Archbishop Seraphim - Sep 11, 2010 - St. John church, Vancouver

Words at the Conclusion of the Archdiocesan Assembly (2010-07-30)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
Words at the Conclusion of the Archdiocesan Assembly
Victoria, BC
30 July, 2010


The Lord shepherds me, and nothing shall be lacking to me. In a place of green pasture, there He has pitched my tent. By restful water He brought me up from childhood. He turned my soul about ; He led me on the way on the paths of righteousness, for the sake of His Name. Even if I were to walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall not fear bad things ; for it is You that are with me : Your rod, and Your staff — it is they that have consoled me. You prepared a table before my face, opposite those afflicting me. You dressed my head with oil, and Your cup which inebriates me, how greatly excellent it is. Your mercy shall closely pursue me all the days of my life, and my dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord for length of days.

These are the important words of Psalm 22, a psalm which I had to commit to heart in my early childhood. In stark comparison to the present, one of the places in which I had to be ready to recite this psalm was the public school which I attended. I believe that I was in Grade 6.

Regardless, in the context of all our conversations and considerations of this past week, I am going to repeat the following words from this particular psalm as words suitable to be a main guide for our life together in the archdiocese in the coming days and years. These words are : “You have prepared a table before my face, opposite those afflicting me”. These are words that both prepare for, and complement the words of the “Our Father” regarding the importance of forgiveness.

The words are, indeed, radical, and what they express is radical. We are saying with the Lord that, in complete harmony with His love, the state of our readiness to forgive is such that we consider no-one at all an enemy. Others may consider themselves so towards us, but we, in Christ, are determined to live in forgiveness to such an extent that, with the Martyrs, we can forgive even those who may kill us. Thus it is that, completely contrary to the way of the fallen world, we could sit down at table to eat, and across from us at the same table are those who oppress us, or who would oppress us. This sort of radical forgiveness through love, Christ’s love, is what does characterise us Orthodox Christians, and it is an integral part of the words of the “Our Father” : “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

It is going to be possible for me, for you, for us, to accomplish in Christ all the work that must be done in building Christ’s Church, His Body, in this Dominion, only if we take seriously this imperative of forgiveness, and the practical application of Christ’s self-emptying love.

I understand the importance of this as affecting and influencing every aspect of our lives. This manner of living in Christ’s love, and having no enemies, is far from easy ; and it cannot be arrived at quickly. However, it is in doing this that we are addressing the world in the manner of yeast and salt. Knowing that it is our responsibility to take steps, little by little, to offer our lives to Christ, to invite Him to form us in this manner — knowing this, will in itself, enable us to accomplish this.

If we comprehend our responsibilities as co-workers with Christ in this world ; if we hope to fulfil our responsibilities towards our neighbour in precisely the manner that our Saviour showed by example and by parable, then this manner of living in His Way must become ours. We cannot love our neighbour properly without this love. We cannot even see who is our neighbour, unless our eyes are opened in this love. We cannot be our true selves unless we are on this Way, in this love. We cannot bring life and healing to our neighbour (including all aspects of physical healing), unless we are on this Way, and in this love. Unless everything we undertake is undertaken together with, and in constant consultation with Christ in our heart, we do things on our own ; we quickly weaken, and we fall away. It must always be our Saviour who is working in and through us concerning everything in life.

Although this may be perceived by some as platitudinous, it is nevertheless the plain facts of our life as Christians. Our life as Orthodox Christians is not simply “niceness”, “sugar-and-cream”, “sweetness-and-light”. This way of following Christ involves pain. Our Saviour suffered and suffers in love. Love must be vulnerable, and there is therefore always pain with this love. Indeed, the pain in this Christ-like love often does not come from those who are remote, but rather from those who are near, sometimes very near. That makes the challenge of loving much sharper, of course. This vulnerability is the way in which we follow our Saviour. I cannot in this context say more than this : normal Christian life, formed by daily prayer, reading of the Scriptures, frequent confession, frequent receiving the Mysteries, knowing lives of holy persons — this, and more, form us and heal us.

During this week, we have been ruminating on the theme : “When did we see You ?” We have had the eyes of our hearts opened somewhat more. We have seen how the Lord is working with us. We comprehend more clearly what is the clear foundation, and what is the direction of our life — in the Love of Christ, serving Him, and caring for all. Therefore, let us simply now open our hearts and arms to our Saviour more and more. Let us ask Him to heal us, to renew us, to direct us, so that we may be able to reveal Him, in His love, in our living. Let us ask Him to help us to support our neighbour. Let us ask Him to help us, as Saint Herman says, to know His will, and to do it.

The Foundation of the Orthodox Christian Way (2010-05-21)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
The Foundation of our Orthodox Christian Way is Love
21 May, 2010
[given outside of the Archdiocese]

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

When people are coming to live in North America, they almost always have a difficult time (especially Orthodox people) because the culture of North America is so different from Orthodox cultures. Perhaps you could say it is like going to the moon or Mars because it is so different (at least in some ways). The world-view of North America is certainly very different, especially because it is western. I am going to talk a little bit about these difficulties, and about survival.

It is true that in all the Orthodox countries (except Greece) there was a period when everyone was suffering under communism. During the time of Communism, there was definitely a western, and very materialistic mentality injected into our Orthodox societies. However, the society was only infected a little, especially Romania. Of all the Orthodox countries, Romania remains the most faithful. I still remember when I was younger, around 1975 or so, hearing that Romania in those days retained about 85 per cent of its population as faithful, practising Orthodox Christians. This was always amazing to me. When we compare that with what happened in Russia or Ukraine, it is a very big contrast, because the population of believers in those countries was cut very severely. If we are going to estimate seriously the number of practising believers in those days in those countries, it might have been about ten per cent at most of the whole population (even at that I may be too generous). I do not have to rehearse this history for you because you know it very well. However, I do want to point out that especially among those who have remained as believers, being an Orthodox Christian makes us have a particular attitude towards the world that is different from that of the west.

In the west, the world (the creation around us) is generally considered to be a collection of objects which are for our employment. We can use everything. This attitude is based on how they understand God’s command to Adam and Eve at creation – that they should go and subdue all of creation. However, Orthodox Christians do not understand the beginning of creation quite as violently as that. The whole Orthodox mentality towards creation is respect for what God has created and made. We understand that He has put us here amongst creation to work together with Him in this creation to make it yet more beautiful, yet more ordered in the way that He wants it to be. However, if we look at it from the western, materialistic perspective, then all these things are just for us to use (and even worse, to use without any reference to God at all). The result is the poisoning of our environment, the killing of the environment in which we are presently living, and from which we (and the whole world) are suffering.

The mentality of the west is “linear” which means in a straight line. This is the way men think. Women always understand that about men. The Orthodox way of perceiving the world is holistic. It is “spherical”. That is actually the way women think. It is not one thing after another ; it is everything all together. Because there are men who are Orthodox, all men therefore are not limited to linear thinking. However, the characteristic of men and women is basically like this anyway. If we are perceiving creation as a whole (as we ought to be if we are Orthodox Christians), then we understand that everything that we do, and everything that we say affects everything else in creation. What I do for good, and what I do for bad affects everyone and everything else. That is why Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that if you save your soul, thousands will be saved with you. However, if you lose yourself, the same thing applies. If you lose yourself, you create some sort of black hole into which you drag other people with you. Either way, for good or for bad, we are affecting everyone and everything around us. This is the way we Orthodox Christians properly understand our life, I believe.

We Orthodox Christians have a big responsibility because we have inherited from those who have gone before us the whole truth about Him, who is the Truth, Jesus Christ. And here is another contrast between Orthodox mentality and western mentality. The western, philosophical mentality understands that there are many truths (which I have always found to be a logical impossibility). How can it logically be that there is more than one truth ? There has to be an end to this truth. Even according to the Augustinian, Aristotelian logic that Saint Thomas of Aquinas of the west used, he properly understood that there has to be an ultimate good, there has to be an ultimate truth, and this has to end in Jesus Christ. The west forgot all about this particular part of the logic because the west is forgetting all about God. We have made ourselves into God. This is our curse, I suppose.

There is one Truth. This Truth, Jesus Christ, is the One for whom we live, and for whom we witness. We Orthodox, wherever we are in the world, have the responsibility to be yeast and salt (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) as the Saviour, Himself, says. In other words, we are supposed to be giving flavour to the society in which we live (and the society in which we live is mostly tasteless, so we can do something for it). We can give life to the society in which we live because that is what yeast does. We can give life because we have Christ, who is the Giver of life. We are sharing Christ and the life He gives to us with everyone else. This is good because in our society people are becoming mechanical creatures, living from day-to-day, getting up in the morning, going to work, making money, coming home, taking children to everything under the sun (if they have time), falling asleep very tired, getting up the next morning and doing the same thing over and over and over again. On Saturday people are doing all the things they have no time to do Monday to Friday. On Sunday most of them do not even bother to go to church because they are too tired and need to sleep in. Then they start to have heart attacks because their body rhythm is a wreck.

By remembering who we are, and what our life is in Christ, we Orthodox Christians can help people to find a better way to live in Christ that is not driven just by making money and becoming comfortable in this world. We can help them understand that if we are faithful, if we are following Christ and living in His love, He provides for us everything that we need. Maybe we will not be millionaires, but we do not necessarily need to be millionaires. We need to be living our lives as strong, joyful, powerful human beings who can share Christ’s love, and who can share Christ’s life.

The foundation of our Orthodox Christian way is, and always has been love. I learned this from the beginning of my life. This is one of the advantages of having begun my life as a Lutheran, because from the beginning I was taught many things from the Scriptures. In those days you had to memorise (not like now) and I had to memorise all sorts of portions of Scripture. Those things from my childhood remain with me to this day, and they come to me from time to time when I need them. I still remember the very nice old people (I thought they were old then because I was five) who were saying these verses, themselves. They were God-loving persons. From this I remember the words of the Apostle John : “We love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God loves us, and we therefore love Him. If we look in Deuteronomy (the fifth book of Moses), at the introduction to the Ten Commandments, what do we see ? We see these words from Moses : You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength (see Deuteronomy 6:5). Loving God is the foundation of everything. It always has been. God created us because He loves. We are the product of His love. Our existence is maintained by His love. When we come to the end of our lives, we will be protected, and embraced in His love in the Kingdom. This is what our life is about. It is about a relationship of love with God, with each other, and with creation.

In this particular parish where you have the patrons Constantine and Helen, you have very good examples of how to live in a difficult environment. In the first place, Constantine was the object of an attempted murder. In other words, people tried to kill him. Yet, being a warrior and a general, and having an open heart, when the Lord showed him, he understood the sign in which he would conquer. He came to understand that this was Jesus Christ, in whom he would conquer. He began to change everything in his life. He did conquer. Not only did he conquer armies, but in Christ he also conquered evil. He brought new life to the whole Roman Empire.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the blessing to be in the Holy Land. In the Holy Land you cannot go anywhere without seeing and hearing about the work of the Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine. What a strong woman is Helen. If people think that women in the Roman Empire could not do or have anything, they are completely asleep and not reading history. Women in the Roman Empire could hold property, have businesses, inherit and bequeath. They could do all sorts of things. So Helen was not alone, but she was still unique in her strength and in her contribution to us. She, herself, went to Palestine, and she understood there the importance of the oral tradition. People in North America will say : “Oral tradition ? What is that ?” People cannot remember anything for five minutes. That’s because in North America we are falling apart. However, in societies such as hers, or in the Aboriginal societies in Alaska or other places, people have an oral tradition which is very particular, very well-kept, and very, very accurate. Their inherited stories about where things were and what happened are memorised and carefully watched by those who are teaching. They make the receivers repeat over and over until it is correct and even when it is correct, they keep checking. There are other people around who are hearing the same inherited stories, and they are checking also.

So it is that when Helen went to the Middle East to Palestine, to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, and to other places in the Galilee and in the Jordan Valley, she encountered Christians whose families had remained in this area from the time of Christ. They had been hiding from the Romans and had not gone away. They kept going to the Holy Places even in the city of Jerusalem, and they knew (even though Jerusalem was levelled by the Roman army twice) exactly where the Cross was buried and hidden in the ground. They remembered where was the place of Golgotha, and where was the place of the Tomb of Christ. They led Helen to these places. They also led her to Bethlehem, to the place of the cave where Christ was born. People remembered all these things.

By the way, you will remember that in the Gospel it is said that the Mother of God kept all these details in her heart (see Luke 2:19). She did not keep them just for herself. She was sharing these Events and these details with the apostles, and that is how we know about them. We know that she kept them in her heart but she did not keep them locked there. She shared from that well of life in her heart. The fruit of that was the opening of all these Holy Places by Helen when she went to Palestine. However, Helen did not stop there because, together with her son, she applied all sorts of money to the building of temples to the Lord on these places. We still have remnants of these constructions of Helen from the fourth century. For the time being we still can go to these Holy Places and walk where the Lord walked, and be in the places where these important Events occurred. It is not that everyone must go, but when it is possible, it is a blessing.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His love does not change. His love is with us in the same way as His love is with the apostles, and with all the saints who have been even before the Incarnation, and after. Jesus Christ remains the same, and His love is the same. He said that He is with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He alone is faithful, and to Him be glory, together with His Father, who is from everlasting, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Catching and Teaching : Humility, Integrity, and a Christian Witness to the University (2009-10-20)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
Catching and Teaching : Humility, Integrity, and a
Christian Witness to the University
[given at the OCF : University of Toronto]
20 October, 2009


Professor Richard Schneider :

I was invited to introduce His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim, to those of you who do not know him, and also to open up some of the issues of the night, and to raise some opening questions. This is a very great honour, and a wonderful opportunity. Then I was told I had to do it in five minutes. That is an impossibility, but I will try.

In the West, we would say that the real name of the man I am about to introduce to you is Kenneth William Storheim. In the Orthodox Church, we would say that his real name is His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim. In the university we would say : “What is reality ?” We would say : “What is the dialogue between the history of Kenneth William Storheim growing up out there in the open prairies of Canada, and never ever leaving it in his heart (he goes there as often as he can), and this world figure who has travelled, I guess, to every Orthodox country now”. [Archbishop Seraphim interjected : “No, not quite”.] He is the ruling bishop of the largest Orthodox diocese (by territory) in the whole world : all of Canada. At the moment there are archdiocesan entities in almost every single province, from Newfoundland all the way to BC, and also up to Whitehorse, too. And true to his Episcopal responsibility, he is a visiting bishop, one who makes sure he visits every one of the entities.

Let me tell you a little bit about his life, because the life leads into the themes. As you can tell by the name, His Eminence is a Norwegian ; and if you are not careful, he will break into Norwegian in the middle of the talk. He is the son of Lutheran parents. He went to a western school of theology, the Vancouver School of Theology, and came out as an Anglican pastor. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978, and immediately he went to Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, which (for those of you who do not know or do not recognise the name) has been known for decades and decades as being a pre-eminent academy of Orthodox studies, as well as being a place where priests are richly formed. Also, characteristically, Kenneth Storheim, under obedience, took the most advanced degree – not the regular, simple Master of Divinity (M.Div.), but a Master of Theology (M.Th.), which he received in 1981. He was ordained in 1979, and then soon went to New Valamo Monastery in Finland in 1980.

This is very interesting, too, because first of all the liturgical tradition at New Valamo is world-famous. They have their own peculiar form of chant, which came with the monks from Old Valamo (in Russian, Valaam), and which began to be translated from Slavonic into Finnish. The monastery is a major destination of spiritual pilgrimage. However, there is an important North American connexion. If you remember hearing Reader Michael two weeks ago, it was from Old Valaam Monastery that Orthodoxy came to North America, and inspired North America with its outlook and its traditions. After some time in the monastery Father Seraphim (who took his name, by the way, from Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the great spiritual teacher in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) came back to Canada, and served for a while as rector in Winnipeg, at Holy Trinity Sobor. That is another interesting connexion with Tradition, because that Sobor in Winnipeg is actually one of the oldest Orthodox Churches in Canada (and certainly, in The Orthodox Church in America). Its roots go right back to the days of Saint Tikhon at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is a great tradition there. The sociology of the place in the pastoral field was very representative of the condition of the churches in Canada at the time when Father Seraphim served there. The church was very, very mixed in its population : many Russian-speakers, committed to the Russian tradition, many young converts committed to outreach in Canada, and so on. How one does “pull this off” is always an interesting problem.

At that time, Canada had no ruling bishop. From 1981, when Archbishop Sylvester retired, until 1987, The Orthodox Church in America in the diocese of Canada had no ruling bishop. And, not to put too fine a point on it, things were in a mess. Things were underdeveloped, and they were depressing-looking to people on the outside. There were at that time (I think I counted it right) in the whole of the country, seventeen OCA entities. That means any sort of entity : churches, missions, and so on. There was one active monk, who lived by himself as a hermit in Québec. In 1987, Bishop Seraphim was called to take over the leadership of the archdiocese. In 1990, he became the ruling bishop, and he immediately started to pursue his course of active pastoral care. He is one of the few bishops I can think of who knows practically every single person in his diocese by name and face, and knows their families, and knows their dogs – knows everything about them. That is why, when I was thinking about giving this introduction, I was tempted to say that, for people who know him well, Archbishop Seraphim actually needs no introduction. The people who know him well would simply say : “What is it that you know of Christ ? That is what you will see at work in Archbishop Seraphim”. There is one exception to that, however. He is known throughout the world as the giggling Orthodox archbishop, the one with the absolutely irresistibly appealing giggle. As far as I know there is no mention in the Gospel of Christ ever giggling. [Archbishop Seraphim interjected : “That does not mean He did not”.] Jesus wept, and believe me, Archbishop Seraphim has had his share of participation in that, too. He has added the giggle, and it is an inspiration to us all.

During his tenure, the archdiocese has now grown to something over 90 entities, and there are monks throughout the country living various lifestyles and forms. Growth is a constant. This is, of course, a major handful for anyone to handle. At the same time, Canada is only one diocese in The Orthodox Church in America. His Eminence has to work with the Holy Synod ; and he is not just a member of the Holy Synod – he has been the Secretary of the Holy Synod. During a period of severe crisis in the Church (and we cannot put too fine a point on that), he was asked to become (as it were) the administrator, and he had to do that for a long time. Besides that, he is also one of the two leaders of the Department of External Affairs of the OCA, and that is what has caused this travel all over the world. It is partly his gift at languages that got him the job, but it is mostly the giggle, I think.

On top of that, he has been on the Board of Education of the OCA for many, many years and its chairman since 2007. That makes him responsible for education, especially the seminaries within the OCA, which gives him a lot of experience for tonight’s topic. Tonight’s talk being in the University of Toronto, there is, of course, an ecumenical dimension also. Among other things, since 1992, Bishop, and then Archbishop Seraphim (he became Archbishop in 2007) has been on the bilateral dialogue between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, at the level of the Bishops’ Conference, between SCOBA (the Orthodox bishops), and the NCCB (the Catholic bishops in the USA). Since 2004, he has been the Orthodox co-chairman of that. This is, as you can imagine, a very important responsibility, and it requires a lot of experience with ecumenism, which is part of what has made him one of the strongest supporters of the Canadian Council of Churches. It has made the OCA very active in the CCC. I will just point out that Archbishop Seraphim also has just an ordinary Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta. That means he had an education in a secular university, and he was taught with the methodologies of a secular university. This leads to just a few opening questions that I hope will provoke some thought, and perhaps provoke some dialogue from you, after His Eminence is finished.

If we are going to talk about Orthodox witness, it is not just about Orthodox education. In the context of the modern university there are at least three issues that immediately spring to mind. All of you have experienced this. The first is the issue of being a person of faith, a witness in a context that is predominantly secular. How is this to be handled ? What does it mean to have an Orthodox mission on a campus like this ? How are you going to talk to your friends ? What is it like at parties ? To what can you invite your friends without seeming pushy, and what form is the invitation going to take ? What are you going to tell them about yourself ? So, there is that problem. It is not unique to campuses. It is a problem of being a person of faith in the whole world, of course, but on campuses it is particularly intensified at a time when the majority of the people who live and work in this place are in the process of casting off the shackles of childhood, and trying to discover what the constraints of adulthood really are. Does Orthodoxy speak to that ? Does religion speak to that ? When I taught Church History at York University, I always had a very diverse group of students in my class. I always asked them : “Why are you taking this course ?” The answer was always the same answer, no matter where they came from, what Church they came from. They said : “The Church educated me till I was eight years old, and then talked to me like an eight-year-old ever after. I want someone to talk to me like an adult”.

The second issue is the problem of ecumenism. It is really a version of the problem of multiculturalism, but as a person of faith, you cannot stick your head in the Orthodox sand. You are not safe because the Orthodox have all the answers (and it is just remotely possible that they do not have all the answers). If someone else is raising questions that the Orthodox have been too timid to raise (those questions need at least to be heard, and an Orthodox answer needs to be searched for), well, what must be the methodology for this search ? Should the methodology be within a narrow Orthodox group, so that doctrine, and so on will be preserved ? Or might that search better carried on within the ecumenical dialogue ? As you all know, the University of Toronto is world-famous for pioneering the idea of ecumenical education without giving up commitment to the rigours of doctrinal orthodoxy in every one of the Churches. That is the Toronto School of Theology model, and it is a wonderful model. In a lot of ways it was the basis of the model that was pioneeringly adopted in the Canadian Council of Churches. It means, however, that one has to know, once again : How do you talk ? How do you witness in such a situation, in such a dialogue ? I will go right to the most extreme example, why not ? (It is in the news this week.) You all know that Toronto has just been selected as the host city for world pride in 2014. And this is because Canada looks good in the eyes of the “pride world”. And Toronto looks especially good. We have a very big pride parade. Canada has pioneered giving civil rights to same-sex couples. There is a lot going on, and it is a “natural” choice. Now, we turn to consider the Churches and the faith dialogue about this subject ; and lo and behold, what we hear is real confusion. We are hearing doctrinal arguments ; and they are, believe me, good doctrinal arguments on every possible side of this question. What sort of response are you going to make in conversation ? How are you going to handle the university situation, which is extremely touchy about political correctness, and in which gay/lesbian movements for the defense of students have been very powerful ? How are you going to talk ? How are you going to witness ? That is just one example of the ecumenical problem. We had to face that in the Canadian Council of Churches, too.

The third and most significant issue is that the university is a place devoted to critical thinking. Its one real purpose is to motivate you to abandon all your old clichés, your axioms, your idioms, everything that is the familiar and comfortable answer, and to adopt a methodology of critical thinking. This is true, no matter what your field is. How does that “jive” with the person of religion’s notion that they are called by the Truth, and that their whole way of being in the university is to witness to the Truth ? These are very profound problems, and we are all looking forward to hearing what His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and all Canada has to tell us about them.


Archbishop Seraphim :

Richard’s introduction makes it difficult for me to speak. However, I will try to speak about education in our context as well as I can. I cannot help remarking, however, about a couple of things that Richard mentioned.

The first has to do with the name. The fact is, as we understand it, when a person is tonsured in a full way to be a monk in the Orthodox Church, it is called a Second Baptism. So the person that was, before coming to the tonsure, is “kaput”. So, whoever I was before is no more. It is only this Seraphim-sort-of-a-person standing here that really is now, ever since the tonsure. Let us understand that we Orthodox use the word “monk” for any gender ; besides this, ever since I was young, I have understood that there are three genders : male, female, clergy. Therefore, if you talk to a serious monk, and try to address this monk on the basis of who he or she was before, then any serious monk is going to resist talking about pre-tonsure history. What matters is the commitment that goes with being a monk. That commitment is to serve Christ, and to serve Christ only. So, whatever went before — well, it exists, but it is not relevant, somehow.

Going to New Valamo was a very interesting experience for me. Richard pointed out some of the connexions that are significant about going to Valamo vis-à-vis the history of Canada, and the history of The Orthodox Church in North America. However, for me, it was a most interesting experience. This was already into the middle of a long series of convincing experiences of God’s direction in life for me. Archbishop Paul of Finland came to visit Saint Vladimir’s Seminary towards the end of the spring semester of 1980. He served the Divine Liturgy in a way that I have never experienced the Divine Liturgy since. I have never experienced the Divine Liturgy served so peacefully, so profoundly peacefully as that. The sense of God’s presence was amazing. C S Lewis writes about the weight of glory. I think that there is a sense of the weight of the presence of God. Under certain circumstances, you can encounter that weight. This was, for me, the greatest of all such experiences.

All impressed as I was, I still had my work to do. The archbishop had had breakfast with the students, and then he had gone to Father Schmemann’s office. They were busy speaking in Russian. I had to go and pour coffee for them, since I was captain of the breakfast crew at the time. In the middle of all this coffee-pouring, Father Schmemann looked at me, and he said : “What about you, Seraphim ?” I was a bit nonplussed, and he said : “Are you doing anything you cannot get out of this summer ?” It turned out that the archbishop had asked for a priest to go to Finland for the summer, and to serve daily Divine Liturgies and to fulfil other responsibilities at the monastery in Finland. They had a shortage of priest-monks, but a multitude of visitors. The monastery, even in those days, was having in the vicinity of a 100,000 tourists per summer, arriving by their busloads. The monks needed people who spoke English, and who could speak to the tourists about the monastery, the Church, and Orthodoxy in general.

Therefore, ten days later, I was, as I say, in the baggage of the archbishop on Finnair. After arriving in Helsinki, and going immediately to Kuopio, the next morning I got up to have breakfast with the Archbishop, who said to me, first thing : “Hyvaa paivaaa” (that means good-day). This was the beginning of my learning how to speak Finnish. The Lord knows what He is doing with us. This experience, going to New Valamo (supposedly for a short time), turned out to be for a rather longer time. At the end of my time there, when I, under obedience, had to come back to North America (obedience is important) it was nevertheless the most heartbreaking experience of my whole life. I have never yet quite experienced the pain that I felt when I had to leave that monastery, and come back to North America to do what had to be done. I have come closer, now that I am getting old, but that experience of painful parting remains unique.

Now, I want to talk about the basics of the nature of our Orthodox life as Orthodox believers, as I see it, in terms of our embracing and grappling with education, particularly in our society. It is not so different in any other society, anyway, because there is not one society in the world that is not affected significantly by our way in the West of going about things. The first thing that we have to pay attention to is that motto of the University of Alberta for which I will ever be grateful. It is a quotation from the Apostle Paul. The quotation is : Quaecumque vera. Who here knows what quaecumque vera means ? One person ? Good. So, there is a little Latin left in the world. Well, thank God there is still some Latin alive in our teaching and consciousness. I heard rumours that they are trying to teach it again, and I really hope that is the case. English has so much Latin in its foundations that we need to know Latin to understand our own language properly. But quaecumque vera is an important thing to remember. Quaecumque vera is intended to remind us about the apostolic words, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just [righteous], whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). What is this “whatever things are true” referring to ? For the Apostle Paul, everything that is true refers to Christ. It refers to the Logos. It refers to the Truth.

In Canada, we are educated into thinking about truth as a plural and as a variable. Truth is even considered to be optional. This is still hard to get used to because, as I said when I came in, I am really a dinosaur. The older I get, the more I realise that I am definitely a dinosaur. So, when I was a child and growing up, until – well, I guess I cannot tell exactly how long ago now because I do not have a good sense of time (with all this traffic in my life, it is hard to know when anything happened) ; but for much of my life, I have understood that Truth is an absolute, and should be spelt with a capital “T”. Now, it is not considered to be so. Therefore, I have asked myself : “How can this be ?” Actually, when you come to think of it, that there should be more than one truth is not even logical. We are supposed to be talking in logical ways. That there should be many different sorts of truth is simply not logical, and it is therefore crazy. Everything really is changing.

I had to come to grips with that some years ago when I had to write and present a paper on post-modernism. Then I came to understand to an extent what is happening – why there is all this shifting of words, and why there is such a difficulty having real meaning in words. This led me further to believe that hesychasm (i.e. silence) is golden. It is better to say less than to say more, because the more you blather on, the more people do not understand anything you are saying, anyway.

We have really come to a pretty pass, when words are so empty of meaning, or shifting in meaning, that we cannot communicate with each other anymore. Silence is perhaps even better than words. But then, what do you do ? That is not my question to answer. What do you do when everything is so fluid and shifting ? How do you really communicate one with another ? The answer to this is still, to my mind as an Orthodox Christian, founded in my understanding of Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth, as I have said, is Christ. He says in the Scriptures : “I AM”. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He is not talking about this as an indication towards something. Rather, He said : I am this : the Way, the Truth, the Life. Thefore for me, as an Orthodox Christian, on the basis of my encounter with Christ, I have to know Him as this : the Way, the Truth, the Life. If He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, then everything about my own life should somehow be in harmony with this Way, this Truth, this Life, because this Way, this Truth, this Life, is the Logos, the Word of God. This Way, this Truth, this Life, is He who spoke, and who speaks everything into existence. This Way, this Truth, this Life, is also the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

As the Scriptures are showing us very clearly also, this Way, this Truth, this Life, is Love (see 1 John 4:8). He emptied Himself, and took flesh, and opened the door to us all to be partakers in this Way, this Truth, this Life. In the context of 1 Corinthians 12 (the Apostle Paul’s description of the Body of Christ), we all, in baptism, become members of the Body of Christ, the Church.

Here we are in a university, a university which is based on reason. However, as I like to say (people get sick of my saying it sometimes, but anyway, I will say it again) : this university, and all other western universities, are the victims of a change that took place in the West a long time ago. In this change, the tail began to wag the dog. By that metaphor, I mean that theology stopped being in the “driver’s seat” of education (when all education was in the context of God’s revelation of Himself to us) ; and instead, philosophy took the “driver’s seat”. Everything, including God, became subject (as it were) to human reason. As a result of this, here we are today, all we Canadians, all living “in our heads”, and very many of us forgetting completely about our hearts. Thus, we find ourselves needing psychiatrists a lot, when we would not otherwise necessarily need to trouble them so often (human beings being human beings, psychiatrists would never be without work). Because we are living so much “in our heads”, we are all confused because of our conflicting thoughts. The Apostle Paul said something to the effect of being blown about by our conflicting thoughts (see Ephesians 4:14). This is how we are, because our heads are full of all sorts of thoughts, which we have come to think are all resident in, and produced by, our own grey matter.

Nowadays, young people are all talking about “my brains”. It is “my brains” this, and “my brains” that ! Do you see, then, why I feel that I am a dinosaur ? “Brain” this and “brain” that ! However, the brain is only a small part of who I am. It is not the focus of who I am. Biologically, medically and psychologically, we can talk about the brain, about thoughts, and so forth, but that is only a part of the whole environment. According to our tradition in the Orthodox Church, the brain is not the control-centre. Rather, the heart is the control-centre. Amongst us, the focus is the heart. It is the heart (as the Fathers and Mothers of the Orthodox Church are going to tell us rightly) that puts into order all the messed-up thoughts and the confusion in the head. It is the heart that does this, because it is in the heart that we encounter Christ our God.

What is the characteristic of our Orthodox life of prayer ? The foundation is the Prayer of the Heart. It is called the Jesus Prayer, but its foundational name is the Prayer of the Heart. The Prayer of the Heart is focused on and in the heart, where we encounter Christ. Christ is not “out there” somewhere. This is contrary to how almost everyone I know speaks about God, and regards God. People generally seem to think that God is somewhere out there, and that He is detached in His distance from us and from all His creation. In fact, I would say that most Christians that I know are in fact Deists. Do you know this heresy ? I see some nods, and that is good. Nevertheless, for whoever is not completely current about this heresy, it essentially says that God created the whole universe, and He wound it up like a clock. Since then He has been reading the news-paper or a cozy book. There is no connexion. He is there, and we are here, and we are ticking along, doing whatever we are doing, and we are busy analysing ourselves and everything. This is how we are going about our life – with no reference to God. As we do so, we think that He does not have any reference to, or interest in us.

Au contraire, says the Orthodox perception. We believe that God is completely involved in everything that He has created and is creating, because everything that is, is the product of His love. Everything has life because of His love. Everything that exists is the product of His love. That is why Orthodox people have to be so ecologically responsible, and so holistic about everything. There is no part of our existence, and there is no part of the universe in which God is not involved. God is everywhere. God is in everything. In a frequently-repeated hymn, we address the Holy Spirit as being “everywhere present and filling all things”. These are the words of the Tropar to the Holy Spirit which begins almost every service. The Lord is in everything.

Although we are not so good at living up to all these things that I am saying, it is not just airy-fairy theories that I am talking about. From the Orthodox perspective, this is simply the reality of who we are, and what is our relationship with God. God is the Creator of all. Everything comes from His love. He is the Truth. Everything else that is true comes from Him, and everything is in reference to Him who is the Truth. There can be many things that are true, but they are only true because they are in reference to Him who is the Truth. Things can claim to be true, but if they are not really in harmony with Him who is the Truth, then there is a distortion, and the claim is faulty.

How are we going to live in this difficult and challenging environment ? From the Orthodox perspective, in many ways, this environment is exactly the opposite of how we are supposed to be as Orthodox believers. In the first place, the Orthodox attitude can be to recognise that we are no better than anyone else, anyway. If we look at ourselves honestly, we are really not measuring up to Christ very well. We are not doing so well. We like to talk about it (and it is good that we talk about it). In the musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Dolittle said in effect to young man (whose name escapes me) who quoted poetry to her all the time : “Do not talk about love. Do not talk at all. Show me !”

This is the Orthodox challenge. If we are going to profess that we love God ; if we are going to profess that we are Orthodox Christians ; if we are going to profess that we have some awareness of all this that I just talked about, then that is all very well and good. However, everyone around us is still saying to us : “Show me”. Nowadays, it is obviously not going to be very successfully done with words (whereas it could be done in the past). This is why I am sad, being a dinosaur, because it was more fun in the old days, when you could use words, and know what you were talking about, and have confidence that you would be understood. Now you have to define everything before you start talking ; and by the time you have defined everything the meaning has already changed again.

Therefore, what are we going to do ? We are going to do what is necessary by being : by being an authentic, God-loving person who is trying to live in harmony with Him who is the Way, the Truth, the Life ; by loving and trusting God to give the right words at the right time, just as He said He would. Do you remember the words of our Lord and Saviour in the Gospels ? Do you remember the words of the apostles ? These words are not simply words, but words conveyed to us heart-to-heart in Christ’s love. They have living substance. In these words, there are assurances that if we trust the Lord, the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts will give us the right words at the right time, when the need is there. We are not 100 per-cent dependent on what is in the head. It is not by any means all in the head. However, if we do insist on this capital limitation and the ensuing disorder, then a physician would be justified in saying that our distress and illness truly is all in the head.

I still recall those long-ago days in 1968-1969, when I was first learning the New Testament. The professor who was teaching us was from Yorkshire, and what a sense of humour he had ! Ever since then, I have thought that Yorkshire must be the best part of Britain. I cannot go into every aspect of his sense of humour, but he gave very practical advice about passing exams and writing exams. He said : “If you have not been doing your exercises ; if you have not been doing your reading ; if you have not been doing your writing during the year, then there is no use in cramming. The best thing for you to do if you want to pass your exams and do the best you can, is to write your papers ; to do your reading as much as you can (you can never read everything but do the best you can with the reading) ; to go to the lectures ; to listen, and to ask questions. Then, the night before the exams, go to the movies. Do something not at all connected ; say your prayers ; go to the exams, and write them. If you do this, then, it is in you ; it is part of you by this time. If you have read what you have to read, heard what you have to hear, written what you have to write, then you have come to the maximum of your ability to do whatever is required of you in this exam or this essay, or whatever it is. So just relax. Do something completely different (à la Monty Python) and then go to the exams”. I have tried to follow that advice, although I have been scared enough about my inadequacies that I have not always managed to follow his wise words.

However, this is fundamentally the right way to live, regardless. We have to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word, and the words. We have to trust God to give us what is necessary, and He always does. In this context, I have often been corrected by grandmothers ; I have been corrected by shopkeepers, cashiers, people on the street, and people sitting next to me in a plane. When I was out of focus in here, in the heart, someone would say something that hit me right between the eyes when I needed it. It is exactly because the Lord gives to people the words they have to have that are needed at the time. I have had this happen so many times in my life that I know that this is exactly what goes on amongst us. The Lord gives us what we have to have that is needed at the time. Therefore, if I am slacking off in my study, in my responsibilities, well then, that I am a slacker will show when I am put to the test. This is just reality, and I have to swallow and accept the fact that I did not do what I was supposed to do. I did not study enough, and I did not do everything I could have done. However, when I wrote the exam, I still did the best I could do under the circumstances. I can also repent, and try to do better the next time.

Now I want to address this one word, humility, that was used in the “bumph” that was preparatory to my talking. Humility is an important element in our self-understanding, of doing and being what we are supposed to be doing and being here as Orthodox Christians. I would also say that one of the harder things for us to achieve is humility. We are so good about being triumphalistic about Orthodoxy, and saying : “This is the right way, the only way, the only right way ; we are perfect ; we have got it right”. We do not have anything right. Only the Lord has anything right. If there is anything right about us, then it is only because we are in harmony with Him.

However, it is still He who is right, not I. There is only One who is good. There is only One who is right. There is only One who is the Way, the Truth, the Life. So what is this humility about ? Well, it is definitely not like Uriah Heep : “Ee, I’m ever so ‘umble’”, of Dickens’ novel, David Copperfield. It is not : “Ee, I’m ever so ‘umble’” at all ! This is because, if I say : “I am ever so ‘umble’”, then humble I am definitely not. Humility has nothing to do with beating yourself up and bashing yourself with canes and chains. Humility has nothing to do with starving yourself half to death. Humility has to do with loving God above all, and trusting Him for everything so that we do not worry about ourselves. Our Saviour said : “Consider the lilies of the field [...]” (Matthew 6:28 ; see Luke 12:27). Besides this, what about those sparrows (see Matthew 6:26) ? What about all the creatures that God is looking after ? All these animals that have enough to eat, are not, in the scheme of the Lord’s plans, nearly as important as are you and I : human beings, created in His image, who are called to be responsible co-workers with Him, here in His creation. We are not to be poisoning it, but adding life to His creation. We are not to be disordering it ; but rather, we are to be helping to put His order into His creation, to be working synergistically with Him, not against Him.

This humility has to do simply with living in love with Him who is Love. It has to do with trusting Him, who is Love, with our lives, and with everything about us. If we can be in this university as students or teachers with an attitude something like that, it is not going to be easy. Nevertheless, it can be life-giving. There is nothing at all the matter with study, absolutely not, because study is given to us by God. However, the study has to be in the right direction. We have to learn how to ask questions that are going to be real questions, not questions that are just frivolous and fabricated, not questions that show off my great cleverness. It is important that they be real questions that are connected with reality, liable to bring us into the enlightenment of the Lord’s truth. So, I think that is enough for me to say.


Archbishop Seraphim : Comment - On God as revealed in Science :

This is wonderful. I would be happy to be your student. What you were just saying now is in fact a specific example of what we are saying in our services all the time : “The Lord is God and He has revealed Himself to us” (Psalm 117:27). He does. He has revealed Himself in all creation. Because a scientist has the eyes to see, a scientist can understand, just as you were saying. There is no conflict between our faith in God, and science (the science of an honest scientist, anyway). Science does mean knowledge, and true knowledge means knowledge of God and His ways in creation.

Archbishop Seraphim : Answer to Question - On Growth in the Church :

It all depends on how we decide to count. Are we counting by people who are financial givers, and people who declare themselves as members ? Or are we counting by the number of people that are actually in the churches ? First of all, I will speak of my overall experience of the Church at large.

The Orthodox Church in North America is steadily growing ; and in some places, it is growing very quickly. However, whether there is growth or whether there is shrinkage, everything depends upon what is going on locally. It is all so subtle. Sometimes a community will shrink because after a period in which a parish may have crowds of children (and there are also people who are converting), then the children grow up and go away to university or to work. Many disappear for practical reasons, and the population is severely reduced for a time. Then it rises again. There are such ebbs and flows depending on the ageing of children, depending on schools, depending on employment, depending on the number of people coming and going. We have to be very careful about how we measure, and under what circumstances we measure.

Nevertheless, as I have been going across this country, and travelling around North America over the 22 and some years that I have been a bishop, I have seen only growth. Our diocese has grown. It has not grown because we stole something or someone from someone else. (I mean stealing sheep from other Orthodox jurisdictions.) We did not steal anything from anyone (although that does, admittedly, sometimes happen). Indeed, we did not do that. Generally speaking, the increase in our diocese has been because there have been new missions, new parishes, new monastic communities and other entities developing everywhere. Still, there remains the question : under what circumstances is a community really growing ?

A community is going to grow if it is faithful to Christ, and if it is embracing the environment around it in love, and without fear. This is another important thing to remember : without fear. We are told by the Apostle John that perfect love casts out fear (see 1 John 4:18). Indeed, perfect love casts out all fear. This perfect love is Christ, Himself. Wherever there is Christ, there need not be any fear. There is no room for fear unless and until we invite it. Fear is always from below. Therefore, if we are not afraid of our neighbours and of our environment, but we have, rather, confidence in Christ ; and if we live in His love and in the confidence that comes with His love, then there is growth.

If we are afraid of losing something, or if we love something to excess and want to retain a particular moment or situation ; if our first purpose is not the Gospel but preservation of something that we love ; if, for instance, we want to preserve our Orthodox Faith and to protect it by ourselves, then all this actually means that we want to pickle it. Then it is not alive. If we are going to try to pickle Orthodoxy, then the result is inevitable : our community is going to shrink. It is going to become like a dill pickle : like a cucumber that has the water sucked out of it by salt. That is how we would become. We would become soft and shrivelled. Actually, a dill pickle is all right when it is rather fresh ; but after some months in the jar (and especially an opened jar), it is not so pleasant. Regardless, I hope you catch what I am trying to say.

As long as we are able to let ourselves be alive in the Lord’s love, there is only growth and increase. That is precisely what has been the experience of the Church in the former Soviet Union. When people were no longer forbidden, they came out of hiding. They started to go to church and to fill them up. I still remember when I was in a delegation to the Moscow Patriarchate, just at the time of the consecration of Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Here are two examples of how things develop in Christ. Christ the Saviour Cathedral holds as many as 10,000 people upstairs and 7,000 downstairs. The downstairs did not exist at all, when the first church stood there before it was destroyed by Stalin’s agents – but that is a long story. Regardless, there is a downstairs church now, along with many other previously non-existent facilities. In that same series of events, Patriarch Alesky II stole the North American delegation from our Representation Church on a Saturday evening (when we were supposed to be at a Vigil there), and he ordered that we be driven over to a construction site in the south end of Moscow in the middle of very many apartment blocks, where they had built the basement of a new church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. When it is completed, this church will probably hold 7,000 people. I was told as we were driving there for the laying of the foundation stone that all sorts of people were saying : “Why are they building such a big church in this place, where there has never been a church before ? It is surrounded by all sorts of ex-Soviet people, and the like. The apartments are there, but who would go, anyway ?” It was a rainy day. There we were, with umbrellas and our monastic regalia, walking on the construction planks. There we were in the basement. Patriarch Aleksy was already there, and he was ready and waiting for us. As the service for the blessing of this foundation stone began, the sun came out – there was no more rain. Everything was in its proper place and order. The planks were not slippery, and the service of blessing the foundation was able to proceed peacefully. The service came to an end. The clouds came back. Again, it began to rain. At the same time, as we looked up, we could plainly see, standing all around on the ground above the unfinished basement and looking in and participating, were about 5,000 people, who were waiting for the church to open. So it turned out that when this church was finished, it was already full. The church stayed full, and other churches have been built in this district since then because there are so many people there who want to go to church.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was built as a “salve of conscience” by the government, and also by Yurii Mikhailovich Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, who seems to be very clever. He had been baptised by Patriarch Aleksy. He was part of the movement to rebuild this Temple for the sake of conscience. How did he build this Temple that cost three quarters of a billion (750,000,000) dollars ? At the beginning of Perestroika there, all sorts of people wanted to do business in Moscow. Therefore, he said to them, as it were : “All right. Do you want to do business in Moscow ? Then make a donation to build the Temple”. This is how the Temple of Christ the Saviour got built in “jig-time” (that expression comes from when I was a child). Do you use that term anymore now ? Jig-time ? No ? You see, I really am a dinosaur. They really did build the cathedral very quickly. Was it a year or two years that they took to build that church ? Do you remember, Father Oleg ? [Father Oleg answered : “It was two”.] Perhaps it took slightly longer. However, it took 40 years to build the original. That was before poured concrete.

Nevertheless, they were working on this church 24 hours a day. Now it appears exactly as it did before Stalin’s agents blew up the original. Once the cathedral was again functioning, the state was (for several years only) covering the costs of running this church which has a staff of 1,000. It is true. We were told that to run this immense building (and the whole complex that is now associated with it) requires 1,000 people. Because of all this, everyone in the Local Church was really nervous, and particularly those few who live near and attend services in this cathedral. You can imagine the implications of this giant building. It is about 300 m from the floor to the top of the cupola. It is truly an enormous building. They have to pay the heat and the electricity bills ; they have to pay all the employees of this place.

How could they manage to do this ? This building is next to the Kremlin. The Kremlin is in the middle of the government. That whole area around Christ the Saviour is taken up by hotels and government offices and businesses. Very few people live there. Naturally, they were asking : “Who is going to come here ? How are we going to pay our bills ? After the three years the state has given us, we will have to pay all the bills. What are we going to do ?” I did hear those questions asked. As God blessed, I was there again a few years ago, and the rector of the Cathedral said to us : “Well, you know, we were asking these questions ; but ever since then, somehow people are showing up, and the church always has many people in it. Every day there are liturgies upstairs and downstairs. There are liturgies all the time. There are people baptised almost every day of every week in the lower church. All these people are coming, and we are paying our bills”. This is the very real example of how things are alive in Christ.

In the case of the Orthodox Church, life can be seen to be similar to the expression in a certain baseball movie : “If you build it, they will come”. Because of how we live and worship, this is how it is for us. In the context of a worshipping community, there is growth. The Orthodox Church is growing all over the world. The Orthodox Church exists and multiplies in Korea. Against all expectations, she exists and flourishes in Indonesia (including martyrdoms). She is growing in Australia, South America, North America, Africa (yes, immensely in Africa). The Orthodox Church exists in China too (including martyrdoms), where Christianity is still much resisted by the government. Indeed, martyrdom has accompanied missionary development in China from the first. There were some such martyrdoms following the initial mission of the Apostle Thomas, and in subsequent centuries, but they increased after the Russian Orthodox missionary outreach began to be more visible after 1685. Here, because of the way in which the Orthodox Church grows, the challenges are great.

Question - On achieving Unity in the Church :

Archbishop Seraphim : Answer to Question – On Unity in the Church :

Well, you did, yourself, already answer part of the question much as I would have done. As much as possible, it is important to live a life honestly, and with integrity, to live a life of honest repentance. Now I had better explain this word “repentance”, because people misunderstand that all the time too. Repentance is not concerned with lamenting : “Oh, boo-hoo, I am so bad, and blah-blah-blah”, nor with bashing the chest while saying, “mea culpa”, “mea maxima culpa”, and so forth. Rather, repentance is concerned with turning about. The Greek root of this word means precisely that. Repentance is concerned with making a change, and allowing the Lord to change you so that you can become more like the person He created you to be in the first place. When we are rebellious and are turning away from Him, we become caricatures and distortions of who He created us to be. Repentance is simply concerned with allowing the Lord to bring us into conformity with His love. It is that simple. No doubt tears are sometimes involved. However, the point is not the tears themselves, but the action of turning.

I cannot resist this other addendum, and then I will come back to your question. You will no doubt remember Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and what was said about Scrooge at the end, after his repentance ? (I still think that the actor Alistair Sim represented him best.) In his repentance, Scrooge was described as being as good as his word. Is my memory correct ? Well, this is what should be characteristic of us, Orthodox Christians. We should be as good as our word, because in Hebrew, “word” and “deed” are the same word : dabar. If you are going to say something, you do it. A word and a deed are the same thing. In Greek, I believe that it is implied to be so. When God, the Logos, speaks, it is. That is how we are supposed to be. As the apostle said : “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’” (James 5:12). We should be as good as our word. Then our words can have some meaning, and stability of meaning, too.

Our big deficit in North America is precisely our division. Division in any form in the Church makes a scandal. We Orthodox Christians talk about the Body of Christ, but we do not always live it. The first thing to be done in order to help bring about what is necessary, is to pray fervently and regularly for the unity that is necessary. All the time, we are praying liturgically for the unity and stability of the Church. It certainly does not hurt if you make it a project of your regular, personal intercessions before the Lord, asking Him to open the door for this to happen.

The second thing is to behave with other Orthodox Christians as if there were no division, anyway. When we have our services together, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy for instance, and when we have some other sorts of services that we sometimes serve together, we are all together (and we are serving in all sorts of different languages as at Pentecost), and everyone is very happy with this experience. I repeatedly hear people who are attending (and especially grandmothers), saying : “Would it not be nice if it could be like this all the time”.

This takes me to the Transfiguration, and to the words of the Apostle Peter who wanted to make permanent the Transfiguration by building booths. It would be nice. I have said the same thing a few times in my life, but it does not work like that. It would be nice to have it just like this forever, always, everywhere. However, trying, as it were, to “press the pause button” is not possible, and if it were it would actually be another sort of pickling. Pickling does not work at all, because we are alive. It is important to behave as if there were no division, and to pray for the healing of the administrative divisions (because divisions are only administrative, and therefore, they are stupid). Administration is necessary ; but when it is divisive it is stupid and counterproductive. I will go so far as to say that we are schizophrenic, and verging on being anti-Orthodox by our division. If we do not work on co-operating with the Lord and overcoming the division, we are going to lose our Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Church must be visible, and she must be visibly one. The Orthodox Church is not concerned with mere theories, and with so-called diplomatic “blah-blah-blah”. It is concerned with the action and reality. Therefore, if we are told by the Apostle that the Body of Christ is visible and one, then the Orthodox Church must be visible and one because she is that Body of Christ. We must then also say that all Christians must be visibly one in the one Body of Christ. You may perhaps be able to imagine how I feel as a bishop when I know that this is how the Christian life, how the Church really is and must be, and yet I have to live with all this fracture and fragmentation. I pray that I could live to see, at least in Canada, the fulfilment of what I heard Metropolitan Sotirios say. I did not hear him say it with my own ears, but I was told by a reliable source that he did say that in Canada, we have more hope than does the rest of North America for coming to some sort of ecclesiastical unity soon. I hope that he was speaking in a prophetic way when he said that. In addition, you, yourselves, can always go and say to your bishops : “Vladyka, when ? What can we do to help ?” You can pester the bishops until they get irritated, and say : “Get away from me !” [Everyone laughed.]

Interview to Pravoslavnaya Beseda 2009

Archbishop Seraphim : Interview
Interview with the Journal
Pravoslavnaya Beseda
The interview was published in the No. 4, 2009 issue of Pravoslavnaya Beseda

Canada, in its time, received many new-comers from Ukraine, Russia, and other places. Do they keep their love and historical memory of their motherland, their traditions, and does this flock include “cradle” Canadians. And how does The Orthodox Church in America help them to preserve their identity ?

In Canada, we have received now at least five waves of immigrants, beginning with those from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires more than a century ago. Until now, the majority of immigrants have arrived from Ukrainian territories. Then, recently, the majority began to come from Russian-speaking territories of the Russian Federation. The first and the fifth waves of immigrants arrived primarily for economic reasons. The others arrived mostly for political reasons. Many, including some nobility, arrived as refugees. For instance, the Grand Duchess Ol’ga Alexandrovna (Romanov) lived in Toronto, Ontario during the last part of her life. For the early immigrants, it was always important that they build the church near where they would live — often even before building their own houses. In every case, it has been necessary to find a balance between remembering the homeland, and living in the newly-adopted country. Some have gone to extremes. Some have not accepted the move. They have lived in enclosed communities, and have avoided adapting to Canadian society. On the other hand, however, some have completely abandoned their heritage. They sometimes changed their names also, and they tried to live as British-descended Canadians. In no case has the adjustment been easy, because the contrast between Canadian ways and Russian Orthodox ways in life are very, very different. Both Canada and Russia, however, have similar recent histories, particularly secular and materialist. In earlier years, Canadian society was very unfriendly to Continental European immigrants (and to Slavs in particular). Whether it was true of them or not, they were often sneered at as being “DPs”, that is, displaced persons, and they were treated as being stupid. Now, there is far greater readiness to accept new-comers, as we like to call immigrants now.

Maintaining this “own identity” is difficult in Canadian culture, although Canada is officially called a multi-cultural society. One has to understand what is essential. For Russian immigrants, this must include Church life. Without it, there would be only some meaningless details associated with food, dancing and music. Therefore, the Church in Canada has encouraged parishes that are accepting new-comers to keep the Old Calendar (this archdiocese has a great majority of parishes on the Old Calendar). We encourage the singing of seasonal carols and spiritual songs as much as possible. These customs come more from Ukraine. We encourage the making, eating, and selling of traditional foods ; and we certainly encourage parents to teach their children to speak Russian or Ukrainian well. We also bless the publishing of Russian-language and Ukrainian-language journals and papers in order to help the people understand their Orthodox faith better. We also try to help people to remember, and to keep the traditional customs associated with baptisms, marriages, burials, and other important moments of life. There is no perfect way to help the Russian-speaking new-comers keep their faith and their culture. However, I must say that many seem to do this well, and they begin to reinforce the faith of the older immigrants.

What sort of missionary work is done in the Canadian Orthodox Church ? What is its form ?

The biggest challenge in missionary work amongst the new-comers is that our churches might be more easily found. When they are found, the believers in those churches must remember to behave in a Christian, loving, welcoming manner. Orthodox Christian hospitality is always one of the principal ways that missionary work is to be done amongst the local Canadians, as well. It is the love of Christ that brings people to the Church. Slowly, we have been trying to support the priests who are trying particularly to care for the new-comers. In several cases, large numbers of new-comers have truly found the love of Christ, and there have been many baptisms. In many cases, Russian-speakers have felt at home in our mostly English-speaking communities, because they were able to hear some Slavonic, and they were able freely to speak to each other in Russian.

We know that your family comes from Finland. The Finnish Orthodox Church especially venerates the holy Valaam startsi, new, and old. What can you share about New Valaam ?

It is a mistake to think that I am of Finnish descent. My father came to Canada from Norway a hundred years ago, and my mother was born in Canada of Scottish parents. However, in 1980, I did live in Finland for a year, at the New Valamo Monastery. Finland did, and does greatly respect and love the saints of Valaam. When I lived in this monastery, I had the blessing to know, and to serve with Archimandrite Simforian. He was the last monk to leave the main Island of Valaam during the Finnish-Soviet Winter War of 1940. As they left, he rang the one great bell that had to remain there in the great belfry of the main monastery, because of its weight (it was later broken by soldiers). When I knew him, he had a great reputation as a staretz, and on one occasion the then Metropolitan Aleksy (later Patriarch) came from Tallinn to visit, to serve with, and to speak with him. There was also a very old monk from the Trifonovsky Monastery of Pechenga who lived there. Even at age 107, he could be heard punctually at midnight in his cell as he sang “O Heavenly King” to begin the Midnight Hour. This brotherhood from the Valaam Islands (which became the New Valamo Monastery on its new territory) suffered much from the dislocation caused by the Soviets and the War, but it never has forgotten its connexion with the Valaam Islands. Finns wanted very much to help in the earlier days when there was a great hunger at the newly-re-opened monastery, and I know priests who love to travel there. There is also great support in Finland for the Konevsky Monastery (Konovits in Finnish), which is on Konevets Island on the western side of Lake Ladoga. Like Valaam Monastery today, it is in Karelian Russia.

You have a special responsibility in the Department of External Affairs and Inter-Church Relations. What is the first priority in your work ?

With regard to my work in the Department of External Affairs and Inter-Church Relations, I understand the first priority to be being obedient to the Metropolitan, and to keep clear communication with him about everything. This is because, as Head of our Church, he is the first in responsibility for all external contacts, as well as for leading us internally. Besides this, I have always tried to support every sort of loving, brotherly relationship with our sister-Churches that I could. It truly is sincere love.

What saints do you especially venerate in Canada ?

In Canada, there are three particularly known holy persons, who are very much loved. Saint Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow served as Archbishop in North America a century ago. It was he who incorporated the Archdiocese of Canada in civil law for the first time. He was a great missionary worker in Canada, and he consecrated the Holy Tables of many churches (mostly in western Canada). For him, it would likely have seemed as if he were travelling in Siberia. Another is the holy Archbishop Arseny of Winnipeg. He was an early co-worker with Saint Tikhon, both in the USA, and in Canada. He founded monasteries in both countries, pastoral schools in both countries, and he established several Russian-language publications. He was a charismatic leader, and he was such a preacher that people called him “the Canadian Chrysostom”. I have heard many stories about his holiness by people who knew him in the 1930s. Both Saints Tikhon and Arseny frequently stayed in the homes of the local believers as they visited the parishes. The third is a missionary priest, who worked mainly in eastern Canada, including Montréal. This is the Priest-Martyr Alexander Hotovitsky. He served also in the United States, in New York, and many other places. He was another co-worker with Saint Tikhon. He was later killed by the Soviets in Russia.

You are often in Russia. What holy places have you been blessed to visit ? What do you say about this to your flock in Canada ?

It is true that the Lord has blessed me to travel often to Russia, and also to Ukraine. In Russia, my visits have been limited mostly to the Moscow and Saint Petersburg areas, because I have been in Russia mostly for meetings, and for special Church celebrations. I have, however, been able to visit Sergeiev Posad, Optina, Valaam, Novgorod, and Kronstadt. Every time I have travelled like this, I have written an account of my journeys, and published them in the archdiocesan newspaper. I do this, both to help Christ’s flock in Canada share the experience, and to help them understand that even if I go for official reasons, I treat each visit as a pilgrimage. I have always been blessed to be able to venerate the relics of the saints in the places I have visited. It has never been other than a great blessing and a refreshment for me to do so. People frequently say that when I return from Russia I look refreshed in a particular way. Therefore, it is my custom to say, “Glory be to God for everything”. Because the land of Russia has been so blessed with so many saints, and during the last century so many martyrs, I believe that the Lord bestows a special grace, and a special blessing on the Russian believers, and on those who meet them. Again, Glory be to God for everything.

Original Russian Text published in the Russian Orthodox journal Pravoslavnaya Beseda (Orthodox Conversations), number 4, 2009, which is published in Moscow, Russia. Translated into English from the web site

Radio Interview in Yorkton, SK (2009)

Archbishop Seraphim : Radio Interview
The Communion of Love is precisely the whole Point.
Yorkton, Saskatchewan
2 June, 2009

[This radio interview was recorded in a Yorkton, Saskatchewan radio station (called “The Rock”, because it is a Christian radio station). The host, Father Andrew Piasta, interviewed His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim, on the occasion of the Feast of Pentecost.]

Father Andrew Piasta :

Before we go into our main topic, Your Eminence, would you tell us something about the Archdiocese of Canada ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

The Archdiocese of Canada is one of the thirteen dioceses of The Orthodox Church in America. Our history begins with the mission of monks from Valaam Monastery in west Russia, or Karelia (almost Finland you could say) in 1794. They came to Alaska, and from that came everything else in due course. Our own diocese had its beginnings with the Ukrainian and Bukovinian settlement at the end of the nineteenth century. Since then, we have slowly developed, with various difficulties and catastrophes slowing us down from time to time. The first bishop in Canada of this (in those days) “Russian” mission was Archbishop Alexander who came to Canada in 1916. We have had a series of resident bishops in Canada ever since then, of whom I am the latest. In the history of the diocese, too, after World War II there was an attempt to divide the diocese more sensibly into at least two. After the bishop who had been consecrated in 1947 with that in view had been put in place in Montréal, suddenly, after six months, he died. As a result of that, everyone was in shock. We did not have another ruling bishop or resident bishop in the country for another five years. It seems that, until now, we have never really recovered from that sudden death of Bishop Antoniy. In these days, the diocese has recovered to a population roughly equal to what we had in the 1950s. For us, this is not bad, because we were almost finished about thirty years ago in terms of size, numbers, and organisation. However, God has been merciful, and now our Church is about to have an auxiliary bishop, the first one for many, many years, and there is hope for a second one as well before too much longer. Then, maybe we could get back to where we were in 1945.

Father Andrew :

Last week people on the “new calendar” celebrated Pentecost. This Sunday we are celebrating the feast on the “old calendar”. Your Eminence, please tell us about the significance of the feast, the meaning of the feast in eastern Christianity, and how we understand its importance as part of God’s providence, and salvation for the world. How, and why do we observe Pentecost in the Orthodox Church ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

In the Church, the Feast of Pentecost is really called the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The title “Pentecost” is an Old Testament title for a particular feast that came fifty days after Passover. Fifty is the meaning of the word. The Feast is logically called Pentecost by us as well ; but for us, this feast primarily refers to the Event of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem which we read about in The Acts of the Apostles, and which I recommend that everyone read (see Acts 2:1–11). Other people will also be familiar with calling this feast the Feast of the Holy Trinity or Troitsa. That is because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and apostles on this day is a very clear, unmistakable demonstration of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, on the one hand it is really the Feast of the Holy Spirit, but on the other hand it is an occasion of the revealing of the Three-Personned nature of the One God.

Why is the feast so significant ? There are two aspects. One is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us at Pentecost, which gives us the Grace to live a truly Christian life. This is not some sort of magic or anything like that. As we see in Acts 1:8, our Saviour says to His apostles : “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. The Holy Spirit was promised to us by our Saviour, and who told us beforehand that He would give us a certain power. The Prophets in the Old Testament, from time to time, were given the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and they spoke for God about repentance and the correcting of life. There are many such occasions in the Old Testament days when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon a particular person. However, almost no-one in those days had a long and continuous experience. The Holy Spirit came to a person for a time, and for a particular purpose, and then the person was not necessarily so inspired afterwards. In the Old Testament, there was not this sense of a continuous gift.

However, this time, on the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon everyone, and not only on particular apostles. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon everyone at the Feast of Pentecost is part of our understanding of what happens to us in baptism. The Grace of the Holy Spirit is given to us for the purpose of living our Christian life. The Holy Spirit is with us at all times enabling us to live our Christian life. When the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us power, the Holy Spirit does not give us power over other beings (except to drive out evil), but rather the power to serve, the power to heal, the power to love, the power to endure, the power to follow in the foot-steps of Christ.

There is a second significant aspect of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is important and significant for us Orthodox Christians. When the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and apostles in the Upper Room, they began to speak in various sorts of languages (tongues) that they had never learnt. It is not insignificant that there appeared tongues of fire upon all those in the Upper Room, which are linked with the multitude of languages to be spoken and understood. When the disciples and apostles went out from this room, people all around were hearing them speaking in their various languages (see Acts 2:4-12, where it says that this is what happened). Why did the Lord give this particular gift in this particular way ? Well, on Pentecost itself, the whole purpose of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this way was to show people that all Christians are expected to be sharing the truth about Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, with the whole world. That is why there were so many languages being spoken all at once. This Faith, this experience of Jesus Christ, this life in the Truth is for everyone in the whole world. There is only one Truth : Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

Father Andrew :

Quite a few people who call themselves Christians are often confused about Who the Holy Spirit is. They often refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”, or they think of the Holy Spirit as a “power” – the power of the Father or the power of the Son. Please tell us how we understand Who (and not what) the Holy Spirit is.

