing day by day on the course of the ladder that Saint John is describing for us, let us ask the Lord to be in our hearts and in our minds, to form our hearts and our minds so that we do not fall off this ladder and have to begin again and again. Instead, may we be enabled by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, supported by the prayers of our brothers and sisters and of all the saints as well, to make our progress up and up (as C S Lewis describes it in The Last Battle of the Narnia series), higher and deeper, in love with the Lord. May we be more and more identified with Him. May we be more and more like Him. May we be more and more in Him. May we have the mind of Christ, and be able to come into His Kingdom with joy and light. May we be followed by all sorts of persons whom we know ; and together may we glorify Him in eternity with joy, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Christ, the Great High Priest

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ, the Great High Priest
Saturday of the 5th Week in Great Lent
20 March, 2010
Hebrews 9:24-28 ; Mark 8:27-31


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

Today, our Saviour is asking His disciples : “'Who do men say that I am?'” The Lord understands that people are trying to comprehend just who this is, who is healing the sick, raising the dead, and delivering from evil. The disciples answer that some people are saying that He is John the Baptist, or the Prophet Elias who had come back, or some other prophet. In other words, the people consider that He is someone who has already been on earth, and who is returning. Then our Saviour asks His disciples directly : “'Who do you say that I am?'” On behalf of them all, the Apostle Peter answers : “'You are the Christ'”. That means the Messiah, the One who has been promised, who is going to save the world. At this time, our Saviour tells them not to talk about this to anyone. The disciples do recognise Who He is, but at the same time they do not understand what all this entails. That is why our Lord has begun to teach them (as we heard just now) the details of what is to come : the Events of the Passion, and the Event of the Resurrection.

“Who is Christ ?” is an important question for us continually to be answering. We cannot merely say that He is the Christ. Few people nowadays know anything about what this word and everything associated with it means. It is not enough simply to stop there. We have to live the understanding. Therefore, the Apostle Paul is making certain that we understand more clearly by saying that Jesus Christ is the Great and Eternal High Priest. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle is teaching us about the High Priesthood of Christ. However, the Saviour is not a high priest like the hereditary high priests of His time, who were only human beings, and who, in anticipation of the sacrifice of Christ, were offering the blood of animals as a substitution for human beings. For our sake, our Saviour, the great High Priest, offers Himself once and for all. It is not that He is offering Himself to God the Father as some sort of appeasement. Because of His perfect and all-encompassing Love, He is offering Himself by emptying Himself. In emptying Himself, and allowing us to put Him to death, He overcomes death by His Resurrection. Very soon we will be singing that He has overcome death by His Death, and by His Resurrection He has given Life.

The Apostle Paul says that the high priest was entering into the Holy Place of the Temple, a foreshadowing of the true Holy Place. What is true Holy Place ? It is Heaven, in the presence of God. We, in Christ, members of His Body, have been given the gift to be taken into the holiest of Holy Places. In Christ, we have access to the bosom of the Holy Trinity in a way that the angels do not have. We are created lower than the angels, but in Christ we end up being greater.

However, our greatness as Christians can only be found in lowliness. We imitate Christ, the perfect Servant, who empties Himself completely, and offers Himself completely for us so that He can embrace us all and bring us with Him into the Kingdom. We must be living our lives in lowliness, in self-emptying, and in the embracing manner of Christ. His love gives life to those around us. In our lives, we can give joy to those around us, as Christ gives joy to us. We can give love to other people, and to all creation around us, as Christ gives love and life to us.

On this day, as we are coming close to the most solemn and most joyous time of the year, let us ask the Saviour to help us truly to understand Who He is, and to be able to confess Him with Peter and the apostles, to confess Him with our whole hearts. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, may we be enabled to live Him with our whole hearts, so that in all things, and in all ways we 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.

Saint Mary of Egypt

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Every Saint manifests Christ’s Love
(Memory of Saint Mary of Egypt)
5th Sunday in Great Lent
21 March, 2010
Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Mark 10:32-45


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

When we hear readings from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we tend not to understand very well what is being written there. One of the reasons for this is that, in general, we do not pay very much attention to the Old Testament. The Epistle to the Hebrews is written to people who understood the Old Testament very well. They knew what the Apostle was talking about when he was describing how Christ is fulfilling the promises.

From the time of the Fall, the Lord promised redemption to us. He promised us a way out of our estrangement from God. We are the ones who broke communion with God. God did not break communion with us. We are the ones who chose to listen to the Tempter. I would go so far as to say that we are the ones who took ourselves out of the Garden of Eden because (as you may perhaps recall) from the very beginning, we did not bother to say : “I’m sorry”. To this day, we human beings have great difficulty saying : “I’m sorry”. (Even if Canadians say it by habit, we often do not really mean it.)

Saying that we are sorry, apologising, asking forgiveness, is not easy for us. That is how we are. Yet, how has the Lord manifested Himself to us all through the course of our history ? He has manifested Himself to us as patient, loving, kind, ready to forgive and ready to accept our repentance. Thus, when we remember Saint Mary of Egypt today, we remember a woman who had fallen into the darkest sorts of slavery to sin. She was absolutely driven by sin and she could not help herself. Nevertheless, the Lord saw her heart. The Lord woke her up, and she repented. She turned about, and she allowed the Lord to take her on the path of life. For the rest of her life she walked on this path of life.

It is not for nothing that every year, Mary of Egypt comes to us two times during Lent. She comes to us first on the feast-day of her departure into the Kingdom of Heaven on the first of April (that is a day which is always in Lent as far as I understand), and she comes to us on this, the last Sunday of Great Lent. She comes to us, by the mercy of God, to remind us (as He reminds her) of His love for us, and the openness of His arms towards us. When our Saviour is being explained to us by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is in this context of a loving God who is fulfilling His Promise : His Only-begotten Son empties Himself because of love, and becomes a human being. The Symbol of Faith uses “Man”, but this refers to the Greek word anthropos, whose meaning includes human beings of both genders. At the same time as He is a human being, He is the great and final High Priest. In the Epistle today, we notice what the Apostle says about the blood and ashes of animals. Here, he reminds us that, by anticipation, the blood and ashes of animals were for purification of the flesh. The annual repetition of prescribed sacrifices demonstrates the very limited effectiveness of the animal sacrifices. In the following chapter (see 10:1), he shows us that these sacrifices could only be effective in bringing remission of sins insofar as they were participating in advance in the great sacrifice of Christ, the High Priest. This High Priest offered Himself – not anyone or anything else or any other substitute. He, Himself, offered Himself for us.

As our Saviour says : “‘Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’” (John 15:13). In Christ’s love, a person can potentially give up his life for his friend, his brother or sister, his loved one, and sometimes a stranger. Saint Maria of Paris, the New-Martyr, is but one example of this in the last century. This is the love that our Saviour has for us. For love of Saint Mary of Egypt, He gives up His life. For love of you and me, in all our weaknesses, darknesses, failures, falls, betrayals, He gives up His life. He gives Himself up. He gives Himself up for you and for me. He loves us far beyond our ability to express it. Very soon in this Divine Liturgy, we will be describing Him as “the One who offers, and the One who is offered”. This is a mystery that cannot really be explained. People try to explain it, and they get somewhere towards it, but there is only so much explaining we can do about these things. We can only properly comprehend most of these mysteries in the depths of the heart which is in communion with the Lord.

As we are now remembering Saint Mary of Egypt on this last Sunday of Great Lent, and as we have confidence in the Lord’s love for us, let us ask Him to refresh in our hearts this confidence in His love. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit may we be enabled to persevere in this love, to grow in this love, to grow nearer to Him in this love, to grow more like Him in this love, so that our lives may be transformed and transfigured, as was the life of Saint Mary of Egypt. May we be enabled to shine with the radiance of His love, and to pour out His peace and His joy so that people around us will understand His love and come to be with us, rejoicing in His love here in His Temple, in His presence, where He says to you and to me : “‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28). All together may we glorify our deeply-loving Saviour, 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 Annunciation to the Mother of God

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Encountering the Living God in Love
Feast of the Annunciation to the Mother of God
25 March, 2010
Hebrews 2:11-18 ; Luke 1:24-38


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

The Lord’s merciful love is always with us. The Lord’s merciful love is always preparing for what is necessary. The Lord’s merciful love is always overcoming obstacles. As we sing and say sometimes in our prayers : “When the Lord wills, the order of nature is overcome”.

Today, we see the Archangel Gabriel appearing first to Elizabeth and telling her (who was not ever expected to have a child) that she would have a child. Six months later, he is appearing to Mary and telling her (who is not even married yet) that she will have a child. Of course, she asks how could this be. The Archangel Gabriel says to her what is always being said to you and to me (except that we keep forgetting) : “Do not be afraid”. She accepted the word of the Archangel, and she did not allow any fear to interfere. She trusted him, and she trusted the love of God. Therefore, by being lowly as she was, she became full of the Holy Spirit. She gave birth contrary to the expectations of nature. This birth had been pre-confirmed by the unexpected birth of the cousin, John the Forerunner.

The Archangel said that Mary would give birth to a boy whom she would call Jesus. Why the name “Jesus” in particular ? It is because this name in Aramaic and in Hebrew means “Saviour”. The very name given to Him at His birth by divine command tells everyone from the beginning Who He is that has been born. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One. He is the One who will save us from our sins. He will save us from death. He will save us from our brokenness. He will save us from our separation from the love of God. The fulness of that experience is going to be repeated in this Temple just next week, in Holy Week.

Throughout her life, the Mother of God remained always faithful, trusting in the words of the Archangel and in her personal experience of the love of God. She shows to you and to me, Orthodox Christians, that the relationship with God is not merely an intellectual one (although the intellect is certainly involved). However, this relationship is not fundamentally intellectual. The first thing about the relationship with God is the experience of His love. Everything else comes after that. For instance, that is why Saint Basil the Great is Saint Basil the Great, or why Saint John Chrysostom is “the golden-mouthed”. Along with a myriad of others, they are persons who encountered the Living God in love, and who continued to live in accordance with that experience. Their words, their teachings, their prayers are all in the context of (and a product of) this experience of love. It is this experience of love that Saint Seraphim, for instance, tells us that we all should expect, should look for, and should allow to happen in our lives. It is the same encounter with the same Living God as was given, and is given to the Mother of God.

The Mother of God said, and always says to this very day : “Yes” to the will of God, the Father. Her unity in heart with God is similar to (but greater than) that of Adam and Eve before the Fall. They knew in their hearts (without even having to ask) what is God’s will. The unity in love of the Mother of God with her Son, with God the Father, and with the Holy Trinity is similar to this – open, unhindered, ever-flowing love. She always knows what is the will of God, and she always does what is the will of God.

This is the direction that the Lord is calling you and me to follow, in harmony with the “Yes” of the Mother of God. It is for us to be as the Mother of God. To do this, we have to do as we see her do in her icon on the iconostas, as we see her do in her icon above on the wall, as we see her do in most of the icons. She is always directing us to her Son, who is the Light and the Life of the world. Because of her attitude of love and harmony with Him, she has become “more honourable than the Cherubim, and greater in honour than the Seraphim”. She is called “the General” of the triumphant hosts of angels, which, indeed, she is. She is our protection. Do not forget what happened when Pochaiv was invaded by the Muslims, and they were trying to kill the monks. The Mother of God appeared above the monastery and protected it. Do not forget what happened at the Tikhvin Monastery in Russia when the Swedes were going to attack it. The Mother of God appeared to the monks, and said : “Go with my icon around the monastery in prayer”. Carrying the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin, and singing an akathist or moleben, they processed around the monastery, and the Swedes went home.

These things happen over and over again. Do not forget that when there was a forest fire, Saint Herman of Alaska put the icon of the Mother of God before the forest fire, and the forest fire stopped. Do not forget that when there was a tsunami coming towards the island in Alaska, he again put the icon of the Mother of God on the sand, and the tsunami stopped right there. The Mother of God is the victorious Leader of triumphant hosts. She is the Great Marshal of spiritual military might. She is victorious. Her victorious power is her love for her Son.

It is for you and me, Orthodox Christians, to participate in this love, this life, this victory, and to imitate her way of life. In so doing, may we bring light, love, and life to this city. May this city, eventually and finally, as it was called to do in the beginning, glorify in the Orthodox manner the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Resurrection of Lazarus Saturday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us be transparent in Christ’s Love
Resurrection of Lazarus Saturday
27 March, 2010
Hebrews 12:28-13:8 ; John 11:1-45


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

The words of the Apostle today in the Epistle to the Hebrews are familiar to me from my childhood : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. It is important for us to remember that always, particularly in the context of what is happening today. Today, Lazarus is being raised from the dead in preparation (as we are singing) for our own experience of the Resurrection of Christ. The Lord is always preparing us for what is to come. He is always opening doors ahead of us. He is always going before us, drawing us to Himself, making the way for us because, of course, He is the Way.

In the context of these words from the Epistle to the Hebrews that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”, it is also necessary to recall the words that our Saviour, Himself, addressed to Martha, saying : “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live”. These words are essential for us to keep in the forefront of our consciousness because we live in such a confused world of philosophies, and all sorts of conflicting ideas. It is crucial that we never forget that Jesus Christ is no mere “idea” ; He is no putative proposition ; He is no meditated nor logically-produced philosophy. He is the Son of the Living God. He is the Word of God. He is the One who loves us into existence. He is truly our life, as He is the life of Lazarus.

Contrary to what some people suppose, Lazarus did not die any time soon after his resurrection in obedience to Christ. Rather, he went on to become a bishop and a missionary in Kition (Larnica) Cyprus, until his death thirty years later. Lazarus continued to witness to the power of Almighty God by his life, his works, and his witness of love and life. We, who have not been raised from the dead literally, have been raised from the death of sin. We have been raised from the death of darkness, delusion, and confusion. We also must allow His life and His love to shine in us, and to shine through us, so that the Lord will be able to draw others to Himself through us. We ourselves were drawn to Him through the love of other Christians. We have to let this same life-giving love, which we are experiencing today in the resurrection of Lazarus, pass through us to other people round about us, who are starved for this love, for this hope. There are many people who have much difficulty in receiving the Lord’s love. They also treat us badly in order to test us because they are so bound with fear or so broken or hurt.

In our prayers and hymns to the unmercenary saints, Cosmas and Damian, and other unmercenary saints, we very often are saying : “Freely you have received ; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We must freely give ourselves because the Lord gives everything to us. He gives us our life, our hope, our health, our families, our loved ones – He gives everything to us. Therefore, it is for us to affirm this and to confess Him openly. It is also for us to take hold of His protection and salvation so as to keep away from the fear-produced temptation of falling into treating Him as a philosophical construct.

In the same context, let us allow the Lord’s love to continue to shine through us no matter what. As we put our trust in Him, may He accomplish His perfect, life-giving, loving will in those around us. May He draw them to Himself, unite them to Himself, and enable them, with us, to glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Palm Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us receive the King of All
Palm Sunday
28 March, 2010
Philippians 4:4-9 ; John 12:1-18


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

Today, we do literally have children with palms of victory here. It is pleasant to hear the children making noises because it is their own way of saying : “Hosanna ! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord”.

The Apostle John tells us that today, people are making a great demonstration as they welcome Christ, our Saviour, into the city of Jerusalem as King. They do this because they had seen the sign of the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany. If they did not see it, they certainly heard about it because, as we saw and heard yesterday, Bethany is nearby to Jerusalem, only three km away, over the Mount of Olives. News travels fast (even without internet), especially when something like this occurs. It is not as though the raising of Lazarus were the first time that our Saviour had raised a person from the dead. There were many others, but most of these occurred in Galilee, which is, from the Jerusalem point of view, the same thing as being in Whitehorse, Yukon (from the Ottawa point of view). If these things are happening in the Yukon, then we usually will say : “Well, that is up there”. However, if it happens here, in the capital, then it definitely means something to us.

As they are receiving the Saviour today, the people understand that the things that He has been doing indicate that He is the Messiah. He is the Christ. He is fulfilling the prophecies about the One who would be sent, who would come and save the world. Therefore, they receive Him who is seated upon the colt of an ass (just as we have been singing). They receive Him, and we, too, receive Him as King. Now, in Jerusalem, things will take a different turn very quickly. We, ourselves, have to be watchful of our hearts, our minds, and our lives, so that we also do not allow things to take that sort of turn.

If we are accepting that Jesus Christ is Who He says that He is, and we honour Him truly as King, then we are honouring Him as King of the whole universe. It is He who loves everything into existence. It is He, the Word of God, who speaks everything into existence. If we are truly Orthodox believers, confessing that Jesus Christ is the King of the universe, and that He is my King in particular, then it is important for us to persevere, confessing Him in our daily lives, and not only on high occasions or on occasions when He does something very particular for us. It is important for us to be remembering to confess Him every day, in every part of every day. That is why in today’s Epistle, the Apostle is reminding us to focus our thoughts on those things which are beautiful and good, and especially on those things which are true.

I can never resist bringing up the fact that this particular passage (Philippians 4:4-9) is the source of the motto of the University of Alberta. However, the University of Alberta, my alma mater, has lost the sense of its origins, sad to say. It is important for us to remember that Jesus Christ only is the Truth, as He says : “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (John 14:6). He is all three : Way, Truth, Life, and much more. The focus of our thoughts, and the movements of our hearts must be towards Him every day.

On this great feast, we are welcoming Him into Jerusalem together with the people 2,000 years ago. As we are doing this, let us ask the Lord to refresh our love for Him, so that our love will not get distracted and lost by extraneous things. Let us ask Him to keep our minds from being led astray by deceptions and substitutes. As the distraction and straying happened to people 2,000 years ago, so it happens to many people nowadays. Regardless of anything else, no matter what human beings do, we will remember that Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), is constant in His love for you and for me. He never changes in His love for you and for me. Human beings come and go, human beings fall, but the Saviour is never-changing in His love for us.

Let us ask our Lord, in refreshing our love for Him, to enable us to maintain the confidence that He is always there for us, that He is always the same for us, and that His love is constant for us. He is always with us, to free us, to bring us to life, to bring us to joy, and to bring us to health. Health in heart brings health in body. In this loving confidence, in this loving relationship with the Saviour, let us, every day of our lives, glorify Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Great and Holy Thursday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Following the Example of our Saviour
Great and Holy Thursday
1 April, 2010
1 Corinthians 11:23-32 ; Matthew 26:1-20 ;
John 13:3-17 ; Matthew 26:21-39 ;
Luke 22:43-45 ; Matthew 26:40-27:2


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

These are most solemn days that we are passing through. We are accompanying our Saviour on His way to His voluntary Passion for us and for our salvation. While we are going on our way with Him, we can see ourselves in the behaviour of the disciples and apostles. Although we (as they) love Him and trust Him with our very lives, very often when there is pressure on us, we (as they) can easily be overcome by fear. We, ourselves, can pretend that we are not His followers and disciples. Out of fear, our behaviour can sometimes involve betraying the Lord as the Apostle Peter denied Him three times. Sometimes, we also run away, as the apostles did on this most awesome occasion. Yet, the Lord in His mercy understands everything. He understands our weakness. He understands that our love might have shallow roots. This was the case even with the apostles, who did not understand. It is ironic, that we, too, even at this distance of two millennia in time (and with innumerable examples of His saving love), very often still do not understand.

Today, our Saviour gives us three examples. First, He gives us the example of humility, and we, His followers, ought to be doing as He does. Today, He washes the feet of those who are His children, His followers. The One who is the Lord and the Teacher of all, washes the feet of His creatures. He is showing us that He is emptying Himself in love for us. In His love for us, this emptying of Himself never ceases. Drawing us near to Himself, calling us to Himself without forcing us, He is constantly stretching out His hands to us. He is beckoning us, receiving us, touching us, healing us, renewing us.

As our Saviour washed the feet of His disciples, so we, in our way, with the resources given to us, should do the same. It is not the custom in Canada or in the United States to wash people’s feet. It is interesting to notice how reluctant people are about having their feet washed. In a monastery, it is the normal experience that on this day, in imitation of Christ, an abbot would wash the feet of the monks (that is, twelve of them). In a cathedral, it is the place of the bishop to wash the feet of his parishioners. However, it is often too hard in North America to do this, because people are too shy about this particular possibility. Nevertheless, if the bishop or the abbot or anyone else cannot actually, physically, wash the feet of the people, there are other ways in which this service can be provided. There are other things that we can do : helping them, serving them, as our Saviour serves us.

Second, our Saviour gives us the food of eternal Life. He gives us today His Body and His Blood in order to sustain us in our following of Him. He knows that we are weak, and He knows that we need food, concrete, tangible food that we can eat and taste. He knows that we need this because we are human beings. He gives us His Body and His Blood through the vehicle of bread and wine. The Lord gives us His Body and His Blood to sustain us, to nourish us, to enable us to continue following in His footsteps no matter how weak we sometimes may be. He gives us His Body and His Blood for the healing of our souls and our bodies.

The third example that our Saviour gives us is the example of obedience to His Father. His emptying of Himself, His sacrifice of Himself, His Offering of Himself on our behalf is certainly voluntary. He, who created all things, is allowing His creatures to kill Him. We see the great agony and stress that this brings to Him. When He is suffering like this in His love for us, He is bearing in Himself all our darkness, all our fear, all our brokenness. Our Saviour is offering all this to the Father, so that as He dies and rises again from the dead, conquering death and overcoming sin, He is re-uniting us all with the Father. We are now able to become members of the Body of Christ. We are now able to re-enter direct communion with our Creator because the Saviour Himself, God Himself, has come to us. He has emptied Himself, and taken us to Himself. He has taken everything of us upon Himself, and He has brought it up to His Father, our Father in heaven.

Such is His love for us, and such should be our love for the Lord. Our Saviour did all in order to fulfill what was prophesied. He did this not only because the Prophets prophesied. Prophets can sometimes prophesy on their own will, and therefore not truly be prophets at all. However, the true Prophets prophesied in the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, they spoke the words which the Word, Himself, gave them about Himself, in advance of the events to come. Our Lord knew what had to happen in order for us to be united to Him. In love, He embraced all that was prepared for Him, in harmony with the will of the Father (see Luke 24:25-27).

Trusting our heavenly Father who wants only life and joy for us, let us likewise embrace in love all that we are given. Let us trust Him concerning everything in our lives. Following the example of our Saviour, let us now be obedient to Him, and offer Him this sacrifice of praise at the present time. May this sacrifice of praise continue to be offered to the Lord in our hearts, our souls, and our minds throughout the rest of our lives, and into the heavenly Kingdom. There, with all the cloud of witnesses, we will glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Pascha

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Universal Proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection
Feast of Pascha
4 April, 2010
Acts 1:1-8 ; John 1:1-17


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

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. The Word of God has been victorious. The Gospel of the Saviour is intended to be preached throughout the whole world. This good news of Life shining forth from the grave is to be proclaimed to the whole universe. The Paschal custom in the Orthodox world is to do even more of what we just did – to proclaim the Holy Gospel in several languages. When it is possible, one can hear this Holy Gospel repeated at this very time in ten or more languages, depending on the people available, and the texts available. In some churches, there are whole books of transliterations so that the Gospel can be proclaimed in who knows how many languages, even if the proclaimers do not know exactly what they are saying. This is perhaps a different sort of Pentecostal experience.

Just as the Apostle Luke was saying to us tonight in the Acts of the Apostles, the point is that the Gospel is to be proclaimed throughout the whole world. This reading of the Gospel in many languages is a testimony to that. Not only the reading of the Gospel in these many languages (which sadly did not include Georgian tonight, or many other of the languages that we speak in this community), but this community, itself, is a living witness to the fact that the Gospel has indeed been being preached to all the nations because of the multiple nations represented here in this parish family.

The Lord in His mercy is reaching out to us all in His victorious love. He is drawing us all to Himself, offering us His Life, which is shining from the empty tomb today. Here we are, standing with the Myrrh-bearing Women at the empty tomb early in the morning. We, too, are overcome with joy and amazement. Whatever we do in our lives following this experience, it is important that from this moment we progress, that we step forward into the coming year, and remain constantly confident that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, loves us. He is here for us. He is with us. He is enabling you and me, in Him, to be victorious over sin, over death and over darkness, just as He is. In Him, we are participants in His Resurrection, His Life, His Light and His Love. That is why we are here in the middle of the night. We are responding to the love that pours forth from Him.

