Second Day of the Holy Trinity

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Singing Psalms and Hymns in the Holy Spirit
Second Day of the Holy Trinity
16 June, 2008
Ephesians 5:9-19 ; Matthew 18:10-20

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

Today, we are celebrating what is called the second day of the Holy Trinity. On this Feast of Pentecost, the first day of the Holy Trinity was yesterday ; the second day is today, and tomorrow is the third day of the Holy Trinity. On big feasts such as these, we have three days of clear celebration. This happens at Christmas-time, too, and there are other times. On this second day of the Holy Trinity, we are still getting lessons about how we are to live in the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

The Holy Spirit has, in fact, been given to all of us – not in exactly the same way as it was given to the apostles with tongues of fire – but instead through baptism, and through the applying of chrism (which is that special oil that is blessed by the bishop at the head of each Church for the purpose of conferring the Holy Spirit). It is through the sacrament of chrismation that the Holy Spirit is conferred.

The Apostle Paul is telling us that we are supposed to be living in the Spirit. The way of living in the Holy Spirit is to be full of joy, as the Apostle said : “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”, giving thanks to God for everything. That is the life that characterises an Orthodox Christian : a life that is full of joy, thanksgiving, and songs. Now, of course, here in Canada at the beginning of the 21st century, we Orthodox Christians need to ask ourselves about the nature of our lives. A hundred years ago, when people came here from the old country, they were singing all the time. They had songs for every occasion. In Ukraine I have seen books of those songs for every occasion. Now, however, in general, Canadians do not sing much any more, even though when I was young, Canadians still would sing at home somewhat, and they would sing on special occasions. Now Canadians do not sing very much. When we are together, we are too shy to sing with each other any more. Something has come over us. It is time that we “pulled up our socks”, because we, Orthodox Christians, especially are charged with showing everyone else the right way to live. If we, ourselves, are forgetting the right way to live, I should think that we had better “pull up our socks”.

We need to remember how to sing to the Lord, to give thanks to Him, and to sing hymns of praise to the Mother of God, too. It is really important because, in the first place, these hymns give us focus. In the second place, simply singing lifts up our hearts when we are having difficult times, as we all do from time to time. Singing songs of glory, thanksgiving, and supplication to the Lord, such as our ancestors did all the time, lifts our hearts. Just the offering of song to the Lord lifts the heart. It is important for us to remember that when we are having difficult struggles, times of depression, and so forth. Even when we do not feel like it, we had better sing a little bit.

When we come to think of it, the black slaves in the southern part of the United States were characterised exactly by that. Probably few people had a worse sort of life than many of them did on this continent in the past several hundred years. What did they do in response ? Because they were Christian believers, they sang about their sorrow to the Lord. It is important for us to do this because we are Orthodox Christians, and we have this responsibility. Let us pull up our socks, and do what we are supposed to do.

Singing psalms and hymns and glorifying the Lord in everything, and about everything, we give thanks to Him for things that are difficult and for things that are easy and full of light. This singing also brings a renewal of the light of the Lord in our hearts. Our Saviour, Himself, spoke about Himself as being the Light (see John 8:12). It is the Grace of the Holy Spirit that multiplies this Light in our hearts. The Apostle Paul was talking about how this Light, shining, reveals the ways that are dark. So it is in our hearts. The Light of Christ shining in our hearts cleans out the darkness. Darkness is always associated with you-know-who-down-below, “Big Red”.

This Light shining in the darkness is operating in the Orthodox Church whether we are aware of it or not. Of course, human beings are always tempted to think that we can get away with something by hiding it, not talking about it, covering it up. We put it under the rug or in a closet somewhere. We try to do this from time to time in a sneaky way because we fall into temptation. However, the Lord, in His merciful love, does not let us get away with it. It is well known, for instance, that in the Orthodox Church there are no secrets. People try to keep secrets and confidences, and so forth, but if something has to come to light in our Church, it comes to light. (There are certain things about some people’s lives that are not edifying to know, and the Lord does not bring those things to light.)

However, what must be brought to light will be brought to light because when there are things that are out of order in our lives or out of order in the Church’s life (because people have fallen into temptation), the Lord shines His light upon it. He brings His healing love to it so that it will be healed, corrected, and straightened. That goes for us, too. If we become dark and crooked because of falling into temptation, the Lord, in His merciful love, straightens us out. He takes away the darkness from us.