Archbishop Seraphim :

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. God is One ; but at the same time, God is a Community of Three Persons who live in a complete, utter unity that is truly beyond human understanding. There is nothing that any one Person of the Holy Trinity does, says, or thinks in which the other two Persons are not involved. They are living in this complete, utter harmony. The Fathers are telling us that this logically must be so, because if God were any fewer than three Persons, He would be somehow self-motivated and unconcerned about everyone else (or God would be completely exclusive). If there were simply one Person, then one could say that He is egocentric. If there were only two Persons, then it would be an exclusive club of two. However, when there are Three Persons, there is a continuous movement of communication and uninterrupted love amongst all Three Persons in complete balance – completely outward-looking, one might say.

We do not ever want to dare to call the Holy Spirit a “thing”. If we call the Holy Spirit a “thing”, or a “power”, the Holy Spirit becomes a created being, and that makes the Holy Spirit no longer God. That is why it is not safe to call the Holy Spirit a thing, or to talk about Him in impersonal, inanimate terms. The Holy Spirit is a Person, a living Person, one of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is a Person who is intimately identified with the other two Persons.

In the understanding of the Christian Fathers over the years, there is a sense of how the relationship amongst the Three Persons works. The Father is the Creator and Origin of everything. The Son is the Only-begotten Son of the Father (by begetting, although no-one really knows what that means, but such is the term that we use). Nevertheless, the Son comes from the Father by being begotten. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father by proceeding (this is another term whose meaning we do not and cannot truly understand), because the Father is the Source of everything. And yet, one could never say that there was ever a time when there were not the Three Persons all together. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity were, and always are involved in this continuous, harmonious communication of love.

We cannot speak about the Holy Trinity as though we somehow invented this understanding. Orthodox Christians have always understood from the very beginning that we understand God only because He reveals Himself to us. He reveals Himself to us, and we respond to that Self-revelation. God has given us not only His revelation of Himself, but also a certain amount of reason that is inspired by the Holy Spirit with which to talk about these relationships. It is really important for us to remember that our use of any words about the Holy Trinity has to be related directly to God’s revelation of Himself. We, in the Orthodox Church are singing : “The Lord is God, and has revealed Himself to us. Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord” (see Psalm 117:27). (If we are monks, we sing this every day at Matins, and at some other services also.) It is a good thing that we sing this every day ; because if we did not, we human beings in our self-preoccupied pride, could well be inclined to think that we are somehow greater than God, and that we are defining Him. Instead, He is defining Himself in such a way that we can understand a little bit.

Father Andrew :

Christianity is not a system of simply following the rules of God, but it is a life lived such a way that we get to know Who God is. Christianity does not involve the concept of God as being “the Big Guy sitting on the chair”, but rather, it is the living of a communion of love.

Archbishop Seraphim :

This communion of love is exactly the whole point.

Father Andrew :

The simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s love for us : Grace and redemption are given to us by the love of God. Our existence, and all creation are there because of God’s love. Your Eminence, would you now reflect upon the role of the Holy Spirit in the act of bringing creation into existence ; and would you also reflect upon salvation as related to the Holy Spirit and love ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

First, I would say that there are some people in the history of the Church who have thought that the Holy Spirit was only the relationship or the power of love between the Father and the Son. That is an unpleasant sort of conception of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is then depersonalised : the Holy Spirit is turned into some sort of “force”. I do not know of any human being who would like to be reduced to being just a force. You could not then call the Holy Trinity a communion of Three Persons if the Holy Spirit were just a force or some sort of activity or energy. If we go so far as to call the Holy Spirit an “energy” or a “force”, it turns the Holy Spirit into something that is created. All these things are very touchy. Human beings have to be very cautious when speaking about God, so that we do not run away with ourselves, as it were, because we can get into trouble. Anyone who talks about the Holy Spirit in terms of forces and powers instead of “Person” gets into really dangerous water.

In fact, we have been encountering the Holy Spirit right from the beginning of everything. If we look at the beginning of the Old Testament in the First Book of Moses (which most people call Genesis, and this is appropriate because the word “Genesis” means “beginning”), we are going to see about the Holy Spirit that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water” (1 Moses 1:2). We read that God is saying : “Let Us make …” (1 Moses 1:26). The “Us” that God is using in the First Book of Moses is not a royal “we” in this case (although some people might like to think so). It is not an expression of the royal “we” at all. It is an expression of the Community of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is speaking : “Let Us make ….” The Holy Trinity then speaks through the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word (who is our Saviour, Jesus Christ). This Word speaks into existence everything that is. It is the Holy Spirit that gives life to everything that the Word is speaking into existence. All of this is happening because the Father is creating in this way. The Father, who is the Father of everything, brings into harmonious existence everything that is, through the word of the Word, the words of His Son, by the Grace and the operation of the Holy Spirit. All Three Persons are operating in harmony and unity. The Holy Spirit, the Son, and the Father, together, are always acting at all times, in every place, and there is never a time when this is not the case.

The Holy Trinity is not so clearly and explicitly revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. Nevertheless, one can see the evidence of the All-Holy Trinity, even in the Old Testament. For instance, there are many who will say that the visitation of Abraham by three Angels is precisely one of those moments of revelation of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. How is the Holy Trinity revealing to us Who they are ? (One can see how difficult it is to talk about the Holy Trinity. Words do not suffice. I, myself, am not capable. I am speaking with my limitations.)

The Holy Trinity becomes as fully as possible revealed to us at the time of the Incarnation of our Saviour. The revelation already begins in the Nativity cycle and the Theophany cycle with the Baptism of our Saviour. The revelation is really evident now with the celebration of Pentecost, and the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. These are high moments, moments of clarity as to Who is the Holy Trinity. All through our whole experience as human beings from the very beginning, we have had the encounter with the All-Holy Trinity.

What is the nature of the Holy Trinity ? God reveals Himself to us as Love. It is not only the Holy Spirit who is Love. As you were saying earlier in our discussion before this interview, our Saviour is speaking about love before He talks about the Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Holy Trinity is involved in this love. The Lord has revealed to us that His own very nature is Love : love which is inclusive, and love which is life-giving. In this whole context, too, we have to understand (because of the nature of this life-giving and inclusive love) that there is no place in creation at any time in which God is not fully present.

In other words, God’s creation is not outside Himself, but He is always present in everything that He is creating. We would not want to say that there is no distinction between God and His creation, because creation is not God. However, God is in all His creation, everywhere, always, throughout all these galaxies that we are finding through the Hubble telescopes, and other telescopes. God is everywhere at all times in the whole universe. One might correctly refine this to say that God is everywhere at all time and at the same time in the whole universe. Everything that is floating in outer space, and everything that is visibly and tangibly in our presence here on earth is filled with Him, His love, and is an expression of His love. We human beings are an image and an expression of His love in a specific way. He desired to create us to be like this : a visible expression of His love, of Him in a particular sort of way, and co-operators with Him in the ordering of His creation (and oi yoi, did we fail in that part). Still, His love has overcome our failure, and His love is still overcoming our failure. His love wants to renew the unity between ourselves and Him. This love wants to re-create us, heal us, and bring us back into full communion with Him. Again, I am talking about things that are so mysterious and wonderful that it is difficult to speak about them.

Father Andrew :

I would like to paraphrase another theologian, who said : Because of love, we are created. We are created so that we can love. Because of love, we are saved (even when we did not want that love), and it will be into love that we will be resurrected.

Pentecost is the celebration of the manifestation of the fulness of the Holy Spirit in creation. Nevertheless, we also celebrate it as the “birthday” of the Church, the beginning of the Church. The Church, therefore, is not simply an institution ; she is something that is linked with God. What, then, is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

Everything about being a Christian is about relationship because everything about God, Himself, concerns relationship – relationship in love. Therefore, if we are speaking about the Church as such, you are right in saying that she is not an institution (even though there are the characteristics of an institution about her). However, the Church has never been able to be confined to being an institution in the normal way human institutions operate. That is because the Church is a living organism. In the First Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, the Church is described by the Apostle in chapter twelve as being the Body of Christ. That is the most crucial thing for Christians to remember about the nature of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Head of this Body is our Saviour, Jesus Christ. That is how the Apostle Paul speaks and writes about it. A body is a living organism. The Apostle speaks about our participation in this Body in exactly these very frank ways. We are members or cells of this Body, and each one of us has a particular purpose and role to play. Without each one of us, the Body does not function very well. If I get sick or distorted, distracted or fallen in some sort of a bad way, then these falls, these weaknesses or these illnesses affect all the other members of this Body. That is how any body operates. The Body of Christ is not different from that, except that, different from my body sitting here, the Head of the Body of Christ is our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Saviour is not as vulnerable as my head sitting here on these shoulders, which is definitely limited. So, the Church is a living organism, and this living organism is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the disciples and apostles, and this signals the beginning of the visible activity of the Body of Christ, which had already existed in some manner before. The out-pouring of the Holy Spirit began enabling this Body to function according to the Lord’s will. What immediately happened ?

There is at first the speaking in a multitude of languages. Afterwards, there is the sermon of the Apostle Peter, followed by the baptism of many, many people on that first day. This is the fulfilment of the commission of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, at the time of His Ascension when He said : “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). We are to share with all the nations of the earth, in all the languages of the earth, the truth of His love, the truth of Who is Jesus Christ.

We do all this by the Grace of the Holy Spirit : the activity of the Holy Spirit’s presence in us. This gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred on us at the time of baptism. It is associated with baptism just as we see in The Acts of the Apostles. From the time of the apostles, nothing has really changed in the baptismal practices in our Church. In the Name of the Holy Trinity, people are baptised in water ; and in our day, they are given the gift of the Holy Spirit through the anointing with a special oil, together with special prayers. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every Christian in the beginning, and the Holy Spirit enlivens and enables us to live as healthy, living members of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit enables us to grow up into our real selves, and to be reflections of Jesus Christ, Himself.

Father Andrew :

The Holy Trinity is a communion of love : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – different Persons, but One in divine love. We, who are different persons, by means of Pentecost become one through divine love. The Church is actually the image of the Holy Trinity, and that is what God willed from the beginning.

Archbishop Seraphim :

There are some people who say that every human being is made up of three elements : body, soul, and spirit. This can be taken in a way as another reflection of the Holy Trinity.

Father Andrew :

Thank you very much, Your Eminence, for your reflections. It is wonderful to have you back here again on our programme, and we hope that you can come back soon. We pray that God will continue to bless and uphold your pastoral ministry. God grant you many years !

The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada, Part 1 (2008)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada
Interview given to, Part 1
17 February, 2008



When people set out to find the historic Church of Christ established at Pentecost, they end up discovering the Orthodox Church. We thank God for those people who have found the Orthodox Faith, the true Faith that once and for all was delivered to the saints. This Orthodox Faith has remained the best-kept secret in Canada and North America. It is time that we let this light shine. Canada needs the Orthodox Faith. To those who have found the Orthodox Faith, we say : “Welcome home”. To Canadians, who are wondering where they could find a solid moral foundation that has not changed with popular opinion, we say : “Come home to the Faith of Peter and Paul ; come home to a Faith which has remained unchanged for close to 2,000 years. Christ is in our midst. He is, and ever shall be”.

What is the Orthodox Church ? Where did it come from ? Why hasn’t anyone heard of it even though it is the second largest Christian Faith in the world ? In the weeks to come we will explore what the Orthodox Faith is : its historic roots, and what it stands for. We will talk to many people who have entered into the journey and have come home to the Orthodox Faith.

My name is Deacon Gregory Kopchuk, the host of “Welcome Home”, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Canada of The Orthodox Church in America, an English- language Orthodox Church for North Americans.

Today, we have a very special guest – His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of the Archdiocese of Canada, of The Orthodox Church in America, and we welcome him to the programme. Your Eminence, today we are going to discuss the vision of the Archdiocese of Canada (OCA). We would like you to talk about the vision as you see it.

AS :

The vision as I understand it ? I am not sure that there is only one vision. Our Orthodox Church in Canada is comprised of many different people from different places with different languages, different experiences and different formations. Do we mean, therefore, their vision ? If so, there are very many indeed. Even if we refer to the Archdiocesan Council’s vision of the Archdiocese, we would have to say the same thing. If we mean the vision of the bishop or the archbishop, he would answer : “Who am I to have my own vision of anything ?” Our vision for the Church has to be the same as our Lord’s vision for the Church. He, after all, is the Head of the Church, and we are His servants. To know what is the vision we have to ask Him, hear Him, and do what He says. When we are speaking about the Orthodox Church in Canada (which is a simpler way to refer to us), everything still has to be measured by the Gospel and the Orthodox Tradition. How that is lived out in each different place depends on the people, and so forth. Canada is not some sort of monolith, for instance. How we are going to live the Orthodox life in Québec, for instance, is not exactly how we would live it in Alberta, or in Newfoundland or Yukon.


Your Eminence, would it be possible for you to sum up in a few sentences what is the vision of the Archdiocese of Canada for the Orthodox Church ?

AS :

I think we had better start by talking about what is the vision (if we must use this word) for the Orthodox in any culture. Our vision here cannot be different from that. The principal vision has to be connected with knowing authentically Who is Jesus Christ, and knowing Him personally, and living in response to that personal relationship with Christ. Therefore, “vision” can be translated as “comprehension”. We know from the Scriptures that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God reveals Himself as love in everything – in the Divine Liturgy, in the Scriptures, in liturgical texts, and in everything in our life. He reveals Himself as love and everything that exists is the product of His love. We are living out our lives in response to this love. Because we are responding to God who is Love, we respond just as any person who loves someone else. We want to be pleasing to the one whom we love. That is how it generally is supposed to be in any loving relationship. We try to be pleasing to the person we love, and who more than Christ do we try to be pleasing to ? At the same time, we very often emulate the person whom we love and respect. Who more than Christ should we emulate and imitate ? Therefore, the Orthodox Christian way and life in any culture and at any time is all focussed on knowing Who is Jesus Christ. We respond to His love ; we live out His love, and we imitate Him in our daily life in acts of love. Everything else comes afterwards, I think.


Your Eminence, if we start out on this process, what does that mean for the Archdiocese of Canada ? Are you saying that we are not doing that now ?

AS :

No, I did not say that. I think that we are making an attempt, but we do not want to treat the Church as though it were some sort of social club or a political process. People often speak about the Christian Church as being a “religion”. People dare to speak about the Orthodox Church as though it were a religion. We have never thought of ourselves as a religion because a religion is a system. Anyone who knows anything about the Orthodox Church knows that there is nothing very systematic about us. In the Scriptures, the Christian way was called “The Way” at first. Even before we were called Christians, we were called “The Way” because of how we live our life and because of Jesus Christ who said : “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Therefore, the Orthodox Faith is not a system ; it is not a philosophy. It is simply a loving relationship with Christ. Yes, there is a certain amount of system because life has to be systematic to a certain extent. Human beings have to have some basic structure and order to life. Nevertheless, it is not the system that governs us but rather it is the relationship with Christ and our trying to be true to Him who is the Truth. If we, in love, are trying to be true to Him who is the Truth, then we will try to live responsibly ; we will try to be good citizens and we will do more or less what is right in most situations (even though we make mistakes) because we want to do what is right.


That is an interesting idea that we are not a religion or a system but that it is more about our relationship with Christ. I am sure that a lot of people who come into the Church would say things like : “We have to cross ourselves at this point ; we have to bow here ; we have to kiss the Cross there. We have to fast for forty days at this time and also on Wednesdays and Fridays. We have to do this thing or that thing. We have to go to Vespers on Saturday and to church on Sunday. It sounds like system to me, Your Eminence.

AS :

It seems like that because you are using the words “have to”.


It’s not an option ?

AS :

It is not that we “have to”. That is not the right way to look at it. For instance, do you have to do things just because your wife says so ? The fact is that if you are doing things that she says need to be done, fundamentally it is not because you “have to”. Really, it is because you love her and you want to be pleasing to her. You offer to do what needs to be done because of the necessities of life. Wives are there to remind men of the things that have to be done, because men are very often busy with other things or they are thinking of something else. Nevertheless, there are things that have to be done and the relationship between human beings is such that we help and support each other. We do things for each other that have to be done. Why would we do these things : go to church, make the sign of the Cross or make a prostration ? Why would we fast ? It is all part of this response of love to Christ. We imitate Him. He fasted ; He prayed. Because He is the Way, He shows us by Who He is and by His life what is the way. The way is not a “what” as Pilate was asking, regarding truth. The way is a “Who”. There are some “whats” associated with the “Who”, but the “whats” are not what is essential. It is the “Who” that is essential. If we are going to church, this is the way more or less that Orthodox Christians have worshipped for more than 2,000 years in continuity with the Jewish Temple that went before it. This is how we, as Orthodox Christians, are honouring Christ : we worship Christ ; we show our love for Him ; and we live out our love for Him. It is not because it is a rule and that we must do this or that. It is because I love Jesus Christ. I like to be in church and worship Him. Out of respect for Him I make the sign of the Cross ; I kiss icons ; I make a prostration ; I offer to Him my abstinence from types of food for periods of time. Orthodox people are not usually so pious as all that, that we do not eat at all.


Are you saying that if someone comes into the Orthodox way, he or she can pick and choose what to do in the church or how to participate ?

AS :

Not exactly. As I said, there is a way that Orthodox Christians have always done things. If it has always been like this, it is not just because of it being a matter of rules. We always have to watch out for the rules. There are ways of doing things, but they are not absolutely universal. Besides this, we ask those who are our spiritual leaders what is the best way to observe the rules in our case.


You said that we do these things out of love for Christ, but does that mean that a new person automatically has to be participating and doing all these things at once, or is it a question of growing into it ?

AS :

We have to grow into it. Everyone has to grow into it because we cannot do everything at once. We would choke. It is the same thing that the Apostle Paul is speaking about in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Apostle says : “Everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14). In effect, he is saying : “By this time you should be eating meat, but you still have to drink milk. Come on !” As it is with children, we cannot give them rich, hard to digest foods when they are two months old. When I was growing up myself, I had to grow into everything. We all have to grow into everything. I still am growing, geezer that I am getting to be.


In one of our previous programmes, Your Eminence, you talked to us about your journey into Orthodoxy. You were actually an Anglican minister for quite a while, and before that Lutheranism was your first big influence. You are saying that we are not a religion. Nevertheless, a lot of people out there are saying : “I don’t need an organised religion. I can be “spiritual” at home”. Can we say to them : “We are not an organised religion, so come along” ?

AS :

Yes. We are not organised in the way that people think we are organised.


We look like a Church.

AS :

We are the Church, but the Church is not merely an organised society. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is The Way. I could say that even as well-organised as the Roman Catholics are, that does not make them a system or a religion either.


What do we say about those who say : “I can be spiritual at home”?

AS :

I will say that the earliest Fathers of the Church said : “A single Christian is no Christian”. We cannot be by ourselves. The apostles (and the Scriptures, too) say : “Do not forsake gathering together”. Worshipping the Lord is a corporate thing. We can pray by ourselves, but worshipping is a different thing.


Is there a difference between being spiritual and being a Christian ?

AS :

Yes, there can be, but it depends on what you mean by “being spiritual”.


I mean, for instance, when the average person says : “I can be spiritual at home”.

AS :

I do not know what that really means either, because “spiritual” is a very vague sort of term. It can apply to various sorts of philosophies, meditations. “Spiritual” can mean anything. To some people, being spiritual can mean the idea of being detached from the body, something which is abhorrent to us. Some people are thinking that being spiritual means feeling some sort of warmth towards the Lord and in a vague way communicating with Him. People used to call this “warm fuzzies”. However, from the Orthodox point of view, body and soul are not detached or detachable from each other. They are not separable from each other. When we die, for instance, we do not become an angel (as in the crazy North American myth). There is nothing in the Scriptures that says that such a thing ever happens. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 says very clearly that when we die, we have a spiritual body. Human beings are different from angels. We have a body always. We are a different order of creation (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-44). Angels are angels, and human beings are human beings. When the time comes for us to die, our body dies. Our Lord is speaking about our receiving a spiritual body that does not die and that is still recognisably ourselves, following the pattern of Christ Himself in the Resurrection, who was recognisable. Spirituality does not have anything to do with being detached from this body ; it has to do with the perfecting of this body and this life.

If we are going to speak about spirituality, it has to do with living out in a concrete way our Christian life. The Apostle James wrote in his Epistle : “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). If we believe in Jesus Christ and if we say that we are a follower of the way, then we have to do things in imitation of Him. He Himself at the Last Supper, when He was washing the apostles’ feet said (as it were) : “Do this, too” (see John 13:14-15). We do not only drink the wine and eat the bread which are His Body and His Blood, but we wash feet, too. “Do this”, He said. This is where the spirituality of Orthodox Christians is truly demonstrated. Yes, we pray ; yes, we have a loving relationship with the Lord ; and yes, all sorts of miracles can happen. However, there is no airy-fairy ethereal detachment. Rather, there is a unified living out of our life : body, soul and spirit are all one. Again, that is going back to why it is important for us to gather together, to worship together. Cripples as we are (we are all crippled by sin), by being in the Temple of the Lord together and worshipping Him together, we are supporting each other. We all know that we are in the same boat together. We hold each other up. We support each other. We glorify the Lord together. However, we are also recognising that we are all cripples together.


There are a lot of people who do not recognise the fact that they are cripples, that is, in sin. They say : “What ? I don’t sin. I’m OK. I’m a decent human being”. If they do not recognise that first, is there any point in going farther ? Define what sin is in the Orthodox in the context of the way.

AS :

The Greek word for sin means “to miss the mark”. It is not to break the law. It is falling short, being out of focus. We may break a law, but if we break a law, it is because we are out of focus. If we were to say that we are without sin, does that then make us like Christ Himself who alone is without sin ?


Firstly, people have to recognise that Christ is the example that we are striving for.

AS :

That is right.


If they do not even recognise that Christ is the Son of God and one of the Holy Trinity, then is there no basis to start anything ?

AS :

It is not that there is no basis, but it is difficult. We always have the basis of loving the person who does not understand anything or does not care to understand anything, or who is rejecting everything. If we are Christians, then as Christ, we still love that person. Therefore, if we cannot talk about Christ (because some people just cannot hear anything about Him and reject everything about Him), that does not inhibit us from loving him or her. Our first responsibility is simply to love whomever the Lord has sent to us, whether this person is ready to hear anything about Christ Himself, or not. Eventually, perhaps (there is no guarantee ) this person, who is being loved by me and being served by me, might see Christ in me. Then this person might be ready to talk about, to ask about Christ and to get to know Christ.


I guess our first goal in this whole process or vision is that each one of us has to come to believe in Christ, know Christ, respond to His love, live a life according to Christ, and imitate Christ.

AS :


Until we do that, or if we can’t do that, then we can’t go any farther ?

AS :

Well, “can’t” is a strong word. I would say that it is more difficult. In the end, though, even if we may not be able to go any farther ourselves in one way or another, that does not stop the Lord from giving us a nudge and helping us to go farther. We always have to keep in mind that it is the Lord Himself who is always accomplishing everything in us.


Given that The Orthodox Church in America has been in North America starting in Alaska in 1794, where would you say we are in all these areas of believing, knowing, responding, living and imitating ? Are we well along the way ? Do we have still more to learn ? Are we almost there ?

AS :

It seems to me that we are still beginning.


After 200 years ?

AS :



Even given the fact that Christianity has been around for 2,000 years ?

AS :

Yes. Christians in general, even after 2,000 years, are still beginning.


What is the next step after that, Your Eminence ?

AS :

Well, the next step is to look at the word, “repentance”, which is also very much misused and misinterpreted. Repentance means “turning around”. We turn around (or better said, turn about), away from darkness to light ; away from death to life ; away from selfishness to selflessness. If this lesson of being ready to turn about to Christ (and, in fact, we must understand that we cannot even do any turning about without asking for His help) is accepted as being the essence of where we have to be and where we are going, then we can be a little bit beyond the very beginning.


So we have to go through believing Christ, responding to His love, living it, imitating Him ; and the next step is our own repentance.

AS :

Repentance comes farther up the line. This is just the order in which we have been talking about things.


These are all steps towards the eventual vision of the Orthodox Church in Canada. Thank you, Your Eminence, for being on the programme, and we will continue this discussion in Part 2.

The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada, Parts 2 & 3 (2008)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada
Interview given to, Part 2
24 February, 2008



When people set out to find the historic Church of Christ established at Pentecost, they end up discovering the Orthodox Church. We thank God for those people who have found the Orthodox Faith, the true Faith that once and for all was delivered to the saints. This Orthodox Faith has remained the best-kept secret in Canada and North America. It is time that we let this light shine. Canada needs the Orthodox Faith. To those who have found the Orthodox Faith, we say : “Welcome home”. To Canadians, who are wondering where they could find a solid moral foundation that has not changed with popular opinion, we say : “Come home to the Faith of Peter and Paul ; come home to a Faith which has remained unchanged for close to 2,000 years. Christ is in our midst. He is, and ever shall be”.

What is the Orthodox Church ? Where did it come from ? Why hasn’t anyone heard of it even though it is the second largest Christian Faith in the world ? In the weeks to come we will explore what the Orthodox Faith is : its historic roots, and what it stands for. We will talk to many people who have entered into the journey and have come home to the Orthodox Faith.

My name is Deacon Gregory Kopchuk, the host of “Welcome Home”, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Canada of The Orthodox Church in America, an English- language Orthodox Church for North Americans.

Today, we are welcoming again to the programme His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of the Archdiocese of Canada, of The Orthodox Church in America.

Your Eminence, we’re continuing the second part of the discussion about the vision of the Archdiocese of Canada of The Orthodox Church in America. In the first part, we talked about the need for a basic foundation. You mentioned repentance, believing in Christ, knowing Christ, responding to Christ’s love, living a life like Christ, imitating Christ. All these are the basic foundation that should be there before anything else happens. The next step, of course, is “where do we go from there ?” I was trying to find an early written vision and mission statement for the Archdiocese of Canada, and the only thing I could find was from our 1990 bylaws : “The newly established Archdiocese (this was written in 1903) was part of the continuing work of the original mission of the Orthodox Church in Russia, which began in Alaska in 1794. The aim of that mission was two-fold : to provide ministry to the Church’s sons and daughters who had emigrated to Canada, and to provide Orthodox Christianity to the wider Canadian milieu. The result of this double purpose was and continues to be the creation of a distinct and truly local Orthodox Church in Canada”. Is that still our vision and mission, or has it changed a little ?

AS :

I do not think it has changed at all. That little statement outlines what the Christian purpose should be everywhere at all times. In Canada, we have had immigrants and we still have immigrants and it is our responsibility to look after them. However, we are living in a country that is not Orthodox, and it is our responsibility to live our Orthodox lives in a faithful way, so that people who are looking for Christ might be able to find Him and might be able to participate in Him with us.


Your Eminence, you know the idea that “‘no one can serve two masters’” (Matthew 6:24). We are taking care of the immigrant Orthodox from overseas, but we are also trying to bring Orthodoxy to the general Canadian populace. Isn’t that going after two goals, and you know the idea that if we “chase after two rabbits at once”, we won’t catch any. Aren’t we doing the same thing ?

AS :

I would say probably not. If you try to make such a clear division, it is a bit schizophrenic ; but it is also a description of how we live our life. If you recall, I was saying that we are not a system and we are not a religion. It is life. It is how we live our life. Our responsibility is to be yeast and salt (see Matthew 13:33 and 5:13). This yeast and salt in baking work in different ways according to the nature of the ingredients they are working with. That is how it is with us. It is actually the Lord who does all these fine-tunings based on what we offer. At the same time, we also have to remember that the Apostle Paul is reminding us that we, as members of the Body of Christ, all have different functions (see 1 Corinthians 12). In this Body we have different gifts ; we have different purposes. Yet we are all parts of the same Body. Christ is the Head of this Body. These ideals of how we are supposed to be living out our life in Canada are fulfilled by us corporately all together. It is not our so-called “institution” trying to do this and that – looking after immigrants, and offering something to Canada. It is not actually like that. In the first place, we are not an institution, even though we have to have some characteristics of an institution in order to exist in Canadian law and so forth. Those factors do not make us who we are. It is partly how we live in this society with bylaws and other things, but that does not constitute us : Christ constitutes us. Therefore, if we are going to be ministering to immigrants, there are people amongst us who have the particular gift of helping those who are immigrating, not only to help them feel that there is a connection here with where they came from, but also to help them accommodate themselves as Orthodox Christians with this society which is very different from a normal Orthodox Christian society.


Your Eminence, there are a lot of churches out there that claim that they are the right religion, that they are the right Christian Faith. There are even people that are imitating Christianity. How do we, as the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox way, compete with all that ?

AS :

I do not think that we compete ; we are simply faithful. If we compete, then we try to put them down and show that they are wrong, or something like that. They are not so wrong as all that. It is not so much a question of pointing out someone else’s mistakes or weaknesses, as it is our trying to be faithful ourselves and to be true to the truth ourselves. We are to give thanks to God for what is right about other people, too, so that from our point of view we can help them to discover the whole truth about Him who is the Truth.


Historically, we may claim to be the original Church that Christ founded at Pentecost. Can anyone else make that claim ?

AS :

The Roman Catholic Church probably could say so.


If the Roman Catholic Church makes that claim, and we make that claim, are we both right or are we both wrong ? Or is one of us right and the other one wrong ? We have a problem.

AS :

We have a problem because we have historically had some misunderstanding which is not necessarily as sharp as we sometimes in our debating like to make it out to be. Nevertheless, it is sharp enough. Indeed, I would say that the fact that we fell out of communion with each other is almost accidental. People make a big deal out of 1054 (the date of the mutual excommunications that were done at that time), but those excommunications were personal. They were the personal excommunications of a pope and a patriarch. The pope was already dead by the time the official document was delivered. It is not such a significant thing in our history as we sometimes make it out to be. We really finally fell completely out of communion with each other only with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. That is when all communication was cut off. There was no possibility then, but up until that time (because of politics and all sorts of other difficulties), there were seldom times when we were in communion with each other, practically speaking. Communication still did occur from time to time, however. For instance, there were Latin monasteries on Mount Athos for a long time. We were having our debates and our differences and there were legitimate points of debate. I think that our problem still is finding the way to overcome legitimate points of difference and to come to an agreement through mutual repentance. That does not remove the fact that we both have the same root – we were actually one Church until relatively recently.


Being then a “house divided”, can we really go out and do Christ’s work ?

AS :

We can try.


There are thousands of Christian religions out there right now. Even in Canada we have seventeen or eighteen Orthodox jurisdictions. All these people are trying to do the same thing, and then we say that we are the true Church and the way. Why should anyone believe us ?

AS :

We cannot force people to believe us or anything like that, but the point is, are we being faithful to Christ ? Do people see this faithfulness to Christ in us ? Do they want to come to love Christ because they see our hope and our joy ? That is what matters.


Your Eminence, how do we go about doing that ?

AS :

Let us put it this way. When he was in Alaska, Saint Herman, who was a regular monk (not a priest, deacon or a bishop), was left alone because the others had died. What could he do ? He lived there amongst the Aboriginals ; he baked cookies for the children and he talked to them. They asked him questions and he answered their questions. He lived with them ; he loved them ; he helped them. He was simply one of them. They accepted him as one of them. Because of their seeing Christ in him, they accepted Christ in him. Because they could see Christ in him, they remained faithful. There are families in Alaska who can trace their being Orthodox Christians to their great-great-great-great grandparents’ conversion to Orthodox Christianity at the time of Saint Herman.

It is the same with Saint Innocent, although Saint Innocent’s gifts and the nature of his ministry were quite different. Nevertheless, there are people in Alaska who are able to trace their connexion to the Orthodox Church to the personal witness of Saint Innocent. Saint Tikhon (who was later the Patriarch of Moscow and eventually a martyr, one could say, under the communists)
was Archbishop of North America about 100 years ago. When he was here in Edmonton, he was blessing churches and helping to establish the Church here amongst the recent arrivals. (I have to say that already in his day they were using the English language because of this dual purpose that we were describing earlier.) There are people here in Edmonton, who are descendants of those who were around in those days and who are Orthodox Christians today partly because of the personal witness of Saint Tikhon. I know people whose grandmothers were babysat by Saint Tikhon on the farms in this area. The nature of the love of Jesus Christ of Saint Tikhon was such that it influenced their family, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. Even today this influence continues in the same way. The love of Jesus Christ is caught like this, and the serious love of Jesus Christ is passed on like this. Does that help ?


Your Eminence, there are a lot of people who would say that some of the most unchristian persons they have ever met are in the Church.

AS :

Yes, that is because the Church is made up of sinners, people who are broken. The Church is a hospital for sinners. It is the place in which there are some of the worst-behaving people we can find, but where we can be healed of all sorts of brokenness. That does not mean that the worst-behaving people are themselves the measure of Christ. They are often behaving badly because they are in so much pain and they are acting out badly because this pain needs healing. If they are acting badly, they are crying out to us to pray for them to help them somehow. That is partly why they behave in this way. It is important for us to understand these things.


The Orthodox Church has been in North America since 1794 (given the establishment of the mission in Alaska), and in Canada for just over 100 years, that is since the late 1890s in these parts.

AS :

Before going further, I can say that there was Orthodox activity in Canada in two other places earlier. There were Syrian Orthodox immigrants in Québec, in the area of Sherbrooke, about 30 years earlier than the immigration to the Edmonton area. On a provisionary basis, these Christians received pastoral care from priests from New York, I think. There was something happening around Sherbrooke, in Québec in the 1870s. As I recall, Bishops University in Sherbrooke has in their library a Gospel Book signed by Tsar Alexander II. He sent a Gospel Book in the care of the Ambassador of Russia to Washington. It was sent to Bishops University to thank them for looking after these people and providing worship space. The other place is the Yukon. There are some Tlinkit families on the east side of the mountains in the very northern part of British Columbia and in the Yukon area, who used to make pilgrimages over the mountains to Juneau in order to attend services. They were Orthodox Christians, and if they were connected with Juneau, and if they were Aboriginal people from this period of history, their connexion with Orthodoxy has to go back to those missions connected with Saint Innocent. All those things were more or less cut off when Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867. I do not think that there were exactly missionary activities by the Church in the Yukon area. There is no real evidence. However, the people who were moving west over the mountains from the Juneau and Sitka areas were people who were obviously touched by Saint Innocent, Saint Jakob and their followers.


So we have had this long period of time of Orthodoxy in North America, and yet in Canada and even in the US, less than two percent of the total population is Orthodox. Have we somehow missed the mark ? Is the Orthodox Church decreasing in numbers overall in North America in fact ?

AS :

No, not really.


Have we missed the mark somehow because there are not more people who are Orthodox ?

AS :

To some extent, yes. However, part of the reason for that is our historical circumstances. Our lack of administrative unity in North America contributes to this. Until 1917-1918, the Orthodox Church in North America effectively was one, as it is supposed to be. As you are rightly pointing out, it was the product of the Russian mission to North America with its two-fold purpose. After the communists overthrew the imperial government in Russia which was sponsoring these missions, there was an economic catastrophe. There was no more communication practically speaking between this mission and its mother. We came into a period where all the various other peoples who used to be looked after by this one administration, had to be looked after, practically speaking, by their mothers. Thus, the Greeks began to send Greek priests and then eventually bishops. Romanians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Syrians, Antiochians, everyone did the same. That produced a sort of administrative North American mess because they all had to look after their own people who were still immigrating, and at the same time try to fulfil this second purpose of witnessing to Canada. However, under these circumstances, the witness to Canada becomes much more difficult because it is harder to see how we are different from anyone else when we are all broken up like this, administratively. We do not believe anything different from each other. All Orthodox Christians believe the same thing. How we embrace life, even though it has a different flavour from country to country, is all the same. The Orthodox Church is not precisely the same in Georgia as it is in Russia. Nor is it the same as it is in Ukraine, Byelorus, Poland or Serbia or anywhere else. Every place has its own local character because the Orthodox Church reflects the life of the people where she is.

We have not come to that point in Canada yet to be able to reflect Canadian culture where we are. It is very difficult for us to come to do that when we are still divided administratively. It is true that we are trying to co-operate and to overcome these historical divisions administratively but inertia is a strong obstacle to overcome. We are always comfortable with the way we have been doing things. We are always comfortable looking after our own linguistic group. We are most comfortable with people who do things the same way as we do.


One advantage the Orthodox Church in America has (and also the Archdiocese of Canada) is the fact that we are English-language based.

AS :

This is again harkening back to the original foundation. We have a dual purpose to look after people who have moved here from elsewhere whom I have always maintained are the Lord’s transplanting of yeast. It is like sourdough – the Lord transplants Orthodox believers here to North America in order for us to be this yeast here. Already very many North Americans have been incorporated into this dough. The dough is definitely taking on a North American character, and a Canadian character, too. There is even a bilingual, polylingual character.


If we want to become a Canadian Orthodox Church, don’t we have to define what is “Canadian” ?

AS :

That is another long story.


It is different in Québec and in the Maritimes than here in Alberta.

AS :

It is different but it is still the same. I travel everywhere. Life is very nice in Newfoundland and in some ways it reminds me of how things used to be here long ago when I was little. Halifax is very pleasant ; British Columbia is lovely. There are many things that are the same. When one travels a lot, one can see how we are the same. It is hard to define, but I can just sense it.


Thank you, Your Eminence, for talking to us on this programme about the vision and the mission of the Orthodox Church in Canada.

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada
Interview given to, Part 3
2 March, 2008



On our programme today again is His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada of the Orthodox Church in America, to talk about the vision of the Orthodox Church in Canada. In the first episode, we talked about the necessity of a foundation, and about repentance, and what that really means. We also discussed believing in Christ, knowing Christ, responding to His love, and living the life in Christ, and imitating Christ. In part two, we talked about the actual vision and mission of the Church. In part two we discussed our dual purpose : serving the Orthodox immigrants to Canada from European countries, and also bringing Orthodox Christianity to the Canadian people and creating a distinct and truly local Orthodox Church in Canada. Towards the end of the second episode, it was mentioned that there were jurisdictional issues because of language. Actually, the overthrow of the tsar in Russia in 1917 helped to contribute to all these problems.

The next question is, of course : How well are we doing in this dual-purpose mission, given the fact that only two percent or less of North Americans are Orthodox ?

AS :

Let me start by making a small correction. You said : “European countries”.


Of course there are other Orthodox countries out there.

AS :

The immigrants came from many places, and not where one would necessarily expect. For instance, there is Georgia, a country to which many people do not pay attention, but which has been Orthodox since the fourth century. Then, of course, some have come from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt. In Canadian mentality, these countries have nothing to do with Christianity, but there are many Orthodox Christians who are there and have been there for 2,000 years. These facts are not on our radar here in Canada. We also have a large immigration of Orthodox Christians coming from China. They were mostly Russian in origin, but they had already been living in China for one or two generations before they came here at the time of the communist revolution in China. There are Orthodox immigrants from Japan, where the Orthodox Church has been for almost 200 years. There are many aspects that we are not necessarily aware of when we are speaking about this immigration.


The Orthodox Church in Africa is growing.

AS :

There are immigrants coming from there, too. There is the Church in Ethiopia which is an ancient, ancient, ancient Church along with the Church in Egypt, which goes back almost to the time of the Apostle Mark.


We have the purpose of serving the Orthodox immigrants coming to Canada, which we appear to be doing well, more or less ?

AS :

I think we are doing Ok.


The second part is to be building up a distinct and truly local Orthodox Church in Canada, and here again we know that less than two percent of North Americans are Orthodox. In Canada, I think it is only about 1.6 percent, and most of that is due to immigration. What are we missing ? Why is the Orthodox way (since we are not an organised religion) not more widespread ? What are we doing wrong ? Or are we doing anything wrong ?

AS :

I am not so sure that we are doing anything as wrong as all that. Perhaps we are insufficient, and we do not do enough, but it is not actually wrongdoing.


Your Eminence, in your eyes, what is insufficient ?

AS :

The mistake and the trap into which we generally seem to fall is the same trap that most people seem to fall into anywhere, anytime, anyway. That is, getting comfortable in the world. If we are going to be a truly Canadian Church, it seems to me that to be Canadian means to be multicultural just by definition, because that is what has constituted our country from the beginning. The Orthodox Church in Canada is multicultural, that is for sure. We are definitely multicultural. Are we embracing the local culture as such ? To an extent, we are, but what is this local culture that you were referring to in the definition of what it is to be Canadian ? This is where we have some future contemplation to pass through, I think. I am not sure that Canadians really want to be defined so very precisely. How are we insufficient, then ? I think that we are insufficient in that we are so distracted with surviving economically that we do not have time for anything else.


Are you saying : How do we pay for a priest ? How do we pay for churches ? How do we pay for a bishop ? How do we pay for this radio programme ?

AS :

… when we are mortgaged over our heads, and there is no spare cash for anything, for instance.


Your Eminence, why do we need money ? What is money going to do for us ?

AS :

Money does the same thing for us as it does for everyone. We have to have money to pay for electricity ; we have to have money to pay for gas ; we have to have money to pay for food. Canada has not openly used the barter system for a long time.


If we had more money, would we be a bigger Church, then ?

AS :

It might help things, but money is not the main thing. If we have Jesus Christ as a priority in our life, everything else falls into place almost naturally. Christians are generous. Where does all this real, socially conscious caring disposition that is characteristic of Canadians comes from ? Why would we care about starving people here and there around the world ? Why do we really go out of our way to help people who are suffering from one disaster or another ? Why do we have a collection for many thousands of turkeys at Christmas-time for the poor in Edmonton, and the same thing for the poor in Calgary (except in a different way). Why do we have all these collections to supply Food Banks and other similar institutes ? Why do all these things exist ? These things are products of people who care because they love Jesus Christ. That is where these things originally come from, for the most part.


What rôle does the Orthodox Church have in all these things ?

AS :

Here and there a lot ; sometimes it is a great deal, sometimes it is not. It depends. For instance, in Toronto there is a mission that takes people from the street and feeds them. The mission also offers an apprenticeship programme in a bakery. These are things that are sometimes done by Orthodox believers.


We have interviewed an Orthodox priest, Father n, from the state of Georgia where twice a day our OCA parish is feeding homeless people in downtown Atlanta.

AS :

There are all sorts of things such as homes for unwed mothers. There is a women’s shelter in San Francisco where the bishop lives (in a separate apartment, but the same building).


Are you saying that one of the reasons why we have been insufficient is that we are trying to survive economically ?

AS :

Yes, but economic survival often takes priority over the relationship with Christ and that is why we are insufficient.


In effect then, we have in a sort of way taken our focus off Christ, haven’t we ?

AS :

Yes. That is one of the difficulties of being a Canadian and living in this culture, a very “comfortable culture”.


I recently made a presentation about tithing and turning around a church, and I asked if money was our problem. I noted that if we run after money, we take our focus off Christ just as Peter did when he walked on the water towards Christ.

AS :

Yes, he paid attention to the waves.


That is when he started to sink. So we have to get our focus back on Christ first. Essentially, if our focus is Christ, living a life in Christ as you were saying, believing in Christ, knowing Christ, responding to Christ’s love, imitating Christ, then some of the by-products may very well be a Church that grows and thrives, a Church that is economically stable. People that live a life in Christ are generally happier overall.

AS :

When we say overall, we have to be careful how far we generalise anything.


How do we get our focus back on Christ ?>/p>

AS :

Repentance. We have to turn about.


What is repentance all about, your Eminence ?

AS :

It means metanoia, which is a turning about, that is, an about-face. It means remembering Who is the purpose of my life.


Is it people in the Orthodox Church who have to repent or people in general ?

AS :

Everyone. If we are Orthodox Christians, and we say that we are Orthodox Christians, then this turning about, away from selfishness to selflessness, keeping Christ in the front of everything, has to be part of our life. It truly has to be. Otherwise we are not really Orthodox. In fact, I would say that when there are conversions to Orthodoxy, as it was in my case, too, it is because of people who lived precisely like that. I knew one extremely hospitable woman, a loving woman, serious but full of joy too, who after a day’s work was done, spent time in the evening relaxing and reading the sermons of Saint John Chrysostom. Her example really impressed me in my younger days. She was not alone – she was only one of many people like that. Not everyone was reading Saint John Chrysostom at night, but the fact that Jesus Christ comes first is expressed in hospitality. It is expressed in caring for other people. Worshipping the Lord comes first. He comes first and after that, everything else. It really impressed me because that is how I was raised, in fact. That is a scriptural living out of the Christian life.


I know that when we talk to many people, they say that they are not in the Church because everyone who is in church is a hypocrite. Such people talk about living a life in Christ but yet they are not doing it. Might that be where we are missing the mark because we are not living this life in Christ ?

AS :

Rather, it is by not living it well enough.


With everything you spoke about in the first episode, what do we have to do to turn that around ?

AS :

Fundamentally, we have to repent. We have to ask the Lord to help us. As long as we are do-it-yourselfers (as Canadians are generally trained to be), and try to do everything ourselves instead of letting the Lord act in our lives, or to do everything without Him, we do not succeed. The living out of our Christian life always has to be in concert with Him. We have to accept that we cannot do it by ourselves. In fact, we cannot do anything by ourselves. We have to do everything with Him. When we try to be with Him, pleasing to Him, and when we offer everything to Him, the Lord makes everything bear fruit and be good and be multiplied in ways that we could never imagine.


What do we, as Orthodox Christians, need to do to be like that ? We need to repent, because obviously what we are doing is not working. If less than two percent of the Canadian population are Orthodox, we must not be doing the right things.

AS :

I would say that we are only not doing enough of the right things. We must be careful about statistics. As you are saying, less than two percent of Canadians are Orthodox, and that low percentage is perhaps a problem to be solved. On the other hand, there was a time when the percentage was less. What I am saying is that even though it might be two percent, if we are speaking about yeast and what yeast does to dough, then it does not take much more than two percent to begin to have a really noticeable effect. Actually, in terms of what I have seen of the awareness of the Orthodox Church itself in Canadian mentality now as compared to when I was the age of your daughters, if we knew what Orthodoxy was at all in those days, it implied something Ukrainian, Greek, maybe Russian. In fact, in Edmonton there was not much more to be aware of in those days. Besides that, no-one knew anything about what it was to be Orthodox. It was treated as being simply some sort of strange, different way. Now, on a calendar for sale in a secular store, we can find when Christmas is on the old calendar, when Pascha is in the Orthodox reckoning, beside the dates in the usual Canadian reckoning. Then, on the radio, we have Orthodox church music from time to time on one radio station or another. Sometimes on television we even see services from some Orthodox church abroad somewhere or other. Once in a while, there will be mention of the Orthodox Church on the local news about something of significance that is happening. That in itself is a big change from when I was little. That was not an æon ago.

That two percent is not a completely ineffective two percent. The Orthodox Church, the Orthodox way, has always been relatively unseen, but at the same time, on a person-to-person basis, effective. I am not so sure that we are so far off, at least some of the time, in that personal effectiveness. I was touched, and am still touched by people who are serious, God-loving persons, and that has been the case my whole life. They have affected my life for good, straightened me out, reminded me when I got out of focus, and they still do. Now I am thinking that even though we are two percent, this two percent is spreading more and more across the country. We are in places in this country where the Orthodox Church has never been before. We have some sort of positive influence for good on the lives of people around our Orthodox people wherever they are. Things are not so bad as all that. Even though we are weak, even though we are out-of-focus, even though we are often slackers, even though we are hypocritical, even though we are sometimes downright selfish, nevertheless, the Lord through us (sometimes despite us) is touching other people, meeting their needs, bringing them to Himself in the Orthodox Church in Canada. That two percent is two percent right now, but I think that the two percent will be more than that later. In any case, we are not in the numbers game.


Your Eminence, what game are we in then ?

AS :

We are in the game of love, and we are allowing the Lord to multiply this love according to the needs of the people He encounters, and who encounter Him in us. That encounter is what matters ; it is not numbers. What matters is our faithfulness, love and service in imitation of Christ.


I guess it is as Saint Seraphim said : “The sole purpose of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and in so doing, thousands around you will be saved”.

AS :

Yes, that is right.


Let’s see : two percent of the population times a thousand … Could we touch all of Canada ?

AS :

I think that already the Orthodox Church has touched many parts of Canada but not all of them. Orthodox people are going to all parts of Canada. They now have access to every sort of job.


We are struggling to have this life in Christ and to take our focus off money. Is there more that we could be doing ? For example, could it be just talking to people and letting them know that we are Orthodox ? What more can we as Orthodox Christians be doing to take the message of Christ to Canadians in a better way ?

AS :

I think that that really depends on who we are, each of us personally and what are the gifts that the Lord has given us. It is difficult to say what we can do corporately, in a comprehensive way. We are doing things in order to try to be more visible.

Our dioceses and our parishes have websites, radio programmes, and sometimes columns in newspapers, and so forth. There are various things that are being done that are helping to make it possible for people to find the Orthodox Church and to encounter us somehow. There are things that are being done practically on a local basis such as when parishes are connected with food banks and other works of mercy.

However, no matter what people are doing together, what truly does matter on a person-to-person basis is the same question that our Saviour asked the Apostle Peter : “‘Do you love Me?’” (John 21:16) Thus, that person on the street whom I am meeting every day (whomever it is that the Lord sends to me) wants to know from me : Do I love that person ? From that love, the Lord builds something. There is the strong example of several holy people that I have known. We are often taught that we are not supposed to give money indiscriminately to people who are asking for it on the street. Yet these persons always did. These holy persons said : “If a person asks, they need it, and I give them whatever I can give. I give it with love, with respect and without judging the person, regardless of what appearances might be”. From that giving can come some good to that person, but it is between that person and the Lord, not me. It is not my business. It is between that person and the Lord, but my giving helps the Lord to touch the person who is in need.


On that note, Your Eminence, thank you for being on this programme and talking about the vision of the Orthodox Church in Canada.

AS :

Glory to God.

Words at the Graduation Exercises of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
Words at the Graduation Exercises of
Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
South Canaan, Pensylvania, USA
25 May, 2008

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

Christ is risen.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). These are words that I heard frequently repeatedly throughout my childhood. They were cited by an older man whom I very much respected. I rather think at this distance that I had such a regard for this man particularly because my father had expressed a good opinion of him, and because he seemed to live in the context of these words. The testimony of his words, backed up by his way of life, were an important influence on me. He was not at all the only such influence. There were many. However, of the many, his was likely one of the more outstanding and well-developed characters. That is not to exclude, by any means, the significant personalities in my own family, and the testimonies of their lives. At any rate, these words were important in the early part of my life, and they remain important until this day.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. These words seemed, in my early years, a simple statement of logical fact. How could it be otherwise ? If He changed, He would become someone else. It was only as life progressed that the significance of these words took greater shape for me. I will return to these words soon.

In the might of the horse He [the Lord] will not delight, nor with the legs of a man is He well-pleased” (Psalm 146:10). When I was young, I liked this particular sentence, not because I was paying attention to the meaning of the sentence, but because I thought the construction of the sentence was amusing. I have such a sense of humour that I quickly, often instantaneously, see something humourous (frequently where it was never intended). I suppose that one might say that, instead of just playing with words, it is playing also with mental images, making as it were puns on various levels. In this particular case, the humourous reaction in my youth kept my attention on this verse into later life, when I began, through experience, to understand more properly what it meant. Its meaning, I came to understand, is connected to a verse that comes in the preceding Psalm, such that I sometimes in my mind blend the two. These are the words : “Do not put your trust in princes, and in sons of Men in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 145:3).

Now, I will extract myself from this brief personal reverie, and I will address this present event : the celebration of the graduation of a class of students at Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. However, how can I not mention, first, how significant it feels for me to be presenting these words here, in this seminary ? How can I not mention the connexion that I know exists between this seminary, this monastery, and the Archdiocese of Canada ? Here, in the monastery’s cemetery, rests Archbishop Arseny, who is considered to be a saint by many Canadians, and also some others. This holy man was one of the founders of this monastery, in his first days in North America. Later in life, he founded this seminary, as his “retirement occupation”. He was a missionary archimandrite in Canada a century ago, and later bishop of the diocese for a long time. There, he founded also monasteries, and the Sifton Pastoral School in Manitoba. He was an eloquent preacher – so much so that he was given the nick-name, “the Canadian Chrysostom”. He wrote. He published. He travelled endlessly : by foot, horse, auto, rail, boat. He was an example of a Christian. He was an example of a missionary. He was an example of a pastor. He was an example of a bishop. It is a blessing to be able, not as often as I would like, to come to this place, the site of many historical events, and the resting-place of many historically significant persons. In addition to these resident blessings, we have also the blessing of having the visit just now in this holy monastery, of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Theotokos, and of Relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov. It was this icon before which Saint Seraphim was healed, and it was not a pre-planned conjunction that this Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God, and the Relics of Saint Seraphim would be together here. It happens because the Lord blessed it to be so. It is important that we receive this blessing as such, particularly because we are in the middle of the Feast of Pascha, and the Lord is filling “our thirsty souls with the waters of godliness”.

Many a graduate of a modern North American Orthodox Seminary seems to like to refer to him-, or her-self as a “theologian”. To do so is certainly within the mentality of the West, but I believe this is a bit presumptuous, and I will say why. Once a person may have a degree in a special area, that person is generally regarded as a so-called professional, or even expert, in that area. The person has accumulated the necessary knowledge. Physicians, nurses, teachers, and others are like this. In the context of the same understanding, therefore, graduates in theology may sometimes call themselves theologians, because of the degree. However, for us Orthodox, this does not properly apply. Our perspective on this matter is different. We call the Apostle John a Theologian ; we call the Patriarch Saint Gregory a Theologian. In their lives, they would never have called themselves as such. It was for the Church to see this in them, and to proclaim them as Theologians. This did not happen just because they wrote so well. They are persons, therefore, who have a deep, personal experience of the Lord, and they have the gift from God to put that experience into words that clarify God’s revelation of Himself to us. They are persons who, in the context of their societies, spoke and wrote about Jesus Christ, the Truth, in a way that could be comprehended by these societies. A person can, in the same way, therefore, grow to be a theologian in the true, Orthodox sense of being a theologian, but it does not come simply from study. The study has been, is, and will be important, but it is only a small element of one’s development.

Especially because of how we are formed in the West, and because of the sheer volume of material that has to be addressed in a short time, all this important study in a seminary has a tendency to be primarily, if not only, an intellectual exercise. This western formation tends to produce a focus on oneself (almost in isolation from other persons). This limitation extends now to our popular dropping of the use in speech of the word “mind”, and replacing it with the word “brain”. So we seem to perceive ourselves as isolated egos walking about, and to consider that all knowledge, all intellect, is limited to the brain. It is interesting to me to see how this state of affairs has developed in the course of my own life-time, because I do not recall at all that this reduced and limited understanding of ourselves was the prevailing environment of my youth. Nevertheless, it has been rightly said in this same West, that no man is an island. It is true that a human being cannot be reduced to the brain (contrary to Star-Trek, Doctor Who, and other science-fiction stories and theories). The Lord has created us as integrated beings. Who we are is not limited to the brain. Who we are is not limited even simply to our bodies. We are – each-and-all – connected to each other, not only by blood (as to our relatives), but as a race, altogether. We are connected even beyond this to the rest of God’s creation.

I say all this, only because I believe it is important that we all recall that the study we do, the knowledge that we acquire, is not merely a multitude of facts to be stored in the brain. Regardless of our environmental formation, we ought not to consider ourselves as self-sufficient, looking to our own strength, the strength of our legs, the strength of horses, the strength of mighty machines, or any other strength in separation from the Lord. Rather, as we are exhorted by an Anglican reformer, what we study in Christ and about Christ our Saviour is to be read, marked, learnt, and inwardly digested. Accepting that the Lord is God, and has revealed Himself to us, and that He is revealing Himself to us, it is important that we consider that the time we have been spending in concentrated study has been in a way like planting seeds in soil. The seeds need water in order to come to real life. This water is the activity of the love of the Lord, who alone is constant, who alone is faithful, who is the same Lord, Jesus Christ, who loved the apostles, and whom the apostles loved. Here is our strength. Here is our raison d’être. The reason the study was undertaken in the first place must be because, indeed, the Lord has revealed Himself to us. He has touched our hearts. He has moved us to desire to serve Him in some capacity, in accordance with our gifts, in accordance with His blessing, in accordance with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So it is love that motivated the move to this place. It is love that motivated the beginning of the study. It is love that sustained the study. It is love that will both enable its continuance, and its maturation.

What I am driving at is this : passing exams, and receiving a diploma is only the beginning. As formal study comes to its completion, its assimilation into oneself truly begins. This assimilation is something that takes time – sometimes a life-time. The study has been about words about the Lord. Now, these words have to be truly connected with the Word, Himself. This connexion has to happen in the heart. Our life in Christ derives from the heart, and it is in the heart that we encounter Christ. It is this heart that informs the head, and it is this heart, with the knowledge, and experience of Christ, that puts all of the head-knowledge into perspective, into balance. It is this balance into which we must grow.

As we live our lives, we are expected to give a good account for our Hope. But giving this good account is more difficult in our days, because words as such are now shifting in their meanings, and people often have a hard time hearing them, perceiving them, understanding them. If a person is in a compensated responsibility in the Church, such as a priest, one may sometimes hear from parishioners : “We pay you to say those things”. So the words themselves are not as sufficient as we would like them to be, and neither is the fact that one is a bishop, priest, deacon, sub-deacon, reader, singer, or anything else. Under these circumstances, it is our Hope, Himself, who must speak. Our life itself must testify to all, not just by glib words, but by factual acts, Who is our Hope, and what is the meaning of His Love. This is the major part of this assimilation of what one reads, marks, and learns : it must be digested ; it must become one with oneself ; it must become an integral part of who we are. We must be ready to practice what we preach, and to set the good example ourselves. We, who know Christ, must live Christ. We are not theologians only because we know what to say, and why to say it. We might become theologians in the true sense if we are able to live in this harmony with Christ, if Christ is truly the source of everything in our life.

To be called to be a leader in the Church is to be called to a great responsibility, because the leader cannot just be someone who gives orders. As a shepherd in the Middle-East walks before his flock, leading them on the right path, so the leader must go ahead of the flock and show the way. The leader must, like Christ, establish some sort of relationship of love and of trust with those who are following this lead. Being a leader in Christ means that a person will experience the need for serious prayer, serious study of the Scriptures, serious intercession. This leadership in love is not just a job, an occupation. It is a way of life. It is who you are. This leadership is also costly, because of the open, that is, vulnerable love of Christ. The cost comes in experiencing the pain that a parent feels when a child suffers for some reason, or when the child rebels. Sometimes, the cost comes in experiencing the pain of a personal attack. The leader in Christ does follow in the footsteps of Christ. He prepared us. He told us that if the world hated Him, it will hate us as much as it hated Him, and still hates Him (see John 15:18). Following Christ’s foot-steps and being rejected and hated in the same way is a consequence of co-operating with Christ in allowing the Light of His love to shine in the darkness (see John 1:5). The darkness tries to overcome the Light, but it cannot overcome the Light because the Light is Christ. It is greatly important for anyone who is a leader in Christ to remember this constantly. Leadership in Christ costs spiritual warfare, and our only protection is Christ. Leadership in Christ requires that we be careful not to put our trust in human beings, who always fail somehow, even if they do not want to. Our trust must be in Christ, so that we can be constant in our love for the human beings we serve, in, and with Christ. Our trust must be in Christ, so that when we, too, fail, we can be quick in turning about, quick in repentance.

In a world which is afraid of this Love, it is really important that we be careful to be faithful, and to remember Whom we serve. The world is twisting and turning, trying to suggest every possible way to understand Christ in a different way, so that if it were possible, Christ could be reduced ; God could be boxed in, and He could be manipulated by us. In a distorted environment that wants to present to us the logical absurdity that there can be varieties of truths, it is crucial that we keep our hearts focussed on Him Who is the one, the only Truth. In a world that is both fleeing, and at the same time attacking the Truth that is Christ, it is crucial that we remember Whom we serve. It is crucial that we keep our personal relationship with Him alive. Our Saviour is not just a proposition, not just a philosopher, not just a “good guy”. Our Saviour is the Word of God become flesh – the Word, Who speaks everything into being. Our Saviour is Love Incarnate. That is why it is important to maintain always as a priority our daily communion in the heart with Him. It is important that we not only take the time to be with Him, but also make the time. The daily priority of remembering Christ needs to be kept. It may be said that this is not different from the care that needs to be taken in the communion of love within a family. It must be nurtured daily. I know not a few persons who, in Christ, have overcome the difficulties in doing so, and who have made the time to be with Christ for a time at the beginning of every day. They say the set prayers, they take a little time in silence, they pray for their family, and for others, and they take a little Holy Water. How better to make a good beginning, and keep strong the foundation of our being ?

It is for reasons such as these that I am so attached to the words from the Epistle to the Hebrews that I have cited at the beginning. In such an unstable environment as that in which we subsist, it is very important that we keep our equilibrium. All sorts of people are struggling, searching, testing. They need some sign of hope. There is only the One. It is our responsibility to share this Hope. They will test our sincerity, our truthfulness. We must be as faithful and as constant as we can be, living in this Love, in Him who is the Truth. May the same Lord Jesus Christ give to those who graduate today the Grace to persevere in His Love and to grow to true Christian maturity in serving Him as they are called. May the same Lord Jesus Christ give to those who are continuing their studies the Grace to persevere in His Love, increasing in true knowledge of Him as they study about Him. May the same Lord Jesus Christ give to those who are teaching, the Grace and the mature Love to convey to their disciples the whole truth about Him, who is the Truth. We have a huge amount of work to do here in North America, and it can only be accomplished in, and through our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” ; and glory be to Him, with His unoriginate Father, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

On the Choosing of a new OCA Metropolitan to succeed Metropolitan Herman

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
On the Choosing of a new OCA Metropolitan
to succeed Metropolitan Herman
All-American Council (AAC)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
11 November, 2008

On the evening of 11 November, the Canadian delegates and others gathered with Vladyka Seraphim in the quarters provided for him. After people had gathered, eaten and socialised, Vladyka Seraphim introduced to each other all the many Canadians (and ex-patriot Canadians) present in the room that evening. Besides the Canadian delegates and observers, there were many friends of the Archdiocese of Canada amongst those present. Afterwards, he spoke informally from his heart and without notes the words which follow. He likewise answered the questions put to him at that time.

Archbishop Seraphim :

I want to tell you in the first place how much I am grateful to God for being able to have such a group of wonderful Canadian family together here in this “swishest” apartment I have ever been in. These rooms are complimentary – it comes with the hotel, in case anyone thinks that there is anything untoward here. So here is my serious business. My serious business is this : you have heard quite a bit downstairs what we have been going through. For a bishop, what you have heard is the tip of the iceberg. We do not talk too much about what we feel about it all and how it has affected us one way or another, because I think somehow we have difficulty doing that. There are aspects about it that I think you would describe as “H-E-double hockey sticks” [euphemism for “Hell”]. Then came September, and the retirement of Metropolitan Herman, and my becoming (for those of you who know The Mikado) “Lord High Everything” of the OCA. The result of that has been for me more work than I have ever had to do in my life, and an ability to accomplish far less with all this frenetic running around than I ever thought. As a result of this particular situation, I have the minutes of two Holy Synod meetings (September and October), which I have not finished. Even though when I was in n on Saturday and Sunday, when there was enough time on Sunday night to work for four hours on the minutes (thanks to Father n), I am still a long way from finishing them. That is due to the fact that these minutes have to be so carefully prepared and written. It is just beyond the ability to do. Eventually, it can be done, but it is beyond the ability to do according to people’s expectations. This is the environment in which I have been living.