Let us take hold of this love, embrace this love, and refresh our commitment to our Saviour tonight. In the days, weeks and months of this coming year, let us ask Him to give us the Grace and the mercy to be faithful to Him. May we be faithful witnesses of His love so that not only we may be enabled to live in life and love, with power, joy and perpetual hope, but also that we may be enabled to share it simultaneously with all those around us. May you all have the Grace of the Holy Spirit poured out upon you so that, like Saint Seraphim of Sarov, you may be able to proclaim every day : “Christ is risen”.

Bright Saturday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord is All in All
Bright Saturday
10 April, 2010
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.

Today, we have two examples given to us about how we are supposed to be living as Christians. They are very important lessons. The first one is from the Forerunner himself. When his disciples are complaining to him that Jesus is baptising nearby, and people are going to Him (instead of to John), the Forerunner is saying to them, in effect : “I have told you that I am not the Christ. He is the Bridegroom, and I am the friend of the Bridegroom”. The Forerunner is making it very clear to his followers who is Who : Jesus the Christ is from above. He knows everything. He is above everything. He understands everything. Therefore, the Forerunner exclaims that his joy is complete : “‘This joy of mine is fulfilled’”.

The Forerunner also says these most important words that we all have to recall throughout our own lives, and apply daily in our life : “‘He must increase, but I must decrease’”. He must increase because He is all in all. From Him comes everything that we are, and everything that we have. Nothing that we have or are, is without Him. Even people who deny Him exist because He is, and because He loves. Their very existence comes from the Lord, whether they accept it or not, whether they can see it or not, whether they understand anything or not. The Lord’s love is such that He gives life. He gives to every person (and probably even to every creature) the opportunity to live eternally in harmony with Him, in life-giving love with Him.

Today, in the Epistle reading, we see in the Apostle Peter the opposite of what is usually happening in our society. In the reading yesterday, we saw him approaching the lame man who was begging for alms outside the Temple. When he approached this person who had been born without any power in his legs, who had spent his whole life begging in front of the Temple, and had been living on the gifts of people who came by, the Apostle Peter said : “‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk’” (Acts 3:6). The apostle took him by the hand, and up he got. As you can imagine, he was leaping and jumping about, praising God, and glorifying God everywhere in the Temple. When people began to give credit to the Apostle Peter, the apostle responded, in effect : “There is no credit at all for me. The One whom you crucified raised this man from his fragility, inability, and impotence”. The Lord Himself who is risen from the dead, gave life and the opportunity to make a living now to this man who had only been able until that day to subsist on the proceeds of begging. The apostle took no credit for himself.

In the course of our lives (opposite to our society’s ways), it is essential that we take no credit for anything good that we are doing. What good we are doing is being done by the Lord in and through us. It is He that does the good. We are His agents, but it is always to Him that glory is due. He is the One who is healing people through our prayers. He is the One who is releasing people from bondage through our prayers. He is the One who brings joy to other people through our witness, and our life and love in Him. It is He who accomplishes all things.

It is important for us in our lives to remember this important fact that the Lord is everything. He is all in all (see Colossians 3:11). He is our all, as He is the Apostle Peter’s all. If there is good that is accomplished in our lives, glory be to God. He is accomplishing His good in and through us. We do not do anything by ourselves. As soon as we take credit for ourselves, we are stealing from God His due glory. It is very serious when we say : “Look at what I did – I am so great ! I am just the best thing since sliced bread !” When we say these things, this is really stealing from God. It is true that we fall into these temptations, and we forget and sometimes steal from Him His glory. However, God is merciful. When we tell Him we are sorry and mend our ways with His help, He is forgiving and loving, and He restores us. He renews His Grace in us, and continues His work of love in us.

We keep forgetting about these important perspectives because we live in a world that has nothing to do with these perspectives. Our societies are concerned about “me, me, and me”: “me” being comfortable, my rights, my point-of-view, my opinionated views, my deserts (not as in sweets after dinner, but what I deserve). Our societies are all concerned with self-satisfaction, the “individual” and the “individual’s” needs. This word “individual” is about isolation, whereas “person” implies involvement and relationship with the other. The Orthodox Christian way is the complete opposite of isolation. As a Christian, the affirming of “me” is first accomplished in my glorification of God, and then by my serving people all around me with love. Although we may not have anything much to give to someone who is in need, we do have the love of Jesus Christ to share. Perhaps the Lord does not bless us to heal people as He blessed the Apostle Peter in yesterday’s Epistle to raise the man from his paralysis. However, the Lord does give us the ability to intercede in prayer. Over and over and over again I have seen how people’s lives have been deeply affected by the intercessory prayers of believing Orthodox Christians. Over and over and over again, intercessory prayer has protected. It has healed. It has given new life. That is not to say that, through prayer, a person is never released from paralysis (as it happened yesterday with the Apostle Peter). It does happen. However, when it does happen, it is the Lord who knows when, and why. It is He who knows the heart of each of us, and He knows always what is best for us. The Lord does not impose Himself on us. He does not force His love, His life on us. Rather, He waits for us to receive Him and to accept His gifts.

There is yet another thing that we do tend to forget about. (There is a broad meaning in this word “forget”.) In our everyday life, the constant slipping from our memory of Who is the Lord is related to the influence of the opposer-down-below (whom I like to call “Big Red”). Being the father-of-lies, he is also the master of forgetfulness. It is he whose influence helps us to forget from time to time. It is easy to forget who we are. It is easy to forget Whom we serve. It is easy to forget, because we live in an environment of such forgetfulness. However, it is important for us not to beat ourselves up always because of this forgetting, but to say to the Lord : “Help me to remember Who You are. Help me to remember who I am in the context of Your love and Your light. Help me to know myself as I really am in You”. By His help and support, we will be able always and everywhere to remember to glorify the most Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Thomas Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Sharing the indescribable Gift of Life
Thomas Sunday
11 April, 2010
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

Today, we are celebrating the memory of the Apostle Thomas and his encounter with our Saviour in the Resurrection. It is very important for us to understand that it was necessary for the Apostle Thomas to see the Risen Lord. It is important for us also to understand that, just as our Lord invites him, so the Apostle Thomas touches the wounds of our Lord. The apostle had said, when he missed the appearance of the Lord the week before, that he would not believe unless he could see for himself, and touch. Thus, he confirms the experience of the Resurrection. However, he is far from being alone in his determination to see and to touch.

The apostles are not North Americans, nor are they polite Canadians, nor are they western Europeans. The apostles are oriental-minded Middle-Easteners. Can you imagine anyone in the Middle East that you know of, who, upon seeing our Saviour risen from the dead, would merely say : “Oh, how wonderful. It is so lovely. Glory to God”. Of course, no Middle-Eastener would ever stop with only these words. Russian-speakers would not stop there either. Such people as these apostles, on seeing the Resurrected Lord (after getting over their surprise), are immediately going to be touching Him and kissing Him, just as we would. The other apostles, having already had this encounter of touching and embracing the Risen Christ, are joined today by the Apostle Thomas. He also sees ; he touches ; he believes. It was necessary for all the apostles to touch, to see, and to believe. All of them are the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection. Not just the Twelve, but many others saw the Risen Christ in the forty days after the Resurrection. They were all eyewitnesses of the Resurrection. They all saw that He is truly the same crucified Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead because they could see the wounds in His hands and in His side. They had to be eye-witnesses. Our Saviour says to the Apostle Thomas (but not only to him) : “‘Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’”.

Most of us have not seen, and yet we believe. (We cannot ever say that this is the case for everyone because the Saviour does still come to certain people under certain circumstances.) We believe, because the apostles saw and believed, and in their love they worked the works of the Saviour. We heard in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostle Peter and the other apostles were in the Temple in Jerusalem. Not only were they teaching, but they were healing people. They were bringing the healing love of Jesus Christ to people who needed to be healed. Just a few days before, we were with the Apostle Peter in the Temple, and we saw him raise up the man born paralysed (see Acts 3:1-8). Because of the work of the Name of Jesus Christ, the man was able suddenly to jump up and to have the possibility to walk, to work with his hands, to have a normal life and a normal employment. This is the gift that the apostles were giving to people – the gift of life which is given, in fact, by the Risen Christ.

The Apostle Thomas, in particular, would need this experience of the Risen Christ. He would become soon afterwards a missionary very far away. First, some say that he went to the area of Ethiopia. “The Synaxarion” says that he went to Persia, and from there to India. Afterwards, from North India, he travelled south to what is now the state of Kerala on the west coast, at the very south end of India. There, the Apostle Thomas brought Christ to people in large numbers, and thus large numbers of people turned to Christ whom they had met and learnt to love. Later, he went around to the other side of India (to where Madras is), and he brought Christ to people on the eastern side of the continent. He was finally killed by certain Hindus. So seriously have the Orthodox Christians of India taken their encounter with the Apostle Thomas that until this day, there are members of the original families that were converted to Christ by the Apostle Thomas who know their whole genealogy all the way back to that moment. They know the name of their ancestor 2,000 years ago who was converted by the Apostle Thomas. The only reason that this group of about 30,000,000 Orthodox Christians are not in communion with the rest of the Church is because they are so far away, and we are very slow to help them come back in.

When our Lord is appearing to the apostles today, we are hearing Him say several times : “‘Peace be with you’”. When our Saviour says “peace”, He brings peace. It is not merely a word. He brings to us the fact of peace. Where He is, there is always peace. Where Jesus Christ is, there is always joy. Where Jesus Christ is, there is always hope and love. This is why, at another time, the Saviour directs the apostles to go and bring to others their peace, the peace of the love and of the presence of Jesus Christ within them (see Luke 10:5). Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is peace. “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Wherever the apostles are going, they are bringing the peace of Christ.

Wherever we Orthodox Christians go, we also must bring the peace of Jesus Christ. We carry our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in our hearts, in our bodies. We carry His presence within us. Wherever we go, we bring His peace, His joy and His love. We have inherited this peace, joy and love of Jesus Christ from all the saints and from all the anonymous Christians who have gone before us during the 2,000 years since people were first baptised into Christ. It is this same peace, this same joy, this same love and this same Jesus Christ that we bring wherever we go, whatever we are doing every day of our lives. It is this peace that other people can feel. It is this peace and this joy that will draw other people around us to Jesus Christ, as we have been drawn to Him. This peace and joy will enable them to meet Jesus Christ, as we have met Jesus Christ. This peace and joy will enable them to love Jesus Christ, as we love Jesus Christ.

The Orthodoxy of those people in south India is not only an inherited tradition of a memory. It is still a living experience of the love of Jesus Christ that is being passed on in these families, and shared with multitudes of other people in the south and the north of India (and in many other places by this time). When the Lord says to you and to me that He wants us to be yeast and salt in the world (see Matthew 5:13; 13:33), He is talking about this. He is talking about this living proof to other people by our love and by our peace that Jesus Christ is with us. He loves us. He loves all those around us. In fact, He loves the whole of creation because the whole creation is the product of His love.

Brothers and sisters, with the Apostle Thomas, we are encountering today the Risen Christ. We are encountering Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead, and who is giving life to us all. Let us rejoice in this immense, indescribable gift that we have been given (see 2 Corinthians 9:15). Through the prayers of the Mother of God, the Apostle Thomas and the other apostles (especially the prayers of the Apostles Peter and Paul), let us do our best in this love to be faithful to the Saviour. 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.

Loving Obedience to the Lord

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Loving Obedience to the Lord
Saturday of the 4th Week of Pascha
1 May, 2010
Acts 12:1-11 ; John 8:31-42


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

Today, the Saviour is pointing out very important things to us. He is pointing out these things to those who say they believe in Him, as we see at the beginning of the reading from the Gospel according to Saint John. However, even though they say they believe in Him, they actually do not, because, as we can see, they are addicted to rules and laws. They say : “‘We are Abraham’s descendants’”. They affirm that they are certain that they are the children of Abraham. However, when our Lord points out to them that they are not doing the works of Abraham, they cannot understand what He is saying. Whether they keep saying it verbally or not, their attitude insists again and again : “‘We are Abraham’s descendants’”.

In effect, our Lord responds to them : “If you are the children of Abraham, then you are going to behave like Abraham”. How did Abraham behave ? Abraham obeyed the word of God, and he left his home and everything to move away from Mesopotamia into the land of Canaan. He wandered and wandered, not knowing what would happen. However, he knew and trusted the love of God who had revealed Himself to him. He did not know where he was going ; he did not know for certain what would happen, but he did know that God loves him. He behaved as knowing that God loves him. He went and lived frequently (but not all the time) under and beside the Oak of Mamre (which I, and many other pilgrims saw and stood near to just a week and a half ago). After 3,000 years or so, this tree stopped giving leaf three years ago, sad to say. There was an old man there who was handing out acorns, and he showed pictures of himself as a child when the tree was still in leaf. Many other people who have been to visit the Oak of Mamre (which is in the city of Hebron) and who have seen this tree when it was alive, have spoken to me about it.

Abraham wandered, and he obeyed. He did unusual things (such as nearly sacrificing his son). In fact, he did sacrifice his son Isaac, even though he did not sacrifice him to death. What he did do was to offer up his son Isaac to the Lord completely. Abraham had complete trust in the Lord. Even though it did not make sense (compared to everything else that he had been asked to do), he did it anyway. He offered himself and everything that he had to the Lord out of love, and not out of fear. Abraham was visited by Three Angels, and he gave hospitality to these Three Angels. He acted out of love, and was given (as we understand it) a visitation, an experience of the Holy Trinity. These were not just Three Angels. This was an appearance, a personal encounter with God.

If people are addicted to rules (as are those persons who are talking to our Lord today), they are not following Abraham. Our Saviour even gives them a clue by saying : “‘If God were your Father, you would love Me’”, after they say to Him : “‘We are Abraham’s descendants’”. It is important for us in our lives to remember not to be hard-hearted, stubborn, and addicted to rules and regulations. Instead, we have to be addicted to the root of those rules and regulations which Moses gave, and any other rules and regulations that come along. The root of them all is love of God above all things. Then, in this love everything else falls into place. Even the Ten Commandments (and all those other commandments and rules that came after) are rooted in the following words : “‘You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, from your whole soul, and from your whole power’” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5). We are to love God above and before all. Actually, all the Commandments are about this – loving God more than everything. If we love God more than everything, then in our lives we would honour God more than everything ; we would not worship idols ; we would be worshipping on the Lord’s Day, and on every other day as well ; we would honour our parents ; we would not lie, steal, or murder. We would not live in covetousness of other people’s things and persons, relatives, and families, and so forth. We want to live in freedom ; but we nevertheless seem to be very addicted to the slavery of rules and regulations. This is why the persons who are speaking to Jesus Christ today have so much difficulty. They find it comfortingly familiar to be bound by these rules. Like them, we can often be blinded by the foggy deception that we are obeying God by obeying the rules. This fogged-in blindness makes it very hard to give them up, and to let God rule in our daily lives and direct us personally.

In the readings, we have just seen recently that the Apostle Peter had been experiencing the same sort of thing by the vision of the sheet being let down from heaven with all sorts of unclean animals in it. The Lord said : “‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat’” (Acts 10:13). The Lord showed him that nothing that He has created should be called unclean (and particularly when it comes to human beings). The Apostle Peter understood the meaning of this vision very quickly when he encountered Cornelius. So the apostle opened the door for the Grace of the Holy Spirit to fall upon Cornelius and his whole family.

In the reading today, the Apostle Peter is the victim of Herod. It is important to remember (as we pilgrims were reminded just recently) that Herod was not himself Jewish. We understand that he was a descendant of Esau, and not of the Jewish people. He was a Roman-imposed ruler who wanted to be pleasing to the Jewish people, which is why he killed James, the brother of John. (I suppose he had done this by surprise, and the faithful people were not expecting it.) However, when Herod had the same plan for the Apostle Peter, the faithful prayed fervently and instantly for the Apostle. The Lord released him from prison in a wonderful way. Let us, therefore, keep ourselves mindful that the prayers of the faithful accomplish many things that we do not expect. The faithful in those days were in prayer offering the apostle to the Lord, saying, in effect : “Do what You will, Lord, but help”. The Lord could have allowed the death of the Apostle Peter at that time, but He did not. Instead, He released him, and allowed him to continue to do his work for a very long time afterwards.

When we are praying for other people, we do not know precisely what the Lord is going to do with our prayers. However, He accepts our love, and our intercessions of love, and He accomplishes His wonders. Because of people’s intercessions, all sorts of wonderful things have happened until this day. Not that many people these days are so easily freed from prison as was the Apostle Peter ; but then, we do not usually have apostles in prison these days. On the other hand, there are thousands of stories (only a fraction of which I have heard) about the times of Islamic domination of the Church, and about the communist times of domination of the Church. These stories all show that the Lord has intervened and saved communities, people, ecclesiastical hardware and software for the times when things would be normal again. Churches have been able to be refurnished in Russia and other lands of the former Soviet Union because icons, vestments, copies of the Scriptures and other things were kept safe in secret places, and the destroyers never found out. Yet, at the same time, even some of these very destroyers were moved by a divinely-supplied impulse. For instance, in Moscow, when Christ the Saviour Cathedral was blown up by Stalin, many items were actually saved from that cathedral. In the Donskoy Monastery, there are many fragments of the original friezes that were on the original cathedral because the artists at that time felt that something had to be saved. There were other things that were saved, including the plans, and the names of all the people killed in the wars that this Temple was built to commemorate in the first place. Although this cathedral, in its reconstruction, was not rebuilt with the same stones, nor in exactly the same manner, it stands and it appears as it was before. However, with the new building techniques available, everything possible was replicated. Unintentionally, this replication included the bad acoustics of the first building. The Lord is working with us. He takes our offering of love, and He does what He knows best.

Living as we do here and now in the twenty-first century, it is more important than ever that we remember that love of the Lord comes first above everything. It is important to live in loving obedience (and not fearful obedience) to Him. It is important to hold each other up before Him, trusting Him, as Abraham trusted Him, and as countless thousands and millions of believers still do. In so doing, let us glorify Him, risen from the dead, Jesus Christ our Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Samaritan Woman

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
To serve Him all our Days
5th Sunday of Pascha
2 May, 2010
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.

We heard and saw earlier in the Acts that some people went out preaching Christ, and that they were approaching only people who were Jewish. However, at the same time in Antioch, the Holy Spirit was falling upon everyone. People began to preach also to the Hellenists (which means those people who are Greek-speakers at the very least, or Jewish people who like to speak Greek). The Hellenists were certainly not part of the Jewish nation in a recognised way. The Holy Spirit came upon them, as well. As the Evangelist Luke reminds us in today’s reading from the Acts (about which the Antiochian Archdiocese continually reminds us), it was in Antioch that we were first called Christians. By the way, Antioch is not anymore a city in Syria ; it is in Turkey, I suppose.

The Grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh. In the Epistle readings since Pascha, we see that this is the lesson which the Apostle Peter has been learning (see Acts 10). We have been following him in various places, such as Joppa, where the Lord made it very clear that this is the case. Then he went to Caesarea where the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his family (see Acts 10:44, 45). More and more, the Gospel was being preached abroad and not just to the Jewish people, themselves. Even though it was still primarily his focus to speak first to the Jewish people, the Apostle Peter was never exclusively speaking to the Jewish people after that experience with Cornelius.

Today, we are with the Saviour in Sychar, in Samaria. It is obviously on or by Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans have had (and do have again) a temple. It was there that they were making sacrifices, just as the Samaritan Woman is saying today. In case you did not know, the Samaritan Woman is the same person as “Photinia” (or Photini). In Slavic languages this name is “Svetlana”, and in English, “Clare”. This woman is an amazing person, as far as I am concerned. As our Saviour points out, she was certainly leading what might be called an irregular life because she had already had five husbands (which is rather more than enough). He points out further that the person she is living with right now is not her husband. (This sounds just like Canada in the 21st century.) This woman obviously has emotional difficulties (unless her husbands were quick to die). She has had a broken life, and yet her heart is yearning for the truth. This woman is no simpleton. When she encounters Christ, she immediately understands the situation. Why is the Saviour, a Jew, speaking to her ? She is a woman, and He is a man. In that culture (as in many others), unless a male and a female are related to one another, they would not speak to each other (especially not in a public place like the well). Besides that, He is Jewish, and she is Samaritan. To the Jews, the Samaritans are people who are sub-human, in a sense, because they did not follow the rest of the Jews in Judea in keeping one Temple only, and that in Jerusalem. In fact, to this day, Samaritans still worship on Mount Gerizim.

The Samaritan Woman is very intelligent, and she understands the situation very well. Immediately, she begins to ask questions. When our Saviour tells her the salient details of her life, she understands instantly that this is a prophet that she is talking to. Then she immediately begins to ask about the Messiah, and He answers in a direct and frank manner : “‘I who speak to you am He’”. This statement may be reduced to : “I AM the Messiah”. “I AM the Christ”. This way of saying “I AM” is a reference to the unpronounceable four-letter Hebrew Name of God (see 2 Moses 3:14). When the disciples come, they understand that the situation is very special, and they do not ask any questions. The result of that exchange is that this woman of Samaria becomes so compelled that she leaves her water jar that she had come to fill at the well and runs into the city to proclaim Him already. Immediately, there is a response in the city – people come straightaway, and in their own personal encounter with Him, they come to believe that He is indeed the Christ.

The Samaritan Woman did not stay in her city the rest of her life. She became an evangelist, and so did others of her family. She, her sisters, her children and others came to martyrdom in various places for the sake of testifying that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Saviour. For her, the very words of our Saviour became the description of her life : “‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me’”. That became her food, and that is why she forgot her water jar. Her heart was overflowing with life and with joy. She had to share her joy and her hope. The rest of her life was given up to this.

We have such a strong example in Saint Photini (Svetlana, Clare) and in all her family. By her prayers, and by the protection of the Mother of God, let us go and do likewise. Let us ask the Lord to give us the Grace so that, as it was for our Saviour and as it was for Saint Photini, our food is to do the will of our Father. May we also share our hope, share our love, and share our joy, glorifying the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

6th Sunday of Pascha : The Love of God overcomes All

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Love of God overcomes All
6th Sunday of Pascha
9 May, 2010
Acts 16:16-34 ; John 9:1-38


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

When I was young, I heard my parents and my grandparents repeat this saying very many times : “There is none so blind as those that will not see”. That saying was applied to me not a few times, probably.

Today, we have the exact experience of this in the healing of this man who was born blind. Everyone knew that he was born blind. Because of this, he is a public beggar. Nevertheless, the authorities cannot accept that he should have really received his sight, and they believe that there must be a trick involved, somehow. This is why they keep asking the poor man over and over again : “‘How were your eyes opened ?’” The blind man, subjected to this inquisition, simply speaks the truth : “‘A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, “Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.” So I went and washed, and I received sight’”. He repeats this to his neighbours and to the authorities when they press him to explain what happened. The authorities keep saying in effect : “It is wrong, and it is out of order ; it happened on the Sabbath, and it is not supposed to be done on the Sabbath because no work is supposed to be done on the Sabbath”. The reason, of course, that these authorities have so much difficulty about this healing on the Sabbath (or any other healing on the Sabbath by our Saviour) is because they do not remember that “‘the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27), as our Saviour said. The Sabbath Day was given to us as a day of rest, but we are not its slaves.

The blind man continually responds honestly with an open heart that he does not know what happened, but he obviously does see. It is important in our lives to pay attention to this. The Lord, who sets in order our universe, who sets in order our life, gives us a framework for our life which includes the Ten Commandments. Do not forget that the Ten Commandments still exist for our edification and the formation of our life. They were never taken away from us in the New Covenant and therefore in the Christian era. They are still in effect because they are the pattern of life for anyone who says that he or she loves God : “‘You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, from your whole soul, and from your whole power’” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5). If we love the Lord with all our being, then the Ten Commandments will become characteristic of our life. We will do these ten things at the very least. Nothing has radically changed since these commandments were given, because God has not changed. Our relationship with Him has not changed. Our way is the way of love.

