Writings

Archbishop Seraphim
Over the years, Vladyka has blessed us with many pastoral words on a wide range of subjects.

It is for the edification of all, especially his churches, that we reproduce here many of his most recent pastoral articles and sermons.

Comments:
I am reading From the Bishop's Desk, the collection of Archbishop Seraphim's writings. They are very good and I am very impressed with them...
May the Lord bring good out of it for him.
In Christ,
Fr. Paul Yerger

Two ways to serve the Vigil (14 ix 2011)

TWO WAYS TO SERVE A VIGIL

In the following, there is a consideration of how correctly to serve the usual Vigil for the Resurrection (Sundays), or Vigil for a Feast. Serving in this manner, as an important component of the Preparation for the Divine Liturgy, has for a very long time been the characteristic of Russian-Slavic practice. In fact, its roots are in the Typikon of St Sabbas of Palestine, which provides the main foundation of our worship over all. In the earliest times, the Vigil as we know it was indeed the core of an all-night vigil, and in Slavonic that factor remains until now in the title. And, today, in many parts of Europe, it is this all-night vigil that is participated in with enthusiasm by the faithful people on great feasts of local custom, often of a local saint or parish name-day. In Coptic Egyptian monasteries, a weekly all-night vigil is the normal experience. It is participated in by the community all together. It is not simply a choir singing by itself. There is a core of leaders, but all sing. On Mount Athos also, and in other monastic places, such true all-night vigils are often served, again with enthusiasm and with joy, particularly on the name-day of the Monastery. This rarely is seen in North America. Also, in North America, we live amidst an environment of mixed customs. In Constantinopolitan-custom communities, for instance, it is usual that only Vespers be served on the eve, and Matins immediately precedes the Divine Liturgy on the morning of the Sunday or Feast. Many Slavic-custom parishes have followed this example in recent decades, but they have ceased serving Matins altogether. In some places, in order to present the Gospel from Matins, this Gospel-reading has been added after the prokeimenon in Vespers. However there is little evidence as a precedent for adding it there. It is better to try to remain within what we have actually received.
The first-presented outline of the manner in which the Vigil is served is the prescribed format. It may be called a true vigil. In this format, there are often omissions, especially in a parish, but in accordance with both the blessing of the bishop, and the local custom.
The second-presented outline of the manner in which the Vigil might be served is a manner which is a reduction from the full service of Vespers and Matins. In fact, it should not be called a vigil, but rather it remains a sequence of Great Vespers immediately followed by Matins. It is to be remembered that many parishes have been for a long time serving only Great Vespers on the eves of the Resurrection and of Feasts. The purpose of this shorter form is to be considered as a sort of bridge towards being able to serve a Vigil in the usual manner. Nevertheless, this second form requires specifically the blessing of the ruling bishop before using it. Its use should be accompanied by a plan about moving towards a true vigil.
The third-presented outline, also requiring the bishop’s blessing, is an even shorter bridge, which is added into the end of Great Vespers, namely the Gospel-sequence from Matins. If it is felt too difficult to begin with the larger bridge-format, beginning with this form provides standard forms and melodies from which to grow into the second-presented outline.
Why serve a Vigil, instead of Vespers only?
First there is the obvious fact that a more substantial service allows for the development of deeper peace in the heart which comes with longer worshipping. “It is good to be here”: it is a joy to offer to the Lord our worship; it is a joy to spend as long as possible in His presence. This is emphasised when there are others participating together corporately in this worship, also. Then there is the fact that the full Vigil feeds the heart and mind with a full hymnographical description of the feast and persons involved. Then, still further, it is known that there are many places in the world in which the Orthodox deliberately prolong festal worship, especially when concerning local saints. In this connection, it is known also that there are places in the world where this worship can last from evening to morning. And yet again, there are places where people are eager to worship the Lord in this manner, passing the whole evening until the morning, concluding with the Divine Liturgy, every Saturday to Sunday.
It is a joy to worship the Lord, to experience His love, and to respond in the same manner.
On a mundane, “practical” level, in large urban centres, there is a developing attitude among parishioners that it is more worth while to drive for an hour each way to participate in a service of two hours, than to drive this same distance for a service of only forty minutes.
Many people are concerned about the length of such a service, and the ability of families to participate later in the evening. It is important that it be understood that families are not compelled to arrive punctually for services, and they may also leave before the end. What is important is to be able to be present for some of the evening preparation for the Divine Liturgy, and to be present for the most important parts. Proper education, proper preparation, proper encouragement are of the essence in helping the Faithful to recover their good habit of balanced, joyful worship, and a balanced life penetrated by the presence of the Lord.

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1. The Order of the Vigil

The order for serving the full vigil of a Feast, or the full vigil of the Resurrection on Saturday Evening is as follows:

Reading of the Ninth Hour, immediately followed by:

Great Vespers, with opening censing and sung beginning; with Psalmody (kathisma) perhaps in reduced form; with the Entrance; with or without Litya and the blessing of Loaves and Wine; and with the conclusion leading to Matins, which follows immediately.

Matins, beginning with the Six Psalms (Hexapsalmoi); the Great Litany; the responsory “God is the Lord”, and verses of Psalm 117; the Psalmody (kathisma) with prescribed tropars (which is often reduced or omitted in a parish).
This is followed by Psalm 118 or the Polyeleion (Psalms 134 & 135; and in the Triodion time Psalm 136), and the Magnification (Megalynarion) if it is a feast-day.
On Sundays follow the Hymns on Psalm 118, the Evlogitaria.
Then are sung or read the Hymns of the Stairs (“gradual”) in the tone of the week (on feast days, a reduction of Tone 4 “From my youth”) (These are read or sung while the deacon goes to the Altar for the Gospel-book).
Then is sung the proper Prokeimeon; and then the fixed Matins Prokeimenon (“Let every breath praise the Lord”).
After this is read the prescribed Gospel Reading.
This is followed by the Resurrectional Tropars, or by the Festal Tropars, in response.
After this, Psalm 50 is read; then the Intercessions.
Then follows the Canon with the Magnificat, and the Exaposteilarion or Hymn of Light.
Then follow the Praises (Psalms 148-150), the Great Doxology, and the Tropar.
Then follow the two Litanies, and the Great Dismissal.

The reading of the First Hour follows immediately after the dismissal.

2. The “Bridge-Vigil”

The order for serving the “Bridge Vigil”, that is Great Vespers immediately followed by Matins, of a Feast, or of the Resurrection on Saturday Evening is as follows:

Reading of the Ninth Hour, immediately followed by:

Great Vespers, but without “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial...”. If there is no previous reading of the Ninth Hour, then Great Vespers begins with “Blessed is our God...”, and all the prayers of the “usual beginning”. There is no censing, and a read beginning, and a read Psalm 103; the Entrance; the Evening Prokeimenon; Deem us worthy; the Evening Litany; the Apostikha; the Trisagion prayers and Tropars of the day; the Augmented Litany; the short dismissal, and then the beginning of Matins immediately.

Matins:
Begins with “Come, let us worship...”; the Six Psalms (Hexapsalmoi); the Great Litany; the verses from Psalm 117 (“God is the Lord”); the Troparia; and the Psalmody (kathisma — nearly always omitted in parish usage) with prescribed hymnody.
Then follows Psalm 118 or the Polyeleos (Psalms 134-5; during Lent, add Psalm 136: “By the waters of Babylon”).
If prescribed, the Magnification (Megalynarion) is sung (on feast days only).
Then are sung, with censing, the Evlogitaria (on Sundays only: “Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes”) (these are Hymns on Psalm 118). There is a lenten replacement.
Then are sung or read the Anabathmoi (Hyms of the Stairs) (“gradual”) (on feast days only: “From my youth”).
Then the proper Prokeimenon.
Then the fixed Matins Prokeimenon: “Let every breath praise the Lord”.
Then is introduced and read the Gospel of the Resurrection (or of the feast).
This is followed by the Resurrection Tropars (on Sundays only: “Having beheld the resurrection of Christ”), or other Tropars prescribed in response to the Gospel.
Then the Augmented Litany, also in response to the Gospel.
Great Dismissal.

The First Hour would be expected to be read immediately following the conclusion.

3. The “Bridge-Vespers”:

Ninth Hour is read, immediately followed by:

Great Vespers, but without “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial...”. If there is no previous reading of the Ninth Hour, then Great Vespers begins with “Blessed is our God...”, and all the prayers of the “usual beginning”. There is no censing, and a read beginning, and a read Psalm 103; the Entrance; the Evening Prokeimenon; Deem us worthy; the Evening Litany; the Apostikha; the Trisagion prayers and Tropars of the day.
The Gospel-sequence follows immediately.
This sequence is read and sung with the clergy remaining at the Holy Table.
The Hymns of the Stairs (“gradual”) are read or sung in the tone of the week (on feast days, a reduction of Tone 4 “From my youth” instead).
Then is sung the proper Prokeimeon; and then the fixed Matins Prokeimenon (“Let every breath praise the Lord”).
After this is read the prescribed Gospel Reading.
This is followed by the Resurrectional Tropars, or by the Festal Tropars, in response.
Then follows the Augmented Litany, after which the Great Dismissal is taken, as would be at the end of Great Vespers or of Matins.

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The second proposed manner of serving is a version of what may be considered to refer in a way to ancient practice, according to what Dr Paul Meyendorff writes :
“For 700-800 years, in the Cathedral of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, the Saturday evening service was very much like this, consisting of Vespers and a brief service called a Pannychis (= vigil). It contained much singing, processions, incensations; and all the people sang the responses to the psalmody. This can still be seen in the refrains at the Polyeleos and the Evlogitaria, and there is no reason why these should not be sung by the entire congregation.”

This congregational singing is, in fact, presently done in some countries, even in a full vigil, and of more portions than Dr Meyedorff suggests. On the other hand, although this proposed “parish vigil” may appear shorter, were the manner of singing of the previous days at Hagia Sophia to be returned in full, this form would not at all be brief. At that time, for instance, psalms, even prokeimenons, were sung in full, and the kontakion was a very long and elaborate piece of poetry....

Evening worship, or any worship, does not and cannot involve a concern about the length of time required for the service of the Lord — not if we sincerely concern ourselves with worshipping the Lord. It is a concern to offer to the Lord that for which we were created — true, beautiful worship, with sweet singing. It is a concern also to prepare our hearts to receive the Holy Mysteries. Concern about minimising time is to offer to the Lord the least possible: the opposite of the teaching of the Scriptures, the opposite of the offering of true love, the opposite of giving true gratitude. Worshipping in an attitude of gratitude, offering the Lord our best in worship is indeed an uplifting experience, and a fulfilment of our true selves.

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Following is an outline of Festal/Resurrectional Matins, as provided by Dr Paul Meyendorff, with some explanatory comments:

The Matins is a composite service consisting of four distinct units:

1-An opening section called a Royal Office, consisting of fixed opening prayers, Pss 19-20, troparia in honour of the emperor (“O Lord, save your people”), and a brief litany interceding for the civil authorities. This section is often omitted in parish usage.

2-A Nocturnal Office, consisting of the Six Psalms (Hexapsalmoi), the Great Litany, the verses from Ps 117 (“God is the Lord”), the Troparia, and the Psalmody (kathisma — nearly always omitted in parish usage).

3-A Cathedral Vigil, consisting of:
Ps 118 or the Polyeleos (Pss 134-5; during Lent, add Ps 136: “By the waters of Babylon”)
Megalynarion (on feast days only)
Evlogitaria (on Sundays only: “Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes”)
Anabathmoi (Hymns of the Stairs) (on feast days only: “From my youth”)
Proper Prokeimenon
Matins Prokeimenon: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord”
Gospel of the Resurrection (or of the feast)
Resurrection Troparia (on Sundays only: “Having beheld the resurrection of Christ”).
This entire unit is not an integral part of matins, and it is omitted at daily matins. It does not pertain to any time of day and focuses exclusively on the celebration of Sunday or the feast.

4-The Morning Office proper, consisting of Ps 50, the Intercessions, the Canon with the Magnificat, the Exaposteilarion, the Praises (Pss 148-150), the Great Doxology, the Troparion, the Litanies and the Dismissal.

How to discern the Will of God

Archbishop Seraphim
How to Discern the Will of God


People are often asking about how to discern God’s will. This is a very usual and natural question. However, even the question is not as simple as it may appear on the surface. Accompanying this concern about discerning God’s will is the ”why” question, which is : “Why do we want to discern the will of God ?” This question can be further refined : "Is it because we love Him and wish to be pleasing to Him ? Is it, perhaps, because we have some sort of selfish or self-centred motive ? Could it have anything to do with a hope to have power over someone else ?"

To begin with, anything having to do with the second or third sorts of motivation is not at all godly. Such motivations ought to be quickly dismissed. If the motivation is the first one, then this is the only good and godly motivation. However, it is necessary to understand this first motivation.

In the beginning of Creation, God said :

‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of Heaven, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that moves on the earth.’ So God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them. Then God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of Heaven, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb that sows seed on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. I also give every green plant as food for all the wild animals of the earth, for all the birds of Heaven, and for everything that creeps on the earth, in which is the breath of life.’ It was so. Then God saw everything He had made, and indeed, it was very good (1 Moses [Genesis] 1:26-31).

This means that human beings reflect Who God is, and that we were created to work in harmony with the Lord. In addition, we may notice that in the beginning there was nothing created to be carnivorous. In the beginning, the first human beings did not even have to think about what is God’s will. They simply knew in their hearts what is His will, and they did His will in everything, always, and every day. This was the case until the introduction of self-centred questions, and until our Fall from Grace. This Fall brought a cloud of forgetfulness, and many divisions, and much trouble. Because we forgot God and learned how to lie, we also forgot who we are, ourselves.

Nevertheless, as we pay attention to the way that the Lord God reveals Himself throughout the whole of the Old Covenant, we can see that He reveals Himself to be Love. Further, because of our historical selfish behaviours, we humans have required some clear indications of how to live in order to be pleasing to the Lord, and to be in harmony with Him and His will. This is clearly spelt out in the Ten Commandments (as they are usually called), and their introduction. These words are extremely important for us to keep in mind :

‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, from your whole soul, and from your whole power. So these words I command you today shall be in your heart and in your soul. You shall teach them to your sons, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up’ (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:4-7).

All the Ten Commandments are rooted in and summed up by the exhortation that we love the Lord with every fibre of our being. The Commandments are not threats, but rather, clear guidelines about the foundation of being pleasing to the Lord.

Words such as these are repeated by our Saviour when he was tested by a lawyer, who asked Him :

‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, '"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 neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 22:36-40).

Our Saviour had earlier given a thorough summary of how this is lived out by those who love the Lord when He gave the Beatitudes, as reported in Matthew 5:1-12.

Our Saviour also elaborates on Who the Lord is, as He is speaks these well-known words :

‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’ (John 3:16-17).

In his catholic epistle, the Apostle John writes very clearly to us that “God is love” :

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 (1 John 4:7-11).

All this clarifies the foundation of our relationship with the Lord God, and it provides the foundation of the question, as well. Thus, having addressed the general context of the question about how to discern the will of God, we can now add a few particular comments.

There is nothing regarding discerning the will of God which does not include love. It cannot be otherwise.

If we are truly wishing to be pleasing to God, and to do His will, then we must first be very familiar with the Holy Scriptures. As Orthodox Christians have traditionally done, we should be reading the Holy Scriptures daily, and we should have a deep familiarity with the Psalms, in particular. If we do not see how the Lord has guided us constantly and consistently in the Scriptures throughout human history, we will not very well be able to understand His will now in particular and personal circumstances. A similar familiarity is very important with the writings of the Holy Fathers, with the Holy Canons, and with the lives of the Saints. All these inform our hearts. Whatever our Lord will be asking of us will be in harmony with all these elements. Our God is consistent. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and unto the ages” (Hebrews 13:8).

When we are asking the Lord to show us His will, it is important that it is with a clean heart that we undertake our attempt to listen to Him. We must recall that the signs of the Lord’s presence and activity are accompanied by such signs as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These are related closely to the experience of the Prophet Elias in a “still, small voice”, or “a sound of a gentle breeze” in 3 Kingdoms 19:12, in which the Lord said that He would be present. The difference in wording is the difference between Hebrew and Greek. Warmth is another element often experienced. In the Lord, life, unity and harmony are increased. On the contrary, if the leading is not from the Lord, then the signs are the contrary of all those listed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians. If there is any other sort of leading, then we ought to avoid it. There is always fear when the tempter is active, as are disturbances, suspicions and divisions. Coldness is often experienced when the tempter is active, and there is the strong trend also towards disunity, disharmony, outright dissonance, conflict and death.

If we wish to discern the Lord’s will in order to do it, then we must love the Lord above all, know the signs of His presence and activity, and act only when there are clear signs of His presence and activity. Our Lord desires that we live, that we live in Him in eternity.

Report at the Metropolitan Council (2010-03-03)

His Eminence Archbishop SERAPHIM's addition to the Report at
Metropolitan Council Meeting in New York, March 1-5, 2010

It is necessary to discuss another attempt to improve the administration of the Deaneries. Until now, we have been attempting, with great difficulty, to conform our Deanery structures, and administration simply to the Statute of The Orthodox Church in America, with minimal reference to what is done in some of our sister-dioceses, and in other places. Despite our good intentions, and our willingness, our geography continues to make it very difficult to do as we have been trying to do. Actual meetings, are difficult, perhaps impossible, to convene in all the provincial deaneries. It is “normal” that the Dean make an annual visit to each of the Parishes, and Institutions in his Deanery. Also, we have not yet made any progress with regard to incorporating the Deaneries, even on the basis of Voluntary Association. This incorporation is important for the Archdiocese as an Entity, because the Archdiocese has no right to inherit properties, or to “own” properties in the various provinces. The “dissolution clause” of by-laws required by Revenue Canada therefore deny the Archdiocese the possibility of receiving the remaining assets of any “defunct” community. The many cemeteries on the prairies, for which the Archdiocese has a clear responsibility, both legally and canonically, cannot properly be cared for by the Archdiocese because of this. The Dean, and the Deanery is the clear canonical local extension of episcopal responsibility. The following adjustments I am proposing to implement now are in this context, and in the context of the usual practice in many other places in the Church. I am hoping that these measures will help us to keep in harmony with the Statute, with general practice, and keep in mind our local limitations.

In each Deanery, I will appoint a Dean, and a Confessor. This appointment will commence upon the ending of the Archdiocesan Assembly 2010, and last until the next Assembly, in three years. In accordance with the OCA Statute, these appointments will be confirmed by an election at the Assembly. In each Deanery, there will be developed a system of electing a lay-delegate, which will not require a formal Deanery Assembly. The Parish Councils of the Parishes, and Boards of the Institutions of the Deanery may nominate a candidate to the Dean for representing that Deanery. The candidate may not be from the same parish as the Dean. If there is more than one name submitted, the Dean will prepare a list of such names, and submit the list to all of the Parishes and Institutions of the Deanery. The Parish Council, with its clergy, will make its choice, and submit this choice to the Dean. The Dean will identify the person having a simple majority of votes. He will submit to the Ruling Bishop the name of the person chosen either by acclamation, or by majority. In accordance with the OCA Statute, these elections be confirmed by an election at the Assembly. From these Clergy, and Lay Representatives will be chosen other necessary representatives, including those to the Metropolitan Council.

The Confessor appointed for each Deanery will be responsible to enquire of the clergy in the Deanery both about who is their confessor, and how frequently the cleric is generally making a confession. He will annually assure the Ruling Bishop that each cleric has a confessor, and that the cleric does manage to make confession. The Confessor would also ensure that each candidate for ordination to Holy Orders in that Deanery has received a Letter from his Confessor, who must indicate that there is no known impediment to Ordination. He will ensure that this letter has been transmitted to the Bishop in advance. The appointed Confessor is not required to hear the confessions of each cleric, but clerics may choose to go to him. This manner of proceeding has to do in part with the great distances for travel. between the clergy.

With regard to the Appointment of Deans for the next Triennium, I am proposing the following : For Québec, and the Maritimes, I have appointed the Archpriest Anatoliy Melnyk as Dean. For Ontario, I intend to appoint the Archpriest Oleg Kirillov as Dean. For Saskatchewan-Manitoba, I intend to appoint the Priest Rodion Luciuk as Dean. The Archpriest Robert Kennaugh will help if needed. For Alberta, I intend to appoint the Priest Vasyl’ Kolega as Dean. For BC, I intend to appoint the Archpriest Michael Fourik as Dean. It will be noted that there are changes. The former Dean of Québec is now the Auxiliary Bishop. It is to be noted that the present Dean of Ontario is in indifferent health. The present Dean of Saskatchewan-Manitoba wishes to retire from the responsibility. The present Dean of BC has been serving in this capacity almost as long as I have been Bishop, and it is merciful to give him a break. Before I make a final appointment, I ask for comments to be made privately to me.

With regard to the Appointment of Confessors for the next Triennium, I intend to appoint for the Deanery of Québec and the Maritimes, the Priest Gregory Nimijean. For the Deanery of Ontario, I intend to appoint the Priest Geoffrey Korz. For the Deanery of Saskatchewan-Manitoba, I intend to appoint the Hieromonk Vladimir (Lysak) . For the Deanery of Alberta, I intend to appoint the Igumen Philip (Speranza). For the Deanery of BC, I intend to appoint the Archpriest Lawrence Farley. Before I make a final appointment, I ask for comments to be made privately to me.

It will take us some time, yet, to determine more clearly how we may best serve the needs of the Archdiocese, and at the same time be in harmony with the By-laws of the Archdiocese of Canada, and the Statute of The Orthodox Church in America.

With thanks, I remain yours,

with love in Christ,

† Seraphim

Enthronement of His Grace, Bishop Alejo (2009-01-18)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Enthronement of His Grace,
the Right Reverend Alejo (Pacheco-Vera)
as Bishop of Mexico City,
and the Diocese of the United States of Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
18 January, 2009


During the week of 14-21 January, most of the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops travelled to Mexico City for the purpose of participating in the Enthronement of His Grace, Alejo (Pacheco-Vera) to be the Bishop of Mexico City and the Diocese of the United States of Mexico. This enthronement, accomplished by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, at the end of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, 18 January, 2009 in the Cathedral of the Ascension of Christ in Mexico City (adjacent to the aeroport), established the Exarchate of Mexico as a full diocese of The Orthodox Church in America. This is a major step for this exarchate, which has existed as an Auxiliary Episcopate under the Metropolitan for more than 30 years. Bishop Alejo is now no longer an Auxuliary Bishop, but a Diocesan (ruling) Bishop. The enthronement was particularly moving, in that His Eminence, Dmitri, Archbishop of Dallas and the South was a major participant on this occasion. It was he who, for 50 years now, has been regularly visiting Mexico, and encouraging and supporting the development of the Church there. The cathedral was very full on this day. The singing was very strong, and the bishops made their attempts to use Spanish in the Liturgy. Although there were (very exceptionally for this time of year) some days with rain, Sunday was warm and sunny. The whole event was filled with joy and warm emotion. Also present for the enthronement itself, at the request of Bishop Alejo, was our Chancellor, the Archpriest Dennis Pihach.

During the week that most of the bishops were present in Mexico City, there were naturally some opportunities to see important places in and near this city of 20 million inhabitants. These included the Metropolitan Cathedral in the main square, the Basilica of the Mother of God of Guadelupe, and the Aztec Pyramids. I was the only one of the bishops who had been in Mexico City before (last year in May). We also visited the Antiochian Metropolitan Antonio (Chedraui) in his home on the occasion of his 77th birthday. Every day, also, the bishops met in synodal sessions. We discussed, primarily, the background factors that are leading towards a Strategic Plan (as expected by the Church at this time). We also dealt with some other pressing matters. Resulting from these deliberations, I came to the end of about 19 years of serving as Secretary of the Holy Synod of Bishops. His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania was given the responsibility, beginning 14 January. There are various photos available on the web-sites of the OCA, and of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania.