Then there came yet another kind of personal, threatened attack on me. In the context of the whole thing, I decided that I would write a letter, and you will get a copy of it tonight. That letter says that I do not want to be a candidate to be Metropolitan. Now, you can do whatever you like with that letter. I have been asking you not to nominate me, because that is what the whole process is. I have been asking you not to nominate me. I have put it on paper that I do not think that I should be, because there are many reasons that I think I should not be. But in the end, at the same time, people can argue that I have no right to say what I said on this paper. So, I am just saying to you now that I have put on paper that I do not think that I am the right person, and I will give you some more reasons in a minute. But if the Lord tells you in your heart something different, listen to your heart, and do not listen to me. You have to listen to your heart. This is one of the reasons that I wrote this letter, too, because under the circumstances, I, who keep telling everyone to live by the heart, have ended up living so much here [Archbishop Seraphim points to his forehead] that I can hardly hear the heart right now, and it is really disturbing me.

So, if that white hat ends up on this head, you had better pray an awful lot. On the other hand, I have thought through a lot of these things, and in no circumstances, if this were to happen to me, could I give up the Diocese of Canada in the foreseeable future [clapping]. There are various reasons. Apart from the pastoral reasons involved in the diocese and its development and stability, I saw the chronology of our diocese before the diocesan council meeting, proof-read it (and other people have seen it), and our history from the beginning has been catastrophe after catastrophe. One bishop dies ; another bishop goes ; bishops come and go, and there is no firm foundation for the diocese. We are not yet at the firm foundation ; we are only getting to some kind of a stage of that possible firm foundation. So, there is no way that there can be a disconnection until we have other warm bodies (that are the right warm bodies) to ensure that the future of the diocese is going to be stable. That is the first priority for me.

There is another practical thing. I cannot lose Canadian residency, because if I lose Canadian residency, that is the end of any idea of pension. What do I have for pension ? This is just something practical – it has nothing to do with reality – God will look after everything. This is just how I feel. What do I have to look forward to possibly (just in practicalities) ? If this were not a possibility right now [becoming Metropolitan], I would just stay in Canada and keep working until I died. But, if this happens [becoming Metropolitan] and the vicissitudes of Orthodox Church life in North America being what they are (i.e. very unpredictable), and if I had to retire for some reason, what would I have if I gave up my residency ? The answer is : “goose egg”, pension-wise [old slang for “zero”]. This is because there is no such thing as an OCA pension for me. Normally I have only the universal Old Age Pension, for which you have to be continuously resident [in Canada] for ten years in advance [of the age of 65]. I spend my whole life there [in Canada], and then two years here, and that’s it – gone. I would have to live another ten years in Canada before I could come. It is not that much money, as you know. There is also the Canadian Pension (a contributory pension), which for me does not add up to much. Then there are these few little RRSPs. Practically speaking, until I am 65, you are going to be stuck with me [clapping]. I am anticipating that if this were to happen, it would take more than another three years to accomplish what we have to accomplish.

Father n :

My fear is (and I am speaking for many of us here) that if you were to be Primate and try to be our “Papa”, you couldn’t take it – it would kill you. We are hoping that we would have you longer if we had you all to ourselves.

Archbishop Seraphim :

That has been my hope. The threat has been what it has been, and so I wrote the letter. Since I wrote the letter, I figure that if the outcome is different from what I wrote in the letter (because people are not bound by this letter), then it would prove to me that God wants it. Then I would understand also that God would give the Grace, and I would find the ways to make it work so that it doesn’t kill me too fast [laughter].

Comment from n :

It is about time that we had a Metropolitan of Canada and America, of Ottawa and all North America.

Archbishop Seraphim :

I don’t know.

Archpriest n :

(Addressing Father n) Father, I disagree with you. Vladyka, you wrote that letter and I have known you long enough to know that you mean it. Because you do not want the job, you should have it. I will disobey you. I will vote for you twice, and so will many, many other people. So I have to disobey you.

Archbishop Seraphim :

That’s all God’s will. Father, you cannot “vote” for anyone. The word is “nominate”.

Archpriest n :

We have to nominate you, and many, many other people will, also. We are still the people of God on this council.

Archbishop Seraphim :

That is their business. It is their business to listen to their hearts, and do whatever their hearts say.

Archpriest n :

I think that for three reasons you should not do what you are doing. First reason is : canonically ; second, morally, and third, the obedience that you have always shown us to Christ and His Holy Church. I can assure you that all those people here will be with you, as you have always been with us. You will stay as long as you wish our Primate, our Archbishop of Canada. Don’t worry about pension and money, Vladyka ; you will be looked after. [Looking around] I hope you agree with me. Everything will be done for you. What I heard those two days so far, I am very happy about this council because we are getting there. What do I see ? I see the Church of Christ in North America. Now it looks very varied – I am looking around and I see all kinds of priests and delegates - some are well dressed and some are poorly dressed ; some are Greek-dressed and some are Russian-dressed ; some have a beard, some do not. Some are some sort of strange monks. This is our Church. This is our reality. What we show here in Pittsburgh is our Church. In Canada, we are bigger than the United States, and we are almost as big as Russia. This is the reality. Now the time has come. In Orlando, I nominated Archbishop Herman twice, because you asked us, and it was then his time. I have heard from people in Syosset that they are very happy with you. Vladyka, so you are complaining that you do not get anything done, and that is all “baloney”. I have heard from people who did not even expect it of you : they said that you put everything in place with your love, and not with despotic orders. Now is the time for you. Vladyka, you have to go to Golgotha. This is an invitation to Golgotha.

Father n :

You missed one reason why Vladyka Seraphim should not write that letter – if he writes the letter, then people might vote for him because he does not want the job, and we want him to lose. We want to keep our Vladyka.

Archpriest n :

That is what I mean – that he is worthy. People will not lose him, and the Church will gain him. Vladyka, I will disobey you ; I will nominate you, so goodnight, I am going to bed.

Archbishop Seraphim :

All I am saying about everything is that I want you to listen to your hearts, and don’t play politics with this, because the Metropolitan of our Church is such a serious thing. It is so serious. There are people who do play politics with this, and it cannot be.

Matushka n :

I know that I am one of the newcomers here. I have been coming to Canada every summer since 1951.

Archbishop Seraphim :

I was only five when you started coming to Canada. You are no newcomer.

Matushka n :

You were a little boy, and since then you have always been that for me.

Archbishop Seraphim :

[Going up to Matushka n] This is “Adopted Mama”, in case you didn’t know.

Matushka n :

Now, adopted son, I am being very serious. We have always been friends, close friends, despite all these titles (Vladyka, Matushka, etc.) ; there is a human love between people. I personally want to tell you that I deeply respect your letter, your desire, whatever reasons you give (complex and real). They are yours. It is your business. You are your own person.

Archbishop Seraphim :

Just so you know, before I wrote this letter, I was feeling that I was being walked on by fire ants. I wrote the letter ; now it is all God’s will.

Matushka n :

I want you to feel from me, personally, that I respect your definite and clear and total allegiance to the Church. Each one of us has some kind of allegiance ; we all try. Yours has been a model for us – your allegiance to the Church, the way you serve. So your reasons are your reasons and I personally respect them deeply. If this is what you want, and what you choose, it’s what you should have, with our love. [Someone says “Amen” and clapping follows.]

Another priest says :

Vladyka, if it should happen, may I ask whether you have any plans in this council or in the immediate future to gather your Canadian flock together ? Because if it happens, I feel personally that I would suddenly feel as if my father were just taken from me. I am speaking in a kind of sentimental way here. But I feel that if you are wearing that white hat, I would like to put a request in that you call us together before the end of this council, and just talk to us about what we, as your flock, and Archdiocese, can expect. I know that you do not know, but at the same time if you could just be with us a little bit before ….

Archbishop Seraphim :

Father n will make sure that it happens. That’s what Father n always does for me. If things have to happen, Father n always makes it happen.

Father n continues :

It is going to be a wrenching experience, and I am just trying to prevent that.

Archbishop Seraphim :

That is why I wrote the letter. Now it is God’s will. Whatever happens is God’s will. Every week was not a sustainable way to live. If that [becoming Metropolitan] happened, I would have to do something completely different.

Comment :

You would invite them over there [to Canada].

Archbishop Seraphim :

The problem is that the way the structure of The Orthodox Church in America is right now, it demands having the Metropolitan in the office a lot, and more than I was just those few days a week.

Comments :

Your territory is in three countries now – you can choose. You could have an auxiliary office in Ottawa, or Vancouver.

Archbishop Seraphim :

I haven’t the faintest idea what would happen.

Father n :

Dear Vladyka, we have known each other for a long time. I have heard everyone speak here. I heard you speak, and you say to go with our hearts, and my heart tells me that I can no longer not put your name and nominate you, I swear to you now. I understand the pain you would go through losing your father here.

Archbishop Seraphim :

It’s not going to be a complete loss.

Father n :

For me, it would be a loss not to have him. I have Archbishop Dmitri, as you know, we have an auxiliary now to carry on, but you, in my eyes and my heart, are what the Church needs now to go through the process of re-uniting, of forgiving, because that is your loving nature. When we have a loving father, forgiveness is right there as well.

Archbishop Seraphim :

Do not use too much logic about this whole thing. Listen to your hearts, and do what your heart says, that’s what I want. Do what the Lord tells you in your heart. I said that before. This environment was like this the last time. People are busy doing this campaigning, one thing or another, pressuring, and “blah-blah-blahing”. The heart, and hearing what the Lord says we have to do, is what is important. That is another reason also why I wrote the letter. I have heard people talking about this for quite a while now. I want people to understand clearly : I do not look for this thing and I do not want it. I will take it if God forces me to have it, but I don’t want it.

Archpriest n :

Here is another scenario. Assuming that you don’t get it, can I suggest (particularly because of everything that has built up coming up to this and this whole time) that you encourage the [Holy] Synod of Bishops to give you a little break from External Affairs or whatever.

Archbishop Seraphim :

Don’t worry. I have talked about getting rid of some of my responsibilities, because I am Lord High Everything, and it is beyond belief. So, I have been talking about getting rid of some things, but I have been told that for the foreseeable future I can’t think about losing External Affairs. Nobody else has any contacts outside of our Church, it seems, to speak of.

Comment :

What about [giving up being] Secretary of the Holy Synod ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

N has reminded me that Archbishop n was Secretary of the Holy Synod for fifteen years and then he gave it over to me. Now I have been secretary for fifteen years and I could give it to someone else for fifteen years. It is enough for me, this secretary business. There are other things that I can give over, too. If I don’t have to do this, maybe I could give more time to the diocese, which I have been neglecting because I have been doing all these things on the States’ side in order to make up for our lack of monetary contributions. So that is the environment.

How much time do we have ? We don’t have any more time. Forgive me [makes a prostration].

All the delegates :

God forgives. Forgive us and pray for us [singing of “Many Years”].

World Day of Prayer for Christian Unity (2007-01-21)

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
We have yet a long Row to hoe
World Day of Prayer for Christian Unity
Notre Dame Roman Catholic Cathedral, Ottawa
21 January, 2007

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

Aujourd'hui je vous demande pardon, parce que je ne parle pas très souvent en français ; je suis principalement un anglophone. Je ne m'exprime en français que seulement dans certaines circonstances, et je suis certain que mes mots en français vous donneront l'occasion de rire. Comme cette cérémonie est solennelle, j'espère que la tentation de rire ne sera pas trop grande. Pour cette raison, je vais continuer mon discours en anglais.

In offering these words today, here, in this historic Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa, I give thanks to God. I give thanks to God for His love for us, and I give thanks for the loving, Christian generosity and example of our friend, Archbishop Marcel Gervais, our host today.

The sort of hospitality and generosity demonstrated towards us Orthodox Christians today by Archbishop Gervais is something which I find akin to the hospitality for which Orthodox Christians are well-known throughout the world. It is a clear expression of what is deeply common and true, what is founded in Christ, who is, Himself, the Truth. Most characteristically, we encounter in Christ, love, because as the Word of God, He is, truly, Love itself. It is this Christ, who is Love, that we encounter in each other, who are as Christians, bearers of Christ.

Even bishops are under obedience, and I have had the obedience to be involved in bishop-level dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics for more than fifteen years now. This conversation has been progressing on various levels for several decades, at local levels, and internationally as well. The conversations have overcome many of the differences that have existed between us for many centuries. It is indeed important that these steps have been taken, and the Lord has helped these conversations to bear fruit. Yet more significant than the necessary details of the reconciliatory process, I believe, is the witness in the heart that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops sense. In our mutual conversations and presence, we recognise that we are close enough to feel like brothers. We are sadly still in a position (and will be for quite some time yet) which does not permit us to serve together, and to receive Holy Communion together. However, the love we can feel for, and demonstrate towards each other, can help us further the honest conversations, and bring us to the more immediate possibility of complete reconciliation. All of this rests in our ability to listen to the Lord, to offer Him our loving obedience, and mutually, radically, to repent. Our fallenness and our fear keep this process slow.

Although we Orthodox profess that from apostolic times we have maintained in fulness the whole truth about Christ, the Truth, and that the Apostolic Faith remains in us unchanged until now, we still have our own questions to answer solemnly before the Lord. We rejoice in being a family of local, self-governing Churches throughout the world, which in principle subsist always in the various local languages. However, for various reasons, we have a hard time co-operating amongst ourselves, even though we are in full communion, and even though we believe everything the same. Sin still insinuates itself. We have family squabbles, which outsiders often think are crazy. Probably they are right. This family somehow wants to, tries to, act only on consensus. Again, sin slows down decision-making. Sometimes this makes a scandal.

The Oriental Orthodox are a family of Christians that are even closer to us than the Roman Catholics. With them, dialogues some time ago announced that all the theological questions had been resolved. It was agreed that what differences existed were primarily based on misunderstandings. We believe everything the same, even with a slightly different word-usage. All official and obvious obstacles have been overcome for some time, but we remain as yet not in communion with each other. We are somehow unable to find the way to take the last steps. Very many of us are exasperated, somehow, about this dilemma, but we have not found the way to proceed. Why ?

We, as all fallen persons, have yet to find the way to exercise the humility, the love, and the generosity of Christ in a way that will overcome whatever minuscule obstacles remain. Pride, somehow, keeps us from moving. Fear keeps us from moving (and it is irrational fear). We will have to answer to the Lord for this.

With us, in our dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, we have some way still to go. God grant that with honesty, and with love, the remaining questions may be resolved in truth. Once we have come to the end of dialogue and have resolved all differences, I rather expect, sadly, that we will nevertheless find ourselves in the same predicament we are in with the Oriental Orthodox. I am afraid that it could take a long time for us to take the final steps.

Today, I have hope of the possibility that, when the Lord opens the door, the final steps really will come. Archbishop Gervais, in a typically Christian way, today takes the initiative to invite us to his home, here, in his cathedral. He invites us to be with him, and with his whole archdiocesan family, during this service of Solemn Vespers. He invites us to be together as we are both on the threshold of Great Lent. He invites us together in one of the years in which we will celebrate at the same time the Resurrection of our Saviour. He invites us to be together in anticipation of that future time when we will visibly be able truly to be one family. This one family would truly reflect the Holy Trinity, in that it would have to include Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox, all together. Yes, there is a long way for us all to go. Every step of this way must be in honest telling of the truth in love, in the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The love in Christ shown to us today by Archbishop Gervais is a sign for us all, an example for us.

By God’s mercy, and also through the generosity of Archbishop Gervais, it happens that this cathedral, and the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Canada, are both dedicated to the protection of the Mother of God. We, together, turn to her for her intercession, for her protection, for her direction, for her example. May we imitate her in her loving, complete obedience to her Son.

As I conclude, I want to say that I learned something yesterday. Perhaps I learned it before ; but I cannot remember, since I am getting older. However, I learned that one of our monks is the great-nephew of one of the predecessors of you, Monseigneur Gervais. This is Archbishop Alexandre Vachon, who rests in the crypt below us. I do not know exactly what this means, but I suppose that we can say that we are somehow related !

Let us ask the Lord to give us the love necessary to do His will, and the ability to imitate His humility, so that we may allow His light to shine in us, and to glorify the Holy Trinity in everything : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Outreach in a healthy Parish (2007-07-25-28)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
Outreach in a healthy Parish
(Words at the Skills Conference, “The Heart Assured :
Works of Love in Deed and Truth”)
Department of Pastoral Life Ministries,
Department of Christian Witness
Marymount University
Arlington, Virginia
25-28 July, 2007

What does this expression mean : “a healthy parish” ? Before we can discuss “Outreach in a healthy Parish”, I believe that we have first to examine what a healthy parish could be like. A major part of this consideration will depend upon the contents of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 12. Also, the context of our consideration will have to include the understanding that the parish is a hospital for sinners. Let us also remember that since the Orthodox way of life reflects the natural consequences of the Incarnation of the Word, the Love, of God (as shown also in iconography), so everything else about the whole of our Christian life is about our “yes” being “yes”, our “no” being “no” (see Matthew 5:37) ; about doing what we say, about an integrated life, about “putting our money where our mouth is”, as the slang saying goes.

Let us begin first, as in the Gospels, with the “r” word. This word, repentance, has to be at the heart of every person’s life in a healthy parish. For healthy Christian living, this turning about, this choosing Christ, this choosing life, this choosing love in truth, this spiritual struggle, must be a daily factor in the life of the faithful people. Indeed, this particular choice has to be the characteristic of every moment. This choice cannot be simply an intellectual sort of exercise, because if it were that, one would quickly short-circuit. It is a choice of the heart, a heart in communion of love with the Lord. When there is a fall (as is regularly the case with each of us), then repentance must be quick. We have to recognise our vulnerability to the tempter ; we have to recognise our weakness, and our need to be calling constantly to the Lord for help in everything. We have to recognise our need to know how to listen to the heart. This is the hospital-for-sinners factor. If we as a parish are, indeed, a bunch of hypocrites, then this assessment is realistic. This hypocrisy is at least in the context of repentance. Everything begins with admitting that we can do nothing at all without the Lord, without constantly calling to Him for help, as in the twelve-step programmes. If we really want to be honest, too, we could go so far as to admit that we are addicts. We are addicts to sin. We are addicted to ourselves, in this respect, and we need the Lord’s help to get out of that quagmire. In the context of repentance, all this admission of vulnerability provides a good environment for everything else. In this atmosphere, in this disposition, we may more easily see Christ in the other, and we may more easily hear Him speak to us through the other. So we must constantly be turning about, which is the exact meaning of repentance : a 180-degree turning about. We must be turning away from death to life, turning away from selfishness to selflessness, turning away from darkness to light, turning away from fear to love.

There is also a concern that I have about an ecclesiologically-related misunderstanding, which seems to be even infecting the disposition of various persons in different parts of the Church (not only here in North America). The misunderstanding to which I refer has to do with the difference between “power” and “authority” in interpreting life in a hierarchical environment, which certainly is that of the Orthodox Church.

“Power” has to do with the use of force, or manipulation by the higher upon the lower. One might say that in this case, a leader, whose mentality concerns itself with such an application of power, treats the structure of the Church as simply being like a secular organisation, a political entity. “Power” is the environment of secular politics. In such an environment, it is said that the Church is like a pyramid, with the lay-people at the bottom, forming the broad base, and the higher authorities above them, and the highest at the top, all the way to the Patriarch of Constantinople, who is, truly, the last court of appeal in the Orthodox Church. The various ranks in which we serve are, in this schema, compared to the ranks of soldiers in an army. Shepherding of sheep is treated in the western manner, in which the shepherd, assisted by dogs, from behind the sheep, drives them in the direction he wishes them to go. The Church is understood to be an institution, and life in the Church is often treated as if it were a human invention, a business, a club. Leaders are officials. In this context, one could apply the saying : “Do not do as I do, do as I say”. The Church is often treated as if it were a society of holy persons, of the just. This word “just” is a word that we ought to avoid. (I do not refer to the adverbial use of the word “just” as an alternative for “only” !) “Just” and “justice” long ago in Latin accurately translated the Greek words for “righteous”, and “righteousness”. However, in the last millennium or so, our use of these words “just” and “justice” has become much more limited and legal in connotation. They are treated almost as actual things, rather than states of being. As with many other concepts, our very materialistic environment has developed the strong tendency to treat a concept as if it were a commodity, a thing. Justice can be treated as if it were some sort of machine, some sort of rigid process. Discernment is lost altogether. Indeed, this environment of manipulation can be described as dysfunctional. The spiritual condition of such leaders is rather similar to that of addicted persons, who, living in fear, feel that they need to control their environment for their own protection.

“Authority”, by contrast, treats all the same elements of structure with a different spirit. It is an environment derived from the relationship of love in Christ. Following the Lord’s parables in the Gospel, the person with greater authority is properly compared to a shepherd in the Palestinian manner. Because of personal experience, and because of having achieved this experience through loving emulation, the person in authority knows the way to go, and moves in that direction. The sheep follow, because they know the shepherd’s voice, and trust his love for them, to lead them well. The shepherd knows the sheep by name. “Authority” is exercised on the basis of a trusting relationship of love, and the providing of a good example. The person who exercises leadership does so by example, as a parent. Everything is done in the context of loving, trusting, relationships. The Church is understood to be a living organism. The Church is understood to be a family, or a hospital. As a so-called hospital, the Church consists of many sick persons desiring to be healed, desiring to become righteous. If we want to use a diagram for describing “authority”, one might use a circle, or a sphere. The chief authority is in the centre, and the associated and derivative authorities surround this centre. Even this illustration is not sufficient, but it may be helpful. The exercise of authority in a distorted manner, as a result of temptation and of sin, means that a person tries to take short-cuts (sometimes from simple impatience), and tries to force others to go in a particular direction. This distorts authority into power. That does not mean that the misuse of authority changes what it is essentially. Regardless of our temptations, of our falls, authority is the loving exercise of a God-given responsibility, always in the context of Christ, of His love, of His will, of the discernment of His will. When we constantly repeat in Matins and in Molebens, “The Lord is God, and has appeared to us” (Psalm 117:27), we are reminding ourselves about what we all must daily remember ; we are reminding ourselves that we must always look to Him.

Now, having begun with all this, let us continue by focusing on the head of the parish : the parish priest, the rector. If there be more than one priest, the rector may serve more administratively, and the other priest(s) might serve more pastorally. The rector (or the priest-in-charge) has the responsibility of leading the parish, a responsibility given to him from the bishop. This priest (this shepherd, this father) is given the pastoral responsibility by the bishop ; along with the bishop, he has the responsibility of representing Christ to the people, of being the head of this parish community, of this parish family, in such a way that clearly shows how Christ is the Head of the Church, of the Body of Christ. When the priest is ordained, in accordance with the recent Russian custom, he is given a simple pectoral Cross, on the back of which are inscribed words of the Apostle Paul to his disciple : "Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). In the same vein, there is a true saying : “As is the priest, so is the parish”. There is another, more cynical saying, also : “The fish stinks from the head”. This is nevertheless true. For good or for ill, the character of a parish is very much dependent upon the character of the priest. If his own spiritual condition is healthy ; if he is in himself a living example of a repentant life ; if his life is characterised by Christ’s love ; if he, together with his family, is praying morning and evening, and before and after meals ; if he is welcoming ; if he is caring ; if he is visiting the homes of the rational sheep he has been given to lead, and he knows these sheep by name ; if he regularly intercedes for the members of this flock of rational sheep, then the flock is likely to be healthy. As the priest is living a life in love with, and in imitation of Christ, so the faithful flock will more and more follow this example.

If we have a healthy priest, leading the flock he has been given in a proper Orthodox environment of love (and, of course, of repentance), then we can have (despite temptations) a stable Christian parish family. Suffice it to say that in this family which we have all been given by the Lord, we all have various God-given gifts and responsibilities. We have each also been called by our Saviour to use these gifts in love, in accordance with the manner in which He has given them, and in the context of His call to us. These gifts are never given for ourselves alone, but for all around us. Life in Christ’s love is always reaching out. It is always concerned with the other. It is always concerned, too, with the physical environment. I remember from long ago in my life, reading stories about Anglican clerics who, more than a century ago, actively shared their love of Christ with the poor and the destitute of the docks-area of London. It was invariably the case that those who began to live in the love of Christ changed their surroundings. Their homes quickly became clean and orderly, and they soon had flowerboxes at the windows. This was the spontaneous expression of their new hope, which affected everything. Our personal relationship with Christ always bears fruit ; it always gives life. These words of our Saviour are important to remember : "‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’" (John 10:10). "‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing’" (John 15:5). These are important, crucial, words for us to keep always in our hearts. In Christ, we must be gathering all and everything together ; we must welcome ; we must be hospitable ; we must be open ; we must be embracing. His love always is thus : feeding, healing, giving life.

Now, at last, I get to addressing more specifically the matter of outreach.

The Apostle Paul’s words in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 12, and in his first Letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12-13, are useful to reread frequently, so that we keep in focus. We must always remember that we are living in a cultural context in North America that is definitely not Orthodox. Because we live in such a context, our self-perception as Orthodox is easily distorted by the misconceptions of these, our societies. We have a responsibility to know ourselves correctly in Christ as Orthodox Christians, and to live as positive contributors to this society, helping the Lord to correct these misconceptions.

The Lord Himself, always, and everywhere, has been bringing life to those around. He brings healing. He brings hope. As He does this, so must we be doing, because we who have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27). The Apostle reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ, and that by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we have been given the gifts (each of us according to the Lord’s love), in order to function according to where we are situated in this Body, in accordance with the Lord’s will and direction. He reminds us that we have to be ready always to exercise these gifts. We have to remember that each one of us has received particular gifts and responsibilities from the Lord. We have to remember that it is our responsibility to come to know ourselves truly in the Lord, so that we will be ready to exercise these gifts. Sometimes the Lord does not give us just one or two gifts for the whole course of our lives. Rather, He gives us different gifts at different times, according to the needs of various persons, and various situations. Knowing our hearts, knowing ourselves, knowing ourselves in the context of a clear and healthy relationship with the Lord, is very important. It is important, because the Lord is asking us to be reaching out at all times, just as He always has been doing : to each person that comes to us every day, and in every situation. The love of the Lord Jesus Christ informs everything that we are and everything that we do. We have the practical connexion that Orthodox Christians are familiar with : the connexion between the Holy Table of the Temple, and the dining room table of our home, through which our home also becomes a little church, and each one of our daily meals becomes an extension of the eucharistic meal.

The Apostle tells us to practice hospitality (see Hebrews 13:2). This is truly a basic characteristic of all Orthodox Christians, always, and everywhere. This hospitality is not expressed only in church, although it is truly important there. It is expressed daily in our home life. Hence, again the balance, the connexion between home and Temple, between the corporate expression of the Body of Christ at worship, and at work in daily life. All is in balance. All is connected. This is one reason (as was explained to me by a grandmother) that the actual content of Orthodox meals presented to visitors is both excessive, and presents all sorts of foods that would not usually be presented together in a meal-plan. The host should bring forth everything possible and available to eat, so that the guest may find something pleasing among the choices, and so that the guest may have enough to eat. An abbess, the spiritual daughter of a New-Martyr (who was a Metropolitan of Kremenets, Ukraine) was taught by him that the host should make such an offering to a guest, and that the guest should taste something from everything on the table, but not eat everything. How often I have had to remember this lesson in my travels, because the very poor have offered everything they have to the stranger, to the foreigner, for the love of Christ. It is in this same light that many an Orthodox family may have the custom of preparing extra food, even setting an extra place at meals, in case someone may arrive unexpectedly. Many people habitually set something special aside (something especially nice), waiting for the unexpected guest. Such was also the case in my childhood, along with many other families, because in those days people often did appear like that, just at meal-times. It is still so in many parts of the world. An appointment to appear, or an invitation to visit is not required. In this environment of loving generosity, too, lives the custom of not arriving at a home empty-handed, but always bringing something for the host. We respect the presence of Christ, the image of Christ, in each other. It would not hurt us to remember that Saint John Chrysostom suggests that we even prostrate ourselves before each other after receiving Holy Communion, just because of this Presence.

If we are going to reach out beyond ourselves as an Orthodox Community, then, first of all, we have to be visible. People have to be able to find us at what is, for them, the right time. Thus, our Temple must be listed in phone-books and other public directories. The internet is very useful nowadays, although our advertised information has to be kept current. Our Temple has to be kept up in such a way that it shows that we care about it : we care about it as our spiritual home, and as the House of the Lord. Here, too, it is very important that we keep mindful of our various gifts, and that we exercise them all together in harmony, so that none of us has to work too hard. The approach to the Temple (and its surroundings) should be as orderly, as beautiful, as inviting as possible. When a person dares to enter the door of our Temple, that person should not be swarmed, nor pounced on. This is scary to a person who is already nervous and apprehensive in a new place, and it makes us appear to be desperate. We must carefully avoid the temptation to “kill with kindness”. Responding to the Lord’s love in our heart, we would do better simply to receive the person respectfully and supportingly, without applying the “grand inquisition”. This reception has to be without discrimination or partiality, too.

I know well how faithful people have tried hard to present themselves to their near neighbours, using one technique or another, and how they have often been disappointed with the nature of the response (or the non-response). Instead, the Lord has sent the unexpected to their parish, persons most unlikely to fit in, and hard to accept. In one case, they have seen how the Lord has sent Aboriginal persons to them. These, they have received with love, and have fed them. Some have entered the Orthodox Church completely, and all show that they know that they are welcomed and loved. In another case, it was a particular Muslim who arrived, and who was received similarly. With the attitude of the Lord upon the Cross, we reach out to all ; we embrace all. We must be ready to receive whomever the Lord may send. We cannot pick and choose. The Lord Himself shows us how our breadth and depth of love has to be ready to encompass every human being that the Lord has created, regardless of wealth or poverty, health or illness, wholeness or brokenness or deformity. In exactly the same way that we are born into our families as they are, and we do not have a choice as to who are our parents, siblings, relatives, and ancestors, or their state in society, so we are, as members of the Body of Christ, members of a family. The Church Family is a very far-flung and richly various family, a family with some very difficult, eccentric, and eclectic members, and with some very healthy and strong members. The Lord encourages us to love each one uniquely, just as He loves each one of us uniquely, with infinite love, and with infinite patience.

In all this loving relationship, the Lord continues to work the wonder : the more we work in the context of acting in Christ’s love, and acting on the basis of this love, the more we empty ourselves for others in Christ’s love, the more the Lord gives us this love. In its exercise, our capacity to love increases infinitely. This is in itself a taste of Heaven. This is what our parish gatherings to worship are to be — tastes of Heaven. In Heaven, in this atmosphere of love in and of Christ, we increase in love endlessly and unto the ages of ages. This “ages of ages” is in itself an expression of our inability to express the greatness, the wonder, the immensity of the Lord and of His love.

It seems to me that the long and the short of what constitutes outreach in a healthy parish is this : that, although we may be aware of certain techniques and methods, everything must be natural, everything must be honest. Because of the manipulative ways of secular society, people can easily perceive when they are having techniques applied to them.

I have just poured out a pile of words. Nowadays, words have lost the stability of their meaning. Nevertheless, words continue to flow over us like the waters surging mightily over the escarpment at Niagara. “Talk is cheap”, we say. Our “yes” must simply be “yes”, and our “no”, “no”, as we have been exhorted. Our love, and our relationship in Christ with each other, must be genuine. Hearing these words, you are right to look at me, and at these words, and ask yourself whether my life seems to be in harmony with all this. Is there more here than simply the words ? Does this speaker, himself, seem to behave as he says ? When the Lord washed the feet of the apostles, He told them that they would have to do the same for each other (see John 13:14-15). Through this, He reminds us all that we, as He, are here in the world to serve, not to be served (see Luke 22:27). This is the characteristic always of Orthodox Christians. Therefore, if we always have this attitude, then the Grace of the Holy Spirit may flow through us and our service, and touch those around us with the love of Jesus Christ. We may know all sorts of techniques, and that is good. These techniques themselves are expressions of spiritual gifts, and the know-how must be acted upon and flowing. It must flow not artificially, not manipulatively, but naturally, borne upon and informed by the love of Christ, and alive in the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Everything about us must be as natural, as honest, as harmonious, as clear, as clean, as possible. Everything about us, even without words, should be able to reveal the love of Christ to those we encounter. In this, truly we can reach out in an honest way, and in this, truly we can be yeast and salt as the Saviour has said we must be (see Matthew 13:33 ; 5:13). In this, truly we will live what we proclaim — that Jesus is Lord : glorified together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Youth Retreat : "Come and See" (2006-11-18)

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
"Come and See"
Youth Retreat
11 November, 2006

When we speak about “coming and seeing” in the Church, we are not speaking about coming to see some sort of performance. We are not speaking about coming to see anything, except Christ, ultimately. That is truly what we are coming to see. We are coming to see the believers worshipping Christ together. That is the meaning of the Church – believers worshipping Christ together. All our services express that. Yes, we are praying ; we are asking, and so forth. However, we are simply worshipping God. While we are worshipping God like this, we have our eyes on Christ. This is where joy comes in, joy in looking at and being in communion with Christ.

Father Alexander Schmemann, who was one of my teachers long ago, was a man who was joyful. He was simply an ordinary man, an ordinary sort of human being. However, he was a strong believer, and he had a big responsibility in the Church. Carrying this responsibility in the Church, he saw some of the worst things about human behaviour. He saw, and experienced on a regular basis the weaknesses of human behaviour that most of us do not get to see, do not want to see, and do not need to see and experience either. Even encountering all that, Father Alexander was always single-mindedly serving Christ, and speaking about Christ. He always kept his sense of direction, his vision, and his perspective. I would say about him that he was exemplifying what the Lord asked the Apostle Peter to do when this apostle came out of the boat onto the stormy sea to walk on the water to Christ. As long as his eyes were on Christ and his concentration was on Christ, the Apostle Peter was on the water. However, as soon as he paid attention to the wind and the waves, down he went. Of course, he said : “‘Save me’” (Matthew 14:30), and the Lord did save him, and picked him up.

This is how it is with us in our lives in Christ. Many times, I hear people complaining about the Church : “Oh ! People are doing this, and people are doing that, and they are behaving in such a bad way, and so forth”. Part of the problem is that people have an unrealistic idea that when we go to church, we are encountering a community of holy people, saints, perfect people. They think that the Christian community is supposed to be somehow perfect. However, it is not. The Church is called “a hospital for sinners”, and that is what it is. We are here because we are not well, and our wellness can only be found in our communion with Christ. That is why it is important for us to do as Father Alexander did – keep our eyes on Christ.

When we are in church, it is not our business what sort of things anyone else is doing. It is not our business. Our business is to be there, to look at Christ, and to worship Him. If someone is out of order, and it catches our attention, at least we can pray for that person. However, this is not our opportunity to put our hands on our hips, and to start judging this person or that person, or condemning this or that person for whatever weakness they are showing. When we are in church, the Tempter comes to tempt us, and he tempts us all in a multitude of different ways. It is important for us to keep our eyes on Christ, and our concentration on Christ, no matter what anyone else is doing or saying in church, because Christ is the reason we are there. Christ is the reason for everything. Next time we are in church, let us keep our eyes and our focus on the Lord, and not on anything else as much as we can. If we have difficulty, let us say : “Lord have mercy”, and ask the Lord to help us keep our focus.


Answer to Question One – On singing in the choir.

Ultimately, each of us, standing in the Temple of the Lord, has a gift from God to build up the Church. From the time we were baptised and chrismated, the Holy Spirit came to us, and we were given a gift or many gifts. Some people have a formidable number of these gifts, and some people have only a few. That is how the Lord chooses to work with us. We have to accept the gifts that He gives us, and try, listening with our hearts, to use these gifts in accordance with His will. If we are a singer, for instance, then our responsibility is to come prepared to sing. That does not mean that I come to make an operatic performance in the choir and let my voice stand out. The choir is a harmonious entity. It is a body of singers that have to sing together without voices sticking out. The choir has to try to sing as though it were one, even though it is in harmony. The person has to have warmed up the voice ahead of time. The person has to have warmed up the heart ahead of time. There is a famous saying in Church life that the devil’s door to the Church is the choir. Why is this? Because in the choir, people often let their pride in their own vocal abilities take over. They treat the choir as though it were an opera choir, or an oratorio choir, or even a solo of some sort : “Look at me ! Look at me ! Pay attention to me, and my beautiful voice !” This is not how Church singing is supposed to be done. Church singing is supposed to be the blending of voices so that no-one sticks out, but all together the sound is glorifying God. We cannot do that unless our heart is in the right place. Our heart has to be in order. Our voice has to be warmed up. Things have to be in order.

On any given day it is more than likely that at least some members of the choir have been tripped up. Therefore, there are always some glitches. On a few miraculous occasions, everything is beautiful, but more often than not, there are little glitches. There are glitches in serving, too. There are glitches in everything in the course of worship because people are not all at the same stage of being in focus and in order, at the same time. That is how the Tempter works with us. However, if we are living in repentance, and if we are trying to get over these things (even if we do have glitches), we can at least say we are sorry, and not pretend that we did not make a mistake. If we get corrected, we do not have to be offended or all bent out of shape. It is important for us to accept the correction (and the fact that we could actually make a mistake), and try to do better.

Answer to Question Two – On fasting.

When it comes to the fasting periods, try to find the way to change your way of thinking about it, if you can. Usually with the fasting period, we say that it is a rule. When it is a rule, we have to do it. However, that is not exactly the right spirit with which to approach these things. If we do something just because it is a rule, and we have to do it, that is not good enough. It is good for us to be abstaining the way we do on these days, and in these periods. Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days, and there are also these periods where we are abstaining in one way or the other. We do it in preparation for Holy Communion on regular occasions or in preparation for a bigger feast. If we are going to be abstaining in these periods, let us at least undertake these things in the right spirit, which is to make an offering of my abstinence to the Lord. To do it voluntarily is the most important part. It is not that we absolutely have to fast, and lightning is going to strike if we do not. That does not happen.

Fasting is good for us. There are lots of people who are saying, as they are passing through their lives, that they really look forward to these periods of abstinence because they actually feel better during these Lenten periods. It takes more time to cook some things, but they feel better. However, it is not just because it is good for our health. It is good for our soul. We are doing this as an offering to Christ. We are doing it because we love Christ and we want to be pleasing to Him, and in harmony with Him.

I think that the first thing in terms of being practical is to try to change our attitude, with God’s help, always with God’s help, from thinking : “I have to”, to thinking : “What sort of an offering can I make to the Lord in my way of eating or not eating, in my way of doing this or not doing that ? What can I do ?” Sometimes people, for instance, because of their health, can hardly abstain from many things at all because their health is weak. However, they still want to make an offering to the Lord. Under those circumstances, they do something else. They do more of something else or they do less of something else according to the nature of their lives. However, they still do it as an offering to the Lord.

Christian mentality is concerned with being pleasing to the Lord, and how to offer something pleasing to the Lord in my life. If you are thinking about it as rules, rules, rules, human beings always look for a way around them. Some time ago I was told that in Imperial Russia before Communism there used to be a saying in the Faculty of Law : “The Law is a lighthouse on which there is a balcony to get around it”. That is how we are with laws. We are always looking for ways to get around them. “How much can we bend the speed limit ?” “Can we go ten or twenty kilometres over that speed limit before the police will stop us ?” “How far can we bend a Montreal stop sign ?” Do we slow down even at all ? It depends. Rules are always difficult for human beings because we are resisting them all the time. If we keep imposing rules on ourselves all the time, we beat ourselves up for not obeying the rules. Then we fall into disobeying the rules even more, and being negative about ourselves, judging ourselves, and condemning ourselves. It is important for us to try to keep a proper disposition. Let us avoid the mentality of rules, and maintain as much as possible the mentality of voluntary offering.

Answer to Question Three – On spiritual training.

One of the things about abstinence, fasting, and so forth that is characteristic for people who are outside the Christian community is that these things are often done to a certain extent for some sort of training, but mostly because it is good for the body. This sort of training is not for the same reasons, nor does it have the same effect as the exercises that we in the Church undertake. The Apostle Paul is speaking about this training also because the spiritual life in itself is similar to being an athlete (see 1 Corinthians 9:25-27). We have to work at it. It is important for us to be careful not to do too much “self-training”, because if we do it all by ourselves, we will become confused and lost. We all must have a spiritual “personal trainer” to help us know where we are going with this training. The principle is similar to that of physical exercises. People have an advisor to help them do it right. All these various systems have to be fine-tuned to suit the person.

It is exactly the same thing with spiritual development. The training is a reality. There has to be another person outside who has more experience to help us to do what is better, and right for us. If I simply make my own determination : “Well, I am going to do this fast this way, or I am going to do this or that by myself because I read it in a book, and it looks good, and it feels good, and it is convenient” – then perhaps it is not at all the right thing for me. Maybe I should do something rather different. Maybe what I decide to do for myself is in fact poisonous for me. That is why I am always cautious about training myself or making determinations for myself because in the course of my life I have made many, many determinations about myself by myself, and it always results in a mess.

It is much better to try to determine what God is telling us to do through someone else, rather than just thinking that we are plugged in directly to the Lord, and that we ourselves have all the answers about ourselves. Do not make the same mistakes that I have made if you can avoid it.

Answer to Question Four – On confession.

Confession in early times was public. People confessed their sins in the presence of each other. It was not like a common confession today where we never admit anything specifically, in which we merely hear a list of sins or a general meditation on repentance, and everything is generic. I was told that one of the reasons why we stopped this sort of public confession that was characteristic of the earliest times, is that people fell into the temptation of gossip. That is why customarily when people are going to confession, it is audible only to the priest and not to anyone else. The priest, standing there on behalf of everyone else, is witnessing the confession the person is making to Christ. He is somehow the representative. He is also the representative of the Lord, because the Lord often speaks through the person who is hearing the confession. We have to make a distinction, too, between the person who is hearing a confession, and a spiritual father (or spiritual mother), because those are two different things. Spiritual paternity, in the way that we customarily use that term, is something that we usually find only in a monastic community because it involves discussing our thoughts and all sorts of things in detail, even on a daily basis. I like to avoid “spiritual parenthood” as a term. People often assume that anyone who is hearing a confession is therefore a spiritual father, but that is not necessarily so. Sometimes a person who is hearing a confession is only capable of hearing the confession, and discerning a few things about what can be done in terms of helping the person, somehow. One person is not “one size fits all” when it comes to confession, either, just as a spiritual father is not as well.

Answer to Question Five – On spiritual gifts.

When we are trying to discover what our gifts are, well, that is very subtle. From what I remember, whatever gifts I have had, or sense of direction also (because the two things are often connected), these were usually suggested to me by other people who could see something in me. They would say : “We see that you have this particular ability. You should go in that particular direction with your life”. Those are ways in which the Lord has tended to direct me in the past. Sometimes I have been very stubborn about those things, listened to other advice, and got myself diverted. When I went in the right direction, the doors opened. When I went in the wrong direction, the doors closed. That does not mean that if any one meets an obstacle, the Lord is saying “no”. We have to pay attention, because some obstacles are temptations. It takes a bit of discernment.

Answer to Question Six – More on gifts.

There is another thing about gifts worth remembering, and that is : what truly constitutes a gift ? The answer is that a gift is something that is given freely. If it is truly a gift, we do not have to give anything back. It is just given. And why is it given ? It is given because of the thought, because of the love. It is freely given. That is what makes it a gift. There are no strings attached. It is important for us, having been freely given these gifts (if we are living in the same sort of love which produces all these gifts, the love of Christ), that we share these gifts freely in the same way. The Lord said : “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). Receiving is very nice, but giving is even better. However, giving always has to be without strings attached. It seems that North America is really bad these days in the gift department (and visiting, too) : if we get a gift, then we have to give a gift back. However, then it is not really a gift : we are extorting a gift from someone else. If we give something and then say : “Well then, where’s mine ?” that is not giving ; that is not really a gift. If I invite you to dinner, then you have to invite me to dinner. Well, what is this ? This is not hospitality at all. This is extorting invitations from one another. We are upside down. It is for us to do things in a Christian way, which means that everything is open and free. We empty ourselves in love.

Answer to Question Seven – On being an Orthodox Christian.

To be an Orthodox Christian means that we have to dare to be different in a good way – not just rebelliously different, but positively different, healthily different. What makes those monks holy (the monks of Mount Athos that you mentioned) is that they have become true human beings. They are truly, truly whole human beings as God created them to be. That is the meaning of our life. Our purpose in life is to find our true selves in the love of Christ. Who are we truly in the love of Christ ? In that environment, anything is possible. All those Star Wars movies, and all those other things are nothing compared to what can be accomplished in Christ. Although those movies are fun, they still pale compared to what sorts of things are possible in Christ.

Answer to Question Eight – On dealing with negative people.

People who are discouraging, are generally trying to do their discouraging as a result of jealousy, or envy, or just plain nastiness, because they are broken people. They have a worldly mentality. There are three things we have to do as a Christian. Always, when people say something negative to us, there is a possibility that there could be an element of truth in it. We have to see. We should not just look at it ourselves. We have to check with someone else, and also ask ourselves : “Is there any truth in this negative comment, or is it only grumpiness or something else negative ?” If there is an element of truth, then perhaps we could make a change, and that would be good. However, if it is not true, then we just dismiss it. When a person is trying to discourage us from following what is the right path, it is important that we forgive the person. That is necessary, because the way of Christ is the way of forgiveness. A closely related element to this is that it is important to pray for the person who is trying to discourage us from following what is the right path, because that person is suffering from a temptation.

The whole Point is to serve Christ in our Life

Bishop Seraphim : Interview
The whole Point is to serve Christ in our Life
Interview by Rebekah Goodyear
28 September, 2006

My first meeting with Bishop Seraphim occurred three years ago, when I was beginning my catechumenate. I can still recall how nervous I was, but he almost immediately put me at ease, with his smile, his gentle laughter, his sense of humour. To me, his kindness and humour are indicative of the extraordinary character of this man, who appears to think of himself as very ordinary.

On 28 September, 2005, I was granted a telephone interview with His Grace. I already admired him, especially after having read From the Bishop’s Desk : Writings of Vladyka SERAPHIM of Canada, a work reminiscent to me, in parts, of the gentle honesty and love found in the recorded words of Saint Silouan the Athonite. But after the interview had ended, I found myself respecting him even more. His answers, indicating much thought and prayerful consideration, lend an insight into the mind and heart of our spiritual leader. So it is with joy that I now present my conversation with him.

Your Grace, you were born Lutheran, later converted to Anglicanism, and finally to Orthodoxy. How many years have you been Orthodox, and what drew you to the Faith ?

Well, I have been Orthodox since 1978 (however long ago that is), so about 27 years or so. What ultimately drew me to Orthodoxy was essentially the truth of the Faith, and the fact that I believe strongly that the Lord drew me to the Church. He opened doors that I felt had been closed to me, and He made it very clear that I had to come into Orthodoxy. So, that is how it happened. Some people come to the Orthodox Church as a reaction to things that they feel are somehow out of kilter where they came from. There might have been something of that involved in my entering the Orthodox Church, too, in my hope for direction, but it had much, much more to do with the fulness of the Orthodox Faith and the living ability and viability of the Orthodox Faith, than anything like that.

What is your most treasured memory from your life in the Orthodox Church thus far ?

My most treasured memory ? Oh, probably, I suppose there would be two. They are not single memories ; they are sort of group memories, having to do with living in the New Valamo Monastery in Finland in 1980. Then, after that, the two times I was able to be at the Saint John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, where I met Archimandrite Sophrony.

That must have been really something, to meet him !

Well, this was so particularly because he was a holy man, and because of the sense of peace and joy a person could feel around him. This is what is really significant. What he said in recorded talks and what he wrote is significant, too, of course.

The Church appears to be growing within the whole of North America, including in Canada ; and indeed, the archdiocese now has a new building for Annunciation Cathedral, and it seems that every day, more and more converts are being baptised and/or chrismated everywhere. Are you, as our bishop, pleased with this ? Is the Church progressing as well as you would hope ?

I think that the Church is progressing according to God’s blessings, and that there is development according to God’s blessings. Therefore, I have to be and am grateful for how things are developing as they are. A person, especially someone like me, could be impatient because things might appear to be growing in a somewhat slow manner, compared to how a person would like things to be. However, I think that, regardless, the Orthodox Church has to grow slowly and steadily, in order to put down the correct and viable roots. This is because the Orthodox way is not about some sort of intellectual system or anything like that. It is a way of life. A way of life does not develop in five minutes. So I am happy about the way things are going.

In Holy Scripture, women are given an equally important role to that of men, and treated with the highest respect in the Church ; now, as you know, the diaconate for women is re-opening in Greece and, God willing, the whole Church. Can you describe the exact place of women within the Church – in monasticism, in the diaconate, and as laity, and the contribution they can make ?

That is a complicated question, to say “the exact place”. I do not think that I can say what is their “exact place” in the Church.

How about the approximate place ?

Perhaps that is better, because if you want to say what is the exact rôle, that would be very hard to define. When you say that the treatment of women in the Church and the Scriptures is one of equality, you would be right. However, equality is not the basic identity. In other words, men and women are equal, but they are not identical ; they are not exactly the same. They have different abilities and different gifts, for which God created us. For instance, men cannot be mothers. Therefore, it is important for us, in my opinion, to understand what is God’s will for us, and how we serve in the Church in accordance with God’s will for us, and in accordance with our different gifts, abilities and callings, as He gives them to us. Sometimes, people seem to want to think that in the Church there are special limitations on women, in one way or another. However, if that is what is perceived, then it is usually because of a weakness in our understanding of the Lord’s will. Men sometimes want to lord it over women, which is not what the Scriptures tell us to do, nor do the Scriptures encourage that.

It is important for us all to try to live in a more scripturally-minded way and with a more repentant attitude. As for any supposed difference between monks, nuns and lay-people, we must keep in mind that all have the same calling. Monks and nuns are simply human beings who give themselves more completely to the Lord, and who are determined with focus to serve Christ. This does not mean that one way is better than the other. Various people have various opinions about that. According to the Apostle Paul, the married way is good ; but he preferred everyone to be unmarried as he was, so that they could serve Christ with single-heartedness and single-mindedness. Nevertheless, he makes it clear that this does not mean that the married way is without blessings, do you see ? They are equally blessed ways to serve Christ. The whole point is to serve Christ in our life. Some He calls to be married, and some He calls to be unmarried. We have to be concerned with what He is calling us to do for and with Him. It is not merely an intellectual and logical choice that we make.

And what do you think of the women’s diaconate re-opening ?

Well, the diaconate is good. The diaconate itself is the foundation of what the Christian life is supposed to be about, for everyone, whether ordained or not. This is because the diaconate is the life and way of serving, following in the foot-steps of Christ, who gives us the example of true serving. Nevertheless we are, in the first place, mistreating the male diaconate ; in general, at the present time, the diaconate is, in many places, treated merely as a liturgical function. In reality, the diaconate has a lot more to do with the exercise of social-service gifts and other ways of serving, than merely the liturgical function. In the past, the diaconate was concerned with teaching, with preparation for baptism, with caring for the poor, with administration, and with many other things. In Rome in the distant past, it was deacons who were cardinals. If we have not yet arrived at understanding how male deacons are to exercise more normally the sorts of personal gifts for service that deacons are given by the Holy Spirit, then there is not much point in ordaining women to the diaconate, and after that having them be merely token decorations. In accordance with the Scriptural evidence, our historical experience, and the Canonical Tradition, the diaconate (whether for men or for women) remains rooted in active, practical service. Deacons are not merely liturgical creatures. Deacons care for the day-to-day needs of the faithful Christians and of anyone else whom the Lord sends. Deacons help the priests with baptisms. Deacons help the priests with Christian education and catechesis. Deacons help priests and bishops with administration. The diaconate is concerned with every aspect of the meaning of the word “service”. That is why I would repeat that if we cannot yet find a way to help the male diaconate (which is still active, albeit often minimally so) to be real and true in every way, then what is the point of opening a door for greater temptation, disappointment and resentment by giving women something which is empty ?

When they are doing the same thing ?

Yes. If women may think that they are being treated poorly in some ways without this ordination, then how are they going to feel if they are ordained to be deaconesses, but understand that they are in fact only tokens ? This what I am afraid of. I do not want that, and I don’t believe that anyone seriously does want anything like that. If women are going to be deaconesses, then it has to be real. Moreover, the male diaconate also has to become more real. The Orthodox Church is not about any falsehood or window-dressing ; it’s about reality. Deaconesses never had a liturgical role. They were always concerned with social-service, and baptismal-service as well. They had all those sorts of functions – practical functions. If they are going to be deaconesses, then they have to be doing something that is real and true. In Greece, there are deaconesses (this is the right word ; we really cannot use the simple word “deacon” for women) ; but their deaconesses, as far as I understand, are abbesses of monasteries. In that case, that is part of our tradition, that an abbess might also be a deaconess, and exercise a practical function. I believe that even in Greece, in normal parish life, they are not at all yet ready to embrace the restoration of deaconesses in the parish. This is because the diaconate itself has to be recovered in a full, normal sense before we can properly do this. I am not saying it cannot happen ; I am just saying we have to do it in the right order, or it is going to be very bad. We will be saying the wrong thing. We do not want to suggest the wrong thing to women. Although people may cite the book and movie about baseball, saying “build the stadium and they will come”, this tactic is likely to produce the opposite reaction. How could we leap into the full restoration of the order of deaconesses on our own and without first consulting the rest of the Orthodox Church, when we are fully aware that if we did so, the first reaction would be the vilification of those who are thus ordained, and along with them the bishops who do it ? Taking this attitude is too degrading towards anyone. It is the same as saying that we will give a child a scorpion to play with just because the child asked for it, and then say it is not our fault that the child got stung and nearly died.

Saint Silouan the Athonite wrote of Christ-like love : “No one can know of himself what is Divine love unless the Holy Spirit instructs him”. Archimandrite Sophrony wrote that “the meaning of Christ’s word ‘love’ will remain a mystery for the philologist to the end of time”. And Saint Seraphim of Sarov said : “God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart”, and that, contrary to popular Western beliefs, “the devil is cold”. How would you describe Christ-like love to those as yet unfamiliar with these works, and how can we achieve it ?

Christ-like love is fundamentally self-emptying, selfless love. Christ-like love is without self-interest : no strings attached ; no conditions. I suppose you could say that Christ-like love expects love in return, but does not demand it and does not force it. Christ-like love is characterised by service, because it is self-emptying love. It is all concerned with service. This cannot help but be so. How you achieve this, is to open yourself to the Lord and to ask Him to give this Christ-like love. It is not something that you can manage to do by any acquired technique. Christ-like love is a gift of the Holy Spirit ; and as far as I can see, the only way that you can come to this love, is to put yourself in His Presence, and to wait for Him. At least that is what I understand that Archimandrite Sophrony, in his writings, tells people to do. He shows how it has been for him in his own life, and the sorts of struggles that you have to face, not only in opening yourself and asking for the Lord to give you this love, but once you have been given this love, then to live in it.

Your Grace, ours is the oldest and true Church, and some people heavily emphasise that many are not members. But His Grace, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) has pointed out that there exist people who are part of the Church – the Kingdom – in an “invisible” manner, noting : “We know where the Church is but we cannot be sure where it is not”, and the theologian Alexis Khomiakov said that in mankind there are those who are “united to her [the Church] by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her”. If these brethren are unknown to us, what more can we, as Orthodox Christians, do to reach out and connect with our “invisible” brothers and sisters ?

The way of Orthodox hospitality has always been with a view to try to see Christ in the other person, without asking for his or her passport. There are numerous cases in the lives of saints. The one that I remember always is Saint Bishoy of Egypt. He was always – in the traditional way of his day – washing the feet of anyone who came into his cell. He would receive beggars, and the other monks were criticising him for how many people he would let in and see. On one of those occasions, he was washing the feet of some really dirty person, and was about to feed him, when someone sharply criticised him. While he was washing the feet of this person, the brethren who were criticising him were immediately silenced, because it was then revealed to them that it was Christ whose feet he was washing. As soon as they saw that it was Christ, He disappeared.

On another occasion with the same Saint Bishoy, the brethren were suffering from the same weakness. One of the brothers had a dream in which Christ said that He was going to appear to the brotherhood in the church, and that they should all go. So word went out, and the brothers started towards the church. Saint Bishoy was the last of them. Sitting beside the road was a paralysed beggar, who asked the monks where they were going. They said where and why, and he asked them to carry him so that he could see Christ too. They all replied that they were in too big a hurry to accommodate him. Saint Bishoy came last, and he picked up the beggar and carried him on his back into the church. As he entered, all the brethren immediately saw that it was Christ he was carrying.

That is the attitude which we must have towards people. The Lord created all human beings. Just because they are not Orthodox, people are not therefore sub-human, and we ought not ever to have such a wrong attitude towards any human being. If persons can see Christ’s love in us and in how we treat them, it makes it easier for them to come to the Church. However, if we treat people as though they had to have some sort of special passport before we are going to talk to them or have anything to do with them, then the Church appears to them as an exclusive club which is difficult to get into, if at all.

What would you say is the most important role for our youth today ? How can children and adolescents, who are faced with so many dangers and temptations, find and maintain Grace and freedom in Christ ?

It is difficult for them to do that all by themselves. It is the responsibility of adults to help them. It is important for the youth to understand that their calling (vocation) and their relationship with Christ is the same as that of everyone else. Age has nothing to do with it. Love is love. Notice the Apostle Paul’s exhortations and instructions regarding the Apostle Timothy, who was quite young, and yet he was given a very great responsibility. The Apostle John was quite young, and he had a special responsibility given to him. This was, amongst other things, to care for the Mother of God as though she were his own mother, for the rest of her life. Youth is an advantage, because young people are less distracted and congested with worldly cares or other concerns than are most older adults. Youth is the most opportune time to be offered an understanding of what riches and strength are found in Christ. The time of youth is the best time to bring Christ the Truth to the fore, in order to counter inexperience in true Christian love, and also to counter dependence on thoughts and emotions. The time of youth is the best time to be helped to encounter Christ in His pure love. If a person can have experience in Christ’s love when still young, and can understand how love motivates a person in life and in every other way, then this experience can make the rest of that person’s life – later – make more sense, impacting positively in the context of all the difficulties of relationships. That is the way in which any human being, regardless of age, survives the difficulties of life – always keeping one’s focus on Christ, one’s sense of direction on Christ, one’s hope on Christ. Young people should read the Scriptures in order to know Who is Jesus Christ, and to be able to keep remembering Christ. An important factor, too, is that young people have much more energy than do we older guys ! As a result, they are often better able to sustain service to people who have particular needs. There are all sorts of people, I think, who would benefit from the loving ministrations of a young person.

There is a lot of fear and despair today because of terrorism, war, and environmental disasters taking place everywhere, but the Scriptures teach us to fear nothing. Father Lawrence Farley once said of Christ : “He was Heaven’s amnesty to the children of men”, and Archbishop Lazar said : “It is a wondrous mystery of God’s Grace that we can become co-workers with Christ in the salvation of mankind”. Now, we all know about the need for charitable works, but what can be done to comfort and strengthen the hurting in their faith ?

I do not think that you can separate charitable works from comforting. Charitable works are not just something to do. Charitable works are the works that spring up from selfless love. By definition, charity is a conscious decision to love. That is how this English word “charity” needs to be used – as selfless love. If you are going to do something good for people, to comfort and help them in a practical or a verbal way, that is a charitable work. The comforting of people who need consolation has to be done in practical ways, on the basis of selfless Christian love, motivated by Christ in our heart. There is no programme for consoling people who are fearful, lonely, or grieving. When it comes to how you yourself are going to console someone, it has to be motivated by the Lord in your heart, who is giving you the words that are actually needed by that particular person, for that particular situation. It cannot be programmed, because each situation is unique, and every person is unique. You have to depend on God to teach your heart what to do and what to say. Of course, that means that we have to learn to pray, which is something we are generally not so good at these days, because we are so busy, and we think that we do not have time. We also think that prayer is only concerned with asking for things, instead of being at its very best a wordless communication in Divine Love.

Finally, Your Grace, you have been our bishop for nearly twenty years. With such experience, what do you feel is the ultimate future of the Orthodox Church between now and Eternity ? [To this question, His Grace replied incredulously : “Between now and Eternity ?” I said : “Yeah”, and we both just laughed. I’d hit him with another complicated question, but he graciously answered, nonetheless.]

Ah, well, the Church is the Body of Christ, and the future of the Church is to live in Christ, to reveal Christ, to serve Christ, and to preach Christ prophetically. That is it. That is our past, present and future. It is not possible for me to speak or write about the future in any concrete or detailed way. On the other hand, we do know that for our Lord, time is effectively irrelevant. All is now. We do have tastes of this timelessness ourselves occasionally when we might be attending the Divine Liturgy or some other service. It may be a very long service, but it feels to us at the time either as though it were altogether too short after several hours, or it feels as though time stood still. Our responsibility between now and Eternity must be to love our Lord Jesus Christ above everyone and everything else with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our life is to live Christ, and to be identified with Him in His love in every way. Our life is to be yeast, and to be salt. Our life is to bear His life every moment of every day and every night, and to be shining with the light of Christ’s love. I am sorry that I cannot be more detailed about this. We have to be who we are. We have to live up to our calling.

Developing and Maturing the Understanding of the Orthodox Tradition

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Developing and Maturing the Understanding
of the Orthodox Tradition
Nationell Bildningskonferens för Profilområdet Ortodox bildning och kultur
Södertälje, Sweden
27-28 October, 2006

I have been given the opportunity to talk about the subject of developing and maturing the understanding of the Orthodox Tradition. I find this to be a challenge — first, because there is a variety of ways of understanding the meaning of Orthodox Tradition ; and second, because to do this properly would really require a theologian, and I cannot dare to consider myself such a person. I have taken, as a reference for some of my comments, the titles of some of the items in the programme of the Conference.

From my perspective, it is necessary to pay attention to the meanings of the words “to develop” and “to mature”, especially when it has to do with understanding the Orthodox Tradition. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves living in and with a foreign mentality. When I say “foreign”, I mean in this case “western”, in the sense of philosophical. I am going to take a moment to “thump one of my favourite tubs”, and I beg your indulgence.