The Lord Himself, who is the Lord of the universe, can over-rule some of these directions. They are not hard and fast laws that are inflexible, but rather, they are expressions of His love. When it is necessary that a child of His, one of His creatures, should be healed or should be released from slavery to some demon, the Lord does not delay. As my parents used to say : “There is no time like the present”. On whatever occasion, the Lord chooses to show that His love is greater than everything. His desire to give life and healing to us is greater than everything. We keep trying to make sense of what He does in this case or that case, but we cannot make sense of why He heals a person now, and not at another time. Why does He release a person from slavery to evil (as this young girl was released today by the Apostle Paul) on one occasion but not on another occasion ? Why this person, and not that person ? Why is one healed and not another ? We do not know. Indeed, we cannot know, even though, like those authorities today, we keep trying to know. We keep trying to impose our reason and our logic on God’s works, which are beyond our reason and our logic. They are the product of His profound love which is absolutely inexpressible and incomprehensible.

The Lord is the Lord of the universe. He creates and He sustains everything that is. It is on a Sabbath Day that He is healing this man born blind. He heals this man who has been blind from birth not because of the sins of any of his ancestors, says the Lord, but so that God may be glorified. This man did and does glorify the Lord for his healing. The authorities say to him : “‘Give glory to God’”. The blind man glorifies God that His love overcomes all. The love of God overcomes all in your life and in my life.

It is important for us all to get used to the idea, finally, that we find the Lord in the heart (not in the head). Because we find the Lord in the heart, the heart is to be in charge. It is the heart that governs the head, not the head that governs the heart. It is our heart that puts in order the confused and scattered thoughts of the head. It is our heart, informed by the Lord, that makes sense of all our thinking. It is our heart that puts warmth and flexibility into the reasonings of our heads. It is our heart that overcomes the rigidity of our tendency to live by rules and regulations alone.

Why do we live by rules and regulations ? Why are we so subject to that ? It is because of fear, which is the chief tool of you-know-who-down-below. This one, the Tempter, governs us with fear. He governs us through the confused thinking in our heads. It is through this combination of fear and confusion in our head that we get the idea that if we organise and fix everything so that everything will be all right according to rules, then everything will be fine with the world (except that it never is). It does not matter how many thousands of laws our parliament makes. That does not change very much the mis-behaviour of human beings in this country. Human beings always manage to find a way to get around rules and regulations, and get up to mischief, regardless. Human beings have always done this.

The only way we can find to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord is to allow the Lord to release us from the bonds of fear by which the devil rules us through our thoughts. The Lord wishes to put order in the heart, infusing us with love. He wishes to make everything make sense in the context of His love which, again, must be found in the heart. This is the root of our life of repentance. Our life of repentance is a turning away from the confused and lying thoughts to which we are subject. We are to turn away from the deceiving emotions to which we are subject, and which are connected to all this confused thinking. The Lord wants to bring peace to us through His love which must be found in the heart, and which gives us real freedom. This is the way of repentance : turning away from our rebellious ways, our selfish ways, and turning to the Lord, who is the Giver of life. He is the Healer of our blindness. He is our Life.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to renew His love in abundance in our hearts today, and to enable us willingly to follow Him in the way of repentance, in the way of life, in the way of love. May we glorify Him, 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 Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Faithful Witness to Christ
7th Sunday of Pascha
(Memory of the Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council)
[Given outside the archdiocese]
16 May, 2010
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36 ; John 17:1-13


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

Our Saviour is praying for the unity of the whole Church today, and He is asking that all who would come to believe in Him would follow Him. It is important for us to remember that we are not following an idea or a principle, but a Person. This Person happens to be the Son of God. The Son of God loves us, and our relationship with Him is expected to be one of love. It is absolutely not a relationship of fear.

Today, the Apostle Paul is speaking to the elders of the Church of Ephesus who came to see him (as he was about to depart from them). He says to them that they should follow Christ in the way of love, that they should support the weak, and that they should be generous in alms-giving. He encourages them to keep their hearts focussed on Christ. He no doubt does so in the hope that they would keep remembering the truth about Him who is the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ. He also says that he knows that after his departure savage wolves will come trying to eat them up (that is to say, spiritual wolves). These wolves are people who have changed the teaching about Jesus Christ because they cannot accept the whole Truth. With their own philosophies, with their own logic, they adjust their idea of who is Jesus Christ.

It is true that from the earliest times, even in apostolic times, there have been such people who cannot accept the whole Truth, and who try to make Jesus Christ easier for themselves to accept. We could be the same as they, if we prefer not to let ourselves be made into Christ’s image, but instead we try to distort Christ into our own image. It is extremely important for us who follow Jesus Christ, truly to follow Jesus Christ. We can only be our true selves when we live in a relationship of love with Jesus Christ. We cannot change Jesus Christ. He is the One who creates us and the whole world. Who are we to change Him ? The Prophet Isaiah had words to this effect : “Can the pot tell the potter to make it in some particular way ?” (See Isaiah 29:16.) It is not for us to tell God who we should be. He knows who He created us to be. Instead it is for us to co-operate with His love so that we can become our true selves.

In these days (probably more than in all human history), it is crucial that we Orthodox believers do this very thing. People nowadays invent so many crazy ideas about who is Jesus Christ that it is not possible for Him to recognise Himself. However, we know that the Apostle Paul was right when he said in his Letter to the Hebrews that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We know that the Lord whom we love is the Lord whom the Apostle loves. We know His love for us, and His intimate care about every detail of our lives. It is our responsibility to share this love with all the people around us who are so lost, who are so hungry, who are so thirsty for this truth about Him who is the Truth. This truth is that He loves us.

All we who come from the frozen north (as I do, coming from Canada) are always warmed by your Christian love. May God grant that your Father-in-God, Alejo, your bishop, will never fail in leading you on the right path. May the Lord always give you the strength to live in the right way. May this cathedral (which is so close to the airport) continue to shine as a sign of the love of Jesus Christ to people in this city and to those visiting this city.

May the Lord bless, protect, and save you. May He enable you to glorify in your whole lives the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

We, too, can in Him be perfect

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We, too, can in Him be perfect
Saturday of the 1st Week after Pentecost
29 May, 2010
Romans 1:7-12 ; Matthew 5:42-48


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

Today, the letter of the Apostle to the Romans begins with a reminder about how we ought to behave towards one another. When he approaches the end of this pericope, in an outpouring of love, the Apostle exhorts us to be mutually supportive, and mutually encouraging. Along with his own words to them of encouragement, direction and correction, he also writes that he is looking forward to being able soon to meet his Roman readers and hearers in person, and to be renewed and strengthened in Christ by their love.

This is a really important reminder for us all. Who are we to each other as Christians ? Who are we to each other as Orthodox Christians ? Are we so different from the Apostle Paul and those Romans whom he so encourages and to whom he is so grateful for their faithful witness ? If we are honest in our response today as Orthodox Christians, and if we are truly giving a response in humility, we will likely admit that we do not live up to their example of fidelity and love for Jesus Christ. We can see that the Apostle and the Christians in Rome are living in harmony with the words which we have just heard from our Saviour today in the Gospel reading ; but we, ourselves, are tending not to do so these days. In the twenty-first century, we like to think that we are so much better than everyone else that has gone before. We think that we know so much more, and that we are so well advanced. If that is so, however, then why do we keep making the same mistakes that human beings have always made ? Why do we not learn from history ? Why do we, instead, keep refining the mistakes of our predecessors and making them even worse ? For better and for worse (depending), I think that we are the same as human beings have always been.

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to be a sign in Christ of the way in which human beings are supposed to be living with each other. God created us to live in harmony with each other. He created us to live in forgiveness with each other. This is why the Apostle is looking forward to being strengthened and encouraged by the faith of the Romans. They are also benefitting from his faith, courage, long-suffering, patience, and the Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we are supporting each other, strengthening each other, and encouraging each other in the love of Christ, we are actually behaving in the way the Lord wants us to behave. We are behaving as we ought to behave ; we are being the sign that He is asking us to be.

Today, our Saviour is giving us very direct and difficult words : “‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’”. There are many examples of those amongst our martyrs who did so. They blessed those who were killing them. Then our Saviour makes it all crystal clear for us by saying : “‘Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’”. This is a big responsibility that we have. We like to think that we cannot do it, since we human beings are always giving ourselves excuses and taking easy ways out of things. This is one of the big reasons that we get into trouble. However, the fact is that our Saviour tells us plainly that we are to be perfect. This means that to be perfect is not impossible. It is, in fact, possible.

How are we going to be perfect ? Perfection comes in living in selfless love. Perfection is not found in the obeying of all sorts of rules. Perfection is found in purity of heart : purity of life in the love of Christ which makes it possible for us to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. If we are able to bless those who persecute us, to give to anyone who asks without question, and to trust God for everything in doing these apparently difficult things, then we are living in Christ. We are able to do these difficult things because Christ is in us, and we are in harmony with Him. That is why we can be perfect. We can achieve this perfect love which gives life, which directs us always in the correct and right way, the life-giving and healing way. We can become like Saint Mary of Egypt, who in her repentance learned how to love the Lord completely and whole-heartedly. We can become like others who have lived such a life of repentance. They have come to know the will of the Lord in their hearts. I would say that they have come to a point somewhat similar to long-married couples who, after thirty to fifty years, know each other and are so in harmony with each other that they already know what each other might want to say, ask or think, even before the words come out. I have seen very often how such couples complete each other’s sentences, and so forth, so much are they in harmony. This is the harmony that is reflecting the harmony of life in Christ. It is really this harmony of self-sacrificing, selfless love in Christ which enables such harmony and unity to arise. Thus, we see that if it is possible for married couples to come to this unity, then it has to be possible for everyone else to come to this unity with Christ, also. It truly is possible to come to this perfection in love.

The Lord does not ask us to do what is not possible. He gives us the Grace to do what we have to do. Our responsibility now is simply to say : “Yes, Lord, I want to go in this way. I definitely do want to go in this way of love with You, in harmony with You. Help me to do it”. He does help us, and He will continue to help us. Today, let us simply ask Him to do that, as we come to the end of this Feast of Pentecost.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to refresh us, renew us, inspire us with love for the Saviour so that we may be taken into the Holy Trinity in Him, and glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of All Saints

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Holiness is normal for Christians
1st Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday of All Saints
30 May, 2010
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.

The English language is a strange language, and, in some respects, it has had a strange and difficult history. Because of the strange characteristics and the difficult history of our language, our mentality as English-speaking Orthodox Christians can easily become confused, if not deformed. If the pun is pardonable, part of the problem, frankly speaking, has to do with how we have been using French in English. In the English language, when an animal, for instance, is alive, it is called a “pig” or a “sheep”. When it goes to a higher level of self-interest (for us), then it is called “pork” or “mutton”. These changes take French words and use them as the preferred and delicate way to describe food. This is one of the reasons why people rightly say that English is French badly spoken.

The same principle applies to saints. I have had much experience with this difficulty lately. It is important on this Feast of All Saints to pay attention to this. In English, somehow, we tend to think that a saint is a special category of holy people, perhaps elevated and rarified. This comes about because of our pork-mutton divided mentality. Sometimes we use the word “holy”. This word has a Germanic or Saxon history which, from Norman times in Britain, has been considered to be “low-brow”. That is why we often use “holy” for so-called regular descriptions. The word “saint” has a Latin heritage through French, and its usage is preferred for so-called higher or more elevated conditions. It is a “high-brow” word. However, despite the apparent differences, whether we say “holy” or “saint”, it has nevertheless the same meaning. Either word simply means that someone is holy. This holiness is something that we are all called to. It is not some sort of special achievement. It is true that we do recognise certain, particular persons on our calendar who number in the hundreds of thousands. There are many of them, but in the context of human history, and the number of human beings, these particular persons are a small number. We have a tendency to focus on them and make them into something that they have never been : pure, perfect, detached from reality, somehow, like a Hindu guru floating in the air. People think about saints in this way. However, in our human history, saints are simply human beings who have taken up their Cross and followed Christ, just as our Saviour says today.

Another thing that our Saviour says to us, which is extremely important in this context, is found in His words to us in yesterday’s reading : “‘Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’” (Matthew 5:48). He is not speaking to a special class of persons, who are particularly chosen and particularly capable. He is speaking to every one of us. He is asking us all to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection is only achieved in taking up our Cross, following Christ, putting Christ first in our lives, identifying with Him, and being identified with Him. This is accomplished in the context of being in harmony with His love. This call to be a saint is a call to us all, because it is precisely the call to be holy.

When our Saviour is saying : “‘Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’”, He is not saying anything new. From the beginning, we have been asked by the Lord to live in this perfection with Him. We have been repeatedly exhorted in the Old Testament to be holy, as He is holy (see 3 Moses [Leviticus] 20:7). He created us to be in His image and also in His likeness (see 1 Moses [Genesis] 1:26). The Lord gives us the Grace and the strength to be holy. This holiness is developed in the context of His love. Holiness is our way of life. It refers everything to the Lord, and gives thanks to the Lord in and for everything. Holiness is a turning to the Lord for help. It is always involving the Lord in every part of our life, and most particularly in the way of repentance. What is a great distinguishing mark of a saint (apart from the martyrs) ? One might say that this main characteristic is found in how they have lived a life of repentance. It is not concerned with whether they have ever or never broken any rule or law from infancy. I do not know anyone like that. If anyone wants to put any one of the saints on our calendar in that category, the saint would not recognise him- or herself. Every one of us will be with those who say at the end of their lives (even though they are wonder-workers and have healed people by God’s mercy) : “I have only begun to repent” (see Abba Sisoës). The way of being a saint is the way of forgetting oneself, putting the Lord (and everyone else) first ; living in love with the Lord and doing love in the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is with us. He is in us, and we are with Him. He is asking us to be like Him. We want to be like Him because we love Him. The Lord will make us to be like Him the more we live in love with Him, and the more we give ourselves in love to Him, to His creation, and to human beings in particular.

Let us ask the Lord for two things. Let us first ask for an Orthodox understanding of the English language without silly categories such as the difference between holy and saint (or mutton and sheep). We can understand that they all mean the same thing, not something different. The second thing is to ask the Lord to give us such harmony and unity in our lives, oneness in our lives, in ourselves, and in Him, that we may glorify Him in everything, always and everywhere : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Condemn not

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Condemn not, that you be not condemned
Saturday of the 2nd Week after Pentecost
5 June, 2010
Romans 3:19-26 : Matthew 7:1-8


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

There is not a word that proceeds from the Lord that is not important. Every word that comes from Him is crucial for us. However, it is possible for us to say that His words to us today in particular are important for us to remember because they are connected with how we live our lives. These Dominical words are connected with the Apostle’s words to the Romans which we have just heard. Our Lord is saying to us : “‘Judge not, that you be not judged […] and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you’”.

The word “judgement” actually has more to do with the word “condemnation”. Judging can mean several things. It can mean that you are simply making a discernment about something. That is not something positive or negative in particular. You are simply understanding and clarifying something, as it were. A judgement can also be something such as in court, when there is a judgement between truth and falsehood or a judgement between right and wrong. We often use the word “judgement” wrongly by equating it with the sentence that goes after the judgement, which would be a condemnation to a punishment of some sort. The verdict also can be positive or negative : is the person guilty or not guilty of what he or she is charged with ? If the person is declared to be guilty of the accusation, then comes the consequence (which is the “sentence”). I am insisting that this is what we often wrongly connect with the word judgement. We are using the word “judgement” in terms which really mean condemnation. It can be seen by the translation that we have been using today that the verb “to judge” has had this connotation of “to condemn” in our language for a long, long time. It is dangerous to misuse the English language. We can therefore misunderstand one thing or another, or we can cause a misunderstanding of one thing or another. It is no wonder we North Americans are, in general, so confused.

It seems to me that what our Lord is trying to get at here is the attitude of judgement which has the meaning of condemnation. This is why I would much rather say : “Condemn not, that you be not condemned”. This is really what the meaning is if you look at the context of our Lord’s words to us : “‘Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’” Then you can help your brother take the little speck out of his eye.

These words of our Lord go very well with what the spiritual Fathers are saying about our life, and also with practical sayings that we have in our own language. In other words, if we are going to be damning someone for some behaviour or other, or for some attitude, then we are able to see and understand this, somehow, because we, ourselves, have experience of it. We are capable of making a damning remark or statement about someone else because we already have much of the same in our own heart. The saying connected to this is that if we point a finger at someone else, we will notice on our hand that there are three fingers pointing back at us.

If we are seeing something that is out of kilter in someone else’s life, we then have a responsibility. In seeing that something is the matter in someone else’s life, it is very important to look at our own lives first and to clean our own houses first, as our Saviour says, before we go about trying to help other persons with their weaknesses. The fact that we can see the other person’s difficulty means that we already have a house that is dirty enough. Let us clean our house first, and then we can help the other person. This is precisely what our Lord means by “seeing”. If we see a speck in someone else’s eye, then it is important for us to make sure that our own vision is cleaned up, and that our own seeing (in the heart, He means) is cleaned up, so that we can truly help the other person.

If our own heart is in a poisonous condition, then how are we going to help anyone else who is suffering from something similar to what we are suffering from ? We can see the other person’s weakness, illness, fragility or whatever ; but how are we going to help that person ? I consider that what our Lord is getting at is that we cannot help anyone else unless we have already repented ourselves, become clean before the Lord, and made some progress ourselves in repentance and healing before the Lord. Then we can help someone else when we ourselves are in a stronger position. However, if we are in the same condition as the other person (whose illness we can see), and if we are trying to help them, then the situation is precisely as the Lord says in another place : “‘If the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch’” (Matthew 15:14).

These words are connected to those of the Apostle Paul today. He is saying that the Law helps us to discern what is right and what is wrong. With the Law, we can see this more clearly. However, once we can see what is right and what is wrong (because of the Law), we are therefore completely responsible for every sin. He says to us that what is important is not obedience to the minutia of the Law, but to the foundation of the Law, which is a clear description of our Christian way of life : the way of righteousness. We will all, of course, have it in mind at all times that this foundation is love for the Lord with our whole being as a priority in our life. The Apostle Paul is suggesting to us that in the context of knowing right and wrong, and seeing right and wrong, our hearts have to be informed by God’s love, which is always righteous even though it acts in ways that we sometimes cannot comprehend. Nevertheless, it is always righteous because God is Love, and He is always right. Therefore, if our behaviour and our attitudes towards one another are informed and motivated by God’s love, then the seeing of right and wrong in the context of the Law can help us (in a physician-like way) to make a little diagnosis of some sort that can help another person who is somehow slipping.

In terms of one another, the whole purpose of our life is not to be cutting each other up because of the weaknesses that we see in each other. Instead, we administer healing medicine to one other so that our weaknesses may be healed and overcome. That is the challenge. How are we going to do this ? Ultimately there is only one way, and that is through intercessory prayer. We have to be carrying each other before the Lord in our hearts, offering each other up to the Lord in our hearts, and supporting one another before the Lord in our hearts. God’s Grace acts through us for the good of the other. In this context, it is important to remember that it is not I, helping and doing something so very great for anyone else. Rather, it is the Lord who is acting through us to help other people. It is He who accomplishes all good, and we are His agents.

Let us ask the Lord to renew the love in our hearts today so that our hearts may be more and more in focus with Him, in harmony with His love, informed by His love, enlightened by His love, motivated by His love, directed by His love, conscious of His love. Then, through the same love, may we be enabled to help one another in all our mutual weaknesses. We can do this by becoming healthier ourselves, and thus being enabled 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.

Sunday of All Saints of North America

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Like the Apostles, serving our Saviour
Sunday of all Saints of North America
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
6 June, 2010
Romans 2:10-16 ; Matthew 4:18-23


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

Today, our Saviour has begun calling the Twelve. Whenever we use this term “the Twelve”, we are referring to the Twelve Apostles. Our Saviour is coming by the shore of the Sea of Galilee to these particular men, and He is saying to them : “‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’”. When He says this to them, He says the same thing to us now, here. It is our responsibility to do the same as the apostles did, and follow Him. They immediately followed Him.

Our hearts want to follow the Lord immediately also. However, our hearts are very often distracted by one thing or another. That does not stop the Lord from calling you and me. He is constantly calling you and me to follow Him because He loves us. He desires that we will participate in Him eternally, in the fulness of life. He wants us to become our real selves, our full selves, our healed selves, our corrected selves, our repentant selves, our selves as He created us to be in the first place. He wants us to live an abundant and full life, not shackled by fear, not weighed down by unnecessary cares, but free in Him and alive in Him. That is why He is constantly saying to you and to me : “‘Follow Me’”.

I am certain that there is not one day that passes by in which the Lord is not calling us. He is calling us every day in this way. When He is calling us, He is also in our hearts enabling us, in His mercy and in His love, to say “yes” to Him. From without He is calling, and from within He is enabling so that we can have the strength. We human beings, scared sheep that we are, really do have difficulty believing the depth of His love (we are not called sheep for nothing). Yet, the Lord in His mercy and His care does love us. His love for us is stable, and it does not end. He wants us to live in Him, with Him, and to be like Him.

We pass through our lives facing various struggles, as we try to co-operate with Him, as we try to respond to Him, as we try to be faithful to Him, except that we still keep getting distracted by oppositions, earthly cares, and all sorts of other details. Nevertheless, the Lord continues to pursue us in His love because we are His creatures, and He wants us to live in Him.

As we hear, the Apostle Paul is telling us today that it is important for us to remember that the Lord has created all of us to be equal : “There is no partiality with God”. Every human being, every creature in the universe is created by Him. Whatever is created is the product of His love because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). I keep having to say this endlessly (just as the apostle had to keep saying it endlessly) because we (including myself) are so slow to accept that God really loves us in this way. “There is no partiality with God”. He cares for every human being equally. He does not make any distinction between us and amongst us as we do. We divide ourselves up into every imaginable category : black hair, white hair, black eyes, blue eyes, yellow skin, brown skin, and so on. We categorise ourselves like this. The Lord sees us all equally and the same as His beloved children. Why is there such variety amongst us in our appearance ? It is because God created us to have such variety of appearance. We can see in the whole universe that God does not create only one thing in one particular way. God creates life, varieties and abundance. His love is productive, and His love embraces everyone and everything.

The undercurrent of this are the words of the Lord, Himself, which come from the Old Testament and which are repeated endlessly : “‘You shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy’” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 11:44). We are in Him. We are in His likeness, and He created us to be holy. He created us to be like Him. To be holy means to be full of love. To be like God can only mean to be full of love, full of life-giving love, full of selfless love.

Last week, on the first Sunday after Pentecost, we remembered all the saints in the whole world. Today, on the second Sunday after Pentecost, we are keeping the memory of all the local saints. On these two particular Sundays, we remember all the saints, known and unknown. In fact, many of them are not known by name, and not even known by us to be holy ; but they are known to God. By their intercessions, people are saved (even though they do not know that this is why). Today, we, here, are remembering the local saints in North America. In Canada, in particular, we are remembering Saint Arseny of Winnipeg. The icon of Saint Herman is representing North America. The icon of Saint Arseny is primarily representing Canada ; but he is the founder of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and also the seminary there, and he began his missionary work in the USA. These two holy men are our representatives here in our midst today. Here, in Canada, we can truly say that we do not know all the saints by name. We know some of them, but we certainly do not know them all.

In the course of my life here in Canada, I have encountered many people who truly have lived holy lives. Their lives have testified to the Lord’s love, and their lives have been productive in the Lord’s love. Through their prayers, people have been healed by the Lord. All sorts of good things have happened through these persons here in Canada. They are unknown to you (however, I know their names). Perhaps some day the Lord will reveal them as persons who are interceding for us, and He will ask us to identify them more formally by official glorification. The wonder of holiness, however, is that it does not absolutely have to be recognised openly and be on the ecclesiastical calendar of the whole Orthodox world. True holiness is usually hidden. The holiest people try to hide this fact about themselves. They just are. They make no trumpetting of anything. They try not to draw any attention to themselves. This can be seen in the life of the holy Elder Porphyrios (Bairaktaris), the Kapsokalyvite of Mount Athos, especially during his years of service in Athens. We see it also in the well-known holy Elder Paisios (Eznepidis) of Mount Athos. They draw no attention to themselves, but out of love, they pray. They live lives that are productive in love. They do, and live God’s will. I have met many such people in the course of my life, and I still am meeting such people (in case you think that it is in the past tense).