On the last day of my own visit, together with Bishop Alejo, I visited two missions in the northern part of the city. Both the Mission of the Holy Trinity, and the Mission of the Holy Cross are the first churches of any sort in their areas. In one case, there are already about 300 families adhering to the mission, and in both cases, the neighbourhoods are very poor. Even so, the faithful parishioners are pressing on steadily with building and improving their facilities. In both missions, there were many of the faithful present to welcome us warmly (in each mission there were many children). Included in this visit was an opportunity for the Missionary Hieromonk Seraphim to show me a telephone-recorded-video of recent services in villages in the State of Vera Cruz (True Cross), where also hundreds of poor villagers are part of the missionary endeavours. It was clear that there are many practical needs that we Canadians can help to meet without great costs. Please contact our Chancellor, Archpriest Dennis Pihach to organise any financial, and/or practical support you may wish to offer. Besides money to help in the purchasing of construction materials, ecclesiastical articles of all sorts are very useful, including icons, of course. Here, more than ever, we Canadians can be of support to a diocese which has many similarities to our own.

I commend to your loving prayers the now-maturing Diocese of Mexico, the fruit of the missionary labours of Archbishop Dmitri, the reposed Bishop José, Bishop Alejo, and the priests, deacons, and monks who are labouring with love in this mission-field.

The Visit of the Pochaiv Icon of the Mother of God to Canada

Archbishop Seraphim : Article
The Visit of the Pochaiv Icon
of the Mother of God to Canada
22 September - 11 October, 2009
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 2009/2010]


On 22 September, 2009, the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of the Monastery in Pochaiv, Ukraine, arrived in Canada, to begin a series of visits in this country – visits that would prove to make a significant impression on all of us, whether we managed to venerate this Holy Icon, or not. These visits concluded on 11 October.

After the arrival in Toronto, the Icon was driven towards Montréal, when it became clear to the drivers that there should be a pause in Kingston, Ontario, where the Mission of Saint Gregory of Nyssa is located. Quickly, an arrangement was made by telephone, and as a result, the Rector and a few other people managed to be present. They became the first parishioners in Canada to venerate this Holy Icon. This Mission has been steadfastly persevering for almost thirty years, and facing many an obstacle. The Mother of God had come to encourage them, and she did.

The next stop was in Montréal, where several thousands of people came to venerate this Wonder-working Icon. Some were physically healed ; others were refreshed spiritually. In every place the Mother of God stopped, she brought people to repentance, reconciliation, and healing of the heart. As usual, she brought us (and continues to bring us) to her Son. The next visit was in Toronto. Once again, several thousands of people queued up to venerate this Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos. Again, there were healings, as well as renewals of the hearts and lives of those who came to her, and also to those who did not.

In her Progress across Canada, the Mother of God approached us in the warmth and joy of her compassionate Heart. She brought with her the renewal of hope, and the renewal of the desire amongst us all to be more seriously faithful. She brought reconciliation again and again, and she brought healing, as I have emphasised. She gave us an opportunity for closeness to her Holy Icon that is not possible for believers in Eastern Europe, because of such great numbers wanting to venerate the Icon there. Why would she come to us like this, with such a generous and intimate expression of love ? We, who are unworthy, cannot say, but we can express the depth of our gratitude. She arrived in Canada, and through this Icon, which has been for 450 years in the Pochaiv Monastery in Ukraine – the land of origin of most of the early founders of Orthodox life in Canada – she embraced all the children of her Son.

As the Icon visited us, were there temptations amongst us ? Of course. There could never be such a blessing without interference from the tempter. Did they succeed ? Of course not. God’s love defeats all such tricks and disturbances. If a person for some reason could not manage to participate, was such a person deprived of Grace ? No. If a person was blocked from venerating this Holy Icon because the tempter had successfully sowed seeds of skepticism, or something else negative, does that mean that because of this God will reject that person ? No. The Lord’s love is much greater than our limitations, and the Mother of God is an effective conveyor of that Grace.

Let us, who have had the privilege of such a close encounter with the Lord and the Mother of God, now live as well as we can, and as responsibly as we can (always with God’s help), in letting this same compassionate love and generosity shine from us. Let us, as the Mother of God always does, allow our Saviour to reveal Himself through us to His needy children, and let us do so with hearts full of gratitude for the gifts of such inexpressible joy and strength in Christ.

Putting on Christ (2009)

Archbishop Seraphim : Article
Putting on Christ
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2009]


As many as have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). These are the words that we sing at every Holy Mystery of Baptism into the Body of Christ of every believer. These are the words that we repeat, too, on several major feast-days of the Church : Pascha, Pentecost, Nativity, Theophany. Long ago, baptisms were done only on such days. Nowadays, we are receiving new faithful persons at almost any time of the year, and we can sing this hymn, the words of the Apostle Paul, very often. How deep are the implications of these words ! They are not words to be said only for the occasion. They are words that describe the baptised one's very being, as he or she is then immediately chrismated and, thereby, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Recently I had the blessing, during a retreat, of talking at length with a priest, Father David Fontes, an American psychologist. He is in the process of writing a book in which he reflects on these words, and he gave me permission to share, in advance, something of what he understands of the implications of them.

For background, the “fruits of the Holy Spirit”, as described by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, are in fact one nine-fold “fruit”; and these all together reveal the character of Christ in the person who has put on Christ. These characteristics are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. This last characteristic is certainly not the least important. The characteristics are not separated from one another, and one does not “pick-and-choose” amongst them. The Lord gives them to us in order to live them. When we live them, and express them, we often are not aware of it, although others often are.

According to the perception of Father David Fontes, this “putting on Christ” in baptism implies a deep identification with Christ Himself. Father David reflected on the fact that most people talk about the uniqueness of their personality, differing from that of others. Someone might say : “Well, that is simply his/her personality”, or : “It seems that they have a personality conflict”. He said that he has come to see that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are, in reality, manifestations of Christ's Personality. If this is the case, then there really is a “Christian personality” that we should all possess as baptised Christians, and that we should therefore manifest towards others. As the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) lays out a number of personality criteria for specific personality disorders, so too the Bible lays out nine personality characteristics that make up a holy Christian personality. Father David perceives that these fruits of the Holy Spirit are, in fact, personality characteristics of Christ Himself. Therefore, if we are identifying with Christ, who is definitely a Person, then we will also exhibit His personality characteristics, which are these very fruits. These nine fruits are clearly the characteristics of His Life, as we see throughout the Scriptures.

Father Fontes’ assertions are underscored by the writing of Jean-Claude Larchet in Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, partly quoted in the Lenten 2008 issue of Divine Ascent (Saint John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton, CA). Living in France, Larchet holds doctorates in theology and philosophy. Writing in the context of the Fathers is his specialty. In the context of a consideration of Adam and Eve, he cites Saint Dorotheus of Gaza, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Basil the Great, and others, in writing that God made human nature a participant in every good, in all virtue, and all the best imaginable. With Saint Isaac the Syrian, he writes that “Virtue is naturally in the soul”. However, he notes that “Whereas the image is natural, the likeness is virtual - that is to be realized by man's free participation in God's deifying grace”. This refers to the process of putting on Christ, and being identified with Him. He cites Saint Basil, who writes : "[...] when you see a portrait that conforms to the model exactly, you do not praise the portrait, but rather you admire the painter [...] He has left it to my care to become God’s likeness. Verily, I possess rational being by means of the image, and I become the likeness by becoming Christian". This, Larchet adds, is directly connected to the admonition by the Lord in 3 Moses [Leviticus] 11:45 : “You shall therefore be holy, for I, the Lord, am holy”.

Anyone who loves and respects another person tries to emulate (to be like) that person. I remember in my own childhood wanting to be like a respected teacher, to be like a respected pastor. It is all the more the case with ourselves and the Lord. We love and respect Him. We wish to be identified with Him. We wish others would see Him in us. This is the practical application of the “putting-on” of Christ, which happens in our baptism, and which happens in us daily. In being identified with Him, in imitating Him, in emulating Him, who is Love itself, we cannot but take upon ourselves willingly those personality characteristics, which are understood by Father Fontes to be precisely the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This all happens by the Grace of the operation of the Holy Spirit within us, as we constantly put ourselves in the Lord's presence. This is the establishment of the Likeness of God in us.

May the Lord grant us the renewal, and the multiplication of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, so that we may, filled with Divine Love, exhibit in our whole being the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the personality characteristics of Christ Himself. May others clearly see our Saviour in us. May they acquire the desire to be, with us, like Him. May they fulfil that desire.

Conversation with Archbishop Gabriel of Comana 2008

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Conversation with
Archbishop Gabriel (de Vylder) of Comana
Archbishop of Western Europe
(Russian Exarchate, Patriarchate of Constantinople)
in Maastricht, Holland
18 February, 2008


I had already been in Holland for several days, because of the gift of a few days of rest with a family that used to live in Ottawa, and now lived near Den Haag (The Hague). I had visited them similarly, ten years ago, to rest for a short time. During this visit, a meeting had been arranged one day between Archbishop Gabriel and me.

For this meeting, it was necessary, on Monday, 18 February, to travel by rail to Maastricht (about 3 ½ hours each way). The meeting took place in the upstairs, private quarters, above the small chapel (formerly a store), which is the Orthodox church for this very ancient city (over 2,000 years of age). The chapel was for many years a centre of the missionary pastoral work of the archbishop, while he was a parish priest in this region. The iconography of the chapel is completely finished. In this building lives Mother Marthe, who has been caring for the premises for 30 years. A similar arrangement (with a resident nun) exists in Liège, Belgium (quite nearby) ; but in Liège, there is a substantial, traditionally Russian-style church building. It was there that the late Mother Dorofea (Mirochnitchenko) had spent more than a year as a guardian-care-taker of the church that belonged to the Russian Exarchate. It was there also that she became acquainted with Archimandrite Gabriel as he was then known. He would travel regularly and frequently to Liège to serve the Divine Liturgy and other services for the believers in that area. Mother Dorofea was maternally watchful about this hard-working missionary labourer.

I was greeted affably by Archbishop Gabriel, and I was surprised to learn that we would be speaking in English (his mother was born in Chicago). He, like many Europeans, speaks at least five languages. During lunch, we began speaking about several clergy whom we know in common, and about some other personalities (past, and present) whom we mutually know. We also discussed the Autobiography of Metropolitan Evlogy (Gregoriyevsky) (†1946), Put’ Moiei Zhizni (The Path of my Life), in Russian, of which there are apparently few remaining copies. It had been reprinted briefly in Russia, and it had been popular amongst Russian bishops. Now, there is an abbreviated version available, edited by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), of the Sretinsky Monastery in Moscow. It was felt that the editing left out important elements.

In addition, there is a booklet recently published in French (2006), entitled La liberté d’esprit dans l’église est sacrée (Svoboda velikaia sviatynia tserkvi ; Freedom of Spirit in the Church is sacred). This booklet contains an outline of his life, and various personal recollections of the metropolitan. I learned that there is a translation of this booklet into English, but I have not yet seen it. I reckon it would be useful, were we to manage to distribute this recent booklet, and, in general, to give more attention to these works. The booklet provides us with an overview of the great difficulties faced by him, and the Church, in the wake of the revolution of 1917. The pressures that were exerted on him by the Church in Russia, and by the Karlovtsy Synod, and by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, are not so different from those experienced by our own Metropolitans Platon, Theophilus, and Leonty. It seems to me that we do, indeed, need to have our history lessons refreshed.

According to the conversation with Archbishop Gabriel, things are not so different in Western Europe, even now. The historic tensions that existed in the Russian Exarchate between Constantinople and Moscow in the time of Metropolitan Evlogy, appear to exist today. The original agreement with Metropolitan Evlogy was that the protection by Constantinople would be temporary, until Russia would be free. Now, Moscow is applying pressure to hasten the termination of this very lengthy temporary arrangement. As in the former days, the clergy and the faithful of the exarchate are very cautious. It is true that the vast majority of the exarchate (which covers all of Western Europe and Scandinavia) is Russian-speaking, and very large numbers of them are recent-arrivals. Such confusion and uncertainties are not so different from those experienced after the Bolshevik Revolution, and after World War II. At the same time that there is this effort to serve those who have arrived in the immigration (some of it temporary, for economic purposes), there is also, as before, the long-term commitment to care for the local peoples of the various nations who have embraced Orthodoxy (such as those in Holland). Archbishop Gabriel seemed to distinguish between the personalities and attitudes of Patriarch Aleksy II and Metropolitan Kirill. Archbishop Gabriel was not very glad to be in a position of having to engage in delicate diplomacy. He emphasised that he simply wanted to serve, and to care for the flock (this is told to me by other persons, besides himself). At the time that he became a bishop, he was chosen because he seemed to be the only possible choice. Although he says that his spoken Russian is not so good (he is of a Dutch family), he had learnt many years ago how to serve without difficulty in Slavonic.

I found the personality of Archbishop Gabriel to be very warm. Perhaps the fact that he has some connexions with us in North America through his mother helps him to have (and to show that he has) a concern for our welfare as well. Our late Mother Dorofea had a great respect for him from the time when she was assisting him in Liège. This is a reasonable indication that he seems to have remained not greatly changed by having accepted the responsibility of the episcopate.

Christian Mission in a Pluralistic World

Archbishop Seraphim : Article
Christian Mission in a Pluralistic World
[Published in the "Canadian Orthodox Messenger", Summer 2007]


The theme of this summer’s Archdiocesan Assembly 2007 will be “Christian Mission in a Pluralistic World”. The main theme speaker will be Father Luke Veronis, who spent many years in Albania as a missionary, during the renewal of the Orthodox Church there. Together with Archbishop Anastasios and the faithful, and together with many living Confessors, Father Veronis participated actively in the rebuilding of a Church that had been outlawed and crushed by communism, yet not completely extinguished even so. Some will have seen the reports given by Father Veronis in various periodicals while he was active there. I think we will all benefit greatly from hearing him, and from talking with him.

One may argue that the world has always been pluralistic, and this might be right. However, this pluralism, as it is expressed in our “culture”, has not always pretended that there are all sorts of equally valid (yet competing) truths, all subject to personal preference. This is our own contemporary, special brand of incoherence. Nevertheless, it does present its own parallels with the experience of Albanians and many others under communism. Some have said that communism and capitalism are just different faces of the same coin. Others say that in communism Man oppresses Man, whereas in capitalism it is the opposite.

The beginning of the Gospel of John, recently read at Pascha, addresses the shining of Christ’s light in the world, and the darkness’ inability to overcome it. We participate in that light, and we face the same opposition, just as our Saviour said it would be. We need the words of an experienced missionary to help us to do our work here in Canada, and we need the example of one who also suffered for Christ to encourage us to persevere in our own Christian walk. We need his words and his example, and we also need each other. Let us not miss the opportunity the Lord gives, only every three years, to refresh each other, to support each other, to encourage each other in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I cannot miss an opportunity here, as we are thinking of this theme of “Christian Mission in a Pluralistic World”, to draw attention to an important matter of words in translation. In the recent past, many peoples the world over have been converted to Christianity partially by the missionaries’ emphasis on the “fear of hell”. This is most unfortunate, because it distorts the Gospel, suggesting, as it does, a vengeful and punishing God. Such a concept, whatever its origins, was supported by scriptural mistranslations, primarily in English.

Often in scriptural translations, and often in liturgical texts in English, we see the word “hell” used to describe both the place of the departed, and the place of the fire of torment. This is not correct, even if the word “hell” may technically have such flexibility. In the various texts, there are two different words used to express two different concepts, and it helps us to refer in particular to the footnotes of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The Greek word “Hades” is the approximate equivalent of the Hebrew word “Sheol”. This concept (Hades, Sheol) refers generally to the place of the departed, and it is to there that the Saviour descended on the Blessed Sabbath, as described in the Symbol of Faith of the Apostles (Apostles’ Creed). It is from there that Adam and Eve, and others, are lifted by the Hand of the Risen Christ, as described in the icon of Pascha. On the other hand, “Gehenna” is the Hebrew word used to describe the place where fire is never quenched, and which is equivalent to the more usual actual understanding of the meaning of the English word “hell”.

The flames, however, are not flames as we usually understand them, but rather the flames express how God’s love is received by those absolutely determined to reject it. The threat of a burning hell of eternal punishment is so distorting because there is no time, no place, no state of being, where God’s love does not penetrate. Whether we accept it or reject it, everything that exists in any way, any time, any place, has being only because of God’s love. If we reject Him, His love is perceived as torment. If we respond to His love by trying to love and serve Him, then His love is experienced as ineffable joy and peace. This in itself challenges us to be faithful to Christ’s exhortation that we bring His love to the whole universe. Our responsibility in Christ is very great indeed. Let us pray for each other that we may live up to this challenge.

Time for Reconciliation

Archbishop Seraphim : Article
Time for Reconciliation
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2008]


In November this year, there will be an All-American Council of The Orthodox Church in America, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This Council takes place just over one hundred years after the very first Sobor of our young Church, in eastern Pennsylvania. Those who read “The Orthodox Church” magazine will have been reading important historical articles, which contribute seriously to our preparation for the coming Sobor. I am grateful to God that these articles are being provided to us. Because we are North Americans, we often simply go to such meetings without any sense of the historical context of each meeting. We tend to live only in the present.

As those who have been reading these things will understand, our Orthodox Church in America has been passing through a very difficult period in her history. Those who understand history will also understand that this is not, by any means, the first time our Church has faced what could be called a “life-threatening injury”. In fact, in their own context, certain past events have been much worse. Nevertheless, the Lord, who is the Head of the Church, the Head of the Body of Christ, has been keeping His flock together, and moving in the correct direction. In contrast, we, the sheep, have tended to behave very like sheep under an attack of some sort. We tend to become hysterical. We tend to scatter. We tend to distrust each other, and reject each other. Sometimes, sheep-like, we even butt, or bite each other in our fear.

In this state, it often takes us some time to come back to equilibrium, because it takes us a lot of time to remember to call upon the Lord for help. As I frequently will be saying, we are much like the Apostle Peter, when he was walking towards the Lord upon the water, in the wind (see Matthew 14:28-32). When we look at the mess around, and forget to look intently towards the Lord, we invariably sink in the stormy waters. When we look towards the Lord, we can keep our equilibrium, and have confidence that even though there should be a messy situation, it will be ultimately be resolved according to the Lord’s will.

I often find myself comparing our relatively small crisis with the many crises faced by Saint Patriarch Tikhon, and the Russian Orthodox Church, over the last hundred years. Those who kept their peace in Christ (even if they had to die), nevertheless enabled the Church to make progress in recovering herself, even before the fall of communism. Thus, when we are facing a difficulty, we all have our responsibility within the Church. We must always remember to pray. We must always prayerfully support those who have the responsibility of leadership (this is what the Gospel, and the Apostle, teach us). I know very concretely that I, myself, am able to survive (even if it is marginally) as a bishop, because the faithful people do pray. I make many mistakes. People pray. The Lord makes the best of it. It is really important that we do not neglect intercessory prayer ; but rather, that we constantly bring each other before the Lord with at least the prayer “Lord, have mercy”. In doing so, we ignite His love in each other, and in ourselves. Such prayer brings life.

Our current crisis has had mainly to do with administrative difficulties. Our structure, as an Autocephalous Church, does not yet properly support the way we should be living our ecclesiastical life. As a result, there is vagueness of responsibility, which allowed for big mistakes to be made, and, at the same time, made it difficult for them to be seen until it was far too late. True, the Holy Synod of Bishops is always ultimately responsible for everything — for good, or for bad. At the same time, the Holy Synod of Bishops together with the Metropolitan Council (both of whose specific responsibilities need refinement in the OCA Statute) depend upon the clear presentation of facts, for them to make proper decisions. Both bodies not only had unclear information presented to them (although it appeared to be clear), but they also lost the needed personal connection with each other. When questions latterly began to be asked (or even accusations made), it was difficult for some time to comprehend what needed to be done. One must understand that, at the regular meetings of both the Holy Synod of Bishops, and of the Metropolitan Council, there has been a flood of information being presented through all sorts of reports. When such reports are seen for the first time at the moment when they are presented, and when there is very little time before the next report, I have seen that few persons have the gift of spiritual, mental, and intellectual acuity to catch details that might be a problem or trouble in development. Bishops are human beings, too, and they have their limitations. Ultimately, we have not been able to account for the movement and destination of a rather large amount of money. For some of it, recent investigation seems to reveal a little bit more information.

The results of all these very painful events have been both good, and bad. They have been bad in that there developed a rupturing of trust and of communication between old friends, relatives, and co-workers. There have been many phantastic accusations made by one person or another (and particularly against those in authority) based on shadows of fact. There has been spread about the poison of bitterness. As an extension, some persons began to express doubt that our Orthodox Church in America could survive. On the other hand, the results have been positive in that it became clear (at least to an extent) what had happened. There has been a deep internal examination of our structure, and an extensive repair undertaken in our administration. Repentance has been set in action — a turning about, a righting of wrongs, a correction of direction. Some of our older and experienced parishioners have said something to the effect that it is only money, after all, and we never did have much any way. The implication is that such an exaggerated focus on money itself seems out of place for us Orthodox Christians, given what is written in the Gospel. This is not to diminish the great importance of honesty and integrity.

Still, to some extent, the basic need to turn to Christ first in everything seems to have been forgotten. We have taken many concrete and necessary steps towards the reform and renewal of our administration. Yet seldom does one see or hear reported from various meetings, evidence that we are remembering the Lord, that we are remembering that it is His Church, that He is in charge, that we are exercising our responsibility in harmony with, and in consultation with Him. It appears as though we are determined to repair things ourselves. Sometimes, I even hear that references to the Lord, and to the Gospel, and to the Way are not well accepted these days by participants in some meetings. These can be the “town-hall” meetings, the meetings of administrative bodies, and others. We seem to be in a phase of blaming someone else (perhaps, miserably, anyone else). The worst of it all, from my perspective, has been shown in some dark, verbal attacks against our metropolitan. This is completely against both the Gospel and our Tradition. It can be seen as a sort of spiritual patricide. As a result, we are still in a very dangerous stage of our recovery. Without direct, constant reference to the Lord, and without our deliberately and specifically referring to Him, we are lost. The work of the adversary, the divider, the father-of-lies, is evident amongst us, and it is crucial that we turn away from this, and allow the Lord to heal us.

That is why I am encouraged by the preparatory work being done towards the next All-American Council. The focus is reconciliation and forgiveness. This is absolutely the right way. Even if we were not in this painful situation, it would still be the right way. The Preconciliar Commission, under the leadership of Bishop Nikon of Boston, is working very hard to help us with this needed work. It appears that there will be offered, in preparation for the Sobor, some significant opportunities for improving communication amongst us all, and between the bishops and the faithful. Because I know of the work of this Commission, I also know that it is very much moved by consciousness of the Lord, and of the Gospel. I am encouraged, because if we follow through on this work of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, our restructuring will be blessable by the Lord. If we follow through on this, we will be able more effectively to do what the Lord has given us to do here — to be the Church in, and for, North America. If we follow through on this, we will have hope at last of being the catalyst for the accomplishment of the complete reunification of the Orthodox Church in North America. We will be able to accomplish effectively our missionary work here, and to shine clearly with the light of the love of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if you can possibly attend this All-American Council, then do your best to be there. It cannot be like the more recent councils, because of lack of resources. It can be effective, however, if we fast, pray, and act.

About entering the Temple

Bishop Seraphim : Article
About entering the Temple
December, 2006


For a long time, I have meant to write about how we enter the Temple, and at last I have remembered to do it. I have noticed that a great many people seem to be unsure of themselves as they enter the Temple. Recently, I was asked a question which gives me the opportunity to present what I have received, and how I understand this.

It has to be understood that by writing this, I am not expecting everyone to do exactly what I am writing here. It is to be remembered that this is a reflection on my general experience, and that there is a great variety of practice in the Church.

In the first place, we have always to remember that the church is a building, also called the Temple. In some ways similar to the Old Testament Temple, it shelters the Holy Table, the Altar, and also the assembly of the faithful, who are also called the Church (being members of the Body of Christ, as the Apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 12). Where this Holy Table rests is similar to the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament, and that is why the area surrounding it is treated with such awe, care, and reverence. The central part of the Temple is now called the nave, partly because it can resemble a ship. The word “nave” comes from the Latin navis, which means a ship. In many Temples, the ceiling is arched in such a manner that it looks like the inverted hull of a ship. This is where the faithful stand together in worship, in prayer, and focussed on this Holy Table. In a way, this nave is a parallel to the Old Testament Holy Place, the place where the Israelites stood in worship. This Holy Place was outside the Holy of Holies. This ship part is also connected in our understanding to Noah’s Ark. From this, we also understand the Church to be the Ark of Salvation. There are many other ways in which we have perceived these parallels and connexions ; but they all have to do with understanding the continuity of God’s revealing Himself to us, and our response to Him. This understanding of the Church is not based on an abstract principle. It is part of the unified life of an Orthodox Christian. As we are taught, because of Christ, we should treat everything we have as though they were objects on the Holy Table.

