“Follow Me” means “Be Holy”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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