What is Obedience ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
What is Obedience ?
Sunday after Theophany
13 January, 2008
Ephesians 4:7-13 ; Matthew 4:12-17

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

It is important to remember the very last words of this Gospel pericope, when our Saviour begins to preach saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. In those days, people did not understand what he meant, and I do not know if we understand this so very well even now, even after 2,000 years.

When our Saviour first said these words, people were certainly looking for the establishment of the promised kingdom and the righting of everything. They were looking for a Messiah who would be a king, and because of this, they perceived that what our Saviour was talking about was this – that this kingdom was going to be established quite soon. They were looking for the establishment of this kingdom according to what they understood the prophecies meant to say. They all were expecting an earthly kingdom, that is for certain. When the Saviour was saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, they were quite certain that this meant that very soon this kingdom would be established, the Roman invaders would be gone, and all that Greek-speaking which they had to endure, too, would be gone. They would have a nice theocratic kingdom as they thought they had been promised.

What they did not comprehend (and what most people are still not comprehending, somehow), is that when our Saviour says that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, He is talking about Himself, and not just Himself as some sort of a king. He is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is in Him. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life (see John 14:6). He is, Himself, the Kingdom. We understand this Kingdom in which we are participating to be the Body of Christ, of which we are all parts (even though we do not necessarily always behave like it). Jesus Christ, Himself, is the Head. All this came to be out of His perfect obedience to the will of the Father. This, our Saviour’s obedience, was not accomplished because God the Father (as it were) said to God the Son : Do this, because I said so, or else. The Son lovingly and voluntarily offered His obedience to the will of the Father, and always did, always does, and always will because of the nature of His love.

We still have not learnt the proper meaning of the word “obedience”. We keep behaving as though obedience meant that I have to do something someone else says because it is the law, such as a stop sign or a speed limit sign (which, if the truth be known, we always bend). I do it because it is the law. It says so, so I have to do it. However, that is not what real obedience is.

Real obedience in Christian life (and in real life) is voluntarily offering my obedience out of love. I love someone, and therefore I will be obedient. However, you see that this obedience is not just doing something that someone says because he/she says so (although sometimes it can be like that). True obedience is more like emulation. I love someone, and therefore I want to be like that person. If you are going to be obedient in a monastery for instance, or in parish life, this obedience is offered to someone who has, obviously, a life in Christ, a life of love in Christ.

When the Lord is saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, He is saying to us, as it were : Turn about. We do not really understand the word “repent” these days, either. It seems to me that every time we hear the word “repent”, we suppose that we ought to be having some sort of an emotional reaction, with tears in our eyes, feeling very sad and sorry, and so forth.

Repentance is not necessarily a matter of having tears in the eyes and feeling sorry (although that does have its place). Repentance has to do with turning about : turning away from the darkness, and instead turning towards the light ; turning away from selfishness, and instead turning towards selflessness ; turning away from death, and instead turning towards life. When such turning about takes place, it is filled with joy, also. It is true that there could be some sadness, some regret about bad things or mistakes, and so forth, which we made while we were in the other mode of life, in the other mode of consciousness.

However, when we turn towards the Lord, this turning towards the Lord brings life, light, joy, peace – the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Our lives become different. They are lives that are full of joy – not woe-is-me-hang-your-head lives. They are lives that are, instead, full of joy, full of life, full of vigour, positive and full-of-power lives. This is what our Lord is talking about when He is, as it were, saying : Turn about. When He is saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, He is, as it were, saying to us : Understand that this present life can be new, vital, joyful.

It is for you and for me, 2,000 years after He said this, to come to understand that our lives really are found in Him. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is the living Kingdom. It is at His Banquet and Table that we are here, today, gathered. Standing together here today in this Temple, we are gathered around the Lord’s Table and waiting for Him, Himself, to feed us with His own Self, with His own hand. He uses our bishops or priests as His hand, I suppose you could say, but it is He who is feeding us all.

It is He, Himself, who is feeding us. In fact, that is part of one of the prayers that is said just before we receive Holy Communion. We are asking the Lord, Himself, to feed us all with His own hand ; and He does. Let us ask Him, as He is feeding us, to renew our love for Him. Let us ask Him to renew our sense of direction and our awareness that He is the Way, so that we may be ready to be there with the Lord whom we love, and who is the whole purpose of our being. Let us ask Him to renew this simple, straightforward love and joy so that we can glorify Him in every part of our lives, all together, supporting each other in the Kingdom, standing as we are, glorifying the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.