One of the big problems for us who grow up and are formed in the West, is the mentality that dominates this West. I mean that, from the Orthodox perspective, since scholasticism has taken control of all our life, many things are essentially backwards. In earlier centuries, and in other cultures, theology (which is in reality all-encompassing) was correctly considered to be the source of everything. All other disciplines followed after. However, in the West, philosophy, which functions primarily in the linear realm of logic, usurped this leadership. As we are thus formed, everything is subjected to human reason, which is in fact replacing God. When theology was in first place, we, being Christians, used reason to try to explain what is our experience of God (but this was also the case for others). For us Christians, everything is rooted in our personal and corporate experience of God the Father, as He reveals Himself to us in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We Christians used to be called “the Way”, because we follow, and live, in Him who is The Way. Nowadays, Christianity is often classified as a “religion”. This is a dangerous condition for us, for a religion is a system. However, we are neither a system nor an institution. We are, as the Apostle has written, members of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:27), and we are, as such, the Church, a living organism.
I am taking this moment to cite a definition of “tradition” from a recent Orthodox dictionary : "‘Tradition’, in both Greek and Latin, derives from the verb meaning ‘to hand over, pass on’ (paradidomi, trado). In the Orthodox Church, the phrase ‘Holy Tradition’ signifies the Christian faith and that which enables and expresses it : worship (sacraments and liturgical offices), the Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, and the witness of the lives of the saints. More deeply, tradition has been defined by Fr Georges Florovsky as the life of the Holy Spirit, the current or continuum of the Church as the body of Christ and presence of the age to come. Not bound by documents or ritual actions, nor enclosed by them, nor expressed particularly and infallibly by any one office or officer of the Church, Holy Tradition is enshrined and protected by writings, rites, and offices within the Church.[1]

Further, we distinguish between Holy Tradition, and simple customs of various sorts and qualities. The definition just cited underlines that this Tradition is, as might be said, the whole truth about Him who is the Truth. Christ is truly the beginning and the end of this Tradition. He, alone, is its focus. In this context, the living out of Christian life in this way in daily life, expresses itself in some ways as being similar to British Common Law. British Common Law is not a systematised set of laws promulgated by some parliament. Rather, it is a complex of decisions made by judges on the basis of precedents and case-by-case particular situations. The whole of the system tries to keep a constant understanding of right and wrong as each case is addressed on its own merits, but without rigidly forcing each case to conform to an oversimplification based on generalised legislation. The adjudicators of each case must use head and heart together in addressing what is the truth of the particular situation. Christian tradition is conformed to the Tradition of Christ in a similar way. The Truth, Christ, is the foundation of all our life as Christians. He, the Truth, informs and guides everything in life. At the same time, however (unlike Common Law), the foundation of this Christian way of life is rooted in loving, personal relationships between human beings and Christ, in which, because “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), Jesus Christ is always the one constant to whom every detail in life and human relationships is referred.

“Develop”, which comes from French, is a relative of “mature”, in that it carries the sense of fulness and completeness ; but the primary sense seems to be concerned with making this happen. For example, the first dictionary-meaning given is “make, or become bigger, or fuller, or more elaborate, or systematic”. As we are currently using these words “develop” and “mature” nowadays, it seems to me that they are almost synonyms.

Next, if we see the dictionary’s presentation of the word “mature”, we can see that it principally means “ripe”. This is from its Latin root. However, I see a difference between the way the word is used in Latin, and the way we seem to be using it now (at least in English). This ripeness is a process which may be helped along, and encouraged, according to my reading of the meanings for maturesco, maturo, maturus, maturitas ; and I suppose that the active aspects in agriculture would presume the activities of pruning, and fertilising. However, this is chiefly a process which describes a fulfilment, ripeness, completion, softness, full and proper time. In modern English usage, we seem to be limiting ourselves to its meaning the simple completion of a process, to full development. The sense of ripeness and softness are marginal meanings now, so that maturity suggests simply the fulfilling of necessary time. A Latin-influenced understanding of human maturity would expect (as given in a secondary meaning in English) : sensibleness and wisdom, besides having fulfilled certain years and having achieved an adult physical stature. These concepts of sensibleness and wisdom are related to the concept of ripeness and softness, certainly because one, in wisdom, understands the unique needs or situation of each person, and is less inclined to impose rigid, inflexible rules.

In other words, the mentality behind much that we are and do in the West, at present, seems to be technique. We think that if we could only find the right technique for one or another troublesome situation, then we can repair everything. Another background, unmentioned, word is “control”. Technique and control are symptoms both of fear and of trying to be independent of the Lord. Revealing the activity of technique and control in a person’s life is interestingly a factor involved in the process of recovery used for addiction, in the 12-step programmes. They are symptoms of what is spiritually wrong, symptoms of what has enabled (or is enabling) the addiction.

The reason why I am spending this time on rehearsing these terms, and how I understand our present environment, is that if we really wish to discuss maturing and developing the understanding of the Orthodox Christian Tradition, we must try to do so in the native Orthodox Christian way. Therefore, let us also spend a moment with the word “understand”, which in many ways is reduced in modern consciousness to “figure out”, or “dissect”. “Understand” is reduced to a simple mental process. The word “understand” is directly connected with the Latin-based word “comprehend”, which expects the inclusion of implications, and other significant (not necessarily elaborated) factors. It seems to me that this understanding, or comprehending, is an activity that affects the whole being of a person. Understanding is, therefore, not simply a mental process.

There is yet another factor involved in this consideration, and that is the meaning of the word “obedience”. Most of the time, we are given to understand that this is something which is imposed by one person upon another. A person must obey (even sometimes blindly, we are told). On the other hand, in the context of what the Gospels present to us, it seems to me that obedience is something rather different. It is not imposed, nor forced, but it is something freely given by one person to another. I believe that, if we look at the lives of our monastic saints, this would be the usual pattern of behaviour. One person sees the light and love of Christ in another. This love is contagious. The second person, desiring to imitate the virtue, offers obedience, offers imitation. It is through this freely-offered obedience, that life-giving love may grow. It is true that the one being followed will occasionally be required to correct the follower ; but this, in the manner of a family, is something to be undertaken in the context of Christ’s love.

All this leads me to address the matter of balance, of wholeness, of unity. Unity and wholeness are natural extensions and expressions of Who is Christ. The Apostle Paul’s analogies of the Body, the Building, the Field, are all helpful expressions for us. For Orthodox Christians, everything in life (not only our own human life) is inter-connected ; all is part of a greater whole. We properly understand our unity to require also a visible expression. Since the Incarnation, and because of it, the Body of Christ, the Church, must be both visible, and one. Christ is one. The Holy Trinity is one. Therefore, the Church must appear as a unified whole, and so must our families, and so must we, ourselves. The only way in which I am aware that such a wholeness, such a unity, may be achieved, is within a relationship of pure and selfless love with Christ. This means that we must become humble like Christ, that is to say, in the love of Christ putting ourselves last, and putting Christ, and others, first. We must be ready to live daily in forgiveness with each other, taking seriously the words of the Our Father. Perhaps we may not ourselves bring about the visible unity required, but if we personally live in association with other Orthodox, and with other human beings, in accordance with the Way, we will help this process along, regardless.

Nowadays, there seems to be an obsession with physical health. There are programmes of every sort, which promote the health of the body — diets, exercise, and the like. There are also all sorts of programmes for promoting psychological health. There are various systems for sorting out all kinds of psychological difficulties, and there are self-help programmes of every sort. We, captains of our own ships, are determined to do things ourselves, apart from the Lord. In doing things in our own independent way, we are guaranteed to find every reef and shoal. We are not looking for true spiritual health, because this requires that we let go of our obsession with control, and allow the Lord to be in charge of our lives. We want to heal ourselves, not let the Lord do so. We want to determine, ourselves, where we are going, and not to accept that the Lord might know better. We hesitate to allow Him to lead us. However, real health of body, soul, spirit, can only be found in the context of letting the Lord be in charge, and accepting the direction that He indicates :

‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7: 7-12).

The Lord will, and does provide, but we must know Him, and His will. We must have a healthy relationship of love with Him, in order to be able to hear with our hearts, and to understand His will, and therefore to be able to ask in accordance with His will.

Then, there is the matter of the Palestinian shepherd. The Lord’s parable, for instance, is indicative :

‘Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep’ (John 10:1-15).

There is a great deal to be perceived in this previous reading. The relationship between shepherd and sheep, based on love, interpersonal knowledge and trust, is crucial. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd, and the shepherd knows the sheep. They love each other ; they know the names of each other. As is seen even today in the Middle-east, a shepherd leads the sheep, walking in front of them, walking where he wishes them to go. He trusts that they will follow, and sometimes he brings along a goat for extra encouragement. The sheep trust the shepherd, because they know he loves them and cares for them, and they also love him. They follow him. They know he will keep them safe. When they are in the fold, it is only to him that they answer, even if they are amongst a great number of other sheep, which belong to other shepherds. The sheep and the shepherd know each other personally. Anyone who pretends to teach, and who cannot manage this sort of relationship is, in the end, classified as a “hireling”, a technician. One can teach facts ; but teaching the Christian Way has to be not only about imparting simple factual information. It must be concerned with personally showing the way. One cannot make sheep go where the shepherd is not first going. True, in the West, dogs are used to drive sheep in this manner, but the effect is different. The sheep wander all around, not knowing where they are intended to go, and they move with fear, not with loving confidence. The recent movie Chicken Run was not far away from comprehending this perspective.

Normal Orthodox pastoral life and teaching-responsibility rest very much upon the foundation of this teaching of our Saviour about the shepherd and the sheep. Teaching is not just saying something. It is being something. We see this in the words of the Apostle Paul as he exhorts his disciple, in his first pastoral letter to him :

Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

Saint Seraphim of Sarov is quoted as having said that, if you find peace, that is if you find your way in Christ, then thousands will be saved with you ; but if you lose your way, thousands will be lost with you. We cannot avoid it. For good or for bad, for life or for death, we affect all around us — animate, inanimate, humans, animals, the environment. How we live our lives has a great effect. I remember another film (a much older one than Chicken Run), It’s a Wonderful Life, about a man who is tempted to give up in the face of difficulty. He is shown how different all would be, were he not a factor in the lives of others. Sometimes the media are on the right track !

This is the reason that the responsibility of the Christian leader, of the Christian educator, is so great. It is true that it is important to know what we need to believe as Orthodox Christians. Nevertheless, this knowledge must be in the context of a whole life that embodies these facts, in the context of life-giving love. This is so, because these facts, these details, these teachings, these doctrines, these dogmas, are all products of the relationship of life-giving love in Christ. In my life, I, myself, have been influenced by many such persons (both Orthodox, and pre-Orthodox). I remember with love to this day the Roman Catholic nuns who taught me when I was 5 years old (and my parents were Lutheran !). I remember my early Lutheran Church-School teacher, Mrs. Holmberg, who taught us Scripture and songs, but who also imparted the love of Christ. I remember faithful Ole Olson from all my first twenty years, who always liked to repeat : “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I remember Professor Canon Thomas Bailey who, in teaching us the theories of “higher textual criticism”, reminded us that if serious doubts arise from the consideration, we ought to rest on the text itself. They lived this faith. Their living this faith, and Mr. Olson’s frequent repetition of these words from Hebrews (in a strong Norwegian accent), were of considerable help to me in the course of my life. Between the usual temptations one faces in life, and the scholastic questioning of the Scriptures which I encountered in various places, there were many occasions on which I might have been distracted from trying to keep to the Tradition. However, by the Lord’s mercy, the recollection of their example seemed to keep me mindful of the Tradition, the Tradition of Christ, the One Christ. These were good persons (amongst a great many others) who, throughout the course of my life, have shown me the way : people such as Archbishop Paul of Finland, Archimandrite Simforian of New Valamo, Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex, Protopresbyters Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff, Bishop Ioasaph of Vancouver, Professors Mugford, Moir, Verhovskoy, and many others still. All were God-fearing people, Christ-loving persons who, by the example of their lives, kept showing me the way in the Way, and giving me hope, as well as correcting me.

Now, perhaps, if we really want to consider the maturing and the development of our understanding of Orthodox Tradition, we would be well-advised to recall the words of the Apostle Paul, who himself said regarding the Eucharist : “I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). He handed on more than just this. He handed on by word and by example his personal encounter with Christ. He says the following to us, just as he said to the Philippians, with whom he discusses his own pilgrimage :

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind (Philippians 3:7-16).

If we are considering what this attainment must be, it cannot be simply an intellectual accomplishment. The Apostle himself indicates that all that his formidable intellect is addressing stems, as does our inheritance, from his personal life in a loving relationship with Christ. After having previously listed some of his multitude of sufferings, he says :

It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

Here, truly, is the simple pattern we must learn to follow if, indeed, we wish to come to maturity in understanding the Tradition.

I must say that, as Orthodox Christians in the world in the 21st century, we are very far from the apostolic example. We have strayed far from this, because the example we see almost everywhere now in the Orthodox Churches is the use of politics and power, in the way secular people are behaving. We have a tendency to use manipulation and manoeuvring, posturing and positioning, depending on civil governments and on money. Canons are a medicinal prescription for healing spiritual illnesses in the members of the Body of Christ. Instead, we seem now to treat them rather often in the manner of civil law, and to use them as clubs with which to beat each other, as we try to force each other into submission. In behaving in this way, Orthodox Christians are, in my opinion, not demonstrating to the world the power of Christ, but rather the opposite — the weakness which comes from not imitating the example of the Apostle, and forgetting those words he received : “‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I believe that if we do forget this, and behave in a worldly manner, then we are like the brothers of the Rich Man (Dives) in the Lord’s parable, about whom Abraham said that it is sufficient for them that they have Moses and the Prophets in order to live a godly life (see Luke 16:27-29). We, too, have Moses and the Prophets, and much more than this by far, and yet we are not living up to what we have been given. We are being faint-hearted. I believe that in so doing, we are actually betraying Christ, not proclaiming Him. Instead of impatiently attempting to force matters, it is important for us to have patience, and to try to listen to the Lord, and to do His will. We must remember that the Lord sends us as yeast and salt into the world. In order to be so, we have to learn to live in daily repentance, and to allow the Lord to remake us, to transform, to transfigure us, to bring us to His likeness.

If we are going to be maturing and developing our understanding of the Orthodox Tradition (and this so that the Lord may use us as He will), then we must be behaving accordingly in our own lives, without pointing accusing fingers at others. We must be ready to take responsibility for our own falls. We must allow the Lord to remove the log from our eye before we pay attention to the speck in the eye of the other (see Matthew 7:3-5). This means that we all, personally and corporately, must do our best to allow the Holy Spirit to increase in our hearts, and to direct our lives in the love of Christ. We must open ourselves to His will, so that He may bring us to maturity, to ripeness. We must help Him develop our understanding, by co-operating with Him. We must lovingly offer Him our obedience, our imitation of Him, our co-operation with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. It is crucial that our own spiritual houses be in order. Our lives must be one interconnected whole in Christ. Everything in our lives must refer to Christ. We must be both acutely aware of, and praying for, and nurturing in Christ, all around us. This is, of course, the essence of the teaching of Saint Silouan of Mount Athos. If we are able to co-operate in the Lord enough, so that we are making even some partial progress towards this ideal, we will already be able to help others as pastors and teachers.

May the Lord, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, enable all of us to do more in conforming ourselves to His likeness, so that, loving Him above all, we may lovingly and freely do His holy will.


[1]Michael Prokurat, Alexander Golitzin, Michael D Peterson, Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, (Lanham, Maryland, & London : Scarecrow Press, 1996), p. 223.

Words on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Ottawa Cathedral 2005-03-25

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Words on the Fiftieth Anniversary
Cathedral Church of the Annunciation to the Theotokos-Saint Nicholas
Ottawa, Ontario
25 March, 2005

My dear brothers and sisters, as we are beginning our celebration of these fifty years of worship and service to the Lord of this community, it is important that we remember to reflect as much as possible on our history, in order that we may not only be building positively on the foundation laid, but avoiding any mistakes of the past as well. It is a joy to make this reflection, particularly so because in these days there are so few opportunities to do this. In a way, it reminds me of the reflection that took place in Tbilisi at the Patriarchate in November last, following the consecration of the new cathedral there. It was an occasion almost like those in Viking sagas (I am told that recent evidence shows that the Viking people originated around the Caucasus mountains). The reflection, mixed with various recitations of poetry, singing, dance, and instrumental playing, considered the present in the context of past similar major events, and tried to suggest possible implications for the future. It is an important exercise, and I am glad that we have an excuse today to do a little of this, ourselves.

For my part, I would like to comment that this community has, in its fifty years, been unique. Its history is marked by a term I do not particularly like to use because of certain connotations, but I cannot at this moment find a better one. That term is the “leap of faith”. The establishment of this community, originally arising out of the former Holy Trinity Bukovinian parish, was part of a natural development, connected in part with post-World War II immigration. It was one of several such developments in Ottawa, resulting in Greek, Antiochian and other communities. Like many a similar mission beginning later (even in our days), it began in a house. And making the beginning required a great leap of faith, as it were. The first significant priestly leader of this Church of Saint Nicholas was Father Nikanor Komarnitsky, together with his wife, Maria. It seems that his and her particular love and generosity of spirit affect this community even now. Their descendants, and those of many of the founding families, remain active either in this community or elsewhere. This community consisted of an interesting blend of Russian-speaking aristocracy, intelligentsia, and others, who got along very well together.

When the current building was acquired, after a short time, Father Oleg Boldireff and his wife, Natalia, arrived and led the community. Father Oleg was a well-experienced pastor, and he already had a history of community-building (particularly in Québec). He is remembered most particularly for his pastoral love and his care for all, but especially for new immigrants. He participated in the development of several missions in Québec. In the later years of this time, there arrived in Ottawa Protodeacon Peter Svetlovsky and his wife, Nadezhda. Living in partial retirement, Protodeacon Peter had been a renowned vestment-maker in the USA, who worked together with his wife. They continued this work in Ottawa on a part-time basis. They were a strongly believing family, with long histories of Christian service on both sides. They were also a good example of the ways in which the diaconate may be seriously lived out in the Church.

There were, in these days (the first 25 years or so), many significant and hard-working lay people in the parish as well, some of whom have been recognised publicly for their labours of love, as is both good and right. However, there are many who have not been publicly recognised. This hiddenness of service in Christ and His reward is far greater in the end than any strings-attached service. It is important that we all remember that whether we are recognised or not in our days by our brothers and sisters for what we do, what really matters is that we are serving Christ, and that we are doing it for the love of Him. What matters in the end is this love, this unconditional and unwavering love. Even if, in the past, now or in the future, many such important persons are not openly mentioned or recognised, it in no way diminishes the importance of their contributions, all of them vital, necessary, and irreplaceable.

In the late 1970s, the Holy Transfiguration Mission was blessed by Archbishop Sylvester, and it was led by Father John Scratch and his wife, Suzanne. Again, a leap of faith was rewarded by the development of an English-speaking mission in a house. Poverty was the lot of the Christ-loving service of this family (and mostly still is) ; but even in the midst of numerous difficulties, joy and devotion to the Church have been the characteristic of this larger-than-average family. It has affected for good those around, even until now, and Father John is still an important figure in our life. The now Igumen Gregory (Papazian), in his support of the mission, left his own important mark on the believers, both in its spiritual and its liturgical foundation and development. The most unique contribution of this mission was, interestingly, in its end. It came to an end by returning, at the invitation of the Mother Parish, to help Saint Nicholas’ Church, which had come to difficult days, mostly because of the age of the parishioners. This process required a significant leap of faith by both communities. Not all survived well the test of blending two very different groups of people. Nevertheless, because of the mutual devotion to Christ and His Church, this blending brought a union of love which only continues to deepen with time. This blending also brought about a change of name. The Holy Transfiguration Mission gave up its name and distinct identity in this union, and the community was placed under the protection of the Theotokos ; but Saint Nicholas, so loved by all, had to remain a visible part. It was the decision of the Holy Synod of Bishops to name the new community “Annunciation to the Theotokos-Saint Nicholas”, and to recognise it as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Canada from 1990.

Father Andrew Morbey and his wife, Alexandra, soon came to the leadership of the community in the wake of the illness of Father John Scratch. They were the first fully-stipended family of the new community, and they were most formative, focussing and strengthening during the years of their service. This involved yet another of these leaps of faith, because no one knew how we could manage to afford this. However, with God’s guidance and support, it was well-accomplished. This family was supplemented by Father Symeon Rodger and his wife, Larissa, who both had secular work, but who, with their family, contributed and contribute fully to parish life. Father Symeon and Father John, as supplementary hearers of confessions in the parish, have had a deep influence on its growth and formation. More recently was added, in a similar way, Deacon Gregory Scratch and his wife, Taecey. During these years, the community grew substantially in every way : in mutual interpersonal responsibility, personal concern, and responsibility for the fabric of all, in education, in visibility, in inter-Orthodox communication, in participation in archdiocesan and OCA life, and in numbers.

At this time, before my concluding remarks, I want to mention the personal contribution to the archdiocese itself from the cathedral community, made by several particular persons. These are Olga Jurgens and Helene Culhane, who have been supporting the bishop in his office with frequent visits for almost eighteen years ; and Nikita and Mary Ann Lopoukhine, who have cared for the treasury, and for the communications of the diocese for just as long. Without these four, the bishop could not have managed to do much at all, and the diocese would not have managed to develop as it has.

As I am speaking of help, I must also mention with gratitude to God the great help given over many years in the past by the sons of Father John Scratch, who drove me as chauffeurs from place to place ; and one time, all across the country. If they had not been ready to give up so much time in their lives, very many things that were, by God’s Grace, accomplished, would not have been possible.

In the most recent years, with the arrival of Father John Jillions, his wife Denise, and their family, the cathedral community has entered again a phase of challenge. Once again, the personality of the rector adjusts the atmosphere of the community, as the Lord continues to guide the cathedral’s development. While we are at the beginning of this adjustment, while we are just getting to know and love the new rector and his family, we are faced with yet another big challenge, and yet another great leap of faith. The building in which we have prayed for so long is too small in many ways, and like those who have gone before us in this community, it is our responsibility to listen to God’s direction about what to do next, and where to go next. Every time that we have been faced with these changes, we have had to face a big stretch of our resources, both financial and personal. Regardless of whither we will be led to move, this will be the factor. What will be a variant is how great will be the stretch. However, every time that we have been ready to listen to, to discern, and to do God’s will, God has blessed the offering, and enabled the cathedral community to bear fruit, regardless of how almost impossible things seemed to be.

Regardless of the exact details of how things will happen in the next months and years, as we take these next steps, whatever they may be, let us never lose sight of our primary purpose, the purpose understood and lived out by all the faithful parishioners and leaders who have gone before us – the purpose of living in the love of Jesus Christ, serving Him, and doing His will first and above all, together, and personally in our lives. Let us be ready to serve as He leads, to feed His sheep, and to co-operate with Him as He increases His flock.

Youth Retreat (2005-08-03)

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Why be Orthodox ?
3 August, 2005
Youth Retreat


We, who are Orthodox, have received something very precious which has to do with our knowledge of Who is Jesus Christ. Throughout the past 2,000 years, we have inherited from our parents, our friends, our ancestors, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth about Who is Jesus Christ. People have lived and died in order to make sure that we have been able to receive this purity of Truth. Even in the previous century, Orthodox Christians died because people wanted them to deny Christ, and they did not ; people wanted them to deny the Truth, and they did not. For instance, it is estimated nowadays, that something like 110-115,000,000 people have been killed in Russia and Ukraine since the Bolshevik Revolution began. The greatest majority of people died because they were Orthodox, and they would not give up Christ. In the former Soviet Union, they would say : “If you do not deny Christ, if you do not give up that silly Orthodoxy, then you will go to a concentration camp, and you will die”. A great many people did.

In North America, we have a very difficult time because the pressure not to be Orthodox is very subtle. In North America, people will say all sorts of things, such as : “Orthodoxy is nice and old-fashioned, and it is like a museum. However, it does not connect with modern life, and so why do you bother with that ?” They might also say : “Orthodoxy has nothing to do with what North America is all about (which is making money, and making great piles of money), so why bother with that ?” The fact is, however, that Orthodoxy is for everyone, everywhere, always. It does not matter what culture we happen to live in. Jesus Christ is the One who created us all. Jesus Christ is the One who loves us. It is for the sake of Jesus Christ that we are here. It is because of Jesus Christ that we have any sense of meaning and direction in our life.

People talk about how horrible communism was, and how good capitalism is. Mother Dorofea, who reposed in Christ last year, said it very well, I think. She was quoting someone else, I forget who, but I think this is a very good way of expressing it. The question is posed : “What is the difference between communism and capitalism ?” The answer is : “In communism man oppresses man ; in capitalism, it is just the opposite”. Of course, this answer tells us that both are only different faces of the same thing. When we look at how we, westerners, behave towards the whole world, are we behaving differently from communists ? We think we are the best, but the communists thought they were the best, too.


Comment : We do not kill 115,000,000 people.

Bishop Seraphim : Maybe we do not kill 115,000,000 — yet ; but it seems that we are not doing that bad a job. How are we killing people, for instance ? How are we, in the west, killing people ?

Comment : Cutting off their assets ; allowing them live in poverty, die of illness, and other natural causes.

Bishop Seraphim : One hundred per cent : A+. Exactly. It is because we, in North America, are so greedy. Indeed, we in North America are especially greedy. Western Europe is not far behind. We, in North America, use up almost the whole world’s resources on ourselves, and we throw stuff away, as though there is a never-ending supply of everything. Because we are living like this, all sorts of people in the rest of the world are dying. They do not have anything to eat. They do not have medicine. We have all these medicines that will heal diseases. Do we give them for free to the people in the third world ? No. We make them pay for it. We have all sorts of extra food. Do we give it to the people in the third world who are starving to death ? No. We make them pay for it. They cannot pay for it, so they starve to death. Thus, the old saying is true : “We have plenty for everyone’s need, but not at all enough for everyone’s greed”. Therefore, how we are killing people is perhaps even worse than what the Soviets were doing, I would say. We pretend that we are not responsible for it at all. Then, of course, we are exporting wars around the world, too, which kill a great deal of people. We do not talk about that. Especially when we go to the United States, we never seem to hear about that on the news. Instead, we hear about how people are attacking the United States. People are afraid.

In North America, people seem to have no sense of real purpose in their lives. You will see this in every part of your lives as you continue your life’s pilgrimage. People just make money. They try to be comfortable. They try to protect themselves from everyone else. Father Schmemann of blessed memory aptly described this way of life with these words : “Dodo, métro, boulot” (sleep, subway, work). What is the big point about living like this ? That is why I, myself, have been grateful to God that early in my life, people who were believers helped me to know Who is Jesus Christ. They, because of their prayers, because of their example, because of their love, because of their care for me, taught me Who is Jesus Christ. It was not only by teaching me lessons about Who is Jesus Christ (although we have to understand something about what we believe about Who is Jesus Christ) ; it was by their very lives that they introduced me personally to Jesus Christ, and gave me experience of His love.

They introduced me to Jesus Christ as a Person because they showed me His love. They showed me how deep is His love for me. By how they lived and behaved, they showed me how Jesus Christ cares for me, and how He is concerned about every part of my life. They helped me to understand how everything in my life is connected with Him – not just going to church on Sundays. They helped me to understand that everything that I am, and everything that I do is involved with Him, and that He cares about what is happening in my life. I have been very stupid very many times in my life, and often very ignorant up until now. This is because I have so often forgotten to listen to the Lord instead of paying attention to stray and straying thoughts. Nevertheless, I have found that whereas people are very unreliable, Jesus Christ is the only One who is completely reliable in His love for me, in His patience with me, and in His involvement in keeping me on some sort of level path in my life.

It is because of the love of other people, and their faithfulness to Jesus Christ that I came to understand really what Saint Paul means when he talks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Those are the real characteristics of how a Christian lives life. You show love to everyone, and everything – not just to people, but to everything. Joy ! Your life is full of joy because of the love of Jesus Christ. You have a sense of purpose, and a sense of direction. The Lord is warming your heart towards other people. You have peace and patience, because the Lord shows you how you can survive all sorts of difficult things in your life. Even though people are betraying you, as they always do (even people who love you will betray you by accident), Jesus Christ never does. He teaches us how to be patient with other people who make mistakes. He shows us what is good in other people (even with all their mistakes, with all their fallenness), and He shows us how we can, ourselves, encourage what is good in other people, and help them to discover our joy, to participate in our joy.

We can have hope because we know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His love never changes. He is always the same Person. He is not a philosophical idea. He is a real Person who loves us, and who cares about us, and who never changes. Because of this I can have hope that my life has a purpose ; that it has meaning for someone else ; that I am not a duplication of anyone else. The Lord in His love made you and me completely unique. There is no-one else exactly like you or like me, even in the midst of our billions of persons. There might be people who look like us. People have said that I look like Farley Mowat ; but I am not Farley Mowat, and he is not me. We are very different people, although I think perhaps I have a cracked sense of humour like he does. Maybe that is why, apart from other things, we might be similar.

Why be Orthodox ? It is truly the only living way to live. It is difficult ; but it is whole, integrated, balanced. The real Orthodox Christian is not one-sided. The real Orthodox Christian is holistic. The real Orthodox Christian is not simply a linear thinker. The real Orthodox Christian can perceive very much more than merely the straight line. He/she can perceive the whole situation of the environment surrounding the straight line and where it is going. We have balance in life. We have understanding of people. We have understanding of God’s creation, and how we fit into God’s creation. We can understand the real purpose behind re-cycling, and re-using things. We can understand how to treat God’s creation well. Actually, it is appropriate to be here on this particular farm when I say this particular thing. Here we are on a farm where animals are treated in a respectful way, where there really is re-cycling, and where there is harmony with creation in the Orthodox way. It is a sort of concrete experience of traditional Orthodox life in a way that we have a hard time experiencing in the city.

Our responsibility is to know Him, and to grow in love for Him. Everything in our life is connected with that, and everything is concerned with that. Everything is Jesus Christ.

The Petrine Ministry and Orthodox Perception

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
The Petrine Ministry
and Orthodox Perception
Prepared for the SCOBA - Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue
South Boundbrook, New Jersey
5-7 October, 2004

I have been asked to present a talking-point paper on the Petrine Ministry for the sake of our dialogue. I apologise for its lack of sufficient references and cohesion, since this was written partly during a journey abroad. On the other hand, since this journey was in Czechia and Slovakia, a land where tensions in the past have been very strong between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, perhaps it adds a certain perspective and flavour. The most significant flavour might be that of the early missions there of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the mentality of whose missionary work has formed the missionary work of all the missions of the Churches born from their labours, and which is reflected in the current missions developed and sustained by our parent Churches of Constantinople and Athens.

Generally, I consider it important to begin with the usual foundational Scriptural texts regarding the rôle of the Apostle Peter :

‘And I also say to you that you are Peter [petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:18-19).

‘I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’ (Luke 22:32).

When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.' He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep’ (John 21:15-17).

In a similar vein, there are the examples of the Apostle Peter’s leadership of the Twelve in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 1:15-26, he is presiding over the choosing of Matthias. In Acts 2:14-36, he gives his Pentecost speech to Jerusalem. In Acts 5:1-11, he presides regarding Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 10:9-48, he is given the authoritative vision of the animals, which is confirmed by the immediately-following experience with Cornelius. This vision and experience confirms the mission to the Gentiles. In Acts 11:1-18, he defends the mission to the Gentiles. In Acts 12:2-19, he is released by an angel from his imprisonment. However, in Acts 15:6-29, although he speaks of the mission to the Gentiles, it is the Apostle James who decides. This is amplified in Galatians 1:18-24, when the Apostle Paul completes his stay in Jerusalem by seeing the Apostle James. He would have done so, because the Apostle James was (in our current terminology) the diocesan bishop of Jerusalem. When there is such an important concern as this conversion and its implications, the “ruling bishop” would have to be fully informed. In Galatians 2:6-21, there is also the case of the difference of opinion between the Apostles Peter and Paul.

In the case of the extract from Matthew, there is a difference of opinion as to the meaning of the rock. It was perceived by Saint Augustine that the mentioned “rock” refers to Christ. According to Origen, the rock is Peter. As Father John Meyendorff points out, the keys are given to Peter ; but the believer, in imitating Peter, may receive these keys by imitation. Father Meyendorff notes that the words of Christ "have a soteriological, but not an institutional, significance. They only affirm that the Christian faith is the faith expressed by Peter on the road to Cæsarea Philippi. [...] Thus, when He spoke to Peter, Jesus was underlining the meaning of the faith as the foundation of the Church, rather than organising the Church as guardian of the faith. The whole ecclesiological debate between East and West is thus reducible to the issue of whether the faith depends on Peter, or Peter on the faith. The issue becomes clear when one compares the two concepts of the succession of Peter.

Continuing from this, one may say that this leadership has a particular character, but not a universal character. Nor is the leadership of the sort more recently claimed by the bishops of Rome of a universal character, since there were obviously open debates and differences amongst the apostles, as clearly described by the Apostle Paul. There are other examples of the apparent contradiction between the Apostle Peter’s leadership in such cases, and that of the Apostle James, as shown in Acts 15 with the Council of Jerusalem. Although we commonly use the word “council” for this assembly, “synod” may well be more expressive and accurate. The “apostles and elders came together”, and their final decision expresses the meaning of “synod”, that they were “together on the same path”. Obviously, this “synod” is from the Greek "σύνοδος", "synodos", meaning “assembly, meeting”. Its relative word, "συνοδία", "synodia", means “a journey in company”. We Orthodox might well understand that the city of Jerusalem was under the authority of the Apostle James, while the Apostle Peter had a certain, and different authority over the Twelve and over others, which did not interfere with this. The leadership of the Apostle Peter is within a particular context. Nevertheless, the decree of this Synod (or Council) in Jerusalem affected the whole Church. Earlier, it was the Apostle Peter to whom the vision was given, and through whom the Mission to the Gentiles was confirmed, and whose activity produced this Synod (Council), and its decision ; but the decision was proclaimed by the Apostle James. Since the Apostle James was the spokesman who made the proclamation, it shows that he was the one responsible in this assembly. Jerusalem must be properly considered our Mother Church, but even it subsisted as a dependency on the provincial capital, Cæsarea, until after the fourth century.

The different manners in which the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox interpret these and other texts, are well-known, and it is not useful to repeat more than this. However, there have been contributing factors which led to these differences, not the least of these factors being political situations, and communication problems. The result of these contributing factors has been such a difference in perception between East and West that mutual comprehension (despite the best intentions) is difficult to this day. One might say with tongue in cheek that (like men and women) Roman Catholics are from Mars and Orthodox are from Venus. In the West, there has developed the very strong tendency to think linearly, and even compartmentally ; and in the East, the thinking or perception has always been more spherical or holistic. This may be said to be expressed by the very different attitudes towards canons — either as medicinal prescriptions in the East, or as law in the West. There is, I believe, some foundation to this comparison, and such a comparison can bring some hope, because men and women do manage to find a common ground and unity, despite these differences. Both Churches perceive themselves as pragmatic, but this pragmatism shows itself in very different ways. How these differences developed is treated in detail by Father John Romanides.

There has been a debate about the actual succession of the Roman bishops as being only from the Apostle Peter, or having begun even before him, but including him. Regardless of opinions about the nature of the succession, there is no doubt that the Relics of the Apostle Peter have been a focus of pilgrimage in Rome from the earliest days. The fact that Rome was the capital of the Empire lent an undisputed prestige to this city, and New Rome has inherited and continued that position since the separation became enduring.

There is an interesting discussion about the eucharistically-focussed perception of the bishop in the Early Church by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon in his book Eucharist, Bishop, Church. This fine study essentially says that, at the Holy Eucharist, each diocese, with its bishop, constitutes the catholic (that is, universal) Church in herself, and is in herself complete. The diocese is the Local Church. This completion is, however, not exclusive, but inclusive, because all the dioceses are required by their mutual communion to express visibly their mutual unity in the Body of Christ. Together, the bishops, in their mutual communion, unite their dioceses to one another and express another, general, aspect of catholicity. It is prescribed in the canons that all the diocesan bishops (led by the metropolitan or archbishop) are to do nothing without him, nor is he to do anything without them. The chief bishop exercises his leadership strictly in the context of the Apostle Paul’s teaching about the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12 ; Ephesians 1:22 ; 4:15 ; Colossians 1:18). To this day, this eucharistic unity is expressed in the custom that, after the enthronement of each new head of an autocephalous Church, this new leader journeys to each of the other Churches, and celebrates the Eucharist together with each other chief bishop. This unity has been historically maintained and balanced in part by the chief of all these leaders. Old Rome served in this way for about a millennium. After the division, New Rome, Constantinople, had to take up the responsibility of the service as the first amongst equals. This has been expressed all along in the chairing of assemblies, and in serving as a court of final appeal. The term servus servorum Dei would be a fitting expression for this responsibility.

By the twelfth century, it is obvious that the Papacy had become not so much a Petrine Ministry as a Petrine Monarchy, under the specific circumstances of the revival of the so-called Holy Roman Empire. This was accompanied by, and even driven by the rise of centralised monasticism and of scholasticism. This transformation is a clear demonstration of development far beyond the rôle of the bishop as understood by the Early Church. One of the chief paradoxes as a result of this has been that the Bishop of Rome does not live in his own city, and he also does not even live in the same country as that city. The territory around Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, is an independent city-state not belonging any longer to Italy. Nevertheless, the historical fact is that the Bishop of Rome has had a central ministry in the life of the whole Church. From early times, he was the “court of final appeal” in disputes amongst the other Local Churches.

All these words aside, the main question to be considered now should likely be : Is the matter of Primacy in general, and Papacy in particular, necessarily a theological, medicinal and pastoral matter ? Or is it a logical, legal and administrative matter ? Either way, the need to secure and maintain the Church’s unity is addressed and must be addressed. The first presents difficulties because the environment can seem to be rather subjective. However, the second makes the consideration much more difficult for all because of the inflexibility of logic, legislation and definitive documents. I referred previously to the development of the Bishop of Rome into a monarchical ruler of the Church in the West, to which was added civil rule over earthly territory as well. Petrine Ministry in the past has meant, in fact, the severe limitation of the authority of diocesan bishops. As a result, it has been made possible to say that there is really only one bishop, that of Rome, and all others are his auxiliaries. Especially with Vatican II, there has been a great shift away from this coercion to the more traditional understanding of the diocesan bishop. But it must still be asked : What is the rôle of the document Pastor Æternus from Vatican I (1870) ? It does not seem to have been rescinded. It is this document which concretised the ideas of universal jurisdiction, based on a particular interpretation of the previously-mentioned scriptural references. According to Papadakis, this interpretation was greatly developed in the time of Pope Gregory VII and the other centralising reformers, although the seedling of this plant had existed for many centuries previous. One might suggest that the roots of this plant might be found in a desire and an attempt to establish the Kingdom of Christ visibly on this earth in the present. Such an idea propels the interference by certain persons during our times in the Middle East. Chapter 3 of Pastor Æternus reaffirms the statements of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century, that the Bishop of Rome, as Prince of the Apostles, has full, universal, ordinary, immediate, and truly episcopal jurisdiction of governing and ruling the whole Church under obedience. The terminology of Pastor Æternus is not received as a pastoral and medicinal document by the Orthodox reader, but rather as imperial and legislative. Chapter 4 on infallible teaching authority ends with a rather different conclusion than might be drawn by the Orthodox from the same sources. The same could be said with regard to the 1896 Encyclical Satis Cognitum of Pope Leo XIII which refines the points of Pastor Æternus. All of this seems to me to be a refining work on the 21 points of Cardinal Humbert’s Dictatus Papæ.

We have two very different methods of maintaining ecclesial unity, and stability of doctrine. On the one side, we have the eastern customs of visible concelebrations, and the convening of synods to resolve problems and to correct errors, with disputes being resolved at the level of the heads. On the other side, we have the western development of achieving the same ends less by persuasion than by legislation and by coercive obedience to the head. Does a document such as Pastor Æternus still have force, or not ; and if not, how and why ?

If we are at this level of consideration, then this concern must first be addressed and resolved. Is the Petrine Ministry pastoral within the bosom of the whole Church, or is the Petrine Ministry an exercise in legislative organisation ?

I have already been addressing the administrative-pastoral side of things in previous words. If this consideration of primacy is at this practical level of consideration, then there is more room for discussion, and adjustment of perception, and even resolution. I found Patrick Granfield’s The Limits of the Papacy (written in 1987) to be an interesting self-study which, in some ways, showed a similar appreciation to that of the Orthodox about the development of matters, and our agreed purpose of unity, and court-of-appeal. However, he cannot avoid using the characteristic juridical language. Nevertheless, he demonstrates how Vatican II, for instance, moderated the interpretation of the decrees of Vatican I, and he shows how the Pope is to be considered as acting according to previous teaching, but in a more conciliar and consultative manner. He demonstrates also that, unlike in the Orthodox ecclesiology, the Pope retains “primacy of ordinary power over all particular Churches” ; he has “the sole competency to erect particular Churches”; he limits the authority of local diocesan bishops ; he is the only convener of all synods, and "the Pope alone can convoke an ecumenical council, preside over it, transfer, suspend or dissolve it, and approve its decrees. The decrees of an ecumenical council do not have obligatory force unless they are approved by the Pope together with the Fathers of the council and are confirmed by the Pope and promulgated by his order".

On the other hand, this particular last series of powers addresses the lack of an emperor to convene a general council, something lacking for over 500 years. Mr Granfield demonstrates that there have been and are adjustments and developments within the Roman Catholic household.

Returning to the words of Father John Meyendorff, it can be seen that he cites Saint Cyprian of Carthage, who says that in each Local Church, the See of Peter belongs to the bishop. This idea is repeated by Saint Gregory of Nyssa and by Saint Dionysius : "Peter’s succession is seen wherever the right faith is preserved, and, as such, it cannot be localized geographically or monopolized by a single Church or individual".

From this perspective, the East does not well comprehend the later-developed western understanding of papacy. The general perception amongst the East-Romans (Roum-Orthodox) is that the Church recognises "the fulness of catholicity in each local Church, in the sense in which the Apostolic Fathers could speak [...]. Consensus of bishops, and not the authority of one particular bishop, was for them the highest possible sign of truth. Hence their constant insistence on the authority of the councils, and their inability to understand the Roman concept of the papacy".

Primacy was understood in the West to be a matter for legislation, whereas in the East it was a matter of conciliar consensus. Based on the idea of apostolic foundation, the Orthodox understand that, because of the missionary work of the various apostles, many Churches can claim apostolic foundation, but that need not imply any jurisdictional claim. As Father Meyendorff underlines, the prestige of the ancient patriarchates (including especially Rome and New Rome) was derived from their civil importance. He cites Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon : "The Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the imperial city. And one hundred and fifty most religious bishops, actuated by the same considerations, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of new Rome, justly judging that the city, which is honoured with the presence of the emperor and the senate and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should, in ecclesiastical matters also, be magnified as she is, and rank next after her".

Father Meyendorff recognises what was lacking at the time of schism, and it is this same requirement that must guide our current considerations and deliberations : “mutual respect and trust, which alone [...] permit an authentic theological dialogue”.

Obvious is the need for primacy and an order of primacy, and the Eastern Orthodox struggle even now to find ways to make our inheritance fit the needs of the Church in these days of many changed, and rapidly changing conditions. The dialogue with Rome on this subject could be fruitful for us, even if we take a long time to resolve the problem, or even if we, God forbid, do not resolve it. At the present, the various regional, autocephalous Churches have varied ecclesiological expressions of primacy, depending, in part, on local historical, cultural and social conditions. The more decentralised form has a good example in the Church in Greece and in Romania. The more centralised form has a good example in the Church in Russia. The Coptic Church is even more centralised.

Regardless of all these observations, we Orthodox may together say that we can properly understand primacy only in one context, and that this will have to be a part of our consciousness as we proceed in this dialogue. In the context of repentance, the model for primacy in the Church must, following Christ, be the kenotic (that is self-emptying) hierarchical order of the Most Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There cannot be room for any understanding of primacy based on supremacy of power. This is so, because, in our understanding, the use of power and coercion is associated with evil. For a secular confirmation of this important understanding, one need only look at the healing methods of the Twelve-step Programme. These steps reveal the poisonous results of manipulation, and the great length of time it usually takes for a person to allow the Lord to heal the wounds.

And so, closing after too many words, I say that in the context of self-emptying and impartial Christian love, of mutual respect, and mutual repentance, we may proceed with our discussion of this important subject, praying that we be sensitive to the directing of the Holy Spirit towards an honest and Christ-given reconciliation.

Primary Sources

Granfield, P, The Limits of the Papacy (New York : Crossroads, 1990).

Haugh, R, Photius and the Carolingians: The Trinitarian Controversy (Belmont, MA :
Nordland Publishing Co., 1975).

Meyendorff, J, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (New York :
Fordham University Press, 1979).
….. Rome, Constantinople, Moscow: Historical and Theological Studies (Crestwood, New
York : St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996).

The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Thomas
Nelson, Inc., 2008. “Scripture taken from the New King James Version ®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint™. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Papadakis, A, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy (Crestwood, New York : St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007).

Romanides, J, Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine: An Interplay between Theology and Society (Patriarch Athenagoras Memorial Lectures) (Brookline, MA : Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981).

Zizioulas, John, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the first Three Centuries (Brookline, MA : Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001).

The Holy Spirit addressing Issues in Today’s World

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
The Holy Spirit addressing Issues in Today’s World
(Words at the Eastern Church Seminar)
Notre Dame College of Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
8-9 October, 2004

I have been given the challenge of speaking about the activity of the Holy Spirit in addressing concerns in “today’s world”. Although I will attempt to say something, my own perception of reality as a whole is limited, and you may well profit from an opportunity to nap as I speak.

The limited perspective to which I refer is this : I do not really perceive that what we are calling “today’s world” is so different from any other time, place, or situation in history. We often try to speak of today as being significantly different from any time before. I believe that this attitude is, in fact, modern snobbery. Perhaps it is different in some ways (and probably most noticeably so in technological ways) ; but fundamentally, with regard to the behaviour of human beings in general, I see no difference between how we are now, and how we were thousands of years ago. Indeed, I suppose I must be a pessimist, or even a cynic, because I don’t see how we are any better since the Fall of Adam ! We are slow learners, I am always saying, and I openly admit that I am chief of the slow.

Have human beings really changed in any positive direction in their relationship with each other over all the years ? We continually beat each other up ; often we kill each other. Always and everywhere there are wars. If we do not do this with weapons, we do it with our tongues. Frequently, we think this is the worst of times, and we think we hear the Holy Spirit saying that these are the last days. This is so much the case, that there are jokes and skits about it. Instead of repenting, as we might normally and properly respond to such a prod from the Holy Spirit, we prefer to develop systems to try to improve our situation, and then we overthrow these man-made systems. I think that the great social reforms of the nineteenth century are a good example of this. Propelled either by Christian principles (or by some derivative philosophical ideals), various laws to protect the poor, to abolish slavery, and to improve living conditions in general, were instituted, as well as various laws to improve the methods of international relationships. However, by the mid-twentieth century, we can see that many of these improvements had already been subverted in the never-ending drive to acquire money, and in being propelled by fear. Money and power have always been our weakest spot as human beings. Acquiring money and power are still driving almost everything. This acquisitiveness drives politics ; it drives our private lives, and it very severely affects our relationships with each other. Fear is the other dark hand here. We are now, far more than ever, making laws to protect ourselves from each other, because we are afraid of each other. We are fully oppressing ourselves with these laws, which are now so numerous that we cannot but be ignorant of the law, at least sometimes. This puts us into a difficult position, since we are told that ignorance of the law is no excuse. To add to our complex, we also, in our thinking, try to reduce God to a subject of our thought and logic, and even to make Him over in our own image, instead of allowing Him to remake us in His.

In addition to all this, I take the opportunity to use a favourite groaning pun. Despite protests or idealism to the contrary, we live in a world context of rebellion against God. In reaction to all the pain of this reality, we try desperately to make ourselves comfortable in the world. We pretend that the pain of this reality, and especially the pain of our separation from God, is not really there. Finally, not just members of twelve-step programmes, but all humans to some degree, find ourselves suffering from what I call the “Egyptian disease”, meaning “living in denial”.

I am cognisant of the exhortations in the Scriptures and the Fathers that we be aware of the signs of the times, and that we listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The exact meaning of this is a part of what I shall address. I will here address some scriptural background to this consideration, in the context of the tropar with which we usually begin our services : "O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present, and filling all things, Treasury of good things, and Provider of Life, come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One".

Related to this tropar is the hymn that we use to open all Councils, Synods, and Bishops’ meetings : "The Grace of the Holy Spirit has assembled us today. Having taken up Your Cross, we cry : blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest".

The Scriptures begin with these words :

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (1 Moses [Genesis] 1:1-2).

While the Father is creating, it is the Holy Spirit who is working together with the Word in bringing all things into being, in unison with the Father. Since Christ is the Truth, it is the Holy Spirit that works together with Christ, the Truth, as expressed in the previous tropar. The Holy Spirit provides life to all that is. Although creation can be said to stand apart from God, it is the Word who spoke it into being, and it is the Holy Spirit who sustains it, somehow. All this refers us to the words of Christ : “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

In the Septuagint’s Third Book of Kingdoms (that is, 1 Kings in the Masoretic version), chapter 19, we see the Prophet Elias, in despair, on Mount Horeb. He is in a cave. There is a strong wind, which breaks rocks, but God is not in the wind. There is an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. There is a fire, but God is not in the fire. There is a still, small, voice, which Elias recognises, to which he responds. In this case, and in the case of all the prophets, it may be said that it is the Holy Spirit who guides and enables these prophets. What do these prophets do ? They call the people to return to their senses, to return to true worship of the true God, to return to correct interpersonal behaviour, to stop oppressing one another, to be generous, to give alms, to care for one another as God has cared, and does care for, and tend His creatures in love. Indeed, the foundation of the Law is love of God, and love of neighbour, as Christ repeated. The result of this love is always found in reconciliation, forgiveness, peace, joy, kindness, long-suffering, goodness, beauty, and the like, as referred to by the Apostle Paul (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Our Saviour said to us that He would send to us the Comforter, or Counsellor, who would teach us everything, and remind us of His words, and that He would bear witness to Christ (see John 14 & 15). As a parenthetical comment, it should be known that “Comforter” here does not mean consoler, as we usually take it, but rather strengthener. It is this Comforter who has already appeared as a dove at the Baptism of Christ. It is this Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who comes to the Apostles and the Church on the Day of Pentecost. It is this Comforter who enables the repentance of the multitudes, and the rapid expansion of the Church in the Roman Empire. It is this same Comforter who strengthens all the martyrs over the centuries, and who enables them, as Christ promised, to confess the Lord well and effectively in the face of persecution.

I have to say that the Lord has been merciful to me in allowing me to meet not just one or two, but many such confessors in my lifetime. This is because, on Church business chiefly, I have had to go to eastern European countries and to Egypt a number of times. There, I have met many persons (both Church leaders and lay-persons) who have confessed Christ in Communist and Islamic environments. These persons have suffered much as a result of this confession, but they have remained faithful until now. With joy and power, they proclaim Christ by how they live. There is a certain joy and power about them, but chiefly a loving peace. Of course, not the least of these could be the well-known Priest-monk Arseny (Streltsov) in Soviet Russia, about whom two books have recently been written. The examples could also include a Bukovinian woman about whom I read this last summer in Romania, a woman who spent twenty years in exile in Siberia, by a river near the Arctic Ocean, along with her three sons.

It is this same Comforter who has inspired the multitude of persons who have been recognised as holy, and who are known as saints. These saints are persons who have passed through various trials and temptations, who have fallen and gotten up again, who have lived a life of repentance. They do not fit into any particular mould. Although there may be some similarities amongst them, the Lord nevertheless makes each human being a unique person, a unique being. Each holy person is one who has passed through fire, and who has grown up and matured in Christ. Each has become, in time, his or her own true self as God intended in creating each one. Following the supreme example of the Mother of God, such holy persons serve as examples to us. These holy persons are not professionals or technical specialists. Indeed, they show us that we, too, could become holy — as God in the Scriptures has directed us to be (see in 3 Moses [Leviticus] 20). The Lord is God. The Lord is our God. He expects us, and always has expected us, to imitate Him. Since we know that God is love (see 1 John 4:8), this imitation is to be found in how we love — first Him, and then our neighbour as ourselves.

Some may know that I am a convert to the Orthodox Faith. I was raised for twenty some years as an active Lutheran, and passed through the Anglican Church, en route. As a young Lutheran, I had felt that there was something missing. When I entered the Anglican Church, it was because I thought that what I had been missing was fulfilled there ; but I was wrong. In liturgical ways, it was fuller, but the Anglican Church seemed to suffer from an instability and fogginess about which they joked in those days, but now do not. It was not until the right time came (always the Lord’s time), that I was able to encounter clearly, and to accept, Orthodoxy. It was here, finally, that I understood the deep and true meaning behind the words of a verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews, words that I heard throughout my childhood and youth, cited by a pious, God-loving Lutheran Norwegian, who said always, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He did not and could not reaise that the Orthodox would translate literally the Greek, saying not just “forever”, but “unto the ages”, which actually has a deeper and more eternal implication. Ole would not object ! However, the point is that it was this stability that my heart had been looking for, true stability in Christ, Himself ; and it was, I firmly believe (because of the very many particular details that led to this conversion), the Holy Spirit that was leading me to where I ought to be, to the true home of my heart. On coming to the Orthodox Church, on the first day of my reception, I had the very strong sense of having come home, a sense that has not left me in nearly thirty years.

So far, I have gone through many examples that may not seem to be germane to the subject. However, the main point is the stability of God, Himself, the stability of His Being, and yet a stability in the context of an unimaginable dynamism. It is in the context of this stability that He has been, and is revealing Himself to us.

These days, when one hears talk about discerning the signs of the times, and about listening to the Holy Spirit, the impression one gets is that one should be expecting something really new from the Holy Spirit. After all, as we have been convincing ourselves, our times are different from all other times, and we know so much more than anyone did before. In fact, with the aid of very fast computers, there is so much knowledge available now, that even the biggest computers cannot hold it all yet. Technologically, we are light years ahead of the human beings of even a century ago. We are capable of travel in space, of microsurgery, and of genetic manipulation and engineering. Arising from all these things are very serious ethical and moral considerations. People are beginning to feel directionless and rudderless. Therefore, all these new situations are being interpreted by people as meaning that God, through the Holy Spirit, will say something new to us, something really new, to address all these unprecedented, fast-changing conditions.

My response is that I do not think so. It is true that we are required to address all these fast-changing conditions and situations, and to address them ethically. But how, and in what context ? I say that the context is, and has to be that of the stability of the Godhead, and of His eternal revelation of Himself to us. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and unto the ages”. The Holy Spirit has been leading us and teaching us, reminding us of Christ’s words. Therefore, we are not looking for anything revolutionary here. What we can expect is a serious addressing of the present concerns in the context of what always has been the case, vis-à-vis our relationship with God. When we talk about tradition in the Orthodox Church, we do so, understanding that this Tradition is a capital “T” Tradition. This Tradition means everything that has to do with, everything in the context of, and everything that refers to Jesus Christ. Thus, facing the concerns of genetic engineering, cloning, and every sort of ethical concern that arises from our technological advances, everything has to be referred to, and be measured by this Tradition that is Jesus Christ. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, either.

In recent generations, and without giving any consideration to the Lord’s will, the world has thought that world-organisations might be able to overcome the scourge of war. Coercion is applied, economic sanctions applied, political manipulation applied, in order to keep nations from fighting one another. It has not been successful at all. In our nations, we are concerned about human rights and welfare, and we are concerned about drugs and violence. We legislate freely to protect rights and personal safety. We try to legislate fairness. However, the laws are so numerous now, and so complex, as to be difficult to enforce. The result is small compared to the effort. Again, this is an aspect of the perpetual denial disease from which we suffer. We want to keep God at a distance ; we want have control ourselves, and we consider ourselves to be independent. Then, when things don’t go right, we are ready to ask why it is that God allows such horrors in the world. In expending all this effort, we become busier and busier, because not only do our attempts to grapple with the impossibly huge and painful human situation take limitless energy and activity, but all of our technological advances require considerable attention. We are, as it were, very active slaves of our mechanical slaves which were designed to make life easier.... I remember reading a book by a twentieth century French economics professor, who was at the same time a philosopher. His thesis was that the greatest catastrophe ever for humans was the invention of the automobile. He said that before that, our dependence on the horse forced us out of ourselves, because we had to care – even albeit poorly — for the animal on which our work, life and sustenance depended. With the loss of this God-given relationship, he wrote, humans were free to turn completely inward, and to become completely selfish.

The Holy Spirit is, and has been speaking to all of the current concerns. The Holy Spirit has been doing what is needed. The Holy Spirit has been offering us the solutions. However, as always, we are not ready to hear, largely because, to begin with, that would require that we be silent. This silence is difficult for us, since we are so accustomed to every sort of noise, day and night. We have to learn to be silent, to be still. Like the Prophet Elias, in this silence we will be able to hear the still, small, voice. This still, small voice is that of the Lord, who speaks to our hearts and in our hearts. Hearing this voice, if we are able, we are going to understand that the answers are (as they always have been) simple and clear. The root consideration will always be : how would God’s self-emptying and selfless love act in this situation ? The only solution to war, for instance, is ultimately forgiveness and repentance, combined with intercessory prayer. God gave us intelligence, and it was designed to be used in complete harmony with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. We can come to a good and correct understanding about how each of the many complex questions may be answered, but it has to be done by looking inward and listening. Listening, we must be living within the Orthodox Christian Tradition in our addressing the problems. This is not by way of slavery, but by way of freedom. It is in living in this harmony that true life is found. We cannot possibly dare to let ourselves think that the solutions to huge problems are to be found in our own so-called bright ideas which are apart from Him.

Let us not forget that God does answer prayer. I recently had the blessing to be a participant in the delegation returning the Tikhvin Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God to Russia from the USA. During those blessed days, I many times had the opportunity to hear once again not only the stories of past interventions for the good, but of present healings in the lives of people whom I encountered. It is true that, similar to Pochaiv and other places, the Tikhvin Monastery was saved from destruction by the Swedes by the intercessions of the Theotokos. At the time of an invasion, the icon was, at her inspiration, processed around the monastery, and the Swedes went home. This happened more than once. I met a priest in Chicago this last June who, as a child, had been in a terrible accident and had been left incurably blind. This, at any rate, was what the physicians had said. His mother pleaded with Archbishop John to bring the icon to him and to pray, which he did. His blindness was healed, and remains so to this day. In the 1960s, the prayers of Saint Herman and of the Aboriginals in Alaska stopped tsunamis from causing great destruction. Fires and great storms have been diverted by these prayers as well. Other great things have been accomplished by prayer, including the saving from certain death of those having to fight in wars. I have heard many a story about such persons, protected especially by their mothers’ prayers. This is yet another aspect of the addressing of concerns in “today’s world”.

What really matters most is the person-by-person and case-by-case involvement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of human beings, and at the same time in creation itself. The main concern is what happens in my own life, and how the Loving God cares for me, and addresses my personal needs. How does the Lord affect the relationship between me and the person before me at any given moment ? How we are able, on a person-by-person basis, to live in harmony with the Tradition of Christ, and to live in a harmonious and life-giving relationship with our overall environment, will affect all those around us for good, and spread beyond that to nature itself. It is my firm opinion that the deep spiritual illness of humans is producing the greatly disturbed weather in the whole world. The whole earth is suffering because of our suffering, confusion, disturbance and rebellion. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, our repentance, and our intercessory prayer can help to change these conditions.

In general, the small details of human history may change somewhat, but overall, the French saying applies well : “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they are the same). That is because we human beings seem to insist on making the same mistakes over and over again. However, as the twelve-steppers like to say, cycles of evil in a family will continue until someone in a family will say “enough”, and stop evil and reactionary behaviours. This can only be done by embracing the love of Christ, by forgiving, by turning about towards the life-giving Way of the Gospel. Only then can life-giving and healing love spread throughout the world. Only then will we be able truly to hear the still, small voice in our hearts. Only then will we be able to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us, and be able truly to address the complex mess of our present lives. Only then will we be able to understand and to do what is the “right thing” in accordance with God’s holy Will. Only then will a lasting change in our behaviour be able to begin. Only then will true freedom be able to be known, and lived.

An Exchange of Gifts : Clear Communication in Love

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
An Exchange of Gifts :
Clear Communication in Love
Presented at the Second Conference Orientale Lumen Australasia Oceania
Sydney, Australia
9 July, 2003

First of all, I would like to begin by giving thanks to God that we have the opportunity, as close relatives in Christ, to speak openly and honestly in the love of Jesus Christ. Although I consider myself to be the last person competent to address such matters, it has fallen to me, and I ask forgiveness in advance for the inadequacies of this presentation. I also ask for patience with the nature of this presentation, which does not follow the more scholarly format to which we are accustomed in such presentations. Nevertheless, I wish to underline that I perceive that the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics has been undertaken in love, and in a genuine desire to overcome past failures.

Over the years, as I have studied and read about the relationship between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox ; and, considering what I have experienced during ten years of dialogues between Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops in the USA, it seems to me that our nearness is as problematic as the matters that keep us separated. We have a similar self-perception as the Church ; we seem to have a quite similar ecclesiology, Christology, Trinitarian theology and Eucharistic theology. There have been, in recent years, Glory be to God, documents produced of substantial agreement on many of these subjects, and about some specific points of difference. The similarities are great, especially when one observes the nature of the language of these more recent agreements, and the mostly amicable and regular exchanges between the Vatican and the Phanar. We usually admit that we each have good qualities from which the other would benefit, should we be one. However, we still do not manage to bridge this gap. Both fear and inertia are involved, to be sure, although they are not alone. We both seem to desire to conform ourselves to the words of the Saviour’s prayer in Gethsemane, that we be one in love as in the Unity of the Trinity (see John 17:21), but we do not manage to accomplish it. We seem to be behaving rather like a dysfunctional couple, similar to the sort I have encountered pastorally over the years.

Following is a very simplified summary of this situation. Certainly we were one for many centuries, but as time passed, and as political troubles and difficulties in communication grew (not the least of them being linguistic), a distance began to show itself, and differences between us became greater. This was the case on both sides. However, in the view of the Orthodox, the West became more interested in worldly power than in spiritual authority, and in time tried to wield this power on the rest of the Church. The development of scholastic theology in the West, and the subsequent placing of theology under obedience to philosophy, seem to have made the differences more stark, distinct and seemingly insuperable. Communication became much more difficult. It is true that even in the very early days of the Christian Church, both East and West had different ways of looking at life, and they responded differently ; but because of historical circumstances, the development of scholasticism, and other difficulties, we neglected to pay enough attention to maintaining the priority of the unity of love in Christ, and we began to react to each other’s perceived faults and insufficiencies. As we pointed the finger of accusation at one another, we began to squabble openly, and sometimes not to talk to each other for long periods of time. As it might be said, we came to attacking each other with lawyers’ letters. The West even went so far as, willy-nilly, to conquer Constantinople and take over almost the whole household by force for a time. Even so, our actual communion was not completely broken. We actually managed somehow to maintain communion, albeit in a minimal way, until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, and the disappearance of the Eastern Roman Empire. Those in the East were, thenceforth, interested mostly in simple personal survival. There was encounter from time to time, but it was generally hostile and reactionary. A prime example is the decision in the West to baptise Greek converts, and the Greek reaction to do the same towards Roman Catholics, and all others as well. The former policy was dropped in the West, but amongst Greeks (and in much of the Church influenced historically by the Patriarchate of Constantinople), this policy remains in effect until this day, although it moderates in some places.

Our situation is not exactly parallel to the following anecdote that I heard in my youth, but it may be perceived to be not so far from it. An old woman appeared in the divorce court, before the judge. The judge asked her : “After fifty years of marriage, madam, why are you now in this court ?” She replied : “Enough is enough, already”.

The circumstances of our history are painful and difficult. Thanks be to God, the last century opened doors for us to renew communication, and we have indeed been talking seriously. We cannot ignore the words of our Saviour, nor can we ignore the fact that our persisting in division is a betrayal of our Saviour’s love.