We can see how opposite this is to so-called “normal” Canadian life. I am saying this because we all need such encouragement as we live our lives swimming upstream, as it were. Sometimes we think that we are all alone trying to follow the Saviour, but we are not alone. We are in the same situation as of the Prophet Elias when he was complaining that he alone was left. The Lord said to him, in effect : “No, not at all. I know of 7,000 people. Get back to work” (see 3 Kingdoms 19:13-18). We sometimes think that we are alone, but we are far, far from being alone. The Lord is giving us work to do. Even if no-one ever says thank-you to us for anything, true love in Christ does not require any thanks from any human being. Living in the love of the Lord, true love expresses gratitude to the Lord all the time.

From time-to-time you will hear certain holy people saying that they think that there is a handful of people around the world upon whose shoulders it seems to fall to keep everything from falling apart in the world. These are persons such as I have been describing : hidden, Christ-loving persons whose lives are completely occupied by intercessory prayer, and upon whose shoulders everyone else is supported and protected. There are people such as this in Canada, too. There may be even more than a handful supporting us. The Lord is looking after us. He is caring for us. We remember how He called the apostles this morning. Immediately afterwards, as usual, He began healing people, as He always does. In the same way, after He calls us, He brings healing to us ; and He brings healing through us to those around us.

Let us ask the Lord to give us the ability to co-operate with Him more and more, day by day. In this harmonious relationship, He will be with us and protecting us and supporting us, as we are struggling to be holy as He is holy, and struggling to be like Him as He invites us in His love to be. Thus, may we with purity and power, freedom and joy glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Founding our House upon the Rock

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Founding our House upon the Rock
Saturday of the 3rd Week after Pentecost
12 June, 2010
Romans 3:28-4:3 ; Matthew 7:24-8:4


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

From my childhood, this particular parable (or illustration) of our Saviour about the house being built upon the rock, and the house being built on sand, has stuck with me because it is so vivid. As I have grown older and come to understand some basic principles of construction, and how things work in nature, I can see that if the foundation is not properly laid, then everything falls down that is built upon it when there is a disturbance. How many times have we seen this on news telecasts in more recent years when houses and villages in disasters have been swept away by various rainstorms, and the like. These things happen because either the foundations of the houses were non-existent, or they were on ground that was moving (unstable), instead of being properly founded. The people who suffer the greatest are the poorest because they generally cannot afford a good and solid foundation for their house.

There are important lessons for us here. The foundation (the rock) that our Lord is referring to is, in fact, Himself. He is saying to us that if we are going to survive in this life, then the foundation of our hearts and our lives must be built upon Him : our relationship with Him, our love for Him, our confidence in Him. Our Saviour says this because we are all passing through various sorts of storms in the course of our lives. We all face pain. We all face difficulties, slander, betrayal of one sort or another which are extremely painful for us. If we do not have our foundation of love for the Lord established and maintained well, then we are at great risk of falling down.

As long as our foundation is in Christ, and it is well maintained by our continuing relationship of love with Him, then we know who we truly are. We know what needs to be fixed, because the Lord reveals what needs to be repaired in our lives. We are prepared to let Him do the repairs in our lives because we trust Him. We know that He will make us into who He created us to be, and it will be good. When we are neglectful of our foundation, and when we are paying too much attention to ourselves and to the things that are done around us, and to the ways of the world in particular, then we are not only in great danger of becoming shaky, but also of falling down with a great fall in just the same manner as the house about which our Saviour is speaking. When the storms of life are attacking us, pounding and beating upon us, and one thing after another is happening to us, if we forget to turn to our foundation of protection in the Saviour, then we collapse.

The Apostle is confirming these words of our Saviour in his words to us today. He says that we are made righteous in the same faith which was Abraham’s. The faith of Abraham was in the Lord’s promise of future salvation, and it was rooted in a loving relationship with Him. The foundation of his faith was the hope that was rooted in his loving relationship with the Lord. The Law comes into being through the faith of Abraham, but it does not rule over the faith of Abraham. Rather, the Law, which is always governing us, is a Law that is a product of this loving relationship, and it describes how our lives ought to be, and how they will be if they are in harmony with the Lord. The Beatitudes that we just sang to the Lord in this Divine Liturgy are the words which introduce the very words that our Saviour gave to us today about the rock. Everything is summed up in these words which are the conclusion of His sermon on the mountain. The people understand that He is teaching them as One who has authority (and not just saying what someone else says).

The Lord descends the mountain and He s immediately confronted by a man with leprosy. The leper says to our Saviour : “‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean’”. Our Lord replies : “‘I am willing’”. When we are using the word “will”, we must understand the act of the will. This is not merely the simple future tense which we have degenerated into in our modern use of English. The act of the will is involved in this willingness. The Lord will do it, and so He does do it. He brings healing to this leper. He says to the leper, in effect : “All right, do not say anything to anyone. Go to the priest, show yourself according to the Law for a witness that you have been healed”. In the Old Testament Law, it was understood that God did the healing. The leper went and did this. Our Lord is not living apart from the Law that He gave. He is living in the Law that He gave (which is not taken away from us, either). The Law is only (as I have said again and again) the expression of His love and how we live in response to that love, in harmony with that love, and in accordance with that love.

Let us ask the Lord to renew our love today so that we may trust Him more and more with our lives. May we lift up our hearts constantly to Him with the appeal of the leper : “‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean’”. Knowing that the Lord does will to make us clean, let us allow Him to make us clean, to make us whole, to make us one with Him so that we may 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.

The Lord meets our Needs

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord meets our Needs
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
13 June, 2010
Romans 5:1-10 ; Matthew 6:22-33


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

These words of our Saviour given to us today about not worrying about things are very important words for us. I remember hearing these verses in church in my childhood, and I remember wondering how the Lord looked after everyone and everything in this particular way. What did He really mean about supplying all our needs such as He does for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air ?

In the course of my life, I have been hearing over and over again stories about how this has been precisely the case. People who are in need at a particularly critical moment have their needs met by the Lord even without having pre-arranged anything on their part. I know monks who have come to their last morsels of food available, and suddenly in the mail comes enough money to supply their needs for the next period of time. I have known monks who have come to the complete end of any food to eat, and someone shows up at the door with food for them. This is not to say that we are all supposed to be living deliberately on a daily, hand-to-mouth basis. Indeed, these monks are not usually waiting day-to-day for someone to show up in this manner. They are working very hard in their homes and in their monasteries to be self-sufficient. However, sometimes things happen. Sometimes, mice come and eat up the food, or raccoons come and eat everything up as they do from time-to-time at Fair Haven. In the middle of last winter, raccoons ate up all the chickens, and therefore we were deprived of our domestic eggs. That is what I am saying – sometimes unexpected things happen like this, yet the Lord is still looking after us.

It is important for us to understand that the Lord provides for our needs. We still have the responsibility to be doing whatever we are supposed to be doing in order to look after ourselves, and provide for ourselves. However, this does not mean that we are therefore doing everything ourselves. We are doing our best to be responsible ; but we depend, nevertheless, completely on the Lord to help us and to provide for us. In fact, I am able to provide for myself, and have what is necessary from day-to-day because the Lord is blessing, and enabling. Sometimes I may even have an abundance, and then I can share with those that are in need. This is the Christian way.

In effect, our Saviour is saying to us : “Go about your lives normally. Do what you have to do, but do it in the right perspective, understanding that God is blessing, and God is providing”. In the first place, everything that we are and everything that we have is coming from His heart and His hand. However, as much as we plan, unexpected things might happen. Our response to the “what if” is not to live in fear and anxiety (as we very often do). Rather, it is for us to turn to the Lord, and to say to Him : “Help me. Help me to know what to do. Help me to know how to wait for You to provide. Help me, Lord, to keep the correct perspective and to live continually in Your peace”. It is important that you and I always live trusting the Lord to provide what is necessary. Earlier I gave examples of monks who were running out of food, and so forth. However, I have known regular families in Orthodox parishes who, from time to time, have been in similar straits. The Lord has provided for them in the same way.

Above all, it is important for us to remember that the Lord is love (see 1 John 4:8), and that the Lord loves us, and that the Lord cares for us. Even though we are now in the billions on this earth, He nevertheless loves each one of us uniquely. He cares about each one of us uniquely. He can do this because He is God, and not a human being. He is not limited as we are. He can do all this because His love is so great and so all-encompassing. As our Saviour keeps reminding us, His love is so great that He cares about the welfare of birds and flowers. His love is so great that He cares about everything on this earth : fish, microbes, molecules, everything. His love is so great that it produced our solar system. The whole universe is the product of God’s love. If we wonder how God can possibly manage to care about each one of us billions of human beings uniquely, it is in the context of His love that He is capable of such productivity.

The Lord’s love is personal. It is not just some “force”. His love is tri-personal. His relationship with you and with me is personal. His love for you and for me is direct, unique, and personal. In Christ, we have access to His love, as the Apostle says, access to His heart because His love is so great, so deep, so all-encompassing, so particular, and so life-giving. We, who live in this age of space phantasies and various sorts of philosophies, must be careful, ourselves, not to be confused between those philosophies or phantasies, and what is the reality of God’s love. We can watch “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” as much as we want and enjoy the entertainment, but these are still merely stories. The stories mostly reflect the interior struggles of human beings who do not know God, who cannot comprehend Him and His love. It is we who can fill in the gaps of all the questions that are being asked subtly in stories such as those.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us offer our hearts, our minds, our souls, and everything about our lives to our deeply-loving and personally loving Saviour. Let us trust Him with our lives so that when we face difficulties, we will turn to Him. Let us trust Him so that even when we are not facing difficulties, we will still have confidence in Him, His love, His care, His presence and His nurturing. In everything, along with the rest of His creation, 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 Lord offers us Healing and Unity with Him

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Lord offers us Healing and Unity with Him
4th Sunday after Pentecost
20 June, 2010
Romans 6:18-23 ; Matthew 8:5-13

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

Human beings have a tendency to want to have rules so that if we follow the rules we think that we are okay with the Lord, somehow. Yet, when we have rules, we are always finding ways to get around them because we do not like rules. It is not dissimilar from living in Canada as it has recently become. I remember that when I was a child there were rules, certainly, about living in Canadian society, but the rules were not nearly as numerous as they have become. Nevertheless, even in my childhood people were getting around the rules one way or another, and as a result, parliament had to pass stricter rules. Then people seem to find ways of getting around those rules, too. Parliament is pressed by the media and the voters to defend us from all these rule-breakers, and they pass stricter laws yet. People get around those rules yet more. It goes around and around like this for us human beings because we are not stable creatures. We are called “rational sheep” but we do not behave very rationally when it comes down to it. We want to have our cake and eat it, too.

We have a tendency to presume on God’s mercy and His love because we tend to think that God is “nice” like a Canadian, and that He will not say or do anything if things are out of order. This is a complete misunderstanding of our Lord who created everything that exists – you and me included. He put order into everything – you and me included. If we are in a mess as human beings, we are in a mess not because God wanted any sort of mess, ever. It is because we, with Adam and Eve, started getting around the rules. There is an ironic humour in that we were given one “No” at the beginning : “Eat everything in the garden, but do not eat that particular fruit”. What did we do ? We ate the particular fruit. Then we complained to God that we were in trouble. We complained that we did not have anymore the joy which we had had in the Garden of Eden. We had it no longer, because we had spoiled everything. It is noteworthy that our forefather and our foremother, Adam and Eve, did not say : “Forgive me. I am sorry”.

This is another reason why we human beings are in the predicament that we are in. Even until the 21st century, even within the Orthodox Church, people are reluctant to say : “I made a mistake. Forgive me. I am sorry. I was stupid at that moment. Please forgive me”. We are not doing this. We are still demanding rights and expecting something. We think that we are owed something, somehow. However, what we really deserve because of our stubborn behaviour, is to be with those who are cast out, and amongst those who are weeping and gnashing teeth.

Today, we are with our Saviour in the town of Capernaum on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. A centurion comes to Him. A centurion is a leader of 100 men in the Roman army. I suppose this would be the equivalent of a major in the Canadian army. This commander of a hundred has a household. The first thing for us to understand about this centurion as a commander in the Roman army is that he is definitely not Jewish. He is living as an occupying army officer in and on Jewish territory. This is not the most friendly and comfortable position to be in, either for the Jewish people who are being occupied or for the Roman officers who are doing the occupying. Yet we see time-and-again in the Gospels that this centurion is not alone. Many are the Roman officers who have encountered God either through Judaism or through our Saviour, Himself. They have come to understand God as the one God, and they have come to love and to serve God. They have seen the difference between the multitude of pagan gods in which the Roman Empire had been living, and this God, who is the God of all and who actually loves His creatures. This is in contrast with the pagan gods of which everyone is always afraid. People live in fear of these gods and idols. We who live in a relationship of love with God, the Creator of all, are not living in fear. We might be in fear of our own stupidity and failings, but we are not afraid of God who loves us. Our life is not lived in perpetual fear that He is going to strike us and beat us up ; but rather, we live in response to His life-creating love for us.

This centurion was amongst those God-believing centurions whom the Jewish people were constantly rejecting because they were not Jewish. That is how it was in those days. The rules of society were that if you were a Jew you were not supposed to have any association with someone who was not Jewish because of contamination of some sort. People were simply living according to the way society functioned in those days. Therefore, the Jews had to keep away from people such as this centurion even though he had come to be a believer. Yet he could not go the whole way and become Jewish because he was a member of the Roman army. Therefore, he was in no-man’s-land, as it were. Knowing that Christ can do something for his servant, and being confident that He will, the Roman centurion comes now to our Saviour. I will make here a little digression, because the word “servant” is often used in a misleading way. The actual Greek word used for “servant” in the Gospel according to Matthew is one which can possibly mean “slave”, but it more usually is used to mean a son or a child. Nevertheless, the Evangelist Luke, as he presents the same event, plainly uses the Greek word for a slave. North American translators seem to be shy to use the word “slave”, but it was a fact of life then, just as it is now (albeit frequently hidden). We can, therefore, correctly understand that the centurion is not talking about a domestic servant that he hires and pays. This man is a slave. (We forget about slavery because we have not lived with it in our midst, at least visibly, for a long time.) The man about whom the centurion is concerned is his property and not an employee. However, unlike many slave-owners, this centurion cares deeply for his slave ; the Evangelist Luke writes that this slave is dear to him. He cares, not merely because the slave is incapacitated, paralysed and cannot do his work. He loves and cares for this slave as if he were a member of his own family. We have encountered other persons like this in the Scriptures whose slaves were really like members of their own families.

This centurion also has great humility. When our Saviour is immediately volunteering to come with him to the slave, the centurion understands that there would be certain implications on the Saviour’s part. The centurion, who is not Jewish, is well aware that if a Jewish person comes into his household, there would be consequences for our Saviour, such as having to take a ritual bath and the equivalent of confession. He would be regarded as ritually unclean. The centurion also understands his own situation as a soldier. Therefore, he says to the Saviour, as it were : “I am an officer. I have people under me, and they do what they are commanded to do. If I say : ‘go’, then they go ; and if I say : ‘come’, then they come”. He concludes by saying plainly to our Saviour : “‘I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed’”. Thus, our Saviour comments to everyone that amongst the believers, He has not seen such great faith as this man has. The servant is immediately healed.

Our Saviour can do this, because He is the Lord of all. He does not have to be there personally and physically, although very often He is there physically because He knows that we need to see His hand touch someone. We very often have to hear Him speak a word and see the healing happen. Just like the blind man, we need to have mud put on our eyes and then go to the pool of Siloam in obedience to the Law, and wash and then see (see John 9:6, 7). The Lord knows us. He knows our hearts. He knows all situations. He knows that we want to live in love with Him.

If we do want to live in love with Him, then it will not be at all out of order for us to have the same confidence in Him that this centurion has today. Because the Lord loves us, we will know that what He will do for us is right for us. Not everyone is visibly healed ; but regardless, something does occur. I have been asked many times when we have been praying the prayers of the special Service of Anointing (with the reading of the seven Gospels) : “What happens when we apply the oil to the people who are coming to be anointed ?” About forty years ago I was told the following by an experienced priest and I found it to be the best explanation. One of four things happens when the oil is applied. The first is that the person will receive from the Lord complete healing : spiritual, physical, everything. The second is that partial healing will occur : spiritual, physical, but not complete. The Lord knows why it is not complete, and He gives us the strength to continue. The third is that there is no visible change in the body but Grace is given to the person to live a holy life despite the difficulties and the illness. Some people not receiving complete or even partial physical healing do have spiritual healing enough so that they can continue to live a life that glorifies God in the middle of suffering. The fourth is that the person is given Grace to come to the end of his or her life in a holy, God-pleasing, God-praising manner.

No matter which of the four occurs at Unction, the Lord’s Holy Spirit is conveyed to each person who is anointed, and the person is given Grace in one of these four ways : to be healed ; to be partially healed ; to be able to live a holy life in the middle of difficulty and suffering ; or to come to the end of life and to die in a manner that is God-pleasing and God-praising. All four are good and positive ways. Which way it is for each one of us depends on what the Lord is showing through us. When people are healed, it is glorifying to God. Even when it is a partial healing, it is glorifying to God, and people can see it very easily. We need to see things sometimes. However, in other cases, a person’s ability to suffer and still to glorify God in the middle of everything says a great deal to other people who are suffering. People need encouragement.

I know of many such persons whose lives continue without physical healing. However, their lives are glorifying the Lord in such a way that others can see the joy that is there despite the suffering, the peace that is there despite the suffering. There is also the witness of coming to the end of life in a beautiful and God-pleasing manner. Recently, the sister of a man I know was found to have terminal cancer. She was expected to die rather rapidly because the various therapies were not successful. Her condition went down so much that at the time of Great and Holy Friday her family was being called to her side because it did not seem that she had more than a few hours up to a couple of days left. Her family gathered. She had been prayed for ; she had received anointing, Holy Communion, prayers, love – everything that the Church could give her. In the hospice where she was, she fell into a coma and was expected to die at any moment. It was Pascha. A doctor-friend of hers, sitting beside her, had fallen asleep. Suddenly she woke up and said to him : “What are you doing here ?” He said to her : “And what are you doing awake ?” Immediately she began to talk very lucidly and very clearly, and said that she wanted to eat. The result of this was that she went home.

She went home with the same diagnosis and the same terminal prognosis. She has obviously been given time with her family by the Lord in order to encourage her family, to strengthen her family, to remind her family of the right way. Her brother said that she is declining physically but she is still speaking to them in the same way. They are even making jokes. Her time is still expected to come again. The Lord works in these ways because He not only knows what we, ourselves, need, but also what those around us need. We are not some sort of solitary island creatures that are not affecting anyone around us. If we are suffering or dying in the context of glorifying God, it is good for those around us who are also suffering. All people around us are suffering in one way or another, even if they do not show it. Canadians, especially, do not show it. Canadians pretend that everything is just fine (but it is not). When they see how suffering can be good and can glorify God, then they are encouraged.

I am saying all these things to underline how much the Lord loves us, and how He cares for the details of our lives. He knows what He is doing with us. It is important to entrust our lives to Him and to try our best not to get around the rules. Let us rather co-operate with Him, and say to Him : “Here I am, Lord, send me” (see Isaiah 6:8). In so doing, we will glorify Him in all aspects of our lives : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Freedom from Fear : Liberty in Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Freedom from Fear : Liberty in Love
Saturday of the 5th Week after Pentecost
26 June, 2010
Romans 8:14-21 ; Matthew 9:9-13


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

The words of the Apostle about fear are very apt. The fact is that in the world we are living completely in an atmosphere run by fear. It has always been that way since the time of the Fall. We are so used to it that we do not necessarily pay attention to it.

When we look at our relationship with each other, and how we are living in the world, we can see that underlying everything there is this undercurrent of fear. There is fear of what might happen, fear of being put out of my house, fear of not having enough to eat tomorrow, fear of who is going to love me, and many other fears by which we live. Sometimes we get thoroughly sick with these fears and become paranoiac. An interesting element of the way fear operates in us is that it turns us in on ourselves. I learned a long time ago that mental illness is very often (although not always) connected with an exaggerated paying too much attention to “me”. Everything revolves around “me, me, me” and therefore, I can talk about nothing except me : my this, my that, my rights, and so forth. We become so focussed on ourselves that there is no-one else. This is one of the characteristics of mental illness, indeed.

When our lives are driven by fear, it is a clear sign that we are not in harmony with God. The Apostle says quite clearly to us that our relationship with the Lord is not about fear. It is about liberty in love. He characterises this very well by saying that our relationship with God is such, must be such, and was created to be such that we call God “Abba” (as the Scriptures say). That word does not mean anything to the English ear. The translators, sadly enough, were too formal and say : “Father”. However, when we say “Father”, it is a formal expression which may imply a certain distance. Instead, “Abba” is a friendly, familiar word, and it actually means “Papa” or “Daddy”. When we are speaking about our relationship with the Lord, then we should use the warmest, friendliest paternal term possible, so that the very word itself can warm our hearts. Some other languages have even friendlier forms than are available in English. In today’s pericope, the Apostle is trying to help us to understand clearly that this is the nature of our relationship in love to the Lord. As much as we might call our own fathers by affectionate terms, God, our heavenly Father, merits far more affectionate terms yet. Our earthly fathers can fail us. They are human beings. They make mistakes. They fall into sin. However, God does not. He never fails us. He is always there giving us life. He is always there with His heart open to us, offering us the ability to live in this glorious freedom of His love.

The Apostle points out very clearly once again that the way of the world is that of fear. The idols that people have served are all fear-drivers. People are afraid of them. The frightened people appease them by making various sorts of sacrifices so that the so-called gods will not get angry with them and cause something bad to happen to them. This has nothing to do with God. Our God, the One true God, is not empty and fake like this. God is the Lover of human beings. As the Lover of us and of all His creation, He only wants what is good for us. He wants life and freedom for us. That is what the Apostle, in a clear way, is trying to explain to us today.

It is in the context of this liberty in love that our Saviour today calls Matthew from his tax office. As a tax collector in Judea, Matthew was despised because he was the agent of an occupying empire and his position was one of conflict and betrayal. It was also a position of self-interest. Our Saviour comes to him and says : “‘Follow Me’”. The love of the Saviour which is flooding this man (His love is always flooding us), affects him, sitting there in his office. Matthew stands up, leaves everything, and follows Him. He and the Saviour go to dinner together. The Saviour is eating with Matthew and his friends, amongst whom are included tax collectors like himself, and other persons who are considered to be sinners by the Jewish people. Such people were shunned, and there was to be no associating with them. However, our Saviour comes and eats with them. He points out that He did not come to the righteous (who may not really need the Saviour) ; but rather, He came to call those who are sick. Our Saviour has come to call those who are in need of a physician ; he has come to the sick of heart and soul, and to persons such as Matthew. He turns them about completely, so that they are changed completely.

Some people want to say that the call of Matthew and certain other of the apostles was so instantaneous because they had obviously heard our Saviour speaking before. It is entirely possible that they had heard the Saviour speaking before. However, whether they did or did not is not the point. What is pertinent is that it is the love of the Lord that overwhelms and floods and heals, and gives life and fills with joy. The love of the Lord is not inexorable, but it is compelling. Matthew and the other apostles, and all those who have been called (and who are still being called), are responding to precisely the same characteristic. The characteristic is the love of the Lord which touches our hearts, which melts our hearts, which fills our hearts with joy, which lightens our hearts, which takes away the burdens and chains of fear, which releases us from all these things and brings true life and true liberty, as described by the Apostle.

The same love and liberty are given to you and to me. The same healing of our hearts and souls is given to you and to me by the Saviour today, and every day. Let us, who are in harmony and in love with the same Saviour who loves us, give glory to Him in everything. Let us ask Him to send to us afresh the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can follow Him much better yet, and allow Him to overcome the fears that besiege us. May we keep living in freedom, glorifying His all-holy and majestic Name : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

True Freedom in Christ’s Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
True Freedom in Christ’s Love
5th Sunday after Pentecost
27 June, 2010
Romans 10:1-10 ; Matthew 8:28-9:1


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

Today, beside the Sea of Galilee, two demon-possessed persons meet our Saviour, and they are immediately delivered by Him. I have not met anyone yet in my life who is oppressed in this manner who was not crying out for help to be delivered from this sort of slavery. No matter how severe the slavery is, and no matter how tight are the bonds of slavery in such cases, the person who is enslaved, nevertheless, wants to be freed. Sometimes it is possible for the person to be freed. It is not 100 per-cent possible, but it is very often possible.

