Centennial Celebration

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Perpetual Trust and Perpetual Blessing
Centennial Celebration
14 June, 2008
Acts 28:1-31 ; John 21:15-25

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

For about twelve years now, we have been remembering in the diocese the very beginnings of Orthodox foundations in this country as one parish after another has been celebrating its 100th anniversary. We come now to this parish’s centennial celebration. I very often have wondered myself, in the context of my life, how I would have fared coming to a country where people spoke a different language from the one I had known all my life, being taken by train, and then dumped off somewhere in the forest in the wilds of – let us say, Siberia – with an axe, and a shovel, and told : “Just go make a home for yourself”. I wonder how I would have survived. However, that is just what happened to a large number of people who came here in the first years of settlement of Orthodox peoples from Ukraine and Romania.

They settled here with nothing to begin with. There were no government services, no friendly loans or any other help – just : “Go, make it yourself in the middle of the woods ; do everything yourself”. I think I would have starved to death in about three weeks. Yet, the persons who came here 100 years ago were people who were strong. Of course, they did know how to farm, and they did know how to work the land. What had to be done on the land was not completely unknown to them (even though the climate was very different). They somehow managed. These Orthodox Christian immigrants managed for these reasons : first, because they were strong ; second, because they knew that God would be there with them, and that He would bless them. The people who came here in those days were people who knew how to keep the Lord first in their lives. They did not change when they came here. They did not put the Lord into the background. They kept their priorities straight, and they kept Him in the front of their lives.

Why was this ? It is because the relationship with the Lord was not some sort of philosophical principle. It was out of the experience of a loving relationship with the Lord that they had this confidence. The Lord, after all, is not some sort of a philosophical principle. He is the Creator of everything. He it is who gives us life. They trusted Him. This trust, day by day (and actually hour by hour in many cases, I am sure), was rewarded with blessings over and over again. As a result of this perpetual trust of the people in the Lord, and their perpetual turning to the Lord, the Lord’s blessing was upon them, and they were able to do things that were not possible otherwise. Not every immigrating people coming to Canada had this exact same sort of “welcome”. There were other ways in which Canada, even 100 years ago, was helping other people to come and settle in Canada. However, as far as I can see, it seems to have been the people of Ukraine and Bukovinia who got a particularly “warm welcome”.

The people who were so “hospitably welcomed” by this country, nevertheless made homes for themselves, and made a life for themselves and their families in co-operation with the Lord. They turned very bad situations into good situations because the blessing of the Lord was with them. I keep saying all the time that it is important to remember this because this love that the ancestors who came here had for the Lord was real. This love was alive, and it was not theirs to keep, just as it was not for the apostles to keep for themselves. The love of the Lord must be shared. This love was brought here with them because the Lord knew that it was time for the Orthodox Faith to come to this continent. The Orthodox Faith is not so easily taught in books. It has to be shown by the lives of living people. This is really the only way that the Orthodox Faith is spread anywhere. It is spread by the living example of living people.

Today, the Apostle Paul is on the island of Malta, and he is bitten by a viper (a deadly, poisonous snake). He should have died quickly ; but he does not die, so the Maltese people immediately decide that he must be a god. The Apostle Paul persuades them otherwise, and he is immediately exercising his Christian life by healing people. He goes on to heal people all over the island of Malta : first, the father of Publius, and then other people on the island. When he came to Rome, again he was healing many people there. He exercised the love of Jesus Christ, which does bring healing always. It is important for us, seeing the Apostle Paul’s example, to remember that this is our way, too – exercising the love of Jesus Christ. Orthodox people do not just talk about the love of Jesus Christ. They do something about it.

Today, our Saviour says to the Apostle Peter three times : “'Do you love Me?'” Two times the Apostle Peter answers : “'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You'”. The third time the Apostle Peter is a bit exasperated, and he answers : “'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You'”. What is our Saviour’s response ? “'Feed My lambs'”. “'Tend My sheep'”. “'Feed My sheep'”. This is how we have to live. The exercise of the love of God has to be in caring for other people. Sometimes it is physical healing that the Lord brings through us. Sometimes it is healing of the heart or healing of the emotions that He brings through us. However, it is always an exercise of bringing the light to people around us. That is the way Orthodox Christians live, and always have lived : bringing life, love, healing, hope, and strength to people around us.

That is exactly what happened 100 years ago when people came and settled here. Even in the midst of all the difficulties (and even though people around them for a long time could not comprehend anything about the Orthodox way), the Orthodox people who came here, came with the assurance that the Lord was with them and helping them. They always received this help. I was hearing a story just today about a person who was praying for rain, and the Lord gave it when it was necessary. This is a story I hear all the time from people. Our people still remember that the Lord cares about us. If we need rain, He will give it. If we need sunshine, and we ask for it, He gives it. However, we have to ask. He does not force it on us. Our ancestors knew how to ask for help all the time.

We, modern, highly “technicalogicalised” people are very often slow to remember to ask the Lord for anything. We often ask Him only when we are desperate, because we get the idea that the Lord expects us to fend for ourselves (which is not at all the case). The Lord gives us our life, and He gives His blessing to us, because everything about our life, even every breath, really, has to be offered in harmony with the Lord. He wants to be active with us in everything, always.

Even if we have all these technological aids, it is important for us to remember to call on the Name of the Lord for help in everything ; to ask Him to be with us when we are driving. How many times have I, myself, been spared from a life-threatening accident because I know that the Lord is with me, and has sent His Guardian Angels to put me on guard at the right moment. When we are driving, working, or doing anything at all, we must ask the Lord to be with us and bless us. How many of us remember (among the women in particular, because the kitchen ends up being so much their responsibility) the Orthodox habit of blessing everything. Do we remember such things as making the sign of the Cross on everything that we are doing, blessing the ingredients of bread when it is begun, blessing it when it goes into the oven, and blessing it when it is broken ? Do we remember these details about asking the Lord to bless everything as our parents and grandparents did remember ? Do we remember to ask the Lord to bless everything : our animals, our crops, even our computers ? We may not have as many animals as we used to have, but we definitely do have many modern, technological aids, and they need blessing, too – especially computers, because from the internet come so many very deadly temptations that people fall into. Bringing the Lord’s blessing to everything, exercising His love : this is what we have to remember.

It is important to remember, too, that healing people of diseases – physical, spiritual, and emotional – was not just the gift to the apostles. As we have seen so many times during the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, healing was not just their gift. It is our gift, too. The Lord heals people through our intercessory prayers. I have seen it happen many times in my 21 years of being a bishop. When people pray for each other, the Lord brings healing. He brings hope. He brings renewal.

Therefore, I am asking that we all take heart from the example of those who came here 100 years ago, whose circumstances were far more difficult than we can imagine. In the more comfortable days of our lives, as we remember their example, we remember that our love for our Saviour is the same as their love for the Saviour. Our Saviour, who never changes, but who is always the same Saviour, is still with us today. We, too, can live in the same harmony of love as they did. We can co-operate in the same atmosphere of perpetual blessing as they did. We can bear fruit in love, and have this fruit multiply a hundredfold, just as our Saviour said, just as our ancestors did.

We have to exercise this love of Jesus Christ. Let us ask Him this morning to renew our determination, our love, our commitment to living in this way, in harmony and in love with Him, glorifying Him every day of our lives. As Saint Herman, the Elder, and Wonder-worker of Alaska always said, let us also say : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in doing so, glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.