What are we going to do, and how will we overcome ? The plain facts are that we Orthodox are not quick to move about anything at all, nor are we necessarily logical. A clear and sad illustration of this is our dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox. Indeed, we have always been closer to them in many ways than we have been with the Roman Catholics. In the last century, there have been many years of fruitful dialogue, which resulted in a very comprehensive theological, ecclesiological and spiritual agreement. In short, it was agreed by all specialists that there is no obstacle remaining which need inhibit the return to communion after 1500 years. Now, however, many years later, we are still not openly reconciled. On either side we have stubborn persons who threaten schism. We have persons who do not believe or accept the results of the dialogues in the 20th century, nor do they trust those who dialogued. We have persons who are not ready to forgive and to reconcile. Therefore, exasperated, we remain out of communion with each other. Efforts to educate and to convince the skeptics continue, on both sides, but it will be some time before we can hope to see any resolution.

We both, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, perceive dialogue to be a requirement in these days. We both perceive that it is essential to come into unity. However, we do not get very far. Perhaps one can say that we both have the same self-perception, and that this is an obstacle. That is to say, we both perceive that we are The Church, the Body of Christ, which is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. We believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. We believe that the Church is the Ark of Salvation. We believe that we have been inheriting the apostolic tradition during the past 2,000 years, and we are hierarchical in our make-up from the beginning. We are very near, yet we are paradoxically still quite far from one another.

The first, and perhaps most difficult, obstacle to our dialogue’s fulfilment might be said to be the historically different dispositions between the Latin-speaking, and the Syriac-, Arabic- and Greek-speaking peoples. These differences may be described, for instance, as the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical approaches. The Orthodox would generally perceive themselves as being inductive reasoners in a Platonic framework, and the Roman Catholics and Protestants as being deductive reasoners in an Aristotelian framework. As an illustration of this difference, we would likely note that the Roman Catholics seem to be completely dependent upon documents and formal statements ; and that the Orthodox, although such things have their place, would emphasise the importance of personal contacts and relationships in living with such documents. The Orthodox would insist that the Orthodox Way is that of balance ; and we perceive that the Roman Catholics, over the centuries, have lost this balance, particularly in having lost the vertical aspect of the vertical and horizontal whole of the relationship between God and creation. This obstacle’s difficulty lies in its subjective nature. However, as in other relationships, something as subjective as this often makes for the greatest difficulty in mutual understanding. As a result, we can hear a person say nowadays that the Orthodox are from Venus and the Roman Catholics are from Mars, comparing this to supposed differences between men and women.

Father Alexander Schmemann, in his Journals, may be found to lament that he perceives western Christianity to have become bourgeois, and to have lost its eschatological character. He says : "Maybe poverty is the central symbol, not the economic factor of poverty, but the approach to it. The West has decided that Christianity is calling us to fight against poverty, or to replace it with relative riches, or at least economic equality, etc. The Christian appeal is quite, quite different: poverty as freedom, poverty as a sign that the heart has accepted the impossible (hence tragic) call to the Kingdom of God. I don’t know. It’s so difficult to express it, but I clearly feel that here is a different perception of life, and the bourgeois state (religious, theological, spiritual, pious, cultured, etc), is blind to something essential in Christianity" (p. 122).

On the one hand, with Schmemann, the Orthodox would generally say that through the Eucharist in the Church, the Kingdom of God is revealed. On the other hand, the West would be considered to be trying to establish this Kingdom on earth. The use of the word “culture” can further illustrate the difference. In most cases in western thinking, culture now seems to refer mostly to secondary characteristics, such as opera, symphony, folk-dance, food, dress and the like. In the East, this word would likely find itself being used (as in biology) for the elements of the foundation of a way of life. For instance, the Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Arabs, Russians, Ukrainians and others, live their lives both similarly and dissimilarly. The way in which they live their lives is perceived to be rooted in the Gospel, and how the Gospel nurtured each people’s manner of living : in their particular places, and in the context of their particular histories. The mixture of the Gospel in the pre-existing culture brought to each culture and people a unique character of life in the context of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the context of the Church’s feasts and fasts. However, in this uniqueness, there is also a sameness. One might use the paradoxical expression that throughout all the cultures and languages of the Orthodox world, things are all the same, but they are different.

However, since I have mentioned balance, it must be said that although this inclusive and formative perception of culture is indeed the case, there are compensating difficulties. I mean that the Gospel and Church embrace the culture ; and they form and transform the culture to such a degree that a confusion can arise. In the mentality of more modern and ignorant persons, it can often be understood that the Church and Christianity are simply a part of, an element of the culture. Then Christianity becomes merely tribal. In the meeting with the current, western, perception of culture, this can produce the mentality, indeed a pagan sense, that all missionary activity is inappropriate because “religion” is connected with the soil. Thus, Christianity becomes a mere option : it becomes an alternative, instead of being the Ark of Salvation. The Orthodox Church, over 100 years ago, condemned tribal mentality as a heresy, called phyletism. Nevertheless, one does see evidence of it from time to time. The tendency towards such limitations seems to affect us both, but it affects us Orthodox more. In part, it is the result of the typical human weakness of taking attention and trust away from the Lord.

Every time we take our focus, trust and sense of dependency away from the Lord, we begin to make idols, as Father Schememann reflects in his Journals. Nothing has changed in human behaviour since the time of the biblical patriarchs (and before that also). Therefore, especially when aided by imperial or governmental support and association, the Church can become a worldly institution, very like the civil government itself. How many times have I heard to my pain the faithful describing the Church as a thing, as if she were man-made, and quite distinct from Christ ! This is a weakness for us both. The Orthodox add the tendency to substitute also a dream-world, in which some imperial era : the Roman, the Russian, or some other, was the golden age, the holy time. In many parts, the 19th century is very popular these days.

It seems to me that, in this whole process of conversation and attempted reunion, this mutual renewal of trust in Christ, of asking His direction and obeying it, must be our primary focus.

With this in mind, it is necessary still to discuss as honestly as possible the realities of what keeps us apart. In speaking of an exchange of gifts in the post-modern context, we must face the fact that, although we do indeed seem to have love and respect in Christ for each other, our work towards reconciliation involves a lot of documents, and a lot of words. These span several languages and cultures as well ; and at the same time, they provide generous opportunity for misunderstanding.

For a real and meaningful and fruitful exchange of such gifts, there needs to be sufficient common ground, and in the case of words, sufficient common perception of words, in order to accomplish this. Indeed, I remember well in elementary philosophy courses being taught that finding a mutually agreed definition of terms is of primary importance. To my mind, we have here one of the sources of our mutual difficulty in communication and understanding as described by Father Schmemann in his writings. The development of these differences in use of words and ideas over many centuries puts us in a condition similar to that of France and Québec. Both peoples speak the same language. However, Québec retained much of Old French, and mingled it with Aboriginal words and English words ; and at the same time, France’s use of its own language developed steadily. Now, 500 years since the colonisation, Québecois films shown in France require subtitles or dubbing in order to be understood.

For the sake of convenience (not trivial pursuit), I will outline my perception about some of our significant differences in terms. This is not to say that we Orthodox are perfectly consistent in our use of these and other terms. Especially for those who live in the West, and as well those who depend for translation upon lexica produced by the West, there is a historical tendency to use words (especially in English) according to the customary western usage, which introduces a contradiction :
An interesting and significant variance is the noun “Byzantium” or the adjective “Byzantine”, nowadays so widely used to describe Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire, and the associated culture. This recently-introduced western term is not native to the East. Constantinopolitans have always referred to themselves, and are referred to by peoples throughout the East, including the Muslim, as Romans. The empire was Eastern Roman. The patriarchal title is “New Rome”. Until Greece became a country independent from the Ottoman Empire (and even now to some extent), those who were living on this territory called themselves Romans, as did all Christian peoples within the territories of the eastern empire.
The word “canon” in the West tends to mean “law”, and the two words are generally used together as “canon law”. This is assumed to be the first usage of “canon” in dictionaries. In the East, however, “canon” refers to spiritual medicine and the temporal application of eternal truth.
In the West, it seems that “Apostolic Succession” is a state of being, a quality or a situation which requires, in order validly to ordain a bishop, valid matter (a living, baptised, qualified male), valid form, valid intention, and a bishop or bishops ordained by other validly ordained bishops. In the East, all this is required ; but in addition, it is required that all concerned be in the fulness of the Apostolic Faith, and be in the communion of the visible Church. (Therefore, for instance, “Old Catholics”, who seem to have a dubious position with Rome, would simply be regarded by the Orthodox as not being Roman Catholics. Therefore, their bishops would not be considered to be true bishops, because they are not in communion with the visible Church, and they cannot be said to be in the fulness of Apostolic Faith.)
For us Orthodox, “validity” is not a term that we are accustomed to use, especially regarding anyone or any entity outside the boundaries of the visible Orthodox Church. We do not historically tend to consider the status of those outside these visible boundaries. However, when the time comes for one person or a group to be reconciled and reunited with the Orthodox Church (by whatever means is canonically determined), it is then that there is an examination of the situations, and an assessment made about what we can perceive “of the Church” , usually on a case-by-case basis.
As we see it, the West uses the word “sacrament”. The original meaning of this word derives from an oath of loyalty, to the emperor or to some other lord. Thus, although “sacrament” can mean “sign of the sacred”, there seems to be a tendency to regard sacraments in terms of our acting upon the consequences of an oath of loyalty to Christ, perhaps as an act of obedience. “Sacrament” is often described as being “a sacred rite”. In the West, it seems that there are only seven “sacraments”. In the East, we speak of “mysteries” in which God acts through Grace, and in which we participate. In the East, we would say that there are at least seven mysteries, but also that the real number is far greater, and probably not even knowable. In the East, there is no distinction made between a “sacrament” and a “sacramental”, because the “mysteries” cover all the aspects of life.
Between the East and the West there are significantly different approaches to understanding mystery and sacrament. In his book Through the Creation to the Creator, p. 5, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia writes about his having met the Elder Amphilochios, a spiritual father on the Island of Patmos. He describes the elder as being an ecologist before the term was well-defined. For instance, when he heard confessions, as a part of the spiritual discipline, he would assign to the penitent the obedience of planting a tree. He walked about the island and watered the seedlings, and the island was transformed and re-forested through this work. He liked to say that the Lord wants us to love the trees. Father Amphilochios said : “Our country is covered with the ice of materialism and of atheism, and we are all called to take part in their defeat. Only when this ice dissipates will we be able to find and to enjoy once again that true earth which the apostolic ploughs cultivated, and which the blood of martyrs and the sweat of monastic saints watered. Only then will the Noetic Sun warm the Greek soil, which will immediately sprout forth flowers in bloom and will bear fruit, as before, to the glory of God” (Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, by Herman A. Middleton, pp. 51-52).

As a complement to these words (and to this living example) are the words of the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann in his For the Life of the World, pp. 128-130. Father Alexander stresses that secularism, which encompasses the materialism and atheism mentioned by Father Amphilochios, is the declaration by the world of its self-sufficiency and its independence from God. In one of his public talks, he said that secularism is a western phenomenon which belongs to the category of Christian truths that went berserk. He points out that scholastic philosophers began to bifurcate, divide, dissect and categorise all that previously, in Christian understanding, had been interwoven parts of one whole. In these western categories, what is mystical and symbolic is not real, and what is real is not symbolic. We Orthodox must keep mindful of the fact that what is a symbol is real, true and even more, in Christ. The rejection of the very concept that holds all together in one is a rejection of the Christian understanding of what is creation and its fundamental sacramental character. From all this came the false differentiation between natural and supernatural, in which the sacramental unity given by the Lord is ignored and rejected. By doing this, we lose all sense of balance. We invite and even willingly embrace extremism, to our loss. The end result of this “berserkness” is an ossification of our faith and of ourselves. We become calcified, fossilised.
In addition, the western understanding of the sacrament of marriage is quite different from that of the East, since it seems that it is the couple who marry each other in some sort of contractual agreement, which is reflected in the traditional vows, and in the modern variants of them. The Church witnesses the mutual agreement, and then blesses what they undertake. In a marriage in the East, the couple were (in long-ago times) already registered with the state as married by the time they arrived in the Temple of the Lord for the blessing of Christ upon this union. And blessed they are. In the “Mystery of Crowning”, the two, the husband and wife, who have already been betrothed to one another, are blessed into a spiritual union with one another in the context of the whole believing community of the Faithful. There is no suggestion at all of anything contractual ; there are no vows ; and the spiritual and physical union into which the two enter is anticipated to be eternal, not merely ending upon physical death.
Following logically from marriage, there are the differences between us that are reflected in the baptism of children, in Christian Initiation. In the East, it is universal that soon after the birth of a child (usually at about 40 days), the child of Orthodox Christian parents is baptised and chrismated. The child is then immediately given the Mystery of Holy Communion, and this person becomes a regular and frequent communicant in the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the West, the child of Roman Catholic parents is often baptised soon after birth, often much sooner than the Orthodox. However, by contrast, although the child may begin to participate in the sacrament of Confession/penance at the age of 7 years, this child is not permitted to receive the sacrament of Confirmation until very many years later, when the bishop arrives for the laying-on-of-hands for that purpose. This has usually been in early adolescence. In former times, that would begin the possibility to receive Holy Communion. In more recent times, Holy Communion began to be administered after the beginning of making confessions. For the Orthodox, this arrangement appears to be incongruous and disorderly. There is another area of questioning between East and West, in that it seems that for the West, anyone at all (even if lacking Christian faith), may perform a recognisable baptism, if there be the correct intention ; whereas, in the East, a Christian layperson may in emergency baptise, but those outside the Church may not, on the principle nemo dat quod non habet (no-one gives what one does not have).
The West uses the term “penance” for an act which expiates the temporal punishment due to sin ; whereas the East uses “epitimion” as a medicine for a sick soul and weakened will.
“Sin”, in the West, seems to mean a violation of divine law, whereas in the East, the word tends to follow the Greek meaning of “missing the mark” and to imply a sickness of the soul or heart.
We seem to have somewhat different concepts of God — either as lawgiver and judge, or as lover and healer. It is no surprise, in the view of history and inheritance, that the West in English translates "dikaiosyne", as “justice”, which refers to legal standing, and correctness according to the law. The East, however, translates this word as “righteousness”, which refers to a quality of the heart and soul, and the positive relationship to God’s love and holiness.
“Authority” in the Church, in the West, is generally treated in a juridical manner, and generally used in terms of power. Older texts refer to the power to confer a sacrament. The greatest authority is with the greatest power. In the East, authority is derived from a Spirit-informed consensus. The greatest must be the least. Every bishop and every patriarch is immediately answerable to his own Holy Synod of Bishops, and to all the other Churches. All should be done in the context of the principle of conciliarity. In the East, the one in greatest authority is not in a distinct position above all other bishops, but rather, he is simply a bishop who has a title of responsibility and leadership which must be exercised in the context of the supportive agreement of the other bishops. This is the meaning of “first amongst equals”, primus inter pares.
The Mother of God herself is found to be another point of difference between our eastern and western perceptions. Both East and West do call her the Mother of God. She is all-holy. It is in how we understand this that we seem to diverge. Without analysing all the details of this divergence, I will try to present a summary of how we Orthdox approach the Mother of God. She lovingly and voluntarily submitted her will to God throughout her whole life, and chiefly in agreeing to bear His Son. Without her, there would have been no Incarnation and consequently, no Redemption. Through her life of prayer and fasting, she grew in holiness to become a pure vessel to contain the Uncircumscribable One. After Christ’s birth, she remained Ever-virgin, and she continued her podvig (a Russian word with a broad meaning, including “spiritual struggle”, “doing more”, “self-denial”, “repenting”, “exploit”, “heroic deed”). The Mother of God, too, faced the tempter. To live out her life in complete purity, the Mother of God engaged in a life-long struggle to be completely faithful, because she so completely loves the Lord. In doing so, she became, as we are always hymning her, “more honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim”. She is for us the supreme example of a Christian. Because of her life, we know that being truly united to Christ is possible for a human being. She is herself a human being just as we all are, born into our fallen and rebellious world and subject to death as a result. Fallenness and brokenness is our condition, our situation. Borne on the prayers of all those who preceded her, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, she was enabled to be the one who could, in her perpetual “yes” to the Lord, be able to give to her Son true and full humanity in its fallen condition. It was necessary that she be able to give to the Son of God the fulness of humanity. He came to save us from all the consequences of our Fall. He did so because the Most Holy Mother of God was fully a human being. However, this fallen condition is not an inherited disease, as some suggest it to be. Rather, it is the situation which resulted from the disobedience and rebelliousness of our First Parents. We are all born into this situation of disobedience and rebelliousness, which characterises our behaviour as a race. We perpetuate this in ourselves when we act against our Lord’s life-giving and loving will. When she gave her Son this fallen humanity, He became identical to us in every way, as the Apostle demonstrates, except that His obedience is perfect ; the union of His will with the Father’s will is perfect in perfect love. He did not yield to the tempter. He did not sin. He does not sin. He is fully human, and He is fully God. He is our perfect and compassionate High Priest.
It seems that we have differences also in how holiness is recognised in particular human beings. For the East, holiness and obedience to the Lord’s love might be called synonymous. Both the Forerunner and our Saviour exhorted us directly and clearly about holiness and obedience in love, as did the apostles and all the holy persons who have followed them. Because of circumstances of my life, I came to understand that a distortion regarding how we English-speakers speak about holiness has come into the English language. Because the English language is a western language, its fundamental perceptions and perspectives are moulded by the philosophies and attitudes of its western milieu. The word “saint” comes to us from the French, a word spelt exactly the same in both French and English. In both languages, “saint” simply means “holy”. In French, “saint” comes from the Latin word sanctus, which translates the Greek word hagios. In most languages there is only one word in use to describe the concept of “holy”. English has the additional, Greek-founded word, “holy”, which came to us through the German word heilig (or heilige). However, the distortion in the English language to which I earlier referred has to do with our having come in recent times to use in different ways the words “holy”, and “saint”, which both mean the same thing in their essence. Now, in English, we anglophones effectively limit the use of the word “saint” to those persons who have been officially declared to be of this category : officially recognised holy persons. French-sourced words imply higher respect in English for some possibly Plantagenet reason. The result of this is that the great majority of people now consider a “saint” to be a “professional Christian” who has climbed the hard ladder to recognition (or been helped to do so). Because of the popular mis-usage, many poorly-formed Orthodox people have the same attitude. Some people will think that the good and notable person was just born that way. Some will consider such an outstanding person to be some sort of specially gifted, even super-human person. The essential element of repentance in becoming and being holy has disappeared from our popular consciousness.

This problem of misunderstanding holiness and repentance is not limited to the problems of English language usage. These problems are, perhaps to a great extent, the product of our western culture ; and this problem reflects a much wider misunderstanding throughout many western cultures. Because of these distortions in understanding, the popular meaning of “saint” has been changed and expanded so widely that it is now applied to many famous persons and well-known positive examples of various religions and politics (such as Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and others). On the contrary, for us Orthodox Christians, a saint is simply and plainly a holy person. This exhortation : “‘you shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy’” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 11:44), tells us why, from the time of our creation as a race, we have been and are, each one, expected by the Lord to become holy. He expects us, and He wants us to be like Him. Holiness, sanctity, is for every person, not merely for a few “specialists”. There are, to be sure, many outstanding holy persons amongst us and in our history (persons officially commemorated on our calendars). They show us by their lives that holiness is not something exceptional for Christians. Rather, being holy should be considered to be what is normal, what is usual, what is “every day” for every Christian. The holy way of life, which truly is the normal way of life, is therefore full of the love of Jesus Christ, full of Grace, full of love for the neighbour, full of love for all God’s creation. For the Lord, and for us, “normal” does not at all mean “average”. Rather, it means that this is what we were created to be in the first place. There are many Christ-loving persons who grow up to be like this.

There is a strong tendency in the West to use the word “religion” to describe Christianity. So strong is the tendency that we could say that this usage is ubiquitous. However, “religion” refers to a system and systematising that the East does not comprehend. The Orthodox tend still to keep to the New Testamental mentality of Christianity’s being the Way, as Christ called Himself. Father Schmemann in his Journals underlines this as he writes, “What is the fatal mistake of Christian history ? Is it not that logically, methodologically, one derives Christianity from religion, as the ‘particular’ from the ‘general’, which means that Christianity is reduced to religion, even when it is affirmed as fulfilment, as the accomplishment of religion. Whereas Christianity, in its essence, is not so much the fulfilment as the denial and destruction of religion, the revelation about it as the fall, as the result and the main expression of original sin. [...] Christ did not eliminate death and suffering, but trampled them, i.e., radically changed them from within, made victory out of defeat, ‘converted’ them” (p. 202).

To some, all this may seem to be rather tangential to the topic ; but it is my opinion that if we are not able to manage to speak the same language, and to understand each other to a greater degree than we seem to do at present, then this attempt at an exchange of gifts may be unsuccessful, or unfruitful. It has seemed to me that, time and again, in addition to the problem of definitions, the Orthodox attempt to speak to the West in scholastic terms, an environment which is foreign to their native mentality ; and the result can be confusion on both sides, because we do not, in the end, truly comprehend each other.

Another of the great gaps and challenges that we face is our mutual inability to cope properly with the presence of each other on the traditional territories of each other. In the more distant past, the historic territories of the patriarchates and national Churches were relatively stable ; and especially before disunity, travel and migration were not major difficulties. Now, in the midst of the reality of disunity (and especially during the past several centuries), peoples are moving very quickly and frequently. For economic and political reasons, Orthodox believers have migrated to traditional Roman Catholic territories, and Roman Catholics to traditional Orthodox territories. In the West, Roman Catholics have had to cope with the establishment of many dioceses of the Orthodox of various heritages. In the East, besides the development of the Unia, there is the continuing establishment of Roman Catholic dioceses in new areas. Therefore, although we both believe that the Church is visible, we are establishing structures which proclaim our disunity. In addition, this establishing of structures of visible disunity can suggest that we believe that the Church is invisible, not visible. This has dangerous implications about what we believe about the Incarnation. Regardless, in western countries, there is a tendency to find a modus vivendi of sorts. Often now, we find that local clergy associations, and dialogues between bishops and theologians can be both amicable and fruitful. This does not appear to be happening in eastern countries, and most particularly in Ukraine. In that land, the Orthodox and Roman Catholics are treating each other inimically, often ridiculously and shamefully. In Ternopil, the canonical Orthodox nishop finally found land on which to build a cathedral, since he and the flock he leads had been expelled from other state-owned premises. Immediately, the Ukrainian Catholics built a very prominent church nearby, and the Roman Catholics built another church across the street. In addition, the anti-Orthodox city council approved the building of an auto-sales salon on a corner of the lot so as to obscure the Orthodox structure. In L’viv, the Roman Catholic civic government denies the canonical Orthodox bishop any place for building a suitable cathedral, and for political purposes limits him to a building historically known as “the Russian Church”. Strangely, a former Roman Catholic Church in L’viv was recently seized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

In Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, he says : “Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of any authentic quest for full communion between Christians”. He also quotes a passage from the Second Vatican Council : "Truth is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication, and dialogue. In the course of these, people explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth. Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that individuals are to adhere to it".

This word “truth” is a problem, too, and a further example of the Aristotelian-Platonic tension that exists between us. According to the perception expressed in this previous citation, truth is something which we may discover. For the Orthodox, truth begins with the words of Christ, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He who is the Truth reveals Himself to us, and He reveals that He is the Truth. For the Orthodox, all truth should be related to Him who is the Truth itself. In these days, this word has become so relativised that there is in general society no longer any sense of absolute truth. This is unacceptable to the Orthodox heart and mind.

In an eventual reunion between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, a substantial concern, regardless of all other agreements, will remain for the Orthodox. This has to do in part with fundamental self-consciousness. We have seen the results in many countries of such a union, in the so-called Eastern Catholic Churches. As much as these bodies may appear to be like the Orthodox, and to worship as the Orthodox, we generally find that the mentality of the clergy and monastics in particular is western, and that the approach to life and world-view has changed from that of the general Orthodox experience. In some cases, one may encounter Eastern Greek Catholics who are considerably latinised, not only in their thinking, but in their practice. Should there be a reconciliation, we would be greatly concerned to be able to continue to recognise ourselves as we are. Indeed, this self-recognition is imperative. Despite this encounter with the latinised Greek Catholics, it is nevertheless reassuring to read in this same 1995 encyclical : “The change of heart which is the essential condition for every authentic search for unity flows from prayer and its realization is guided by prayer” ; and, “Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of any authentic quest for full communion between Christians.” These words suggest that unity is being understood in terms of selfless love, repentance, and the understanding that there is an absolute truth. In the context of such an absolute truth, true and honest unity is achieved when all concerned repent and mutually forgive each other. However, when we read : “Full communion of course will have to come about through the acceptance of the whole truth into which the Holy Spirit guides Christ’s disciples”, we see again the possibility of this different perception of the meaning of truth, as if in this case there be an implied innovation. The Orthodox in general would hope not to be inventing something new, but rather recovering what was lost. These words of Pope John Paul II are important : “The structures of unity which existed before the separation are a heritage of experience that guides our common path towards the re-establishment of full communion” ; but his words do not seem to say all that we would hope to hear.

the course of the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, as he discussed his perception of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome (¶ 88, ff), Pope John Paul II did so in a manner to which we are accustomed, with words to which we are accustomed. He described it in a manner about which we have continuing differences of opinion. Much of the language that is used in this section is very familiar and acceptable to the Orthodox ; however, the emphasis on the centrality of Peter and the Bishop of Rome, is found to be excessive in some way by all the Orthodox. Collegiality is referred to, but as being dependent upon the Bishop of Rome, nevertheless. For us, the Orthodox, this collegiality is properly much more generally conciliar. Patriarchs and other Heads of Churches are presidents of synods of bishops. It is averred that we try to do all things together. It is generally considered that primacy (and historically the primacy of Rome) has not so much to do with its being a watch-dog or sentinel, but with its being a court of last appeal, as is indeed mentioned in ¶95. This is effectively how New Rome serves us at the present. Throughout most of the time before the fracturing of communion became final, this sort of primacy was effective ; but when its exercise began to appear more regal than pastoral, mutual problems increased. The service of unity to which His Holiness refers is most desirable, but it is acceptable to us only if this is clearly a pastoral service. I must say, also, that it is gratifying to read further that he prays : “we may seek — together, of course — the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognised by all concerned”. As Father John Meyendorff and others have said repeatedly, I believe that in terms of exchanging gifts, the greatest gift to all would be the answer to this prayer. Many would aver, with Father Meyendorff, that a return of the Papacy to its earlier form of general service, as being simply first-amongst-equals, and particularly with a view to the terms of the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 879 that healed the “Photian schism”, would accomplish a great deal. However, the words of ¶ 39 of the most recent papal encyclical of April, 2003, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”, it appears that communion with the Pope of Rome is still considered to be universally the condition for unity. This being in communion with the Pope of Rome as the “source” of unity in a dependent manner, or being perceived as such, remains an obstacle. Were it to be on the level of, again, first-amongst-equals, and primacy of honour, much would be improved.

We still have far to go. In this same encyclical of 2003, there is a great deal written, about which we all agree, and particularly with the use of the word “mysterium”. However, there is a certain emphasis on the making present specifically of the saving acts of Christ, almost only with reference to the Cross and Resurrection (¶ 14, 15). Orthodox anaphoras do not neglect this aspect, but they include all saving acts from the Creation until the Second Advent. Whereas the words of this encyclical seem to perceive the eschatological element as referring only to the future, the words of eastern services perceive this future as being made present in this celebration. Truly, in ¶ 19, this aspect of a “glimpse of heaven appearing on earth” is referred to. However, as Father Schmemann would remark, the East would go much farther. In his Journals, and in his other comments, he insists that the Eucharistic Liturgy reveals the Kingdom in the here-and-now. He perceives that the West, in all its parts, suffers either from concentrating on history, or from rejecting history. He sees compartmentalisation and polarisation as the fruit of scholasticism. He writes : "This is the tragedy of contemporary Christianity — tragedy because ultimately the whole novelty of Christianity consisted (consists) in destroying this choice, this polarization. This is the essence of Christianity as Eschatology. [...] The Kingdom of God is already now among us. Christianity is a unique historical event, and Christianity is the presence of that event as the completion of all events and of history itself. And only in order that it be so, only for that, only in that, is the Church, its essence, its meaning. [...] Here is, for me, the whole meaning of liturgical theology. The Liturgy : the joining, revelation, actualization of the historicity of Christianity (remembrance) and of its transcendence over that historicity (‘Today, the Son of God...’). The joining of the end with the beginning, but the joining today, here... Hence, the link of the Church with the world, the Church for the world, but as its beginning and its end, as the affirmation that the world is for the Church, since the Church is the presence of the Kingdom of God. Here is the eternal antinomy of Christianity and the essence of all contemporary discussions about Christianity. The task of theology is to be faithful to the antinomy, which disappears in the experience of the Church as Pascha : a continuous (not only historical) passage of the world to the Kingdom. All the time one must leave the world and all the time one must remain in it. The temptation of piety is to reduce Christianity to piety ; the temptation of theology — to reduce it totally to history" (pp. 233-234).

In Father Schmemann’s perception, and, I believe, that of the Orthodox Church in general, there is not to be reduction, but inclusion. The Eucharist includes and refers to all, always and everywhere ; and the words of this Sacrifice of Praise to the Lord indicate to ourselves (as to others) exactly what we believe. It is in the context of these words and our belief that we live our daily lives.

We still have far to go. This is primarily because we are so self-sufficient and full of pride. It is not that the obstacles are insurmountable. They are, nevertheless, significant and important in their own ways. Indeed, the Orthodox, who strongly affirm the need for unity and reconciliation, do not and cannot seek this unity at any cost. We stand now, and have always stood for fidelity to the truth, to Him who is the Truth. Orthodoxy is not just a vague description. Although we Orthodox may believe, teach and preach the Truth, we do not always follow through in action, and we confuse not only others, but ourselves also. Nevertheless, all this is still definitely resolvable in Christ.

I have referred to many of the elements (and probably soporifically) about which it is commonly known that work is required if we are ever to fulfil Christ’s prayer that we be one as are He and the Father — one in unbroken, self-emptying, selfless love. It is easy enough for us to agree that we must indeed work harder on overcoming these obstacles, mindful of the subtleties of many of the details. However, words are one thing, actions are another. If we are to be faithful to Christ, then together we must find the way for our words to be matched by actions. Nowadays, this is especially so, because words have become cheapened. The Orthodox are well-advised to find the way to come to more consistency in how we treat Roman Catholics, and especially in how we receive them when they request to enter the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox are well-advised to develop a better way of living in the reality of the present. The Orthodox are well-advised to find a better way of comprehending the scholastic inheritance and vocabulary of the West, and of addressing it in a manner not foreign to ourselves. Most importantly for the Orthodox, we will do well to find our way to do this not through engineering and programming, but through obedience to the Gospel and faithfulness to the fulness of Tradition. If we hope to address the Roman Catholic Church in a way that promotes reconciliation, we must be ready to be an example of Christ-like love which is the core of this Tradition.

As Father Schmemann writes in Church, World, Mission : "Revealing the Church, her nature and her vocation, eschatology of necessity reveals the world or, better to say, the vision and understanding of it in the Christian faith. If the essential experience of the Church is that of the new creation, of a new life in a renewed world, that experience implies and posits a certain fundamental experience of the world. First of all, it implies the experience of the world as God’s creation and therefore positive in its origin as well as in its essence, reflecting in its structure and being the wisdom, the glory and the beauty of the One who created it : ‘Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!’ There is no ontological dualism of any kind, no cosmic pessimism whatsoever in the Christian faith, which fulfils the essential biblical glorification of God in His creation. The world is good. In the second place, the eschatological experience of the Church reveals the world as the fallen world, dominated by sin, corruption and death, enslaved to the ‘prince of this world.’ This fall, although it cannot destroy and annihilate the essential goodness of God’s creation, has nevertheless alienated it from God, made it into ‘this world’ which, because it is ‘flesh and blood,’ pride and selfishness, is not only distinct from the Kingdom of God but actively opposed to it. Hence the essentially tragic Christian view of history, the rejection by the Christian faith of any historical optimism that would equate the world with ‘progress’. And finally, the ultimate experience: that of redemption, which God accomplished in the midst of His creation, within time and history, and which by redeeming man, by making him capax Dei, capable of the new life, is the salvation of the world. For as the world rejects, in and through man, its self-sufficiency, as it ceases to be an end in itself and thus truly dies as ‘this world,’ it becomes that which it was created to be and has truly become in Christ: the object and means of sanctification, of man’s communion with and passage to God’s eternal Kingdom” (pp. 76-77).

Father Alexander is very much concerned about the effects of the Fall, the effects of the alienation of us all from the Lord. He is concerned about how much the beautiful world created by the Lord becomes a caricature of itself as it co-operates with the alienation to which he refers. He is concerned that through this alienation in the Fall, what God created to live in living harmony with Him has been twisted to work in opposition to Him. He is concerned, then, that we actively co-operate not with the distorting powers of darkness, but rather with the life-giving light of the love of Jesus Christ, which restores life and beauty to all the twisted and distorted caricature.

Our concern, in addition to that of Father Schmemann, is the distortion of our mutual understanding that has come with this alienation that we all experience in our fallenness. Words and talking and documents are certainly absolutely necessary. However, the world is full of documents gathering dust on shelves. I am concerned that, forgetting such words as these, we will merely continue to talk, and thus continue to betray Christ’s love. We, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, could well profit from praying, to be sure, and from heeding the prompting of the Holy Sprit who will guide us to unity through mutual repentance and forgiveness. We will do well to look at ourselves seriously and to repent of our own weaknesses, shortcomings and betrayals. We will do well to take heed to pray seriously for each other. In addition, being faithful to Christ (and not to our own devices and inventions), it is crucial that we be prepared to embrace His love, and through this love, each other. It is crucial that we forgive each other. Then, perhaps, in the experience of this liberating love, we might at last, listening to the Holy Spirit, be able to find the God-given words adequate to our condition, and to find complete reconciliation. Then, perhaps, we will be able to offer that greatest exchange of gifts possible — our selves without reserve, as does Christ to the Father, the Father to the Son, the Father to the Holy Spirit, the Son to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit to the Father, the Holy Spirit to the Son. May God grant us all the necessary love and desire to persevere until the end, to His glory.

Canada, and the Future of The Orthodox Church in America

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Canada, and the Future of
The Orthodox Church in America
(A paper preparatory to the 14th All-American Council
in Toronto, Ontario, July, 2005)
20 February, 2005

A person cannot contemplate possible characteristics of the future without considering the past. The two, along with the present, are intimately connected one with another.

The history of the Orthodox Church in Canada is much shorter than that of the USA, and it has a much different character. This is partly the result of the history of immigration to this country, and partly the formation that the country brings to those who arrive in it. In Canada, the immigration of Orthodox peoples did not begin until almost a century later than it did in the USA, and it was this immigration, not a missionary foundation, that introduced the Orthodox Faith to Canada. This is the case, even if one were to accept a theory that the first Orthodox believers could have arrived amongst the Vikings in Newfoundland a thousand years ago ! Even at that time, people came to Canada either to find a better economic life, or to escape some painful local situation, such as persecution. Thus, it was in the second half of the 19th century, that immigrants from the Middle East, from Syria and the now Lebanon, arrived in eastern Canada, in the Eastern Townships of Québec, in Prince Edward Island, and in Nova Scotia. As witness to this, there is, at Bishop’s University near Sherbrooke, Québec, an 1862 edition of the Codex Sinaiticus, gift-dated about 1879, given by Tsar Alexander II to that University, in thanksgiving for their giving the use of the University Chapel to the Orthodox believers, who received the services of a priest sent to them from New York by the Russian Mission. By 1890, there began the arrival of the first Slavs from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, soon to be followed by Romanians, and then others. These came principally from the areas of Ukraine and Romania called Galicia, Bukovina, Kyiv and Volyn (which includes Pochaiv). Their settlement was primarily in the western prairies, although many settled also in Québec and Nova Scotia, and then in Ontario. A wave came later from China’s Shanghai and Manchuria to far western Canada.

From 1898, the Mission began to send priests to western Canada to serve these large numbers of migrants (also later to eastern Canada). Always there was the struggle to meet, with very few resources, the needs of so many immigrants. Missionary motives as such were not in the forefront of the minds of many, except the minds of a few exceptional lay-persons, such as Theodore Fuhr (†1942) and Theodore Nemirsky (†1946). Both men were born in Western Ukraine, and they farmed on opposite sides of Edmonton, at about equal distances from it. This exception included also some of the priests who worked hard in those days. They were responsible for the conversion of many to the Orthodox Faith, as they worked together with the actively-witnessing lay-people. Foremost for many was simply trying to live their Orthodox Christian lives as they had in their homelands. So much was this a primary concern, that in many cases these pioneer homesteaders lived in sod houses, and before building a “better” home for their families, they first banded together to build the church. The prairie provinces are dotted with such beautiful Temples to the Lord, built of logs and/or sawn timber, dating back even to 1894. It is this sense of the priority and the importance of the worship of the Lord that has remained a constant until today. However, the 70 years after the communist revolution in Russia wrought havoc in our Canadian diocese. In its various effects, it almost destroyed our life. As a result, there was all-round neglect, sometimes oppression, both of clergy and parishioners, often because of complete lack of resources, sometimes from falling into temptation. However, the Lord, in His mercy, kept all alive. From this situation, He enabled a renaissance and a blossoming of active Church life, beginning with the last years of the active service of Archbishop Sylvester, of blessed memory.

The problems that arise from Canada’s being a different and independent country from the USA (and yet an integral part of The Orthodox Church in America), are much the same as they were a hundred years ago, and even more difficult. A century ago, Saint Tikhon (at that time the Archbishop of North America) was unable to achieve a Canadian federal incorporation of the bishop, because he was a foreigner ; and he was able to manage this incorporation only on a local, western, level — and that after considerable difficulty. People rightly marvel constantly at the energy, wisdom, insight, and future vision of this godly and God-given man. Today, the Canadian government strictly regulates the activities of, and limits the foreign outflow of monies from registered Crown Charities, as are almost all our parishes, and the Archdiocese of Canada itself. At this moment, only one of our American institutions is registered in such a way as to receive Canadian contributions and qualify for tax credit. Many who participate in the 14th All-American Council will notice that there are differences between Canada and the USA, between Canadians and Americans. However, they will also notice that the differences are generally small. Nevertheless, the differences remain real : a republican country founded in revolution, and a modified monarchy founded in peaceful, gradual and freely-given independence ; two countries whose principal language is English, but often having quite different ways of speaking and spelling it ; two countries consisting of many different cultures, but also two very different ways of including them ; one country founded only in the English language, the other founded first in French, then adding English, and in time incorporating them both equally ; one highly-developed country in many aspects, and the other that is popularly said to be always thirty years behind. In both countries, the Orthodox Church is broken up into nationalistic administrations, and in both countries, the bishops are trying to work together, despite the administrative division.

Regardless of the differences, we are all part of the North American Church, and we have a similar foundation in faith and perspective. We are, taking into consideration our differences, moving in the same direction, even though in different contexts, with different resources, and with different mentalities. Even if our cultures are somewhat different, and if our founding and present constituent parts are somewhat different, the Canadian and American parts of The Orthodox Church in America (and this probably applies also to Mexico), both understand themselves to be the indigenous Church in and for North America. We have a double missionary work to do. On the one hand, we have the responsibility to reach out, to be visible, and to be accessible to the people of the culture in which we live — American or Canadian. In each, there are many subdivisions. On the other hand, there are periodically large immigrations of peoples from traditional Orthodox homelands, to whom we must also be accessible. Often (although certainly not always), the education in the Orthodox Faith of the newly-arrived persons begins at a more fundamental level than that of a North American potential convert. In order for the education to be effective, it must be offered first in the native language of the immigrant. If this be the case in the USA, it is much more the case in Canada, since in Canada, it is the official policy of the federal government to enable the retention of the ancestral languages and cultures for as long as possible.

It has been the experience of our communities, time and again, that various programmes will be formulated by the faithful, with a view to being more visible, more inviting, more accessible to those in the environment of our communities. All this is undertaken with a sense of responsibility and seriousness. Sometimes there is a little fruit from these programmes of outreach, and a few people may arrive. However, it is far more often the case that real growth in a community results either from the patient, prayerful, loving, serving, witness of the believing faithful themselves, which produces a positive response in the hearts and lives of those touched personally ; or, it results from the Lord’s having touched the heart of a seeker, who, finding the community through one’s own research, simply arrives. When the sheep arrive, from whatever motivation, the sheep need to be fed. The foundation of this food is love, in the context of the love of Christ. In addition, following the example of the Apostle Paul, the food has to be presented in a form that is perceived as consumable by the sheep. Those who are receiving the arriving sheep have to be prayerfully sensitive to the needs of these arriving sheep, all with their different needs, and try to feed them accordingly. In Canada in particular, this has already meant the need for a multicultural and multilingual approach. If we were ever to be approachable by the Aboriginals of Canada, it would require our understanding them and their cultures much more than we do, by following the example of Saint Innocent. It is those who are like Saint Innocent (and also Saint Nicholas of Japan), who serve as templates for us in our desire to be approachable for the sake of Christ.

Regardless of the content of our outreach in whatever direction, it is necessary for us all, in all our countries, to accept the responsibility that we have been given by God : to live our lives in loving service of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and in imitation of Him and of His way of life. In the long run, it seems to be that this personal witness is always most attractive to others, and it produces the most fruit for building up the Church. It is not we who bring or make converts to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who does this, who moves the hearts of people. It has to be our work that we remain constantly sensitive to the Holy Spirit in our own lives. To do this, it behooves us to learn (in the spirit of Saints Innocent, Herman, Nicholas and the others) how to live our lives here and now, always loving our Lord above all. It behooves us to remember the manner in which the Orthodox Way has been lived in other cultures elsewhere, and to take this as guidance for the development of this Way in the various North American cultures. The way we live the Way need not imitate exactly any other specific Orthodox culture. However, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, it will develop in the same way they developed historically, as we become the Orthodox Church living here in North America, with various flavours, according to the various situations. Our becoming truly the Orthodox Church in North America will be achieved in time when we will know ourselves to be faithful to the Tradition of Christ in the Orthodox Church, living in the context of the various local cultures, and no longer trying simply to transplant and impose a different culture on these ones. After all, the cultures of traditional Orthodox lands are all now as they are, because of how the Orthodox Faith and Way transformed these cultures under the influence of the Gospel by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. This can only be accomplished in North America by our living our lives faithfully, engaged in a sincere and honest dialogue with these local cultures. It is the Lord Himself who will accomplish all the rest, in accordance with His will.

The Foundation and the Future of Orthodox Christians in North America

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
The Foundation and the Future
of Orthodox Christians in North America
[given on 6 August, 2003 at Holy Transfiguration Monastery,
Ellwood City, Pennsylvania

I have been asked to speak on “The Foundation and the Future of Orthodox Christians in North America”, and I ask forgiveness in advance for the inadequacies of my words.

It is an important detail to remember that it was 210 years ago that the original missionary monks, including Saints Herman and Juvenaly, began their trek across Russia and Siberia, towards what is now Alaska. Let us not forget this. However, it is yet more important to keep remembering our primary and most important foundation. That is our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Himself. It is because of the Saviour that the monks accepted the obedience to go. It is because of the Saviour that they undertook this trek (mostly on foot), across thousands of kilometres of forest, mountains, rocks, lakes, muskeg, quicksand and desert. Because of love for Him, they persevered and they endured. They persevered, despite the great risk of attack by thieves and xenophobes. They endured swarms of biting and stinging insects, and dangers from wild animals and wild human beings. All this culminated in a rough sea-voyage, and it took about a year. It is because of the Saviour that they reached out in love to the indigenous peoples they met in the new lands. It is because of the Saviour, and their love for Him, that they began to reach out to the peoples in the local languages. It is because of the Grace of the Holy Spirit that they were given the ability to do all this. It was also because of the Saviour that they fulfilled this obedience, even in the face of death. It is also because of our Saviour, and because of this love, that this well-laid foundation has persisted until now in Alaska (even with a lack of clergy to provide the Mysteries to feed the faithful).

I must recall the missionary zeal that arose from love for Christ, with which the Hieromonk Juvenaly (Govoutchkin) went to the western shores of Alaska, in order to bring Christ to the Yupik people. I must recall the essence of his martyrdom, as related to us by the Archpriest Michael Oleksa. Father Michael reminds us that Saint Juvenaly approached the land, with a companion, in a boat. He was wearing, as usual, a gold pectoral Cross. This metal sign was taken by the local shaman as a direct threat, and he and his party attacked with bow-and-arrow the approaching boat. Remarkable it is that the descendants of these attackers recall the martyrdom to this day, through accurate oral tradition. At that time, the Yupik people thought that Saint Juvenaly was crazy, because they thought that he was waving his hand in order to brush away the arrows, as though he thought that they were mosquitoes. Rather, the martyr was blessing those who were killing him. He and his companion were killed ; but the love, which moved them to travel there, in due time bore fruit, far beyond a hundred-fold.

The original missionaries laid a firm foundation, in the love of the Saviour ; and those who followed them did the same. They were funded not only by the monarch but also, in time, by a missionary society of believers, who cared about bringing the hope and consolation, and joy of life, in the love of Christ, to peoples who had not yet heard the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Much of the missionary work, and much of the funding of missionary work after them, was the work of Saint Innocent.

It was not just in speaking about Christ that these early missionaries laboured. They were fishing for human beings, and they caught them for Christ, in the net of His love. They lived as Christians. They served their neighbours as they would serve Christ. They lived with them. In particular, Saints Herman and Innocent called attention to the abusive behaviour of the business-driven exploiters. Very quickly, there sprang up indigenous disciples and local missionaries, such as Saint Jakob Netsvetov.

Because of a very large immigration to the USA and Canada of peoples from European and Mediterranean Orthodox places and countries, in due time the focus shifted away from an explicitly missionary purpose. In meeting the needs of these immigrating persons and peoples, it was necessary to continue both feeding the expanding flock with the food of Christ, and helping these rational sheep to adjust to these new conditions. Regardless of any mistakes, all of this was undertaken as a result of the firm foundation of the love of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, which lived in the hearts of His servants. It is interesting to note that it was about a century ago that, included in this feeding of sheep, was a very large re-grafting of many persons, both in Canada and in the USA, who returned from the Unia to Orthodoxy. We know, certainly, that Saint Alexis Toth was the main (but not only) catalyst here. In Canada, it was the recently-arrived farmer, Theodore (Feodor) Fuhr, in central Alberta. In company with others such as Feodor Nimirsky, he requested that priests come to serve all the leaderless sheep in western Canada. As a result, the first Divine Liturgies for them were served by Father Dmitri Kamnev, who had travelled from Seattle in 1898 to do so. This initial work was followed by the labours of others, most notably Archimandrite (later Bishop) Arseny, who worked there, also, and across the prairies. Thanks be to God, the Uniats were not the only converts to Orthodoxy of those days. There has been a steady flow, until now, of conversions from all sorts of backgrounds.

Glory be to God ! Our lands have not, through all these years, been lacking significant, holy people — both known and unknown, recognised and hidden. Not only do I rejoice in the official recognition given to so many persons, but I also rejoice that others are less officially, but sincerely, loved and remembered, including Alaska’s Matushka Olga Michael, and the founder of this monastery, Mother Alexandra.

All this is to address the bright side of our history, until now. There is far more of this brightness than what I have touched upon so briefly. I am speaking like this not because I am a naïve “pollyanna”. I recognise and admit that throughout the history of our Church in North America there have been many mistakes made. I recognise and admit that our Church has become fragmented by nationalisms, and even by racism. I recognise and admit that we have inherited many problems with addiction and violence in some of our families. We have plenty of faults. However, dwelling on them is poisonous, too. What is important to recognise is that, through all these very real and serious problems, we can see many people (including the leadership of the Church) struggling in a personal and corporate repentance.

“The apple does not fall far from the tree”, is a frequently repeated derogatory phrase. It does apply to most faults and weaknesses which are inherited, and passed on, generationally. It has a lot to do with attitude and disposition of the heart. It has a lot to do with what sort of response is given to various temptations.

If I dislike a weakness or a fault or disability in a parent or other person ; if I resent it, or nurse a grudge about it ; if I hold anger, or even hate, because of it ; if I constantly complain, gossip, or criticise about it ; if I point my finger in accusation at someone, then we must observe the obvious phenomenon that there are, on that same pointing-hand, three fingers pointing back at me, myself, and I.

Accepting to be and to remain angry (and consequently to live in bitterness) is the method of perpetuating poison. It is the opposite of the Gospel. The Good News of our Saviour is about forgiveness. The very words of the Our Father are a daily reminder of that. The Beatitudes (in the Gospel according to Matthew, that is, the longer form) clearly underline this. Our Saviour goes so far as to tell us to bless those who persecute us. As it happens, if we are unhappy about the way things are, and we want things to be better, we have to begin with ourselves. We have to learn how to pray for and to bless, and to come to love in Christ every one who has ever wronged us in any way, at any time. Even the twelve-step programmes understand this. However, using any method or programme that does not involve Christ Himself means that complete healing of addiction-afflicted hearts is unlikely. Addictions, by the way, are largely the result of trying to compensate for the pain persisting from not forgiving some wound, from trying to hide from and mask the pain of some event or events. It is only in this blessed and blessing state of forgiveness in Christ’s love, that we can come to be ourselves, and to know Christ’s peace.

It is this matter of forgiveness that we all need to pay close attention to here, and now, in North America, in preparation for our future work. It cannot be over-emphasised that this forgiveness needs to begin on a personal basis. There are three areas of our life here in North America in which even a more general forgiveness of present and past would do us good.

The great majority of us are descended from peoples who immigrated to North America because of some sort of difficulty in an ancestral land. In my family, on both sides, it had to do with over-crowding, and lack of work, as well as a forced clearing of some rural lands. This is a milder cause, but even this could breed a sense of resentment, as could be felt occasionally in my father and my grandmother. Even though there was great gratitude for the new surroundings, this attitude can be inherited. It is necessary for me to be careful about my disposition. The main point, however, is that we want to be vigilant about our attitude towards our ancestors, and our ancestral history. It can poison our present relationships, if we are not careful and watchful to have clean hearts before the Lord, and before one another.

A hundred years ago, our Orthodox Church in North America was more or less a united family. Our undivided Missionary Diocese looked after everyone, somehow, in North America. However, because of external political upheaval, this unity was lost, as various Mother-Churches of immigrating peoples tried to provide for their scattered sheep settling in North America. By now, we have had about eighty years of experience in living in these unnatural-for-Orthodox conditions. We live in overlapping dioceses, with several bishops of a same city. This is against our canons and Tradition. This fragmented, fractured situation not only lets people think of us as a confused sect (or a simply tribal phenomenon), but it also encourages them to think so. Because we are Orthodox, we are forced to admit that the situation is wrong, but we cannot seem to bring ourselves to overcome the fragmentation. For the most part, the situation persists because we do not trust each other, and we have fears of each other. To say it plainly, we are afraid of each other. Remembering past wrongs, we presume in the other a secret agenda, a “power-trip”. We are afraid that we will be oppressed by our brothers and sisters. All this continues to “raise its ugly head”, even though we feel true joy and comfort in our occasional pan-Orthodox services. Most likely, we react in this confused way because we have poison in our hearts. In not persevering in doing what is necessary to become visibly one, we are, in a way, betraying Christ, by persisting in not being visibly one Church as the visible Body of Christ.

These days, I am hearing rather more anti-Jewish commentary than I have heard for many years. This is not unrelated to our present problems. Because we get out of focus by taking our attention away from Christ, we get distracted by unbridled emotions and by trivial and disconnected details. I want us all to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, chapters 9 to 11. Here, we are sharply reminded that it is because of Israel’s recalcitrance that we, Gentiles, have been grafted into Christ. He further says that, although the disobedience of the Jewish people has taken them to a distance, they are still children of the Promise. The Apostle also strongly underlines that our responsibility is to show them God’s love in Christ, so that they will also accept Christ. He says that if we have been grafted on (in view of their disobedience), how much more will it be so when the Jewish people accept that Jesus is truly the Christ, the Messiah. If we are behaving in an anti-Jewish way by condemning them and pushing them down, we are working against our Saviour (and against ourselves, too). It is, rather, our missionary responsibility to “fish” for them, and to gather them in Christ’s love. Here, again, is the activity of living in love and in forgiveness.

We, the Church, are the New Israel, about which the great prophet spoke, when he said for the Lord, “‘a law will go forth from me, and my justice for a light to the nations’”(Isaiah 51:4) ; and “‘Behold, you shall call nations that knew you not; and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you’” (Isaiah 55:5) ; and “‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. [...] I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered’” (Isaiah 56:7-8). We have been gathered and grafted, and it is for us to go and to gather others. Since the arrival of Orthodox believers in North America, many have found Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6), our Saviour, Jesus Christ, even across language barriers, in the Orthodox Church. Thus, the Lord challenges us as He did the great prophet, “‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8) Of course, we say with the prophet, “‘I am a Man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’”(Isaiah 6:5). However, like the prophet, we have been purified — not with a burning coal, but by baptism, chrismation, and by repeated reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Like the apostles, we, too, are sent out. We cannot avoid it.

In the context of my experience of Church life in North America, I am convinced that the missionary foundation of our Orthodox life on this continent remains our vocation from the Lord. Even though many came here as exiles or refugees ; even though many came for economic reasons ; even though many came damaged by pain, I believe we are all called to be salt and yeast here (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). Ours are lands of extreme selfishness and confusion, with people groping about in all directions as they search for stable hope and truth. There are many who offer cheap or false substitutes ; but the Lord has given us everything we need to supply what our neighbours are lacking.

To fulfil our mandate, we all need first to repent. We all need to turn back to the Lord, and to allow Him to renew His love in our hearts. We need to let Him rule there, and to allow Him to put the correct balance in our hearts and minds, as a unity. We need to allow Him to take painful poisons from our hearts. We need to allow Him to heal the brokenness of our lives, and the brokenness of our Church life. We need to allow Him to soften and to open our hearts, so that we may dare to show His love, the way He wants it to be done. We need to be ready, at last, to take the Gospel seriously, and, without embarrassment, to live according to the Gospel.

The Lord has planted us here, to be for North America what the Church has been everywhere else : the Body of Christ, the Rock, the Foundation, and the Source of joyful, graceful life in Christ — a transformation and transfiguration of the way of life. He has given us a rich inheritance from many cultures, already transformed and renewed by the Gospel. From this inheritance we can, by His inspiration, through the Holy Spirit, find the ways to do the same for all the local cultures, here.

The future of our Orthodox Church in North America is to baptise these cultures in Christ. Let us let go of our self-built protective walls and open the doors of our hearts, so that He may heal and enable us. Let us say, with love for Him, ‘“Here am I. Send me”’(Isaiah 6:8). “God is with us”, as we always exclaim in Great Compline. You and I — we are all called to be missionaries, in one way or another, here and now. Beginning with our families and friends, we are to cast the net of Christ’s love, and to co-operate with the Lord, as He brings us together into His one Body, His one Church.

Words at the Graduation of Saint Vladimir's Seminary

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Words at the Graduation
of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox
Theological Seminary
Crestwood, New York, USA
18 May, 2002

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

This Seminary, or rather, Academy, is the inheritor of a great tradition of the great theological schools of Russia and Paris in the last centuries. Of course, we are at least subliminally aware of this, but it is important to remember most specifically that this inheritance is not so much found in books and lectures as in persons and examples. These persons and examples have been notable, and they have been real characters. They have been well-formed and distinct personalities. True, they wrote, and write, but the writing is not just a cerebral exercise. It is the product of their life’s experience. It is the result of an experience focussed on the daily liturgical worship in the chapel, and primarily focussed the Divine Liturgy. It is part of an inheritance which wishes to serve the Saviour by living, as much as possible, according to the Gospel.

There is such a dangerous tendency in our life nowadays to live in the head, to be cerebral, and to compartmentalise. It is inevitable that we face this struggle, since this is the character of the society in which we live. We swim in this water, and it is extraordinarily difficult not to become just like this water – the more so if one be a convert, and has recently come out from that water. However, this school of fish of which we are part is not given only to swim in this water, it is given to clean this water, and to transform this water. Maybe we might be compared to snails, which do this sort of work (since we generally move so slowly about it). Regardless, our task is not to become part of our environment, but to work with the Lord in changing and transforming it into what it was supposed to be, but did not know the way. This is a part of what the Lord is saying to us when He says that we are to be in the world but not to be of it.

Finding that balance is probably most of a lifetime’s work. That balance is for us, also, not an option. It is part of who we are. The Orthodox way (this term, of course connects us to the first Christians) is about just that – balance. We do not find balance in ourselves, and we certainly do not find it in the world around us. Yet we are called to live it, for by living it we are using perhaps one of the most fundamental evangelical tools. Love, self-emptying love, love like the Saviour’s, goes with this middleness. It sounds strange, but it can actually be a compliment to address someone as “your mediocrity”. I remember I was recently at a colloquium, which was taking place in Montréal at about the same time as a political summit in Québec City. The summit was behind fortified fences, about which there was the usual violence. The question was posed : where do the Orthodox stand – with those inside the fence, or with those outside the fence ? The answer was : “With those on the fence”.

So why, you may ask, is the bishop spouting vague, platitudinous statements, and stating the obvious to us ?

I have repeated some plain and obvious fundamentals because, since you that are graduating are now completing your studies, you are leaving the bosom of this protecting and supportive community, and you are going out to the various places to which God has called you. You begin in earnest to serve Christ and feed His sheep, in one or another ministry or capacity, whether it be in pastoral leadership, in teaching, in singing, or in serving in other ways. All that you have learnt in the last years, you will need not only to call upon time after time, but to build on in continual reading and reflection. If you try to do all this without relying constantly on the fundamentals, you will have great difficulties. No matter how much you know about your faith, no matter how well-read you are, no matter what a strong vision you have of how things should be (and could be), nevertheless, without the fundamentals of prayer, of worship, of self-emptying love, without a real balance, you may well find that your efforts are fruitless. I hope, too, that by this time you have learnt and understood that the virtue of obedience is part of this foundation, and part of the fruit of this self-emptying love. Without being able to offer this loving obedience to the Saviour, without being therefore able to offer this loving obedience to those in authority within the Church, there is the danger of not bearing good fruit.

Keeping the fundamentals in mind is of the greatest importance for us all if we are concerned about maintaining balance in the love of Christ. Everything has to be tempered with this love. We can know and understand everything, but without this love, without Christ in the centre of everything, this knowledge and understanding can wither and become empty. As you probably have been finding your daily source of life and focus in the worship in the chapel, so you will understand the importance of maintaining this habit from hereon in your daily life. Even if you do not have a church in which to serve or pray daily, you still have your home. You have your room. You have your place of prayer, which you must be careful not to neglect. Always it is crucial to take care of the foundation of our life. I have enough experience of my own in not having paid attention that I can witness to you that a great deal of time is wasted if these things are not attended to vigilantly. Without this watchfulness, it is easy to make a lot of silly, and even stupid mistakes. If your desire is truly to share what you have learnt and experienced here, for the sake of building up the Church, for the sake of saving souls, for the sake of being a bringer of light and life, then do not neglect the foundations. Be careful to nurture love in your heart. Be vigilant that you live always in forgiveness with everyone.

It is critically important for us to know where we have come from, and where we are going. This does not mean simply that, having studied the history of the Church, and knowing the current events of the Church, we can make some judgements (although this plays its part). I have in mind far more the importance of knowing the personalities who have carried this history, and of knowing how this history has come to us through these persons. It is important to look at the persons who have taught us, and to take their good examples, because others will be looking at us and taking our examples, too. Let us learn from the personal struggles of those who have been teaching us and forming us. Let us look at their self-sacrificing obedience for the love of Christ, and their readiness to receive much less (in worldly terms) for the sake of feeding the lambs who, in this place, are the students. Let us look at the example of Father Hopko who is now retiring from the Deanship of this Seminary. Let us see how he has taken the best from his predecessors, those great and famous lights of this community, and how he has shared with us what he has learnt, in lectures and in living example, in anecdotes and inspired sermons. Let us look at the important manner in which he has set us an example, as he has been distilling what he has learnt in speaking and in writing, making it all accessible to those who have not been able to have such a heritage, or who have not such an education. Let us look at his history of desiring to feed the sheep. Let us look and learn as we see that he does put these foundations first in his life, how he has openly shared his struggles in living the repentant life. Let us look at how he daily remembers those who have asked him to pray for them, and how he manages somehow to keep a correspondence with human beings. Let us look and learn, and let us do the same as far as we are able with God’s help. And mostly, let us remember to give thanks to God.

Let us look similarly at the example of our father, Metropolitan Theodosius, who has lived a similar life of obedience, going where he was asked, doing what he was told, remembering his inheritance, speaking about his ancestors, passing on what he was given, being near to his people, serving in love. Let us pay attention to the fact that, in the course of the Metropolitan’s life, there have been many times of testing. Let us remember the most famous, and, perhaps the most useful of his inherited sayings : “Measure seven times, and cut once”. Let us remember how he has been so quietly kind and materially supportive to many a person, many a cleric in dire need, how he has rescued many.

Let us look at the lives of both of these servants of the Church, together with the lives of the other faculty members. Let us remember their loving service, and how they persevere in this loving service, even when it is not appreciated, even when it is rejected. Let us remember how, with love for Christ, they persevere and endure, even if they are not understood. Let us remember that, out of loving obedience, they do it for the sake of feeding the sheep, for the sake of exercising the gifts God has given them.

Let us look and learn from all these God-loving, God-serving, and I dare say God-pleasing persons, because it is in their footsteps that we all tread. I can say “we” with confidence, because I, too, am their student. Let us look at them, and remember that God is with them, as He is with us, when we are facing difficulties, when we are misunderstood, when we are rejected, and especially when others speak evil about us. Let us look and learn, and remember, as we embrace our various calls from the Lord, that we must take care of our foundations, in order to put all that we have learnt and experienced into fruitful practice. Let us remember each other in prayer, and let us support and encourage and protect one another in our mutual service. Let us work together for the sake of the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us commend ourselves, therefore, and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God, glorifying Him together with His Father, who is from everlasting, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Orthodox Fundamentalism

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Orthodox Fundamentalism
Christ the Saviour Church
Chicago, Illinois
13 November, 2002

We human beings have a tendency to go to extremes. Sometimes we are really liberal, and sometimes we are really conservative ; more often we are reactionary in one way or another. So it is in politics ; so it is in society and its mores ; so it is in human relationships. Perhaps it could be said that what we are consistent about is being inconsistent. Every time I think about these things, I feel exasperated that we do not, as a supposedly intelligent race, seem to learn much in the process. I often marvel at God’s inexhaustible patience with us. Truly, if it were I in charge (or likely if any one of us were in charge), the earth would have been cleansed of us all a long time ago. Also, as I am ageing, I find that, when I am asked : “What’s new ?”, I respond much as Qoheleth, the Preacher, in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and even, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), and “all is vanity, and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

No, do not call for the electroshock-therapists ! I am not depressed ; I am not in despair. I am bothered by the fact that we humans cannot manage to make progress where it counts. It bothers me that not only I, but most of us, cannot manage to see the good examples in the good people that God sends to us, nor can we seem to manage to hear Him speak to us through them. We do not really change much. We make almost the same mistakes as humans have always made, and this even though we are Christians, and are called by His Name.

