Let us love God above All

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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