Why is it not possible, sometimes ? Perhaps it is not possible because the person in question wants to be freed, but is too addicted or attached to the chains of slavery to be willing to let go. The Lord is always prepared to remove such chains, as He does today, but the person who is so enslaved has to be ready to be released. The persons who meet our Saviour today (as happens in other cases like this) want to be freed. The Lord, who is the Lord of all, releases them, and they return to their right mind.

It is possible for us to say with a great deal of confidence that the whole world, itself, is equatable to the demon-possessed persons. There are two possibilities : either the world can be freed from those chains of slavery, or the world will hold on to those chains of slavery. There is only one way out of the chains of slavery, and that is the love of Jesus Christ. The love, the light, the truth of Jesus Christ is the only way. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). In the world we see very many evidences of people trying to find their way out of these chains of slavery. However, for the most part, the world prefers the environment of control, lies and manipulation rather than the freedom that comes with the love of the Lord. Instead of accepting the freedom that comes with the love of the Lord, the world repeatedly pushes it away and pushes it down. It is afraid of the light. It is familiar with the accustomed darkness. When the light begins to shine brightly (as with anyone who has been in a dark room), the bright shining is uncomfortable, if not painful for a while until the eyes get used to the light. There are very many people who are afraid of this bright, shining light of the love and the truth of Jesus Christ. They quickly run away from it and say : “I cannot stand it. I am going to stay as I am because I am too afraid to do anything else”. They choose to continue to do what they have been doing and to blame everyone else around for their misery.

It is the way of the devil, the way of darkness, and the way of the world to blame everyone else and not to take responsibility, oneself, for one’s failures and sins. To add to these complications, people very much are addicted to lies. People who are in the Twelve-Step Programme admit that they live constantly in denial of the truth. It is a description that is apt enough for the spiritual life, too, that people tend to live in denial of what is the truth about themselves and their situation. In the first place, they pretend that their pain is someone else’s fault. In the second place, they say that their pain’s source is not in themselves, and third, that their pain is not resolvable. Too much of the world is corrupted by this mentality, and yet, from time to time there are signs that it is looking for help. However, the powers of the world habitually turn in the wrong direction. Instead of going in the right way, they go in the habitual way. Wherever we see oppression of human beings, manipulation of human beings, attempted control of human beings, we see the works of darkness, not the work of the Saviour.

Leadership in the Christian world is leadership by example and by love. When attempts are made to force people to go in the right direction, we see that the leaders are lost, and that the sheep are wandering. At every level, leadership in the Orthodox Christian way must be leadership of love. It must be not only an example of what is good, but it must also be the example of repentance when mistakes are made. This is how we are supposed to be leading.

Regardless of the weaknesses of leaders, nevertheless, it is important that you and I, always and all together, keep our eyes on our Saviour Himself, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Our focus must be kept on our Saviour, who alone does not fail us. Every human being fails every other human being sometimes. We cannot avoid it because we are fallen, and that is what repentance is for. On the other hand, although we let Him down, the Saviour never lets us down. His love alone is constant, unchanging, life-giving. However, I had better not say that the love of the Saviour is unchanging, in the sense of being static. It is always dynamic, always growing, never diminishing. His love does not deviate from the true way.

It is important for us to remember all this also in the context of the Law, as the Apostle is reminding us today. We always have this tendency to treat the Law as rules and regulations rather than a series of directions or signs. The Ten Commandments and the principal things associated with them are only expressions of Who is Christ Himself, and how His followers will live. These Ten Commandments are expressions of how a person who loves God will live : living in harmony with the will of God. This is why it is possible to say that living in harmony with the will of God (including the Ten Commandments) is an expression of Christ Himself, who perfectly fulfils the will of the Father. It is He who enables you and me to fulfil the will of the Father. When the Saviour came, He came as the end of the Law. This does not mean the termination, but the fulfilment of the Law. Our Saviour shows in Himself the Law, the Law of Love (the Ten Commandments). He shows us how the Law of Love is lived. Old Testament or New Testament, the Law of Love remains constant because the Saviour Himself, the Lover of mankind, is constant in His love. If we are going to measure ourselves and how we Christians should be living and behaving, the Ten Commandments are precisely the first means of taking the measure of how we are conforming.

Let us ask the Lord today and always, to renew by the Grace of the Holy Spirit clarity of vision in our hearts, clarity of vision of His love and of His will. Let us ask the Lord for the renewal of the Holy Spirit so that His love will be multiplied in our hearts. Let us ask that we be given the heart and desire not only to want to do His will, but that we will be enabled truly to accomplish His will in our lives, and to glorify Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The radical Way of Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The radical Way of Love
6th Sunday after Pentecost
4 July, 2010
Romans 12:6-14 ; Matthew 9:1-8


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

Today, our Lord is doing what He always does amongst us. He is liberating us. He is freeing us. He is healing us. We see that when the paralysed man is brought to Him on a pallet, our Saviour not only raises him from his physical paralysis, but He demonstrates to everyone around that He has authority over sins as well. This is made clear when He says to the man : “‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house’”. He does get up, and he does go to his home. Of course, “go” means that he walked. The Lord is demonstrating His authority over everything about our lives, everything in heaven and on earth, including the forgiveness of sins (to underline it to the doubters).

Just as there are in today’s Gospel reading, there always have been people saying to Him : “This is not only strange, but it is also wrong that You are saying that You can forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins”. They are saying this to Him (or thinking these things, for He knows their hearts) because they do not know Who He is. They think that He is just an ordinary person or a prophet. Even prophets do not have the authority to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins. That is true. Our Saviour shows to them and to us that He is Who He says that He is. He is the Son of the living God. He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). As the Son of God, He does have the authority to forgive sins.

I think that we cannot have a much more visible and concrete sign of the Saviour’s ability to forgive sins than this particular moment of forgiveness for this man. While all this healing is happening and all this forgiving is occurring, our Lord is showing us that when we are bound by the chains of sin, we are also paralysed spiritually. If we look at our lives and examine how we behave in our lives, then we see that when we are burdened with sin (which is always connected with fear of some sort), we cannot do what is right no matter how much we want to do what is right. We keep doing what is not right. It is only when the Lord is freeing us from our slavery to sins and passions that we are able finally to understand what is the right way. In fact, it is then that we can understand what His will is and do His will. When we are understanding clearly what His will is, we understand then what the Apostle is saying to us, today. Just before the beginning of today’s reading, the Apostle reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ, members of each other. Being in Christ gives us the responsibility to use the gifts that God has given to each of us.

When God creates you and me, He does not merely create some sort of a creature by itself, which lacks any support, lacks any sense of direction, lacks any purpose. He has a purpose for each human being that He creates : doing and being good in this life. Doing and being good in this life is never centred on the self. It is always focussed on the other. The Christian way is always focussed on the needs of the other, not on the self. The Christian way, following the Saviour, is the way of service. The Saviour Himself, risen from the dead, ascended into Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, to this day is pouring Himself out for us in selfless love. He is still serving you and me because we keep crying to Him : “Please, help me”. “Help me with this”. “Help me with that”. “Give me this”. “Give me that”. He is meeting our real needs. He is still the Servant of you and me because He loves you and me. We Christians serve each other (and even other people who are not Christians), because God loves us, and He gives us the ability to love other human beings. Each particular one of us has particular gifts that He gives to us in order to accomplish this work of service in the course of our lives. This work of service, caring for the needs of other people, is the way of life.

It is always difficult for me to comprehend, especially in this province, how it is that a society, disappointed by the sins and shortcomings of human beings, can pretend to throw away God, and at the same time have characteristics which completely declare the Christian foundation and the Christian mentality that undergird the whole social structure of this province. People, in their disappointment and rebellion, have become very self-indulgent and very rejecting of God. At the same time, this is a province where, everywhere you turn, there are people who are volunteering to help others : to pick them up and take them to get groceries and to drive them here and there because they are housebound. This is really characteristic of this city. People volunteer to look after each other. They take each other around because there is no bus system and only one taxi. Since there is not enough transportation for all those in need, there are all these wonderful volunteers.

Why do people volunteer ? Where does it come from ? Volunteering comes from the Christian foundation of this province and the Christian people who were the founders of this city. It is not just plain human kindness. Human kindness (that comes with being a human being who might listen to God sometimes) is not organised like this and not determined like this. I am convinced that even though people (like children and even like abused children) say : “I do not want to hear anything about God”, nevertheless, at the same time, in their hearts they respond positively to God’s love. Even though it is a contradictory way of living in this province, it is a virtue that this phenomenon still exists. There is yet great hope in the future for this province. All Christianity has not disappeared.

We who are Orthodox Christian believers have a great responsibility, because we still know how to live the Christian way. We still know how to love Christ, and how to respond to His love. We know how to live in the environment of His love. Therefore, we have the responsibility of showing the hungry and thirsty people around us Who it is that is the Lover of human beings ; we have the responsibility of showing how He can meet their needs, and how He can heal their broken hearts as He healed our brokennesses. The hardest way of all for us, it seems, is to do precisely those words that the Apostle Paul says to us today : “‘Bless those who persecute you’”. His words are very close to those of our Saviour in Matthew 5:44. In other words, he says to us, in effect, “Do not condemn anyone”. “Bless those who hurt you”. Therefore, we are called to bless all and to forgive all in the love of Christ. If we do not bless those who hurt us, and if we hold grudges, it only poisons our own hearts and does nothing to anyone else. Those words are a 100 per-cent application of the Saviour’s love. They are also a 100 per-cent application of the “Beatitudes” (which we sang earlier), which point to our Saviour Himself, and which are characteristic of all those who follow in His way.

For us to be alive, truly human and constructive, we must be able with Christ’s help to live His love radically. The radical application of His love is precisely this blessing those who persecute us. I very much recommend that we all read the lives of the saints much more (especially the martyrs), because there, we see very concrete examples of people who are being tortured in very horrible ways. (It is really ugly the things that were done, and are still being done to the martyrs.) These martyrs are blessing and forgiving the persons who are killing them in the same way that our Saviour did from the Cross. With His arms voluntarily outstretched, He forgave those who killed him. We forgive those who injure us. We forgive those who persecute us. We forgive those who hound us because we want the Lord’s healing and life in our hearts. We want the Lord’s healing and life in the hearts of those who are near us whether they wish us good or ill. This is the radical way. It is the way of life, and it is the fruitful way.

To illustrate this, I will repeat the story about the death of Saint Juvenaly, the first priest-martyr of North America, who was a missionary priest-monk from Valaam Monastery in Russia. On the west coast of Alaska, he was coming with his reader by boat to bring the Gospel to the Yupik people. The Yupik people did not understand who he was or what were his intentions. They thought that he was a threat, and they began to shoot at him with arrows. It was reported in the families of those Yupiks that the people who were shooting him thought at the time that he must be crazy. It looked to them as though he were moving his arms, trying to brush the arrows away like mosquitoes. What they did not understand at the time (but they understood later) was that he was making the sign of the Cross on those who were shooting arrows at him. He was blessing the people who were killing him, just as the Apostle Paul exhorts us today. He was blessing those who were killing him. They also killed his reader (whose name we do not even know).

As a result of this blessing, other missionaries followed later, and they established the Orthodox Faith in this area of western Alaska that I call “Yupikia”. As a result of the spilling of the blood of the Hieromartyr Juvenaly, the Orthodox Faith planted then has lasted until now. The memory of the event has lasted until now. The people who killed him became Christians. The people who produced families of Orthodox Christians in Alaska remembered the story. Their families remembered the event, and their descendants have remembered and known Jesus Christ whom they serve with love until this day. The death of this missionary priest produced fruit more than a hundredfold. For the Orthodox Christian, to die is not the worst possible thing to happen. For the Orthodox Christian, to die out of communion with Christ is the worst thing. To die in the love of Jesus Christ is, in fact, life eternal. Saint Juvenaly, who was blessing the people who killed him, was taken by our Saviour into Heaven, where he continues to pray. His prayers bear fruit more than a hundredfold.

The radical way of the Christian, the radical way of love, is the way that gives life and bears fruit. Let us ask the Lord to renew the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts today so that we, with Saint Juvenaly, the martyrs, and all other faithful Orthodox Christians may 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.

Life-giving Words of Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Life-giving Words of Love
Saturday of the 7th Week after Pentecost
10 July, 2010
Romans 12:1-3 ; Matthew 10:37-11:1


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

The words which our Saviour is addressing to us today are very simple, and very direct, but they are very deep also. They are so deep that in the context of a homily there is little space and time to address these words sufficiently. Our Saviour’s words to us today are directly connected to the words that we heard from the Apostle about offering our bodies as a sacrifice to the Lord. A few verses later, he adds an exhortation about keeping ourselves pure because we are members of each other, and members of the Body of Christ. Therefore, by doing so, we are supporting and strengthening each other at the same time that we are glorifying God.

This glorification of God and putting Him in first place in our lives, about which our Saviour is speaking us today, is what is important for us. Our Lord is simply restating what was written in the Old Testament : that we have to love God above everything else (see 5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5). If we say that we are His followers, then He has to come first above everything. That is what I mean by the verb “have to”. It is not because we must. If we are going to follow God, who is Love, then logically, He would come first in our lives.

However, there is more to this than logic. What the Ten Commandments are saying is what the Saviour is saying in a very direct and personal way : The Lord must come first. Love of Him must come first. He says : “‘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’”. If a relative or any other person has become more beloved than the Lord, then that person has taken the place of the Lord in my life. In fact, if I love my brother, my sister, my mother, my father, my husband, my wife or whomever else more than the Lord, then that person has become an idol for me (we can be so blunt because the Lord is being so blunt). This is not to say that we cannot love someone else “to pieces”, but loving that person to pieces has to be in the context of loving God before all. He is the One who gives us the ability to love the other person to pieces in purity, in balance, and life-givingly (we could say). It is the Lord who gives us balance. It is the Lord who puts everything in the proper perspective, whereas we human beings have a strong tendency to live in a fog.

We human beings live in a fog because we are so pre-occupied with ourselves. In our fog, we hold on to this or that, without having confidence in the love of the Lord, about which He gives us no reason to doubt. Our doubting His constancy, His steadfastness towards us is not from Him. It is because we listen to whispering, doubting little words that come into our ears, into our hearts from one place or another from time-to-time. Loving the Lord above all things produces gifts, such as the ability to love other people in the correct way, and to give hospitality and to meet other people’s legitimate, real needs for good and righteous reasons (not for selfish reasons). For instance, as our Lord says to us : “‘Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward’”. The phrase “in the name of a disciple” means, in effect, that if anyone gives a cup of water because of being known to be a disciple of Christ, then Grace comes in return. We human beings are always looking for rewards. We do not generally do things unless there is something in it for us. Therefore, our Lord says, in effect : “If you do something good for another person, there is a blessing coming to you as a result”. However, this is not bargaining. It is simply the living, life-giving consequence of acting in the love of the Lord. The love of the Lord is such that when we empty ourselves in caring for others, the Lord multiplies the love that was given away. Not only is the love replenished so that more can be given, but the capacity to love is also increased. The Lord gives even more love than before. When love is properly exercised (one could say), the capacity to love is increased as life continues. The capacity deepens, broadens, and gets higher and deeper. The love of the Lord multiplies.

However, as the Lord says to us today, it is important that we keep everything in the right perspective, and that we remember the words that summarise the Ten Commandments : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…and…your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37, 39). His words to us today are simply an application of that. Let us ask the same Lord who loves us silly, straying, confused human beings (His beloved sheep) to renew the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts so that we will be better able today, tomorrow and the next day to live in accordance with His words. By living in accordance with His life-giving words and with His life-giving love, 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.

The Gift of Autocephaly

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Gift of Autocephaly
7th Sunday after Pentecost
11 July, 2010
Romans 15:1-7 ; Matthew 9:27-35


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

It is difficult to imagine that after two blind men are healed, such a thing could be hidden. It is certainly not hidden today because as soon as these blind men received their sight, no-one could deny the fact. I almost said “restoration” of sight, but there is no indication in the Scriptures that these men ever had the ability to see before.

We hear our Lord say to them today : “‘According to your faith let it be to you’”. This is not to say that the healing (or any healing) is absolutely dependent upon the faith or the request of the person who is being healed. In fact, our Saviour is demonstrating that these men did believe, and as much as they believed, they would have their sight restored or given in the first place. Indeed, they received their sight which confirms the fact that they believed in Who He is, in Who is Jesus Christ. There are examples elsewhere in which the Lord simply healed the person.

The blind men ask our Saviour to have mercy on them. Then they follow Him into the house, as we see. There, our Saviour speaks to them and heals them. After this, a man who is dumb and who is demon-possessed is brought to Him. Our Lord liberates the man who is demon-possessed, and he is enabled to speak. The man is completely set free by the love of the Saviour. The next thing that happens is that we hear that people are saying (because their hearts are hard) : “‘He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons’”. This is what they accused Him of. There are people amongst us today who are of the same mind. Things do not change because people do not change (no matter how much we pretend to ourselves that we do). “There are none so blind as those that will not see”. My mother repeated this to me many times (because I sometimes fell into that category).

Nevertheless, in circumstances similar to this, we, ourselves (childish human beings that we often are), react very differently from the way our Saviour reacts. What do we see Him do immediately after He is slammed with these blasphemous and awful lies? He goes and heals people all around the country from every sort of disease. That is what He does. What do we do ? We want recognition. We want everything to be fair. If someone were to say about us the equivalent of what is said to the Saviour today, then, very likely, we would take that person to court. We would probably say : “Prove what you say, or give me lots of money”. We have the deceptive mentality that there is such a thing in this world as fairness and justice. There is not any justice because we, ourselves, do not behave justly. How can we expect anyone else to be “just” in the way we are talking about justice if we, ourselves, are not just ? Anyway, the Lord is not asking us for justice, and He is not giving us the example of justice.

The Lord is giving us the example of self-emptying humility and love which add up to the word “righteousness”. He is showing the way of righteousness. He does not pay us back for our evil deeds and our betrayals. He does not “even the score” with you and me. Instead, He absorbs the loss in His love. He absorbs all our damage and brokenness in His love. He does not pay us back eye for eye, or tooth for tooth, or tit for tat. He pays us back with self-emptying, healing love. We have a lot to learn about how to live as Christians if we are still expecting that we should have recognition for the good things that we do, when the Saviour received crucifixion and blasphemies (as we just heard) for His good deeds, which He nevertheless continued to do, even from the Cross. He forgave from the Cross those who were killing him.

We have a long way to go in learning how to live as Christians if our criterion is balances of so-called “justice”. I do not believe that there is really such a thing as what we want to consider as “justice”. I do not believe that we, in our fallenness, are capable of giving justice to anyone. We are too broken, damaged and dim of vision to be able to see all the truth that is required to provide such justice. However, in God’s mercy, in His love, we can give righteousness. We can give His healing love. We can, as He does, in love absorb wrongdoing and mistreatment. We can transform mistreatment and wrongdoing into good in precisely the same way that we are asking the Lord during the prayers of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil : “Make the evil be good by Your goodness”. We can participate in what we are asking Him to do by participating in the action of His love.

That is what the Apostle is talking about today, when he is asking us to bear with the weaknesses of others. He is not asking us merely to endure and to put up with those who are weak ; rather, He is asking us to give concrete support and help to the people who are weak. We, who are strong, should be ready to carry those who are weak, and help them to become strong by sharing with them more of the love of the Lord. The Apostle is asking us to live in mutual support of one another and mutual encouragement of one another so that we can be like Christ. We can lift each other up in Christ and strengthen one another in Christ.

In these days, there is much blathering going on about autocephaly : “What is the meaning of autocephaly ?” “How are we going to defend it ?” “How are we going to protect it ?” There are many similar questions. In the whole course of my episcopate, I have not heard any significantly different questions. This is but a fresh wave of the same old thing. Very often, people in our Orthodox Church in America are saying : “Our autocephaly”. They wave this flag and banner, and declare : “We have this autocephaly”. All that blather about autocephaly does not mean anything when it is treated as if it were a private possession triumphantly clutched by a particular group. The autocephaly that we were given in 1970 by our Mother Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, does have a meaning. It was a gift to us to be a gift to the rest of North America (and, as it turns out, to the rest of the world).

This gift of our ability to govern ourselves by ourselves in North America (even though we were unprepared for it) enabled us to become truly the local Church in North America. In each of the main three countries in North America we are clearly the local Church. We are here, and we are of this place. Our people are not going somewhere else. Living here, and being who we are, we are simply and only resident Orthodox people. In this case, it means that we are Orthodox Christians who are Canadians. We are who we are, and our responsibility is to be yeast here, just as we have been trying to be (see Matthew 13:33). This has been the case for all of us in North America over the past forty years. Our autocephaly is a gift which we have been trying to give. Not by any means has everyone in North America been ready to accept the whole fact of the autocephaly. However, the characteristics of how we are living our life in the context of this autocephaly have been very much accepted by North Americans. North Americans have very much accepted the quality of life that we have had as The Orthodox Church in America. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Orthodox Church in North America in 2010 would not have anything like the character she has now if that autocephaly had not been given to us, and if we had not been trying to be faithful.

However, here we are now, at a time when the Lord is presenting to us the opportunity to establish the beginning of what can become normal Holy Synods in each of these three countries in North America. At this time, we, The Orthodox Church in America, ought not to be so proud and unwise as to be waving this banner : “We have autocephaly. Put this in your pipe and smoke it”. (That is actually what we are saying by talking in such a triumphal manner.) Our responsibility is to say to the rest of the Church : “We have this gift. How can this gift fit what God is giving us all now ?” That is the question. We have this gift. How can we share it (not impose it) ? Since God gave us this gift forty years ago (even though we were not expecting it), we do not dare tell Him what to do with this gift that is starting to come to maturity now. We cannot tell Him. It has to be He who will show us what to do with this gift, and how it will be used to help to contribute to normal Orthodox life in North America.

We cannot be faithful to Christ ; we cannot be faithful to the apostles ; we cannot be faithful to the Canons and Tradition of the Church ; we cannot be faithful to this gift of forty years ago if we want to remain in isolation from the rest of the Church waving this flag with a big “A” on it. That big “A” can mean something different than “autocephaly” : a little three-letter word which I am not saying here.

Brothers and sisters, let our faith be the faith of those blind men, trusting the Lord for His love, His life-giving power, His intimate care for us, His readiness to make all things right and well for you and for me, and for our Church. Let us ask the Lord to give us the faith of these blind men, the faith of these persons who brought the demon-possessed man to the Lord today, and the faith of the Apostle Paul, who understood the workings of the love of the Lord. Let us ask the Lord to give us that understanding and that faith, so that in everything we may be true and faithful to Him, and that in every aspect of our life we might personally and together glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Living Examples of Repentance and Forgiveness
Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)
12 July, 2010
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.

Today, we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. It is important for us to remember the primary reasons for their importance for us. It is not only because they were apostles, and it is not merely because they were leaders of the Church’s life. The main reason that we are celebrating them together today (apart from the fact that they were both killed in Rome on this day at the same time) is the fact that they are both living, concrete examples for us all of how we are supposed to live and what our relationship with the Lord ought to be and can be.

Each of these apostles had his weaknesses. We heard the Apostle Paul speaking to us at great length about all his infirmities and his weaknesses. The Apostle Peter also had his weaknesses. Even though we hear the Apostle Peter today confess Christ to be “‘the Son of the living God’”, and our Saviour proclaims him to be foundational for the Church, nevertheless, at the time of the Crucifixion he betrayed Christ three times ; he was scared and ran away. On other occasions before the time of his own death in Rome, he was thinking of running away because of how the Tempter was tempting him with fear. In fact, he did, on one occasion actually begin to flee. However, the Lord stopped him on the road, and He said : “Peter, where are you going ?” Then the Apostle Peter woke up. He came to his senses. He went back, and he did what he was supposed to do. The shedding of the blood of the two apostles on this day brings more life to our Church, more life to the world, more hope to the world. Both these men deeply loved God, and they both wanted to serve Him with all their being.

When anyone of us makes the same determination in life, the same thing happens to us as happened to each of these apostles. The devil comes and tries to divide us. He comes with all sorts of thoughts – negative, dividing thoughts, suspicions, and so forth. He tries to divide us away from the flock of rational sheep, from the flock of life which is the Church. The devil also supplies one of the harder things for us to bear, and which the Apostle Paul spoke about : tribulations and tests from people we know and love, such as our own people and our own families. Sometimes they can beat us up because of our faithfulness to Christ. Sometimes our best friends, our neighbours, can give us trouble simply because we are trying to follow Christ.