One of the reasons, of course, that we are not making much progress is that we cannot keep our hearts and minds off ourselves. It has always been so : God reveals Himself to us in His love ; we respond, but not in a lasting or comprehending way. Fundamentally, we are so taken with ourselves that we cannot bear to let God be in control of everything. We cannot bear not knowing all the details. We have to be in control, ourselves ; and so we try to box in God, as it were, to make Him more manageable to us.

All this little rant brings me to address more directly our topic of Orthodox fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a phenomenon which has always been with us to some extent, but it seems to me that in these days we are perhaps seeing rather more of it. Not only do we see more of it, but it is, in my opinion, appearing in strange ways. It is always for me a bit difficult to distinguish between fundamentalism and reaction, because they are very close kin.

In the West, we have long lived with the phenomenon of Protestantism, which is clearly characterised by the elements of reaction and also of zealotry. Zealotry can be another word for this sort of fundamentalism. In the East, although we certainly have known zealotry, we have not experienced a reaction quite like that of Protestantism. We have, nevertheless, experienced the schism of the Old Believers, a movement which has exhibited elements of both zealotry and reaction : a schism which we rather brought on ourselves, and which is a study in itself. There are also the recent schisms concerning the old and new calendars.

Zeal for Your house has devoured me”, reads Psalm 68:10, which is cited by the Apostle and Evangelist John after he describes Christ’s cleansing of the Temple (John 2:17). Seeing what they think is wrong with the majority of Orthodox Christians, and forgetting the meaning of the second part of that sentence, some of us fall into the temptation of trying to cleanse the Church as Christ did. So we find ourselves facing various fragments of people, separated off into special groups, who compare themselves to Saints Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, Mark of Ephesus, and others. They consider themselves to be a remnant ; and, like Esdras or the Maccabees, they want to preserve and rebuild something pure. The problem with this fear-based mentality, however, is that the concern to protect leads to an attitude of exclusion, and even a sectarian exclusivistic mentality, the antithesis of the Orthodox Church. What about the second part of the verse, then ? The second part of the sentence says, “and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me”. The application of this psalm, so rich in its connexion to Christ’s Passion, needs balance if we really are to live according to it ourselves. If we are zealous for God’s house, then we must be ready to share Christ’s suffering in love.

How well I remember witnessing the encounter of one of our hermits with Pope Shenouda III, many years ago. This hermit, finding himself in a sort of dead end, was looking for a sense of direction. Pope Shenouda had been a hermit. Then, for more than a half-hour they debated various scriptural texts. It seemed to me that the debate progressed from Genesis to the Apocalypse (it was mostly in Arabic, and not easy for me to follow). There was at that moment no apparent clear resolution. Finally, after a silence, Pope Shenouda said : “It is tempting to be found busy about the House of the Lord, but it is necessary to be found busy about the Lord of the House”. This was the looked-for answer, providentially given. Here we see an example of one central Orthodox characteristic : balance.

Another monk I know asked the saintly Elder Paisios of Mount Athos about the zealotry we are seeing so much of these days. His response was that the zealots have lost balance, and that they are living in their heads (thoughts and reason), not in their hearts. He said that for such zealots the head and the heart are not united. However, when the heart and head are united, then in their union there will be balance.

In this vein also I remember well that there was a colloquium in Montréal a few years ago, which I attended. It was convened at the same time that a meeting of international leaders was taking place in Québec City, where there were the usual protests while the leaders met behind a protective barrier. The question was raised : “Where are the Orthodox in this case — with the leaders inside, or the protesters outside ?” The answer was : “With those on the fence !” The illustration says simply that the Middle Way, the way of balance, is the typical Orthodox position.

According to the Saviour, the foundation of our life is the Summary of the Law :

‘You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 22:37-40).

In my opinion, it is the loss of this “prime directive” already given in 5 Moses (Deuteronomy) 6:5, and the development of a fear of breaking the Law in any way, and offending God in any way (most particularly because His wrath was paid attention to more than His love), that led to the development of the excesses of the Pharisees. Yet, instead of protecting God’s Law about the relationship of love between us and Him, and therefore also the relationship of love with all human beings (and even all creatures), the Pharisees produced a burden of observance that was impossible to bear, and produced the rebukes by the Saviour given in Matthew 23:1-23. Indeed, it seems to me that there has been a distinction made between the Law, and Him who gave it. It is in making the Law something different from what the Lord intended it to be that can lead to this difficulty. We Orthodox cannot point the finger at others, because when we lose the balance between the heart and the reasoning faculties, we very easily turn our canons (which are simply medicinal methods for spiritual healing and correction) into a legal taskmaster – turning righteousness into the process of so-called justice. One might even go so far as to say that this already happened in the days of the Roman Empire, when emperors turned some canons into imperial laws (nomocanons).

Saul (as the Apostle Paul was then called) was a zealot of this type : a Pharisee of the Pharisees. However, the Saviour met him, and changed him, as we see in his Epistle to the Galatians 1:11-24, and in his speech in Acts 22:3-21 (to which it is important to refer here, as well as to refer to Acts 9:1-22). As we in our own zealotry, so he had forgotten the following prophetic words :

‘Behold, I have given You for a covenant of a race, for a light of [the] Gentiles, so that You might be for salvation unto the end of the earth.' Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, who delivers You: ‘Sanctify the one despising his life, who is abhorred by the nations [Gentiles], the bond-servants of princes. Kings shall see him, and princes shall arise and they shall worship him for the sake of the Lord; for the Holy One of Israel is faithful, and He chose you’ (Isaiah 49:6-7, LXX).

Always, too, we are tempted to think in terms of justice in our relationship with God. Indeed we westerners seem to prefer to use this word in translations, when our Saviour is speaking to us about righteousness – which is rather a different kettle of fish. He says to us that the Law is still in force, and that, ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:20).

However, all this is to be understood in the context of love. The Law is given because of love. It does not drive us towards God through the following of a series of legal prescriptions, which, if we fail to observe them will cause painful penalties. Rather, this Law, springing from God’s love, is a description of how a person who truly loves God will behave – first towards God, and then towards fellow human beings. Of course, out of love we would allow no other substitute or interloper to come between ourselves and the Father. Of course, worshipping Him would be a priority in our lives. Of course, out of love, we would honour our parents, and we would avoid and refrain from stealing from anyone (which includes cheating), killing anyone, committing adultery, bearing false witness and coveting. All this is the product of this love, the living of which is described as righteousness. It is the product of faith in love. Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, after giving us the Our Father, our Saviour shows us the way : ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’ (Matthew 6:14-15).

Again, remembering the foundations of the Christian Way, and following Him who is the Way, we must remember always this exhortation of the Apostle John :

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. [...] There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:7-20).

It is not that the Apostle Paul himself, for all his strong words, was in any way lacking in love, patience, forbearance. On the contrary, although he called a spade a spade, his life of suffering, deprivation, and persecution was filled with, and propelled by love. He was full of love for God, having been put in correct focus at Damascus, and he yearned that everyone should know this love, and know and experience it as he did. Why else would he endure what he did ? Indeed, why would all the other martyrs do the same, right up to our times, except for that burning love ? Yet it is not a love out of focus, or out of balance.

If we are going to be true fundamentalists, and true zealots for the love of God, then let us be prepared to put Christ in the driver’s seat of our lives, and also of the Church of which He is the Head, after all. We need to remember the fundamentals of the loving relationship which the Lord has given us with Him, and all the implications for us that this brings. It means allowing this love to cast out fear. It means taking the Beatitudes, and the Our Father seriously, and living by them. It means knowing the Law, and living it out. It means loving God above all, as Saint Herman exhorts us. It means, with God’s help, reducing the multitude of extra details of our lives to only what is necessary. It means living in true freedom in Christ. It means remembering the Commission that Christ gave us :

‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

Assembly of Bishops (SCOBA) 2001

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Assembly of Bishops (SCOBA)
Washington, D.C., USA
l-3 May, 2001

(A talk given in consideration of A Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the Third Christian Millennium)

Your Eminence, Archbishop Dimitrios, Your Beatitude,
Metropolitan Theodosius, Your Eminences, Your Graces, dear
brothers and concelebrants in our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ,


I was asked to present this paper “on the themes of the Pastoral Letter concerning a critique of the contemporary society, and the social and moral issues currently confronting us”. I will ask your forgiveness in advance, since, try as I may, I have had difficulty coming to a conclusion about how I might best approach this task. Indeed, I will certainly not present anything that you all do not already know. It is only my prayer that these comments, limited as they be, may be of some use in our consideration of our mutual life in Christ and our responsibility as shepherds. I ask your forgiveness also if I have fallen into addressing only what I like to talk about.

There is a certain irony in my having been asked to make a presentation on this subject, partly because I am a Canadian (I presume that I am the only Canadian bishop here), and partly because the Pastoral Letter really addresses American society as such, that is, the USA. It is true that Canada is not so very different, in many ways. However, there are significant differences which colour not only our sense of grammar and spelling, but which also provide a different formation and perspective which does not always mesh well with that of Americans. You cannot grow up singing “God Save the Queen” and not be untouched by the attendant imperial sentiments (and by our parliamentary system that goes along with it). Be that as it may, communication between our societies is still possible, albeit from the perspective of someone outside this American society. I will only do my best not to treat this esteemed gathering in the manner of the satirical CBC programme from Newfoundland, “This hour has twenty minutes” ! An example of this is the joke about Canadians in a swimming pool : How do you get 25 Canadians out of a pool ? Announce that it is closing time ; and they all come out saying “sorry”. Nevertheless, it is perhaps useful to note that when Canada is thought of (that is, if it is remembered that it even exists) the commonly held opinion that most things in Canada are thirty years behind the USA is probably true. It is likely most true about life in general, and especially in the ecclesiastical life of the Orthodox Church. This may have something to do with the winters, the aurora borealis and ozone holes, but that is another consideration.

Before more comments, I find it important to say about the Pastoral Letter itself that it has struck me as being balanced. For this, I am grateful. While it addresses the various subjects theologically, it also treats them from the perspective of application. I believe that it is, indeed, an important contribution to our North American ecclesiastical development. Its seriousness determines its character, but this seriousness also limits accessibility, at least to those of a lesser education or with limited English. Canadians are generally sensitive about such accessibility. I think that it would be useful to produce an additional related text with such persons in mind. I am grateful to note, however, that the recent Study Guide which accompanies this text will likely help to an extent, although it is still not enough. Neglect to use such aids is rampant. A simple, popular presentation would certainly help.

At a recent Orthodox colloquium in Montréal, the question was posed, “With regard to the present FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) summit in Québec City, where do the Orthodox stand — with the free-traders inside the fence, or with the protesters outside the fence ?” The FTAA was meeting in Québec (20-22 April, 2001) at the same time as the colloquium was meeting in Montréal. The answer to the question was, correctly, “With those on the fence”. This was not to suggest that we would necessarily be amongst those breaking down the fence (although that might not be excluded), but that we properly find ourselves in between the extreme opinions. This sense of balance reflects for us our Hebraic inheritance of the unity of body and soul in a human being, the unity of the material and the spiritual, and the mutual importance of both. This unity influences everything about us. In a sort of way, the incarnational character of the Church is a part of this visible unity, and of the apostolic perception of the Church as the one Body of Christ. In this light, we are aware of the limitation of our witness that our present administrative disunity produces. On the other hand, knowing what must at some time in the future be, our present gathering (and all such future gatherings) may serve not only to begin the healing of the present discontinuity with the necessary unity ; but it may also serve in some ways to help break down fences in due time. In the meantime, while we await the complete healing that is necessary, that we are meeting as we are demonstrates for us and for all, the real unity that is, in fact, ours as the Orthodox Church on this continent. It is important that we express our deep gratitude to the Lord Himself for enabling it, and to all the esteemed and beloved hierarchs who have enabled it. “Seeing is believing” is not a saying limited to the denizens of Missouri. I rather believe that we have had that attitude for a couple of millenia.

My sister, some time ago, sent me one of those popular sentimental, “teachy” articles which neither of us usually reads, although there are some that have a reasonable point. This one did. It had to do with a scheme proposed by the devil, by which to catch us. The plan was that everything possible would be done to help keep us busy. This keeping busy would simply increase and increase. There would be pressures from here and pressures from there, demands from here demands from there. Technology would increase, and increase the pace. The purpose of all this was simply to distract us so much that we would no longer have any idea what we were doing, or where we were going, or who we are.

The article might have had its sentimental, “teachy” aspect, but it is true enough. Fifty years ago or so, society as a whole dreamed of a technologically advanced age which would place every sort of convenience at our disposal so that we could have plenty of creative leisure time. This society finds itself now, at the turn of this century, enslaved to those very conveniences. The time-savers and energy-savers require plenty of time and energy to service, sustain, repair, up-grade and replace. One of the greatest ironies of all is the phenomenon of computers which were supposed to take us to a paperless system. What a joke ! I go through more paper now (as does every store I go to) than ever before. One of the reasons, of course, that I use paper in quantity, is that I have no lasting confidence in the permanence of electronic records. With the crash-rate of my computer, I don’t see my attitude changing quickly. Our poor forests. And our poor environment. We are so taken up with our convenience and with living a hedonistic, selfish life, that we consume at a phantastic rate all the resources that we have been given. We often romanticise about the “good old days” when things were slower, but we do nothing to put on the brakes. We hasten recklessly and blindly onwards, rather like lemmings.

It is my conviction that putting on the brakes, extracting ourselves from complexity and from slavery to materialism, and somehow keeping ourselves in the driver’s seat, is of primary importance. Although balance is perhaps the main traditional characteristic of the Orthodox Church, simplicity is almost its equal, and it certainly is its complement. Simplicity does not deny technology, nor does the sense of balance. Its characteristic is that everything is kept in its proper order and place.

As for the previous “teachy” story, there is, of course, one element not mentioned in that little story, and that is greed. Our society is not only frenetically busy, but it is also blind with greed and its attendant demon of fear, irrational fear, even. Anyone with any understanding can see its fruit in the recent madness in the stock-markets of the USA, and therefore the world. With this unholy trinity of hyperactivity, greed and fear, we are completely preoccupied with simply surviving each day. And worse, we fall into the trap of individualism and isolation. In saying so, I am recognising that it is not just those beyond our Church who live this way, since we are, ourselves, affected by this in most serious ways. In the lives of most of us (even us bishops), there are so many demands that there are not enough hours in a day to accomplish what demands attention. Even if the day were doubled, we could more than fill it. And so, what is it that suffers primarily ? What do I hear in confession time after time ? Of course, it is prayer that suffers. I am the first of sinners, here, also. Surely, we try, but the twisted illusion that fear presents to us is that if we don’t produce, if we don’t do everything right now, then there will be trouble. And, in forgetting the Lord, in neglecting to spend the necessary daily time with Him, in taking too much on our own shoulders (no matter how important), we finally accomplish much less, because we do not allow our Saviour to accomplish what He wills in us. And the plain fact is (as I have discovered too often but still cannot properly learn) that when He is in the forefront of everything, far more is accomplished than by any of my abilities exercised without due consultation and communion with Him. How many times have I taken a decision without stopping to listen to the heart, and how many times had to pick up a mess as a result ? Well, I am ashamed to say, of course, too many.

There is yet another terrible and disastrous by-product of the situation in which we find ourselves. That is, that we do not any longer stop to discern thoughts. I am no longer surprised to hear, sad to say, how many people admit (usually in coming to confession) that they believe that all thoughts originate in their own minds. They do not yet understand even this fundamental of discernment, and as a result of this, they have difficulty knowing who they are, in the context of also having difficulty in discerning right from wrong. And so, most of us suffer from a lack of peace, from a lack of connexion with the heart, from a lack of communion with the Lord. And in lacking peace, in being spun around, round about, stirred up and tossed about, to use Psalter images, we have difficulty listening. It is often only by a thread that we hold on to our communion with the Lord, our communion with the Church, our communion with human beings, our communion with creation.

Years ago, I thought that Christos Yannaras and Professor Sergei Verhovskoy were being too negative or even cynical in saying that it was impossible to live the Orthodox life in modern, western society, largely because we have become so addicted to instant gratification. Now I begin to see how right they are. Nevertheless, being “pronoic” (the opposite of paranoic), I still hope it is not impossible, but only difficult. I take hope that our Saviour will still help us to overcome even these obstacles. Yet, I see in my own life and in the lives of so many of the flock that I have been given to lead, that living in such a society has become a very difficult maze. It is amazing to me that anyone manages to find the way to the Way. Yet, some do, or appear to, so I will not yet give up hope.

I suppose that the main reason that I cannot give up hope comes from my very early childhood influence by a pious old man (at least I thought he was old), whose love for the Lord I always respected. It was his custom frequently to repeat his favourite scriptural verse, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). That this Norwegian man loved this phrase (as I have also come to do) is ironic, because he was a Lutheran (as was I in childhood), and Luther disliked this Epistle. Because of this constancy of Christ, and therefore this constancy of love, I have hoped that, regardless of the obstacles and difficulties, it is still possible to live the Christian life, even here, because we are also told that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Many times over, I have now seen that this is so, and I am certain that I am not alone in this. In a way, I believe that what I have said so far is a personalisation of much of what has been said in a more formal way in the Pastoral Letter.

The main characteristic of our secular, worldly life today is, again, clearly, imbalance. There is one extreme or another, and it seems that people swing back and forth from one extreme to another in their opinions, moral and political stances, fads and fashions. This swinging not only breeds instability, but it also breeds insanity. Equally difficult is the personal isolation in individualism that promotes our inclination to be, in delusion, so-called captains of our own ships and would-be saviours of our own souls. Returning to the matter of the Québec fence, it is, as it always has been, the middle and moderate way where the truth mostly rests.

Much of our task as Orthodox in North America is trying to help to bring words back to meaning, and to action as well. In our time of hyper-communication, communication has become largely meaningless. Now, more than ever, it is necessary for us, who know the Incarnation of God’s Word, to help to turn the tide by living in accordance with our word, by doing what we say, by letting “your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37). There is plenty of Orthodox writing today, and perhaps in some cases far too much. There is a great deal of talk, too, about what Orthodoxy is, and why it is correct, and the Truth. However, living it out lags far behind. We rightly write and speak often about the crucial necessity of the visible unity of the Church ; but we persist in subsisting in a division of administrations. We write and speak often of missions, and we finance missionary projects ; yet we have difficulty with conveying this Truth to the persons set squarely before us, to our friends and our neighbours. We manage to relieve the needs of the poor and of those enduring disasters locally and abroad, disasters which arise from our irresponsibility towards God’s creation ; but we have not managed to do here, before our eyes, what is necessary to do in order to meet the needs of the poor and the homeless. This is not to say that there is nothing being done here, but what is done is so very small compared to what is needed. We are only at the very beginning of becoming the concrete and consistent witness for the Truth, who is Christ, here in North America. We tend to prefer, still, the grandiose, and have difficulty with the insignificant.

It is, perhaps, this particular difficulty which reveals our Achilles’ heel in North America most clearly. We North American Orthodox are known for being well-educated, for publishing well and much, for having erudite scholars and erudite clergy. In some respects, one might begin to describe us nowadays (as the Anglican church used to be called) “the Tory party at prayer”. We have worked hard to be identified with the “upper crust” of society, and we have largely succeeded, although it certainly might be questioned whether this is what the Gospel directs us to do. However, with the so-called ordinary people, we have work to do to recover much of what once was. In this, I mean particularly work with the poor and underprivileged and homeless. Our difficulty here is revealed first and strikingly in how we publish. We are doing very well in publishing scholarly works, which are necessary enough. However, the balance of providing edifying and encouraging literature for helping ordinary people lead ordinary lives in a difficult environment are relatively few. And when there are some works undertaken in order to try to meet these very needs (such as the OCA’s very substantial Resource Handbook), these resources are largely left on shelves somewhere, perhaps in a priest’s library, perhaps in a study, perhaps still in the mailing envelope.

We are not at all entirely lacking in practical works of love, but we don’t talk about these things enough. Why is it, for instance, that we Orthodox have allowed our administrative disunity to limit our co-operation so that we cannot manage to pool our resources in order to establish schools, hospitals, hospices, shelters, chaplaincies and the like ? The great majority of our common work is pooled for work abroad. This is necessary, but what about doing the same here also ? There are, thanks to God, many food-bank contributors, and even soup-kitchens, but there are real gaps still. I notice that the work done formerly by brotherhoods and sisterhoods of parishes, which used to include visiting the shut-ins and those in hospitals, and encouraging the youth, is now almost always left on the shoulders of the clergy. I have noticed how many clergy, in fact, do not like to go to the hospitals, and who do not go at all to prisons, and whose parishioners certainly do not. This is in stark contrast to the sort of works undertaken so often (particularly in these days) in our ancestral countries : hospitals, schools, chaplaincies, orphanages, relief of the needy, organised by monasteries and faithful parishioners and clergy. Although the law will prohibit such a thing here, on the near edge of Siberia, a priest and his wife adopted 45 homeless children, and besides this took in 20 homeless elderly persons. They do all this, and care for a parish, too. This parish takes an active part in the work. Such works of mercy and love were more common in the past here in North America, but now they are rare. Either the government makes it very difficult, or we ourselves are unwilling to make the deep commitment to care for those in great need over the long course of recovery. The North American tendency is to leave those activities to paid professionals. Indeed, often enough now, when works of mercy are done here on general or local levels, those who do them often must be salaried too. What is shocking to me is the not few occasions on which I see, even in the Church, even in our parishes, that work, which is clearly and properly a personal work of love, is often done only if remunerated. Such a contrast to the Widow’s Mite and the Good Samaritan. We still have a way to go here in North America. We have prayerfully to overcome the deadly quicksand of self-help, of self-sufficiency, of the glorification of the so-called human spirit and of the rejection of God out of fear, resentment and anger.

As arch-pastors, we have the responsibility of being and living the clear example for our flocks. As the Apostle Timothy was exhorted, so are we (see 1 Timothy 4:12-16). As I am often saying to pastors, it is important that we understand and practice the correct methodology of shepherding. We westerners are polluted by the “backward” western method of shepherding. The shepherd with his stick (often with his dog), walks behind the sheep and drive them ahead. It takes skill and a certain violence to move a flock of sheep in this way. I’ve seen enough times how the flock will weave back and forth across a field as it is moved forward towards a pasture or a corral. In stark contrast is the Palestinian shepherd I once saw, in accordance with the Gospel. He walked with a goat ahead of his sheep, and the sheep followed him in a more or less orderly line. In this case, it is very clear that a trusting and even loving relationship is required between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd knows that he cannot make his sheep go where he has not first gone.

Therefore, if we arch-pastors wish our people to live holy and Orthodox lives, we must ourselves be an example of how that is done. We must pray ; we must live in the Scriptures ; we must be faithful ; we must serve ; we must care for the neighbour ; we must be good stewards ; we must live in harmony with the environment ; we must live in harmony with our past and our inheritance of the Tradition of Christ ; we must be examples of forgiveness and reconciliation, and be merciful dispensers of canonical medicines. This is our greatest challenge, perhaps, in an environment which tries to limit us to administration and therefore disconnexion from the faithful. In our Pastoral Letter, we address the matter of planetary poisoning, and our ugly cycle of increasing personal comfort and so-called convenience. Especially we, in our affluence, are thoughtlessly and carelessly abusing not only God’s creation by our selfish over-consumption, but we also abuse humans elsewhere. I know one hermit who, in his consciousness of this is conscientiously being careful never to waste food, since, as he says, should he do so he actively takes food out of the mouths of the poor here and elsewhere. Further, being an iconographer, he has chosen not to use gold at all, since he discovered that the producers of gold let every sort of poison from the refining process run into the rivers, thus poisoning all who drink this water downstream. We, too, can help our faithful people by our thoughtful and prayerful living as well as we are able, in conscious awareness of the overall unity of humans and creation. In fact, although it is not a popular idea, it is most useful in terms of obedience to the Gospel and our Saviour, if we were to move towards a nonviolent way of life, as far as possible, finding our way to minimising our negative influence on persons and creatures around us. I am satisfied to see these matters addressed seriously in this Pastoral Letter. But of course, all of this is borne by prayer, and it is the result of our living in loving communion with our Saviour.

In the Pastoral Letter, I am grateful to see how unity between God and creation is addressed, and how we see this, by extension, in the all-pervasive imperative of mission. So perverted is this relationship in the understanding of contemporary society (if it be perceived at all) that at best it is considered that all the universe has its own life apart from its Creator, who is at best disinterested. On the contrary, we perceive the relationship to be so intimate that everything that has any existence expresses it in praise of and in love with the Creator. So much is the Creator involved in everything, that, by those with the eyes to see, He may be perceived in all that is. It has been so in the past that various philosophers have used this Presence to try to prove God’s existence through the witness of various aspects of creation itself. As we are exhorted to fan the flame of loving desire for the Creator that is in everyone by our personal witness and service, we are also reminded, correctly, that intercessory prayer in love accomplishes wonders in this regard. This is expressed likewise in the realm of witness to other Christians who are not yet part of the Church. With humility, this witness is to be exercised in love and respect, but with firm adherence to the truth of Him who is the Truth.

In these days, there is a popular secular movement which tries to return to the so-called basics of education. In a measure, this is perhaps laudable, although I notice we still do not see the return of Latin and Greek to high-schools. With these languages is integrally included a recovery of a sense of history, and its meaning. Without this we will remain crippled. Regardless, a return to spiritual basics is very much in order for us all at this time in our progress in North America. Without these real basics, we will never be able to become for this continent what I believe God has prepared for us. What are these basics, which are addressed in part in the Pastoral Letter ? They are the basics of daily and regular prayer (both personal and corporate) ; of systematic and regular, daily reading of the Scriptures ; of reading commentaries on the Scriptures by the various Fathers, according to our ability ; of regular and serious preparation for and receiving of Holy Communion ; of regular making of confession ; of putting into practice what we preach ; of living in love and forgiveness, in harmony with our neighbour (albeit a hostile one), living without condemning anyone. This return to basics consists of an attempt to recover an Orthodox and harmonious relational perspective on the whole of life, and on our relationship with our triune God. This return to basics includes an attempt to live this reality. This is radical, and this is life. What is it that the Lord has prepared for us ? He has prepared us to be, for all, access to the Living Water, to the Bread of Life, to the Hope of the Hopeless, to the Haven of the storm-tossed, and to be an open door to the Door, a way to the Way, who is the Life of all.

In the light of these basics, I will share the words of Saint Dorotheus of Gaza, whom I believe we ought much more to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. He says to us the following on the subject of humility, the core of everything :

See, brethren, how great is the power of humility. Do you see how effective it is to say, ‘Forgive me’ ? Why then, is the devil called not only ‘enemy’, but also ‘adversary’ [that is, ‘opposer’] ? He is called ‘enemy’ because he is a misanthope [he hates human beings] and hater of goodness, and he is treacherous. He is called ‘adversary’ because he tries to impede every good work. Someone wants to pray ? He opposes him ; he impedes him by bad thoughts, by capturing his mind with insistent distractions, and by accidie. Someone wants to give alms ? He impedes him by avarice [money-grubbing], by miserliness. Someone wants to keep vigil ? He impedes him by lethargy [that is, forgetfulness and pathological unresponsiveness] and indolence.

Thus, he opposes every good work we undertake. This is why he is not only called enemy, but also adversary. However, by humility, all the things of the adversary are utterly destroyed.

Humility is truly great. Each of the saints walked in humility itself, and cut short his journey by hard work, as is said, ‘See my humility and my hard work, and forgive all my sins’ (Psalm 24:18). Humility alone can gain us entrance, as the Elder, Abba John [of Gaza] said, but it will be slower. Let us therefore humble ourselves a little and we shall be saved. I believe in the mercy of God, and that through the little that is done with humility, we shall also find ourselves in the place of those saints, who worked hard and served God. Yes, we are weak and we cannot work hard ; but can we not humble ourselves ? [...]

Humility is great. Quite rightly, this saint [Abba Poemen] designated the person who has true humility by saying, ‘Humility does not get angry nor provoke anger’. This seems to be a strange thing, since humility is opposed only to vain-glory, and it seems that it only protects Man from that. However, one can be angry over money or food. How, then, is it said that, ‘Humility does not get angry nor provoke anger’ ? Humility is great, as we have said, and it is able to draw the Grace of God to the soul. Thus, when this Grace of God comes, it protects the soul from those other two burdensome passions ; for what is more burdensome than being angry or provoking anger towards your neighbour ? As Evagrius said, ‘It is altogether alien to a monk to be angry’. Truly, if he is not quickly sheltered by humility, little by little he will come to a demonic state, agitating others and being agitated himself. Therefore, this is why he says, ‘Humility does not get angry nor provoke anger’. [...]

Humility protects the soul from every passion, from every temptation. When Saint Anthony beheld all the snares of the devil laid out, groaning, he asked God, ‘Who then can elude all these ?’ What did God reply ? ‘Humility can elude all of them’. [...] Indeed, nothing is stronger than humility. Nothing can prevail over it. Should some misfortune befall a humble person, he forthwith holds himself responsible. He immediately blames himself by saying that he deserves it. He cannot tolerate blaming anyone else. He cannot bear blaming another for causing a misfortune. Thus, he eludes it undisturbed, without affliction and in complete peace [...] .

There are two sorts of humility [...]. The first sort of humility is to consider one’s brother to be wiser and to be superior to oneself in all things. Simply, as that saint [Abba Sisoës] said, ‘to be below all’. The second sort of humility is to attribute all our good works to God. Such is the perfect humility of the saints. [...] I remember once, when we were talking about humility, and a notable person of Gaza heard us saying, ‘The more one approaches God, the more one sees oneself to be a sinner’. He was surprised and said, ‘How is this possible ?’ Not understanding, he wanted to learn the reason. I said to him, ‘Sir, you that have the first place here, how do you see yourself to be in your city ?’ He said to me, ‘I am, myself, great, and the head of the city.’ I said to him, ‘How do you see yourself if you were to go off to Cæsarea ?’ He said, ‘There, I am insignificant amongst the great ones there.’ I said to him, ‘If your were to go off to Antioch, how would you see yourself ?’ He said, ‘I would be, myself, as a rustic.’ I then said to him, ‘If you were to go off to the city of Constantinople, near the emperor, there, how would you see yourself ?’ This one said to me, ‘I would be, myself, a day-labourer’, he answered. Then I said to him, ‘See, thus are the saints. The more they approach God, the more they see themselves to be sinners.”’

Like any other pastor, I can myself attest to the veracity of everything said by Saint Dorotheus, and by all others like him. I have, in my short experience, encountered many persons who were living in this manner, of love-borne humility. They have been persons of every rank and order, from pious grandmother, grandfather, parent, child, mother, father, through to monks, nuns, clergy and even bishops. Humility is the foundation of everything, and makes everything possible in Christ. Humility makes it possible for us to respond in an inspired way to the too-rapid changes in technology and the resulting moral turmoil that clamour for our clear discernment. Humility makes it possible for us to learn better how to work together with the Lord, and not to be manipulators and engineers. Humility makes it possible for us to be patient while the Lord brings us slowly to that unity which is necessary in the Church here in North America. Without humility, and the peace which is its companion, none of us will be able to find our way in the mine-field of choice and self-interest.

Humility is, indeed, the natural expression of and the result of a deep loving relationship with God. It is this that we all need to acquire above all. It is this humility that we as hierarchs need to acquire more deeply in order to lead and serve properly. It is this that we need above all in order that we may be able to feed our sheep in Christ, and that we may, in becoming our real selves, help our sheep become the same, all to the glory of God : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Local Church in the Understanding of the Orthodox

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
The Local Church in the
Understanding of the Orthodox
Prepared for the SCOBA-Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October, 2001

I would like to begin this consideration of the understanding of the term “Local Church” by stating that, fundamentally, I do not know of anything in our self-understanding which is not connected with the Incarnation of the Logos, and, by extension, connected with our understanding of the creation of Man (as the race). In short, although much is made, in a mistaken way, of the term “spiritual” when referring to the Orthodox, this spirituality is completely bound up with a sort of spiritual materialism. Regardless of other impressions given or taken, the Orthodox are pragmatic, materialist, grounded within creation. God, when He created all, remained intimately involved in, and connected with, everything that He created. He sustains it all, and, through it, reveals Himself. This is well-expressed in the Tropar to the Holy Spirit, which begins most Orthodox services : "O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present, and filling all things, Treasury of good things, and Provider of Life, come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One".

The prayer says that He [one might use the feminine pronoun, since in some languages “spirit” is a feminine word ; but this is risky, because the Holy Trinity is beyond gender] is the Provider of life ; He is present everywhere, and He fulfils all things. In addition, it is our heritage from the Scriptures to understand our human race as created in the image of God. We bear both body and spirit, and there is a necessary union of body and spirit for us to be truly human beings. This is how we were created to be. Further supported by the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 15, we are reminded that, even in the Resurrection, human beings are not the same as angels, bodiless minds, but have an incorruptible spiritual body, after the pattern of our Saviour’s resurrected body. As a result of all this, too, we have always understood that the Church, the Body of Christ, is visible, not invisible. We usually say that we can say where the Church is, but not where she is not. Our determinations about the status of believers, and application of canonical prescriptions (which we prefer to regard as medicinal) are directed towards those who are part of the visible Church. We have generally little to say about what is beyond the Church, because this all is in the hands of the Lord.

I will begin with presenting a passage from Father John Meyendorff :

It is well known that in Eastern patristic thought man is conceived not as an autonomous being, but as being fully himself only when he is in communion with God. His "nature" is determined by his being an image of God. [He goes on to say that there has never been a debate in the East about the Pauline use of "pneuma" and its application to both the human ‘spirit’ and the divine ‘Spirit’, coming from God.]

Needless to say, this understanding of man also implies that God is “participable”, that by creating man He has established between Himself and creation a living and personal link, to which He Himself is personally committed, that it is always possible, by looking at man as His image, to see God Himself, that "through man", God is always somehow visible.... In Christ, the fulness of divinity abides “bodily” and can be seen, accepted and participated in again. "Therefore", it is also in Jesus that one discovers what man authentically is - for Jesus is fully God and fully man, and the one is ("hypostatically") inherent in the other.[1]

Father Meyendorff goes on to say that, as a result of this anthropology, the true nature of Man is found in his unity (koinonia) with God and with mankind in general. Creation itself may not be left out of the whole, either. He further underlines that if there is any lack in this communion, it is only because of our receptivity ; and, he says, that since the fulness of communion with God can only be in Christ, it is found fully in the Eucharist, in the gathering of the Church in its local manifestation.

It is on this Eucharistic celebration (properly on the Lord’s Day by the whole community) that everything is focussed. It is in, and from this Eucharistic celebration, founded on the ideal of the gathering of all the local faithful around their bishop, and all other ministers, that the communion with God is maintained, that the Church is manifested, that healing for all comes, through our acceptance, that the unity of the whole Church in herself is expressed. Let it be known, however, that in making these comments about the Eucharist, there is no neglect nor forgetting that it is through Holy Baptism that one gains entrance to this life-giving community, and assembly.

It is on the basis of this dominical eucharistic gathering that the Orthodox sense of the Local Church has been perceived and understood. As cited by JND Kelly, Saint Ignatius says, in his "Letter to the Smyrnæans", 8 : “Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which occurs under the bishop, or the one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] be ; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic [that is, universal, of the whole, and therefore Orthodox] Church”.[2]

Professor Kelly furthers says that : “the bishop corresponds in the local sphere to Christ in the world at large ; and thus, just as Christ is the invisible Head of the universal Church in its totality, so the bishop is the visible chief and rallying point of the local congregation”. And so, in considering the understanding of the Local Church, it cannot be avoided that we consider the catholic (universal) Church at the same time.

The main point of this all is that, from the earliest times, it has been understood by us that the Local Church is what is now the diocese — the bishop, together with all that depends upon him, and his blessing for viability. It is this diocese, with its bishop (or his delegate), presiding at the Eucharist, that manifests the whole Church, the catholic Church, and it is through the bishop, and his being in communion with all the other bishops of the whole Church, that unity is maintained in the whole Church.

It is true that in early times things were not entirely as they are now, and our self-understanding now is not entirely as it was then. John Erickson makes this point clearly enough in his article on the three orders of ministry in the Orthodox Church.[3] However, regardless of any shifts or influences, the essential self-understanding remains. If there are deviations which have become problematic for us, then such subtle changes in understanding of the Church’s life (which allow some persons to think that the parish is the local Church), produce a sense of malaise which moves us to make the correction, much as committing a sin can move one to repentance.

At that time (in the early centuries of the Church), it seems that the main eucharistic communities were in larger urban places, at the head of each of which was a bishop (high-priest). Around him gathered presbyters and deacons. Deaconesses were part of the whole, also. It was the bishop who celebrated the Eucharistic Offering every Sunday, assisted, and surrounded by all the others. The presbyters might also preside at a eucharistic service, but this would only take place in the absence of the bishop. This point is very strongly made by Father Nicolas Afanasieff.[4] Actually, some, such as Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamos would say that he makes the point far too strongly, and therefore, has lost balance.

Regardless, the too-strongly expressed points of Father Afanasieff reveal something of how we fundamentally perceive ourselves. In encountering his words, one must remember the fundamental principle of the Incarnation, and the visibility of the Church, and, as well, the Pauline theology of the Body of Christ. One must further remember that, in our self-awareness as the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, we are constantly referring to early and foundational principles such as the Canons of the Apostles, the Apostolic Tradition, The Didache, and other early documents, by which to measure ourselves.

Father Afanasieff emphasises repeatedly that :

the fundamental principle of church life is that the members of the Church are ‘always all’ and ‘always together’. This principle flows from the very nature of the Church . The Church of God in Christ is the people who are gathered by God into the Body of Christ. The Church acts at all times and in all things. Otherwise, the Church neither lives nor acts. Christ is one, His Body is one, the people of God are one, and the Church is one. The Church exists always and everywhere, both yesterday and today. She reveals herself in all her fulness and all her oneness, and in all the oneness of her fulness, unto the ages of ages. Thus, if one member of the Church acts, then all act ; and when all act, each member acts. There are no, and there simply can be, no separate acts within the Church, as if they were not connected with all the others. [...] Christianity is the antithesis of individual religion. Indeed, it is not even a religion in the usual sense of the word. [...] There can be no Messiah apart from his people. However, Christ has indeed purchased his people and they are gathered in His Body. Christ is inseparable from the Church, and Christianity is inseparable from Christ. All of this is included in our understanding of the Church. A Christian who is isolated from the others does not belong to Christ.

What will certainly irritate some is the very strong assertion that, in reaction to individualism, “there was nothing in common between the mind of Hellenism and that of the Church”. He makes this point so strongly because he perceives that individualism from Hellenism, which did, in fact, enter the Church, ended in Protestantism. Father Nicolas Afanasieff died before the phenomenon of various super-orthodox sects became rampant. It comes from the same mentality.

In contrast to this individualism, Father Afanasieff goes on to say that in the Eucharist, "the foundational principle of ‘always all’ and ‘always together’ manifests itself most fully in the Eucharistic gathering, which is the gathering of all for one and the same thing. Everyone ministers to God at the Eucharist". He writes that there are no separate groups at the Eucharist ; that all concelebrate at the celebration of the one president ; that all are in the one, and the one is in the all. There is no such thing as an individual Holy Communion. Receiving Holy Communion, that is, receiving the Holy Mysteries, is an action of the Church. However, this presumes that the environment is one in which all are receiving the Holy Mysteries together, and that there are none abstaining. Furthermore, regardless of the frequency of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the celebration on the Lord’s Day (which celebrates the Resurrection and the Kingdom) is the ideal gathering, the image, the standard from which all others flow, and in which all others participate. This Dominical Liturgy participates in that Liturgy in eternity before the Throne in Heaven. Everything of, and about the life of the Church flows from the celebration of the Eucharist. All the Sacred Mysteries (sacraments) have their origin there, and all the ministries (works of service), be they institutional or charismatic, have their origin, and raison d’être there.

Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) confirms this perception in his article[5] on eucharistic community. He says that our perception of the results of the eucharistic community is founded in the words of the Apostle, not only with regard to the Body of Christ, but also with regard to the Lord’s Supper. He reminds us that participation in the one bread is communion of the Body of Christ, and in so doing, we, the many, are one body because of this participation. He says that this idea of the many-in-the-one predates the apostles in the figures of the “Servant of God”, and the “Son of Man”. However, this conception is with us from the beginning. Metropolitan John goes on to cite various scriptural texts, and early liturgical texts to confirm this. The great focus of this unity in Christ, he says, is found in the climactic words of the Saviour in the Gospel according to Saint John, “that they may be one” (John 17:11, 22). And so, a passage from Metropolitan John on the subject :

The consequences of this can be clearly seen in the sources of the first three centuries. The first of these consequences is that the local eucharistic community receives the name "ekklesia", or even "ekklesia tou theou" already in the letters of St Paul. A careful study of 1 Cor. 11 reveals that the term "ekklesia" is used in a dynamic sense. [...] This implies clearly what in the following verses becomes explicit, namely that the eucharistic terms “coming together”, “coming together 'epi to auto'”, “Lord’s Supper”, etc., are identical with the terms “ekklesia” or “ekklesia tou theou”. The other consequence which, I think, is of great importance for later developments of the idea of catholicity is that this local community is called "hole he ekklesia", i.e. "the whole Church", already by Paul again. [...] The local Church, starting yet again with Paul, was called the "ekklesia tou theou" or the “whole Church” or even the "katholike ekklesia" and this not unrelated to the concrete eucharistic community. [...] We would be more faithful to the sources, if we saw it ["catholic church"] in the light of the entire Ignatian ecclesiology, according to which the eucharistic community is “exactly the same as” (this is the meaning I would give to "hosper" which connects the two in the Ignatian text) the whole Church united in Christ. Catholicity, therefore, in this context, does not mean anything else but the "wholeness" and "fulness" and "totality" of the body of Christ “exactly as” ("hosper") it is portrayed in the eucharistic community.[6]

Metropolitan John continues, later, to say that a fundamental function of the one bishop in the one community was to “express in himself the ‘multitude’ of the faithful in that place”. In offering the Eucharist, he brought up the whole people to God, that the united many would “become ‘of God’”. The whole community passed through the bishop’s hands in being offered up. And this was not an outside development, but arose from within the heart of the eucharistic community. He further says, in consideration of catholicity, that this catholicity comes from the essence : that the Church is where Christ is.[7]

As Professor Veselin Kesich, along with others elsewhere, writes,[8] the word ekklesia is “predominantly used for a local church in the New Testament. The churches of Corinth, Rome, Thessalonika were all local churches”. However, at the same time, "the term expresses not a local but the universal catholic church. The same term is used for both. [...] The local church as the eucharistic community manifests the fulness of Christ. Each of them represents the whole Christ, and hence incarnates the catholic church". So, the Local Church is not a part of the catholic Church, it is the catholic Church present in a particular locality. These two, the Local Church and the catholic Church, are neither identical nor different. They cannot be separated, but they can be described as distinct from one another. Professor Kesich avers that the “Church of God” is revealed, and fully realised in any, and every Local Church, but transcends any particular locality. The Church of Christ is revealed fully locally, but not limited to that local realisation. In this twofold usage, he says, we see "the essential unity of the ‘one’ church and the ‘many’ local churches. The local churches are united with one another. They do not belong to themselves, but belong to Christ, whose fulness is present in each local church". The unity, in Christ alone, of these Churches, says Professor Kesich, can be well understood in the symbols of the single candelabra with seven lamps in the Apocalypse of Saint John.

This unity is further expressed in the eucharistic unity, within a certain order of precedence, of all the bishops who are the heads of all the Local Churches. The bishop was (and technically is) elected by the people of the Church he would serve.[9] This election, from knowledge of the person, was witnessed and approved, if there were no impediment, by other, neighbouring bishops. It was they who would ordain the candidate. Indeed, to express the unity of the one, and the many, it was the principle that not only three, but as many as possible of bishops from the area should arrive and participate in the ordination of the duly elected candidate. The order of precedence is inherent from the beginning of the life of the Church, with a view to the importance of the great cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. From our perspective, Rome’s preëminence in fine came primarily from the fact that it was the capital of the empire. The other cities were the great cities of their areas. That they were cities of apostolic foundation was not a primary consideration. They were the main municipal political centres. Every Local Church was considered to be founded by the Holy Apostles as a whole, whether one or another particular apostle evangelised the people or not.[10] Many of these refinements became clarified by the First Œcumenical Council in 325.

As Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann clearly points out, all the Local Churches were dependent upon each other, but none was subordinate to another.[11] He reiterates that the Local Church is “a community gathered around its bishop and ‘clericus’” as a full Church. He further says : "the fulness of the local Church, its very nature as the Church of Christ, in a particular place, depends primarily on her unity in faith, tradition and life, with the Church everywhere, on her being ultimately the same Church. This unity is assured essentially by the bishop whose office or “leitourgia” is to maintain and to preserve, in constant union with other bishops, the continuity, and the identity in space and time of the universal and catholic faith, and life of the one Church of Christ. [...] It is the unity of faith and life, the unbroken continuity of Tradition, of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is expressed, fulfilled, and preserved in the consecration of one bishop by other bishops, in their regular Synods, and, in brief, in the organic unity of the Episcopate which all bishops hold in solidum (Saint Cyprian).

Father Schmemann reminds us that, according to Apostolic Canon 34, the bishops must know the first among them. But this order of precedence is, by the same Canon, directly connected to the order (but not subordination) which is in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. That there is an order of precedence among the autocephalous Churches, beginning with the “first among equals”, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, is undeniable. That within each autocephalous district, there is also an order of precedence amongst dioceses, related to political and historical factors, is undeniable. Sometimes there are debates, or arguments, even, about the exact order of that precedence. However, in no case does this mean that Orthodox ecclesiology or history or theology will admit that there could be a subordination of any one diocese to another, of any one bishop to another (although this last statement is moderated in more recent days with the phenomenon of auxiliary and titular bishops who are, indeed, subordinate to the ruling, diocesan bishop). The model of the Most Holy Trinity, regardless of our sinful slips and aberrations, remains the image of our existence in, and as the Church, in all our relationships, and in all our service.

It is true that, in modern practice, there has been some departure from this fundamental principle. This principle nevertheless undergirds everything about who we are as the Orthodox Church. This principle, resting in the background at all times, continually pricks the conscience, and produces periodic renewals and reforms, because we sometimes forget ourselves. To some extent, it may serve to explain the seemingly erratic behaviour of the Orthodox from time to time, and place to place, sometimes appearing paradoxical, sometimes schizophrenic. Regardless, in its structure at the present time, the Church that seems to remain closest to the early perspective is the Church in Greece.

One of the divergences from this early self-understanding of our Church is the occasional lapse into a secular sense of precedence. This stems, in part, from our tripping up in our understanding of the meaning and use of authority, and our treating authority as power instead. Thus, periodically, one may hear or read that a patriarchate, or autocephalous metropolitanate or archepiscopē is considered by someone as a Local Church. To make this shift is to cause a distortion and an innovation with regard to the understanding of a territorial diocese. This, in fact, does subordinate the dioceses, and bishops of a district to its metropolitan, archbishop or patriarch, whichever be the title of the head.

Another of these slips of thought is the more logical (but still inaccurate) idea that a parish is a Local Church. This is, of course based upon the fact that the parish is that community in which the faithful assemble around the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day with a presbyter at the head. To some extent, this parish phenomenon has its connections and parallels with the early Christian communities which we have considered. Nevertheless, the presbyter is still dependent upon, and acting with the blessing of, and on behalf of, the diocesan bishop. How the bishop (high-priest) and the presbyter are understood affects this perception.[12] This can be particularly the case when the bishop (and even the presbyter) loses his pastoral character and functions, and becomes a mere administrator, and thus has less direct contact with the people, and sometimes no contact. Yet, the very nature of the practical customs of the liturgical life tend to balance the possibility of mis-perceiving. Sometimes this can make the faithful feel that there is some sort of conflict. For instance, on the one hand, they understand well that the bishop is an administrator, and it is very difficult to get an appointment to see him in his office. On the other hand, at the Divine Liturgy, the bishop is often vested in the midst of the assembly ; he is administering Holy Communion ; he is either giving the Cross for veneration, or giving the faithful blessed bread at the dismissal ; he is, when asked to give a blessing in the hand, able to be kissed upon the cheek, perhaps even thrice.

Regardless of the variability in our self-expression and self-understanding, as we remain in this world and are influenced by our environment, the fundamentals still remain, with which this consideration began. Regardless of everything else, we always return to remember who we are : the eucharistic gathering. Now I return to Father Afanasieff. Although a strong proponent of Ignatian ecclesiology (along with Metropolitan John Zizioulas and others of us), he admits, in his article in memory of Pope John XXIII,[13] that there are, and there were different opinions : "In the order of ideas of universal ecclesiology, the Church of God on earth is a universal entity, embracing all the local churches there. All the attributes of the Church : holiness, unity, catholicity, and apostolicity are characteristic of this universal reality. The local churches as parts of the universal Church do not themselves possess these attributes. They only possess through the universal Church, insofar as they are part of her. Such is the basic thesis of Cyprian as well as that of contemporary universal ecclesiology. Nevertheless, there is another thesis opposed to that of Cyprian. All of the attributes of the Church that I indicated, belong to the local church. This thesis is found in the primitive ecclesiology that I have called eucharistic. The fundamental difference between universal ecclesiology and eucharistic ecclesiology consists precisely in the opposition between these theses in their understandings of the unity of the Church, and above all the principle on which this unity is based".

As we may now be able to see, because the Orthodox have not tended to follow Cyprianic thought on this subject, we have laid before us a primary tension between East and West in ecclesiology. And so, with Father Afanasieff, we would all have in the end to aver that the bishop is the distinctive empirical sign of the Local Church, because the bishop is the main celebrant of the Holy Eucharist [let us here recall that the presbyter is the agent of the bishop]. Everything is focussed on this episcopal eucharistic assembly because it is here that it is most visible that the bishop is re-presenting Christ to us. Because of the identity between Christ and His episcopal representatives, the bishop is included in the very concept of the Holy of Eucharist in the assembly of the Divine Liturgy. Because of this highly visible, incarnational perception, the principle of the unity of the Church resides here. Everything that is outside the domain of the episcopate is outside the limits of the Church. The episcopate is not outside the eucharistic assembly, but in its midst. Therefore, since the beginning, each Local Church with its bishop has considered itself more or less self-sufficient. And yet this self-sufficiency is not an isolation at all, because each Local Church is, and must remain in communion with, in harmony with, in common teaching and Tradition with, all the other Local Churches according to the order of precedence. And, further, headship in general amongst these Local Churches is found in the principle of “first among equals”, and, even, of “servant of the servants of God”. In the context of this concept of headship, the so-called highest, the most respected position, that of the Patriarch of Constantinople, for its historic reasons, has this responsibility. As has always existed in every Local Church and every region, there is, in the episcopate, the service of “court of appeal” for the purpose of settling disputes. Therefore, the Patriarch of Constantinople, is, ideally, the court of last appeal in otherwise insoluble disputes.

To produce a complete description of the understanding by the Orthodox of the meaning of the Local Church would occupy far more time and space than has been accomplished in this offering. However, this does, at least, present an overview for the purpose of discussion. I hope it is sufficient for this purpose, at least.

† Seraphim, Bishop of Ottawa, and of Canada
October 2001

Endnotes :

[1]John Meyendorff, “Unity of the Church — Unity of Mankind”, The Ecumenical Review, vol. 24, issue 1 (January, 1972), p. 167.

[2]J N D Kelly, “'Catholic' and 'Apostolic' in the Early Centuries”, One in Christ, vol. 6, no. 3 (1970), pp. 274 ff.

[3]J H Erickson, “Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons : An Orthodox Perspective”, Kanon, no. 13 (Vienna, 1996), pp. 148 ff.

[4]N Afanasieff, The Lord's Supper, translated by M J Lewis (Crestwood, N Y : St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1988).

[5]J D Zizioulas, “The Eucharistic Community and the Catholicity of the Church”, One in Christ, vol. 6, no. 3 (1970), p. 316.

[6]Ibid., pp. 318 ff.

[7]Ibid., pp. 320, 328.

[8]Veselin Kesich, "Unity and Diversity in New Testament Ecclesiology", St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2 (1975), p. 111.

[9]A Bogolepov, “The Appointment of a Bishop”, Lectures I (Crestwood, NY : St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary), ch. 3.

[10]A Bogolepov, “The Metropolitan District”, Lectures II (Crestwood, NY : St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary), ch. 11.

[11]A Schmemann, “A Meaningful Storm”, St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 15, nos. 1 & 2, p. 6.

[12]Erickson, ibid.

[13]N Afanasieff,”Una Sancta: To the Memory of John XXIII, the Pope of Love”, Irenikon 36, vol. 1, pp. 436-475.

Bibliography :

Afanasieff, Nicholas, The Lord's Supper, Translation and Introduction by M J Lewis, M.Div Thesis (Crestwood, NY : St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1988).
…… “Una Sancta: To the Memory of John XXIII, the Pope of Love”, Irenikon 36, vol.1.

Bogolepov, A, “The Appointment of a Bishop”, Lectures I (Crestwood, NY : St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary).
…… “The Metropolitan District”, Lectures II (Crestwood, NY : St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary).

Clapsis, Emmanuel, “The Papal Primacy”, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 32, no. 2 (Brookline, MA, 1987).

Erickson, John H, “Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons: An Orthodox Perspective”, Kanon, no. 13 (Vienna, 1996).The Jurist 52 (1992), pp. 490 ff.

Kelly, J N D, “'Catholic' and ‘Apostolic’ in the Early Centuries”, One in Christ, vol. 6, no. 3 (1970).

Kesich, Veselin, "Unity and Diversity in New Testament Ecclesiology", St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2 (1975).

Lanne, Emmanuel, OSB, “The Local Church: Its Catholicity and its Apostolocity”, One in Christ, vol. 6, no. 3 (1970), pp. 288 ff.

Meyendorff, John, “Unity of the Church — Unity of Mankind”, The Ecumenical Review, vol. 24, issue 1 (January, 1972).

Schmemann, Alexander, “A Meaningful Storm: Some reflections on Autocephaly, Tradition, and Ecclesiology”, St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 15, nos. 1 & 2 (Crestwood, NY, 1971).

Ware, Archimandrite Kallistos, “Tradition and Personal Experience in later Byzantine Theology”, Boston Churches Review 3 (Autumn 1970).

Zizioulas, J D, “The Development of Conciliar Structures to the Time of the First Ecumenical Council”, in “Councils and the Ecumenical Movement”, WCC Studies 5 (Geneva, 1968), pp. 34 ff.
…… “The Eucharistic Community and the Catholicity of the Church”, One in Christ, vol. 6, no. 3 (1970).

Partakers of the Divine Nature : An Orthodox Christian Theological Consideration of Holy Communion, Parts 1 & 2

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Partakers of the Divine Nature :
An Orthodox Christian Theological Consideration
of Holy Communion
Part 1
16-17 February, 1995 (edited and revised 2015)
[Lecture given at Saint Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan]

I am beginning this Orthodox theological consideration of Holy Communion with theological considerations. This background is necessary in order that we may hope to understand how Orthodox Christians behave (a mystery in itself), and how the Orthodox properly approach Holy Communion. In the course of my reflections, I am going to refer to some of the sayings of the Fathers of the Church. These Fathers are persons whose sayings, whose sermons, whose answers to questions, whose treatises help to frame our understanding of Holy Communion and all other aspects of our Orthodox life. Some of the Fathers are early, the ones we generally recognise as the greater authorities such as Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint John of Damascus. Other early ones are desert types ; others are more recent. Here I will add that although we may almost automatically assume that the term “Fathers” applies to the period of the Cappadocians, for instance, and that it is limited to persons of that historical period, in fact the term applies to significant persons in all ages, even the present. In the same way that the age of miracles is not past, so the time of the Fathers not past. Just to keep us on our toes, amongst the Orthodox, the term “Fathers of the Church” includes Mothers as well.

Another important basic fact to note is that when one is looking in indices of patristic writings for references on Holy Communion or the Eucharist, one finds that they are surprisingly limited. This is for a good reason. Never in the history of the Orthodox Church has this matter been considered in isolation from the totality of Orthodox Christian life in experience. Holy Communion is part of a completely interdependent and interrelated whole, which is not able to be precipitated out of context for independent study and isolated analysis. A concrete example of what I mean can be found in the introduction to a book which I have read, Holy Women of Russia by Brenda Meehan, published in 1993 by Harper, San Francisco. She says :

I have had great difficulty in writing this book. I am convinced now that it is because the women I am writing about – vibrant, spiritually intense women – didn’t like the way I was originally telling their story, making it part of a dry, scholarly analysis of the rise of women’s religious communities in nineteenth-century Russia. It had been my intention to analyze in tidy chapters various aspects of these communities, including their origins, statistical profiles of their founders, the economic resources and institutional structures of the communities, the socioeconomic characteristics of the members, and their cultural significance in pre-revolutionary Russia. But these women jumped up from the pages, refusing to be neatly contained within my chapters and within a framework that stressed the sociohistorical at the expense of the spiritual.

In this context, I would hasten to add to her words “and at the expense of the personal”. The word “spiritual” can be taken nowadays in a distanced, isolated and even detached way. However, the word “personal” both demands and implies relationship. Relationship on the level of being itself is what is involved in our perception of the meaning of Holy Communion.

When I was thinking about how to speak about Holy Communion, I found myself in the same position as Brenda Meehan. As a last introductory comment, I will reminisce a little, as is commensurate with my advancing age. It was about thirty years ago that I first came to Saskatoon on a mid-winter trip with the University of Alberta mixed chorus. I must say that that visit was a truly chilling experience (it was in February). However, it was compensated for by Saskatoon hospitality. In those days, following the ordinary course of student life, in between the lengthy reflections on the meaning of life in various coffee shops, I was taking some courses in philosophy, and studying (amongst other things) metaphysics. We followed the course of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and we reviewed the proofs for the existence of God. Although the whole experience was very taxing, I have been happy for the experience. These arguments have proved to be quite helpful in many discussions with searching hearts since then. However, there is the catch that Saint Thomas himself understood, and that was pointed out by a very patient professor : the leap of faith. Through the blessing of Irish humour, we were taught that although one may rationally achieve a logical acceptance of the existence of God, that in itself is not enough. This leap of faith has to occur before what is called “belief” can be achieved. Belief is illustrated as being something like “confidence” or “trust”, such as that confidence or trust in a chair or table to hold up one’s weight when sitting upon it. However, we had better not let ourselves get caught sitting on a table in Orthodox circles (because there is a special respect for tables). It is the leap of faith that enables the confidence or the trust in God’s existence, and beyond that there is relationship.

Philosophy is a useful tool but it is not theology, and I am supposed to be speaking about a theological understanding of Holy Communion. However, I do not think I can do that quite yet. If we are treating the word “theology” as if it were some sort of philosophy, then there will be trouble in understanding the Orthodox perspective. It is necessary to take another moment to recall what theology is. The word “theology” means words about God, speaking about God. However, it does not mean that we simply take any set of propositions about God and then begin to debate them, or even to adjust them according to our personal liking. True theology is the result of the experience of God. It is not only the result of my experience of God ; it is also the result of our experience of God. It is not only the result of the experience of God here and now of this small group here in Saskatoon, but it is also the common experience of those who have encountered God, who have experienced God, and most pointedly who have experienced God as Orthodox Christians for the last 2,000 years and more. A theologian is not someone who knows a considerable amount about God, about history, councils, debates, arguments, ecclesiology, soteriology, Biblical tradition, translations, hermeneutics and so forth. A theologian is not a person who has written papers and theses, attended many a lecture, and received a Ph.D. in theology. Most of all, a theologian is not someone who is original. A theologian is a person who has had experience of God and who, following the exhortation of 1 Peter 3:15, is prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls him or her to account for the hope that is in him or her. The theologian attempts to find words that are adequate not only to convey the experience of God, but also words that are the most adequate to speak about what is ineffable. Indeed, as we say in the prayer for blessing water at Theophany, there are no words sufficient to describe God’s wonders. The authentication of this experience and this defence is found in its conformity to the common experience of Orthodox Christians at all times, in all places, and by all. In his The Commonitorium (4:3), Saint Vincent of Lérins elaborates on this. The Apostle helps us to comprehend this in his words : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Even this understanding of the stability of the Godhead is not something new, since we see it as God reveals Himself to Moses at Mount Sinai in 2 Moses [Exodus] 3:6 : “‘I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’”. This self-revelation is at the foundation of God’s promised salvation. One of the most striking differences between East and West in Christian experience can be seen in the fact that while the Orthodox in the so-called East have always given Holy Communion to infants (in fact, from the moment of baptism), in the West for many hundreds of years this has been withdrawn until the variously-timed “age of discretion”. The long-held requirement in the West is that the person must know and understand what is being received. On the other hand, for the Orthodox, there has never been such a requirement. There is no judgement made amongst us about the ability to reason, to perceive just what is happening ; for we have, we do, and we will give Holy Communion not only to infants, but also to those older persons who are incapable for various reasons of having any intellectual ability to comprehend anything : to those who are in comas, and similar conditions. On the other hand, amongst these very Orthodox, there are still many who do not and have not frequently received Holy Communion. This non-reception came into being mainly because of the very acute awareness of the poisonous effects of sin in our lives. It is very important, however, to look first at the foundation of our Orthodox perception before paying too close attention to the results of sin, and to the mysterious, negative effects that sin has on people’s lives.

Every day, near the beginning of Matins, we sing the refrain : “The Lord is God and has revealed Himself to us ; blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” (see Psalm 117:26, 27). In this phrase is found the foundation of the Orthodox theological approach, and the fundamentals of our understanding of Holy Communion. While we are at this place, I might as well say that it is here that we find our true roots in our Semitic, Judaic, Middle-Eastern foundation interpreted through Hellenism. From the very beginning, the Creator reveals Himself to the created. We see this at the beginning of 1 Moses [Genesis]. However we may choose to interpret the details of 1 Moses, the foundation of all 1 Moses can be found in God’s revealing Himself to mankind, His creation. He walks and talks with mankind before the Fall (and even after the Fall). However, there is an interesting detail for us to notice in the Creation-narrative, a detail that is not there for nothing. In chapter 1:26 we read : “‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’”. This is repeated again in chapter 11:7 as God interrupts the handiwork of our pride, Babel : “‘Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language’”. A little farther along in chapter 18 we have the well-known appearance of God at the Oak of Mamre. Here we have the Lord repeatedly speaking in the singular but visibly represented in the form of three men or angels during the encounter with Abraham (and then in the form of two angels in the encounter with Lot in chapter 19). God reveals Himself to us as Community-of-Being : not only in language, but also in visible form, both in the Old Testament and then in the New Testament. In the New Testament, this is most particularly so at the moment of the Baptism of our Lord :

And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:10, 11).

More than this, God reveals Himself not as a mere abstract community of being, but as the Community-of-Persons amongst whom there is an active interaction and an inter-relationship rooted in Love. Thus, when we are speaking about the Holy Trinity, we must always try hard to avoid using the word “it”.