The building does not constitute the Church. It is the faithful who do that. However, where the faithful assemble, and where they worship the Lord, has always been considered a holy place because of what happens there. Because of this, one can often see in Orthodox countries, persons who in passing a church, always stop, make the sign of the Cross on themselves as they turn to face the entrance and bow deeply, before continuing on. If they are driving, they sign themselves with the Cross and bow their heads respectfully, as they drive by. Often one sees, too, a person venerating the doors and walls of the church, in much the same manner as one would venerate an icon. Sometimes they do this before entering, and sometimes they do this when they have something on their heart to bring to the Lord.

There are various verses from the Psalms which come to mind as we enter the Temple, but a commonly repeated one is, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Psalm 117:26). At the beginning of the Liturgy Book, we find the Entrance Prayers of the Clergy. The entrance prayers are there, because the clergy so pray before serving, before even entering the Altar. However, the entrance prayers are not for the clergy alone. We all may use these prayers, although we will not be saying the prayers at the solea as the clergy do. The solea is the platform that is in front of the whole iconostasis. We enter the Temple, make the Sign of the Cross three times, with bows. We then make our offerings for candles, and perhaps for prosphora. Then we go to venerate the central icon in the Temple (if there be one present). We then stand in a convenient place to one side, so as to be out of the way of others. Facing the Altar, we can begin to say these prayers, quietly. After the initial tropars following the Our Father, we can then go to the icon of Christ, and the icon of the Theotokos, and venerate them, and say at the same time the tropars of these icons that are provided in the book. In some places, it is possible and practical for the faithful to venerate the icons on the iconostasis itself. This is done in Constantinople, and in many places in Greece. We can also, as the clergy do, face the rest of the assembly (even if no-one is visibly there, the saints and the angels are present), and we bow in asking forgiveness of all who are there, and of all who will be there later. Then we can venerate other icons and offer candles as we wish. It is often done that, besides any other prayers, a person would very quietly recite the tropar of the saint or feast represented in each icon. This would be so from the start, beginning with the first veneration of the central icon (if there be one present). If there be several icons in one place, it is always important to pay attention that we observe the order of precedence of the icons there, and venerate them in order. Of course, the Holy Cross and the Holy Gospel come first, as does an icon of the Holy Trinity, or of Christ, or of the Theotokos.

If, when a person arrives, a bishop should happen to be present in the Temple and on the cathedra in the middle, one may still follow this pattern. One can approach the central icon to venerate it first (unless there are too many priests), and bow to the bishop before offering a candle. This bow is from respect, since one is turning the back to him while venerating. Then, after venerating the icons on the side of Christ, one would pass behind the bishop to venerate icons on the side of the Theotokos. This is the normal route one would take, regardless (passing to the west of the central icon) ; but again, out of respect, one would not pass between the bishop and the open Royal Doors. It is correct and respectful to go to the other side by passing behind the bishop as he stands or sits on the cathedra. Processions of servers and clergy properly do the same at the Entrance of the Holy Gospel. Sometimes, if time and space allow, it is possible, after venerating the central icon, to come and ask for the blessing from the bishop’s hand. There are no strict rules about such things. It is a matter of being sensitive to the situation at the time, and to the local customs. During the service, once we have found our place, it is important that we feel comfortable in our spiritual home.

There are many parallels between the Temple and the home. For instance, it is an old and wide-spread custom, upon entering a home, first to venerate the icons (which ought to be noticeable from the entry-way), and only then to begin a conversation with the persons present. The table in our home is treated as a parallel with the Holy Table in the Temple (which is one reason we do not sit on tables). Our daily personal and corporate prayers at home are simply an extension of what is done in the Temple in worship. The daily reading of the Scriptures is based on what is read in the Temple.

While I am addressing the entering of the Temple, I might as well address the entrance of a bishop into the Temple. Some think that the ceremonial accompanying his entry is about imperial practices. I am not in agreement. It seems to me that we need to remember our oriental roots, and how oriental people treat their fathers (like kissing hands). The assembled people in the Temple acknowledge the arch-pastor as their shepherd. Their representative members (subdeacons) go to greet the arch-pastor, and they escort him to the Temple. Either from the moment of greeting, or at the moment of his entry to the Temple, He is vested by these subdeacons in a mantiya (monastic mantle), because that is what a monk wears when entering the Temple (except that of a bishop is more colourful and more decorated). The bishop and the deacon say the entrance prayers, in the same way as do the other clergy, and with the same prayers as everyone else. Then, in the midst of the people in the Temple, he is vested by the people (usually represented by subdeacons) in order to serve the Divine Liturgy. Thus, the people recognise him as their Father-Bishop (or as they call him in Bulgaria, “Grandfather-Bishop”), and it is they, vesting him, who prepare him to serve the Lord on their behalf. He feeds them, and they prepare him to feed them. It is a family operation.

Our lives, as Orthodox Christians, are to be one, unbroken whole, all reflecting the fact that we love, and carry within us, Jesus Christ. Let us all be evident Christ-bearers to those around us. Let us reveal Christ by how we love all. Let us refer everything to Him, and glorify Him in everything. May we truly say : “Glory be to God for all things”.

Funeral of Pope John Paul II

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Funeral of Pope John Paul II
Vatican City, Rome
6-9 April, 2005


Upon learning of the death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday, 2 April, Metropolitan Herman immediately sent a message of condolence to the Vatican.

Sent by His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman, the Priest Alexander Rentel and I departed New York by USAir on Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, for the Funeral Service of Bishop John Paul II, Pope of Rome. We travelled from LaGuardia aeroport in New York, via Philadephia, Pennsylvania.

On 7 April, we were met in Rome at our exit from customs by a Vatican secretary (as well as by Monsignor Fortino), who took us directly to the Aurelia Residence on Via Aurelia Antica. This is an accommodation somewhat to the west of the Vatican, not far from the Russian Embassy, and in a district of many hotels, including the adjoining Crowne Plaza. As we learned, all of the “fraternal delegates” would be accommodated in this building, which was kept quite secure at all times. The accommodation was somewhat “older”, but it was very accommodating, adequate, and the food was both plentiful and good. All was served in a manner befitting the nature of those participating as guests of the Vatican. Later in the afternoon, Monsignor Fortino escorted Father Alexander and me to Saint Peter’s Basilica, where we had a few moments to view and to pray for the deceased pope, resting there in state. Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, crowds of people in unprecedented numbers were passing by the departed pope’s bier. Therefore, it had been arranged that there be opportunities for clergy, bishops, and Heads-of-State, as guests of the Vatican, separately (to one side of the body, opposite to the steadily processing queue), to pay their respects at the bier, where the pope’s body lay in view. On our exiting, we encountered Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople just as he was approaching the bier, and we greeted him and his entourage. We returned to the Aurelia Residence through very heavy and congested traffic. In the evening, at the residence, there was a dinner hosted by Cardinal Kasper. Also present at the dinner were Abouna Pavlos, the Patriarch of Ethiopia ; the Patriarch of the Assyrians (who came from the USA) ; Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, Greece ; Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Albania ; Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, Russia ; Metropolitan Daniel of Iasi, Romania ; Metropolitan Daniel of Georgia ; and other bishops and clergy from the Ethiopian, Assyrian, Polish, Finnish, Slovak, Cypriot, Serbian, Romanian, Georgian, Greek, and Jerusalem Churches. At this dinner, I had the opportunity to greet and exchange words with Patriarch Bartholomew, with Archbishop Anastasios, and with Metropolitan Kirill.

By Friday morning, 8 April, all the official representatives of the Orthodox Churches (including the Coptic Church) had arrived, and we were all loaded into 3 buses, and taken to the Vatican, with a police escort. Entering Saint Peter’s Basilica by means of a side door, we assembled in the Saint John Chrysostom Chapel, and we were then escorted to our places on the “chancel” before Saint Peter’s Basilica. The funeral was celebrated out-of-doors, in the square, before an immense crowd of people from around the world. Flags of numerous nations were being waved with some energy in the crowd. It was estimated that up to 3 or 4 million people had assembled. They were massed in the square and the adjoining streets (or at various other sites throughout Rome so as to participate by telecast), in order to participate in this funeral. It was said that 2 ½ million Poles had arrived, besides all others. The weather was partly sunny, but mostly cloudy, and a little cool, which made it easier on all concerned. Also present were the leaders of various Protestant communions, representatives of all the non-Christian religious groups with whom the Vatican has dialogue, and Heads-of-State of a large number of countries with whom the Vatican has diplomatic relations. These and all of us official representatives were ranged facing each other across the “chancel”. This arrangement was in accordance with protocol. The Christian delegates sat on chairs on the same side as a large number of Roman Catholic bishops, and the non-Christian delegates sat on the other side, with the civil delegations, and adjacent to the statue of the Apostle Paul. The last of the political leaders to be seated was President Bush of the USA, who was nevertheless placed in the second row — perhaps because he is not a Roman Catholic leader.

Just at 1000 hrs, the procession of the entry of the cardinals began from the basilica, and more than 100 cardinals venerated the altar and assumed their places in chairs on rising steps behind it. Last came the body of Pope John Paul II, in a closed cypress box which was carried by his official chair-carriers. According to Roman custom, while the closed coffin was carried to its place before the altar, in the midst of the chancel, on a low bier, there was strong and sustained applause from the people. It was this applause, and occasional shouts from the people, that were the only signs of emotion perceptible by those of us on the “chancel”, and at quite a distance from any others. It was somewhat contradictory, perhaps touching, that some persons were, on several occasions during the service, shouting “viva il papa” (may the pope live), perhaps not knowing what else to say. The funeral service began in accordance with the usual ritual, which was provided to us in a special service-book. This book included the preparatory rites, and the burial rites, neither of which was seen by the public. Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, presided over the service. After the Gospel was read, it was he who gave the sermon. Singing and organ accompaniment were provided by the basilica’s choir and organist, both of which were transmitted by a public-address system from within the basilica. The singing was beautiful and well-presented, save for some flatness on the part of the singers. The sermon was well-received by the attenders, who interrupted periodically with sustained applause. At the appropriate moment, a very large number of priests and deacons, carrying ciboria, took Holy Communion to the multitudes. The distribution took a long time, understandably. At the conclusion of the eucharistic service, the cardinals assembled on either side of the low bier for the final prayers. The Latin service concluded with the Litany of the Saints, which included various saints of Rome, including some of the more recent saints who had been canonised during the time of Pope John Paul II. Added to this service was a Trisagion service, chanted in Greek (and concluded in Arabic), led by the Greek-Catholic and Ukrainian-Catholic primates present. In the media reporting, there was some mis-reporting that this Trisagion service was offered by the Orthodox. However, none of the Orthodox present did other than stand by as witnesses.

At the conclusion of the service, the coffin was again raised on the shoulders of the bearers, and borne around the other side of the altar, counter-clockwise, and up to the doors of the basilica. Before being taken into the basilica, the coffin was turned again to face the people, and raised at the head, towards them. There was very strong and sustained applause. There was waving of national flags, and also of the banners which proclaimed santo subito (a saint immediately), and other such sentiments. In due course, the bearers turned about again, and bore the coffin into the basilica, following after the cardinals (who had previously entered), who were to inter the deceased pope in the crypt. It was reported later that the crypt was kept closed for some days afterwards, in order to encourage the dispersion of the almost impossibly large number of people who had arrived in Rome. Immediately, there began a novena of masses (that is, 9 days of memorial eucharistic services for the defunct pope). At the conclusion of this novena, on 18 April, there would begin the conclave of the cardinal-electors who would elect the successor.

After all the services were completed, all the “fraternal delegates” were led to their buses, and returned to the Residence Aurelia, with police escort. We were then given dinner, after which I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Archbishop Christodoulos. Later, there was a standing greeting-reception given by Cardinal Ratzinger, who was introduced to the delegates by Cardinal Kasper. Immediately upon greeting him, Patriarch Bartholomew left for his flight to Istanbul. Some others also began to leave, but the majority were to leave later. Soon after this reception, Father Alexander Rentel and I met with Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and Durres, in response to his kind invitation. During the course of 2 hours, the Archbishop first explained to us the nature of the serious difficulties caused by the public and political writings of a certain cleric who lived in Canada, and we agreed on a manner of proceeding in order to resolve the painful situation. We then engaged in an extended reflection on the subject of missionary work, its nature and purpose, the value of Orthodox witness to those outside her, and a recounting of the various difficulties faced by Albania, in particular, in restoring normal ecclesiastical life. After the conclusion of this heartening meeting, we all retired to the lower floor for supper. There was not a large number at supper, since many bishops had taken advantage of the fact that the streets had been opened from 1800 hrs, in order to attend services in various churches, or to visit. At the conclusion of supper, along with many warm farewells, we retired to our rooms to prepare for our morning departure.

At the time of this departure, at 0800 hrs on Saturday, 9 April, we were escorted to the airport along with the Assyrian Patriarch. We boarded our aircraft, which had a late departure due to very heavy traffic, and we returned uneventfully to Philadelphia. Father Rentel flew on to New York, and I waited several hours longer to depart to Ottawa, where I arrived safely, thanks be to God, at midnight on Saturday.

Reflections in Times of War

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Reflections in Times of War
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2003]


The way of the Christian is very particular, and our responsibilities as we Christians live in this world are very particular. We are not citizens of this world, but of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are sent by our Saviour Jesus Christ into this world to be salt and yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). We are His witnesses. In this world, we are bearers of Him and His light and His love. The Orthodox way is all concerned with balance – not extremes, but balance.

The fear of the Lord increases days, but the years of the ungodly will be shortened” (Proverbs 10:28) ; “The horse is prepared for the day of war, but help is from the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). These two proverbs of Solomon summarise both what is necessary for us Christians, and also where so many of us go astray. For us, communion with the Lord, being loved by Him and loving Him, is the foundation of our life in Christ. Indeed, this has been the real foundation of our path in life since our creation. God said : “‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (1 Moses [Genesis] 1:26) ; and at the giving of the Law (the Ten Commandments), He said to us through Moses : “‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, from your whole soul, and from your whole power. So these words I command you today shall be in your heart and in your soul’” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:4-6). The Apostle John also reminds us : “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him” (1 John 4:16), and “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This loving relationship with God must be the real raison d’être of our lives. The Apostle John further says that if we love God we will, in being salt and yeast, definitely do works of love for the sake of our fellow human beings, and indeed, all creation. If we live in this love, and therefore can willingly and instinctively (like Adam and Eve before the Fall – it is possible in Christ) follow His commandments, the Lord gives us salvation and life. This is the essence of His covenant with us, from Noah and Abraham until now. He loves us far beyond our capacity to comprehend such love ; and even more, He invites us to participate in this love, to grow up in it, and therefore, in Christ, as members of His Body, to grow up in Him, Himself (theosis).

However, as is so often the case (even from the time of Adam and Eve), we have a tendency to look at ourselves, to focus on ourselves instead of on God. We tend to substitute ourselves for God, and by doing this to abandon our part in the established covenant, and to turn our backs on His salvation. In reading the Psalms, and in reading again the Prophet Isaiah during this year’s Lent, I have had this brought home to me time and again. Very many times, when kings and princes took matters into their own hands, there were disasters. However, very many times, when these rulers trusted in God, the Lord delivered His faithful people from the hands of their enemies, even by the work of angels. Very frequently in the Christian era, the Lord has delivered His faithful people (as we are so often begging) from earthquake, flood, fire, invasion by enemies, and civil war. All this, for Orthodox Christians, is reinforced by our reading of the lives of the saints. For me, too, this reality has been reinforced by both reading about (and listening to the reading on tape of) the book Father Arseny (Piotr Andreievich Streltsov). In cases when some prisoners were ready to kill him (or sometimes each other), God gave him both the right words and a strong supporter. When he and Alexie were placed in an outdoor punishment cell at -30° C, God protected and warmed them. This was supplemented for me by the teachings of Saint Silouan through Archimandrites Sophrony and Zacharias. They say (and I see) that we must try to depend on God for everything.

Our canonical history has parallel lessons for us. From the earliest apostolic times until now, the Orthodox Church has taken the shedding of blood very seriously. This serious attitude began in her pre-history, I suppose in part starting from Abel. This attitude may be found throughout the Old Testament up to and including the suffering of Christ. For instance, even if a cleric should accidentally kill someone while driving, he is automatically stopped from serving (sometimes permanently). If anyone at all accidentally kills anyone, it means that the person is to abstain from receiving Holy Communion for a substantial length of time, as a sign of sorrow for the loss of human life. In the past, if soldiers killed anyone (even if under orders), it would be the same. From those earliest times, it was accepted that Christians would sometimes have to participate in armies of the civil governments. When they did so, however, they participated still knowing what are the foundations of Christian consciousness. If they shed blood, they showed appropriate repentance. We have soldier-martyrs who give us examples of this. Some soldiers (and even kings) became monks afterwards, including perhaps one tsar of the 19th century. One may do one’s duty, but also bear the consequences of this duty. Recently, there was an old Cossack in France who would not receive Holy Communion until his death-bed, because he had shed blood in World War I.

It has always been understood that we do not live (and never have lived) in a Christian theocracy, in which the ideal and the covenant might actually be lived out. Even the so-called Christian empires of the past were really mostly so only in name. Furthermore, in all governments there are always armies, and with all governments, there is always the risk of war. For warriors, there is always the risk of killing or being killed. We must, as Christians, find the middle way in Christ.

From the earliest times (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2), we have known that we are obliged to pray for our civil governing authorities (even and especially if they are killing us). Therefore, early Christians prayed for persecuting emperors, and martyrs forgave and blessed those who were killing them as they echoed the words of our Saviour from the Cross (see Luke 23:34 ; Acts 7:60). This is strikingly the case in the martyric death only 200 years ago in Alaska of Saint Juvenaly, the priest-monk companion of Saint Herman.

Some people like to glorify certain wars, and to say that they are just. However, there is no such thing as a just war. All wars kill many soldiers, and all wars kill large, sometimes unimaginably large numbers of innocent persons of all ages. All wars feed and fuel a blood-thirsty demon, and all wars make soldiers vulnerable to the blindness of slavery to the demon of bloodlust. No matter how “just” they are made out to be, all wars have long-lasting consequences, often with deep hatreds, and often with subsequent wars. Such consequences of war are amongst the most dangerous of all factors, and there is certainly no balance, no middle way in it. Without a strong faith in Christ, a person would be lost. I have met many a person (amongst them my own relatives) who suffered for many decades after their participation in wars. They were tortured in their hearts, and in their dreams. Some persons never were able to live a balanced life again because of the spiritual trauma. Wars are simply destructive. Customs and ways of life are destroyed forever, not to mention monuments, buildings and human lives.

Even though this is a sad fact, the Church does not condemn anyone’s serving in the armed forces. Many true Christian believers have served and do serve in the armed forces, and they do so honourably. They do so not because they are so strong themselves, but because they have many people praying for them. Many a person has truly been saved from death, many a person has been saved from killing unnecessarily, many a person has been saved from all sorts of catastrophes, because others were praying for God’s protection for him or for her. It is indeed our responsibility to do so.

It is correct for us to do our part, to remind our leaders to do everything they can to avoid an armed conflict. It is right that we always pray for the peace of the world, and for reconciliation. This is exactly what we sing about in the “Beatitudes”, and it is what we ask in the “Our Father”. It is right that we, as Christians, pray for our governing authorities, and ask for God’s wisdom for them. It is also our responsibility to live in forgiveness with all, as Christ does, and through His love to bring true peace to the world. In the world, there is always the temptation to resort to violence of various sorts. It is our challenge as Christians, by our love, by our service in the footsteps of Christ, to show to the world the better way. It is our challenge to show how the “weapon of peace” brings life, and how Christ is the real Victor for us all.

Words and Attitudes, and the Way of Christ

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Words and Attitudes, and the Way of Christ
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Autumn 2003]


In July of this year, I was invited to participate in the second Orientale Lumen Conference in Sydney, Australia. It lasted four days, and I was one of the presenters, along with Cardinal Kasper of Rome, and Metropolitan Bishoy of Cairo. The conference was interesting ; but it was best being in Australia for the first time, and seeing believers there. These Orientale Lumen conferences came into being as a result of a papal encyclical. The papers presented at these conferences address problems and possibilities in the relationship between the Orthodox Churches and the West. My lengthy paper, presented at this conference, dealt with some of the main problems of language and mutual misunderstanding which keep the progress of conversations slow, and reconciliation still distant.

However, in our own diocesan life, I see some of the same problems at work right amongst us Orthodox. We are misusing important words. We accept without question the western meanings and uses of words which are foundational to our correct self-understanding, and we distort ourselves. For instance, we like to say that Roman Catholics are too legalistic, but do we not too often exceed them in this very attitude towards each other and ourselves ? We often will say that in the West there is too much clericalism ; but is it not so that not only clergy, but also lay people in responsible positions, will often try to force others to obey ?

The word “obedience”, itself, is so often used amongst us in the sense that because someone in authority says a thing must be done, it must be done ; or because an authority expresses an opinion, this opinion therefore must be followed as if it were law. Obedience (and particularly monastic obedience) is not imposed by the higher in authority upon the lower in authority. Neither is obedience compliance given out of fear. In all cases, but particularly in monastic obedience, the compliance is a co-operation which is willingly offered out of love by the lower in authority to the higher in authority. The ideal of complete obedience offered to an elder or eldress can only be possible and life-giving in an atmosphere of selfless love in Christ. There are, however, exceptions to this ideal when unconditional obedience in the love of Christ is offered to an abusive elder, in which the Grace of the Holy Spirit overcomes sin, abuse and pain.

“Authority” is another abused word. This is so often understood to mean one person’s having power over another. Rather, authority means having the responsibility to lead by a good and correct example. Sometimes, a priest or a person in some position of responsibility will expect others to respect and/or obey merely because of one’s title or position. This “do as I say” attitude is wrong. Much better is the attitude of “I think I know the correct way, and I think you would be right and wise to follow”.

Any time we begin to wield power in a worldly way, lording it over someone else, we reject the Gospel and the example of Christ. He, the Good Shepherd, loving and knowing His sheep, and loved and known by His sheep, said : “‘I AM the Way’” (John 14:6). It is for us to walk in this Way. Those who are shepherds and persons in authority must always exercise this leadership following the example of Christ. Otherwise we (even bishops and priests) are not really Christians, but merely fakes.

It is within the context of our call to follow in the Way of Christ that we do not encourage the usual worldly voting process in parishes : it divides, and it sets people against each other. Consensus, which we are so often unwilling to pursue, is the historical Christian way of talking about a matter until we all agree ; and if we cannot yet agree, we do not act.

No Christian in a clerical or lay position of authority or responsibility ought ever dare to push matters by force. Patience must be cultivated. Love must prevail. If we take short-cuts, then we fail. Let us remember who we are, and Whom we serve — Christ Himself.

Let us take the trouble to pray about things, and let us together discover God’s will for us in all situations. Let us recover genuinely Orthodox Christian attitudes and the correct understanding of words in our daily, scriptural and liturgical use, so that what we say and how we say it, the attitudes we hold in our hearts and display in our behaviour, and, finally, what we do – are all together in harmony, and in harmony with Christ our Lord.

On the Use of "Master" in Services

Bishop Seraphim : Article
ON THE USE OF “MASTER” IN SERVICES
December, 2003


Because of the questions I have been asked by our faithful people from time to time, it seemed that it would be helpful to write a few words in order to try to address one of these. I have the hope that some might entertain the possibility of correcting what I consider to be an incorrect usage. A matter of wording in services has been a concern for some time, and this has to do with the use of the word “master” in our services (and also the lack of it).

To begin with, we are aware that our Saviour said in Scripture that we are to call no-one master (or father), except the Lord Himself (see Matthew 23:1-12). In the Greek of these verses, the word didaskalos is used. This is itself a translation of the Hebrew word rabbi. In the Greek and in Hebrew, the word means “teacher”, or “master”. Of course, we will hear it often repeated against us by various Protestants that we nevertheless do use these words. This concern could result in a lengthy discussion. Regardless, it is true that we do use this word very often liturgically. Why ? The principal reason it is used, is to refer to Christ. He is the Master. When we say “master”, we are not using the word to imply any quality of domination, or any quality of forcing into submission, but rather, we refer to Christ’s quality as Teacher. Older Canadians, Commonwealth citizens and British persons might be familiar with this term as applied to any teacher. More people might be used to hearing in certain British and Commonwealth films that the head of a school is the headmaster. Those who have attended a private school in Canada may well also be accustomed to this term.

