Soul Saturday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Keeping our Priorities straight
Soul Saturday
1 March, 2008
1 Corinthians 10:23-28 ; Luke 21:8-9, 25-27, 33-36

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

One of the most important things in our life is somehow trying to keep our priorities straight. It is something I have always had difficulty with. Father n, who is with us here (and who has known me for over forty years already) will testify to the fact that I have had some difficulty with priorities. This presently preaching bishop is a human being, and other bishops are human beings, too. Bishops have many of the same sorts of difficulties with their lives as everyone else does.

Keeping focus, remembering who we are, is the main challenge for us believers. The prevailing attitude of human beings in this world is “me-centered”. As a result, much of what we encounter in human society is simply empty, false window-dressing, false promises. It is ghastly – the sorts of false promises we keep hearing and reading about these days. The world is loaded with disappointments, and we all have plenty of experience of these disappointments. Nevertheless, we human beings continue to be lured away. The allure of all these false promises — things that are shiny, things that are pretty (and still very empty) — keep distracting us, keep pulling us away. People persist in talking about the great advancements we human beings have made. I suppose, technologically, we have made some advances. However, as persons, the way we react to things, the way we behave in life, is no different from how it ever was.

We have, as human beings, as a race, really not learned anything. Human beings make the same mistakes over and over and over again. If we had learned anything, I am saying, there would not be any war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in all the other places where there is war right now in the world. There would not be hungry, starving people, homeless people, people wandering around this city, and other cities. In the biggest city in this country (I suppose we could say it is the richest city, too), there are more than 40,000 people living without a home. This city is no better off proportionally – there are people here who have no place to live. This is not how it was when I was a child. Things have really changed. This is not to say that it was perfect when I was a child, not by any means.

There are so many people in so much need. So many of us are ready to forget and reject them. That is why I am saying that we have not learned anything. If we look at human history (let us say in Pharaonic times), and if we pay attention to how people behaved in those days, how they related to each other, the mistakes they made, then we will see that there is actually no difference. If we go back to the time of The Epic of Gilgamesh, and those people in the Mesopotamian area (which is the same area that is now all torn up), the situation is no different. If we study ancient Chinese history or Indian history, it is all the same thing, because human beings are still much the same as they always have been, from the earliest times. Once we got distracted from the true source of our purpose, of our being (in the Garden of Eden we got distracted), then we stayed distracted. No matter how much we try to pull ourselves back (as we keep trying to do), we do not get anywhere, because we, ourselves, cannot get anywhere by ourselves.

This is one of those nice places where Alcoholics Anonymous have it right. The first thing human beings have to understand about everything in life (not just about addiction, because addiction is only a symptom of great interior pain, and illness therefrom), is that we need the Lord. In everything in our life, we need the Lord (they call Him the “Higher Power”). We need help. We need the Lord to help us up and out of the dirty messes in which we find ourselves. We need the Lord to bring us back into focus from being distracted by all the pretty, shiny, empty things and the false promises. We need the Lord, and we need His strength even to begin to say : “Help”. We need His strength for everything. This is what I am talking about in terms of priorities in life.

We have to learn as a fundamental that everything in our life – our hope, our joy, our meaning, our purpose, our sense of direction – is all in the Lord, and from the Lord, and blessed by Him. Our purpose has to be to learn how to look for His blessing all the time as the Psalm says : “Behold, as the eyes of bond-servants are unto the hands of their masters, as the eyes of a maid-servant are unto the hands of her mistress, so our eyes are towards the Lord our God” (Psalm 122:2). We are looking for what He is asking us to do, looking to Him first because we love Him. We love Him. He loves us. We exist because He loves us. We love Him. We respond to Him in this love, sharing this love in the same way with each other.

We learn how we should be meeting the needs of each other as our Saviour met the needs of people all around Him all the time, telling them the truth about the Truth. That is our job : imitating our Saviour ; telling, living, acting, practicing the truth about Him who is the Truth. This is all because “God is love”, as the Apostle John says (1 John 4:8). Because God is love, all our work, all our being, everything about us has to be in the context of this selfless, serving love.

I am saying all this because our Lord is telling us today in the Gospel that when the time comes for the end, there are going to be plenty of deceivers. There definitely are amongst us on this continent (and in the whole world now), plenty of deceivers, plenty of false saviours. He says (as it were) : “Who is going to recognise Me when the time comes ?” Are we going to be able to know that it is truly He, Himself, when He comes ? The only way we are really going to have hope that this can be is if our hearts are already in harmony with Him, if we already know Him, if we are already trying to live in communion, in co-operation, in collaboration with Him, seeking to do His will, as the Prophet David said, looking to His hand, ready, eager, zealous even (in the right sort of a way) to do His will, to do His love, to act on His love.

Today is a Soul Saturday. We are remembering all the faithful who have departed. I can tell already that in this little community (because you are young, and still new), you do not have much experience as a community with Panikhidas, and so forth. It is a blessed, and a good stage of your life to be in. However, this experience will come to this community, because, as they say, death and taxes are certain. For us all, death will come. We have to face it, and when we face it, it is important for us to remember that our Lord said : “For He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Luke 20:38). He is talking about those who are alive in God. Our Lord says that God is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Luke 20:37). He is explaining to us that God is the God of the living because Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Patriarchs, Noah, and all the rest, are all alive in God, in His love. Even though they have died in their bodies, they are alive in His love. In anticipation of Christ they are alive, those who have fallen asleep amongst us.

We pray on a day like this for everyone who has died everywhere, and in all times. Truly, we are praying for absolutely everyone, that they, who have fallen asleep will find rest in the mercy of the Lord. The Lord is the Judge of all ; He knows everything, and we are praying that He will extend His love to all those who have fallen asleep, with hope on our part that He will do this as He promised. We are also praying for those who have fallen asleep, that truly they will be able to accept His love, and be received into the heavenly Kingdom by receiving His love. This prayer that we are offering to the Lord now on behalf of all the people who have fallen asleep is not just for our relatives, and not just for those around here, now – this prayer is for everyone at all times. Our prayer (because the Lord is the Lord of all time and all people, always, everywhere) is for everyone, always, that the Lord will have mercy on them, and that they will be able to accept the Lord’s mercy. It is up to them, and it is up to the Lord. It is our business to pray.

The Lord uses our prayers as He wills. I have seen how the Lord does really use our prayers for the living, and for the departed. He touches people who need our support even if we do not know that. People are praying (in general and in specific). The Lord hears our prayers. He meets our needs. He touches us. He looks after us all, the living and the departed together. He cares for us. He wants us to be united with Him in His love because He created us out of love. He wants us to live in Him eternally in love, in life, in joy, in everlasting bliss. May the Lord grant to us all the ability to keep our hearts focussed on Him, and our sense of purpose clear and direct. It would not hurt if you would pray for me once in a while, that I will finally get my own act together, and get my sense of priorities straightened out, so that we can all glorify together our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.