This interaction and inter-relationship (which all the Holy Fathers admit is founded in love) is not self-enclosed. It reaches out ; it creates life and invites a relationship with what is created. The life of the Holy Trinity begets life in love, then maintains a similarly loving and personal relationship with the created. The Lord God reveals Himself to us. The Lord intends that this revelation, this reaching out to us, should bring about a living relationship between us and Him, and that this relationship is, in fact, communion with Him. This communion is the communion of love. It is the communion of love, because, as we well know, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). This fact is evident also from the time of the Creation. It is a communion of the life-giving love which invites imitation. Human beings will imitate the selfless, life-giving love of God in obedience motivated by this very love.

It is for that reason that we rehearse the great elements of this revelation at important liturgical moments. In the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, we participate in this repetition of the historical revelation, and also in the Mystery of Baptism, and in the Great Blessing of Waters at Theophany. God is revealing Himself to us : in the Creation ; at Mamre ; at the Red Sea ; at Sinai ; in the Judges and Prophets, in holy persons of all ages ; and then in culmination, in the Incarnation of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word of God who takes flesh, and in the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in celebrating the Divine Liturgy, we bring into the present moment all the past saving acts of the Holy Trinity (and even the future ones). We even commemorate the Second Coming. We are celebrating all these past, present and future events because we participate in them and we have a personal relationship with them.

This personal relationship with the Holy Trinity is not concerned with something extra to what we do. It is not merely a part of or a mere facet of who and what we are. It is not a mere factor in our existence, nor is it anything extra. This personal relationship constitutes our very existence and purpose. This relationship unites us with all the saving acts of history. This personal relationship is enacted on the level of our very being. It is the substance, the foundation of who we are. Who we really are as persons can only be discovered in the perfection of the relationship with God who created us. The more deeply we are identified with God, with the living out of His love and the imitation of Him, the more we truly are ourselves. This is so, because then we are more approximately what God created us to be in the first place. The more we insist on a life of our own choosing, and neglecting our communion with God in living our life, the more we become instead a parody of ourselves (or even a distortion of ourselves).

While we are reflecting upon these matters, it must also be said that if one is going to try to understand the Orthodox theology of Holy Communion, one must take continually into consideration the mystery of the Body of Christ as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, and to some extent in the following chapter. At the same time, the very nature and purpose of the Eucharistic Assembly must be recalled, as Father Alexander Schmemann strongly points out at the beginning of his book, The Eucharist (published in 1987 by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press) :

‘When you assemble as a church …’ writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 11:18]. For him, as for all of early Christianity, these words refer not to a temple, but to the nature and purpose of the gathering. As is well known, the very word “church" means “a gathering” or “an assembly,” and to ‘assemble as a church’ meant, in the minds of the early Christians, to constitute a gathering whose purpose is to reveal, to realize the Church.

This gathering is eucharistic—its end and fulfilment lies in its being the setting wherein the “Lord’s Supper” is accomplished, wherein the eucharistic “breaking of bread” takes place. […] Thus, from the very beginning we can see an obvious, undoubted triunity of the assembly, the eucharist, and the Church, to which the whole early tradition of the Church, following St Paul, unanimously testifies.

Once again, I am trying to cram everything into too small a box. For those who have the background to understand it, I want to recommend reading the book by Metropolitan John of Pergamos (whose family name is Zizioulas), Being as Communion (published by Saint Vladimir’s Press in 1985). This book was written before he became a bishop. As a related resource, the book by Aristides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, was also published by Saint Vladimir’s Press in 1994.

We believe that for the sake of love, for the sake of enabling us to be restored to the personal communion with God (which we, ourselves, have rejected and broken), the Word of God took flesh, lived, died at our hands, rose again, destroying the power of Hades, and ascended into Heaven. He left us the Divine Liturgy of His Body and Blood in order to feed us, to maintain and increase the unity and identity between ourselves and Himself. In the light of this and all that has been said above, here is what is said by some Fathers :

[…] O blessed Paul […] do you give the title “cup of blessing” to that fearful and most tremendous cup? ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘and the expression is no mean title. For when I call it “blessing”, I mean thanksgiving, and when I call it thanksgiving, I unfurl all the treasures of God’s goodness, and call to mind those mighty gifts’. […] We are giving Him thanks that He has delivered the whole race of mankind from error ; that being far off, He made them near ; that when they had no hope, and were without God in the world, He constituted them His own brethren and fellow-heirs. For these and all such things, giving thanks, thus we approach, giving thanks for these and all such things. […] We communicate not only by participating and partaking, but also by being united […].

[I will add here parenthetically that Saint John, when he uses the word “blending” is not suggesting a sort of wadding together of us in indistinction nor a blending of us into some sort of indistinct life. He is saying that while being united to the Source of life that is God, we are remaining still the unique creation that we are as particular persons.]

Look, I entreat [you] : a royal table is set before you ; angels are ministering at the table ; the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping ? Are your garments defiled, and yet you make no account of it ? or are they clean ? Then fall down and partake. […] You have sung the Hymn with the rest ; you have declared yourself to be of the number of those who are worthy by not departing with those who are unworthy. Why stay and yet not partake of the table ? ‘I am unworthy,’ you will say. Then are you also unworthy of that communion you have had in prayers ? For it is not by means of the offering only, but also by means of those canticles, that the Spirit descends all around. […] So that I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching. […] What then is our hope of salvation ? We cannot lay the blame on our weakness ; we cannot lay it on our nature. It is indolence and nothing else that renders us unworthy (Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 3 on Ephesians 1”).

[Saint John Chrysostom was dealing with people not significantly different from ourselves.]

We are the temple of Christ ; we kiss the porch and entrance of the temple when we kiss each other. […] And through these gates and doors Christ has both entered into us and does enter, whensoever we communicate. You who partake of the mysteries, understand what I say : for it is in no common manner that our lips are honoured when they receive the Lord’s Body. It is chiefly for this reason that we, here, kiss (Saint John Chrysostom in “Homily 30 on 2 Corinthians 13”).

[Now you know why we Orthodox kiss each other very often.]

‘Give us this day our daily bread’. These words may be taken either spiritually or literally, because in the divine plan, both readings are helpful for your salvation. The bread of life is Christ ; now this is not everyone’s bread, but it is ours. […] We call this ‘our bread’ because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body. We ask that this bread be given to us daily, lest we, who are in Christ and receive the Eucharist every day as the food of salvation, be separated from His Body by some grave sin that keeps us from communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread (Saint Cyprian of Carthage, "Treatise 4 on the Lord’s Prayer").

[…] With fullest assurance, let us partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, for in the figure of the Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of wine His Blood, that you, by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, might be made of the same body and blood with Him. For thus we become Christ-bearers. […] Thus it is, according to blessed Peter, that we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4).

Christ, on a certain occasion, conversing with the Jews said : ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you’ (John 6:53). […] Contemplate therefore, the bread and the wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. […] Let faith establish you (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catechetical Lectures" : 'On the Mysteries, 4').

Whenever we unworthy ones are thought to be worthy to be admitted, with fear and dread, to the Divine and undefiled Mysteries of Christ, our God and King, then let us all the more show forth sobriety, watchfulness of mind and strict attention, so that our sins and our small and great uncleanness may be destroyed by the Divine Fire, that is, by the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For when it enters into us, it straightaway drives from our hearts the spirits of wickedness, and it does away with our sins of the past, and the mind is left empty of the restless importunities of evil thoughts. If, after this we guard our mind strictly, and stand in the gate of our heart, then each time we are again counted worthy, the holy, sacred Divine Body will more and more brighten the mind and make it shine like a star […] (Saint Hesychius of Jerusalem, "Sobriety and Prayer").

Just as Eve was taken from the flesh and bones of Adam so the two formed one flesh, so Christ, in giving Himself to us in communion, gives us His own flesh and bones. This is indeed what He gives us to eat. Through Communion, He makes us one with Himself.

All those who believe in Christ become akin to Him in the Spirit of God, and form a single body. […] United to Him spiritually in this manner, each of us will form a single spirit with Him, and likewise one body, since we corporally eat His Body and drink His Blood ; […] one, I say, not according to the person, but [according] to the nature of the Deity and the Humanity : according to the divine nature, since we become god through adoption […].

Before all the ages, [God] has predetermined that those who believe in Him and are baptised in His Name (the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), and eat the sinless flesh of His Son, and drink His precious Blood, would be justified by this, that is, glorified, and would become partakers of life eternal […].

If you want to know whether I am speaking the truth, become a saint by practicing the commandments of God, and then partake of the Holy Mysteries. Then you will understand the full import of this statement (Saint Symeon the New Theologian, "Ethical Chapters")

But when Christ dwells in us, what else is needed, or what benefit escapes us? When we dwell in Christ, what else will we desire? […] What good thing is lacking for those who are in such a state? What have they to do with wickedness who have entered such brightness? What evil can withstand so great an abundance of good? What evil thing can continue to be present or enter from without when Christ is so evidently with us, and completely penetrates and surrounds us?

The Eucharist, alone of the sacred rites, supplies perfection to the other Mysteries. […] So perfect is this Mystery, so far does it excel every other sacred rite, that it leads to the very summit of good things. Here also is the final goal of every human endeavour. For in it we obtain God Himself, and God is united with us in the most perfect union; for what attachment can be more complete than to become one spirit with God? (Saint Nicholas (Cabasilas), "The Life in Christ".)

[My soul], repent of your yearnings for this world and all that is in this world. For the world is the graveyard of your ancestors, which is gaping and waiting for you. Just a little longer, and you will be ancestors, and will yearn to hear the word “repentance,” but will not hear it (Saint Nikolai (Velimirovic), "Prayers by the Lake").

In the Gospel the Lord says : ‘I AM the Truth’ (see John 14:6). He said not ‘I am the custom’. Therefore, the truth being manifest, let custom yield to truth (Bishop Lavosas of Vaga, at the Council of Carthage in 256).

When Pontius Pilate asked our Lord, “‘What is truth ?’” (John 18:38), he asked the wrong question ; for truth is not a “what” but a “Who”, as we have just heard. Very often, in trying to understand the mysteries of God, we get caught in the same sort of bind by asking the wrong question. If we ever dare to think that we can fully understand the mysteries of God (and most particularly the mystery of the Eucharist), we will do nothing but ask the wrong questions. To ask anything at all is difficult because in the Orthodox understanding, in approaching the mystery of Holy Communion, we see that everything is inter-related. Everything and everyone is connected to, and influencing, and influenced by everyone and everything else. So much is this so, that if we are asked how many sacraments there are, our answer will be : “God knows”. It is in fact, one, or numberless. The total of what we commonly distinguish as separate sacraments are, in fact, all linked tightly together, all knit together so as to be almost inseparable, albeit that they are distinct acts. Every time God confers Grace upon us, we perceive this event to be a “sacrament”, including the holy kissing that we heard Saint John Chrysostom describe. The sacraments are multitudinous. They are all a reflection of the life of the Holy Trinity.

It is the bishop who is the chief celebrant of every Eucharistic Liturgy in his diocese. In his person he focusses the perpetuation of the Tradition of Christ, of the true belief in the Holy Trinity. At his ordination to the Holy Episcopate, he is asked by the presiding bishop : “How do you believe ?” The bishop-to-be answers with the Symbol of Faith, the Nicene Creed which we daily re-affirm and which we confess from our baptism :

I believe in one God, the Father almighty :
Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible ;
and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten,
begotten of the Father before all ages :
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made ;
of one essence with the Father ;
through whom all things were made ;
who for us Men, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became Man ;
and He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried ;
and the third day, He rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures ;
and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father ;
and He shall come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead ;
whose Kingdom shall have no end ;
and in the Holy Spirit : the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father ;
who, with the Father and the Son together, is worshipped and glorified ;
who spoke by the prophets ;
in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church ;
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins ;
I wait for the resurrection of the dead ;
and the life of the age to come. Amen.

The presiding bishop blesses him, and invokes the Grace of the Holy Trinity ; and then, to clarify, the bishop-to-be is asked to speak in greater detail about his Trinitarian and Christological Faith. Thus, he responds with a second Confession of Faith :

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible : who is without beginning, unbegotten, and without cause, but is Himself the natural beginning and cause of the Son, and of the Spirit.

I believe in His only-begotten Son : without change, and without time, begotten of the Father, being of one essence with Him ; through whom all things were made.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the same Father : who with Him is glorified as co-eternal, and co-enthroned, being of one essence with Him, of equal glory, and the Author of creation.

I believe that the only-begotten Word, one of that same super-essential, and life-giving Trinity, came down from Heaven for us Men, and for our salvation. He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became Man ; that is, He became perfect Man, yet remained God. In no manner was His divine essence changed by His participation in the flesh, nor was He transmuted into anything else. Without change, He assumed Man’s nature, in which He suffered, and died, although in His divine nature He was free from all suffering. On the third day, He rose from the dead ; He ascended into Heaven, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father. Furthermore, I confess the one Person, the Word made flesh. I believe and proclaim that Christ is one and the same in two natures after His incarnation, preserving those things which were in them, and from them. Therefore, I also adore two wills, in that each nature retains its own will, and its own action.

I believe those traditions and teachings of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which have been received from God, and from men-of-God.

I reverence, but not in the way of worship, the icons of Christ Himself, and of the all-pure Birthgiver-of-God, and of all the saints, holy, and worthy of reverence. The honour that I address to them, I direct to their originals. I reject and deny those who think and teach otherwise, as persons ill-advised.

I confess truly and sincerely our Lady, Mary, the Birth-giver-of-God, as having given birth in the flesh to one of the Trinity — Christ our God.

May the same Birth-giver-of-God be my helper, protector, and defender, all the days of my life. Amen.

This is the foundation of what all Orthodox Christians at all times and in all places believe. Further, it is this foundation that supports the whole of our life. It undergirds our appearing as the Body of Christ, our assembling as the Church. Our Confession of Faith penetrates our thanksgiving, and our offering of ourselves and the whole of our being. It mingles with our commemoration of the living, the dead, the saints, the saving acts of God, our participation in Holy Communion. It profoundly affects every aspect of our life as we step out to meet people and events that will put our relationship with Christ to the test. Our Confession of Faith is all concerned with our relationship with Christ, being in love with Christ, being one with Christ, being found in Christ, being alive in Christ. It is as these great phrases from the Divine Liturgy indicate : “Your own of Your own, we offer to You on behalf of all and for all”. This “for all” does not mean merely those of us who are standing here, but for all : everyone and everything. When, in the Anaphora, we come to the end of our commemoration of the departed and the living, we remember our bishop, asking that the Lord will protect him in all things and enable him rightly to divide the word of truth. The faithful respond, “And everyone and everything”. This reveals the interdependent unity of the faithful and the bishop, the assembly and all creation.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Partakers of the Divine Nature :
Holy Communion through the Centuries
amongst Orthodox Christians
Part 2
16-17 February, 1995 (edited and revised 2017)
[Lecture given at Saint Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan]

As I speak about Holy Communion through the centuries in the Orthodox Tradition, I hope that you will not expect my presentation to be any more systematic than in the talk last night. I learnt to be systematic a long time ago, but somehow, every time I try to present what we believe in a systematic way – mishmash is the result. I leave it to you to sort it all out yourselves.

The Canons of the Holy Apostles may not be precisely that, but it can be accepted that they derive from the experience of the Early Church in the Apostolic and Sub-apostolic times. Their influence on our Church’s interior life remains to this very day.

These are quotes from Canons 8 and 9 of the Holy Apostles that refer to Holy Communion.

If any bishop, presbyter or deacon, or anyone on the sacerdotal list, when the Offering [that means the Divine Liturgy] is made, does not partake of it, let him declare the cause ; and if it be a reasonable one, let him be excused ; but if he does not declare it, let him be excommunicated as being a cause of offence to the people, and occasioning a suspicion against the offerer, as if he had not made the offering properly (Canon 8).

All the faithful who come in and hear the Scriptures, but do not stay for the prayers and the Holy Communion, are to be excommunicated, as causing disorder in the Church (Canon 9).

These sentiments are re-iterated in Canon 2 of the Synod at Antioch in Syria in 341. At this point, of course, it is necessary to say that excommunication as mentioned here does not in any way imply a permanent condition. When anyone says that magic word “excommunication”, all sorts of assumptions leap into the mind : utter separation, outer darkness, and so forth. That is not what excommunication means at all. It means for us now precisely what it meant for the Early Church.

If anyone is excommunicated for whatever reason, it is in fact usually the person who does it to him/herself. There is no episcopal decree coming down that so and so is “out”. The person by improper behaviour takes him/herself out of communion with the Church. This fact of alienation is recognised by the rest of the believers, and it is understood that a time of repentance is necessary to restore that communion. The person has to be prepared to admit that the behaviour was divisive, even perhaps deliberately so, and that this behaviour has to be corrected. The rest of the community should be convinced that the person is sincerely repentant, and then communion is restored. If the person is cut from communion, this is understood as being medicinal, not punitive. If there is anything that people have to understand about how we Orthodox approach interior Church discipline, it is that it is not punitive. It is always medicinal.

What the citing of these canons reveals is not that we like to excommunicate people, but rather the importance the Church has placed on the total participation in the Eucharistic Offering, particularly on the Lord’s Day. We have evidence that in apostolic times people might receive Holy Communion every day. Last night we heard Saint Basil speaking about that very practice even in the fourth century. There was a strong sense of need to receive Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ every Sunday. It is well known that, in those days, if anyone would be absent from the Divine Liturgy without good excuse for three consecutive Sundays, that person would be excommunicated for treating the sacrament lightly until there would be repentance demonstrated.

Eucharistic participation did not and does not carry the sense of simply receiving Holy Communion, and especially not “my” Communion. Reception as such is part of the whole and cannot be understood without the whole. In the Early Church times, even receiving Holy Communion as a sick person was taken seriously as doing so as a part of, and along with the whole. It was customary for a presbyter (or more often a deacon) to take Holy Communion to the sick immediately after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. In fact, to this day this is standard practice amongst the Egyptians, who, for the sake of safety, do not keep the Holy Mysteries in reserve. Let us remember the country they live in, and how many martyrs are produced in the Egyptian Church every year just by their environment.

It might now be asked : “Part of the whole what ?” The first answer is : “Part of the whole Divine Liturgy”. However, this cannot be the complete answer, because the Divine Liturgy is not an end in itself nor isolated in any way. The Divine Liturgy is the greatest example of inclusiveness. It makes present all the saving acts of God. It makes us partakers of the Divine Nature. It includes and affects all the faithful : past, present and future. It realises the Body of Christ in the fullest sense of that term. It encompasses and enables the renewal of all creation. It puts us in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the Paradise of God. It makes visible what is expressed by the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 11) : the coming together of believers in unity, in order and in love for the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ in a worthy manner.

All this may sound fine in theory, one might say, but for the Orthodox Christian there is no sense of abstraction or disconnection with so-called practical reality in all this. It must be understood that there is no division between what we believe and what we do. There is an expression in vogue these days : Orthodoxy is inseparable from Orthopraxy.

Therefore, the whole life of an Orthodox Christian is expected to be focussed on the Eucharist, both preparing for it and working from it. As Saint John of Kronstadt, an early twentieth-century saint, says in his work, My Life in Christ :

Both public and private prayer are necessary in order that we may lead a truly Christ-like life, and that the life of the Spirit should not become extinct in us. It is indispensible that we should attend divine services in church with faith, zeal and understanding just as it is indispensible to provide a lamp with fuel or power if it is to burn and not go out.

What does the Holy Church instill in us by putting into our mouths during prayer, both at home and in church, prayer addressed not by a single person, but by all, together ? She instills in us constant mutual love, in order that we should always love one another as our own selves – in order that, imitating God in Three Persons, constituting the highest unity, we should ourselves be one formed of many : ‘that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us’ (John 17:21).

Common prayer on the part of all teaches us also to share the things of the earth with others, to share our needs, so that in this life also we may have all things in common and as one – that is, that mutual love should be evident in everything, and that each one of us should use his ability for the good of others, not hiding his talent in the ground, that he should not be selfish and idle [...].

By means of its divine services, the Orthodox Church educates us for heavenly citizenship […] by giving to us ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3). Therefore it is urgently necessary for us intelligently, reverently and willingly to assist at the divine services of the Church, particularly on festivals, and to make use of the sacraments of Penitence and Holy Communion. But those who withdraw themselves from the services of the Church become victims of their vices, and are lost.

If the Lord give Himself in His Divine Mysteries every day, ought we not absolutely to give freely, for nothing, perishable goods such as money, food, drink, clothes to those who ask them of us ? And how can we be angered with those who eat our bread for nothing, when we ourselves partake freely of the priceless and immortal Food of the Body and Blood of the Lord ?

The utter centrality in and necessity to the life of the Orthodox Christian of the Divine Liturgy and ipso facto the receiving of Holy Communion, is thoroughly underlined in what Saint John has said. Not only does it unite us to Christ and to each other, but it also enables the Christ-like, selfless, loving life that is the expression of this union, which we hear described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in chapter 2.

Full participation in the Divine Liturgy also reveals and makes present the fact, as the Apostle says in the same letter (Philippians 3:20), that our citizenship is in Heaven. Of course, this is not to say that every Orthodox Christian is always aware or conscious of all this all the time. Far from it. However, the Orthodox Christian, aware of his or her sins, will nevertheless sense much of this almost by instinct.

Saint Augustine of Hippo says in his commentary on the Psalms :

Many, it is true, approach the Altar you see here, unworthily, and God permits His sacraments to be profaned for a time. Nevertheless, my brethren, will the heavenly Jerusalem resemble these visible walls ? By no means. You may enter with the wicked into the walls of this church ; but you will not enter with the wicked into Abraham’s bosom. Have no fear therefore : wash your hands clean.

Not only is Holy Communion the object of our life in Christ and the end of our life, it is also the means to that end. It is that spiritual food by which we are enabled to hope to come into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once again, Saint Basil the Great sets before us the proper standard, and at the same time reveals the practice of the fourth-century Church (quoted from Letter No. 93) :

Daily Communion and participation in the Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a good and helpful practice. He [that is, the Lord] clearly says : ‘Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life’ (John 6:54). Who doubts that to partake of life continually is really to have a life of abundance ? For myself, I communicate four times a week : on the Lord’s Day, on Wednesday, on Friday and Saturday, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of a martyr. If in times of persecution, individuals under this compulsion give themselves Holy Communion with their own hands, without the presence of priest or minister, this raises no difficulty. In fact, there is no need to point this out, since long-established custom has sanctioned the practice under pressure of circumstances.

All the hermits in the desert, when there is no priest, keep the Holy Mysteries at home and give it to themselves. In Alexandria and Egypt, it is the general rule for each member of the laity to keep the Holy Mysteries at his own house.

Once the priest has completed the sacrifice, and has given the Holy Communion, he who has received it as one whole portion is bound to believe, as he participates day by day, that he rightly partakes of it and receives it from Him who gave it. Even in the church, the priest gives a portion and the recipient retains it, with complete power to do what he will, and brings it to his mouth with his own hands.

This is another quote from Saint Cyprian of Carthage :

As the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose, that it may be a safeguard to the receivers, it is needful that we may arm those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary with the protection of the Lord’s abundance. For how do we teach or inspire them to shed their blood in confession of His Name, if we deny to those who are about to enter into warfare, the Blood of Christ ? Or how do we make them firm for the cup of martyrdom if we do not first admit them to drink, in the Church, the cup of the Lord in Holy Communion ?

We see here first in Saint Basil, the very strong sense of the utter importance and centrality of receiving Holy Communion very often, even every day. We see, too, that in some places, the laity could have the Holy Mysteries at home for daily reception. At the same time, we see that Saint Cyprian has precisely the same attitude towards its value : the utter necessity for the Holy Mysteries in the life of the Christian, whether it be in a time of persecution or not. However, Saint Cyprian gives hints (just as did Saint John Chrysostom in a previous quotation) that not every one of the Faithful was so prepared to receive. There have always been those who have fallen prey to sin and are tempted to take the receiving of Holy Communion, and by extension, their participation in the community of the Faithful, lightly.

We see the Apostle Paul rebuking those in Corinth who abused the sacramental feast by turning it into a picnic. We see Saint John Chrysostom complaining that some are participating of the Holy Mysteries without proper reverence or regard. And we have yet another quotation. This one is from a Syriac Father of the early seventh century, Saint Martyrius, from his Book of Perfection :

I shudder to mention something else that is the most dreadful thing of all done by people who show contempt at the dread moment which makes even the rebel demons shake : I mean at the awesome point when the Divine Mysteries are consummated. When angels and archangels hover around the Altar in fear and trembling, as Christ is sacrificed and the Holy Spirit hovers, many of these people will, on occasion wander about outside, or […] will come in according to their whim and stand there showing their contempt by yawning as at their excessive burden, being tired of standing up.

At that moment when the priest is making this great supplication on their behalf, deep sleep gets the better of them, so slack are they. At this moment which causes even the dead to awaken, here are these people, fully alive and supposedly running after perfection, nevertheless sunk in sleep or wandering about expectantly for when they can quickly leave their place of confinement ; for the Jerusalem of light and life is like a prison to these people – the place where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell, where spiritual beings and the bands of saints together give praise and glory before God in holy fashion (see Hebrews 12:28).

Again we see the awe with which the sacrament of Holy Communion was and is held, and the sinful response of some. There has been a tendency to find blame for this attitude in the fact that pagans had been admitted to the Church in large numbers in the fourth century. There is blame also laid at their feet in the decreasing numbers frequently receiving Holy Communion, particularly from about the seventh and eighth centuries.

There are some who like to suggest, as I have sometimes done myself, that the allegorical interpretation of the Divine Liturgy, as being in its action a re-enactment of the life of Christ by the priest, betrays an influence of pagan mystery religions ; that the movement into allegory has also served to distance the celebration of the Eucharist from the people.

There are also some who like to say that because of pagan penetration (and to protect the Holy Mysteries from profanation) there was discouragement to receive Holy Communion frequently, and thus it became less and less frequent. At the present, I think I see rather the continuous dark thread of sin throughout. I think that, in the light of our Lord’s saying : “’Many are called, but few are chosen’” (Matthew 22:14), there are some throughout all Christian history who deeply love the Lord and want to be pleasing to Him and to be like Him, and to obey Him and therefore to feed on Him. But there are others who, when they are confronted by the brightness of the glory of the love of God in Christ, recoil in pain and rebellion. Thus they shy away from receiving the Divine Food necessary for the life in Christ.

Let us examine the quotation from Saint Martyrius just cited. What characterises many of our modern Orthodox Christians ? For what do they even gain the admiration of some ? For precisely this inattentive wandering around and this disrespectful late-arriving and early-departing from the holy place of worship. So much is this so, that we ourselves think that we can allow ourselves to be disrespectfully casual. In our barbaric boorishness, we think it is acceptable to come late to the Lord’s banquet, to wander around, in and out, not to eat anything and to head off early. I can imagine the reaction we would get if we did this at a banquet of the Queen or the Governor-General. Is the Lord less than they ?

When the Orthodox are hearing the readings from the Holy Scriptures – from the Gospels or from the Epistles – and when the Orthodox are celebrating feasts of the Lord, all this is done and is heard as though the hearers were present at the event. What is spoken by any of the apostles or recounted in the Acts is taken to be spoken by us, here and now. The proper response is not : “Oh, those naughty Corinthians”, or “Oh, those Thessalonians”, or whoever. It is, rather, that we hear the Apostle addressing our sin, or exhorting us to zealous, active faithfulness. Besidess the original recipients, these letters are written to us who stand here hearing the words. That is why we call the Epistles and the Acts “The Apostle”.

It is the same with the readings from the Gospels. We who hear the words participate in the events, in the works of our Lord. We hear our Lord Himself speak to us in the here and now. In Holy Week, when we reread all the events of the Passion, we are not only hearing about it and sort of remembering it, we are participating in the very events. We are with our Lord in everything, both acclaiming and betraying Him. Yes, we are betraying Him since we are all sinners, and every sin is a betrayal. We could all be Judas. We are at the Last Supper with Him, and condemning Him, and we are by the Cross, and at the Tomb, and at the Resurrection. Then we are with the apostles during the forty glorious days of Pascha, and at the Ascension, and with the Mother of God and the apostles at the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

We are present at other sorts of events, too. We are at the Nativity ; we are at the Baptism. We are at the Presentation, the Annunciation, the Transfiguration and the Dormition. On the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in Pre-Lent, we identify ourselves with the Prodigal, and we are praying : “I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father […] and now I cry to You as the Prodigal : ‘I have sinned before You, O merciful Father […]’”. On the day of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem, we are saying to Him : “Like the children with the psalms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of Death : ‘Hosanna in the highest’”. On Great and Holy Thursday we pray to the Lord : “Of Your mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant […]”, and we identify with the repentant thief. On the Day of the Resurrection, we do not say that on this day Christ rose, but rather “is risen”, in the present tense. Thus the Resurrection Tropar declares in song : “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”.

Our identification with events continues on past the Paschal cycle. It shows itself in such feast-days as the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple : “Today is the prelude of the goodwill of God […]. The Virgin appears in the Temple of God […]. Let us rejoice and sing to her […]”. On the day of the Lord’s Nativity we sing : “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One […]”. At the Baptism we sing : “Today You have appeared to the universe, and Your light, O Lord, has shone on us […]”. At the Annunciation we sing : “Today is the beginning of our salvation […]”. All this shows concretely how we understand the telescoping, the compression of time, much in the way the Exodus is celebrated at the Passover. It also reveals that in celebrating the Eucharist, we encompass not only God’s saving acts throughout all history, but also every act and event of our daily life. What separates us from this perfection ? Sin and rebellious pride.

In all this I could have gone on at length about the eternal details of how we have adjusted our manner of serving the Divine Liturgy, and how the receiving of Holy Communion has been likewise adjusted to cultures, circumstances, and so forth. However, if we are truly to understand any of the adjustments, which are readily available in all sorts of books in English (and even more in French), it all has to be seen in the context of the French expression : “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. From the Council of Carthage (AD 256), Libosus, Bishop of Vaga (near Carthage in North Africa), said : “In the Gospel the Lord says : ‘I am the Truth’. He did not say : ‘I am the custom’. Therefore, the truth being manifest, let custom yield to truth”.

Regardless of how much we may progress technologically, we human beings are, in fact, no different from our forebears, for good or for ill. In our time, there are zealous Faithful who diligently fulfil the will of God. There are also those are bound in sin, and there are those who betray. Indeed, it can be very ugly. However, bad as things seem to be, it is better that we remember God’s word to the Prophet Elias at Horeb : “’You will leave seven thousand in Israel; all those whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and whose mouth has not kissed him’” (3 Kingdoms 19:18). In the midst of all, it is still through the Divine Liturgy, through the receiving of Holy Communion, that our Lord Jesus Christ unites us to Himself. He who is indeed “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) feeds us, enables us to live in Him, and enables us to serve each other in Him. It is the Lord who brings unity to the whole of our life, and indeed to the whole cosmos.

When the Orthodox do anything, it is understood that God’s blessing and participation must be invited into it. Therefore, we make the Sign of the Cross on bread before cutting it. After all, it is not simply bread from the supermarket that we are eating here. Nevertheless, all bread is in some way an indication of the Bread of Life (see John 6:35). Because of this, some believers do not accept that bread be cut, but rather they let it only be broken by hand. We certainly do not sit on tables. Why ? We do not sit on tables because the home is a small church, and the table in it is like the Holy Table in the Temple. We treat the table with the same respect as we do our eating at it which is related to the Eucharistic Feast in the Temple of the Lord in which the community participates. Saint Martyrius (from the same source) says to us again :

Indeed, anyone who has enjoyed the good things of an ordinary meal ought to render thanks for this enjoyment, otherwise he will be reckoned as animal-like and lacking in discernment. As one of the saints said : ‘A table from which the praise of God does not ascend is no different from an animal sty’. It is not that the table is reckoned to be like a sty, absolutely not, but rather the person eating from it resembles an animal, owing to his lack of thanksgiving. [And the use of the word ‘sty’ refers obliquely to a certain sort of animal.]

I would like to recommend to you Bishop Kallistos’ book, The Orthodox Church, in which he outlines the whole theology of Holy Communion as being based on the understanding and teaching of the sub-apostolic bishop and martyr, Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Even what Saint Ignatius said was not new nor an invention, but is a passing on of what he had already received, just as the Apostle Paul had done, as he tells us (see 1 Corinthians 11:23).

One of the characteristics of Orthodox Christians, one which makes us sometimes appear foolish or naïve, is the readiness to take most particularly the Gospel quite personally and even literally. For example, when someone is struck by Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to pray unceasingly (see Ephesians 6:18), this being struck is taken as a personal admonition by God, a personal call via the Apostle, and the person seeks to do so. Another might be struck by our Lord’s admonition to sell what one has, give it to the poor and follow Him (see Matthew 19:21), and then proceed to do so. Messages of repentance and personal encounters are abundant. The ability to receive them from the Lord is the fruit of participation in the Holy Mysteries. It does not matter if the person is simple and uneducated or a really well-educated scholar. A person such as Saint John Chrysostom knew well about literary criticism of the scriptural texts, for instance. However, that does not in any way conflict with, nor inhibit the Scripture’s ability to convey God’s personal communication with, and call to us, each and all. Saint John Chrysostom was as radically obedient to these messages from Scripture as anyone else.

Our behaviour might be called radical obedience. As the Gospel directs, we tend to put our relationship with Christ into concrete practice. Because of love, we try to serve persons. Hospitality, for which the Orthodox are known, comes from our loving desire to serve Christ, who comes to us in all visitors. Sometimes they are angels, like the guests of Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 18:1-8). Care for neighbours, friends, the poor, the needy, is likewise springing from the love of Christ.

Tender care for and communication with our environment is the ecological expression of this same loving relationship. As God, in His saving love for us, takes flesh for our salvation, so, for the salvation of the world, we reveal, we carry Christ in our flesh. Concretely and materially, we bring this being in love with Christ into every part of our living.

I do not wish to have been perceived as having been speaking merely about history, facts and practical matters. Therefore, I wish to close with the following two citations which point to the reality of humility and love as the foundation of our whole life. The first citation is from The Lives of the Desert Fathers (published by Mowbray in 1975 and introduced by Sister Benedicta Ward) :

When the father saw us, he was filled with joy, and embraced us, and offered a prayer for us. Then, after washing our feet with his own hands, he turned to spiritual teaching, for he was well-versed in the Scriptures, having received this charism from God. He expounded many key passages in the Scriptures for us, and having taught the Orthodox Faith, invited us to participate in the Eucharist. For it is a custom among the great ascetics not to give food for the flesh before providing spiritual nourishment for the soul, that is, the Communion of Christ. When we had communicated and given thanks to God, he invited us to a meal.

The second extract comes from Saint Maximus the Confessor’s Centuries on Love, taken from Drinking from the Hidden Fountain : A Patristic Breviary (Thomas Spidlik, published in 1994 by Cistercian Publications), p. 20 :

Do all you can to love everyone. If you are not yet able to, at the very least don’t hate anyone. Yet you won’t even manage this if you have not reached detachment from the things of the world. You must love everyone with all your soul, hoping, however, only in God, and honouring Him with all your heart. Christ’s friends are not loved by all, but they sincerely love all. The friends of this world are not loved by all, but neither do they love all.

Christ’s friends persevere in their love right to the end. The friends of this world persevere only so long as they do not find themselves in disagreement over worldly matters. A faithful friend is an effective protection. When things are going well, he gives you good advice and shows you his sympathy in practical ways. When things are going badly, he defends you unselfishly and he is a deeply committed ally.

Many people have said many things about love. But if you are looking for it, you will find it only in the followers of Christ. Only they have true love as their teacher is love. This is the love about which it is written : ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge […] but have not love, I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:2). ‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him’ (1 John 4:16).

Despite all this, we have a tendency to think that the Desert Fathers are perhaps a thing of the past. We think that it was nice in those days. Well, I have news. Just two weeks ago, I was speaking with a nun who had spent some time in France. She had some difficulty in her community because the nuns were on the old and cranky side. Nevertheless, this nun said that she was deeply struck because before coming back to Canada, she met a nun who had long ago gone out and had, by herself, dug out a cave in a hillside. Winter and summer, she had to walk up and down a hill for one hour each way to fetch water. She had lived in the cave for twenty years.

It is not as though she had never seen people. God does not let hermits hide from people. People come to get a blessing from them. No-one had managed to stay with her until two years ago when there was an especially heavy winter in Belgium. A woman had come to stay two weeks with the hermitess, and they were snowed in. Neither of them could get out for the rest of the winter. This woman was shown by God that she had to learn from the nun (and she is now herself a nun). The nun herself learned through the experience of that winter that after twenty years, it was time that she go and live in a hut on the edge of an existing community so that she could live out the rest of her life with a little bit of help. The age of miracles is not past. The age of the Fathers is not past. The Lord invites us all today with the same love with which He has always invited us, with the same immediacy and radical demands with which He has always invited us.

We cannot participate in the Holy Mysteries of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ and then go about life as though nothing had happened. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are in the world, but not of it. Whether we live as Orthodox Christians in the first, fourth, fifteenth, twentieth or thirtieth century, we must live out in the very practical way that Saint Maximus described, the reality of God’s love for us. We must live out this reality of the redeeming and saving acts of our salvation wrought by the Word of God who took flesh for us, for mankind and for our salvation.


Bishop Seraphim : Talk
25 June, 1994

We have gathered here in this Temple in order to serve a Parastas and this Bicentennial Moleben. In the Parastas we prayed for all our ancestors in the Faith, the pioneers and builders of our Church in Canada particularly. We gave thanks to God in the Moleben for all the people who have gone before us in establishing the Church in North America, and who prepared a firm foundation for the future. In giving thanks regarding the past, we also ask the Lord for strength to persevere on the same path.

We are celebrating in a Temple which somehow gives us a sign of how things are in Canada. For a long time, our Church in Canada has been a sort of insignificant branch-plant of The Orthodox Church in America in the United States. We certainly understand that historically the overall condition of the Church in the United States has been very much better than amongst us poor Canadians. In the same way, this Temple has been sort of a branch-plant for many, many years. (There are not too many close parallels here, you understand.)

In the course of time, this community began to be able to support more frequent services ; and now, in the past few years, has managed to be able to afford full-time service. In the process of this, this community has even decided to renovate. These renovations are the envy of anyone who sees them, and the product of the hands of the faithful here (not hired-in). In other words, the rebuilding and expansion of this Temple, its service, its witness in this area is a work of love.

The same thing seems to happen with the diocese. It is not as though we have been exactly a branch-plant all along, because we have had our own bishops since 1916 (you heard their names today). Many of them lived in the mother-church in Winnipeg until World War II. They were close at hand. Many of you even knew some of them.

Nevertheless, even though we have had bishops in Canada since 1916, our Church has suffered all sorts of trials and tribulations in this country. Now there seems to be much more hope in our diocese, even though we are still small and forgotten and hidden. As few as we are, after we have been pruned for so many generations, there is, in fact, life. If we count how many generations there are since the founding, in Alberta (and it must be the same case in some parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan) there are some families that can count their sixth generation in this country. That is a lot of generations of Orthodox people. In all that time, our Church has had plenty of pressure against it. That pressure does not stop to this day.

In our multicultural, multi-ethnic Canada (apart from any other little squabbles we may have in our inter-Orthodox family), so much formed as we are with our multicultural principles, we have a hard time understanding that Orthodox Christians can be in Canada and simply be Canadians. In Canada, in order to be Orthodox, it seems to be required that we have some sort of national tag tacked on, indicating where we come from (even if we did not come from such a place). It seems that people will only understand if we say : “Ukrainian, Russian, Greek, Serbian”, etc. However, if we say “Lebanese”, people will say : “What ? I thought you were Muslim”. So we are not the only ones to be misunderstood.

Our country does not know this Faith, even though we Orthodox are very numerous. There is a substantial movement of rebuilding in progress right now in this country. There are big changes in the hearts of our brothers and sisters who did not understand us for a long time. Things have changed greatly. The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America is an example. It usually is known by its acronym SCOBA. Some people may think, on hearing the acronym, that we are referring to a cleaning agent (indeed, perhaps it ought to be). Nevertheless, SCOBA is about to assemble a meeting of all the canonical bishops in North America in one place at one time. This is the first time since 1917 that all the canonical bishops in North America have been able to be in one place at one time for a particular purpose. We will be gathering in order to pray together, and have a talk about life. What will come of it, God knows. But the fact that we can actually be in one place and talk together is a wonder. It is a real wonder. Who knows ? If we can actually make some steps forward in that department, maybe all our Greek-Catholic brothers and sisters will be able to see the light, too, and come home to us where they belong. That is up to Saint Alexis of Wilkes-Barre to pray for. In his life, he was directly responsible for bringing 30,000 people back to Orthodoxy. Besides this, he was indirectly responsible for bringing (through his co-workers) up to 100,000.

Here we are in Narol. This is not a wide representation of the diocese, but it is a good representation of the prairie deanery (Manitoba and Saskatchewan). It is a good representation of rural and urban Winnipeg. Today, it is for us to continue to pray together, to enjoy each other’s love and friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ. It is for us to give thanks to God for all His blessings, to encourage each other to continue doing what we are doing ; and to see in each other that we are all actually doing the same thing. We are all working hard, serving because we love Jesus Christ and for no other reason.

Therefore, let us persevere and continue to struggle to be faithful to Jesus Christ with that in mind. I myself want to try to do everything that I am doing, and endure everything that I have to endure because of the love of Jesus Christ, and for no other reason. If I have brothers and sisters around me who are struggling and having difficulties (even though we may sometimes step on each other’s toes), we are still doing what we are doing and we are who we are because of Jesus Christ. Let us see that in each other, and encourage it, and fan these fires of love so that this yeast that we are in this country will be good leaven for the whole loaf of bread.

Enthronement of the Right Reverend Seraphim

Bishop Seraphim : Speech
The Right Reverend Seraphim
Bishop of Ottawa and of Canada
Holy Trinity Sobor
Ottawa, Ontario
28 October, 1990

Response to the Decree of Election

Lord, You have been our refuge in all generations” (Psalm 89:1).

In his farewell address to the Church in North America, our father among the saints, the Holy Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, Enlightener of North America, said that “it is self-evident that the Lord God helped us” (New York, 7 March 1907). In response to the election of the faithful of Canada, and of the Holy Synod of The Orthodox Church in America, and in direct response to the paternal love, support and admonitions of our beloved father, His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius, I find that this simple, profound statement burns into the very heart of my being as I stand before you today. In response to these demonstrations of God’s Will acting, I now dare to make those very words of Saint Tikhon my own : “It is self-evident that the Lord God helped us !”

The life of this Archdiocese of Canada has been far from easy. It has been one of knowing want, dissension, strife, and discouragement. It has suffered polemics and division from within and without over the years. The archdiocese has been at the mercy of all sorts of foreign catastrophes, upheavals, and misunderstandings. However, that this archdiocese exists today, that it continues to live in attempted fidelity to the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that by the mercy of God this archdiocese has come to this moment, should be ample evidence that “it is self-evident that the Lord God helped us”.

It is with great thankfulness for the help of the Lord God, for the mercy and saving love of the Lord God which is so freely given to me, to my brothers and sisters, to our whole archdiocese, that I undertake the task of being the ruling Bishop of Ottawa and of Canada. By this time I should not be unaware of the work to be done. Our father, Metropolitan Theodosius, has by inspiration of the Lord broken me in over the last three years by making me his administrator. I believe I know something of the immense work needed to bring Canada fully to Christ. However, I am equally aware of the immense, immeasurable Grace that we as an Orthodox people have known in Canada : the Grace given to the faithful – those known, and unknown, those who from generation to generation have been faithful to Jesus Christ, and who have brought us to this historic day by their prayers, tears, love, and repentance.

It is true that in our history there has been a great amount of suffering and deprivation. If ever there were a tree thoroughly pruned, that is us ! However, it has been a history filled with brilliant lights as well. We cannot forget the long pastorate of Archbishop Arseny who, as Archimandrite and then Bishop, preached and taught from his centre in Winnipeg, and who became known as another Chrysostom. We cannot forget the many priests who laboured in Christ’s vineyard, often near starvation amongst hungry people. There have been very many : bishops, priests, deacons, lay people, who have steadfastly clung to Jesus Christ and who have declared His love by their lives. I do not want us to forget the struggles of the families of all those priests and faithful who shared not only the hardships, but also the experience of God’s love in action.

As you can see, and most of you know very well, my beloved, our past has been difficult ; and I really do not expect that the present or future will be much easier. Yet, in the face of such a prospect, it is important not to be overwhelmed. Although any one of us alone would certainly be tempted to despair, we must never believe that we are working alone. The bishop does nothing alone, and neither does any one of the flock. This ministry of building up the Body of Christ, of saving souls, is our work. We do it all together. It is true that the fallen world is not too friendly to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that there are many huge obstacles for us. The powers of darkness attempted to extinguish the light of Christ. However, it is this same Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is our Life ; it is He who will accomplish His will in us, and, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, do the work which otherwise seems to be so impossible. It is in Jesus Christ that we find the resources necessary – like the five loaves and two fishes of the Gospel – to feed, to care for, to clothe, to heal, to love, and to make known the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to this hungry, naked, unloved, unsaved land.

Our father, Saint Tikhon, said that “the light of Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people” (New York, 17 March 1907). How often have we been told the opposite by one source or another in Canada during our lives ? The light of Christ is not lit for a small circle of people, but for all people, for all our land, for all our world. That is exactly the direction of the Gospel. Nevertheless, my beloved, for this light to be seen and to give light and life, this light of Orthodox Christianity must be lit in us. It is in us that the light of Christ must be held high for all to see. It is not held high by fancy talk, by eloquent preaching, by clever teaching. It is demonstrated in concrete acts of love in everyday life, minute by minute.

Saint Tikhon once again reminds us today :

It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light and our joy with those who have not these gifts. And this duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of Saint Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body every member takes part (New York, 17 March 1907).

Our holy father Tikhon, the founder of the Church in Canada, also tells us that taking part in the “life of the body” and the work of sharing our treasures requires three specific areas of effort : first, “by personal missionary effort” in the society in which we live ; second, “by monetary support [for the Church] and service to the ‘needs of the saints [the faithful]’” (yes, the saints do speak of money needs in the Church !) ; third, “by prayer to the Lord that He might ‘establish and increase His Church’, and that He might ‘teach the word of truth’, to those who do not know Christ, might ‘reveal to them the Gospel of righteousness’” (New York, 17 March 1907).

And so, my beloved, this is your, my, our work. It is the Lord’s work, and it is that which enables you, me, us to say : “It is self-evident that the Lord God helped us” along with our holy father Tikhon.

And now, as we step forward together in Christ, as we together set our hand to the plough, let us also once again recall the instruction of our first elder and missionary, Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska. It is he who, with others, planted the Holy Cross in North America ; and it is he who, by his prayers, helps us now, as we exalt the Holy Cross here in Canada. It is he who says to you, and to me : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all”.

Enthronement Reception Address

Bishop Seraphim : Speech
Enthronement of the Right Reverend Seraphim,
Bishop of Ottawa and of Canada
Château Laurier, Ottawa
28 October 1990

Words at the Reception

With joy, I greet you all this evening as we join in this celebration : a celebration which is indeed remarkable for our archdiocesan family. For the first time a ruling bishop of the Archdiocese of Ottawa and of Canada has been enthroned in Canada. For the first time a Canadian-born bishop for this archdiocesan family is given the responsibility of leading the flock of Christ here. Being that bishop, I assure you that I feel rather shaky in the face of all that is given, and more, in the face of all that I shall be called to account for. It is François de Sales who said that he would know what it meant to be a bishop one half hour after he died. Since that probably describes me too, I am all the more shaky, and ready to commend myself to your prayerful support.

The history of our Church in North America is hardly known outside of our community, and even less known is the history of our Church in Canada. It is now about 120 years ago that the first recorded services were provided for a congregation gathered in Lennoxville, Québec. As a matter of interest, the hospitality of Bishops University was acknowledged by the gift of a copy of the Codex Sinaiticus given by the Russian Ambassador in Washington, D.C. It was about twenty-five years later that the great immigration began, mostly into the west of Canada and our parochial life began to take shape. During the last nearly hundred years, along with the world, we have known good times and hard times. We have prospered, but we have also faltered and even fallen. Nevertheless, God’s great mercy has brought us to this day, and to these historic events.

But if these events are historic and significant, we had better not venture to be triumphalistic, for we know the fragility of our archdiocese. Probably this fragility is part of God’s blessing for us, for without a good sense of this fragility it is too easy to forget to depend on God for all things. “To rely upon the earthly makes it difficult to rely, as we ought, simply upon God from day to day” (Richard Benson, unpublished letter, SSJE 1897).

It is with thankfulness that we now remember the past, and consider the challenges of the future. Avec nos paroisses Québecoises, en considération de leur futur dans la francophonie, et avec les autres paroisses à l’ouest du Canada, nous prions le bon Dieu pour son assistance quotidienne. With not only two languages to work with, but many, and with vast distances to cover, our Churchly family closely reflects the land in which we live, and the difficulties of meeting pressing needs and challenges. We know that it is only in our humility that the Lord will be able to work His will.

Today, we heartily give thanks for the many assurances of His love for us which we have received. We give thanks for the blessing of the land which has received us and embraced us – immigrants and refugees alike. We give thanks for the immigrant and refugee Church which God is using to enrich this hospitable land, and which has properly taken permanent root here. And I myself give thanks for this once-immigrant Church which embraced this son of an immigrant and immigrants.

Your Beatitude, Your Excellences, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, God grant you Many Years !

Talks on Unity 1988, Parts 1-4

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
1 : Unity with God
Great Lent, 1988
[revised 2017]

I must say that this particular topic, ever since I had to begin thinking about it, has caused me a great deal of difficulty. It is all very simple to talk about unity and to think about unity in the four aspects that we are considering over these two days or so. The fact is that we Orthodox Christians are always speaking about union with God, theosis. My having difficulty in actually speaking about this subject is reflected in the fact that every other Orthodox Christian seems somehow to have similar difficulties with this topic. When it comes down to it, where do we find unity with God ? Where do we find it ? Where do we find unity with each other ? Where are we going to see it ? Where are we going to find it ?

Ultimately, the difficulty boils down to the famous anecdote (I am not sure if it is an anecdote but it actually could be possible) about this certain Orthodox Christian who was cast away on a desert island. When he was finally retrieved ten years later, his savers found that he had built two churches on the island. When asked why there were two churches on the island, he said : “This one I go to and this one I don’t go to”. That is more or less where we are in this whole encounter with the subject of unity. The fact is that we have great difficulty with unity because we are such friends with sin. As long as we are such friends with sin, we are going to have difficulty with the subject of unity.

At this time (and perhaps even at all times), we have difficulty with unity because we have so much difficulty with sin. We live in a society that does not even recognise the existence of sin. Therefore, how are we going to address the subject of unity with God, with each other (or anything) when we are going to ignore the fundamental cause of its not being there, which is sin. We tend to pretend that sin does not exist. We turn it into objects of psychoanalysis. We turn it into “problems”. However, as a certain previous speaker at these sessions said (whose name does not need to be mentioned, but whose wisdom is always shared amongst us) : “People do not have problems : they have sins”. It is high time we faced the fact that we do not have problems in our lives. Rather, we have sins. For instance, I was beaten up by neighbouring children when I was very little. The result of this was not problems but rather a susceptibility to a sinful attitude which separates me from them. This attitude can produce in the heart an attitude of revenge, of anger and even of hatred. That is not a problem. That is a sin. I had to forgive them. I think that perhaps this is indeed what we need to be paying attention to from top to bottom of our lives. What is it that separates ? What is it that causes disunity ? It is sin.

Another difficulty of course, is the fact that we are speaking about unity with God. There is no need for me standing here talking about it, because the Orthodox Christian approach to things is not to blab about them forever, but to do something about it. I must say that I really “caught it” not long ago for referring to this particular illustration in a homily, but I am going to risk it again. That is the famous musical to which we all must have gone at one time in either its stage or its film version : My Fair Lady. In this musical, Eliza Doolittle gets fed up with the poetry of her young suitor and finally says as it were : “Stop talking about love. Show me that you love me – do something about it. Don’t quote poetry outside my window for hours on end. Don’t sing me songs. Show me that you love me”.

The fact is that action is what the Lord wants from us. We protest that we love Him. We say : “Well, I come to church every Sunday ; doesn’t that show something ?” Actually it doesn’t ; not by itself it doesn’t. We cannot talk about loving God. We have to do something about it. As long as there is disunity, we are showing that we really are not prepared to face this question of unity where it hurts. Once again, we are unwilling to face what is truly at the crux of unity –unity with God, unity in the Church, unity in ourselves, unity with each other, unity in the family or unity in the diocese. At present, it seems that we are not prepared to face what is at the root of it all. We seem not to be prepared to sacrifice our pride. We seem not to be prepared to admit to sin. We seem not to be prepared to step out bravely in faith and actually live this love. Therefore, in the meantime, we are left with a pretence which is mere window-dressing.

To live in unity with the Lord, and in visible unity with each other is, in fact, possible. However, the gateway to this unity is through repentance which the Lord has taught us about very clearly. In fact, there are many in the world today who are able to live like this. The fact that they can do it should give us courage to work harder in North America. Although I have not been on the Holy Mountain myself, I have heard many stories from those who have been there. They speak about monks and hermits whose lives are not filled with chatting, but rather with the praise of the Lord. In addition, there are in our day many holy people in Egypt. Egyptian monasteries have been repopulated, and new ones constructed. Many people are willingly and openly sharing and showing their love for Christ, despite the fact that almost every day at least one person is killed there because of being a Christian. These holy people are actually living this unity. They are doing what is necessary. The fact is that they are no different from you or from me. Each one of them is a human being. Each one of them is doing what we are supposed to do, too, because the Lord calls us to be holy as He is holy.

What the Lord wants from us is not a lot of talking. He wants us to know Him. I believe that the Lords wants us to be with Him like couples who have been married fifty or sixty years, who love each other and know each other. I am speaking rather idealistically now, although I have seen this practised enough times. Even couples who have been married for sixty years say that they still find out surprising things about each other. However, they know each other and love each other well enough so that they do not have to talk their heads off. They do not have to go about proving their love all the time because they have already done it. Just by sitting next to each other and being with each other, they are demonstrating their love for each other. They have deepened their love for each other already enough so that they can even think alike and anticipate each other. Who needs to talk ?

I think that is what the Lord wants from us. He wants us to enjoy being in His presence. He does not want a lot words from us. Our monastic holy Fathers have said precisely that. The Lord does not demand words from us. He asks us to sit in silence with Him and enjoy being in His presence and being filled with His love. He wants to give us His love and He wants us to be filled with this love. He does not ask us to meditate on it, to speculate on it, to philosophise on it. He just asks us to be in His love. At least that is how it seems to me that married couples are after many years.

I remember seeing one couple who had been married for 65 years. They were both in their nineties. They were sort of like teenagers. They used to sit on benches and hold hands and giggle. They did not talk very much. They sometimes argued, of course, but they did not talk a lot. They teased and they were rather like children. They had gotten past a lot of the junk of life, and they were just plainly enjoying each other’s company. I think that in the best of times for you and for me, our experience of the Lord is rather like that. It is the joy of being in His presence without having to explain it, to talk about it or to analyse it, just as we do not have to analyse our relationships with each other. We do not have to analyse why we feel so great sitting next to the one we love – we just do it.

This topic of unity is something that rests at the foundation of everything that we are. This unity which we find in the Holy Trinity, in Christ, in the Church, penetrates every aspect of our life. It binds everything together in the love which gives life to all. Some groups may call themselves “unity”, believe in certain principles of unity, consider in the framework of the global village the unity of humanity, meditate on the harmonious unity of the universe or ruminate on the philosophical idea of unity in one or another of its categories. Perhaps one might even go so far as to try to put a political face on unity. Orthodox Christians may even do a little of one or another of some of the above, but in the end what distinguishes us is that we live it. Even if we are fallen and building two churches on our desert island, even if we argue with each other ’til we are blue in the face, we still live unity if we are Orthodox Christians.

Our first consideration of this series is concerned with unity with God. This subject is raised annually for us on the second Sunday of Great Lent. Indeed, we could spend all our time in prayerful consideration of this one particular topic. We really could. Great Lent itself begins with the subject of unity. In the Old Testament readings, beginning with Genesis, we see God, because of His love creating everything that is, culminating in Man. God in His love sets Man in the garden in Paradise. God, who reveals already that He is a community of Persons with the words “We”, “Let us make” and “Our”, makes Man also a community of persons, complementary and mutually fulfilling, male and female. This human community is to be in unity and communion with God, who is very community.

God is a loving community of Persons united in complete, selfless agape, love, who created Man to be alive, living, and life-giving in the same way. Man is created to be one in selfless love with God, in community with God. We see that in being given authority to name all creatures, Man is to be the agent with the Lord God of harmony and unity with all that is created. See, you do not need me to stand here talking about this because everything is self-explanatory. In Genesis we are plainly told what is the result of the misuse and misappropriation of this love. When love becomes focussed on the self and self-interest as opposed to the other (the “other” including God, Man and creation), when love turns in on itself, it instantly ceases to be love. In fact, most of what we hear called “love” in society these days does not bear very much resemblance to what love truly is. Love, as we understand it in modern society, is just plain self-indulgence. It is simply “hedonism” (proving that the Greeks do have a word for everything). Life, living, and the giving of life and creating – all that – cease in this atmosphere. Death takes over. Separation becomes the norm : alienation from God, alienation from each other, alienation from creation.

In Genesis, this breakdown results immediately in the breaking of that face-to-face communion with God which was in the beginning. Self-interest became jealousy, and that became murder, just like that, step by step, very quickly. That is what my grandmother meant when she said : “The line between love and hatred is very fine”. The animals with whom Man lived in harmony while in perfect, loving communion with God, now became sacrificial, substitutes, a sin offering, as well as becoming Man’s food. Instead of giving names to the animals, instead of living in harmony with the animals, instead of the animals being sharers in the Kingdom and all that with us, taking their place in the over-all picture of creation, we broke it. We began to eat the animals. The Lord shows us in the Book of Acts that this is not a sin (see Acts 10:10-16). The Lord does not demand that we be vegetarians even now. However, it is nevertheless a tragedy that the animals had to become our substitute. We see the high priest putting his hand on the head of the scapegoat and the sins of the people being transferred to the scapegoat in that laying on of hands. The goat goes out into the wilderness. That is a far, far cry from a loving, life-giving relationship.

Last week I was interested to hear Father Paul Lazor reflecting on this very thing. Father Paul has a new dog (because poor, old Pushok finally met her end at the age of fourteen). Now he has a dog, a sheltie called Laska. This little sweetheart of a dog was very much anxious to try to share my coffee. Father Paul was saying that he found it very interesting that these little animals live in the same house with us. They share our food. They share our love. Then when we become violent, aggressive and really perverse and nasty in our sinful behaviour, they do not say anything. They sit there and take it. It is interesting what sort of behaviour we can still have with animals. Don’t get me wrong. I am not in the animal rights business, and I am not an anthropomorphiser. I do not consider animals to be the same as human beings. Animals are animals. They do not have human souls. Animals are animals. Nevertheless, the Lord called us to be in a loving, life-giving, creative relationship with everything that is : animals, plants, the atmosphere, everything. We have to remember that this is the living-out of our love. That is what He wants from us.

The reversal of unity leads us directly or indirectly to cause the extinction instead of the giving of life to all sorts of these creatures. You do not need me here to tell you that ; we hear that in the news all the time. However, the extinction of all these creatures obviously comes from sin. We do not need to be ripping down all the rain forests ; we just need to use the land that we have sensibly and wisely as good stewards in the Lord. However, we don’t ; and even here in our own country where we have plenty of good land, we rape it. The Lord does not ask us to do that to the land. He wants us to be constructive, to know the land and to be in harmony with it so that it will bear fruit. However, the land cannot bear fruit because of what is wrong in here (in our hearts). What are we trying to get out of the land ? Maximum production and great profit. We do not care what happens to the land. Therefore, the south of Saskatchewan turns into a dust bowl and the south of Alberta does, too ; sometimes Manitoba does as well. Maybe Ontario will be a dust bowl one day, also. Who knows, perhaps even Québec ?

Our sin, our selfishness bring death not only to us, but to everything around us. They produce a terrible pessimism in some people, a pessimism which I encounter too often. It is a pessimism which leads to despair very quickly. It is a pessimism which in itself is terribly sinful. This pessimism does not see any possibility of repentance. Life and the giving of life are no more the norm in all this, and, as we hear every day, slaughter takes its place. There is slaughter not only of animals but also of each other. Of course, in our rebellion and in our separation, we take everything else down with us, broken. When we are saved, we help open the way to salvation to countless others. We can say this not only because Saint Seraphim of Sarov said words to that effect, but also because we see this relationship reflected everywhere in the Bible. Likewise, if we are damned, we open the way to damnation for countless others as well. Our unity with God, our salvation, our theosis, resulting from our experience of God’s love, is to be found only in Jesus Christ. Only in this unity in Jesus Christ can be found union with all the creatures of God.

I am going to give you some Scriptural passages which you might look at and think about : Genesis 1 and 2 ; 4:26 ; Psalm 8:3 ; Acts 17:28 ; Ephesians 1:10 ; and Colossians 1:20. Here also is another group : 1 Corinthians 6:5 ; 1 Corinthians 12 ; Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 5:30. This is another group : Isaiah 62:5 ; Matthew 9:15 ; 25:1 ; 25:6 ; John 3:29 ; 1 Corinthians 10:17 ; 2 Corinthians 11:12 ; Ephesians 1:22 ; 4:15 ; Colossians 1:18 ; 2:19. Last, there is this series : Deuteronomy 14:2 ; 32:10 ; Isaiah 63:16 ; Hosea 11:1 ; Zechariah 2:8 ; 9:16 ; Malachi 3:17 ; John 1:12 ; Romans 8:15 ; 2 Corinthians 6:18 ; Galatians 4:5 and 6.

The fact is that when it comes to finding unity with God, it does not have to take great physical struggles (although it takes enough struggles). It does not take systems ; it does not take philosophy and it does not require great intellectual power. If it did, all those who may be called mental defectives whom we treat as saints would be left out in the cold. What it does take is responding in kind. In His love for us, the Lord continues to reach out to us, and He asks us to reach out and take His hand. He asks of us a simple response.

Again, finally, you do not need me with a Masters degree in Theology to stand here and talk to you. In fact, it would be better if a Masters degree in Theology were not standing here talking to you. Indeed, it would be a lot better if one of the people from the desert in Egypt or from the Holy Mountain (but remember that monks do not have a monopoly here) or some really lovely babushka who has lived her whole life in the Lord were speaking to you about unity with God. We need one of those yayas in London, Ontario, who love to celebrate Pascha, in whom the light of Christ shines at Pascha while they are singing Christos anesti, waving their candles. Those are really the sort of persons we need to speak to us about these things – the yayas would not use as many words as I do.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
2 : Unity within the Self
Great Lent, 1988

Today I am expected to be speaking about unity within ourselves. I suppose that it is safe to say that unity within oneself is something that we all struggle with, and strive for somehow in our lives. Some people do not succeed very well at unity within themselves. Because of various circumstances in life, they become several of themselves. I am speaking about multiple personalities and that sort of thing. Life is very difficult for some people, and their way of coping with the difficulties of life, the pain and the horror of life, is to become quite a few of themselves. There are other ways also of becoming multiples of oneself, such as by being invaded. However, that is not necessarily what I want to speak about.