Why is this ? It is simply because wherever Christ is, the light of life is shining. If we, ourselves, are bearing Christ, then the light of life, the light of Christ is shining in us (which is good). However, for those who have dark things in their lives or who are bound by fear in their lives, it can be very unnerving and unsettling to be near the shining of the light of Christ. This is precisely the same thing as when anyone of us is asleep at night in the dark and the light is unexpectedly turned on. Even when we are expecting the light to be turned on, and the light is bright, the eyes are not at all happy with the shining of that light. It takes a while for the eyes to accept the brightness of that light.

When the light is turned on suddenly, our first reaction is to say : “Turn it off !” However, we know that we cannot find our way unless the light is turned on. The light must be there, and we must put up with the discomfort. In the context of our lives, it is much more serious and sharper, because we cannot hide from the Lord things that we think we are hiding from Him. It is a self-deception to think that we could hide anything from the Lord and that He would not know every single, solitary thing about us. Neither you nor I can hide anything from the Lord. When His light is shining, and I am ashamed of something, what do I do if I am thinking in a life-giving way ? I do the same thing as when I turn on the light at night. I accept the shining of His light, and I allow the Lord to show me the right way. I allow Him to correct in my life my mistakes, and my faults. I allow Him to heal me. When I am doing this, I am doing what the two apostles did throughout their whole lives, and that is to repent. They always turned about, away from darkness and fear to light and love. They turned away from selfishness, and they turned to selflessness. They became for us big examples of repentance.

A further example that is important to keep in mind concerning these two apostles is their relationship with each other. They were, in fact, opposite personalities. The Apostle Peter was an ordinary fisherman from the Sea of Galilee. As an ordinary Jewish man, he had enough education to read aloud the Torah, the Scriptures, in the synagogue. In those days (as now also), every boy at the age of at least thirteen came to the point where he had learnt enough to be able to read, and he had learnt to read the Scriptures well enough. Then he could take his place in public as an adult. He could start to take his turn first to count as one of the ten (the minyan) required to be assembled for the service to begin ; and second, to take up his responsibility and to take his turn to read aloud portions of the Scriptures during the services. In his hand he would have held a little metal or wooden pointer in order not to damage the scroll and to help keep his place on the page. The reading is done from hand-written scrolls to this day. In those days, Hebrew did not have punctuation or written vowels – there were only the consonants. A person truly had to know the language ; one had to know the words, and the Scriptures as well, in order to be able to read aloud correctly and intelligibly.

By contrast, the Apostle Paul came from an upper-class business family in the city of Tarsus in what is now eastern Turkey. In those days, there were various classes of citizenship ; but he came from a business family that was wealthy enough to be able to buy a lasting Roman citizenship (which was not cheap). His family was well-placed, and he had a high upper-class education in the Roman Empire of the day. Then he went to Jerusalem to complete his Jewish education at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a well-known, really highly prepared scholar of the Old Testament. The equivalent in our day would be going to a theological specialist for post-doctoral study in Oxford. So the Apostle Paul had a very high education. A person can actually perceive it when reading the Epistles in Greek or Slavonic. In those languages, it is difficult to comprehend what he is saying because the Greek (or Slavonic in translation) is so complicated. In English, we have “dumbed it down” a little bit and broken up really long sentences into short sentences to make it easier for our English ears to grasp the meaning by shortening this and that. However, we, in English, sometimes have some difficulty understanding precisely what the Apostle is saying to us, because the meaning is so tightly packed, and so deep. His use of the Greek language is classical. As he uses as few words as possible, he is packing in the most meaning. Even the Apostle Peter says in one of his Epistles that the words of “‘our beloved brother Paul’” are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). When the Apostle Peter writes, he is more practical, direct, and “catchable” for most people.

All these things are describing the apostles’ contrasting personalities. Because the Apostles Peter and Paul were such different persons, with very different life-experiences, they had some very sharp differences of opinion about a few things. They even argued about some things. What a surprise, what an unheard of and strange thing that Orthodox Christians might argue ! How it was with the apostles is how it is with us. However, here again, they are an example for us. Even if they had these differences of opinion, and even if they argued sharply, they died in the same city on the same day for the same reason – for the love of the same Lord, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. (However, each one died in a different manner. The Apostle Peter was crucified upside-down because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way as the Saviour. The Apostle Paul was beheaded.) We are able to be participants in our Saviour, Jesus Christ and in His love because of their love.

Nevertheless, long before the two apostles died (and not just the day before), they managed to overcome their differences of opinion sufficiently so that they were able to do together what was necessary for the Saviour. They understood that if they had differences of opinion, they had to get over them and resolve them and, nevertheless, continue on in harmony. They resolved them by determining together what, in fact, is the Lord’s will. We can have opinions, but what does the Lord say that we should do ? The Apostles Peter and Paul are showing us. In the classical icon of the Apostles Peter and Paul they are embracing each other, and giving each other the kiss of peace. They are demonstrating in the icon what is the fact of their lives. Different persons as they were, the Saviour is the same Saviour. Although they may have had different opinions, their will was to do the will of the Lord.

The two apostles together are the example for us all of what it is to repent. Fundamentally, to repent means to get over our selfish ways and “doing our own thing”. Instead, we learn the Lord’s selfless way in love, and we learn to do His will. Let us ask our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Lover of human beings, to give us the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the Grace given to those holy apostles so that we, likewise, may live lives of repentance, always turning towards the Lord. May we live lives of obedience in Him and through Him, rooted in His love. Let us ourselves, each and all together, in every aspect of our lives, glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Saint Tikhon, Enlightener of North America

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
As Saint Tikhon, we serve Christ whole-heartedly
Saturday of the 8th Week after Pentecost
17 July, 2010
Romans 13:1-10 ; Matthew 12:30-37


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

The words of our Saviour to us today are very simple and very serious. He says to you and to me that even if we would like to think differently, nevertheless, there are only two ways to walk in our lives – with Christ or against Christ. There is not a grey, middle way. We serve Christ, and we work with Christ, or we work against Him. These are difficult words for us, but they are important words for us. Here, in these days in particular, people are typically serving themselves first before they are serving Christ. When we are serving ourselves first, and not Christ first, our lives are out of order. They are, in fact, against Christ. We, who are living here in this city in particular, and desiring to be faithful Orthodox Christians, must remember that what comes first must always come first. What comes first is our love for Jesus Christ, our communication with Jesus Christ, our service of Jesus Christ, our life in Christ.

The person after whom this mission is now named, Saint Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America, was indeed such a person who put the service of Christ first above everything. Because he did this, we in Canada have a proper incorporation, and we have a proper organisation as the Church. Saint Tikhon, who was a missionary 100 years ago in this very area (apart from his other responsibilities), organised the incorporation of the bishop and the diocese here in Canada. The incorporation that he established would be impossible to make happen 100 years later. It was difficult then, but it would be impossible now. Because of Saint Tikhon, with this incorporation, the Church can be herself here in Canada even though it is difficult.

Saint Tikhon had a personal relationship with the people whom he served. There are families in this area whose children, grandchildren (and I suppose we are actually up to great-great-grandchildren by this time) still remember the stories of his visits here. Saint Tikhon, also, was such a pastoral person that he was constantly bringing people whom he knew from Ukraine and Russia to North America in order to make certain that the sheep in North America would receive good food, healthy food, true food about Jesus Christ and the Orthodox way. Many of these persons whom he brought to North America became saints.

Even when he was unexpectedly chosen to be the Patriarch of Moscow at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, Saint Tikhon nevertheless embraced his responsibility whole-heartedly. He prayed to the Lord, and he tried to make the best decisions for the Church that were possible under such difficult circumstances. For the most part, he managed to do this. Ultimately, he died or as most people believe, he was killed (although this seems to be impossible to prove). He suffered so much that, at the very least, he is considered as a confessor. This is true of multitudes of his companions in those days, who were confessors and martyrs.

Saint Tikhon was a stable, loving father in Christ. He established this Church in Canada and in the United States, too, on a good foundation. He established the renewal of the patriarchate in Russia on a good foundation. That foundation is primarily Jesus Christ and the love of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Saint Tikhon could guide the Church and do what is right because his heart and his mind were in constant communion and love with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He himself, as a loving father and shepherd, showed us the way to fulfil these words of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, which we have just heard in the Gospel. We must be with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We must be in our Saviour, Jesus Christ because we want to have life. We want to have eternal life. However, the only way to have this is to be in communion and in love with Jesus Christ. When we put Him first, everything else that is difficult or seems impossible, in fact, becomes possible. In Christ everything is possible when it is His will.

If we want to do what is right, or even to do the impossible, our hearts must be in communion with the Lord so that we may know His will. Therefore, by the prayers of Saint Tikhon, let us do our best to follow his good example. By his prayers, by the protection of the Mother of God, let us develop more and more our habit and custom of daily prayer. Let us develop our habit and custom of praying together every day in our families. Let us develop our inherited custom of blessing everything that we are doing. Through the prayers of Saint Tikhon, let us renew and develop these habits which are soaked in the love of Jesus Christ : blessing our getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, going out to work, coming home from work, sending the children to school, welcoming them back from school, blessing our driving, blessing our cooking, and everything that we are doing. Let us also refresh and renew our inherited custom of drinking a little Holy Water every morning, and if possible, eating a little prosphora every morning so that our hearts, our souls and bodies will be constantly fed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, by prayer and by sacramental food. Holy Water and prosphora are like supplemental vitamins for us, although they are not the Body and Blood of Christ.

Most of all, let us ask the Lord to renew in our hearts this love for Him so that our lives may show Jesus Christ as He wishes us to reveal Him. May our lives show in every part that we are with Him, and not against Him. May our lives help other people who are lost, hungry, in the dark, sad and depressed, to find the joy, life, love and light of Jesus Christ in and through us. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, may we be received into His heavenly Kingdom with love and joy. There, with Saint Tikhon and all the other saints, and with the Mother of God, may we glorify Him in eternity with great joy, growing ever more in His love, glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Centennial Celebration

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord provides
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Centennial Celebration
18 July, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 ; Matthew 14:14-22


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

When the Apostle Paul is speaking about the importance of unity and harmony, it is not unity in human relationships alone that he is referring to (although he is addressing a particular problem at this time). He always is referring to a much greater harmony and unity. We Orthodox Christians always have been concerned not only with the importance of unity in human relationships but also the importance of unity with all creation around us.

People who still have the blessing of being able to work on the land tend to have a more open heart towards the Lord. They tend to be able to hear what He is saying, to pay attention to His guidance, and also to be ready to ask for His help. When there is not enough rain, people ask for the needed rain. (I have much experience with this, myself.) When there is too much rain, they ask the Lord to slow it down. When we are planting crops, we are asking God to bless the crops. When we are harvesting, we are asking the Lord to bless the harvest. Everything in our life is somehow conscious of, and focussed on the Lord and our relationship with Him. This has always and ever been the case with us. City life very much distorts this awareness as I have noticed from my childhood, when many children believed that milk came from a glass bottle (now it is a plastic bag or a waxed box). They believed that eggs came from a paper carton. Even today, hardly anyone seems to know where milk and eggs come from. They just mysteriously appear. People who have the blessing to live on the farm are not disunited from the whole process of life in general. People who have the blessing to live on and work on the land know the importance of unity with the Lord and also unity with each other.

The greatest joy for me in celebrating these many 100th anniversaries in this part of Alberta in the past years has been seeing the visible unity amongst the people here in the countryside. In the case of this particular area (and not just this church), this unity is amplified by a remaining connexion with that big, giant city just over the horizon. People have moved off the farms into the city, but they have not forgotten where they come from. They still come home very often (as long as there are still people here to come home to).

It is my prayer that that will never change. I am nervous about the way farming has been changing. I mean by this the movement towards agribusiness. Reducing farming simply to business tears people away from their personal connexion with the land, and their personal responsibility towards natural resources of which they are supposed to be the stewards. Agribusiness takes people away from God, upon whom farmers have always depended.

Many of these Temples remain here to this day. These Temples are connected to people now living in the city, but who, nevertheless, consider these Temples as their spiritual home, somehow. These Temples remain a source of mutual co-operation and reminders of how we are supposed to be living. Despite the fact that there are many difficulties and dangers in life, at least we have these Temples here. There is still a strong sense of connexion between the city to which people have immigrated and the place (where we are standing right now) from which they have emigrated.

People who are now living on these farms (especially those who are older) have probably experienced in the course of their lives something not exactly like, but similar to what we encounter in the Gospel today. Today, our Lord is compassionate towards the 5,000 men, in addition to all those gathered there : the women, children, relatives, friends and others. When we say 5,000 men, we are going to understand this to mean two and a half to three times that number of people in actuality because the apostle writes : “five thousand men, besides women and children”. In those days, the great majority of people were married, so it is safe to multiply the number by two. Then you have all sorts of children because in those days the families were not small (as we are having now.) If you multiply again by two children for each family, you are encountering a very large crowd of people. They had come to hear our Saviour, and they were nourished by His words.

People can be completely taken up with listening to His teaching, because it is so life-giving and rivetting. They forget all about the need to eat. Then, as the sun is setting in the countryside around, they realise that they are hungry. Our Lord knows that their bodies need food, too, and so what does He do ? The disciples are ready to try to do something practical and organised. They ask our Saviour to dismiss the crowd so that they can find and buy food. However, He tells them to let the multitude remain where they are, and to feed this multitude themselves. Can you imagine how they would react as they panicked ? However, our Lord, who is the Provider of life and the Giver of everything, in His compassion, simply says to the disciples : “‘You give them something to eat’”. The disciples, in shock at such a direction (as I would have been), admit to Him : “‘We have here only five loaves and two fish’”. The Lord blesses, gives thanks, and gives the loaves and fish to the disciples, and the disciples give them to the crowd. Having already encountered unusual things from the Lord, the disciples are obedient and do as they are told. When the disciples are distributing the five loaves and the two fishes, everyone had enough to eat, and there were baskets and baskets of leftover food. How Orthodox that sounds !

Although we do not very often have the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the same way, I rather suspect that in the course of the lives of persons here today, there must have been experiences of fear of not having enough food and crying out in the heart to the Lord. They would have seen that the Lord did, in fact, enable the food to go far enough. I have heard stories about such things so I know that this does happen. These persons are certain that they do not have enough, and yet they find that they have more than enough because their hearts have turned to the Lord. The Lord has somehow provided, and they cannot in any way explain it.

A much, much milder expression of this is found in the normal hospitality of our Orthodox people. When visitors are coming, the parishioners are determined to provide enough to eat. When there is a gathering of people and we bring together all our food, I have heard more often than not, fears that there is surely not enough. Yet, in the end, there is far more than enough, and there is plenty left over to take home. These events occur not merely because we mis-estimated. These things occur, in fact, because the Lord is blessing. This is less obvious and less serious in the case of our regular parish pot-luck dinners and our own home hospitality (which is always generous, as Christ would have it). In times of need and shortages, in particular, it is very much the case that there seems to be a multiplication of resources beyond what we are sharing together.

As all those who have come before us over the last 100 years have remembered and known, we must all remember and know that the Lord must come first in everything in our lives. After putting Him first, everything else does, in fact, fall into place. Persons who came here and built their Temples (even before their homes) understood that. The Lord comes first, and everything else is provided. Our Saviour did provide, and He still does provide. The Lord does not change. The love of the Lord remains steadily with us, for us, and in us, always. In His compassion and His love, the Lord is always with us and caring about us, just as He cares today for the multitude that is hungry at the end of the day. He provides for us as He provides for them today, not only with bread and fish, but in many other ways for which we turn to Him for help.

In the words of the Apostle Paul which we have heard today, divisions had crept in amongst the members of the church in Corinth. They were developing a party spirit, and they were saying, in effect : “I belong to this person or to that person” ; “I am a follower of this person or that person”. The Apostle Paul is saying to them really harshly, it seems, that he is glad that he baptised almost none of them. However, in the Body of Christ, there is only unity and harmony. The concern is not about any person who might be doing the baptising. Rather, everything is focussed on Jesus Christ. Everything is focussed on our Saviour, not on us. We are His agents, the Apostle says. Everything we do points to Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and His love, His life, His joy, His hope, His peace, and His provision of everything.

Brothers and sisters, our life in this parish and its neighbour parishes was built on a very good foundation of life lived properly in the proper perspective. Yes, sin exists, and no-one is perfect ; however, for the most part this is and has been the case. The life here has been built on a good and firm foundation which is rooted in Christ, lived in Christ, focussed on Christ, dependent on Christ. Because this foundation is so good, we are able to be here today celebrating this first 100 years (I will not be around for the second). By the perpetuation of the same love that has been before, the same faithfulness to Christ that has been before, the same unity one with another that has been before, whoever will be coming after me as a bishop will be able to have a similar joy when he comes to these parts to celebrate the second 100 years. He will be able to give thanks to God for another 100 years of witness and service to the Lord here in rural Alberta. These rural parishes are still providing spiritual food for the city and far beyond. These parishes are signs of life in Christ.

May the Lord grant us all the heart to be as those who have come before : faithful to Christ, rooted in Christ. With them, may our lives glorify the same Lord Jesus Christ, who is with us always, at all times and forever, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Why doubt ? Why fear ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Why doubt ? Why fear ?
9th Sunday after Pentecost
25 July, 2010
1 Corinthians 3:9-17 ; Matthew 14:22-34


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

When the Apostle Paul is saying today that we are co-labourers with God, co-workers with the Saviour, that we are “God’s field” and “God’s building”, he is very serious about our co-operation and participation in Him. In other words, our true Christian understanding is that the Lord is not doing something apart and aside from us, and we are not doing anything apart and aside from Him. We and He are completely involved in each other. It is He who is working through us and in us in everything. The Apostle Paul is constantly reminding us that we are all bound together one with another in the love of Jesus Christ. We are, each one of us, bound in love to Jesus Christ. He continues to work in us, live in us, give us life, and direct us by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the entry of the bishop into the Temple and his vesting, because this portion of the Divine Liturgy is often completely misunderstood and misrepresented. It has to do with the nature of our service. If we are truly Christian, we are, and always have been, servants.

The bishop, in his monastic habit, comes to the Temple to pray with the faithful. He is greeted at the door, and then he is escorted into the Temple and led up to the iconostas where he says the entrance prayers. These entrance prayers, by the way, belong to everyone and not just to the clergy. We all may and ought to say these entrance prayers every time we come into the Temple to pray. They are found right at the front of the Divine Liturgy book. These prayers are yours, too. The bishop is brought back into the middle of the nave after the entrance prayers. His exterior monastic clothes are removed, and other vestments are put on him by the faithful (represented by the subdeacons). In doing this the faithful are, as it were, saying : “You are our bishop, and it is your responsibility to lead us in this Divine Liturgy”. There is an amusing anecdote about how easily all this is misunderstood. The bishop of Alaska speaks of a visit of a previous bishop to a village, at which time all this was done. Afterwards, the bishop wanted to give an opportunity to the people to ask him questions. No question was forthcoming no matter what he said or did. Finally, when he asked a chief why there were no questions, the chief replied that the people would certainly not consider asking him anything, since he did not seem to be able even to dress himself. Alaskan villagers are not alone in such a misapprehension.

Why is the bishop dressed up the way he is ? It is a long story which has layers, as do most things in our Church. However, the essence of it is that the bishop is dressed in a particular way so that he can be seen to be the “high priest”, which is the right title for a bishop. If we say “bishop”, it sounds as though the bishop is somehow separate, far away, and very different. In fact, in our usual Orthodox languages, bishops are mostly and properly called “high priests”. In Greek it is archiereos, which means “high priest” in English. In Slavonic, Russian, or Ukrainian, the word is archierei, and it has the same meaning. The bishop is dressed to be a high priest because it is his responsibility to present and re-present Christ in the diocese, as the holy Bishop Ignatius of Antioch says. However, it is useful to know that another word used in Greek for a bishop is episcopos, which means “overseer”. This word carries first the meaning which indicates the ”chief household manager”. Our English word “bishop” comes from this word. The third word used for a bishop is “arch-pastor”, which means “chief-shepherd”. The bishop is the leader of Christ’s rational flock of sheep.

It is his responsibility to give to the people the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He does this through offering each and all the sacraments. Through this work, it is Christ Himself who bestows this Grace. This does not have anything to do with his “rights”, because the bishop does not, in fact, have any “rights”. However, he does have responsibilities. In the Divine Liturgy, especially when it comes to giving Holy Communion, the bishop is praying, as it were : “Please, Lord, give us, the clergy, Holy Communion, and through us to all Your people”. The clergy are recognising that it is He, the Saviour, who is the Distributor of His own Body and Blood. The high priest, the archpriest, the priest and the deacons are only agents of that.

There are additional important words for us today in the Gospel reading. The experience of the Apostle Peter on the water in the middle of that big wind-storm on the Sea of Galilee is very parallel to your life and to my life. As the apostles are approached today by our Saviour, who is walking calmly on the water, He is also approaching you and me, walking calmly in the midst of the storm. After our Saviour reassures them that He is not a ghost, the Apostle Peter says : “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’”. The Saviour asks him to come. The apostle is able to walk on the water because at that moment his heart, in love with Jesus Christ, is in complete harmony and trust with Him. Everything inside him is focussed on Jesus Christ, standing on the waves. He walks on the waves himself, because his heart and the Saviour’s heart are in harmony and in communion.

Seeing that the wind is blustery (which is actually a mild term for this sort of windstorm), the apostle takes his concentration and his focus off Jesus Christ standing before him on the water. His awareness shifts from his heart to his head. What is in the head, especially when it is disconnected from the heart ? Confused and conflicting thoughts. The Apostle Peter immediately begins to sink. However, he remembers to do the right thing and he cries out : “‘Lord, save me!’” Our Saviour immediately saves him by reaching out His hand and pulling him up. Once again, we understand that the Apostle Peter is standing on the water, and that his heart is reconnected and refocussed.

Our Saviour says these important words to him that we always need to hear : “‘Why did you doubt ?’” Where is doubt found ? Doubt is found in the thoughts in the head. I am reading a book just now about the heart by a psychologist who is completely accurate as far as I can see. His analysis is that our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell because they listened to the questions of the serpent who sowed doubt in their minds. Once they started to ask these questions in their minds apart from the Lord, without consulting Him in their hearts, they disconnected their heads from their hearts. Completely irrational things immediately occurred. Immediately, they forgot who they were, and they forgot Who is God. They forgot all about their communion of love and their life in Him. They forgot about their brilliant appearance and glorious reflection of Him (which was like the Transfiguration, in fact). Instead, they became covered with fear, and they tried to hide. The Apostles Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration experienced that glory similar to what Adam and Eve had when they were unfallen. The apostles felt that they should stay there forever. Many of us have had experiences in the Lord that are similar to that. However, like everyone else, we get distracted, and we forget.

Adam and Eve were truly alive. They were glorious in appearance, and they were like God. However, the Tempter suggested that they were not already like God, and that God was not telling them everything. He suggested to them that God was not “playing fair”. They became distorted when they listened to the Interloper and Usurper, and they listened to questioning and dividing thoughts. Questions are not bad – it is not that we should never ask questions. However, where do you look for answers to those questions ? Our first parents could just as well have listened to their hearts. They could have listened to the Lord speaking constantly in their hearts, and have asked : “What is this ?” The Lord would have revealed the Tempter to them for what he truly is. However, they did not do this. Our first parents also did not have the presence of mind to say : “I am sorry”. Rather, they immediately accused each other. One blamed the serpent. The other blamed his wife, and even blamed God for giving him such a wife. They each blamed someone else. In the examination of our own daily lives, how are we any different from them to this day ? With conflicting and confused thoughts in our minds, we forget to ask the Lord : “What do You want me to do ?” “What is right ?” We generally do not ask Him what to do until we are desperate. We too often put Him at the lower end of our daily priorities. We say : “I have to squeeze in my prayers, and because I am so tired, maybe it is good enough simply to make the sign of the Cross before I flop into bed”. Is this truly enough for you and me on a daily basis when we are living our lives in Christ, and trying to serve Him ? He is our Life. He is our Protector. He is our Saviour.