We properly conclude a service with “Master, bless”, because it is Christ, Himself, who blesses. At the end of a service (particularly at Matins), we hear and say, “Master bless”. The serving cleric responds : “Christ our God, He Who Is, is blessed, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages”. The request is turned over to Christ our Saviour, who is our Master. We say, “Master, bless”, because the bishop or the priest is precisely representing Christ to the faithful. Then, why do we say “Master, bless” to the bishop or the priest ? It is because the bishop or the priest re-presents Christ in all liturgical services. As he, standing at our head, offers our collective prayer to God, he also conveys the Grace and Love of God in Christ to us all. In the liturgical texts we received from pre-revolutionary Rus’, we do not read “father, bless”, or “bishop, bless” to make a specific distinction. “Master bless” is always written in the service-books. The distinction between “father” and “master” is actually a new phenomenon.

This new phenomenon is a development contrary to the ancient inheritance. The nature of the distinction is revealed in particular during Hierarchical (episcopal) Liturgies, and it seems mostly to be emanating from Russia. As a result, in some places (but not everywhere), we have begun to use “Right Reverend Master, bless” ; “Most Reverend Master, bless” ; “Most Blessed Master, bless” ; “Most Holy Master, bless”, in accordance with the rank of a particular bishop. It is in the context of this distinction that we see the use of “Master, bless” as a privileged use in cathedrals and sobors. In North America, this was preceded by a development in which “Master, bless” began to be replaced with “Father, bless” when a presbyter would be presiding at a service. It might be suggested that this tendency could have arrived with the large number of Uniats returning to Orthodoxy in the last century, although this would be difficult to prove. Regardless, we now hear “Father, bless” almost everywhere.

Neither of these developments is, in my opinion, a good one. This is because we take the focus away from Christ and His blessing, and we focus instead upon a particular cleric, an ordinary human being. However, it must be repeated that it is not this particular human being who is blessing. It is Christ Himself who is blessing. Evidence to support this is the fact that in current Greek use, we still hear “Master, bless”, or, “Holy Master, bless”, even at a presbyteral (priestly) service. This request is still clearly pointing to Christ Himself, not to the bishop or presbyter who is presiding.

It is much better, then, at the beginning and ending of services (and at other times also) to use the more traditional formula “Master, bless”, or “Holy Master, bless”, at all times, rather than to reduce the focus to a particular human being. This formula is elegantly simple. By contrast, when the rank-specific format is used, and when readers or choristers are not certain about the precise nomenclature and rank of the cleric, a mistake could result in an irreparable insult. Some people are particularly sensitive about such things.

On the other hand, there is an apparent exception to this principle, and it seems to be a typical Orthodox paradox. It has to do with the reading of the Canonical Hours when a bishop is present. If a bishop were present, at the end of an hour, upon the request, “Master, bless”, the serving presbyter normally would say, “through the prayers of our holy master, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us”. If a bishop were not present, the presbyter would customarily say, “ Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us”. This latter exclamation is usually taken to mean “fathers” in the ancestral sense of saints and the reposed who have gone before us.

However, there is strong enough evidence (in the context of the first example in the previous paragraph about the Hours) that this invocation refers to the present, assembled community. When a bishop is present, it is through his prayers that we ask the Saviour to have mercy on us. When a bishop is not present, in a male monastery we ask this through the prayers of the present and the absent holy fathers who live there. By extension, in a female monastery, it would be through the prayers of the present and the absent holy mothers who live there. Then, in any other type of community or assembly, we could use “brothers and sisters”, or “brothers” or “sisters”, according to the nature of those present. In the past, an educated flexibility with the texts was presumed, so that all variants would not have to be provided in books produced by hand-copying or expensive type-setting (for the sake of economy of writing and money). The readers and clergy were expected to understand how any given text would be able to be adapted at sight to the conditions surrounding its use.

The main point of this reflection is to encourage us to “use our heads” (as I was often exhorted to do by my father and grandfather). This means particularly to use our minds and hearts. Most importantly, it is crucial that we remember to keep our hearts and minds focussed on Christ — not only in various liturgical texts, but also and primarily in our daily life, prayer and experience. Christ must have first place in our hearts and in every aspect of our life, since He is the Source and Sustainer of our life, and our only Hope.

Orthodox Driving

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Orthodox Driving
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 2002/2003]


In these days, when “road rage” seems to be such a problem, it might do us some good to think about our own attitudes when we drive. As in all other aspects of life, we are not responsible for the behaviour of others. However, we are responsible for our behaviour, and driving in traffic is not too unlike every other human interchange. Nevertheless, driving, somehow, seems to be able to release in us certain behaviours we otherwise do not manifest, and the most notable of these is, of course, anger.

Since we often tend to be alone while driving, we can have some opportunities to look at ourselves and ask ourselves why we react in one way or another, and whether it does or does not conform to behaviour expected of a Christian (especially an Orthodox Christian) in the light of the Gospel and our experience of the Saviour. If we are reacting angrily at such times, we might not be surprised to find that it usually is because we are angry about something else ; or that, as is so often the case, we have not forgiven someone somehow, and we are consciously or unconsciously holding a grudge. Perhaps, in the solitude of the automobile, we have opportunities to see our symptoms, and prayerfully come to a better self-understanding. In doing this, we are opening the door to our own ability to forgive, and to be healed in heart.

Recently, I read a parish bulletin which reproduced a report about the Diocese of Voronezh-Lipetsk in Russia. Here, the youth department has involved itself in auto driving schools, and introduces the background of Christian morality into the relationship between drivers and pedestrians, and promotes mutual respect amongst persons. It also warns against taking God's protection and the work of guardian angels for granted. As it is reported (and as I have myself seen), in Russia and in Ukraine, already a large number of drivers have both icons and prayers on their dash-boards or visors, and many people have their vehicles of all sorts blessed.

For the aid of all, the Voronezh-Lipetsk diocese provides a series of “ten commandments” for drivers, which is offered here, since it is so practical.

10 Commandments for the Orthodox Driver

1. Always begin a trip with prayer. For Orthodox believers, any business begins with prayer. We have a special prayer in which drivers ask the Lord to preserve them “from the evil spirit of recklessness, from inattention and carelessness, and from the destructive passion of drunkenness”, so as to return “whole and serene”.

2. Remember that alcohol in the system [and certain drugs] will lead to sad consequences for both person and machine.

3. Never try to shorten the time of a trip. If you started out late, you will arrive late. This commandment can be stated more briefly: never increase speed.

4. Give a wave of thanks to a driver who makes way for you.

5. Apologise to a driver whom you have interfered with, even when you did not intend to. After all, when we are walking, and bump someone, we apologise without thinking. So why should there be a different ethic behind the wheel ?

6. Always yield way to someone who is in a great hurry, or is acting aggressively. If you do not yield, he will still pass you, and create a more dangerous situation.

7. Drive a car in such a way that you will be genuinely happy if a police car appears.

8. Stay as far away as possible from cars that have traces of accidents.

9. Never speed up when another driver tries to pass you, or to get into your lane. Even if there is no fine for this, a believer, and a simply conscientious person, never should act like that. What is the motive for it – ambition, pride ? Do not treat your neighbour in a way you do not want to be treated.

10. After every trip, thank God for its safe completion. Be thankful after any trip, and not just a successful one. After all, almost always it could have been worse !

Trust versus Fear

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Trust versus Fear
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Autumn 2002]


This year, we were faced with the retirement of our beloved Metropolitan Theodosius for health reasons. The Holy Synod gave the blessing, since we prefer to have him with us as long as possible, even if it be in retirement. Metropolitan Theodosius, in his paternal love, is a living resource, a living connexion with our ancestors. He served in continuity with the bishops and faithful who preceded him. He perpetuated the living Orthodox Christian way of going about life which he had himself inherited, and to which he was exposed both in reading and in world travel. He led Christ’s flock of rational sheep as a good and loving shepherd, following in the foot-steps of such persons as Metropolitan Leonty and Metropolitan Ireney.

The process of choosing a new metropolitan is much misunderstood. We often try to treat it like an ordinary election. This is not so. What happens is that the faithful assembled make nominations. They may nominate anyone who is qualified, and this they did. There was a long list of persons nominated. Since on the first round, no-one received 66% of the nominations, there was a second round. In the second round of nominations, the names of the two persons who received the most nominations were given to the bishops. It is the historical custom of the Church that the people propose two or three names to the bishops, and it is the bishops who elect. Sometimes they vote, and sometimes they choose with prayer by lot. This time the bishops elected Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia to be the metropolitan. Then, he was immediately installed in office. I was, myself, happy to see how he was able, with all his experience, to lead the remaining sessions so well, and to see him acting decisively in other meetings. I am very happy to be able to remain here at home, and to be able to continue our missionary work in Canada together. Glory be to God for all things.

In the course of the coming year, it is our hope and expectation that we may receive in Canada both Metropolitan Herman and Metropolitan Theodosius. Let us support and protect them both with our prayers.

One of the most difficult things for us, it seems, is to trust God. We are trapped in organising and manipulating things, and being in control of things. Because we have fallen away from God's love, we are full of fear. Because we do not seem to be able to trust Him, we fall into the trap of insisting on being in charge. However, it is truly only in trusting Him that we are anything like our true selves. The irony is that the more we try to be in control, the more we are actually slaves of various fears. We then become distortions of ourselves.

Instead, the more we allow the Lord God to be in charge, the more we are liberated from fear, and the more we are truly ourselves. This is so, because we are in harmony with His love and with His pattern for us. Let us ask the Lord Jesus Christ to reach into the dark, fear-bound recesses of our hearts, and shine there the light of His love. Let us help Him to do so both by praying and by encountering Him in our daily reading of Scripture.

Lord, have Mercy

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Lord, have Mercy
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 2001/2002]


The horrifying events of 11 September, 2001, the attacks by terrorists on major symbols of the American society, have affected and changed the whole world. They have shown us all our vulnerability. They have reminded us, now more than ever, of the fragility of life.

Americans, once seemingly isolated, have been touched by what so many people around the world have felt, some continually, for a long time, and they have been filled with fear. Canadians have been touched and filled with fear also, because not only did Canadians perish in the evil events, thus affecting their families, but many others have been affected through the media, and through the multitude of personal and other relationships which Canadians have with Americans.

The work of terror on that day was in part successful, because so many people immediately responded in deep fear. They expressed it in many ways, such as deep anger, and a blood-thirsty desire for revenge. As a result, many innocent people (Muslims, Sikhs, even Christians) were “punished” by various persons. Thus, the demon of blood-thirst, a ravenous, insatiable being, inflamed passions and incited violence. Not recognising the activity of the demon, people fell prey, and unwittingly fed it. In the days after the attacks, we saw this not only in the USA, but in Canada and elsewhere. Now there is war.

At the same time, we also saw that there is still compassion on the earth. People immediately rushed to help, and they continue to volunteer help of all kinds to the bereaved and to the damaged communities. Canadians have sent aid in substantial amounts, for Canadians are, characteristically, peaceable and peace-making. We have also seen many turning once again to God, as persons often do in times of great trouble and need. Unfortunately, this turning is often short-lived. This is so not only because people are typically quick to forget God’s help (see 2 Moses [Exodus], 4 Moses [Numbers] and some Psalms), but also because we Christians have not managed to address the greatest need in their hearts, and because, in fact, we have often not addressed it within ourselves.

What is this need ? We know what it is, for we say it every time we say the “Our Father”. We hear it also every time we hear the “Beatitudes” (see Matthew 5:3-12), in that they introduce the “Sermon on the Mount” (see Matthew, chapters 5 to 7). It is the need to forgive. If we do not find the way to forgive (yes, even forgive enemies as our Lord did), we will be left with a festering wound of hatred within our hearts. This wound will only corrode our own hearts, and not at all touch those who are enemies. As Orthodox Christians, we have the great responsibility to show everyone around us, by our example, Who Christ is, and how His love works for life and health of body and soul. We cannot do so unless we have learned to love as He loves us, and to forgive as He forgives us. Sometimes we show this love, as did the heroic firefighters, police, rescuers, and hospital workers. It comes from our depths in emergencies, and it is clear evidence of the Image of God that is within us. However, showing this love has to go far beyond emergencies, into daily living.

We must, in due time, live in and give expression to this selfless love in our daily relationships. It is crucial that we immerse ourselves in Christ’s love, so that we may bear much greater fruit. Hanging on the Cross, He forgave those who were killing Him (see Luke 23:34). Our love in Him must develop so that we may be able to do likewise. Not all of us are being killed, but many of us suffer slander, as well as various sorts of gossip and twisted talk. These give great pain to the heart. If we do not find the way to forgive the perpetrators, then our bitterness becomes a distorting and deadly poison in our hearts, which will kill our very selves as persons. This is why our Saviour calls us in the “Our Father” and in the “Sermon on the Mount” to forgive — yes, even as he told the Apostle Peter, to seventy times seven, and more (see Matthew 18:21-22).

How do we accomplish this ? How do we pray for our enemies ? Archimandrite Sophrony, of blessed memory, gives the solution : “Kyrie, eleison” ; “Gospodi pomilui” ; “Duomne milueste” ; “Seigneur, aie pitié” ; “Lord, have mercy”. This simple prayer, he says, covers everything. It does not tell the Lord what to do, since it recognises that He alone knows what is best. Instead, in this prayer we offer to Him our pain, our anger, our suffering, our anguish, and our fear. We also offer to Him those who have inflicted the pain. In so doing, we allow the Lord to heal our broken and fearful hearts. In so doing, we give Him the opportunity to bring the evil-doers to repentance — which is, after all, the main point of everything.

God alone is the Judge of all, and He alone is the administrator of His own justice and righteousness. He alone knows the hearts of all. He alone can correctly deal with those who commit evil. Just as He is the Good Shepherd who sought us out in our fallenness and united us to His love, so He can seek out even the evil-minded. It is not for nothing that we, in the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, ask the Lord to “make the evil be good by Your goodness”. All this is embraced by, and accomplished in the prayer “Lord, have mercy”. Let us ask the Lord to have mercy on us, to heal us, to bring repentance to all, to stop the cycle of violence and retribution, to bring peace — and to let it begin with us, the faithful in Christ, to His glory.

2000th Anniversary of the Lord's Incarnation

Bishop Seraphim : Article
2000th Anniversary of the Lord's Incarnation Celebrated by Canadian Bishops
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter/Hiver 2000/2001]


It is fitting in this year in which we celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the Birth of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that the canonical bishops of Canada have been serving together the Divine Liturgy in five of Canada's regions. This concelebration of the bishops visibly celebrates our unity in the Body of Christ, His Church. It is particularly appropriate that we do this now.

The twentieth century began with a single Orthodox Church in Canada. Because of political circumstances, the Church became nationalistically and linguistically divided. Because of the misunderstandings, there were sometimes strong tensions. As the century closes, by God’s mercy and Grace, most of these tensions have been dissipated. An indication of this is that the bishops of the different canonical jurisdictions have been trying to meet annually to talk about their common concerns and to increase co-operation. It was because of such a meeting that they decided to serve the Divine Liturgy together in five provinces of Canada (from the east to the west) during the spring, summer and fall of 2000, in celebration of this anniversary of our Lord’s Birth.

The first of these pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgies was served on 1 May in Montréal, Quebec. The host bishop was His Eminence Metropolitan Sotirios, of the Greek Metropolis of Toronto, and the host parish was Saint George's, whose feast-day (transferred from Holy Week) it was. Present with His Eminence were three other bishops representing the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, and the Orthodox Church in America.

The second Divine Liturgy was served on 24 June at the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration near Milton, Ontario, just west of Toronto, and right on the magnificent Niagara Escarpment. The host bishop was His Grace Bishop Georgije. Serving with him were bishops from the Greek Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, and the OCA – eight hierarchs in all.

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Winnipeg, Manitoba was the site on 9 July of the third Divine Liturgy, hosted by His Eminence Metropolitan Wasyly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. He was joined by seven other bishops representing the UOCC, the SOC, and the OCA. The words of a witness to this pan-Orthodox gathering illustrate how moving these services have been. Esther Juce comments :

His Eminence Constantine, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, delivered the profound and moving sermon. [He said that] God’s action 2000 years ago requires action today. We need to make a greater effort to image God. We are being sent to proclaim life eternal. God has entrusted us with love. God is alive now, guiding us on. We live in a world of AIDS, divorce, cancer, and all manner of human rights abuses. We are being sent to nurture. Christ came, cared, loved, and forgave, and we are called to do the same. Our forebears embraced the Faith and proclaimed God's glorious works. The millennium is a gift from God, and as with our ancestors, requires total commitment and our entire love.

His Eminence, Archbishop John was host for the fourth pan-Orthodox liturgical celebration, served on 23 September at Saint John's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Edmonton, Alberta. He was joined by bishops of the GOC, the UOCC, and the OCA. An interesting addition to this celebratory weekend was a forum on “Orthodoxy in the 21st Century”, sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Education Committee of Edmonton, held the evening prior to the Liturgy. Lay persons, priests, and a bishop – representing the Antiochian, Greek, Romanian, Ukrainian and OCA jurisdictions – shared their visions, challenges, and questions about the future of the Orthodox Faith in Canada.

The fifth and final Divine Liturgy to be celebrated this year by the Canadian bishops together will be served at Saint George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Vancouver, British Columbia on 11 November, with His Eminence, Metropolitan Sotirios as host.

As we close the century (and the second millennium) in this continuous celebration of the Incarnation of the Word, we show our true unity in Christ. We have not achieved administrative unity in Canada (and probably we will not for some time). Nevertheless, closing this century in an atmosphere of brotherly love and eucharistic unity will enable us to begin the next century and the next millennium in a spirit of unity. In this atmosphere, with God's help, we will be able to provide a common witness for the truth of Jesus Christ and to provide a concrete example of evangelical reconciliation. Together, we will be able to build up the Body of Christ in Canada to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.

Saint John the Baptist Monastery

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Saint John the Baptist Monastery
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2000]


The Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights by Malden in East Anglia, UK, was founded by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) and some disciples (including Mother Elisabeth and Archimandrite Symeon) in the 1960s. Father Sophrony arrived via Paris, France, from the Holy Mountain where he had gone as a young man, and where at Saint Panteleimon’s Monastery he met Staretz Silouan, whom we recently recognised officially to be a Holy Man (Saint).

The vocation of this monastery was unusual in more than one way, and it remains so. Consisting primarily of hermits, these hermits find themselves giving hospitality and catechesis and solace to a large number of visitors and retreatants. The community is also double, that is, it is made up of both monks and nuns, effectively under the leadership of one archimandrite – first Archimandrite Sophrony, and now Archimandrite Kyrill. Over the last forty years, the community has grown in both groups, and gradually the accommodations have improved. Living on a small tract of land, the monks first lived in a 400-year-old rectory belonging to a nearby disused Anglican Church, which itself dates from the tenth century, and is now owned by the community. With little or no heat, the monks and nuns lived for some time mostly on potatoes and nettles. The nuns, in fact, lived in small trailers (caravans) for some time, until a separate building was prepared. Lately, the small farm and the orchard across the road were purchased, and many of the nuns now live there. Already, there has been built a large common refectory on this property, and construction has been commenced on a building which should provide cells for all the nuns. Guest quarters have been slowly expanded as well, now numbering three houses, as well as rooms amongst the monks and nuns.

Over the last forty years, the community has grown in both groups, and gradually the accommodations have improved. Living on a small tract of land, the monks first lived in a 400-year-old rectory belonging to a nearby disused Anglican Church, which itself dates from the tenth century, and is now owned by the community. With little or no heat, the monks and nuns lived for some time mostly on potatoes and nettles. The nuns, in fact, lived in small trailers (caravans) for some time, until a separate building was prepared. Lately, the small farm and the orchard across the road were purchased, and many of the nuns now live there. Already, there has been built a large common refectory on this property, and construction has been commenced on a building which should provide cells for all the nuns. Guest quarters have been slowly expanded as well, now numbering three houses, as well as rooms amongst the monks and nuns.

The community of almost thirty persons subsists under the Omophor of the Ecumenical Patriarch as a Stavropegial institution. Its members are from over twenty countries, and almost a dozen languages are spoken. Services are regularly in English, Slavonic, Greek, French, and occasionally other languages (depending on visitors). There are four regular Divine Liturgies weekly, amongst the twice-daily services. On Sundays, there are large numbers of visitors from other parts of Britain, and there are usually special educational opportunities for the visitors. Of course, hearing confessions is a large part also of the work of the priests of the community.

The monastery is situated about an hour’s drive to the east of London, not far from Colchester. It is an historic area. The old church has Saxon foundations with Norman and later additions. Within eyesight is the island on which Saint Cedd established his chapel and lived, thus opening the area to Christianity about 1500 years ago. Never a wealthy area, it carried traffic from the Continent, however, and Anne of Cleves lived in exile from Henry VIII in Grove Hall, less than one kilometre from the monastery. In the nearby village of Tiptree is a famous jam factory for which the monastery now grows apples. Access to the monastery is by car, or train from Liverpool Street Station in London. The monastery warmly welcomes guests, but because of limited space and great demand, there is need to call ahead and arrange a stay far in advance.

Difficulties in Church Living (2000)

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Difficulties in Church Living
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 2000]


There are a great many places in the world in which Orthodox believers are having a particularly difficult time right now. There is the intensification of pressure against the Orthodox in Egypt, with the many deaths. The picture is even worse in Sudan. In Ethiopia and Eritrea there is difficulty not only with recovery from a hostile communist government, but also from the country’s division into two, as they each work towards stabilisation. In all three of these countries there is also drought and remaining devastation after war. In greater Palestine, besides the difficulties made for Christians in general, the Orthodox Palestinians have to suffer from being kept down by their own Orthodox brethren as a second-class people. Here, there are fears that almost all the Orthodox could leave.

In Turkey, the Orthodox are reduced to a minuscule remnant ; and in the East, the Syrians, who are the last Aramaic speakers, are being eradicated. In Greece, there is difficulty in adjusting to the new environment of the European Union, with its many influences on traditional life. In Albania, where the Church was only recently restored, there remains pressure against the Church in some quarters, and she has had to face additional refugees from Kosovo. In Serbia, coping with caring for myriad refugees, and the very recent loss of its historic monasteries and Temples in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as the rebuilding of Church life and family life, have been exacerbated by political tensions.

In every one of the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Balkans (which were once part of the greater Soviet Union), there is the great challenge not only of rebuilding the multitude of Temples that had been eradicated, but also of rebuilding the foundations of Church life itself. Hospitals, schools, chaplaincies, hospices, monasteries, ecclesiastical goods factories, publishers – everything has to be rebuilt, and the people must be re-educated. There are few resources to speak of. Whatever can be borrowed from us abroad has to be translated, reworked and reprinted in order to address the local peoples. All this is not to speak of the slow process of renewing and replacing the whole staff of each Church’s administration and hierarchy.

Then there is the Church in China, being rebuilt by two apparently competing Orthodox Churches. In other Far-Eastern countries where Orthodox missions were recently planted, reactions by certain parties against other Christians will involve the Orthodox also. In North America and Western Europe, we have made little if any progress in the face of secularism and materialism, and we perpetuate the scandal of divided administrations.

It has been interesting to see how in recent times there has been so frequently in the media hostile reporting or interpretation of Orthodox events, or phantasy-like politicisation of various events and reactions. In a recent Christmas diatribe against Russia in an Ottawa paper, a journalist described the Orthodox Church as “theology-free” and responsible for walling off Rus’ from the West from the earliest days.

Do not get me wrong. I do not have a case of paranoia, nor a persecution-complex. I do not see everything as black, and I am not encouraging self-pity. I do see, however, that we are being called to account for our faith in Christ, and we are being called to account for our personal and collective past and present sins. I do see that we have a need greater than ever to call upon and depend upon our Saviour Jesus Christ at all times and all places. I do see that we have a great need to repent, and to live much more seriously according to the Gospel. I do see that where we have made mistakes or fallen short, it is necessary that we all, both as persons and as a whole body, admit our mistakes, swallow our pride, and return to being the examples of love and service that Christ calls us to be. I do see that it is necessary for us to renew our love for Christ, and to face all these obstacles and hostilities with love, forgiveness, prayer, forbearance. I do see that we must depend on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to enable us to give a good accounting for the hope that is within us (see 1 Peter 3:15), and to enable us to give up everything that may separate us from being identified with Christ, the Truth for whom the whole world is searching.