Essentially, yesterday I was saying that we find unity in our encounter with God. Unity with God, in fact, is what we all tend towards in our lives. We search for it one way or another. Some people search for it philosophically, which search I think ultimately leads to a dead end. I remember in my extreme youth, when I was at the university studying philosophy, I was very much discouraged because I discovered that there is not one philosophical system that does not have a loophole in it. Sooner or later someone will find the loophole and then that would be “it” for that philosophical system.

Then I began to wonder why I was studying philosophy at all. Finally, I discovered that philosophy helps a great deal in explaining many things. However, no one philosophical system by itself is sufficient to build any sort of foundation upon. We cannot build too many buildings on any one philosophy, because sooner or later someone is going to pull a brick out at the bottom and the whole thing falls down. However, it is still a useful tool for explaining our encounter. For believers, that is what philosophy helps us with. It helps to explain our encounter. Each age has its own philosophy, its own particular, favourite philosophy. However, I have discovered that most of these philosophies are somehow reworked versions of things that people have thought of before, often very long before. All the modern heresies that we are encountering nowadays are sort of reworked old heresies. It just goes to show that a favourite memory of mine from Father Alexander Schmemann’s lecturing (when he spoke about the uninventiveness of the devil and how boring the same old sins are) applies just the same to these heresies. These heresies are dressed-up reworkings of old junk which, in the end, are just as boring as the same, old boring sins which the devil keeps trying to manufacture to distract us.

If we are going to find unity in ourselves, the only place where we will find it is in the encounter with God. We are not going to find inner unity anywhere else. As Father n was explaining to us earlier about the philosophy of Plotinus, and the philosophies of many other people in fact, in these systems one finds oneself becoming less oneself the more one encounters another or the other. In Buddhism, too (which is in fact a philosophy), and other similar ways of thinking, one does not become oneself. In Buddhism, when one is becoming perfect, one becomes nothing ; one becomes no-one ; becoming is unbecoming. Plotinus was not even innovative in thinking that way. In Buddhism, in encountering the other, one becomes so absorbed into the other that one does not really have any more distinct existence. One does not have any sort of clear, distinct personhood ; one does not have any essence of oneself any more.

That is sort of what it is like to be an adolescent. It seems to me, as I recall, that that is what I went through. Being an adolescent is sort of being like that. During adolescence, we do not know ourselves very well ; we keep thinking of ourselves as being like this or that person and we try to emulate all sorts of other people. We get all tangled up and lost in the emulation of these various people, and in the end we do not know who we are at all. At least, that is how it happened to me. In the end, I had to learn that the way to find myself was not in trying to be like all these other people with clay feet. They all had clay feet because they are sinners just like me and you. They were very good at disillusioning me, too. Imitating them was of no real benefit because it just ended in the same dead-ends.

Then, what was I going to try to do ? Ultimately, the only place to try to find myself was to allow myself to encounter God. I cannot say that I have done a great job yet of becoming myself (besides, I am relatively young and I can make excuses). However, if I ever hope to be myself, I know this much : the only way I am going to do it is to find myself in God. In the end, I can only be my true self in Christ. I can be my fake self, my “front self”, but that is not really me. It is me with window-dressing on. That is the way of the world ; it is not the way of Christ. I cannot allow myself to go along with this too long, putting up window-dressing and all the “front-me”, “front-bishop”, “pretend-nice-man-bishop”. If there ever will be any good in this bishop or in this monk Seraphim, then this goodness has to be the Lord’s goodness. It has to be His love.

If you really want to understand what I am trying to say about self-awareness, then you have to listen to people other than me. I do not believe that I am very good at speaking about being one’s self in the real sense. I do not know if the people who truly are themselves know that they are themselves. I think that Archimandrite Simforian, whom I knew in Valamo, was truly himself. He really was. I think that probably Archimandrite Vasily in Saint Tikhon’s was truly himself, too. Both these men were taken up in the Lord and united with the Lord. And there are others. I may be completely wrong in my perception of it, but my sense of Father Alexander Schmemann is that he was such a person. He seemed to be truly integrated ; he knew himself and he was solid. I do not know whether he would have admitted it, but I believe that he was solid. I believe that he was one of these persons who are truly united to Christ. At least in my experience of hearing him speaking, what he was saying was the same thing as what he was doing. Such a man as he created community around him. People who went to Saint Vladimir’s during his time experienced the result of his inner unity with the Lord by the community that was produced. He became a father for everyone around. Everyone looked up to him as a sort of father. Many people disagreed with him, but that did not stop them loving him. Of course, we can have disagreements even with the holiest of people. We can have knock-down, drag-out arguments with even the holiest people. Differences of opinion have nothing to do with being holy. Not much. It is how we cope with these differences of opinion. In fact, in the record of our history, we can see how some very holy people argued very sharply with each other. Even the Apostles Paul and Barnabas argued heatedly with each other, and they are both holy people.

Disagreements are one thing. However, unity with the Lord is another thing – that’s the fundamental of it all. When Father Alexander was no longer at Saint Vladimir’s, the integration of community was not nearly so profound. The seminary settled down into becoming much more an academic institution than it was a vital community. I think that says a lot about the integration of Father Alexander in the Lord. Allegorically speaking (and I say that I don’t like allegory, but it can sometimes be useful), one can look at the writing of C S Lewis in terms of understanding the difference between personality united and personality disunited. In the book The Great Divorce (which does not have to do with marriage but with the separation between good and evil, between union with God, and rebellion against God), Professor Lewis is saying that persons who are in rebellion against God are only at the very best shadows of their real selves. By contrast, those who are in union with God are ultra-real. The fallen world goes about self-discovery in its own fallen and distorted way. The way of the world with which we are surrounded in all its fake glory is to look at oneself, and seeing all the difficulties that one has in life, somehow to live with them and to accept them. These difficulties are frequently described as being “problems”, when they are in fact “passions”. Labelling an interior distorted desire (passion) as a “problem” is a tool of self-protection in denying that the passion exists as a passion. We tend to try to solve it by renaming it a problem and filing it away.

The traditional Christian attitude towards passions is to do something about them, to direct them correctly, and to straighten them out if they are out of control (which they usually are). We do something about our passions. We focus them ; we bring them into the correct stream through ascetic effort. However, the way of the world is to say : “You are lumbered with these passions (except the world does not want to call these things “passions”, but rather “fundamental drives”) ; just live with them, and accept them. That’s the way we are”. Therefore, we have people in society that are carried away by all sorts of passions and they do not do anything about it. They cause all sorts of havoc in society. They give the passions sway within themselves, and as a result they affect other people. These are not people who are at unity with themselves. These are people who are divided and broken.

The society in which we live does not encourage unity within the self. Any human society in which we live (it does not matter if it is Canadian, American, European or any human society) is about the same in the end. In ordinary society apart from unity with the Lord, we are caught up in all sorts of activity. We fill our time with doing things because we cannot stand to be alone with ourselves. We cannot stand to be alone with the Lord. We are afraid of it all because we are bound up with all sorts of fears and insecurities which come from fear. All this is the result of separation from the Lord. We live lives that are very scattered, disunited and disorganised. We do plenty of things. We become very “productive”. Our society particularly loves productivity. We allow ourselves to be convinced, along with our society, that we are no good unless we produce.

This means, of course, that in the contemporary world mindset Father Gregory (Papazian) sitting on Svinagora is useless because he does not produce anything much. He does not even produce candles any more. Yet Father Gregory, sitting on the top of Svinagora, is doing what he is supposed to be doing as a hermit. He is doing the work of the Lord. He is doing what is needful. He is doing the one thing which is necessary : he is being there praying. He is not making a show of being a hermit. He is not going around dressed up like a clown parading around all over the world and attracting all sorts of followers and saying : “What a great guru am I”. He is simply being there. He is offering himself to the Lord and doing what the Lord wants him to do there, now. It seems that the Lord does not bless him to make candles any more, or at least, it seems not. The Lord is waiting for someone else to take up the candle business for him. Father Gregory is trying to live as the Lord is calling him to live : to do the one thing needful, following the Lord. He is giving up everything else to do that.

Although the Lord is not calling each of us to be a hermit, sitting on Svinagora or any other hill anywhere. Perhaps He will call some of us, but most of us are called to do that one thing needful in the midst of a big city. How are we going to be our true selves, be at one with ourselves, and be at one with the Lord and still not do so many things that we can scarcely bear to get up in the morning ? That is the way most of us really are. Our lives are so full of activities, so full of doing things, that we can scarcely bear to face the day because there are so many things we have to do that day. When do we have any time for listening to the Lord ? When do we have any time for encountering ourselves ? We don’t, because we are afraid of ourselves ; we are afraid of the Lord ; we are afraid of grappling with our sins, and afraid of what the Lord might ask of us.

The separation between word and action which we experience in our society – words being one thing, and action being not necessarily the same thing – is a fundamental icon of the brokenness of the society in which we live. We all know that we live in a compartmentalised society. People feel free to have a religious part of their lives and they go to church on Sunday, maybe, and the rest of the time their lives often bear little resemblance to what they heard or should have heard in church on Sunday. Then they may go out and do whatever they feel like doing the rest of the time. Not only are their lives compartmentalised with “religious” here and “all the rest” there, but all the rest is also broken up into family time, office time, private time, TV time, and entertainment time. All these things are little boxes that are not connected or inter-related. The devil’s favourite tactic is always to divide and conquer. That is precisely what happens in a society that is not united to the Lord. Our society isn’t. It only manages to tolerate those who are trying to be united to the Lord. As much as we love Canada, the values of our society are not the values of the Gospel. They are not the values of the Kingdom of God.

We have to face that. We have to face the fact that we are being called to be icons, images, examples of what it is like to be at one with the Lord, and at one with ourselves. However, if we allow ourselves to be taken up in fear and allow ourselves to be broken down with all sorts of fears, then we find ourselves wondering who we really are. What about all these passions that afflict us ? They, too, make us ask ourselves : “Is this really me ?” As a result, there is not much of the true me really present or visible to anyone else. The most anyone else can see of me is some sort of shadow. The “me-ness” is really lacking. In my brokenness, in my scatteredness, in my self-centred concentration on how insecure I am, how fearful I am, how much I do not really know who I am, I do not really understand me and no-one else understands me either. As much as I am like that and in that condition, then I am like that guy in the book The Great Divorce who is in the grey town. After having gotten on the bus and finally arrived at this lovely, beautiful place at the top of an immense cliff, he discovers that when he walks on the grass, the grass goes through his feet. When he tries to pick up an apple, his hands slip through the apple. There is about that much realness about me. There is about that much of me that is really there, then.

However, when I become integrated in the Lord, when I seek the Lord, when I am united to the Lord, then I really begin to find myself. The fundamental of our awareness of things is that I only really become myself when I know the Lord and am known by Him. It is in this relationship with the Lord that all these fears and insecurities drop away. I really begin to discover who I am. I am not me in isolation from everyone else ; I am me in relationship with the Lord. I do not discover who I am based on the opinions of all sorts of people around me. One hopes that one gets past that adolescent insecurity. Ultimately, I do not look for who I am in the opinions of other people. If I did, I would not be doing what I am doing. Father Gregory would never be on Svinagora ; Father Alexander Schmemann would probably never have written anything or said anything ; The Orthodox Church in America would not be what it is now. Everyone would be behaving as chameleons. If The Orthodox Church in America depended totally on the opinions of all sorts of other people, we would certainly dissolve quickly and become I don’t know what (a branch of the Greek Orthodox diocese in Canada ?)

We find ourselves in relationship, in community with the Lord. That is what Archimandrite Simforian did. He became such a revered man. None of you know him and it is a great pity. If we went to Finland, we would discover all sorts of people who did know him and loved him profoundly. They loved him profoundly because he loved the Lord profoundly. If people love Father Alexander profoundly, it is because Father Alexander loved the Lord profoundly. There are also Archimandrite Vasileios, Father Matthew the Poor, Father Emilianos, Père Placide and all sorts of other persons to whom people look with love and respect. We do this not just to the monastic giants either, because there are lay people in our midst who are shining examples of this integration and this love. There are babushkas and dedushkas. We just have to look around and see people who are integrated, who love the Lord, and who are only interested in being found in the Lord. We respond to these people simply because they love the Lord, and the Lord loves them, and it shows.

There is a famous Tolstoy short story that I read not long ago about some monks on an island in the White Sea who were visited by a bishop. In the bishop’s opinion, these monks had forgotten all the essentials of prayer. They could not even remember the words to “Our Father”. Certainly the bishop was able to recognise that there was something good about these men, but he figured that they lacked so much in proper form. Even the prayer they did know was sort of weird. The bishop thought that they should at least know the fundamentals, so he taught them the fundamentals. At length, when he was sailing away, they came running over the water to ask him what the words exactly were because they had already gotten a little confused. They taught the bishop a very profound lesson. The lesson is that we are not all that much interested in demanding appearances of people, but rather we are interested in looking into the heart to see whether the person is really real, whether the person is really integrated, whether the person is at unity with himself or herself.

The fools for Christ (for which Russia has been so famous) are people who have been completely integrated, completely one, completely at unity with the Lord and themselves. However, their outward behaviour was completely bizarre, really bizarre – eating sausage on Good Friday in front of the church. This is not normal behaviour. If people behaved like this in our society, and walked around in army boots and rags and did all sorts of very outlandish things, they would not make it in Canadian society. In Alberta, we would say that they would go to Ponoka quickly. You don’t know the famous town of Ponoka, do you ? Its main industry is a mental hospital. I lived in that town for four years (not because I was in the hospital !) and I did learn a lot about personal integration there. I had to visit the hospital quite often.

We won’t be able to find ourselves, nor will we be able to be at one with ourselves unless we are in love with the Lord. Until we learn how to fall in love with the Lord, we will not be able to love ourselves. We cannot love ourselves as we are properly supposed to love ourselves until we have begun to develop this relationship with the Lord. We will not be able to discover proper self-love in human society as we find it in Canada, the United States, the Soviet Union or anywhere, because human society apart from the Lord is founded on self-service, not true self-love. This is not love at all. It is “fake” love ; indeed, it is pride. As much as I look at myself in pride, I get what I deserve. I get a mirage. I get a very nice picture, but it is not real – it’s abstract. The “me” that is self-indulgent, self-centred, self-serving, is abstract. As much as I show that “me” to you, you do not see the real “me” at all. If there is any real “me” at all, it is only the “me” that is in communion with the Lord. All the rest is window-dressing ; it is something to protect you from the fallen “me”.

If I become the real “me”, I become like that lady whom the man in The Great Divorce encountered : the lady whose footstep shook the earth on which she walked ; the lady who, walking along was perceived by this man to be so real that he had never before in his life seen such reality. This reality exuded light and joy. That is what we are supposed to be looking for in terms of realness. I have a theory which is likely contrary to the ideas of some people. However, I believe that I am on rather sound ground. When human beings get married to each other and live together for many years, they may begin to look a lot like each other, as some people say, and behave similarly and often will begin to think similarly sometimes. As much as they know each other so well that a lot of things are not necessary to be said, on the other hand, they will discover that they, in their proper loving of each other, enable each other to become more and more unique, more and more truly themselves. The proper way of being married is to affirm the other. It does not mean the dissolving of oneself. It means finding oneself in and together with the other person with whom one is living a complementary life. In giving oneself to the other, one finds oneself. One does not become empty and void ; one becomes more full of this selfless love.

That is how our lives are to be lived. We find ourselves in giving ourselves. As much as we are closed in on ourselves, protecting ourselves in fear and sheltering ourselves from outside, we shrivel. The love of God is intended to circulate. It is like Social Credit money. The fundamental of the Social Credit Party’s “funny money” was that the money had no value unless it was in circulation. That is how it is with God’s love. If this money was not circulated over and over again, it lost its value. It had to circulate in order to increase in value. So it is with love. Our attitude in life has to be open so that we can give. Love is not taking, it is giving. The more we give, the more we can receive to give. The more that this giving-so-that-we-can-receive attitude exists in us, the more we truly become ourselves. The more we do this, the more we are found in God and the more He is active in us. Love is not a static thing. It cannot be. If love were static, then people could not manage to live together even as long as a year I think. Love is something that has to continue to be exercised. It has to continue to grow. It has to continue to suffer, too, because love is vulnerable indeed. If there is no vulnerability, then there cannot be true love. With this openness to give and to receive in replenishment of love, one is also vulnerable to receive all sorts of negative behaviour. This negative testing behaviour is certainly not life-threatening (at least not in our understanding of life).

We can only find ourselves in this circulating love which continues to affirm others, which continues to do good to others (see 1 Corinthians 13 to discover what love is like). Love is profoundly active in a passive way (we speak in paradox all the time). It is active because it is constantly giving, but it is passive because it also is able to receive constantly. This is the sort of love that God gives life with. Anything else is a fake. Anything else is not life-giving ; it is life-taking and killing. Self-love, separated from God in a self-serving way is not even a reasonable facsimile. Loving our enemies is the test of this love, the test of true self-integration and true interior unity. This love is the ability to love those people whom we are not already conditioned to love by being a mama or a papa, or some sort of relative, or some sort of club member (although club members are not required to love each other). They only have to go to whatever rituals there are of birdwatching or whatever else one has to do in clubs. We are called to be so much at one with the Lord that we love even those who are profoundly against us. We do not hate those who are profoundly against us – we love them. God, Himself, is not prepared to be against the devil because of His love for the devil. The devil does not love God but God does love the devil. If God did not love the devil, the devil would cease to exist. The Lord does not unmake the devil because the door remains open for repentance even for him, somehow. It is the devil who insists on torturing himself with his hate and jealousy.

The Lord in His love wishes to unite all His creatures to Himself. His love brings unity ; His love brings life. That is what He wants to work in and through us as well : unity, life, strength. The Lord has been speaking to us ever since the beginning, ever since we first rebelled. He has been reaching out to us as we hear week after week in Great Lent in the Liturgy of Saint Basil. I wish we heard it week after week outside of Great Lent. I wish we were like we were about 1800 years ago when the normal Divine Liturgy was the Liturgy of Saint Basil and not that of Saint John Chrysostom on Sunday. Then we could hear over and over and over again how God has been reaching out to us from the beginning in His love for us, to reunite us to Himself, sending prophets, teachers, saints and holy ones of all sorts. He did this to bring us back to Himself, to reunite us to Himself and to pull us out of the dirt into which we have gotten ourselves.

God has been reaching out to us ever since we fell. He continues to reach out to us. As He does so, He asks us to take His hand and to be united with Himself. If we do take His hand, then we can truly be ourselves, instead of wandering around broken and hunting for some meaning in life in all this grey darkness and brokenness and senselessness. The Lord does not want us to have to go around searching for this meaning, reality and purpose in being, because He gives it to us freely. He does not want us to have to look and look and look and concoct something out of our own minds. He does not want us to go to the trouble of finding some scheme. He just wants us to accept what He has to give us.

I would like to share with you some Scriptural references which pertain to all that I have just said. I hope they will help : 2 Chronicles 7:14 ; Psalms 34:18, 51:17 and 95:8 ; Proverbs 28:14, & 29:1 ; Isaiah 22:12, 55:7, & 66:2 ; Ezekiel 18:21 & 31 ; Hosea 14:2 ; Joel 2:13 ; Matthew 3:2 ; Luke 13:3 ; Acts 3:19, 8:22 and 17:30 ; Romans 2:5 ; 2 Corinthians 7:10, & Hebrews 3:13.

The true finding of ourselves consists in living a life of repentance. The life of repentance simply means the life of turning to the Lord and turning away from anything that is against the Lord, and living a life that is towards Him. Here are some examples of people who repented : 1 Kings 21:27 ; 2 Kings 22:19 ; Ezra 10:1 ; Job 42:1 & 6 ; Jonah 3:6-9 ; Mark 14:72 ; Acts 8:1-3 & 9:1-22. If we do not repent, this is what happens : Genesis 19:1-29 ; 1 Samuel 2:12-4:17 ; 1 Samuel 13-31. All this is a big lesson in what happens if we do not repent. Here God is reaching out and Saul is saying “no”. Saul was very stubborn : 2 Kings 1:16, 17. Then we have the grizzly one about Jezebel in 2 Kings 9 ; and 2 Kings 17.

Our favourite examples of repentance (at least in my Orthodox experience) are Luke 15:21 ; Luke 18:13 and Luke 23:40-43 every Holy Week. Unity with God is reflected in the repentance of these three examples : the prodigal son (this parable is not about the prodigal son nearly so much as it is about the loving Father who was waiting for the prodigal son), the tax collector and the wise thief. The question is of course : Are we like those examples that we so much love ? Are we ourselves in our lives imitating these examples of repentance ? Perhaps we do not have to go into the pigpens of the world before we turn to our loving heavenly Father, but the question is : Do we turn to the loving Father ? Do we turn away from darkness and turn to the light ? Do we live Pascha ? We have to ask ourselves that every day : Am I turning to the Lord or am I turning to myself and away from the Lord ? If we do not ask ourselves that every day, we are in big danger.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
3 : Unity with Nation and Race
Great Lent, 1988

This topic of “Unity with Nation and Race” is a very dangerous subject to talk about, extremely dangerous, because when we speak about unity with nation and race, we touch on people’s insecurities in terms of knowing who they truly are. Today, we live in a time when all sorts of adopted people are very busy looking for their biological parents. They think that the parents who have loved them are okay but they want to know about their blood ancestry. I suppose that this is not bad in itself. We have also in our time a certain group of people who are very fascinated with who people are by where they come from. They have the most complete genealogical record on earth of almost everyone, anywhere. If we want to know to whom we are related, we simply have to pay a friendly visit to this group. By perusing baptismal and other sorts of civil records, we can find out where we come from and who our ancestors really were (and that one actually might have had horse thieves and pirates in the ancestry ; or worse – Vikings !)

If one is looking for a sense of who one is and a sense of solidarity with one’s roots, and one is looking only for it in terms of one’s physical origin, what is one going to find ? When a person looks at his or her genealogy, quite an assortment of people is uncovered in the family history. In my family ancestry, they were mostly farmers in Norway and some sort of tradespeople and ship captains in Scotland. That does not mean that they were anything like perfect. If you go far enough back in my family, you uncover these very Vikings. They are there. The farm where my family lives has been where it is now for over 1,000 years. There have been people living in that fjord for over 1,000 years. Some of those people used to go and do naughty things to the English, Irish and the Scots, not to forget the French. It did not actually save them, either, that their relatives became part of the Varangian Guard in Constantinople. It did not do that much good in terms of redeeming. In fact, I was not so pleased to discover (when I was told in Norway) that one of my ancestors was a troll.

What difference does it make, anyway, if I am Chinese or Liechtensteinian ? Ultimately, it does not make any difference. In fact, it does not amount to a hill of beans. However, I will wave the Norwegian flag here and say : “Well, you know, the Norwegians do have some saving Grace (apart from Vikingness) because of Saint Olaf”. When Saint Olaf was first Christianised in England, and he tried to bring Christianity to Norway, he was evicted by the pagans. Then he ran away to Rus’. Not only did he go to Rus’, but he came back and succeeded at last in Christianising Norway. He followed in the footsteps of Saint Vladimir (it was less than one hundred years later). He brought Christianity successfully to Norway, and brought with him Rus’ priests. Some people will ask : “What good does it do Norway now that it is a Lutheran nation ?” What good does it do the Norwegian state, except that it has Saint Olaf buried at Prondheim, and miracles happen at his grave. In fact, the conversion of Norway with Saint Olaf left an indelible character on the people which not very many seem to be able to recognise. Norwegians are notorious for sitting on their mountains and criticising the behaviour of other people, but they are not all that great themselves. In my own fjord where people are very straight-laced and very Lutheran, they are notorious drinkers, and notorious in their behaviour when they do drink. Norwegians can be alright people and have some decent reputation in some respects, but to be a Norwegian is not a saving Grace. Grieg is wonderful ; I love his compositions. However, Grieg does not save Norway. Norway has nice scenery, but one can see similar things in British Columbia. The only thing we don’t get is trolls, but at least we get sasquatches instead in British Columbia.

What good does it do for us to wave our national and racial flags ? National and racial flag-waving only serves to separate us. We do not find unity in emphasising our national and racial differences. And yet, the political attempts to overcome these deficiencies do not work. In the United States, as much as they emphasise a melting-pot culture (the Americanisation of everyone who comes), people still argue with each other about who is best. We, in this country, argue a lot about who is best : what language we speak, what colour our skin is, whether we have blue eyes and blond hair or whether we have black hair and brown eyes. Arguing about trivial things like that is extremely divisive and does not serve any purpose. What it does tell us is that we have not learned any lessons over the years.

For instance, it is easy for us to point our fingers at the Jewish people. We look in the Old Testament, and we see how God called the Jewish people and chose them in order to have a personal relationship with this people. For what end ? It was not to save the Jewish race. It was to make the Jewish race a priestly, prophetic people which would be able, willing and ready to speak to the other nations about this loving relationship with the one God who loves His children. Did they do it ? No, they did not. Instead of having judges, they insisted on having kings. They insisted emphatically that they wanted to be just like everyone else. They were tired of being different because being different brings some persecution. We all know that being different brings some persecution. Even Norwegians sometimes “get it” in this country. Thus, they insisted on being a nation with a king just like everyone else. Instead of taking the separation that God called them to as meaning being pure from the pagan practices and idolatrous behaviour of the nations around them so that they could give a lesson in the right way to live, they said : “We are better than you. Our God is all-powerful. Our God can do anything and He will beat up your gods anytime”.

Did they learn the lessons that were taught in the Old Testament time after time when the Lord refused to go with them to battle because they were unfaithful ? No. They kept expecting over and over and over again that God would act in an automatic way. They expected to be able to turn Him on and drag Him out just as the pagans did with their gods whenever they needed them. Ultimately, they became so exclusive that we find these rather harsh encounters between the most exclusive types, the Pharisees, and our Lord when He accused them of being “concrete” of heart. Yet in the Prophets we hear time after time after time the Lord saying, as it were : “I want to give you a heart of flesh. I want to live in you. I want to put My Spirit in you”. Did they accept it ? No, they didn’t.

How are we any different now ? The Lord has called us not to be citizens of Canada or any other nation on the earth. He has called us to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. If we are not citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, before anything else, our citizenship in any country on earth is of little meaning. The fact is that being a citizen of many of the earthly nations is of little lasting value anyway because our borders shift. For instance, we might as well say that Greece did not exist for about 400 years while the Turks occupied it. However, it wasn’t even Greece before that because then it was the Byzantine Empire. Norway did not exist for the most part of the past 1,000 years. It had mostly been part of Denmark and then Sweden until the Danes made such a mess of things in the War of 1812. That finally opened the way for Norway to have some sort of self-government, at first under Sweden and then alone. What is the big deal ? Does it matter where the border of Poland is at the present time ? Does it really matter to us ? Should it matter where the border is ? The border of Poland is one of the most shifting borders on earth. It is not their fault ; it is what people do to the Poles. They have very greedy neighbours, just now anyway. However, there was a time when the Poles, too, had shifted their borders out on their own behalf. It is always like this in earthly politics. Our borders change. The borders of China change ; the borders of Russia expand and shrink. The borders of all our countries are shifting.

The Lord is calling us the way He called the Jewish people. He is calling us not to have a national identity that supersedes our citizenship in Heaven. He is not calling us to be proud of being Montréalers, Ottawans, or “Saskatoonians”. He is calling us to be residents of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city which is the city of the Mother of God, the city which does not have shifting borders, the city which is permanent. He is calling us to be members of His Body : sons, daughters and heirs in His Kingdom. He is calling us to live in our earthly countries as members of the Kingdom of Heaven, and as pilgrims. If we live in our nations (wherever we happen to live) with the attitude of being a pilgrim, we have a much better hope of being some use to that nation in which we live. We can contribute much more positively to that nation in which we live because we are not bound up by fear as all our nations are bound up. We are free. We are living in love. If the United States should take over Canada tomorrow (as it has been trying to do for 200 years now and perhaps it will succeed), it will be upsetting, but it does not finally mean that much. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whether it is Trudeau or Mulroney who is prime minister of our own country, it does not make so much difference. (That is part of the mystery of Canadian politics.)

It is a very touchy subject to speak about unity in the context of nation and race because our unity with our ancestors, relatives and friends (wherever we are) can only be real, positive and fruitful and have lasting effect when we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first. The twinkling of the eye with which the world ends that Father n was just speaking about, we have already experienced today at the Divine Liturgy. We were living in the midst of that twinkling of the eye. We were living right in the midst of that split second. While we were standing in the Kingdom together today, everything did change. Everything was made new. The Lord is asking us to take that newness with us and to bless the world with that newness, with that eternal newness of His Kingdom. It is our responsibility to do what the Jewish people did not do. We ourselves are the new Israel. We in the Church are the new Israel. It is our call (as it was their call) to bless the earth with the love of God, to bring healing to the nations, and by our prayers to heal the strife that tears people apart in national and racial struggles.

I would go so far as to say that it is probably largely because we seem not very seriously to do our job in prayer that the world is in such chaos now. We apparently would rather fight and argue with ourselves than take up the weapons of the Gospel and do something about it. When the Lord gave us prayers asking for peaceful times, freedom from civil war and strife, it was not formalities and empty words that He gave us. If we remember, our tradition properly equates word and action. The Lord expects us to pray seriously these prayers. When we are praying for the healing of the nation, for the healing of the weather, for the healing of the moral condition of humanity, for the healing of all the destruction that we are wreaking on the earth, He is asking us to undertake this prayer seriously and enable Him to act. The Lord has been trying to teach us for four or five thousand years or more that He does not want to act unilaterally. However, there are all sorts of television evangelists who seem to think that they can manipulate the coming of the Kingdom of God (the Second Coming) by stirring up trouble in the Middle East. They are sadly mistaken. We cannot manipulate God. We cannot make God come and settle all our problems. This is childish. The very people who proclaim that they are faithful to the Bible seem not to understand what is right in front of their faces. It seems that they are being impatient.

If there is anything that we have to learn about this relationship with the Lord, it is that this relationship requires patience. It requires patience because the Lord Himself is patient. In love, He waits and waits and waits for us, to open our eyes and say “Yes” to Him. He waits for us, and as soon as we say “Yes”, we have to have our running shoes on because He is off and running with us. He waits. He does not come with a club and split us down the middle (although sometimes we do get a swift kick in the pants in order to catch our attention). The Lord does not wish to intervene unilaterally. What He wants us to do is to live and act His love with Him. When we together with one voice, one heart, one mind pray for the healing of strife, for the healing of the weather, for the healing of the nations, for the healing of the whole earth, the Lord will act.

Ultimately, I cannot say too much about unity in race because unity in being Chinese can only be actually found in Christ. Unity in being Tibetan can only be actually found in being united to Christ. Unity in being Peruvian can only be achieved in being united in Christ. Unity in being Canadian is in the same way. One cannot say that there is unity because of colour of skin. Black people fight with black, white and yellow people ; yellow people fight amongst themselves and fight with people of every other colour, also. The colour of skin does not save. It does not bring love. Sin is in every one of us and in every nation and race. The only hope that we can have for unity at all is to find our own unity with Christ, and our unity with each other in Christ, in the Kingdom, in the Church. When we have found that, we can begin to bless our nations and races. We can begin to bless poor old Norway with its trolls and its Vikings. We can begin to bless Canada with its bilingual and polylingual problems, and its multiracial problems. We can begin to bring healing to all those Aboriginal people who have been destroyed by our culture until now. We can bless this earth, our countries, our nations, our races, our ancestors, our relatives and friends, and bring that healing and true self-identity that the Lord has prepared for us all. However, nothing will happen until we have found that true, lasting and perpetual unity which is in Christ.

So, as Ernest C Manning used to say on the radio (perhaps he still does) : “It is our job to bring Christ to the nations”. We do not have to have the “Back to the Bible Hour”, but we do have to bring Christ to the nations. We can only do it by being firmly united to Christ.

Here are a few more Scriptural references : Isaiah 5:2 ; 24:11 ; Jeremiah 2:21 ; 7:34 ; 16:19 ; 25:10 ; Ezekiel 15:6 ; 17:6 ; 26:13 ; Hosea 2:11 ; 10:11 ; Amos 8:10 ; Psalm 80:8 ; Luke 3:7-14 ; John 8:31-50 ; 15:19 ; Acts 2:40 ; 10:1-43.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
4 : Unity within the Family
Great Lent, 1988

Speaking about family unity is, for someone like me, asking for trouble. Just as when I speak about marriage, I open myself up to all sorts of correction in my perception of married life. When I speak about family, I open myself up to all sorts of correction as well. Of course, I grew up in a family : I have a brother and two sisters. However, that does not mean that I have children. Well, I’ll still make a stab at it.

I am not going to speak about the family as a fundamental sociological unit, or anything like that. I am going to speak about the family in its Eucharistic connexions. The fact is that as individuals or as families, our whole life works itself out in the Eucharist. The Eucharist itself is reflected in our family life by what we are doing even when we sit down at table and eat together. We all ought to know that the family is the small church. The papa is supposed to be like the priest, somehow. When we are gathered around the table, our partaking of physical food and also our fellowship around that table in a mysterious way is supposed to be understood by us as an extension of what happens in the church. What happens in the church is extended into the family, and what happens in our own families is also related to what happens in the church. It is circular.

When we are at the Divine Liturgy, we find ourselves in unity with the Lord ; we find ourselves in unity with our bishop and we find ourselves in unity with each other. When we hear about giving the kiss of peace and being reconciled in the church, it is that same sort of giving the kiss of peace and being reconciled that is supposed to be happening in the family. The sort of selfless love that we are learning in church with each other, we also learn and practice in the family (or at least, we are supposed to). It is not possible in family life to survive without forgiveness, for instance. If we live in a family and hold grudges and do not forgive, the family is not going to last long. If we do not give nurturing love in the family, the family is not going to last long. We will grow up warped and twisted if this sort of selfless, nurturing love is not given. According to our tradition, there should not be any sort of conflict or significant difference between life in the whole assembly of the faithful and life in the family. It is all together. We sing the tropars and we learn the fundamental prayers at home ; we learn all sorts of things about what we believe at home. The nurturing in the family is directly connected with what happens in the church.

Because I am taking the place of a certain bishop, I am going to quote him for a while :

What is the distinctive and unique function of the Church – that which the Church does and which nobody and nothing else can do ? What function does the local parish fulfill which cannot be fulfilled by a voluntary community centre, a youth association or an old people’s club ? What human needs does the priest meet which cannot be met, perhaps with greater professional expertise, by the social worker, the marriage counsellor, the child care officer or the psychiatrist ?

We reply: The Church is here to preach the Gospel of Christ, to announce the good news of the Son of God, crucified and risen. Such an answer is true but incomplete. Our task as Christians is more than to preach and to announce. We are not here merely to say but to do. To do what ? ‘The tradition which I handed on to you came to me from the Lord Himself: that the Lord Jesus, on the night of His arrest, took bread and, after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: “’This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’“’(1 Cor. 11:23-4, NEB). Not ‘say this’ but ‘do this’. The tradition which St Paul and the other Apostles received from Christ, and which they in their turn have handed on to the Church, consists not in words but in an action, the action of the Eucharist – and what Charles Williams used to term the operation of the Mass. Primarily and fundamentally, Holy Tradition is the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that all the various expressions of Tradition find their source and their ‘Sitz im Leben’. Here is the lifegiving fountain from which everything else springs. [‘Church and Eucharist, Communion and Intercommunion’ in "Sobernost", series 7, issue 7 (Summer 1978), pp. 550-567.]

The Tradition, by the way, is the action of the Eucharist, because the Tradition is Jesus Christ. We are not speaking about “tradition” in terms of quaint customs that we, strange Oriental types, have developed over the years in the eastern half of the Roman Empire under the influence of certain Semitic trends and customs –and not to neglect Byzantine (East Roman) history. We are speaking about Jesus Christ, and it is that Tradition that we have and maintain. It is not how many poklons we can do ; it is not how many times we make the sign of the Cross during the Divine Liturgy and it is not how many times we kiss all the icons in the church. Rather, it is the Tradition of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Kallistos goes on to say :

This, then, is what the Church is here for; this is its distinctive and unique function – to eat the bread of the Eucharist and to drink from the common cup ‘until the Lord comes again’ (1 Cor. 11:26). The Church is, in its essence, Eucharistic. It is a society founded upon the action of the Eucharist, an organism that lives and breathes the Liturgy, that fulfils itself visibly in time and space through the continuing celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the Eucharist that holds the Church in unity. When the Church offers the Eucharist, then and only then does it become truly what it is. In Iulia de Beausobre’s words, the Church is a Eucharistic place of meeting around ‘the rock of the Altar’.

Fixed vividly in my memory is a conversation that I had with a Russian priest in the centre of Moscow during August, 1976. ‘Our sufferings’, he said to me, ‘have brought us back to the essentials. Now as never before, we understand that the Church exists in and for the Eucharist. So much else has been taken away from us, but the celebration of the Liturgy remains; and in this one thing we have everything’. [Ibid.]

His words make me think of the story of the origins of Christianity in Rus’ when the envoys of Prince Vladimir arrived at Constantinople to inquire about the Christian Faith. The Greeks did not offer them a verbal explanation, but took them to the Church of the Holy Wisdom to witness the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It was the action of the Eucharist that converted them.

The Eucharistic essence of the Church is indicated by the fact that the other sacraments such as Baptism or Marriage, were originally performed as part of the celebration of the Eucharist. As a reminder of this ancient practice, even now the Orthodox services of Baptism and Marriage begin with the initial blessing specifically associated with the Eucharist: ‘Blessed is the Kingdom …’. In the Orthodox Marriage Office today, the couple drink from a cup of wine; in earlier times, before drinking from this common cup, they would first have received Communion together. Fortunately it is now becoming more frequent in the Orthodox Church to celebrate Marriage as part of the Liturgy, according to the ancient pattern.

Fortunately also, the sacrament of ordination to the episcopate, priesthood and diaconate has never ceased to be performed invariably as part of the Eucharist. This is of fundamental importance for any right understanding of, for example, the episcopal office itself. The bishop is a Eucharistic person. His primary ministry is to preside at the Divine Liturgy, and all his other functions as teacher or administrator are to be interpreted in terms of his role as celebrant at the Eucharist. The bishop’s ‘cathedra’ is not to be regarded as the throne of a ruler or judge, or as a professor’s chair; all such models are misleading. His ‘cathedra’ is the seat that he uses as Eucharistic president. By the same token, an ‘ex cathedra’ pronouncement is not an arbitrary or arrogant statement, based on appeal to authority, but the kind of thing that a bishop says when talking pastorally to his flock during the Eucharist. Trouble starts as soon as the bishop himself, or others around him, cease to view him in a Eucharistic context and start to think of him as a prelate, prince or bureaucrat. [Ibid.]

The same thing pertains to the family. What we see in the church is what should be reflected in the family. If our experience of clergy is of those who behave as autocrats, tyrants, prelates and princes (or sometimes they might even think of themselves as God), that is going to pass on to family life, somehow, because the example that is given to the families of the spiritual family at the Holy Table is distorted. We are taught that the whole community of the faithful is to function on the basis of loving service. That is what our Tradition (as reflected in what Vladyka has written) teaches us. The whole community of the faithful is to function as a function of loving service.

Thus, fathers and mothers lovingly serve their children. The children lovingly serve the parents. Well, there are defects in the plan, but nevertheless that is the example that we are supposed to be following. There are defects (because of sin) in our relationships with each other in the Eucharistic community, and it sometimes malfunctions. We know what the example is and we know what we are supposed to do. We know that we are supposed to love and serve each other. It would work all right if it were not for sin. Since apostolic times, we have been encouraged in the Church to care for and nurture each other – fathers lovingly nurturing the mothers, and vice versa : the mamas lovingly nurturing the papas, and then on to the children. Parents are being exhorted not to despise their children no matter how rebellious they might be. The children are encouraged to respect their parents no matter how intolerant they may seem to be sometimes. That is the plan that we are supposed to be trying to follow and what we are supposed to be repenting towards, also. However, we are sinners, and we mess it up royally sometimes.

The Eucharist is bigger than we think. As I said earlier, we think in our Western, compartmentalised way that the Eucharist is something we do occasionally when we have to, and we bring comfortable shoes for the purpose. What is the effect of that standing in the church and standing in the Kingdom, and all those wonderful things that Father Alexander Schmemann talks about when he speaks about the Eucharist ? If you do not have his book The Eucharist yet, it would be a good idea to acquire it. It is grand. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that book. All the great things that he says about the Eucharist and what it is, we frequently mess up because we are sinners. He recognised that, as any serious believer must. However, that does not mean that we give up just because there are wrinkles. Because we sin does not mean that it is all destroyed and it can never succeed. The Eucharistic community does succeed. It does have its effect, even though it includes sinners. Even from the earliest times, our Fathers have been saying that life in the Church is not merely for the saints, the ones who are perfect, just and righteous already. It is for us who are sinners – it is the hospital for us sinners. This is where we get better (little by little) sometimes rather painfully. As we turn to the Lord in this hospital, we do get healed of our diseases, little by little.

Bishop Kallistos continues :

The all important link between the Church and the Eucharist is plainly indicated in the culminating moment of the Byzantine Liturgy, the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit. There is a double invocation: the celebrant prays to God: ‘Send down thy Holy Spirit “on us” and “on these gifts” here set forth’. The people standing round the holy table and the gifts lying upon it are both consecrated together. [Ibid.]

Has this reality occurred to you lately ? The Gifts on the Holy Table and the people are both consecrated together so that each may become the Body of Christ. When did that last hit you ? It hits me once in a while, but for the most part I am as broken and as compartmentalised as anyone else because I am certainly a child of this society.

What happens in the Eucharist is very profound and stunning. Not only do the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, but we all together also become the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we are truly ourselves. We become ourselves standing in the Kingdom at the Lord’s Table. The reason why the Divine Liturgy may seem to take so long, and why we should be much more patient with it than we are (and why I would prefer that Saint Basil’s Liturgy be served all the time), is because we are standing in the Kingdom. We are standing at the Lord’s Table. We are standing out of time. We come and we begin to worship the Lord ; we begin to be united with Him and we begin to be our true selves. This action takes as long as required, but in our very Western, back-and-foot-achey tradition, we like to put time limits on the Divine Liturgy. We like to push it through and deform it a bit so that it fits our “roast-in-the-oven timer”. We reap the benefits of that pushiness because we often forget how to enjoy being with each other in the Lord.

We allow ourselves to think that in Canada, the United Church’s one hour time limit for any divine service is the right way, because, we erroneously think that of course, this so-called Canadian way must be right. However, that is not right at all. We Orthodox are right, and it is high time that we woke up. People who love each other do not pay too much attention to the clock when they are in each other’s presence. (I think that I am on fairly good ground here.) People who love each other are prepared to enjoy each other’s presence. Enjoying each other’s company, enjoying being with each other is part of what loving is about. If we really love the Lord, we will enjoy being in His presence. If we really love each other in the Lord, we will learn how to enjoy being in each other’s presence, too. Being with each other, like brothers and sisters which we are in the Lord, gathered around His Table, we are waiting for Him to feed us. He feeds us not only with Himself, but with each other, in a manner of speaking. We are nourished, also, with His love through each other.

The Church can only find its unity in the Eucharist. The family can only find its unity in the Eucharist. The family is one of those fundamental images that come to us in the Gospel. The Lord, Himself, uses the image of the family to describe what the Church is like. We are the family of God. We are sons and daughters of the Lord. We are heirs of the Kingdom. These are profound realities, profound statements about who we are and what we are about. We usually fail miserably about taking these statements seriously, partly because we cannot believe that it could actually be true, and partly because we are afraid of what might come next as the result of being a son and heir of the Kingdom. We know that we want to be ; we know that we truly belong there, but we frequently are “chicken” because of what the Lord might ask of us. He might ask us to be a bishop. That is scary. He might ask us to do all sorts of things. He might ask us to be one of the fools for Christ, although I do not think that the Lord very often asks people in North America to be fools for Christ because He knows that they will probably be locked up and sedated.

As a Eucharistic organism the Church realises [makes real] and maintains its unity through the act of Holy Communion. It is the Eucharist that creates the oneness of the Church. Unity is to be understood not in juridical, but in Eucharistic terms. [Ibid.]

These are scary words. All our lovely systems go out the window. This is radical, living in relationship with the Lord. The Holy Spirit goes where He wills (see John 3:8), and our God does whatever He wants (see Psalm 113:11). He does it with us, too. Am I prepared to say “Yes” to whatever He will ask of me ? To forgive unforgiveable people ? To love people who are disease-ridden ? Perhaps He will ask me to go to an AIDS hospital and minister to people who are dying of that dreaded disease. He does ask some people to do that. That is a nitty-gritty business in this country. It is like Mother Theresa in the black hole of Calcutta looking after dead and dying people there. Perhaps what she is dealing with is more contagious, but she manages to survive and plenty of other people who are doing the same thing also survive. Perhaps the Lord would ask us to go and minister to refugee camps in Lebanon and risk being kidnapped by one of the Moslem terrorist gangs, and be in prison for Him. Most of it He would not ask us (although He could) because He has much more at-home and fundamental work for us to do.

Bishop Kallistos continues :

Unity is to be understood […] in Eucharistic terms. Unity is not imposed from above by some hierarch or administrative centre endowed with supreme power of jurisdiction; but it is ‘created from within’ by the celebration of the Liturgy. [Ibid.]

What can I say that Bishop Kallistos is not saying ? I elaborate and give all sorts of parentheses but he is really hot stuff. He further states :

This is precisely what St Paul affirms: ‘The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all share in this one loaf’ (1 Cor. 10:16-17, Jerusalem Bible). [Ibid.]

For ecclesiology, there is no biblical text more decisive than this. Between communion in the one Eucharistic loaf and membership in the one Body of Christ, Saint Paul is asserting not just an analogy, but a causal connexion. Because we eat from the one loaf, therefore we are made one body in Christ. Expounding this text, Professor George Galitis of the University of Thessalonica remarks :

Communion […] makes us, according to Paul, one body, the Body of Christ. And this Body of Christ […] is the Church. Consequently, participating in the Body of Christ, that is in the Church, and partaking of […] the Body of Christ through the Eucharist are two ways of saying the same thing […]. Thus the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of the Church itself’. It is through this Sacrament that the Church realises itself, that the Body of Christ is built and held together. [Ibid.]

To be its true self, the family has to be finding its life in the Eucharistic assembly. Papas can only be priest-like papas in any meaningful way if the family is participating in the Divine Liturgy, and if the family together is receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. In this way, the family at home can be the Body of Christ as a part of the greater Body of Christ, assembled in the church. If we are standing in church and we are not receiving Holy Communion, if we are not participating in the Body and Blood of Christ, then we are in fact not in the family and we are not in the Church and we are not part of that life-giving community. This is what we have inherited, and what we have ignored a lot until more recent years. It is a terrible, horrible thing. For us voluntarily to stand in the church and not to participate is a horrific, horrendous thing, so much so that one of our early Canons says that if anyone dares to stand in the church at the Eucharistic assembly and then not receive Holy Communion, that person is turning his or her back on Christ (see Canons 8 & 9). Therefore, that person is anathema. These are very potent words.

Our ancestors were convinced of the seriousness of participating in the Body and Blood of Christ. Just how profound that participation is, and what its effects are, what it truly means, are seen in the fact that you and I are icons of Christ. However, we cannot be icons of Christ if we are not participating in Christ. We cannot participate in Christ just by standing in the Divine Liturgy and watching the priest put on a show. If that is all participating in the Divine Liturgy is about, then the Divine Liturgy had better not be served. It is not any sort of theatre. It is life. If someone is out of communion with this life, it has to be for disastrous and really critical reasons, very serious reasons, and not because I am feeling grumpy today. If I am feeling grumpy today, participating in the Lord’s Table, participating in the Lord, Himself, is going to cure the grumpiness. However, if I am out of sorts and standing in the Divine Liturgy and allow myself to be excommunicated from the Body and Blood of Christ for such a trivial reason (and it does happen sometimes that people are led down such a garden path), I starve my soul. I turn my back on the very medicine which would correct what is wrong in my heart.

This belief that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church, which makes real the Church, this belief that there is no difference at all between the Eucharistic assembly and the Church is the standpoint of the second and third century generations of Christians. This can be seen for example in a passage from what is perhaps the most ancient liturgical text that we possess : the Eucharistic prayer found in Section 9 of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (often referred to as the Didache). The prayer perhaps has in mind the Syrian uplands with wheat growing on the hillsides (instead of forests) : “As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains and was then brought together and became one, so may Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your Kingdom”. Precisely the same link between the oneness of the Eucharistic loaf and the oneness of the Church is affirmed here as in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.

The interdependence of Eucharist and Church is a dominant theme throughout the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. In his “Letter to the Philadelphians” 4, he says : “Be careful to have only one Eucharist for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one Cup for union with His Blood ; one Altar, just as there is one bishop with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants”. The repetition of the word “one” shows very clearly how Saint Ignatius envisages Church unity : one Eucharist, one Flesh, one Cup, one Altar, one bishop (see also the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:4-5). We preserve this ideal to this day. Nothing has changed, except for the increase of sin. The unity of the Church is manifest as a specific and objective reality at each local celebration of the Eucharist when the Faithful, gathered around the bishop, receive Holy Communion in the one Christ from the one Loaf and from the one Chalice. “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] be : even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic [that is universal, of the whole, and therefore Orthodox] Church (Letter to the Smyrnæans 8). There is an integral connexion in Saint Ignatius’ mind between the shared communion in Christ’s Body and Blood, and the unity of the local Church gathered around the bishop. The family, somehow, is supposed to be an image, an icon, a continuation, a participation in this unity.

Therefore, as the Eucharistic community reaches out in love to the world and ministers to the needs of the world, it preaches Christ and brings Christ. It does not simply preach in terms of so many words dropping out of the mouths of preachers, but the preachers themselves are actually living icons, preaching by action as much as by anything else. The family also opens its arms in love.

Another one of the stories by Tolstoy comes to mind. I was reading it not long ago. It is about two pilgrims : one is a wealthy fellow, and the other is a poor peasant. After many postponements and discussion about when they could actually leave for the Holy Land, they set out on a pilgrimage. On the way they got separated. The wealthy man went on to the Holy Land, and the poor peasant stayed behind in a poor little village. It was entirely by accident. This village was in a part of Ukraine which at that time had been decimated by a famine. The reason he stopped in the first place was because he was very thirsty and was looking for water to fill his canteen. He stopped in a little hovel which was falling in. There was a man lying on the ground outside who was moaning and groaning, not doing anything. He went into the house where the people were lying around and ready to die in the same way. What did he do then ? He did for them ; he did whatever was necessary for them. With what food he had, he nursed them back to health. With what money he had, he bought them provisions and restored the family to itself. He treated this starving family in the same way that he had been treating his own family, as Tolstoy shows us at the beginning of the story. He treated them like his own. Of course, he had run out of all his money because he had spent it all on this family by getting them a horse, a cart, a scythe, and planting crops for them. Once he had nursed them back to health, there was nothing left for him to go to the Holy Land with, so he went home to his own family.

While the wealthy man was in the Holy Land, at all the holy places he kept seeing his chum, his poor friend, in the first place. In the Holy Sepulchre, his companion was there when the Holy Fire came. He was in the front everywhere – in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, and everywhere. He was always in the front, but the wealthy fellow could never catch him. He could never find him afterwards. On his way home, the wealthy man was passing through the village where they had been separated, and he stopped in where he had lost his friend in the first place. He thought he would start to try to pick up his trail because he had so far been unsuccessful in tracing him at all. When he was walking past a particular house, which was now in good repair, a little girl (who had been on the verge of dying when the old man had been there before) came out and said to him : “Grandfather, come in, come in and spend the night with us”. (We do not experience this sort of thing in this country anymore, that is for sure.) She persuaded him to spend the night with them. When he went in to spend the night with this family, he heard what his friend had done for them. They explained that he had so much healed them and had done so much for them out of loving service that they were now doing exactly the same thing for any pilgrim that came by. They went out of their way to look after and serve any pilgrim that was walking by.

To make it short, the wealthy man went back to his family which was in ruins because he was an autocrat in his own family. His son was lazy because he had sort of indulged him. His father had expected him as a matter of course to take care of everything when he went away. However, his premonitions were correct and things were a shambles. On the other hand, the old peasant who was poor had so lovingly served his own family that when he came back everything was even better than it was when he left. Everything was prospering. This old man was gathered to his fathers in joy and love. I like those short stories of Tolstoy. I wish I had known them when I was younger. This story is from the same collection that has the three monks running on the water.

Our families are supposed to be lovingly ministering to people round about. Mothers and fathers are supposed to be lovingly serving each other and serving their children, and the children are to be lovingly serving their parents as far as they are able. The family as a whole is to share this love in concrete ways with neighbours, with strangers, with friends, and with enemies. It is to express in concrete ways the Christian Faith. The family itself is an icon of the large Eucharistic assembly, and all together we are icons of Christ. We all are expected to bring Christ to each other. In our concrete working out of this love, acting this love, living this love in our everyday life, we draw people, searching souls, hungry souls, people who are damaged, broken, ruined by life and the sin of society. We are to draw them to the Lord by our love. It is not only in Tolstoy’s stories that we see this occurring. I have seen in many families already the living out, the practicing of this loving, serving and Christ-delivering service.

We can all do it. We can all do it because in the family we first of all learn how to love and to forgive. We have to live every day with each other with all our warts, with all our grunts, with all our snoring and with all our squeezing the toothpaste the wrong way, with all our leaving the lights on and leaving the doors open or shutting the doors too loud, with all our not making our beds, with all our little (and sometimes big) sins. We have to live with each other day-by-day and cope with it in Christ. We have to learn how to forgive in this real testing-ground. However, learning how to live with each other is a concrete practice of this sort of selfless love because sometimes we could really hate each other in the family. We really could. In some families where there is no understanding of love, hate and intolerance and bitterness do come to the front. However, we are called not to behave in this way, sin or no sin. We are called to forgive each other. We have to. My mother and my father both agreed that whatever disagreements existed between them, they should resolve them somehow before going to bed at night. This worked very well for them. If they went to bed angry, they were going to wake up angry. If they went to bed in the middle of a fight, the fight would not be gone when they woke up in the morning. It was better to get rid of it before retiring, and then start the next day fresh.

The resolution of differences comes because fundamentally we learn how to love each other. We learn that forgiveness is an essential part of loving. Letting people blow off steam and not taking it too seriously is part of this loving. This is one of the reasons why Orthodox Christians are so incomprehensible to people outside, because we can argue and scream at each other something fierce but still be good friends at the end of the argument. This is because the arguing is a heated debate ; it is not hatred. If we disagree heatedly it does not mean that we break communion with each other. It only means that we have a strong difference of opinion. Even in the Church we can have some hot debates, too. For instance, in a church that has chairs, let anyone try taking them out, or even moving one thing in the church. Even though it is in the way, if the Cross has stood in the same place for forty years, let anyone try moving it out of the way. What happens in the parish community when you want to move the Cross from here to there ? There are six weeks of arguments at least, if not a year. Communities get along wonderfully as long as you do not move the furniture.

It is mostly small things that cause these heated debates. About the big things, we are in agreement 100 percent. However, move the furniture, change the brand of incense, not use 100 percent beeswax candles one time, or let some lady come into the Temple wearing slacks (because she doesn’t have anything else at a particular time) and see what happens. We have a parish in this country where ladies’ not wearing something on their head still is a major catastrophe. We have quite a few parishes in this country where women and men stand on opposite sides of the Temple still. It certainly is not because they were having such big fights before they got to church. We agree about all the fundamentals, but moving the furniture, wearing lipstick and kissing icons, whether we have pews or whether we have electric lights can be a big issue. We can argue heatedly about these things, but in the end we still forgive each other, and we still talk to each other. It does not excommunicate us from each other, although it can certainly spoil the atmosphere. That is why we have the kiss of peace to straighten things out.

I would like to tell you something about sensitivity. It seems that Aboriginal Canadians have a better sense of these things than we do. We forget a lot of things. When I was in Winnipeg, there were many Aboriginals in that neighbourhood. There were Aboriginal grannies coming to the door on a fairly regular basis asking for Holy Water. I was quite impressed. My own people generally would not ask for Holy Water. They kept it in the fridge and they were happy that they had six bottles that they had kept for six years : “I have Jordan Water since 1975 sitting in my fridge”. It is nice to look at. However, the Aboriginal grannies use it. When they have a fight in the family, they splash it around and get rid of the nasty atmosphere. They do something with the Holy Water. They do not keep it and look at it. Holy Water is not an icon. What is the point of being proud that your Holy Water keeps fresh in the fridge for 15 years ? That does not prove a lot. (Perhaps it proves that we have the best quality Holy Water around.) Holy Water is meant to be used. That is why we have it and that is why we bless it a lot. The books call for blessing Holy Water on all sorts of occasions because we are supposed to use it. Therefore, let us do something with that Holy Water, and not admire it in the fridge.

The unity that we are speaking about, we experience in the Eucharist and we experience in our family. I would like to go on record right now as being in favour of the restoration in a proper, orderly way of all the Faithful (not just the clergy) giving each other the kiss of peace before Holy Communion. It would go a long way to help make certain that we are, in fact, reconciled with each other. I love it in Finland, by the way. I get homesick for that place from time to time. When I think about the kiss of peace is one of the times that I get homesick for that country. In Finland, the Faithful have the custom of gathering in a large group after having received Holy Communion and the antidoron, and they stand and kiss each other. They give each other the kiss of peace right there and then. I think that is a really good custom. It is a hint of what Saint John Chrysostom has told us. He said that after we have received Holy Communion, Christ is so profoundly and truly present in us that we ought to make prostrations in front of each other in order to venerate the presence of Christ in each other. The least we could do is to give each other the kiss of peace.

In the Church we have to have concrete ways to remind us that we need to be reconciled, and the kiss of peace is one of them. It is sometimes easy to come to the Chalice and to pretend that I am making “my own” Communion, and I am communing with “my” Lord, and this is between “the Lord and me”. However, if we have to kiss each other before doing it, it helps to put the brakes on that heresy because it is not “my” Communion, and it is not “my business” between “my” Lord and myself. It is all of us together, eating and drinking in the Lord, feeding on His love, being reconciled with Him and with each other, being made one with each other. The kiss of peace is fundamental. As my Mother suggested, I think that in our families, just as in all monastic communities that are properly functioning, we should reconcile before going to bed. Monks do this. In properly functioning monasteries, monks have to do that, too. At the end of Compline, monks make prostrations to each other. It is Forgiveness Sunday for monks every night, before they go to bed. They come to take a blessing from the abbot at the end of the day. Then they can go to bed after they have reconciled with each other. That sort of behaviour at home would help a lot.

We should be much quicker to make a prostration in front of each other. I remember having had some fairly heated disagreements with some people sometimes, and more than once I was non-plussed by someone making a prostration. I nearly fell off my feet when it happened. Thank God I realised what it meant and I was prepared to do the same. That is not so easy to do, actually – to be so quick to ask for forgiveness and to be reconciled by even making a prostration. Our pride usually gets in the way. We work at forgiveness in our families by living out love and by practicing it in concrete ways. We do it here in the believing community. We kiss each other ; we hug each other and it means something. It is not just formalities (it had better not be). We embrace each other in Paschal style and we call each other brothers and sisters because we are brothers and sisters in our church family. We love and forgive each other as brothers and sisters. By doing this, we form just that sort of soil that will nurture all these sick and broken plants, the human lives around us. As we ourselves are being healed in Christ, we open the door for others to be healed also.

Acceptance Address of Archimandrite Seraphim

Bishop Seraphim : Speech
Saint Herman of Alaska’s Church
Edmonton, Alberta
12 June, 1987

Response by Archimandrite Seraphim (Storheim) to the Proclamation of Election

“Inasmuch as the Holy Synod of The Orthodox Church in America has found me worthy of the office and dignity of a bishop, I respond with a grateful heart ; I humbly accept ; I say nothing to the contrary”.

Your Beatitude, Most Reverend Archpastors, and all my brothers and sisters in Christ,

I stand before you all in both fear and trembling as I try to be obedient to God’s call to me. My desire for some time has been to try to escape. Yet previous experience in trying to avoid God’s call has shown me how obedience in all things, obedience out of love for Him is what He desires ; and so I am here now waiting to serve Him, waiting to serve my brothers and sisters, waiting to see how the Lord will act in and amongst us all to build up the Body of Christ, the Church, here in Canada.

I was reminded recently by one of our brothers (in a homily) that it was ninety years ago that a priest and deacon struggled to reach the new homesteads northeast of Edmonton, and to serve the first Divine Liturgy on Canadian soil. Very quickly, the Orthodox Church strove to meet the needs of her newly-arrived flock in Canada. All across the prairies, the faithful were gathering, and building beautiful churches at great sacrifice and cost to themselves.

It was about ten years later that my great-grand-parents, my grand-parents, and my father arrived also to homestead in these parts, and to settle in Edmonton itself.

After twenty years from the first Divine Liturgy, Canada could be recognised as a diocese. Then began the testing times in earnest for this diocese, testing times which continue until now. The revolution in Russia cut off the supply of missionary financial aid, and the supply of clergy. From that time, the growth of the diocese was slow because of the poverty of resources, and the disturbances produced by international politics.

Twenty years ago, I was being introduced to Orthodox Christianity ; and I was being introduced to members of the founding families of Orthodox Christianity in the Edmonton area. I was also privileged at that time to visit many times with Bishop Ioasaph, the previous Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton : to hear of his life, and to see the depth of his love for Christ. The Lord has been merciful to show how this love bears fruit in the lives of other hierarchs as well, in the midst of all sorts of adversity.

Now I stand in your midst, aware of my sinfulness and weakness, hoping in the Lord’s mercy, and depending completely on the prayerful support of my brothers and sisters in Christ. These two days will see the ordinations of a bishop and a deacon, one on each day, which together constitute a single event. This is the first time this happens on Canadian soil. As we participate in this, we can recall the fundamental pastoral images of our life together in Christ. As we hear in the prayers of the consecration, the bishop must be an imitator of Christ the true Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep. Many years ago, I was taught by a wise man (and later in the Middle East I saw it with my own eyes) that a shepherd must lead the sheep. He must make the way ; he must know, and must love each and all of the flock. Now, as the fields are ripe for harvest, the Lord is gathering His flock in love, and He is establishing it. For my part, I must constantly remember the direction of the Apostle Paul, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well”. […] (1 Timothy 3:2-4). The fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) means that as our ancestors were faithful to His call, so we, all together, must be faithful to that same call. Out of this loving relationship with Him, we must all remember “to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:2), and to “avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law” (Titus 3:9).

The Lord has called us together, members of His Body. He has called us all, together, to exercise the various gifts given to us for building up this Body. And so I, who have been called to be a bishop, crave the prayers of all my brothers and sisters together with those of the Hieromartyr Serapheim, Archbishop of Phanourion and Neochorion in Epirus, that we all, together, may be truly beloved brothers and sisters : “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labour is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).