Today, seeing the experience of the Apostle Peter, and his true, sincere desire to serve the Lord, let us ask him to pray for us. Let us also ask the mother of the Mother of God to pray for us, since today we are celebrating the Falling Asleep of Saint Anna. Let us ask many saints (especially those who are already our friends) to pray for us so that we will be able to have the heart of the apostles, and the heart of our first parents, Adam and Eve, before the Fall. May we be enabled to have a heart of love and concentration in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, so that in everything people around us will be able to see Him, and encounter Him and His love, and not pay attention to our slips and slides and distractions. May we all together glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in everything, always, everywhere and at all times, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Giving freely because of Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Giving freely because of Love
Saturday of the 10th Week after Pentecost
31 July, 2010
Romans 15:30-33 ; Matthew 17:24-18:4


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

The words of the Apostle today are important for us to remember. As he was preparing to go on his way to Jerusalem, he was in danger in a number of ways. He was certainly not all that well understood by many, and not accepted by some amongst the people in Jerusalem who had not yet had their eyes and hearts opened about the way in which the Gospel could possibly spread so far beyond the Jewish people themselves. He was asking the people around him to pray for him so that God would help him and protect him.

As we know, it is important to pray for people whom we love and for people who ask us to pray for them. It is also important for us to understand that the apostles did the same. They asked for prayers for each other ; they asked their people to pray for them, as people do now. We all ask each other to pray for us and to invoke God’s protection and His love upon us. These prayers do not go into nothingness. Our prayers, in fact, are effective. We pray and ask the Lord to look after this person, or that person because we love. We do it out of love. The Lord hears the expression of our love.

In praying for someone else, it is important to remember that we do not have to say to the Lord : “Please do this and this and this”. The Lord knows very well what to do. Rather, we pour out our hearts to Him and say : “Lord, I love this person. Protect and save this person”. We can say a little bit to Him. He wants us to say these things to Him. However, we do not have to think that we need to analyse the situation of this person and ask the Lord to act only in this way or that way (as I have heard people do). We are not psychoanalysts ; we are not life-analysts – we are people who love. However, if we know of a specific hurt or a specific need, we can express that to the Lord. He does not need our analysis because He knows everything. What He wants from us is the expression of love and the pouring out of care on the other.

The pouring out of love can only have its source in the Lord Himself, the Source of love. We owe Him everything. Therefore, unlike the temple tax which is being exacted from all males aged twenty years and above, every human being, without distinction, owes this everything to the Source of love. That is why we have been exhorted to give, and why we do give, therefore, at least one-tenth of our income to the Lord. We make this offering out of love, not out of compulsion. It is important that it be a free offering from our hearts, in gratitude to the Lord. Otherwise, if the giving is in the spirit of the temple tax (that is, for the obligatory maintenance of the worship in the Temple), then our mentality would be the same as it would be towards those collecting taxes on behalf of the emperor or the government.

The collectors of the temple tax were approaching the Apostle Peter, and the first thing that they ask him is : “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax ?” Already they are assuming, just like that, that He is a tax dodger. It is important for us to remember that we, leaping to conclusions with each other, can do the same. We have to be careful how we speak. We do not want, like these collectors, to be sowing seeds of doubt or casting aspersions automatically on someone we may not even know. We have to be careful about how we live and talk in our lives. The Apostle Peter responds by saying : “Yes”. To make it patently clear to the apostle, our Saviour says : “‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’” The apostle rightly answers : “‘From strangers’”. Our Saviour says to him : “‘Then the sons are free’”. When He is saying this, He is reminding the apostle and us that we are the children of our heavenly Father and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is important that we know that we are free.

Our giving in the Kingdom as citizens of the Kingdom must be free, voluntary, without constraint, and not exacted by ecclesiastical authorities as if it were a tax. Our Saviour underlines this by saying : “‘Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first’”. The exact amount of money is found in the mouth of the fish, and so the money is given for the two of them to the collectors of the temple tax. Everyone is content. The temple tax collectors receive their money, and the apostle understands that he, as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, is voluntarily making a contribution for the maintenance of the Temple and the worship of God. In this way he is fulfilling his responsibility freely. We do not need to do things with the spirit of a slave who is afraid of everything. Rather we do things voluntarily and freely because we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are standing now in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the Temple of the Lord, in the presence of the same Saviour, and in the presence of our Heavenly Father also, as we offer up our worship. Let us ask the Lord to help us remember who we are, to Whom we belong, and what things come first as we pass through our lives. Let us ask Him to give us the strength to do things always with love, with joy, voluntarily and without fear, and in everything 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.

Feast of the Procession of the Precious Cross

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Hearts in Harmony with Christ
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Feast of the Procession of the Precious Cross
1 August, 2010
1 Corinthians 4:9-16 ; Matthew 17:14-23


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

Today, we have the blessing to be able to celebrate the Feast of the Procession of the Precious Wood of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of our Saviour. The decorated Cross is in our midst today, a testimony to our Lord’s unending and self-emptying love towards us. This Cross, on which He voluntarily stretched out His arms and died the death on our behalf, is the source of our life. What was before the sign of defeat and death and disgrace has been transformed and transfigured by our Saviour into the instrument of life and healing and reconciliation. When the holy and precious Cross is in our midst, the Lord Himself is in our midst. As He embraced the whole of creation when He was crucified on this Cross with His outstretched arms, He embraces you and me now, here, today, from this Cross. His arms are stretched out in love towards you and towards me. He, who is always the same towards each one of us, then as now, brings healing love to us.

Today, we see our Saviour healing the son of this person who comes asking for help. His son is often falling into fire and into water. I have to say (as a parenthesis) that there is a translation problem in what we heard today. In the translation that we have, the man says that his son is an epileptic. That is not exactly what the Greek says. The Greek says that he is “moonstruck” (that is, a lunatic). The word “lunatic” refers to an older understanding that certain phases of the moon (and particularly the full-moon) had strong effects on certain vulnerable people. At such times, a “lunatic” could behave very strangely. Sometimes, the strange behaviour would be so dangerous to other persons or the “lunatic” him/herself, that the person would be locked away from society for a longer or shorter period. Nowadays, people are aware of what a high percentage of water makes up our bodies, and they speculate that this may contribute to the phenomena. Be that as it may, people in the fields of public health and safety still comment on strange things that occur in certain persons, especially at the full moon. There is a considerable difference between being mentally ill, and being an epileptic. This young boy was not falling into fire and water just because he was having seizures (although this could happen to an epileptic). This falling into fire and water (which is characteristic of this boy’s condition) conveys something much more – that is, this boy was considered to be mentally ill.

However, the Saviour could see through the whole situation. Mental illness does not regularly throw a child into fire and water in order, as it were, to kill and torture this child. The Saviour sees that this child is oppressed and enslaved by a particularly difficult devil. We hear the apostles saying that they tried to get rid of this devil, but they could not do it. The Saviour responds : “‘This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’”. With “prayer and fasting” He is indicating that this is not only for a particular case but for life in general. This characteristic of a life of prayer and fasting is what keeps the hearts of the apostles and our hearts in harmony with the Lord’s heart so as to understand clearly not only what is the situation, but also what must be done according to the will of God.

It is the heart that has to understand what is necessary. The apostles had difficulty because they had not grown up, yet. They were using their reasoning and their thoughts too much. They thought that there was a technique about it. We have not changed, because human beings in the 21st century still tend to think that there is a technique about how to heal a person who is oppressed by the devil. There can be a certain amount of technique involved in addressing mental illness, no doubt ; but real healing, real freedom and real relief from slavery only comes with the love of Jesus Christ. It is He who tells us what to do. He informs our hearts. When our hearts are in communion with Him, our hearts will understand what has to be done. In His time (which is always the right time), when He says that something must be done, it will be accomplished.

The Apostle Paul is underlining this very fact today. He is exhorting us to live in communion of love with the Lord. It is important for us to understand what the Apostle means when he says : “‘For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers’”. He understood his relationship with all the people whom he had been encountering to be that of a spiritual father. The members of the church in Corinth (to whom he is writing in this particular case) were his spiritual children. Education about our Faith is important, but “knowing” is only a small part. Intellectual understanding and reasonable application of facts is only a small part. All this education and all these details actually mean nothing (and come down to zero) if it is only in the mind or in the head, or if it is only a collection of facts that is involved. All these facts have no meaning at all unless the heart, in communion with the Lord, is making sense of all those facts and details and is giving them life, direction and purpose. Even the devils, themselves, believe in their own way. They accept all these facts and they shudder (see James 2:19). However, they do not believe the facts of faith. They do not take them to heart and they do not live by them. They understand that God is God but they are living in denial of the fact that He is in charge. With their own intellectuality and confusing thoughts, they are daring to think that they are greater than God. That is how it is, to this day. It began with a rebellion of Lucifer and his associates, and it remains like that to this day.

We, who have the opportunity to be in communion with the Saviour, and even participants in the All-Holy Trinity in the Saviour, do this in the heart. It is vital for us always to understand the importance of the heart, and to know that communion with the Lord is our first priority. The Lord accomplishes wonders and miracles, things beyond our expectations and things beyond our wildest imaginations when our hearts are in harmony with Him, informed by Him and His love, and living His love. Everything else falls into its right order and place. All the confused thoughts in our heads come into focus. Details then have their purpose. Conflicts are resolved. Unity is achieved. Harmony is achieved. Life is achieved. Healing is achieved. Deliverance is achieved in harmony with the love of the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, on this day when we have the Lord before us in our midst with His arms stretched out, embracing us from His most holy Cross, let us ask the Mother of God to intercede for us, so that our hearts will be ready to become as her heart in harmony with the heart of her Son. May our hearts be renewed, refreshed and strengthened so that we can become our true selves in our Saviour. Let us ask our Saviour Himself to protect us, to save us, to guide us, to correct us, to renew us and to enable us (following the words of our beloved Elder and Wonder-worker Herman of Alaska) to love our Saviour Jesus Christ above all and to do His holy will all the days of our lives. In doing so, we will thereby glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Why we must truly know Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Why we must truly know Christ
Thursday of the 11th Week after Pentecost
5 August, 2010
[Given outside of the Archdiocese]
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 ; Matthew 24:13-28


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

It is crucially important for us that we know Who our Lord and Saviour truly is. This knowledge is something which has to be in the roots of our hearts, and not merely some sort of intellectual acknowledgement. As our Saviour has now told us, when the End of Times is coming, people are going to be saying with some sense of self-assurance : “Look, He is here” ; or “Look, He is there”. We certainly are in times like that even now. Sometimes, people say that Christ has already come, and that if we go here or there, we might find Him. Alternatively, some people are averring that Jesus Christ, as He has been presented to us in the Church for 2,000 years, is false. Instead, they suggest in a very sly manner that Jesus Christ is merely a philosopher or a sociologist. Very often (as we may see on too many corrosive television so-called documentaries), such persons present such questions as : “What if...”, or “Perhaps...”, or “Maybe....” Following these words will come a series of alternative theories which people too easily take as a fact rather that a vague possibility. The questions sow seeds of doubt which grow up into falsehoods that are understood to be facts. As we see, there are many lies that are told about Him, many more than these. When we are praying to the Mother of God in the prayers after receiving Holy Communion, we say to her : “Grant us release from the slavery of our own reasonings”. These lies that I was speaking about come from the slavery of our own reasonings.

Our Saviour is asking you and me to know Him as He is. What is the most common title that we use for Him all through our prayers ? This title is : “The Lover of Man”. We are always saying to Him : “You are good, and the Lover of man”. This is Who He is. As the Apostle John says : “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is this very love. He wants you and me to know Him in this love. In this love, we will come to know everything that is necessary. We will understand what we must understand through and in our hearts. In this love, our hearts will guide our minds correctly. This is because Jesus Christ is not only Love, but He is Truth also. In Him there is only Truth. Whether or not we are actually now coming to the End of Days, it is of the first importance that we know Him in love, as our Saviour Himself is saying to us. It is crucial that we know Him in love so that we will not be able to be deceived.

So, brothers and sisters, let us not waste our time with all sorts of philosophies, all sorts of interesting ideas and propositions. Let us spend our time opening our hearts to the Saviour, asking Him to renew our love for Him, and asking Him through the prayers of the Mother of God truly to be able to know Him. When the time comes (even if it may be a long time yet before the time of testing arrives), we will be able to recognise our Saviour Himself.

Let us not forget one detail : the Second Coming of the Saviour is not something gradual. The Saviour says that the Second Coming will be like lightning. We do not know exactly when or where it will strike, but we do know that the Saviour, in His love, is coming. He is coming in His love for us and He is coming to take us to Himself. Let us live our lives in expectation of this arrival with joy, with love and with hope. Let us ask the Mother of God to support us as we follow her Son, so that together with her in the heavenly kingdom, we all together may glorify her Son, 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 the Transfiguration of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Transformed by Christ’s Love
Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ
6 August, 2010
[Given outside of the Archdiocese]
2 Peter 1:10-19 ; Matthew 17:1-9


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

The Apostle Peter is reminding us today that what we are celebrating is not something that is invented. He is an eyewitness to the Event of the Transfiguration. It is important for us to remember that this is a real Event witnessed by real people. I say this because in these days there are so many people who are trying to reduce Christ to a philosophical principle or an idea. Because of all these ideas, it is easy enough for many people to be led astray from the Truth. The Apostles Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses to the Event of the Transfiguration today. The apostle says that they received their faith by revelation from God.

On this occasion, the Father says : “‘This is My beloved Son’”. Our Lord is showing us Who He is. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is shining with uncreated light today before us. He is shining in His love for us. When we are encountering Christ, who is revealed to us as the Son of God, we are encountering God, and we are encountering Love. In their way, the apostles were transfigured as is our Saviour, because their lives were completely changed by their encounter with Him. Today, even though they are falling on their faces, they are set free from fear by His love. They become extremely strong persons in Christ. These men become an irresistible force in the Roman Empire. In the love of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the encounter with Christ spread everywhere in the Roman Empire. It spread to this country as well by the same apostolic activity.

This country, Romania, is particularly blessed by this apostolic foundation. Unlike many other countries, you have a continuous inheritance from the Apostle Andrew. From the apostle, you have inherited the true Faith of Jesus Christ from your ancestors. Because of this, I believe that you people of Romania have a responsibility to the rest of the Orthodox Church in being faithful to Jesus Christ as your ancestors have been faithful to Jesus Christ. In allowing Jesus Christ to shine through you, as He has shone through your ancestors, you are helping Orthodox Christians in other parts of the world simply by your faithfulness.

In North America, Orthodox Christians are very few in number (perhaps 1.5 per-cent of the population). There, it is very difficult to persevere in the Orthodox Faith because of the small numbers. We are actually only at the beginning of our Orthodox way there. However, when people such as I come here to Romania, we are encouraged to persevere because we can see the fruit of your perseverance in the love of Jesus Christ. We experience the love of Jesus Christ in you. We also understand to some small degree the martyrdom of so many people in the past 100 years for the sake of Jesus Christ. Because you are faithful to Christ, it gives us the strength and the hope to be faithful to Christ also.

The Lord in His love unites us and He strengthens us all. He is asking us all to shine with His love. Let us ask the Mother of God to direct us in the way of her Son so that in everything in our lives, whether in this country or abroad, we will together be able 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.

The Way of Forgiveness

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Way of Forgiveness
11th Sunday after Pentecost
8 August, 2010
[Given outside the Archdiocese]
1 Corinthians 9:2-12 ; Matthew 18:23-35


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

The prayer, “Our Father”, which we have just said to the Lord, is directly connected with the Gospel reading earlier today. In its own way, it is the answer to the Apostle Peter’s question : “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” Our Saviour says to him : “‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

In this parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, our Saviour speaks about a man who owed his master 10,000 talents. This is such a huge amount of money that it is not possible to think about it. The master asks the slave to pay the 10,000 talents. (In Greek, the word is “slave”. We make it “soft” and “nice” by translating the word as “servant”. However, it is not soft or nice, or even “polite” ; the word used is plainly “slave”.) The master says, in effect : “If you do not pay, then I will sell you and your family and make you pay back in this manner”. The slave falls down at the feet of his master and says : “‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all’”. The master has compassion and forgives the debt without even giving him time to pay it back. Can you imagine someone, such as a banker (or anyone else to whom one owes a very great amount of money) doing something like that ? It is not very common these days, because we are so attached to money.

However, in this case, the master forgives this unthinkably large amount of money to this slave. The Saviour then says to us that this slave was owed money by a fellow slave. The amount of money is 100 denarii (about three and a half months’ worth of wages). He then takes his co-slave by the throat ; he chokes him, and he says : “‘Pay me what you owe!’” This slave actually repeats the very words that the first slave had said to his master : “‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all’”. The first slave would not be patient, and he puts the man in prison until he should pay the debt. He does the opposite of what his master had done to him. Then his co-slaves complain to the master about this behaviour. This master delivers the first slave to the prison-keepers until he should pay the 10,000 talents. However, he is compassionate and he does not do the same to the family although he could have done so. He holds only the man accountable for his bad behaviour. It seems to me (and this is only my opinion) that the first slave did not have any gratitude at all. He had no real regard for the immensity of his debt, and he had no regard for his master, either. It seems to me that he even considered his master to be weak because he forgave the debt. With ingratitude, he treats the person who owes him only a small amount in a very bad way.

Let us notice what the Lord says at the end of today’s reading, after the master sent the first slave to the prison-keepers. Our Lord says : “‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses’”. Our Lord, in His love, wants us to imitate Him in His love. Our Lord forgives you and me our sins, as we ask Him to do. He does this because of compassion and because of love. He expects you and me to be the same towards each other. This is precisely the opposite of the mentality of the societies in which we are living these days, societies which do not understand forgiveness at all. They only understand the terms “pay back” and “punishment”. It is important for us to exercise forgiveness on each other even if it may be difficult, because people around us do not know forgiveness. They need to see the compassion of Christ coming from us to them.

That is precisely how Christians are supposed to be behaving, and how we should be behaving towards each other. If we do not forgive sins against us committed by other people, but instead hold the sin against the other persons, then our anger and bitterness does nothing to the other persons. However, it does eat our hearts. Therefore, if I do not forgive, I am causing acid to eat my heart. So serious is this matter of forgiveness for Christians, that in the “Our Father” (which prayer the Lord, Himself, gave us), He teaches us to ask our Heavenly Father : “‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’” (Matthew 6:12). Thus, we are saying to our Heavenly Father : “Please forgive my sins as much as I forgive people who sin against me”. It is important for us to remember this. It is true that it is a difficult way. However, the Lord Himself says : “‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:30). He is not leaving us alone to do this work of forgiveness. Because He is love, He is with us, and He is helping us to forgive.

I will give you a hint about how to do this forgiveness. I learned about this from Archimandrite Sophrony and his teacher, Saint Silouan. I, and many people have found that this way makes it possible to forgive. It is a very simple prayer : “Doamne milueste”. Why should we say this particular prayer ? The words “Doamne milueste” are the Romanian translation of the Greek words “Kyrie eleison”. This prayer, “Kyrie eleison”, is not asking God to spare us from his wrath. It is asking Him to be present with us in His forgiving love. I think it is possible to suggest that the prayer can imply asking the Lord to pour out the healing oil of His love upon us. With our broken and hurt hearts, we offer to the Lord ourselves and the person who has hurt us, or upset us or badly treated us. We do not try to tell the Lord what to do because He knows everything. He knows me. He knows the other person. He knows what is necessary. With this prayer, I do not judge or condemn the other person. I offer this other person, together with myself, to the Lord, asking Him to be present in His healing love. When I am doing this, the Lord is healing my heart. When I am doing this, the Lord is taking the poison of anger and resentment and bitterness out of my heart. He enables the possibility of our reconciliation with people who have hurt us. If I am coming towards another person, and my heart is full of anger, then even if the other person has a mind to ask for forgiveness, that person can feel my anger and can become afraid. My anger can even stir up an equal reaction of anger in the other person, and so division is maintained. In this way the work of the devil is accomplished. If my heart has come to peace because I have been praying for the person who has hurt me, and I come towards this person in peace, then the door is open for reconciliation. I cannot make the reconciliation happen by force, but I can make the possibility possible.

I am sharing all this with you because this is simply the way of Christ. If you remember the sermon on the mountain that the Lord gave at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, He is reminding us to forgive and to bless those who hurt us. In fact, what is the Saviour Himself doing when He has His arms voluntarily stretched out on the Holy Cross ? He is asking God the Father to forgive the people who are killing Him (see Luke 23:34). With His arms that are stretched out on the Holy Cross, He is embracing us all who cause Him to suffer on that Cross.

You and I have been baptised into Christ. As we liturgically sing several times a year, in being baptised into Christ, we have put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27). We carry Christ in our hearts. The many people around us who have not found Christ, can find Him in us. Through us, they can find this hope and this forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask the Mother of God to support us and protect us under her veil, and by her intercessions help us to be like her in following her Son. Let us ask her to help us in our lives to say “Yes” to her Son always, in everything, as she does still, so that under the protection of her veil, together with her, we can all together glorify her Son, 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.

Let us love God above All

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us love God above All
15th Sunday after Pentecost
5 September, 2010
2 Corinthians 4:6-15 ; Matthew 22:35-46


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

Today, our Saviour is being tested by people who are asking Him pointed questions in order to try to show Him up as lacking correct understanding. As we have seen in the Gospel today and elsewhere, people think that our Saviour is merely a man who comes from Galilee (which, to people in central Canada, is like Newfoundland). They think that He is uneducated, a man who did not go to McGill or the equivalent (or maybe we could say, theologically speaking, that He did not go to Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary) in order to be prepared to speak about the Scriptures. Constantly He is tested in this way.

The Lord answers the first question : “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’” with what Moses gives as a summary of the Ten Commandments. Our Lord 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’”. That is what all the Ten Commandments say – it is an undercurrent in them all that the love of God is first, foremost and above everything. They also show the application of that loving relationship to all human beings around. In other words, the Ten Commandments are not laws like legislation. They are descriptive. They describe how persons who do love God with all their being will live out their lives in harmony, in peace, in balance, and in the proper consideration of all other human beings around. When the Lord is saying that we should love our neighbour as ourself, this is again in the context of loving God with our whole being. We cannot love ourselves properly, correctly, and in a life-giving way unless we love God first. We also cannot love ourselves properly, and in a balanced, life-giving way, unless our love for our neighbour is reflecting the love of God Himself. The love of God is love that is not conditional. It is without conditions of any sort. It is simply there : alive, life-giving, patient, joyful, peaceful, active, dynamic, powerful — all that.

Living in this love, we reflect these characteristics which are in God’s nature, in His love. When we are reflecting His nature in His love, we are acting in accordance with His will. When our hearts are properly pure, we are acting instinctively as He acts. We love as He loves and we are reflecting Him. We are revealing Him in our lives.

It is important for you and for me always to understand this fundamental characteristic of the Ten Commandments as the Lord has spoken to us today. We live in a society which does not understand this at all. Our western way of thinking considers the Ten Commandments to be merely legislation : you must not do this, and you must do that. That is what we always talk about popularly and in our jokes whenever we describe the Ten Commandments. However, it is a lie when we speak in that manner about the Ten Commandments, because the Ten Commandments are not merely dos and don’ts. They describe ; they are character descriptions. If we treat them as dos and don’ts, we are going to behave towards them just as we behave towards traffic signs : 100 km per hour means that I can get away with 120 km (and maybe 130 km if no-one is looking). This attitude has nothing to do with the Ten Commandments as given by Moses. It has nothing to do with the Gospel. It has nothing to do with the Saviour, because laws and legislation like that invite breaking and bending. The way of Christ’s love is simply a way of life that is truly natural and instinctive. It is our Orthodox way ; it is our native way of living in harmony with the love of God. Because our hearts (not our heads) are in harmony with the Lord, we can come to understand instinctively what is God’s will for us.

We cannot get away with saying : “That is a nice ideal, but I cannot achieve it”. There are many human beings who have been so conformed in their lives to the Lord’s love that they have truly done this. The Mother of God herself, is one of them, chief amongst them. There are many others also who have come to be so full of the love of God that all the Ten Commandments are more than fulfilled and lived out in them. Their hearts are in harmony with the Lord and they instinctively do His will. You and I can do this as well, but we have to spend time with the Lord. In order to come to this, we have to give up some television time and computer time so as to be available to the Lord.