We bear the Truth, and we are being tested as to our fidelity and sincerity, our love and our commitment. How will we measure up ? Will the testers be able to see Christ in us and even be able then to believe ? Can we actually forgive our enemies and bless our persecutors ?

Let's put God first !

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Let’s put God first !
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 2000/2001]


For a great many years, our Archdiocese has been simply in “survival mode”. There were, in the earliest days up to World War I, many amazing developments. A hundred years ago, faithful people immigrated to Canada (the “first wave”), and built Temples to God’s glory everywhere – often before their own homes – even though it was difficult to find enough priests. Between the wars, when many more people were immigrating (the “second wave”), active bishops and more clergy helped to establish many communities. They also increased proper order in Church life. However, there were many decades of controversy to be lived through, in the wake of the Communist Revolution. After World War II, when again many people were immigrating (the “third wave”), for long periods, our archdiocese was without a resident bishop, and fewer clergy were available. Yet, even with these severe limitations, with God’s help, wonders were accomplished, as spiritual shepherds struggled to feed their sheep. Nonetheless, this was a period of decline, despite all efforts.

Our recently-departed Archbishop Sylvester (Haruns) served the archdiocese actively as bishop for twenty years, and almost another ten years in semi-retirement. For him and for us, those decades seem to have been the most difficult. Even so, despite the obstacles and set-backs, these years prove a valuable spiritual lesson, much like that of the popular and sentimental poem “Footsteps”. The Lord was, indeed, carrying us, as indeed He always somehow does. The particular boldness of Archbishop Sylvester in the last years of his activity, in blessing four new missions, opened the gate for a turn-about in general for the archdiocese, and for growth which lasts to this day.

We are still relatively small, however, and often unknown and misunderstood. Nevertheless, by God’s mercy we are being used as salt and yeast in Canada (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). This is what is important : to be available and useful to the Lord.

Many of our faithful are not aware of the many important details of our history, and the reasons for our being as we are. Under “normal” circumstances, after all, a century of time ought logically to produce something more, especially since we are a part of the founding Church in this country and, indeed, on the continent. That we are ignorant or neglectful of our history is the main reason why we sometimes see repetitions of parts of our history. As the Syro-Roman Publilius Syrus said before 43 BC : “From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own”. We must keep remembering and trying to understand how God worked in our past, in order to be able to understand and to co-operate now, as He works with us in ways not always clear to us.

One of the more difficult aspects of our lives as Orthodox Christians is that there are so many periods (some of them very long) when we seem not to be accomplishing much of anything. Day after day seems to be filled with sameness. Often this sameness is pain and/or depression. We may even feel that we are slipping backwards under the weight. We might begin to question God in our anguish. Ironically, we can still feel all this in the midst of an environment of relative prosperity !

Sometimes, perhaps often, the Lord will suddenly open a door or a window, and there is a great movement, a great rush of life. I like to say that at those moments one really needs jet-propelled roller skates. It is only the Lord Himself who knows when is the most opportune moment for such events to occur. How much of our life is spent in waiting and waiting, in enduring, in suffering, in struggling with various sorts of evil thoughts and doubts. Nevertheless, how important it is for us to remember always that it is in these moments of seeming inactivity that the Lord is often most active in our hearts – cleaning, repairing, putting things in order. We can see this, too, often enough in the lives of whole Orthodox peoples. Especially has this been so this century. Therefore, how much there is to give thanks for to the Lord ! I think that when we shall have learnt to give thanks in the times of struggle as well as in the times of great out-pourings, then we shall have taken some steps towards spiritual maturity.

In the light of all this, I want to give thanks to God for the love that has been and is being shown by the faithful in so many ways towards the bishop of this archdiocese. Especially, I want to give thanks to Him for how this love is revealed even in times when there are disagreements. It is because of our God-loving faithful people that our archdiocese has been able to take some steps towards financial stability. It is because of the generosity of our faithful people that the Archdiocesan Centre, Fair Havens, is now able to function almost like a normal bishop’s office and residence, at long last. It is because of the love and concern of our faithful people that the archdiocese has received two bequests which have also helped substantially in organising this stable foundation. One early one came from a faithful lay couple, and it enabled the founding of our three charitable funds, and the purchase of our centre. One recent one came from the bequest of a priest and his wife, and this bequest enabled the first serious development of an endowment for a future second bishop. Yet another recent gift from two living lay-persons is substantially increasing this fund. There are very many people who have contributed sacrificially of their time and abilities to ensure the stability of the foundation of our archdiocese. Glory be to God for all things ! Glory be to God, for past and future struggles, and for past and future Grace !

I also want to thank God for all the persons who offer sacrificially their gifts throughout their lives in all our parishes in order to build and to maintain Temples to God’s glory. They do this without fanfare, quietly, with humility and with love. In this way, they witness in hidden, yet effective ways to God’s love, and to the presence in them of Jesus Christ. I want to thank God for the very many other persons who have been touched by this witness, and who have also found the consolation of Christ’s love.

In this context of thanksgiving, I must also draw our attention to the need for supporting our clergy adequately. The dedicated, God-loving families of our priests, and our priests themselves, offer their lives to the Saviour, and take up the responsibility of leading His flock. They mostly live below the poverty line. On the one hand, it is true that the Lord does look after His shepherds. On the other hand, it is a source of great anguish when a priest knows there is no money available for his children’s teeth – let alone for those of him and his wife. This poverty is tolerable when all parishioners are in the same straits. However, when parishioners live in great comfort, while the priest’s family are very poor, it is a public demonstration of shameful behaviour on the part of the parish. This visible iniquity often enough becomes a barrier which keeps people from coming to Christ. The apparent disregard for the welfare of the priest and his family is a symbol of how God Himself is put to the lower priorities of the lives of the parishioners. It is such a symbol, because the parishioners can be understood not to love God or their priest enough to provide enough, to share properly.

Giving to God the first fruits of our labour has been the principle of stewardship of believers, not only in Christian times, but back to the time of our first parents at the dawn of Creation. Regardless of how hard we work, it is nevertheless a fact that everything we have comes to us from God Himself — out of His love for us. Without Him, we could not produce as we do, and without Him, indeed, we would not even exist. Our very being we owe to Him. It is our place to give thanks to Him accordingly. We humans have always done this by giving back to Him the first fruits. Let us look through 1 and 2 Moses [Genesis and Exodus] in particular, or in many parts of the Old Testament. Then we can look at the Acts of the Holy Apostles. We find that it is always the same principle. We may consider the words of our Lord about the poor widow who gave to the Lord everything she had (see Mark 12:41-44). If we do, in fact, give the first-fruits, (usually meaning the first tenth of everything that we receive), not only do we not really notice what we have given (and indeed, God fulfils our need anyway), but also it is then that we can see that the Lord does meet our needs, that our clergy have enough, and that our parishes can meet their budgets. When we are truly, collectively faithful towards the Lord, everything finds its proper order.

Let us all try our best to live our lives in the perspective of putting God first. It is truly amazing what else falls into place when we do this. Yes, of course, when we do this, temptations also come. However, the blessings outweigh them, and we become stronger. Much more than this, we can see the lives of those around us being touched by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which pours out when we are living properly. We can see how other creatures are also affected positively by this way of living. We can see how the poisonous effects of sin, both in ourselves, and outside also, are counteracted by the life-giving action of God’s love working in us.

In all history, this century has produced by far the most martyrs for the sake of the love of Jesus the Christ. May we be faithful successors of their blood-shedding, and may we contribute to the bringing from this foundation of suffering, new life in Christ in every place where we are sent by the Lord ; for martyrdom elsewhere is used by the Lord to build His Church here and everywhere. Through the prayers of the holy martyrs and all the saints, O Lord Jesus the Christ, have mercy on us, and save us !

ABCs of Christian Living

Bishop Seraphim : Article
ABCs of Christian Living
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 2000]


As I pass around the archdiocese on my regular pastoral rounds, I am very much encouraged by the steady growth that is evident in so many areas. By God’s Grace and mercy we are making progress in our recovery and stabilisation of real Church life. I do want to give God glory and thanks for the increase in the number not only of converts received into the Church, but also of those returning to active life after some or many years of being elsewhere.

Nevertheless, as I also experience the life of the Church in other countries, I am reminded of how much work there is still to be done, and particularly the work of deepening in the hearts of our believers love for Jesus Christ, and focussed commitment to Him. I have not had the blessing to return to Portugal this year for a third visit as invited ; but during my recent visit, I have seen how Church life there has progressed. Several years ago, I had first visited Portugal when I was sent there by our Holy Synod. Metropolitan Vasili of Warsaw had requested that someone from us be there to participate in his official visit to Portugal. At that time, there was also a bishop from the Patriarchate of Moscow participating. This Church, now a little over thirty years from its foundation (and a part of the Polish Orthodox Church), has five dioceses in Portugal and another in Brazil ; it has almost ten monasteries ; and it numbers six bishops, over 70,000 faithful, and has just consecrated its cathedral near Lisbon, now the largest church in western and central Europe. Now, the Portuguese Church is about to build a large monastic lavra. During other visits, I have been able to see the life of the Church in Finland, Ukraine and Russia, and to report on the life of the Church in these places. It has been a joy to be able to describe the development of Church life there, and especially the lightning-quick rebuilding of the latter two.

How is all this accomplished ? It is accomplished by faithful people working actively together with the Lord with love and commitment. However, primarily it is the Lord who works all this, and His people co-operate as much as possible.

We have considerable intellectual capability in North America. We, in Canada, are not lacking our share in this. We are not short of committed persons. However, we seem not to be able to offer to the Lord the sort of fruits that our brothers and sisters elsewhere are managing in our days. This makes me ask : “What is lacking in us, and what needs correcting ?”

To my mind, the major element in need of correction is our arrangement of priorities and sense of direction. Many of us seem to be propelled in these days by one, the other, or both of the following : intellectual pride, and fear. On the one hand, forgetting that our relationship of love of/in/with God is the first priority, we have a tendency to spend too much time and energy on the intellectual aspect of theology. On the other hand, we may be afraid of what might happen, or who may attack us. We seem either to become triumphalistic and vainglorious about Orthodoxy or, in fear, we become legalistic and try, with rules, to protect Orthodoxy from any possible distortion. Perhaps we are proud of our lively liturgical life ; but fearful of what has happened elsewhere, we kill this life by becoming obsessed with the fine print of a typicon. There are many variants to which we are vulnerable, and they all lead us away from, instead of into the Kingdom.

We can become so concerned about the House of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the House (this was the accurate insight of Pope Shenouda III). We can beautifully serve the Lord liturgically, but desperately neglect Him in our neighbour. We can richly adorn the Temple of the Lord, but neglect altogether to give alms and to care for Him in the poor and needy. Anything in the Christian life which is tilted too much to one side or another is out of balance and therefore in need of correction. Fear is not from the Lord, and pride certainly is not. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). As for the beauty and perfection of the Church, any danger to the Church in our time is hardly likely to be worse than at any other time in the past two millennia. The Church is the Lord’s, and He has always kept the gates of Hades away, and He always will. It is not for us to protect ; it is for Him to protect. It is not for us to save ; it is for Him to save. It is for us to love, to be obedient, to serve, and to live in the Way. May our Saviour Jesus Christ enable us always to look to Him, and to be found in Him.

Is Bible Reading, Bible Study Orthodox?

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Is Bible Reading, Bible Study, Orthodox ?
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 1999]


In these days, in some parts of our archdiocese at least, we are seeing more often that believers are gathering together to study the Bible. Some of the groups are large ; some are of only a few persons. Sometimes the study is used catechetically, to help prepare those converting, sometimes it is for the deepening of the faith of lifelong believers.

This is not a phenomenon to which our Orthodox world is lately accustomed. Sometimes believers fear what is apparently new. Often enough, simply because Protestants are so well known for this exercise, the practice may be accused of not being Orthodox. Some may say that it is dangerous ; and that although studying history, theology, Christology, ecclesiology, iconography, the Fathers, is acceptable under certain circumstances, studying the Bible is not.

I have often encountered such controversies. It is usual enough for us to debate matters in this way (we have had almost two millennia of practice). Of course I am writing because I have some comments to make.

If we look at the state of affairs in modern Church life, two words could be used to describe the state of awareness of Sacred Scripture by the vast majority of Orthodox believers : abysmal ignorance. Most have only the thinnest awareness of the New Testament, and an almost complete lack of it for the Old Testament. If it be thin for us, then it is the strikingly more the case in the secular world. It used to be that even unbelievers knew very much about the Bible although they treated it simply as literature. This is no more the case. Our language (and other languages) used to be thoroughly laced with proverbial expressions related to the Bible. This is no more the case. Everywhere, there seems to have been a great emptying of language, in both oral and literary use, of any Christian (and by extension, of course Old Testament) references. What is significant is that there is such a great change in just a generation. In my own childhood, many people in their daily speech used these very scriptural quotations, allusions and proverbs. Now it is rare ; and where these references do exist, they are most often completely lost on the younger people.

Looking back to the time of the great Fathers whom we admire (whose words we love to study and quote as Orthodox), we see that their speech and their writing were liberally salted with scriptural references, allusions and ancillary proverbs. As it were, they “bathed” in the Scriptures. Were our ancestors to see the present state of affairs, they would surely lament the great loss (in any language) of Christian expression and awareness as compared to the time of the great Fathers.

Because I am deeply concerned about this slippage (even in myself), I am anxious to encourage the daily reading and study of the Bible by all the faithful. I believe firmly that it is vital, an absolute necessity of life. This is so, not only for the feeding of the hearts and souls of all believers, but also for forming those entering the Body of Christ. After all, if we do not know Christ thoroughly through His words ; if we do not encounter Him in the Gospels, and in the experience of the apostles ; if we do not know about God’s saving acts in human history, then how can we call ourselves Christians, let alone call ourselves Orthodox Christians ?

Our ancestors (from the earliest times up to the very recent past) understood the need for daily reading of the Scriptures, and particularly the New Testament. They did read it daily. Some would simply follow the regular course of prescribed Epistle and Gospel readings for every day. Many memorised some of the passages. Not many years ago, I met an old couple who still lived in a pioneer-style house in the country. They told me that reading the Bible was their favourite evening activity. After all their work was done, one would sit or recline, and the other would read the Bible aloud. They greatly enjoyed doing this. Clearly, they were reading at least chapters at a time, not just a few paragraphs. It seems that they had done this all their life together. I knew a pious widow who read the Scriptures regularly of an evening. Then she would further read the Fathers, their scriptural comments, and their theological works. I am told about our beloved Archimandrite Vasily of blessed memory (of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery), that he regularly had the New Testament read to him. Once, on coming to the end of the Apocalypse, he is said to have remarked : “That was very good to hear. Now, why not start again ?”

Paul Evdokimov, in his worthy book Ages of the Spiritual Life (Crestwood, NY : SVS Press, 1998), devotes a chapter to this matter. He reminds us of the seriousness of this habit. Not only did Evagrius exhort us to awake, Bible in hand ; the Council in Trullo also exhorted priests to cultivate in the faithful the greatest intimacy with the Bible. Paul Evdokimov gives us the following extract from Saint John Chrysostom, which reveals to me that humans are just the same now as 1500 years ago : "‘I am not a monk’, some of you say. [...] But your mistake is in believing that the reading of the Scriptures concerns only monks, because for you it is even more necessary since you are in the midst of the world. There is something worse than not reading the Scriptures, and that is to believe that this reading is useless [...] a satanic practice".

We are told that Saint John encouraged the home-study of the passages of the Scriptures which were to be read in Church, in order to accustom the children to daily reading and discussion of what is the core of their parents’ lives. It is this daily exposure that makes the Scriptures an organic part of our whole life. This exposure helps to keep Christ in the forefront of our consciousness. It helps to keep us aware of His presence. It helps us to remember who we are, to Whom we belong, and to Whom we can turn at all times. It is a saving study, a nourishing study. Paul Evdokimov says that this is because the reading presupposes the state of prayer which is its environment, and which “brings the words to maturity”. Thus, Christ Himself speaks to us as we prayerfully, daily read and reread the Sacred Scriptures. Before reading, we should customarily, consciously, ask Him to reveal Himself to us, and to lay ourselves open to Him. In this way, like the Fathers, we can come to live the Bible, much as the Bible permeates the words of all our services. The elders amongst Romanian monks are firm in recommending to all that they daily read from the Psalter. They remind us that the devil definitely does not appreciate it, and that this is therefore all the greater reason for us to do it.

Paul Evdokimov adds a warning : that making the Scriptures the object of simple speculative knowledge, simply studying the Bible as if it were mere literature, trying to reduce it only to some sort of science, is to profane the Scriptures and to profane the Word, Himself. That is not to say that there may be no careful analysis of the text. From the earliest times, even the Fathers used such discernment. However, this process must always be in the context of prayer, of being nourished in the bosom of the Church, in the tradition of the Fathers, in the heritage passed to us from apostolic times. As they did, so we, says Paul Evdokimov, must see that the whole of the Scriptures are together “a verbal icon of Christ”.

What, then, about group Bible study ? Well, group study has its own importance, in my opinion, particularly in our unsupportive environment. It certainly has its catechetical application, as I said before. I have, myself, seen much good fruit appear when participants learn about the links between passages, and between the Old and New Testaments. The scriptural texts allow links to patristic comments and even to the Councils, and the whole linkage helps to develop the ecclesial “mind” in a person. This is particularly so when led by a priest, deacon, or some other person with a theological education.

Sometimes, however (perhaps even without such leadership), the faithful might gather in groups for studying the scriptures, simply for feeding the soul. Especially in our environment of personal opinions, variable truths, and so-called individuality, there is great danger in personalising stray ideas. Nevertheless, when a group of faithful gather together to read the Scriptures, it is crucial that they invariably begin with the Trisagion Prayers at the least. Then, after prayer, when all read the Scriptures and also the complementary literature, and when they together reflect on the Scriptural passages, then the honest, mutual reflection on the Bible helps not only to keep any one person from drifting away, but also nourishes each one with the encouragement of the experience of others. This is particularly so when the passages read lead to talking about how the Lord has blessed each one recently. All this not only helps us to deepen our understanding of the Bible itself, but it also helps to keep a general consciousness of the presence of the Lord in our life more active and immediate. The group study supplements the private study, enriches it, deepens it, broadens it. It helps also to check any misinterpretations that tend to insinuate themselves into our thinking.

I want to share a little from Dostoevsky’s great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. These are words from the dying Starets Zosima (no doubt based on an Optina father) on the Bible. The Starets has just reflected on his love from childhood for the story of Job, and he continues : "‘Oh, what a great book it is and how much we learn from it! What a miraculous book is the Holy Bible and what strength it gives to man! It is like a sculpted model of the world, of mankind, and of the characters of men; everything is there and it contains guidance for us for all ages. How many mysteries are solved in it, how many revealed! Everyday I bless the rising sun and my heart sings to it as it did before; but now I love the sunset even more, and its long, slanting rays bring back to me quiet, touching, tender memories, dear faces, and images from my long and blessed life. Over everything here hovers the Lord’s truth and justice that moves our hearts, reconciles everything, and is all forgiving!’"

The elder then exhorts parish priests (no matter how poor they be) to spend an hour a week reading Bible passages to children, and to explain the passages from the heart. He rightly says, moreover, that when a priest shares from the depths of his heart, with tears even, the stories from the Old and New Testaments, the faithful people (especially children) will readily understand, and they will receive it all with the same love. What he says is simple and straightforward and correct. He emphasises the need for this loving sharing of the love of Christ, for : “‘Only the masses of simple, humble people and their growing spiritual power will be able to convert the atheists, who have been uprooted from our native soil. And what good is the Word of Christ without an example ? A nation is lost without the Word of God, for every human soul thirsts for His Word and for the good and the beautiful’”.

Joining these thoughts with his biblical awareness that God’s love permeates all creation, the Elder Zosima relates an example he once shared with a youth (similar to those about Saint Seraphim of Sarov) : ‘”Take, for instance, the fierce, formidable, frightening bear, roaming through the forest”. [...] And I went on to tell him about the bear which once came to the hut of a great saint who was seeking salvation in the forest. The saint, feeling great tenderness for the beast, came out fearlessly, gave it a loaf of bread, and said: “There, go along now, and may Christ be with you.” And the fierce bear went off obediently and meekly without hurting the saint. The boy was deeply moved by the story, because the beast had not hurt the saint and because Christ was with him, too. “Ah”, he said, “how wonderful it is; how everything of God’s is good and beautiful!”’

This is what I perceive to be the result of such an immersion in the Scriptures. Our country, our nations, are lost without it.

As Many as have been baptised into Christ …

Bishop Seraphim : Article
As Many as have been baptised into Christ …
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 1998]


“As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” (see Galatians 3:27). This is our liturgical theme at baptisms, and at the great baptismal feasts through the year.

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). This a priest says every time he puts on his priestly Cross, and this is what is said when the Holy Cross is placed upon the neck of a newly-baptised person.

This putting on Christ, this taking up of the Cross, is a serious matter. It is not merely an abstract concept. It is, as the Lord Himself directed, something concrete. Perhaps we do not have our bodies pierced with nails, but we do, for the sake of Christ, bear the slings and arrows daily of the unbelievers, and as much to the point, the attacks of the bodiless evil powers. Because we encounter this on a daily basis all our lives for the sake of the love of Jesus Christ, it is necessary that we keep ourselves aware of who we are, and to Whom we belong.

You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We need to remember this ourselves, constantly. Our freedom is not cheaply acquired. While we may be tempted daily, and while we may fall daily, it is this redemption which we must constantly remember, because our only hope after falling is the love of the Saviour. It is only in imitating the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32), remembering the love of the Father and deliberately returning home, that we may be reunited to our true home, and return to being our true selves.

It is very disappointing, then, that as I travel across the diocese, I notice that some persons neglect to wear their baptismal Cross. I can notice, of course, because of open shirts. The baptismal Cross is not a piece of jewellery. Once the baptismal Cross is put on (especially once one is old enough to be capable of walking), it should be worn always. If it should be lost or stolen, it should be immediately replaced. It need not be of expensive metal. It could even be of wood.

The Holy Cross should be worn at all times by the believer, not so much as a sign to others but as a sign to oneself : a perpetual reminder to ourselves that we do not belong to ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). We have been baptised into Christ ; we belong to Christ. We have put on Christ, and we must always be repenting, turning to Christ. We must be daily denying our selfish desires, and seeking to do Christ’s will, to love as He loves, to serve as He serves.

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

A Reflection on Grace (1998)

Bishop Seraphim : Article
A Reflection on Grace
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger", Summer 1998]


There has been growing (mostly from the outer edges of the Orthodox Church) a movement of opinion about baptism and the reception of converts. This movement seems to insist that only baptism by triple immersion is effective, and that those who are otherwise baptised, within or without the Church, are somehow deprived of Grace. While certain canons are cited to support this perception, many other canons are conveniently ignored.

It is true that triple immersion is the normal manner of baptism, but that is not the whole story. There are, as always, some circumstances, some situations which have been understood by the Church for hundreds of years, which make complete immersion not possible ; and a baptism by pouring, when necessary, has always been accepted in our Church. To deny the effectiveness of baptism in these cases is to deny that many millions of Orthodox Christians alive today have received the baptism of the Church. This is absurd, and it is an unsatisfactory, formalistic approach to the sacramental life in the Church.

In the same vein, many who convert to Orthodoxy are (and have been for centuries), received by chrismation alone, their previous Trinitarian baptism having been accepted by economia. “The Grace Divine, which always heals what is infirm and completes what is lacking …” fills up any shortfall known to the Lord Himself. This has been a widely held practice in our Church for centuries, and not the result of private opinion. In some parts of the Orthodox Church today, it is the practice that all converts, without distinction, are received by baptism and chrismation, but a substantial proportion of the Church receives at least some converts from certain Christian bodies with chrismation only. Yet, some today are insisting that persons received in this way are deficient, and that they require the fulfilment of the form of triple immersion. It is not unusual for there to be such a difference of opinion or debate in the Church. However, in these times there is a twist in the debate which is serious.

