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.