Our Saviour then asks those (who were likely getting ready to test Him) the profound question we just heard in the Gospel, about the Lord, the Messiah and David. Their simple and obvious answer is inadequate. Therefore, He, Himself, answers the question by asking further questions. The answer to the questions is so profound that at the end of today’s reading, we are told that no-one dared ask Him any questions any more. That is not to say that no-one asked Him any questions at all. It is to say that they stopped asking Him these “trick” questions. They stopped testing Him in this way because they comprehended that He understood far more than they. In fact, they were chagrined by the way He asked and answered questions so deeply and so profoundly. Sad to say, many of them still resisted accepting the fact that He is indeed the Messiah.

Brothers and sisters, we are living in very difficult times, especially for Orthodox Christians, because the way of our broken society is going farther and farther away from the way of the Lord. When I was a child, this country had many more living Christian characteristics by far than it does now. If I were to come to Canada by some sort of time machine from 1955 (when I was nine) to 2010 (when I am much older), I think I would be in complete shock and wonder at what sort of world this is. In fact, if I stop to think about it, living with BlackBerry, email and all sorts of electronic gadgets, I ask myself : How did I manage almost twenty-five years ago to serve as a bishop with only a telephone and a typewriter, pieces of paper, and pen and ink ? It seems to me that during the course of my life since becoming a bishop, things have changed so much that life itself has become un-peaceful and personally destructive. I can understand how far and how fast our society is retreating from the way of the Lord. I am not saying that the mass media and the communication methods are bad. I am saying that instead of directing them in good and life-giving ways, we have simply become their slaves and their servants. The tail wags the dog in our life.

It is important for us to look at the Mother of God, and to remember her peaceful and perfect, loving harmony with the Lord. Being aware of her example, it is for us to imitate it. It is important in every way to ask the Lord to put our lives in order, so that instead of being turned into something that we are not, we will be authentically ourselves. In this way, we will be better equipped to help to enable our society to return to a more Christ-ward direction. However, this is only going to happen if we Orthodox Christians stop playing the game “upside-down and inside-out”, and instead ask the Lord how He wants us to do this, and how He wants us to live our lives. If we do this, and if we allow Him to change us, He, through us, will change everything around us.

Let us ask the Mother of God to support us and protect us and direct us, so that in everything that we are doing, we will fulfil the exhortation of Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska. He says to us : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In doing so, let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Leave-taking of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ, the Way of self-emptying
Love and Humility
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Leave-taking of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos
Sunday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
12 September, 2010
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 ; Matthew 25:14-30
Galatians 6:11-18 ; John 3:13-17


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

Today, we heard in the reading from the Gospel according to Saint John, the words of our Saviour who says to us : “‘For 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). He gives us these words because He wants us to understand that our way in Him is the way of His love.

The way of His love is not the way of the world. If we are going to be identified with our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we are not going to be identified with the world. Our way is different. The way of Christ is the way of self-emptying love and humility. It is the way of the example of the Mother of God. Today is the last day of the celebration of the feast of her birth. How did she live her life ? She lived her life almost invisibly, quietly, and yet with great strength. This is the opposite of what the world understands about such things. There is not much written about the Mother of God in the Gospels because, as we see in the icon before us, she is not drawing attention to herself. Her hand is pointing to her Son. By her way of life, she says to you and to me that everything is to be focussed upon Him. Our whole life is to be centred on Him. Her whole life is centred on Him, as it always has been, and as it always will be. The Mother of God is always directing us to her Son, since that is the way of her whole life. She is directing us all, always, to her Son.

On feast-days of the Mother of God, such as the Dormition, we will notice that there are not stories or events recorded in the Gospels about her birth, her death, and other details of her life. When we are celebrating feasts concerning the Mother of God, what are we reading about in the Gospels ? We are reading about Mary and Martha (see Luke 10:38-42), which has nothing at all to do with the Mother of God. However, there follows at the end a short passage from the Gospel according to Luke, in which a woman says to Jesus : “‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You’” (Luke 11:27). Our Saviour replies to her that this is certainly true as He says : “‘more than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:28). In saying this phrase, His words are referring particularly to His Mother. In other words, it is not merely because she gave birth to Him that she is blessed. Rather, it is because she hears the word of God, and she keeps it. If we want to be called blessed with her and with the other saints, then this must be characteristic of us – to hear the word of God, and to keep it.

The Mother of God is almost invisible in her life. There is very little written about her, except that we know that she spent time in Palestine, Egypt and near Ephesus, and that she was under the care of the Apostle John. She was buried in Jerusalem, and very quickly her body was gone. Because the Apostle Thomas arrived late for her funeral, he wanted to go to her tomb. When they went to her tomb, she was not there. She obviously followed her Son in the Resurrection. In the Kingdom of Heaven she is close to the throne of God as our intercessor and our protector, as the one whom we call “more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim” (which are the greatest of all the angels). She is far above even them. Indeed, she is so great that she is not even comparable to these angels. This is because in her life she always says “Yes” to God’s will. Her life is flooded with His love. In fact, that is why we call her the “second Eve” because in her obedience she compensated somehow for the fall of Eve.

Here is yet another example about how our way is not the way of the world. The bishop comes into the Temple where he is greeted, and clothed in episcopal vestments in the middle of the nave. The majority of people that I have ever talked to about this understand mistakenly that dressing the bishop up like a king happens because that is how the bishop wants it to be, and that therefore it must be done this way. However, there is an historical reason for all this. Bishops appear to be kingly because of the accidents of history. The sakkos that he wears now was long ago the vestment of the eastern Roman emperor before the fall of the eastern Roman Empire. The hat which he wears, called a mitre, is very similar to the crown that the Roman emperors wore before the fall of the eastern Roman Empire. How did this happen to us ? In fact, bishops used to wear the same phelonion as the priests do today. The change to the sakkos happened during the takeover by the Turks. When the Empire fell (1453), there were many Greek-speaking and other Orthodox people in the Turkish empire, and the religious leader, the Patriarch of Constantinople, became the secular leader of the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking people. Do not forget that the Constantinopolitans still call themselves “Romans” because Constantinople is the “new Rome”.

The patriarch, who was the spiritual leader, became the civil leader as well, by decree of the sultan. When he became the civil leader, it fell to him to wear the clothes of the man whom he replaced as the secular leader. Therefore, the patriarch had to wear this sakkos and the mitre instead of the simple things that he was wearing before. After a while, over a period of a few hundred years, the custom spread to all the bishops in the Orthodox world. That is why we now see all the Orthodox bishops dressed like this. When we see these things, we can imagine that the sakkos is in fact the phelonion of a priest. It is useful to know that the prayer that accompanies the donning of the sakkos or phelonion is exactly the same prayer (bishop or priest). Probably in those days the bishop would have served bareheaded according to how we see them in the icons. The riassa and the tall, hard hat-and-veil (klobuk) in which the bishop would be dressed outside of Temple, are already additions from the time of the Ottoman Empire. Before that, the bishop probably wore something simpler than the riassa, and a soft hat with a monastic veil over it (as one may see today amongst some Greek monks).

However, bishops were being invested in this same manner in the middle of the Temple, in the nave, before the addition of the imperial insignia. This investiture does not happen simply because the bishop wants it to be this way for his personal glorification. It is all done because of Christ. Therefore, we are always doing it everywhere, and that is how we are going to continue to do it. What does all this investiture of the bishop really mean ? I will explain it to you simply. The bishop comes to the door of the Temple, and he comes dressed as a monk. Either he is wearing his riassa and his klobuk (that black hat), or he is also wearing a monastic cape (which is called a mantya) over the riassa. Because he is a bishop, the mantiya is not the black one of a monk. Rather, it is usually one shade of purple or another with stripes and decorations. Nevertheless, it is still only a monastic cape that he is wearing. Dressed as a monk, then, the bishop is coming from the entry way into the Temple, and he says the entrance prayers in front of the iconostas. Then he is led back into the middle of the nave, and the mantya, the riassa and the klobuk are taken off him. The subdeacons (who represent the people, and are not merely the bishop’s lackeys) then invest the bishop with the vestments which we properly and correctly understand to be the vestments of the high priest. When this is happening, the people are, as it were, saying to the bishop : “You are our high priest (because a bishop is really a high priest). We are putting these things on you, and you are going to lead the celebration of the Divine Liturgy for us”.

Therefore, when the bishop is being vested in the middle of the Temple, it is not at all a matter of : “Look at me, the bishop, tra-la-la”. It is the bishop being obedient to his flock. He is doing for them what they are asking him to do, which is, to feed them. They vest the bishop as their high priest so that Christ Himself, the Great High Priest, can feed them by the bishop’s hand. Nevertheless, beyond all this, there is the seeming paradox that the bishop, himself, is nothing (except that he is the representative of Jesus Christ Himself who is the One High Priest). Bishops are simply agents of the One High Priest.

Any respect we give to a bishop is given straight to the Saviour, just as it is when we venerate icons. All this does not concern the bishop himself (whoever that happens to be). Rather, it all concerns our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Everything in our services, in our worship, in our life, is directed to and focussed only on Jesus Christ. The bishop, in himself, can be a complete wreck : fallen, broken, lost and confused, even suffering from “old-timer’s disease”. However, that does not change anything about the quality of what is required of him as a bishop. In Christ, the bishop has to come to the Holy Table, and in Christ, he has to prepare the bread and wine (which have been offered by the people to the Saviour), and he has to enable our Saviour, “that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), to feed the people, the rational sheep, by the bishop’s hand. If we pay attention to the prayers that we are saying, we can see that it is not the bishop who is distributing Holy Communion to the people ; it is the Saviour Himself, who is feeding the flock with His Body and Blood. That is precisely what the prayers say. Any bishop and any priest is only an agent of Christ. Our Saviour Himself is feeding His sheep. By Himself, through the bishop (or the priest), He is giving His rational sheep the Bread of Life.

This is how we live. We do not draw any attention to ourselves personally. We draw attention, as the Mother of God does, only to her Son. That is one of the reasons why, in Orthodox traditional cultures everywhere, when people are saying thank-you to someone, the person who is thanked says : “Glory to God”. I learned to refer all expressions of gratitude from anyone directly to the Lord. They are diverted from me to the Lord. This is the Orthodox way of living. I, myself, do not deserve thanks for anything because I am only doing what the Lord asks me to do. The Lord is to be thanked. The Lord is to be glorified. The Lord is to be praised, and not me, the bishop. I am simply the Lord’s agent.

The Lord emptied Himself. God gave His Only-begotten Son. He does this out of His self-emptying love. He gives His Only-begotten Son to us so that we may live in Him and not perish but have everlasting life. Out of love the Lord does this. Out of the same love we live our lives, offering them to the Lord. Directing everything to Him, we give thanks to Him for everything. When we do this, we are then fulfilling the exhortation of Saint Herman of Alaska who says what the Gospel says directly : “Let us from this day, from this hour, from this minute, love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing, we will glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Elevation of the Life-giving Cross

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Amor Christi vincit Omnia
Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross
14 September, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:18-24 ; John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35


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

We, as Orthodox Christians, tend to speak about our life as Orthodox as if Orthodoxy were some sort of monolith or closed system. This is not all bad ; but, at the same time, we must realise that our Orthodox Faith is not something inanimate. It is certainly not a system. It is a relationship with the living God.

With Orthodoxy, there is always “paradoxy” at the same time. The Cross is an example of this paradox. The Cross, which comes to us at the present time is showing us, just as the Apostle says, that “the weakness of God is stronger than men”. The Cross is showing us that an instrument of torture and death has become a gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven, and to Life. The Lord changes things. He transforms things. He makes things that are ugly to be beautiful. He makes things that are dead to be alive. That is what He does with you and me. As the Apostle says, we, who are dead in sins, are alive in Christ (see Ephesians 2:1) because of our Saviour’s self-emptying sacrifice on the Cross. We, who are weak upon the earth, are actually, in Christ, very strong (it all depends on how we understand things). The Cross, as the Apostle is saying to us, is foolishness for the philosophers and so forth (he says “Greeks” but he means philosophers in this case). The Cross is foolishness to those who are living by logic.

However, to us, it is the greatest logic. Why else do we make the sign of the Cross on everything ? We make the sign of the Cross, bringing the blessing of Christ on everything, because He is identified with the Cross. When we are venerating the Holy Cross, the veneration does not stop at the wood of the Cross, but it goes directly to the Saviour Himself, as Saint John of Damascus tells us. Our veneration of the icons is in accordance with the same principle. All these are gateways, open doors between us and the Lord. Thus, the instrument of torture and death has become the gateway to life and joy. There is no more sorrow, but joy through the Cross.

These things are crucially important for us to understand in our life, because in our North American way of living, anything that causes discomfort or pain or sorrow is usually considered to be horrible. It is to be run away from. It is to be denied. In our day, we even pretend that people do not die. This is a very dangerous delusion. We have gone so far as to pretend that people are not dying. We must be crazy and have absolutely “lost our marbles” when we are pretending like this. People die. Then what ? We, who are alive in Christ, understand that death (bad and painful and horrible in its own way that it is) nevertheless is not the end. The Lord, the Giver of Life, who offers resurrection to us all, is giving us resurrection through this death. Through this death comes our own life in Christ, eternal life in Christ.

We are the way we are not because God wanted us to be like this : dying, sorrowful and suffering. Instead, He intended that we live in Him always. It is our own fault that we got ourselves into this predicament of suffering, being sick, and dying. It is our doing ; it is not God’s doing. People like to blame God for all these things, but we did it, and we continue to do it. The Lord, in His love, can overcome our mistakes, our stupidity, our waywardness, and the deadly consequences that come with it. He restores us to life if we accept it.

I will give you an example of how the Lord gives life, and how He overcomes the logic of this world. As we all know, there is no cure for AIDS according to medical science. However, last month when I was in Ukraine, I was visiting an orphanage. There are 250 resident children in this orphanage, which is next door to a large men’s monastery. This monastery is very close to a women’s monastery. In the men’s monastery, there are 95 monks, and in the women’s monastery nearby there are 115 female monks. The abbot of the men’s monastery, who is radiant with love, adopted all 250 children, himself. (Do you think one could get away with that in Canada ?) He adopted all these children because according to the Ukrainian government’s orphanage system, a child at the age of fifteen graduates from the orphanage and then is put out onto the street with nothing. These days, most of these children fall into the slave trade. Therefore, this loving father adopted all the children in spite of the fact that it was difficult to get permission to adopt them. I think he adopted even more than 250 children, and there are some who have grown up and married by this time. Some of the resident children have fairly severe physical disabilities for which he has obtained resources to help them surgically in western Europe. However, more than this, there are about twenty children in this monastery who were born with AIDS. They have to live in their own separate building where they are kept away from the germs of other people ; otherwise, they would quickly die. In the course of the last year and a half, six of the children have been cured of AIDS, and that has been scientifically corroborated and proven.

These children came to this monastic family of monks and nuns (because both monasteries look after the children) as wards of the state. If something as dramatic as this happens to a child who is known by the state to have been suffering from AIDS, the child must be examined by the state authorities (scientists, and all sorts of doctors) in order to be sure that what is being said is really true. When I say that there have been six children in this orphanage family that have been healed of AIDS, I am saying that it has been scientifically proven that this is the case. Since then, I have been told of a few other cases where the Lord has done this. On this Feast of the Exaltation of the precious and holy Cross of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, I am saying yet again that the Lord is greater than all our logic, and all our so-called understanding. The Lord’s love gives life. The Lord’s love overcomes death. The Lord’s love overcomes all foolishness and weakness.

It is essential for us to remember that when our Saviour was coming to be crucified, He voluntarily embraced the Cross. He was not, as we might think from most presentations of the Crucifixion, forced to put His arms on the Cross. I cannot remember precisely what I saw in the movie, The Passion of Christ, but I have been told that it is very close to the truth in how it was presented. Nevertheless, as our Saviour presented Himself to the Cross, the fact is that He voluntarily stretched His arms onto the Cross. Unlike us “scaredy-cats”, He voluntarily embraced that Cross. He voluntarily allowed Himself to be nailed to the Cross. It is important for you and for me, every day of our lives, to understand and to remember that this stretching out of His arms on the Cross was an embrace of you and of me. As He voluntarily put out His arms onto that Cross, and embraced that Cross, He embraced you and me, also.

When we are looking at our Saviour’s body crucified on the Cross, we are seeing not death and defeat, but life and victory. We are not seeing brokenness, but wholeness. We are not seeing fear, but we are seeing life-giving love, which embraces you and me. Since we have with us today Egyptian brethren, I cannot resist making the comment that Egypt is living this life-giving response to the Cross. Egyptian Christians have been being killed in large numbers on an annual basis for 1500 years or so. Especially in the last century, the death rate for being an Orthodox Coptic Christian has increased. Many Copts have left Egypt for that reason (and also because they cannot easily find a job there). The pressure is very strong. What is the response of the Orthodox Coptic Christians in Egypt now ? The response is not to take this lying down. Instead, Egyptian clergy and others have undertaken active missionary work. They are trying to show very clearly how it is that Christianity is the true, right and life-giving way. As a result of this, there are many conversions to Christianity. This is an example of the Lord’s overcoming in His love what otherwise seems to be nothing but defeat and death. Instead, there is life, and there is hope, and there is joy.

When I first went with Father Gregory to Egypt many years ago, I encountered one such person who used to be a famous football player, as I recall. He became a Christian and spent quite a long time in jail. As a result of his tortures (which were not pleasant), he lost his sight almost completely. However, he managed to escape from prison. I met him in a monastery in Egypt, where he had been ordained a priest and was fulfilling his forty days of serving the Liturgy. His relatives had come and they tried to find him in order to extinguish him ; but they did not manage to find him or to recognise him, even though he was amongst the many monks. Somehow, when one becomes a Christian or a monk or a priest, things change in the person which make it harder to for one to be recognised. This man, full of joy, was serving the Divine Liturgy while I was visiting there. I remember it very well. It is yet another example of how the Lord is working and overcoming difficulties, obstacles, things that seem impossible.

As our Metropolitan Jonah has said : “How are we going to encounter and face the pressure of Islam against Christianity ? The only way is by love – the love of the Lord”. The love of the Lord overcomes everything.

Today, our Lord is continuing the renewal and strengthening of His Church as we have the ordination of two men — one to the Holy Priesthood, one to the Holy Diaconate. These men will both be facing the Cross in their own way. They will be called, each in his own way, to embrace the Cross, and to follow our Saviour. On their own paths, they will serve the Lord in the Kingdom and they will feed the rational sheep of Christ. They have offered themselves, and they are offering themselves. It is crucially important for you and for me to be praying for them and supporting them, so that by their service they will glorify the Saviour, and they will feed and support us. Brothers and sisters, let us dedicate ourselves with confidence in the love of Jesus Christ, which overcomes all obstacles and which overcomes all opposition. Following Him, let us be obedient to Him ; let us live in Him, and let us support those who have the responsibility to lead us. All together, as one, with one heart, with one mouth, with one mind, may we glorify 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.

Our Faith is the Apostolic Faith

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Faith is the Apostolic Faith
Altar Feast of the Consecration of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem
transferred to 19 September, 2010
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16:13-19


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

People are very often worried about how they are going to come to their end, and what will happen when they are coming to meet Christ. People very often speak to me as though they think that there is going to be a theological exam presented to them which they have to pass before they can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Very often people think and speak in the same terms about life today in the Church. They think that there has to be some sort of “theological system” that we personally are following, that is correct.

Today, the Lord asks His disciples : “‘Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?’” This question is prompted by theories that various other people were promoting – that He was Elias, for instance, or someone else. This first response of the disciples is based simply on logic and guessing. Then our Saviour asks them : “‘Who do you say that I am?’” The Apostle Peter answers : “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’”. This is the correct answer, and is the answer from the heart.

When we are living our Orthodox Christian lives, this is the same question that is asked of you and of me. We should be able to give the same answer. We, ourselves, are very much like the Apostle Peter : in the course of our lives we are listening to one sort of thought or another, getting disturbed and becoming afraid. Our experience is the same as the apostles, also : when we listen to our hearts, then we encounter Christ and we have peace.

We cannot forget that there was a time when the apostles were in a boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. At that time, which we will treat as if we were present, our Saviour comes walking to the apostles on the water. At first they are afraid, but our Saviour says : “‘It is I; do not be afraid’” (Matthew 14:27). Then the Apostle Peter says to Him : “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’”. The Lord says to him : “‘Come’”. Listening to his heart, the apostle walks on the water. He comes to the Saviour, but then his mind begins to take over. He notices that it is windy, and the waves are high. The attention of his heart is diverted from the Saviour to the wind and the waves around him, and immediately he begins to sink. Quickly and correctly he cries out : “‘Lord, save me!’”. Our Saviour reaches out His hand, pulls him up and says : “‘Why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:27-31). When the Saviour asks : “‘Why did you doubt?’”, He is asking, in effect : “Why did you let yourself become divided”. Doubt has to do with division. In this case, the heart and the mind became divided from each other, and the mind was starting to take over the precedence.

The apostle learned (as we all must learn) that the head is not the chief. It is the heart that is the chief. It is in the heart that we have our connexion and encounter with Christ. When the heart is in order with Christ, then the heart puts the correct order in the thoughts of the mind. Trying to put this principle into computer terms, it is possible to say that the mind is full of all sorts of random information which is not necessarily in any particular order. If we are going to have proper order in the mind, then the heart (being the operating programme) must put order into all this information. The heart has from Christ the correct programme for making sense of all the information that is in the mind. If we want to know where there is the truth, then the understanding of truth has to come first from the heart, from Christ, who is the Truth. The truth in our mind becomes clear in the light of the Truth in our heart.

The apostle had his heart straightened in two ways today. Our Lord says to him today : “‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’”. By the way, the name of the Apostle Peter is from the Greek word “petros” which means rock. The rock of the apostle is his faith in Christ. The rockiness is his example of love and trust in Jesus Christ. I am saying all these things because when we come to the end of our days, we are not going to be asked all sorts of specific questions about how we believe. We are going to come before the Saviour Himself, and He is going to say, as He says today : “‘Who do you say that I am?’” We are going to be able to respond : “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, because we are already living in our lives the love of Jesus Christ. With the apostles, we will recognise Him in His love.

This is the same way that Saint Vladimir’s emissaries (and then he, himself) recognised Christ. It is his Relic that miraculously is with us today. With the apostles, and the equal-to-the-apostles, at our end we are going to be saying to the Saviour : “You are the Christ”. His love will help us to confess Him in this way. Facing Him, we will see in the course of our lives every way in which we have betrayed Him, strayed from Him, hurt Him, and disappointed Him. Because of His love, we will immediately say to Him : “I am sorry. Please forgive me, my Saviour, and have mercy upon me”. In His love, the Saviour will hear us ; He will forgive us ; He will wash us, and He will bring us to Himself. It is extremely important for us while we are yet on this earth to cultivate love of Him in our heart.

For some years now since I have been coming here, this Temple has been very full. This is very good, and it is important to say : “Glory to God that this is the case”. Nevertheless, Russian immigrants have become like Canadians in that we Canadians do not like to stand too tightly together. As a result, many people are standing quite far from the iconostas. That does not happen only here ; it happens everywhere in Canada. It will be obvious that we are not behaving in Canada as they do in Russia. There, they stand as close as they can to the iconostas, and it is the back that is empty. I keep thinking that this is because in Canada people are afraid that someone will ask them a question that they will have to answer. Whatever the reason, people are standing far away and it is hard for them to participate in the services. I have heard that the parish council and others are thinking about making adjustments to the building so that it will be easier to allow more people to get into the Temple itself to worship, instead of having to stand outside. This will allow them to come closer to the Holy Table. This adjustment can be possible without making too many drastic changes to the nature of the building. However, we are far from any final plan or decision. It will be very good if everyone would pray, and that we would all together hear the Lord tell us in our hearts what He wants us to do.

Therefore, let us pray and listen. When the time comes to start talking about anything concrete, then our hearts will be guiding us, in harmony with Christ’s will for His Church. In the meantime, may the Lord send the Holy Spirit upon you all. May the Mother of God spread her veil over you and protect you. By the prayers of the holy Great Prince Vladimir, may the Lord give you courage and strength. Let us continue our offering to the Saviour 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.