This new opinion suggests that one who has not received triple immersion must now receive it, regardless of how long such a person has been an active Orthodox Christian, and a communicant. The focus is, of course, especially on converts. What is completely incomprehensible to Orthodoxy is that such persons say that the fulfilling of this form of triple immersion alone is what is needed. The other attending sacraments, such as chrismation, do not (for some mysterious reason) need to be repeated. Such an illogical knot bears all the characteristics of the activity of irrational fear.

This legalistic formalism, when put into practice, makes a mockery of Orthodox sacraments, and the formalism blasphemes the Holy Spirit. Why ? Because it makes the sacrament of baptism mere magic. It denies the ability of the Holy Spirit to do precisely what our prayers say that the Holy Spirit in the Grace Divine does. Just as bad, this legalism suggests that the Divine Grace is somehow material. To prove the darkness of the inspiration of this opinion, the propagators of it first trap victims with fear, and then, convincing them, encourage them that they do not have to tell the truth, that they might even lie about their secret immersions. This behaviour is against the Gospel. It is against Orthodoxy. It is blasphemy.

If there is any firmly grounded doubt about any person’s reception, consultation with the priest and bishop can obtain suitable remedies, openly and with a blessing, after due investigation. The Church is not without the ability to administer the sacraments of Christ properly ; and the Holy Spirit is not limited by legalistic externalism.

Dear brothers and sisters, if anyone tries to sow seeds of doubt in your hearts, or suggests some sort of secret remedies, ask big questions as to how this fits the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church. Talk to your priest. Talk to your bishop. Do not let yourself be bound by fears.

Time, Money, Renewal

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Time, Money, Renewal
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1998/99]


Time

It is now almost twenty years since I spent a year in Finland in New Valamo Monastery in what is called North Karelia. I went there at that time unexpectedly, as part of the “baggage” of Archbishop Paul of Finland. This came about as a result of a simple request for a priest to serve for three months. Almost a year of blessed events followed, and when the time came, it was very difficult to leave there. I had met holy monks of Old Valaam and many active, God-loving youth. I had touched living history. I even could almost serve everything in Finnish. Nevertheless, I had to return to North America. Obedience is necessary, but obedience which is offered and accepted, not imposed.

About ten years ago, I encountered one of the young people I had met then. He is now a parish priest. He persuaded me to agree to return to Finland for the consecration of the Church of Saint Herman of Alaska, whenever it should happen. This October it did happen, and I kept my promise and journeyed back to Finland for twelve days. The Church of Saint Herman is now a beautiful Temple located in Tapiola, part of Espoo (a suburb of Helsinki). It is a very active parish, ministering to the needs of many people. What can I say about the concert given by the youth choir, which I heard there ? I have not yet heard the like anywhere in North America. Beautifully and with discipline, these young people sang very difficult compositions at a late-evening concert, in addition to eagerly joining the larger choir for the four hours of consecration and Hierarchical Liturgy. It was very stirring and encouraging.

One of the main elements of the celebratory weekend was an afternoon seminar in which I participated, along with Professor Ilya Grits from Moscow. He spoke about parish communities, and I hope at some time to be able to acquire a copy of his talk and distribute it. At another point, he spoke about time which unites and time which separates. The latter we live with most of the time because of sin and its attendant separations. The former we can sometimes experience as a taste of the Kingdom to come, where there are indications of the passage of time, yet in a manner which gathers, which unites. It is this insight which I wish to express here.

I am sure that others have experienced this – returning to a place or to persons after many years’ absence, and sensing that it is like yesterday or last week since we met. This is much how it was on my returning to Finland and to Valamo. Time has obviously passed. People are a little different in appearance. Some are gone. Others remain instead, but it truly seems as though little time has passed. I think that this is a taste of uniting time : time which has to do with life in Christ, in the Church, in the Eucharist, in the Kingdom.

Often, too, one can be standing at the Divine Liturgy, or some other long service, and yet not notice the length. Sometimes, there is a sense of Presence, a sense of focus ; and when the service ends, it seems as though it has only just begun. To my mind, this is a taste of Kingdom time, of uniting time.

I believe that this is something for which to give thanks to God. We spend so much of our lives lamenting the many farewells we must make along the way, and especially at death. The graceful experience of time which unites us is clearly one of the fruits of the love and mercy of Christ.

Then there is the experience of the unexpected. In the course of my time in Finland, this experience was frequent. I met friends I did not expect to meet. Without preparation, I was taken to visit Old Valaam on Lake Ladoga. These events are not so much indicators of uniting time, but they do demonstrate God’s love poured out upon us.

It is important for us to notice these details and interventions in our lives and readily to give thanks for them. They bestow Grace, and they renew our awareness of the intimacy and immediacy of God’s love. Glory to God for all things !

Money

Stewardship is a topic I have written on before, and I probably will do so again. This is mostly because we seem to have difficulties about catching the fundamentals of our Christian way here in the world.

When we think of making a donation either to the Church or to some charity, one of the strongly motivating elements is the question : “How much will Revenue Canada allow for tax credit ?” That Revenue Canada sees fit to give a tax break for charitable contributions is laudable, but that this should become the governing factor in our motivation to give makes it a factor in accusing us. Why ? The fact is that considering tax credit at all to my benefit reveals that I do for others, care for others, only insofar as it does something for me. If that is my motivation, then I am not behaving as a Christian, but as any worldly person, just as our Lord has said (see Matthew 5:38-48). The accusation is that I am still self-centred.

From the beginning, the Lord has said to us : “Give back the first-fruits of everything”. This essentially means the first tenth of everything. This tenth is a token to demonstrate that we understand that we are only caretakers and stewards of God’s Creation, and that all that we have is actually from the Creator. Of course, this directive was given to us long before Revenue Canada existed, or even before anyone thought of Canada. However, from the earliest times, in addition to this tenth, the Lord has directed us to give another tenth for the sake of the poor, orphans, widows, strangers. This shows how seriously the Lord wants us to take our sense of community, solidarity with, and responsibility for other human beings. This is not even to mention our stewardship of Creation itself.

We live in a seductive atmosphere. In every possible way, our environment encourages us to make ourselves comfortable here in the world ; to forget that we are instead pilgrims and caretakers ; to satisfy our every desire ; to put me, “number one”, first. When we rise to the bait, like the old trout, we are lost. We are taken. We are trapped.

When we remember Christ’s command to be in the world but not of it, when we remember to put serving God and neighbour first, when we keep our concern for ourselves last, when we with the Apostle Paul call ourselves “chief of sinners” (see 1 Timothy 1:15), then we are aimed towards life eternal. When we turn in on ourselves, satisfy ourselves, shut out others, and relegate the Lord to a minor place in our lives, then we are aimed towards death.

As Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us in his Homily IV on Ephesians, this concrete care for others (regardless of tax benefit) is crucial for the Christian. If there be a tax benefit, I rather expect Saint John would encourage us to use the total benefit (deduction or return) for yet further relief of the needy.

In his exhortation, Saint John says that when we neglect or refuse to do good works, this provokes God to wrath :

He puts this before all terrible things, for it is our duty to love our enemies. How much more liable to punishment will be the man who turns away even from those who love him, and how much worse is he in this respect than the heathen ? In this case the greatness of the sin is such that it will make him go away with the devil. Woe to him, it is said, that does not do alms, and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, it is much more under the New. If, where the acquisition of wealth, the enjoyment of it, and care of it were allowed, provision was made for the care of the poor, how much greater is the New Dispensation, where we are commanded to surrender all that we have ! (see Matthew 19:21) What did they do in olden times ? They gave tithes, and tithes again upon tithes for orphans, widows and strangers. But someone was saying to me, because he was astonished at another person : ‘Why, that man tithes !’ What an enormous disgrace his expression implies, since something that was clearly understood by the Jews [our spiritual ancestors] has become a source of amazement to Christians ! If there was danger at that time in neglecting the tithe, then think how great it must be now !

Therefore, let us turn about and open our hearts, our hands, our wallets. Let us love as Christ, and act as He does towards us. If we have courage to tithe from our gross income, then we will notice how the Lord’s blessings come to us. To make this possible, why not make the offering weekly ? It will not come to a large amount at once, but rather many smaller amounts.

Renewal

There are many dangerous elements influencing the life and perception of modern Orthodox Christians. The dangerous elements are presenting themselves to us either in the form of pleasant half-truths, or as lies in disguise. One of these half-truths is romanticising the past. Especially in North America, with its short history and its shorter memory, there is a tendency to believe in some sort of golden age either in the Eastern Roman Empire (popularly called Byzantine) or in Russia. In both cases there have been great bright lights, teachers of the Orthodox Faith. However, what is usually forgotten is that most of these great, exemplary Christian persons lived in a rather hostile environment. It is forgotten that Saint John Chrysostom died in exile ; that Saint Paisii was a refugee ; that Saint Seraphim and the Optina elders were not very well received in their day. I believe that the great lights came to be so because they were, in part, refined by opposition. They had to deny themselves, take up the Cross, and carry it daily (see Luke 9:23).

People like to think that the old Roman Empire was totally Christian, or that the Russian Empire was totally Christian. It does not take much reading of history and literature to reveal a different reality. In fact, there has been no time and no place where and when all has been pleasant and peaceful for Orthodox Christians. We are but pilgrims here. However, the temptation to escape from painful reality leads many to create an imaginary golden past into which they try to retreat.

I suppose that another major destructive factor, which is reflected in today’s secularism, is the primarily western preoccupation with the mind and with categorisation. The result of this is the complete fragmentation of life. We westerners have become deeply materialistic in a negative way. However, we Orthodox Christians understand that we are and can be correctly, properly and positively materialistic. Of course, we can be this way only by living in deep harmony with God’s Will. North America is making psychiatrists need psychiatrists because of the resulting heavy demand. The worst face of this is found in the way so-called scholars of the last two centuries have reduced the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers to be treated as being mere literature or philosophy. With this reduction, all that is essential to the Christian way is removed, because these writings otherwise do not fit our secularist and megalomaniacal mould. Indeed, we insist on calling Christianity a religion, when Christianity is by definition nothing of the sort, but rather a movement, a way, which is based on the relationship of love.

Reading Christos Yannaras, one can see that it is his opinion that our modern, western, technological environment makes it difficult, if not impossible to live as an Orthodox Christian. Yet, seeing this difficulty, we cannot simply resign from the struggle, because our Lord said that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). He told us that we must be in the world but not of it (see John 15:19). Therefore, we must face our responsibility, accept it, and live it. We must take up the Cross.

Renewal of any sort can be found only (as has always been the case) in repentance. It is important for us to remember this word, and to understand its meaning. A North American living in a vocal Protestant environment (and nowadays even in a Roman Catholic one) will quickly understand repentance as an emotional expression. However, that is limited to a short period of time. It is true that in repentance we may feel pain and sorrow and shed tears. This is only a symptom of what is the essence. Repentance is a condition of the whole life, a state of being. Repentance is willingly turning away from evil, away from darkness, away from death, and turning instead to good, to light, to life. It is the daily determination to take up the Cross and follow Christ. It is making the sign of the Cross on ourselves as we rise, and attempting with each passing day to become increasingly aware of the enabling of Christ’s participation in every activity of our life. Even without a theological education, our ancestors knew about this. They knew how to bless every activity and undertaking, and they tried to support each other in remembering to do this, even sometimes a bit roughly. For us, a necessary element of this renewal has to be found in these daily practical expressions of cultivating memory in our hearts of Christ’s eternal presence.

Cultivating the essence of our life is perhaps the most important. What is this ? It is love. We are not Christians because of having agreed to some philosophical principle. We are Christians because God loves us, and we love Him. We commit ourselves to this relationship. We will to love our Lord and Saviour, and our neighbours as ourselves, just as He loves us. Commending ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God, we all together support one another, encourage one another, nurture one another, pray for one another, and say for each and all that essential prayer : “Lord, have mercy”. Love is not so much emotion as it is work. However, in our day, we Christians make this work more difficult because we tend to live far from each other.

Remembering that the Incarnation is central to our lives is extremely important. That the Word of God took flesh because of love for us is a clear indication of our path. The Lord does not ask us repeatedly to say only with words that we love Him. We must demonstrate it by how we treat our fellow human beings, and other creatures as well. We were already learning this with Moses. It is not enough only to venerate icons. We must be ready to venerate Christ’s presence in human beings, and especially difficult people. It is not enough to prepare and to receive Holy Communion regularly. We must at the same time show Christ’s loving hospitality to others – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the aged and lonely. In these are found the demonstrations of our love for Christ ; and in these concrete acts, together with receiving Holy Communion often, we enable our Saviour to renew and multiply His love in us.

If we are hoping for and asking for spiritual renewal, then we cannot begin by thinking of the spirit alone. God did not make us angels, as bodiless minds. He created us human beings with both body and spirit. From the earliest times in the five Books of Moses, we can see that the Hebrew understanding of a human being is that this being always consists of inseparable body and spirit. This understanding did not in any way change with the Incarnation, except that this reality was emphasised. The fracturing and division that we often can feel in our persons, in our lives, and in our societies is a breaking which results from sin, and from our accepting the tempter’s lies about what is real and what is not. We therefore need the Lord’s help to be healed of such poisonous lies and distortions. We must, with His help, treat ourselves, and understand ourselves, as one united whole. Our salvation involves our whole selves. We must not divide ourselves.

Monastic life has always been and must be for us the living, visible example of the way of repentance and Christian spiritual renewal. Those who are monks are ones who seriously and completely embrace the Gospel, and who try to live their lives totally for Christ. In doing so, they help those who live in the world to find their way. However, if, as some do, we treat monastic life as a “profession” or “alternative life-style”, we will make a mockery of this way. It is neither of these. It is better to live in an organic food commune, or some other beneficial community such as “L’Arche”, if that be one’s attitude. If one is to live as a monk, then one must be ready to live by the Gospel, and not by the misunderstanding of the world. It is a radical response of love.

Spiritual renewal can be found, I believe, only in daily taking up the Cross and following Christ in the communion of love. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). We must live in that Way.

Struggle for Family Life

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Struggle for Family Life
Summer 1998
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”]


Family life has been given considerable attention by the news media recently. Indeed, so-called “family values” even become part of many political platforms. This summer, “The Family” will be the major consideration at our Archdiocesan Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba from 7 to 10 July. The parish has an important rôle to play in the strengthening and supporting of the Orthodox Christian family, and our deliberations in Winnipeg should help us focus our attention on this rôle and offer ideas about how such support can be given and built up.

Like most of the social ills of our day, the problems of the decay of the family will not be solved by simple education, advertising, programmes or legislation, although these can be constructive elements. As has always been the case, recovery will be found in the hearts of those who comprise the family itself. Repentance is the watch-word.

The societal environment of our Orthodox families is anything but supportive. Actively corrosive is perhaps the better term. If one pays too much attention to this corrosive environment, he or she might be swallowed up by a storm of temptation, might become depressed, or might even give up hope. It takes prayer, determination, discipline and even something akin to a missionary attitude to live in a constructive, positive, loving, life-giving way as an Orthodox family.

With the above caution in mind, however, I want to consider this corrosive societal environment we live in, an environment that is truly a storm of temptation. It is an environment which has forgotten or rejected God, and which, like communism, is pre-occupied with base materialism. Material success we are prodded towards every day by almost every element of our life : at school, on radio, television, internet, in newspapers, magazines, and by our neighbours. Making money, wielding power, getting the better of the other – these are the main motives driving daily life. Competition is a close relative. Deceit is actively encouraged. Striving to get the most for the least, and at best something for nothing, people trample each other. Material demands have made us technological slaves, and the cost of living has so risen with the pursuit of comfort that few families now escape the fact of both parents’ working. Parents and children alike find themselves labouring under the heavy burden of daily demands, and there is general fatigue and malaise. Families fragment, and most people are lonely. There are storms of temptations.

The core of our modern materialistic environment insists that we humans are the greatest, that we are the best, that we are the smartest, that we can accomplish everything. We convince ourselves that we can do anything, that each of us is captain of his/her own soul, the pilot of his/her own destiny. We think that we are in control. We think that if things get unmanageable, all we need to do is to find a new programme, or to manipulate things in just the right way, and we will be totally in control again. Thus, blindfolded, we try to sail on upon the choppy waves in the storms of temptations.

In society in general, there is a parallel escapism which seeks to ease the strain and pain of sailing the boat of denial. The present phenomenon of each person in a family having his or her own room in which to be isolated, even insulated, from the family is a symptom. Some seek solace in television or other forms of audio-visual entertainment ; some travel ; some flee to phantasy in one form or the other ; some crave consolation in some form of sensuality. Others take an alternative route of escape by living in a make-believe way here in Canada. Even in the middle of a city, we can find people trying to reconstruct life in another place, in another century, in another culture, in another time. Too many go further : they try to numb the pain of life with alcohol and/or drugs. Adults and children alike are strongly pressed by peers to conform to this rat-race. Storms of temptations constantly toss the leaking ship of denial about.

If we honestly hope to begin making a change in our lives and in that of our families, we must first refuse to blame anyone else for what has gone wrong, and take up our own responsibility. In doing so, in ”getting a grip”, the very first step, even before taking responsibility, is the necessary call to the Lord for help. We are not, in fact, in control of everything in our lives, and we alone cannot do or make anything. We need help from God.

When we call on the Lord, we begin to recognise how we have been taken in by the assorted lies about what is necessary in life. It is at this pivotal point, this turning point – this point of repentance – that we can begin to turn the tide that has been pushing us, or dragging us, or hurling us about. We are not the captain of our own souls, the pilots of our destinies. All of our lives are interconnected, and what each one of us does or is, affects everything and everyone everywhere. Once we have seen through the lies of materialism, acquisitiveness and consumerism, we can begin to acknowledge that we do not actually need everything that we are told is a necessity. We can begin to acknowledge that we could live quite happily with much less. We can begin to acknowledge that we do not have to be driven by perpetual acquisition, and that we are indeed not “born to shop”.

Once we arrive at this awareness, we begin to admit that because we have fallen into such insatiable acquisitiveness, we have contributed to the mistreatment of human beings and of the ecology of the world. We admit that we have, worse, thereby actively removed food from the table of the hungry everywhere in order to maintain our demands. This sort of awareness is particularly important, not only because it is true, but because it can help us always to ask the question : “Do I really need this ?”

This awareness is the foundation – the root of repentance – of a change toward a better direction for personal, family and parish living. Indeed, repentance, and its twin, forgiveness, are the root of our whole life, as we see very plainly in the Holy Gospels and in the whole of the New Covenant. Where does this lead us in the context of our Orthodox families ? In the context of the obligatory repentance and forgiveness, we understand rightly that if change is needed, it must begin with ourselves. In repentance and forgiveness, we work together with our Lord, who effects change in our own hearts by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. This change affects for the good our own relationships with our family-members, and the family itself then becomes the crucible in which forgiveness and repentance are refined in ourselves, alone and together.

In this process, it is crucial that we begin by not treating each other (both in our families and in our parishes) as commodities. If we are honest, we will readily admit that we have done so. People are like ikons. Their value is found in who they are, not in what they do, how much they know, whom they know, how attractive they are, or how much they earn. And so we begin anew to treat each other with tender, patient, nurturing love, like delicate flowers and plants in a garden whose blossoms and fruit we want to encourage. Orthodoxy has always encouraged this, and there are many pious stories of persons who have treated the ugly, the diseased, the disadvantaged, the deformed as beautiful flowers, as revelations of Christ. We consider each person to be a saint. Our famous hospitality, too, has roots in treating all humans without distinction, as the ikons of Christ that they are. This way of perceiving other people is also the source of our readiness to give alms, to be generous to the beggar on the street, and not to ask questions. It is the source of true care for the neighbour, wherever that neighbour may be, and regardless of how that neighbour acts.

Orthodox families need to be rooted in the love of Christ. This is their source of life and strength as they stand resisting the tide of unbelief, the tide of materialism, the tide of the objectification (the reification) of others (reducing human beings to mere things). This rooting in the love of Christ, this nurture, needs constant attention. It requires vigilance. Although it may be difficult enough for an adult to stand out as we do and must, it is, by far, more so for a child or a youth, whose peers can be merciless in their attitudes and comments.

Through their own love for Christ and the saints, parents must, therefore, make real efforts to lead by example, and to help their children to find this same love, to find this same strength, to find this same reason for living. For everyone, this love of God is caught, not taught, although some teaching helps to inform, direct and refine it. This love is the all-encompassing characteristic of our relationship with Christ, just as it is that which develops our distinctive personalities and personal characteristics. This love gives strength to face every hardship, provides hope, overcomes temptation, overcomes sin. This love enables us to live in Christ’s freedom.

In our families, some sort of short, daily prayer is necessary morning and evening, with as many together as possible, even if only for a very few minutes. Daily we should be reinforcing good Orthodox Christian habits : blessing food and thanking God for it ; blessing the family on departing the house ; pausing briefly before the ikons before travelling ; blessing God on rising and retiring, and before beginning to work, to play, or to start any project. Daily we should be reading the Bible, too, and taking at least one meal together.

These good habits reflect the fact that our Orthodox Christian Faith touches every aspect of our lives, and that there is nothing that we do, nowhere that we go without Christ, or without His blessing or protection. It is by drawing on this blessing that we will have strength to endure the daily struggles. It is by drawing on this blessing that we will be able to grow. It is by drawing on this blessing that we will be able to live and share Christ’s love.

This love develops and flourishes when we are spiritually vigilant. Parents teach their children vigilance by example. As both Saint John Climacus and Starets Anthony of Optina have said, when we are observing the faults of others and talking and criticising, we do the work of the devil. We have to watch out for enmity and judgement in ourselves, guarding against a critical spirit. “What are the sins of others to us” says the Starets, “when we are up to our necks in endless sins ?” Citing the Psalter, he encourages us to ask God to set a guard before our mouth, to turn our hearts away from evil thoughts. If we see a fault in another, we ought to pray.

Starets Anthony gives some good advice, which I will summarise. When you rise and when you retire, let your first and last thoughts be towards God. Greet Him. Bless yourself with the sign of the Cross. Many a Slav will say : “Good morning, Bozhinka”, which means, “Good morning, dearest God”. Bow down literally and give thanks to God for everything. Get your heart and mind in gear, set on a good path by asking God to help you to do what is best. Starets Anthony says : “No-one shall complete the path to Heaven, save he who begins every day well”.

Try to keep a prayerful disposition with actual prayer wherever possible during the day, and know that the Lord is with you, along with the heavenly host. Do not fall into wasteful idleness. Pray. Read the Bible, or the lives of the saints. Help someone. Try to watch your thoughts and learn the positive aspects of silence. Beware of idle chatter and try not to be excessive in laughter, and most especially in so-called derisive humour. Do not quarrel or envy. Be modest in eating. Be a servant of all. Remember the inevitability of death and keep your heart to the Lord. Love His creatures, humans, all animals, everything. And finally, take each day as it is, one step at a time, putting everything in God’s hands, just as He taught us.

In the end, if we as persons and we as families are vigilant, if we are faithful, if we persevere, holding tightly on to the hand of Christ our Saviour, we will find that we, like the Apostle Peter, will not be overcome by the storms of temptations, but will sail safely in the ship of the Church into the harbour of heavenly joy.

"Charity" and Love

Bishop Seraphim : Article
"Charity" and Love
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 1997]


With our tax-benefit consciousness, we live in a society which considers that charitable work is the responsibility of special-interest societies, registered as Crown Charities under Revenue Canada, and staffed by paid personnel who have specific training and skills to help other people. If we examine our own interior response to the word “charity”, we might also find that it is true of ourselves. In fact, it is easy enough, by making a tax-deductible donation, to pay someone else to look after the homeless, hungry, needy, maimed, sick, widowed and orphaned of the world. However, this somehow does not quite fit with what our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel is directing. Always in the Gospel there is the expectation of the personal contact.

In fact, the English word “charity” comes from the Latin caritas which is the equivalent of the Greek agape. Even though our present reactions make “charity” an institutional word, all of its history is based in the word “love”, indeed “selfless love”, which is the real meaning of this word. And so our Lord has words for us such as these :

‘But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. [...] For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:39-42 ; 46-48).

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ (Matthew 9:10-13).

Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep!’ (Matthew 12:11-12).

‘When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. [...] Then the King will say to those on His right hand: “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”’ (Matthew 25:31-32 ; 34-40).

And He said to them: ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God’ (Luke 12:15-21).

‘Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Luke 12:32-34).