The Lord, in His merciful love, is always with us. He says this again today. This passage is important for us to remember because sometimes it is misinterpreted. He says : “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven”. Then He says : “I am there in the midst of them”. Those are two different things that are sometimes compressed together in our understanding. It is important that we do not compress them together. It is true that whenever two or three people are gathered together in the Lord’s Name, He is certainly with us. However, just being together in His Name is not the same thing as agreeing in His Name. We can be together, and we can be praising the Lord together as we are today, but sometimes there are little divisions between us. The Lord is still with us, and He is working in our hearts to heal the little divisions between us. When Christians agree together about a particular request, it means first that there can be no divisions amongst those people. In the second place, we can only agree if there is complete unity and harmony in love with the Lord. In the third place, we can only ask what the Lord will give to us when we, together, with pure hearts, know His will, and know what to ask.

The Lord is used to hearing us ask for all sorts of things, but we do not very often bother to ask Him first : “What, Lord, is the right thing to ask ?” “What is Your will, so that I can ask for the right thing ?” We usually think that we are so smart and so intelligent (although that is how He made us) that we can make independent decisions, but that is not how it is with the Lord. The Orthodox Christian is not concerned with making independent decisions. The Orthodox Christian is concerned with learning how to seek His will out of love, to be pleasing to Him in everything, and to do His will. In order to do His will, and to know His will, we have to ask Him : “What is Your will ?” My heart has to be open to accepting that His will might not be the same as what I think (or what I want). I have to be ready and willing to ask for what He wills.

Even if you do not have the details all lined up, and your “spiritual ducks all in a row”, regardless, our Lord says : “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am there in the midst of them”. That is why it is always possible for us to say when we are here together in the Lord : “Christ is in our midst”. Thus, we answer : “He is, and ever shall be”. He is with us. He is in our midst. He loves us. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which is poured out upon us, He renews our life. He renews our hope. He renews our ability to be like Him. He is with us, because we only exist because of His love. Everything, in fact, only exists because of His love. We are often speaking about God as if He were far, far away, out there somewhere, and He is reading the paper, maybe, while we are doing whatever we are doing here. This is not at all the case. God is involved in everything, everything about our lives. He is sustaining everything that exists.

The Lord is in everything, and He is with everything, and sustaining everything. For instance, when people are talking in terms of geology, and palæontology, about mass extinctions of animals, and so forth, they have to admit that the geological record shows that life reappeared after these mass extinctions very rapidly, very abundantly, and in huge variety. The theory of Darwin, which Canadians seem to have accepted as some sort of law (but it has never yet been proven), suggests that this sort of recovery could take place over a long period of time, because you have to have slow natural selection which takes a very long period of time. If you only have a few species to begin with, how are you going to come to these vast, different numbers of species that are not apparently very connected with each other ?

In my opinion, the re-appearance of life (whether we can scientifically explain it or not) occurs precisely because God is in everything. He is doing everything. He is the Giver of life. He is the Provider of life. When something happens and there is a mass extinction, the Lord, who produces life because He is Love, produces all this life in great variety. I was just talking about the interesting things that the Lord has created in our world. We, North Americans (especially the English-speakers), generally have a very pragmatic way of speaking, and we ask : “What is the use of that ?” We only tend to think of things in terms of usefulness. However, the Lord does not create things like that. What use is a platypus, for instance ? This furry mammal has a duck bill, and it lays eggs. It is a marsupial, and it swims in Australian waters. It is a very strange creature. Of what use is it ? Of what use is a panda bear, except to look cute ? It just sits around and eats bamboo shoots. It moves around very slowly because its digestion has to work very hard on the bamboo shoots. Of what use are all sorts of creatures ? For example, the hippopotamus. It eats reeds in the Nile River and other places. Of what use are these creatures ?

The Lord, in Psalm 103, gives us a hint. In Psalm 103, the Psalmist says that the Lord made the leviathan, this huge sea monster. We do not know for certain what this leviathan is, exactly (it could be a whale), but some people are saying that it could even be a hippopotamus. What is the purpose of this leviathan ? The leviathan lives in the sea in order to play. Its purpose is simply to play. It plays in the water. The Lord does create some things like this. So maybe a platypus is there for us to look at and think it is cute. It is there just to play. Maybe a panda is there just to play in the bamboo forests, to look cute to us, and to warm our hearts because we are so easily suffering from hard hearts.

The Lord in His mercy and His love is creating all the time, renewing creation all the time by the Grace of the all-holy Spirit, who is everywhere, and fulfils all things. That is a hint of the meaning of the tropar that we sing every day (except at Pascha-time). Let us ask the Lord to pour out the Grace of the Holy Spirit afresh upon us this morning so that we will have new hope, new joy, new determination, and willingness to follow Him, and to live showing His love. Glory be to Jesus Christ. Glory be to the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.