In the World, but not of it

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
In the World, but not of it
Saturday of the 3rd Week of Pascha
17 May, 2008
Acts 9:19-31 ; John 15:17-16:2

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

At the very end of the Gospel reading this morning, we hear these words from the mouth of the Lord : “The time will come when people will kill you, thinking that they are doing Me service” (to paraphrase what He said). We know to whom this must refer – the very person about whom we were hearing just now in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles : the Apostle Paul. He had been persecuting people, thinking that he was serving the Lord, and doing God the right service. He was putting Christians into prison, because he thought that he was doing what was right (until our Lord appeared to him).

What is happening today to the Apostle Paul happened right after he had met our Saviour on the road to Damascus. Our Saviour encountered him, and he encountered the Saviour. He was blind for a while, then he was healed from his blindness and immediately he was baptised. Then his immediate response was to go into the synagogue and to demonstrate from the Scriptures how Jesus truly is the Messiah, the Christ. He mixed everyone up because they could not understand the sudden change in his behaviour, suddenly having become a proclaimer of Christ instead of a persecutor of Christ. He was absolutely boiling hot in one direction, and very shortly afterwards he was boiling hot in the other direction. It did not make sense to them. The Apostle Paul, in his encounter with our Saviour, never became lax about his love for Christ, never became a lukewarm person. His Christian faith was absolutely warm and boiling, you could say. He was really alive with the love of Jesus Christ.

The words of our Saviour about love are lived out by the Apostle Paul. They are supposed to be lived out by you and me, too. It is important for us to remember, in the various difficulties we face in our living out our lives, that we are supposed to be, as our Saviour says : in the world, but not of the world (see John 17:15, 16). For us, this term “the world” means that element in creation which is in rebellion against God. God created the world good, but it is in rebellion.

Where is this rebellion coming from ? It is coming from our own hearts, because we are partly of the world. When this rebellion is happening in our hearts, we are definitely participating in the spirit of this fallen world. We are, as a race, definitely in rebellion : the turmoil of the earth’s climate, and other aspects of the earth’s existence are reflecting this rebellion. We poison the creation around us, and as a result, we are living in a poisonous atmosphere. Instead of looking to the Lord, asking Him what to do right, how to be right, we do it our own way. We do not bother to consult the Lord until we are in a big mess. That is when we begin to yell at Him : “Help ! Help ! Fix the mess !”

The Lord says that once we are in the middle of this relationship of love with Him, it does become a matter of spiritual warfare. The powers of darkness, which are reflected in the term “world”, are trying to overcome the Light that is shining in us. The beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John describes the Light. What is this Light ? The Light is Jesus Christ, Himself. The Light of His love is shining in us, and the powers of darkness are trying to overcome it. That is one of the reasons, in fact, why we encounter so many obstacles in our lives : inexplicable obstacles, difficulties, pain, messed-up communication, messed-up relationships between human beings.

All sorts of things like this are happening because the darkness is trying to put out the light. In our psychologised existence, we are used to being very “me-centred”, thinking that all these things are something that is stemming from “me”, and that I am responsible to fix everything that is wrong. That is not the reality. There is not finite “me”, just by myself in isolation. Not one of us is a finite “me” in isolation. The reality of human beings is that we are all one as a race. We are all in the same boat as a race, and what affects one, affects the other for good or for bad. If I get tempted about one thing or another, those temptations do not all come from me. I can think of bad things, that is true. However, all those things, everything that goes through the mind : temptations of one sort or the other (and especially suspicious thoughts of division between one person and another), those are not necessarily dreamed up by me.

Those sorts of thoughts are in the atmosphere, part of a fallen world that invades us. They are always around, invading us – suspicious, dark thoughts, dividing thoughts, destructive thoughts ; they are always floating around waiting for an opportunity to come in. As Mother n likes to repeat : “Elder Paisios on Mount Athos described these thoughts allegorically as airplanes circling around an airport waiting to land. Our responsibility is not to let them land”.

The problem is that once those things land, they are just like mosquitoes – they immediately get to work and they insert their poison. The loads those planes are carrying around are not life-giving loads – they are poisonous loads. As soon as they can land, they unload them. They get a hook into us, and it is hard to get them out. It is difficult enough to keep them from landing, but once they land, it gets much worse. This contemporary comparison is very helpful. This Athonite elder is considered to be a saint by very many people, and he probably is.

How do we stop those thoughts from landing in the mind, in the heart ? We cannot just say : “We are holding them off ; we are holding them off …” That is not the way. As soon as we start to confront or to engage those thoughts that are circling like that, and to address them directly, then they have already got us trapped in their snares. Let us beware. When it is time to pray, that is when these invaders multiply.

Although we may recognise these thoughts for the evil that they are, as they are approaching, we must not look at these thoughts, must not listen to these thoughts, must not pay attention to these thoughts in any way whatsoever. Rather, we must turn away from them to the Lord, and say to the Lord : “Help me. Save me. Protect me”. Then, in His protection, they cannot land. Those evil, dividing, suspicious, dark thoughts cannot land when we are constantly turning our hearts towards our Lord, who is Truth. He is Truth. He is Life, Light, Love. These dark thoughts cannot stick or have any life in us as long as our life is in Him.

That is the most important thing for us to remember in our lives, and for some reason it is the hardest thing for human beings to manage to accomplish : always, in everything, to call to Him for help. Our Saviour, Himself, said that He is with us. He is sending the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is going to teach us everything we need to know, and tutor us in everything we need to know. We have the Holy Spirit. Since we have been baptised, we have the Holy Spirit. It is important for us to allow the Holy Spirit to grow and work in us : to be co-operative with the Holy Spirit, who is our life, after all. It is He who increases the presence of Jesus Christ in us.

Let us ask the Lord to help us call to Him. Let us ask the Lord to help us even to remember to call to Him. Let us ask the Lord to come and save us. Let us ask Him to fill us with His love, as He filled the Apostle Paul with His love. Let us ask Him to enable us in all things and everywhere to glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.