He also told the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (who is often named Dives, from the Latin word for “rich”) in Luke 16:19-31. Dives ignored Lazarus, the poor beggar who lay at his doorstep, and whom he passed by daily, and the result was that Dives was lost with his luxury, and Lazarus gained the Kingdom.

All these words from the Lord are important for us to remember and to keep at the front of our lives, our hearts, our consciences. Our love for Jesus Christ demands action. Loving Him, we must likewise love others as He loves us and them. As the Apostle James exhorts us :

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. […] What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:8-9 ; 14-17).

So it is that no matter how much we may contribute in various ways to charitable institutions and organisations, we are still obliged to do good, loving and life-giving things to the various persons the Lord sends to us – person to person.

The life of our Archdiocese, thanks be to God, has many such acts of mercy and love being worked on both a person-to-person and a corporate basis. I thought that it might be helpful to review some of these in a list. This list, however, can never be complete, because there are so many cases of one person’s ministering in hidden ways to other persons here, locally. There are many persons who have adopted children in various parts of the world, through one or another of the local programmes, and thereby help to educate and feed not only the child but also the family and the neighbours. Some find a way to buy cows for widows in India so that the widow can have an income from the milk and provide for her family. Some send help to various other organisations abroad who help to improve the survival and farming skills of the people there. Some lend aid in practical ways, sending quantities of food or clothes or other staples to particular families in eastern Europe or the Middle East.

In Vancouver, the “Miloserdie Charity” collects medical supplies, food and clothing for a children’s hospital in Moscow, which in turn sometimes shares the supplies with other hospitals elsewhere. Project Ukraine in Yorkton has been collecting medical equipment, educational supplies, food, clothing and other staples for the needy in Ukraine. For decades, under the leadership of Archbishop Sylvester, the “Saint John of Kronstadt Charity Fund” in Montréal has cared for the needs of many widows and poor in many parts of the world, and it has sent aid also directly to Russia in many forms. A group of people at the Sobor of Christ the Saviour in Toronto works very hard to help in many ways. One of these ways is helping without charge, newcomers to Canada who have immigration difficulties. A group of people at the cathedral in Ottawa now gathers to prepare a lunch twice a month for a local women’s shelter. At Saint Herman’s in Edmonton there has long been an outlet for the Food Bank, and in other parishes there are regular collections for and contributions to the local food banks. There are also many examples of the faithful visiting the hospitalised and those who are in nursing homes.

It is true that there are many works of mercy being done by our faithful in Canada. However, we are still only at the very beginning of doing what we should in order to live out our life of love in Jesus Christ. It is this work of love which enables us to become salt and yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) as Orthodox Christians in this country, and to be life-bearers in Christ wherever we are and whatever we do. It is that person who, like Lazarus, is at our very door, who demands our attention and loving ministry in Christ. Wherever we are, and whatever we have been given in life by God’s Grace and mercy, it is our obligation in the love of Christ to remember the poor. This is expressed well in the words of one venerable parishioner, who saw bread lying in the garbage. “Who would throw bread in the garbage?” she asked as she retrieved it. “I never think of throwing bread or any food away like that. I always remember how many in the world are hungry, and if I cannot do anything else with it, at least some animal can eat it”. She understands that mysterious link amongst us all, and she comprehends that our responsibility to others, even though we cannot actually touch them, requires that we behave with our goods as though that poor person were right there. We respect the sanctity of food, and remember that it is God’s gift to us, and that out of love we are to be ready at all times to share. Another venerable woman in her nineties, who can do little actively any more, is a frequent baker and distributer of bread prepared with her own golden hands. Others always keep extra food available in case someone will arrive who is hungry or could be served as Christ in Christian hospitality.

Memory. Mindfulness. Recollection of the whole picture. It is not especially easy, but it is the fruit of true love in and for Christ.

Ecology and Real Life

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Ecology and Real Life
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 1997]


For many people nowadays, ecology is a popular subject. I believe that for us Orthodox it ought to take a “front seat” in our priorities. This is not simply to advocate the recycling programmes that exist in most places in our country, although that is indeed good in itself. Ecology does not have to do with simply supporting organisations which save this or that species from extinction, although that is also a good thing. Ecology has to do with something more fundamental than that : our attitude towards life and creation.

Many various Orthodox theologians have addressed this matter of our living in a wasteful environment, one in which we have made for ourselves an unrealistic dreamland of instant self-gratification. We have instant light and water. We have instant foods of all sorts. We have non-biodegradable packaging on almost everything, and packaging that is often more or bigger than necessary. As human beings, we have become well-known to ourselves as being very effective poisoners of our environment (and of ourselves as well). In all our instant expectations, we have forgotten patience, and in all our interest in “things” and “goods” we have forgotten relationships. We tend to treat everything that does not breathe and have blood as something therefore inanimate, and by extension not living in any way. Slowly this attitude creeps on to various breathing things, and even to human beings. We are even seeming to reverse the process developed in recent centuries in which human beings were supposed to come to respect all human beings as being equal in some way.

We are a long way from what is implied in the first two chapters of 1 Moses [Genesis], wherein mankind is shown to be responsible for co-operating with God in developing good order in creation, even naming the animals. This responsible co-operation implies also a living relationship with this creation. We understand that in those pristine times, humans ate “every seed-bearing herb that sows seed on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed” ; that animals ate “every green plant as food” (1 Moses 1:29-30). This is, of course, connected to our Lenten diet.

Historically, Orthodox societies have not tended to behave in the wasteful manner so evident in present day western civilisation. Perhaps it is not too late for us to put on the brakes with our own dispositions, and to try to recover at least some of our authentic Orthodox awareness.

What many Aboriginal societies seem to claim as theirs uniquely has, in fact, been ours for millennia : a living relationship with animals, plants, soil, water, air, rocks. The difference has been that we do not confuse these creatures with the Creator. Yet, we have understood our responsibility before God the Creator of all things for our stewardship of these creatures, and our creative relationship with them in Him. For instance, that an Aboriginal would prefer not to cut a still-living tree ought to make sense to us. For us, caring for the land, farming and gardening, is a holy way of life which seems to be ordered by God for most of us. We grow food to feed ourselves and our families, and by extension to feed our neighbours (which, we will remember, is everyone). By cultivating the land, we later reap the harvest of its fertility ; but at the same time, we have the responsibility to return to this land what we have removed from it in the form of living organic matter.

I remember the farm at New Valamo Monastery in Finland. When I was there in 1980, they were practising organic farming in a very careful way. The composting was undertaken in a very serious manner, to the extent that even the contents of the septic tanks were composted over several years and then returned to the fields. In Finland in general, forestry is being practised in a very careful way, much as one would practise farming. Only certain trees are taken from the forest, and foresters make provision for the renewing of what was taken. Great care was taken to be sure that the water was clean, and that it was not used up in various excesses. In some ways, the Valamo farm approached self-sufficiency at that time. Of course, such farming requires harder work to an extent. It probably also requires being satisfied with a smaller profit. However, our Creator does not ask us to work the land as a business ! He asks us to have a living, creative, and steward-like relationship with the land and with all creation.

Whether we are farmers or “city-slickers”, we all have the responsibility to order our lives correctly according to God’s direction, and to try to be a better example to those around us who are forgetting the correct order of priorities. As the adopted sons and daughters of God in the Body of Christ, we must do our best to correct our ways, and thus become true salt of the earth, and yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). I very much like to remember the quotation of an old peasant in the booklet Apostolic Farming by Catherine de Hueck Doherty : “Little lady, of course I know about the earth, and you will too. I came from her and I will return to her. Dust to dust ! That is the way God decreed we should come from Him into the world. That is the way we shall go back to Him. He has placed our soul into this house of sod. From it He will receive us back”.

In our self-imposed haste, let us ask our Lord Jesus Christ to help us to put on the brakes, to remember our priorities, and to recover our sense of stewardship of the Lord’s creation.

Our Keeping of Christmas

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Our Keeping of Christmas
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1996/97]


By the time this message will be seen by most of our readers, it will be either quite close to or after the Feast of the Birth of Christ, our Saviour. It would have been nice to address a little earlier the way we approach and celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, but that’s the way our rhythm of publication works out : that’s life.

About seventeen hundred years ago, it began to be decided that we would celebrate the Birth in the Flesh of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ on 25 December. Until this time, there had not been a great emphasis on this celebration as a separate event, perhaps because it seemed even self-evident. However, there were temptations by some to down-play or ignore the Incarnation (the taking-flesh of the Word of God), and many were being led astray by inaccurate ideas. The Incarnation of the Word was, and is, central to our perception of Christ and to our life in Christ as much as it is to our salvation. Thus, in order to keep the right focus for the faithful, our Fathers established this separate feast. In the Roman Empire, at that time in December, there was a pagan celebration of the beginning of the return of the sun. It was a perfect opportunity not only to emphasise the Incarnation, but, as our hymns say, to speak out openly that Christ is the source of that sun, and is Himself the Sun of Righteousness (see Malachi 4:2).

The celebration even now proclaims that “those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God”. The Word of God took flesh and dwelt amongst us. He took upon Himself all our fallenness in order to raise it up with Himself. He who Himself is the instrument of Creation became the creature (mankind) that of itself had fallen away and become distorted, and He renewed it. Only He, by this self-emptying, could restore the unity from which we broke. For many centuries, the Birth of Christ has been the clear focus of our celebrations on 25 December.

Now, at the end of the twentieth century, we are again in the midst of a secular culture which is not concerned with Christ, even though it has taken some elements of our celebration to itself. Only hints of the real point of this festival remain, but it is upside down. Saint Nicholas, who has nothing directly to do with this feast, has been distorted into being merely a jolly toy-giver. Gift-giving has become a materialistic tit-for-tat mania, a competition to out-do one another, rather than to imitate the Magi. The festal celebrations now begin far ahead of the feast itself (more than six weeks earlier). Even before we begin our lenten period, the sales have begun. Everything now seems to end on the eve of the holiday. This is in stark contrast to the sensible ways of former times, when the celebrations began with the feast itself and lasted for several weeks afterwards. This is one reason why people do not seem to comprehend the meaning of the songs about the twelve days of Christmas. Worst of all, Christ Himself is not “politically correct”. To top it all off, amongst those who still celebrate the real Nativity Feast, we Orthodox Christians also add the spice of celebrating either on the Julian (old) or the Revised Julian (new) calendar. We live in an ironic time.

This is almost like a re-enactment of the Fall itself. We have been restored to full communion with God, who out of His merciful compassion healed the wound which killed us. However, out of a combination of fear of the light and pride that we really know better, we revert to diversionary ways.

This atmosphere makes it a great challenge for the Orthodox believer to be a witness to the Truth (please note : for us Truth = Jesus Christ). There is no way that we can make some lobby-method revolution in the thinking of society. Nevertheless, the changes which happened so long ago can happen again, by the mercy of God. However, the changes require the determined faithfulness of Orthodox Christians, and loving intercession for the world, as Saint Silouan of Mount Athos encourages us.

Most particularly, at this time of the year, it means that while we need to be sensitive to our obligation to participate in certain of the secular events because of work, school, or the like, we can do so with a certain restraint that can suggest to anyone who is perceptive that there is another and a better way. The fast before the Nativity of Christ is one of the greatest challenges. True, it is not necessarily so strict a fast (until the last two weeks), but it is still a fast. It is possible to attend some of the necessary secular functions and still keep the fast. By “keep the fast”, we are to understand not that we eat nothing, but rather that we abstain from eating certain foods. Here, we need to be especially creative. While we must never be triumphal about our observances, we can by understatement convey to those who want to see, our love for Christ and how it affects every aspect of our life.

We can put brakes on pre-festal celebrations and accent the celebrations after the Nativity itself. Our gift-giving can be restrained and simplified, and we can take care never to give a gift which carries a condition of being equalled in return. We can exercise true loving hospitality at our tables to our friends and co-workers after the Nativity Feast itself, and show how Christians really observe the Birth of the Word. In fact, we can do so best by helping the poor and the needy at all times, not just at the Nativity. We can remember how to sing those carols which truly reflect Christ’s Birth, and remember Whom we serve.

We can finally accept that the life in Christ, especially for an Orthodox Christian, is always a tension : to live in the world but not to be of the world (see John 15:19 ; John 17:14-15).

It is not easy to follow Christ and to reveal Him in this world. After all, He Himself said : “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). May the Lord who is God and has revealed Himself to us enable us to do just this.

Loose Lips

“Loose lips sink ships”, was a war-time saying which I heard frequently as a youth. Of course this saying referred to the results of indiscriminate remarks (perhaps at a pub, or at a game of cards, or some other informal setting) which allowed enemy agents to know the movements of merchant or naval fleets, and to attack them. I suppose that one could refer to many film stories on this subject. However, ships as such is not my concern here. My concern is for persons, and about the results of the way we talk.

Christians must always be concerned about how we speak about other persons, and above all, about how we speak about the Lord. Not only is this crucial because it is a reflection of our love for Christ and other persons, but it is crucial because as Orthodox Christians we are measured by others, some truly searching for the truth, by our example. Ultimately, we will be measured by the Lord, Himself.

The way of the fallen world is, as we are often reminded in the Scriptures, to praise a person when there is a positive product (and especially when “there is something in it for me”). However, if the person should err somehow, then the praise is quickly changed to damning. Even worse, if there should be a person in the way of one’s designs, or if envy or jealousy provokes, then there is often a deliberate torpedoing of the obstacle. One of the principal expressions of these evil passions is gossip.

Gossip involves the poisonous process of probing with speculation into a person’s motives and character, transforming these speculations into supposed facts, spreading them in a sort of conversation which generally adds creative details, and often results in the demolition of another person’s character, reputation, family, career. This process knocks a person down, and viciously kicks him or her. No wonder gossip has often been compared to murder. The person’s life itself may not be taken, but the means of livelihood, or the family context itself may be removed. I do not think any of us has lived past twenty years of age and not seen this in action. This is all deadly territory for Christians. It is the direct evil opposite of the Christian way.

The Christian must learn to look for and to see Christ in every other person (without making distinctions as the world does), and lovingly to serve and nurture that other person, as the good neighbour, the Samaritan did.

There is yet another sneaky way in which good intentions become slyly perverted. It is, ironically, through prayer requests. We all need to ask each other’s prayers for support in our struggle in life to follow Christ. It is right for us to ask for prayer of our brothers and sisters. However, we must be on guard when we pray for others. Curiosity about details can lead to our own downfall and bring us all too easily again to the field of gossip. Monastic elders often say that the best prayer is “Kyrie eleison” : “Lord have mercy”. This is a complete prayer of intercession. In fact, we do not need to ask too many details when praying, and we don’t need to “compare notes” with others who are praying. By following this advice, we keep away from the dark side of curiosity and we avoid this slippery access to the poison of gossip or idle talking. I have heard too many times of examples where sincere believers have, through empathy, slipped from compassion to curiosity, and they have inadvertently caused a brother or sister to fall.

It would be good if everyone were to read the General Epistle of Saint James. I will cite a little passage for you which I find to be very useful :

Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:4-18).

In another place, the Lord Himself, addressing the regulations about food, tells us that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth – from the heart (see Matthew 15:17-18). This is why we need to remember that homespun advice which we learnt as children if we saw the film Bambi. Thumper the rabbit is advised by his mother : “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. The grammar needs improvement but the message is accurate.

We are not the judges of anyone else, only the Lord is the Judge of all. We are all sinners, and none better than the other. Why be an ally of the evil one in attacking and bringing down a brother or sister in a weak moment ? Let us rather, following Christ, do the opposite. Let us be bearers and bringers of life, repentance and renewal. Let us build up and encourage. Let us say only what is good, and what is praiseworthy. Let us measure our words, and when we do speak, let our speech be pure and gentle. Let us be merciful, even as our Heavenly Father is merciful (see Luke 6:36).

Travels and Temptations

We live in a time which allows for easy and rapid travel and we tend to make liberal use of these conveniences. As always, however, travel has its dangers. I am not talking so much about robberies or catastrophic accidents as about the spiritual difficulties that arise every time we change our daily rhythm. Travelling with the frequency and speed by which we are able to move about these days, probably makes much worse the difficulty we seem to have in maintaining even the minimal daily discipline. In this context, I have to say that I am glad to see that in more and more parishes, people are deliberately asking for prayers before even shorter trips.

One of the big temptations that we constantly face (and one which seems to be accentuated) is that of judgementalism. It is truly a good thing that we look up one of our churches and go there on Sunday when we are travelling away from home. However, when we go to another parish, we need to be prepared. Unless we prepare our heart beforehand, we can be sitting ducks for the devil’s target practice. It is an easy temptation to speak humorously about people who have immigrated from the old country with the attitude that the particular customs of their village were the absolutely correct Orthodox way of doing things. Criticising or making fun of other people’s ways is not a good thing to do. When that happens, we quickly find that those very things we attack are showing up in ourselves.

An old monastic piece of wisdom is : “Do not bring your typikon to another monastery”. The fact is that each monastery has its own way of going about its life, and so does each parish. If we go somewhere else, then we have to be prepared ahead of time to behave according to the customs of that place (whether we like their particular customs or not). We are, after all, only visitors. We must avoid abusing the hospitality of our brothers and sisters. For instance, perhaps my parish is one that does not concern itself about informal clothing in church of a Sunday. This does not mean that I could assume that if I am dressed quite informally when I visit another parish, that this informality would not lead my brothers and sisters into temptation. The same principle applies regarding the covering of heads, and other such customs. What is important is to present myself before the Lord with the best clothing I have, and not to concern myself with others.

Whether travelling or not, living with the variety of customs, or not, the main question is what sort of attitude is in my heart toward my brothers and sisters ? Do I participate in demonic target practice by looking for weak spots or faults in those around me ? Then, do I take aim and verbally shoot ? Or do I find ways to reinforce, support, nurture, encourage and help my sisters and brothers in repentance in one way or another ?

I remember being told as a child that “those who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones”. A variation I heard later is that when I point a finger in accusation, there are three fingers on my hand pointing back at myself, the accuser. In our Christian life, it is important for us to accept that we are all sinners in a hospital for sinners, sick in sin, and that our proper attitude is to be reflected in what we always say in the prayer before Holy Communion : that I am the first amongst sinners. I am the sinner.

It is the responsibility of each one of us to find healing in Christ, and to help others do so as well. It is in living this out that we truly show that we are Orthodox Christians. The practical details of daily life are very important, but they are empty unless they are fed by the principal of repentant love in Christ. Therefore, whether we are travelling or not, it is important to be watchful always, and to have our spiritual armour on every day (see Ephesians 6:13-17).

Internet Behaviour

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Internet Behaviour
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 1996]


God created everything good. That is how it is. In the Symbol of Faith (Nicene Creed) we daily affirm that we believe this when we affirm that He created everything that is. We also understand that we believe that the turmoil in creation is connected with our sin, and so it is.

Although I say this with a certain reluctance, I suppose that we have produced in computers something with capability for good. Moreover, an opportunity for very rapid communication has also been developed with the creation of the internet. However, just as with everything else, so it is with computers (and especially with the internet) : there is always the possibility of behaviour which, through sin, can separate us from each other and from God.

On the positive side, the internet produces an unimaginably broad field for instant communication. It is also providing us evangelical opportunities. The various web-sites on the World Wide Web, for example, give the seeker the ability to find the Orthodox Christian Faith with ease. This has great potential for us, especially in the next few years in North America, since all signs point to the near future as being an immense opportunity for the Orthodox Church in the field of evangelism. Our OCA now has its own web-site. For any of you who have the capability of contacting it, the address of the Orthodox Church in America is http://www.oca.org. Here one can find basic information on all our parishes and programmes ; there are news releases available. Soon, the OCA newspaper and various diocesan publications will appear there. There will be links to other sites on the web.

A different entity from the web is the internet, which also offers a tool for instant communication. Through this medium people can talk to each other individually or on various “lists”. These so-called lists are groups of people who share similar interests and can discuss those interests with the entire subscribed group. There are presently at least two very active Orthodox lists on “the net”. These can, of course, be a source of valuable information, support and edification, but they can also be a great source of temptation.

The Tempter is always looking for new opportunities to get in and mess around. Communication is important, but one must be very careful to be sensitive, responsible, and serious in writing in a medium where everyone and anyone (especially in the discussion groups) has access to what is written. This medium is not like writing letters, and it is certainly not like face-to-face conversation.

Still more important, one must be careful to avoid the temptation to gossip on the internet. Falling into gossip in this medium has already caused many people pain, inconvenience, heartache, and in some cases, irreparable damage. There is also a certain pressure and responsibility with e-mail, because of its immediacy. Time to reflect is reduced, and sometimes a too-swift reaction can be a temptation in itself. In fact, what might be yet more dangerous is that there are so many people who instinctively react to whatever is in print as if it were fact and truth by virtue of its being in print.

Here is where the real responsibility lies for those who write – knowing the vulnerability of others, and being compassionately sensitive about it. Such vulnerability, I might add, is found as often in the well-educated as in those who are less so. The principle of our Holy Fathers is that communication should always be good. Silence is preferable to gossip. I want all to be aware of the responsibility that comes with this utility, and to be aware most particularly of the spiritual elements therein. All things that are good can be twisted or mis-used by us. They can also be used to God’s glory — and may that be always the way !

Two Visits to Alaska July 1995 ; September 1995

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Two Visits to Alaska :
Kuskokwim Deanery
Ordination of Bishop Innocent
July 1995 ; September 1995
[Published in the "Canadian Orthodox Messenger", Winter 1995/1996]


Deaneries and Saints

When we in Canada think of a deanery meeting (if indeed we think of one at all), “business” is probably the first thing that comes to mind. That is not bad. In fact, the deanery meetings that I have attended have been quite good, particularly in the west. However, I think we can still learn something.

When we think of saints, we may tend to imagine people who are somehow remote from us, both in time and in location. Most of the world’s saints are from far away, across the seas for the most part. It is true that there are now glorified (canonised) saints in North America ; but most of them are (for Canadians) also far away : either in the “lower 48” or in Alaska.

In North America, it is Alaska which definitely has the majority of saints. When I had the extraordinary blessing and pleasure to go to Alaska in late July of this year, I learned something by experience about both deanery meetings and saints. This learning was decidedly a fringe benefit of an unexpected official assignment to represent His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius and the Holy Synod of Bishops because of the retirement of Archbishop Gregory of Sitka. However, I’m used to this : the Lord is always giving these unexpected lessons and blessings.

The first blessing was being able to go to Kodiak Island again, and to enter the serene peace of Holy Resurrection Church, where the holy relics of Saint Herman rest. There, on several occasions I have approached and venerated his holy relics, but on this visit I was able to serve the Divine Liturgy in their presence. This was a particular blessing in light of the fact that so many people in our Archdiocese of Canada have been helped in a multitude of ways through his intercessions. At least I could represent them, since most have not the means to travel so far.

The next great blessing was that of attending the Kuskokwim Conference in Southwest Alaska, close to the Bering Sea. This was something like a deanery meeting. To arrive at the conference site, we had first to fly for an hour from Anchorage to the city of Bethel, which is on the Kuskokwim River, in the Delta. From there we went by boat to Napaskiak, a voyage of about twenty minutes along the river. When Archimandrite Innocent (the Bishop-elect for Alaska) and I arrived at the edge of the river-bank, we were met there by many people carrying banners, and many people singing. As we landed – over the bow to land for there is no dock – my hands were taken by two little girls, who escorted us along the wooden path to the Temple of Saint James the Apostle. This path was strewn with fireweed which was blooming prolifically at the time, and of course we sang tropars in English, Slavonic and Yupik all the way.

In the Temple, several hundred people of all ages awaited us, and they continued to wait patiently while the baggage came. We then unpacked, and the opening moleben began. Over the following 3 days, we served 2 Hierarchical Divine Liturgies, 1 Memorial Divine Liturgy, and other services besides. All these took a long time because there were hundreds of communicants and very many confessions. The people, being patient, sang their hearts out in 3 languages. This is the inheritance of Saint Yakov (Jakob) Netsvetov, our newly glorified priest-missionary to the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta. The village of Napaskiak has a population of 400, of whom 395 are Orthodox believers. To encounter this on our continent is quite encouraging, to say the least. Their lives are Orthodox ; their ways are Orthodox ; their cemeteries are Orthodox, and their hospitality is truly Orthodox. Of course, they suffer in the way of the Orthodox everywhere (in this particular case from a hostile Protestant-secular environment). When we read of the life of Saint Yakov Netsvetov, and perceive his sufferings and struggle to bring faith to birth in the Aleut, Yupik and Athabascan people, it may seem almost unreal at a distance. However, in the face of so many of his spiritual descendants, everything comes into sharp focus : it is startlingly clear that the heritage of the saint’s holiness continues on in the ordinary, normal, faithful Orthodox daily lives of the people.

During my stay with these devoutly Orthodox men and women, I particularly enjoyed the tradition of the “banya” (like a sauna). What a blessing it was, after a long day of work to relax and sit in the heat with the clergy, to share true, deep spiritual fellowship in Christ, and then to take tea together before bed. This was such a total, all-embracing Orthodox Christian encounter that it was difficult to leave. One felt like the apostles on Mount Tabor. I certainly prayed that we could some day be able to have even a taste of that here in Canada. I am sure that in our earlier days in this country, there was a substantial amount of this integrated life, but somehow we have lost our way. Perhaps we are too satisfied with our comforts, and thus we forget what comes first.

The conference meetings were in 3 stages. On one afternoon, the clergy, readers, sisterhoods, brotherhoods, teachers &c., met in homogeneous groups to discuss the current particular concerns of each. It is useful to understand that in this society, the responsibility of serving as a reader (which includes taking a position of local leadership) is that of the local chief. Another afternoon, there was a general meeting of everyone, in which each group shared their concerns with all. It was a business meeting, but of a much more familial sort than we usually experience, and much more conciliar. Business got done, despite the absence of Robert’s Rules of Order. On another afternoon, there was talk about Confession. People asked questions, and they expressed their various concerns about maintaining a proper discipline, and about the real benefits that derive from this sacrament. Each of the clergy was expected to speak extemporaneously and from the heart on the subject. It was all very “real” and all very “integrated”. By the way, there were no hotels in Napaskiak. All the visitors from the neighbouring villages were accommodated in sleeping bags in the various homes. It was a true, integrated sharing by a people who all still live at the bare subsistence level.

Clearly, the missionaries of the Russian Church laid a good foundation with the Christ-loving Yupik people. Many of the customs familiar to Ukrainian Canadians will also be found there, since obviously some of the missionary influence was from Ukrainian clergy. Can we recover this sort of spirit ? Can we manage to keep our deanery meetings (and for that matter other meetings too) from being too formalised, and retain something of this spirit which is so clearly our natural Orthodox way ?

Here at home, we are perhaps not so very remote from real saints as we may sometimes let ourselves think. There were truly remarkable missionary labourers here in Canada in former days, dedicated builders of the Church of Christ. There have been outstanding men and women who have shone with the light of the love of Christ in our Canadian land. Perhaps we are simply too distracted to remember, or to see it in our midst. However, all that work of the past is still close to us in time, and the memory of many of these holy persons (and even martyrs) is still alive today. It is not yet too late. Let us strive to recover our awareness. In remembering them, in turning to them for prayerful support in our own labours in the vineyard of Christ, we can find help, strength, courage. Let us ask the Lord for a refreshment of our hearts, and a reopening of our eyes, and a heart willing to keep the Lord Jesus Christ in first place. Let us also ask Him to give us the heart to repent daily, so that turning away from selfishness, we may become transparent and reveal Christ clearly to others, as do the Yupik, our brothers and sisters in Alaska.

Ordination of the new Bishop

From 14 to 18 September, I had once again the blessing to go to Alaska, this time for the ordination of the Vicar-Bishop of Anchorage, Innocent (Gula). When I arrived, the annual Diocesan Assembly was well under way. The assembly took place in the presence of a relic of Saint Innocent (Veniaminov), the Apostle to America. Given the vastness of Alaska, and given the poverty of the people, it is very significant that they are able to meet annually, even though in very modest circumstances (in this case the sessions were held in the basement of the new Cathedral of Saint Innocent of lrkutsk in Anchorage). For me, the operation of the assembly itself was comforting because it tasted of the same sort of ordered informality which characterises our own meetings here in Canada. I felt “at home”.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, who was once the Bishop of Alaska, chaired the assembly sessions in his role as Locum Tenens and Administrator of the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska. There was a true spirit of consensus and conciliarity here : I saw it in the sense of joy and unity surrounding the election and ordination of the new bishop. I witnessed it in the love and good will which the people have both for their new hierarch, and for their retired Archbishop Gregory (to whom the assembly sent a letter warmly inviting him to return soon and to serve with the new Vicar).

On Friday evening, the official nomination of the Bishop-elect took place in the cathedral itself. The nomination was followed by the Bishop-elect’s very moving response. Standing with His Beatitude were Archbishops Kyrill and Herman, Bishop Job, and I. Already, the cathedral was quite full ; but on Saturday, the day of the ordination, there were about 900 people present. People had come from villages far and wide : from the Southeast (around Juneau and Sitka) as well as Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribiloff Islands, the Iliamna district, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta area. Many of the faithful live very close to the subsistence level, and they had to sacrifice greatly to pay for the expensive air travel and accommodation in Anchorage (if they had no personal connexions there).

The Divine Liturgy was gloriously polyglot, sung in English, Slavonic, Aleut, Tklinkit, Yupik, Athabascan and Greek. On one side of the Temple, there was also a special Yupik choir, directed by Father Martin Nicolai, which sang especially wonderfully in the characteristic rhythm of the Yupik language. After his ordination, and after the Great Entrance, the new Bishop Innocent ordained to the Holy Priesthood a seminarian from Saint Herman’s Seminary, Deacon Stephen Epchook, a Yupik who is the 3rd generation in his family to serve as a priest.

Afterwards, there was the added blessing for me of a quick trip to the Portage Glacier, about an hour’s drive southeast of Anchorage. This trip was thanks to Father Paul Merculief, originally from Saint George Island in the Bering Sea. He has served many parishes in Alaska, and he is now the Interim Dean of Saint Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak (he was also a classmate of our Father Nicolas Boldireff at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania 25 years ago). Father Paul and his wife, Mother Elisabeth, have hosted me several times in Anchorage. (She tells me that on the Aleutian Islands, they have translated Matushka as “Mother,” which is much more immediate and personal in English, just as it is when Matushka is used for nuns or for a priest’s wife in Russia. In other countries, other terms and titles are used, such as : Dobrodika in Ukraine, Preoteasa in Romania, Popadia in Bulgaria, Presbytera in Greece, Khouria in the Middle-east. On the return, we stopped at a small stream to look at salmon at the end of their spawning. We returned to Anchorage in time for supper and then the Vigil, which was so well-attended that the anointing of the faithful at the canon took almost until the end of Matins. Large numbers went to Confession, as well as to Holy Communion the next day.

On Sunday, Bishop Innocent served his first Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. It was as well (if not better) attended than the Divine Liturgy of Episcopal Ordination. Large numbers of the elderly were there, together with the middle-aged, youths, and plenty of children. Once again, the singing was strong, and the atmosphere of worship intense as the flock gathered lovingly around their new shepherd. Before the “Our Father”, the new bishop ordained to the Holy Diaconate the seminarian George Bereskin, a Yupik. One of his ancestors was instrumental in developing church singing amongst the Aleuts and Yupiks.

It was a Grace-filled 4 days ! Much of the co-ordination of all that occurred was ably managed by the new diocesan Chancellor, Father Nicholas Molodyko-Harris, rector of the cathedral, and his wife, Matushka Anastasia. (Father Nicholas drove a school bus for 18 years in order to help build Saint Innocent’s.) Amongst the many significant presences on this occasion were Father Michael Oleksa and his wife, Mother Xenia, who are currently on sabbatical in Moscow. Father Michael serves in Juneau, and he hopes to help us find some of the reported Orthodox Inland Tklinkits in Northern B.C. and/or Yukon. He and Father Nicholas are also interested in strengthening ties with Canada. It was, therefore, proposed that we hold a conference in 1996 on the missionary life of our two dioceses, a proposal which I hope to help bring to life, God willing. The extra incentive for this is the presence just now of a seminarian from Saskatoon in Saint Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, Bob Polson, with his wife Colleen and their children.

More than this, having seen the operation of the Alaskan deaneries in my earlier visit this summer, I am determined to follow their lead in developing our own interior organisation. We in the Archdiocese of Canada need both the “cementing together” and also the more efficient and effective use of resources which their organisational style helps to create. In addition, I think that we should try to organise a pilgrimage to Alaska for those of us who are able. Perhaps we could try to do this in 1997 ? I am interested in your thoughts on these matters. Please contact me.

SCOBA Bishops’ Assembly (1995)

Bishop Seraphim : Article
SCOBA Bishops’ Assembly
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 1995]


From 30 November to 2 December, 1994, there assembled for the first time together a large majority of the canonical bishops in North America whose jurisdictions comprise the Standing Committee of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. Until this time, common concerns and interests have been addressed by a small committee of representative bishops of SCOBA. Now we had the opportunity for many more bishops to sit together and to discuss some of the main concerns facing us at this time.

The first significant aspect of this historic assembly was that in meeting together this way, we had a very pleasant taste of what it would be like to be living normally in North America as a single Orthodox Church. It was pleasant because it was an event in which the Holy Spirit moved powerfully amongst us, and it reminded us of the foundational canonical requirement – that the Orthodox Church be visibly one on every territory. It is one in all the historical lands, but not in the missionary territory. As a result, to outsiders (and even worse, too often to our own faithful) we appear to be like a group of “denominations” like the Protestants. To a great extent, this unnecessary division paralyses our witness for Christ at every level. It was thus pleasant to be assembled together because we seemed to be feeling and acting as our “true selves”.

The second significant aspect has some controversy attached to it. This controversy is the consideration of the term “diaspora” as applied to ourselves, the Orthodox in North America. The term, by the way, has its origins in the scattering abroad of the Jewish people by the Babylonians and the Romans, and in this context has a racial meaning. We were certainly in agreement that as Greeks, Syrians, Ukrainians, Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, etc., we might be considered to be culturally in diaspora – that is, scattered abroad from homelands. However, this sense of diaspora also has limited application, since after two or three generations of living here, the ties and sense of link to some homeland or other is much looser, more secondary. Most of us here in Canada, for instance, understand ourselves to be clearly Canadians first, and whatever our ancestry might be, second. It is not that we necessarily want to forget or even reject our inheritances. We certainly retain them as much as we are able. However, our context and life is Canada, and Canadian culture sits first in our life and consciousness. It is different with the Church.

The Church can never be in diaspora in this way. If it were, then we must say that the Ukrainian and Russian Churches are in diaspora from Greece, and the Greeks are in diaspora from Palestine. The Church, as planted in every place on the earth, becomes an integral part of each place where she lives : Eastern Europe, Canada, Korea, Indonesia, India, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Palestine. It is her responsibility to baptise every place and every culture where God plants her. This is how our “Mother Churches” came into being also. Currently, in preparation for the projected Great and Holy Council of the world Orthodox Church, this term “diaspora” is being studied. We asked to have the possibility for direct contribution to these deliberations, rather than have the “Mother Churches” decide for us without our direct participation.

The third aspect is that of mission and evangelism. We could see clearly that our history from the beginning in North America has had a major missionary thrust. It was and is so in Alaska. It was so also at the turn of this century, when under the then Archbishop, Saint Tikhon, there were translations of services into English, and conversions were being encouraged. We were very concerned about our mission to our own people in terms of education : the need to deepen the spiritual and theological formation of our flocks. We agreed to co-operate as much as possible in helping to deepen the Orthodox self-awareness of our people, and to further Orthodox Christian education. We also agreed to co-operate in missionary planning. Connected with this also is the attempt to deepen co-operation in charitable work, both locally and abroad.

Perhaps the most important decision made at this historic meeting was that we should meet once every year. It is my profound hope and prayer that above all, we will be able to accomplish at least this. After all, it is through praying together and through talking together that all else can become possible. I ask all to pray for this, as well for as the other possibilities of our life which we do not yet see. May we live to see our Orthodox Church in North America be visibly one. May we live to see one Church in which all our national and linguistic heritages will be cared for with compassionate consideration, and which at the same time reaches out to those who are searching for the Truth. Thus, we will have begun in earnest the evangelising of North America.

Spiritual Warfare

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Spiritual Warfare
[Published in “The Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 1994]


Each year when we approach Great Lent, we understand that we will be in for some stresses by means of temptation. This year was certainly no exception. Everywhere it seems that the faithful who were trying earnestly to improve their focus in serving Jesus Christ, and Him only, were put to the test severely. In the face of these situations we learn to trust our Lord more and more. We learn how to endure faithfully. We learn how to be witnesses, even unto death. And did you know, even here in Canada, we have heard of some of our Orthodox Christians having so suffered for the sake of Christ ?

Then Pascha comes, and we generally set to enjoying our fast-breaking and feasting, unhappily usually more with food than with praise of the Lord. The time we are now in, post-paschaltide, can be even more dangerous. Just as the Lord warned us in the case of exorcism, lack of vigilance can result in the devil that was removed in the lenten house-cleaning going off and returning with seven others worse than himself. We must learn that what growth is achieved by our spiritual exercises in the fasting periods will not stay unless we are careful to keep our attention on the Lord.

With this in mind, let us consider the subject of repentance in the light of spiritual warfare. Let us also remember that this spiritual warfare is not something we simply do by ourselves : we do it together, whether we perceive this or not.

It is easy to see someone else's sins, but not so easy to see our own, nor to admit our own. That there might be lack of peace or harmony in any given community, family or relationship is not the fault of "someone else" alone. If we are honest, we must admit that in our own sinfulness we all participate in it, and we must all therefore repent.

The way of Christ, the way of the Gospel, calls us to forgive. When we are hurt by others, intentionally or unintentionally, we must not hold a grudge, nor keep
remembering the pain over and over. This is the fallen way of the fallen world. We must, as we sing in the Beatitudes, pray for those who do wrong to us, and forgive them in Christ (and I do not claim that this is easy). If we are ourselves ready to follow the Gospel path, it opens the way for others who find it difficult to begin.

If we are looking for peace and harmony in our communities, there must be more love and mutual trust in Christ. Although I often blame lack of clear communication for many of the troubles that afflict us, the real problems come from this : lack of love in Christ. We wage agendas on each other. We dare to judge each other’s salvation, to make harshly critical comments against one another. We accuse one another of ill-will, or even evil activity or intent. What we do not see, and do not want to see or admit, is that all of this evil, this ugliness, this sin, is exactly what is in our own hearts.

These are the very dangerous daily temptations that afflict you and me throughout the year, and it is into this dark, death-dealing evil that we are going to fall and be bound if we do not pay close attention to daily repentance. If we do fall, we must immediately cry for help to God to pull us up again. However, more than this, we need in our daily prayers to pay close attention to our responsibility for supporting our brothers and sisters out of their pitfalls too, not behaving as sharks and being bloodthirsty, or as chickens picking to death another who has fallen into injury or weakness.

Let us pray for and with each other, support one another in our path of repentance as we try together to be like Christ, to reveal Him to others, and to be transparent in His love.

Monasticism and Us

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Monasticism and Us
[See the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”,
Spring 1993 and Winter 1994/1995]


I have long been convinced that it will only be with the firmer establishment of monastic life in Canada that our Church will have a proper foundation and future possibility. Why ? I believe that we lack a sense of direction without the active presence of monks, both male and female. Without them, it is as if we are functioning without one lung (or perhaps more poignantly, without our conscience). Their presence constantly reminds us of the life to which we are all called : the life of repentance. Men and women in the monastic life are not “professional Christians” ; they are simply persons like us who have decided to turn their lives over to Christ Jesus our Lord in a serious and complete way. They have determined to try to live as fully as possible according to the Gospel. The result is that their lives singly and together reflect, as it were, the common community life of the Acts of the Apostles. They hold nothing back, and they try to avoid the duplicity of Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11).

They give up the selfishness of the fallen world, and try to live for Christ first and foremost. Monks, both male and female, dress alike, and serve Christ alike. The similarity in their appearance gives us a visible hint that the Christian life, the Christian way of repentance, minimises the distinctions between human beings. Race, colour, language and gender are not the major concerns. The way of living as repentant persons in the love and service of Christ is the priority. Our monks serve as visible signs of the struggle to which the Lord calls everyone of us : to live lives of repentance and conformity to His will. We need these signs for our own encouragement and strengthening, to help us to live our lives in Christ as devotedly as we possibly can, even if we do have to live in the world in whatever capacity. The male and female monks serve as a sort of conscience for us, because they remind us of our priorities. They also give us hope, because they have given themselves to a life of repentance – turning away from selfishness and self-serving, turning away from sin, and instead turning towards practicing love, obedience, and selfless service in Christ as we are all called to do. Perhaps most importantly, they offer their lives in prayer, even if their lives are quite active. This prayer gives much support to the rest of us.

Even when a monk or nun has all sorts of trouble in fulfilling the Gospel, this very struggle serves as an encouraging sign to us all that we must persevere. There is the famous anecdote about the monk who was asked what the monks are doing with their time in the monastery. His response was : “We fall, and we get up ; we fall, and we get up again”. We all need to see clearly and to understand that the monks are at least attempting to follow Christ and to reveal Him. As they are doing, so can we all be doing. Indeed, the only difference between a monk and any other Christian is that a monk has visibly forsaken everything in order to follow Christ and to live in and with Him.

We in the Archdiocese of Canada are blessed to have amongst us several monks. Some live alone, as hermits ; some live in small groups and more actively. One group in Montréal consists of missionary priests who live separately from each other, and who hold secular employment. However, they pray together on weekends and once during the week, and they have a common rule for their daily lives at home. Other monks belong to yet another brotherhood, and they likewise all live separately. There are also some seekers and attempters. There are people around them who, in one way or another, derive blessing from their witness, prayer and ministrations. Certainly, there are some persons who would criticise such a variety of ways of living. The criticism may well be made that all these monks should be living together under a single roof. This criticism is folly, because even from the beginning, Orthodox monks have not been forced to live in any particular community ; but rather, they find the community in which they feel they can live, and with monks who choose to accept the one asking to enter. We would do well to recall that before there were coenobitic communities, there were hermits and anchorites, and small groups of hermits.

In Canada, there was a time in the past when there were many communities throughout the country, some of which were of a reasonable size. However, that time was in the past. At present, monastic life and presence must be re-established and rebuilt. To do so, it is necessary to allow the Lord Himself to re-establish our Church’s life in Canada, and this means leaving room for the apparently unusual and irregular for the time being. We have no resources at this time with which to build anything else which might satisfy demands for the exterior appearance of an establishment. It is, therefore, crucially important that we all make way for the Lord to provide for our Church, His Church, in accordance with His will. Although we principally have hermits of some sort at this time, we are not asking the Lord for hermits only. We must be ready to embrace and to support whatever sort of monastic establishment the Lord gives to us. At least we do now have some persons who are bold enough to give up all for Christ and to follow Him. Some are openly monks, and some are not openly monks. By their prayers and examples, may the Lord bless the rest of us and bring us all into His Kingdom.

Nevertheless, some people still wonder why we should support monastics, and they ask what is their purpose. That we even ask this materialistic and utilitarian question is indicative of the fact that we live in a work-ethic poisoned environment. The Christian way is not the way of the world. The Christian way is concerned with who a person is, rather than what a person does for a living, whom a person knows, how much money the person makes, or what concrete contribution a person makes to society. The Christian way is concerned with factors much greater and much deeper than these shallow concerns. Monks, whether male or female, are persons who have decided clearly to live a life of repentance. That means turning away from self-will, and instead trying to do God’s will, and His will only. To do this, monks and nuns embrace poverty in every sense of the word. They try to minimise material needs, and they maximise their communion with the Lord. Human beings were created to worship God above all else, and it is for this reason that prayer is the main part of the monk’s life. (The nature and content of this prayer come in many forms, and the prayer of no two monks will be exactly the same.) The monk’s first concern is working out in Christ his or her own salvation with fear and trembling.

Monastics are the heart and soul of Church life. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said : “If you save your own soul, thousands will be saved with you ; and if you lose your soul, thousands will be lost with you”. We all need examples of people who are trying their best to do this very thing, so that we can have the courage to do so as well. We need people who recognise their sinfulness to remind us of our sinfulness. We need people who try to turn from this sinfulness and be re-conformed to the Lord’s will to help us to have courage to do the same. Even if they do not pray for us by name, their struggle creates a sort of wave which helps to pull us all along as well. Perhaps we could liken monks to the prow of a ship.

Our monks are truly visible signs of the struggle to which the Lord calls everyone of us : to live lives of repentance in love, lives of conformity to His life-giving will. The Lord’s life-giving love is what motivates us all. Therefore, as Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska encourages us, let us always say : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”.

Letter from the Bishop's Desk : Winter 1991/2

Bishop Seraphim
Letter from the Bishop's Desk
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1991/1992]


My dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst

One of the first Scripture passages which I ever learned as a child was John 3:16 : “‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’”. God’s love creates life. His love takes concrete, tangible form. He is insistent and persistent. He follows the creature throughout life and seeks to give life in union with Himself, even to those who insistently and persistently reject His love. So much does He love us that in the midst of our self-deception in wilful waywardness, He emptied Himself to take on the whole of our fallenness. He took flesh, becoming a complete human being. He took on all our darkness and separatedness. Then He returned our fallen humanity to its original state by dying and rising again in victory.

The Nativity Feast is the celebration of God’s love for us, of His total self-offering in love to give us life. This feast also celebrates our union with Him which comes as a result of His gift. It celebrates our own similar self-offering in love as we who have put on Christ in baptism (see Galatians 3:27) also live daily in Christ. Living daily as Christians means that we carry Christ with us wherever we go and whatever we do, presenting Christ to everyone we meet. It means that we bring our Lord’s blessing to others, whoever they are, for all are His children. It means that we are measured by others, and by God Himself, according to our faithfulness to Christ.

The Orthodox Christian is called to a life of repentance : turning away from sinful self-service to doing God’s will ; from wilful rebellion to loving offering of obedience to Him ; from “doing my own thing” to being a good steward of His gifts, and putting the needs of others before my own. We Orthodox Christians in Canada are beginning to be known by others as a reliable standard of the traditional Christian. When the test is put to us to see if we really are what we say we are, Orthodox, will our lives bear the test ? Let us ask ourselves these questions, my sisters and brothers :

Do I really know Jesus Christ in the Orthodox way ?

Do I properly worship the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox way ?

Do I have my life ordered in the Orthodox way, with serving Christ as the first priority ?

Do I care about other people and meet their needs in the Orthodox way ?

Do I support with the first fruits of all my resources the worship of the Lord and the needs of the poor in the Orthodox way ?

Do I know the Gospel of Christ and live by that Gospel every day of my life in the Orthodox way ?

At the time when we are finally measured by the Lord Himself, may there be enough obedience, enough of His Good in me to save me from eternally separating myself from His life-creating love by rejecting Him in any way.

Letter from the Bishop's Desk : Spring 1991

Bishop Seraphim
Letter from the Bishop's Desk
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 1991]


My dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst

This issue of the Canadian Orthodox Messenger should be in your hands by mid-Lent. It is at this time that we begin the transition in our liturgical emphasis from repentance to anticipating Pascha. We all love the brightness of the glorious Queen of Feasts. After all, it is the Passion of the Lord, the Death, Burial and Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We Christians are the people of the Resurrection. We are the New Israel. We are citizens not of this earth but of the Kingdom of Heaven. All of this is truly glorious and blessed, and we ought with dear Father Seraphim of Sarov to be able and anxious to say “Christ is risen, my joy !” This is, with “Alleluia”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the language of the Kingdom : praise and worship of our God.

We can do all this because of our life in Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). However, none of this can be achieved except by repentance. Repentance is the hard part. Why ? Because it means turning about from sin to righteousness. We turn from selfishness to selflessness. We turn from rebellious independence and separation from God to harmony with God’s love, and from a life filled with disorder to willingly and lovingly uniting our will with His. We turn from death to life.

It is not easy to do all this because it means that we have to be different from the world, from the society in which we live. We can no longer be passive followers of the ever-changing fads around us, passive absorbers of advertising and other sales propaganda. We must become leaders – leading others to Christ. We must be the examples of strength and purity that others need and desire.

Because we ourselves in baptism have died to the world and now are alive in Christ (see Romans 6:4), we can point the way to Him who is the Way. Together, you and I can support one another in our repentance. Let us pray for, encourage, and strengthen one another. Let us, loving God more than anything else, shine with Resurrection Light and Life and glorify God : Father, Son and Holy Spirit.