Feast of the Prophet Elias (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Serving the Lord first is our Priority
Feast of the Prophet Elias (Old-Style)
Altar Feast of the Uncovering of the
Relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov
2 August, 2008
James 5:10-20 ; Luke 4:22-30

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

Today we are celebrating together the feast-days of the holy Prophet Elias, and the holy Elder and Wonder-worker Saint Seraphim of Sarov. This is happening, of course, because we are moving the feast of Saint Seraphim one day so that we can celebrate it on Saturday.

There are people who are asking from time to time how it can be that we are suffering as we are not so much from the hands, but from the words of our Christian brothers and sisters. How can it be ? It is truly a painful thing when our own people, our brothers and sisters (who call themselves Christians), inflict on us pain one way or another. It has been said by one of our theological experts that a person cannot very well call himself a Christian unless he has suffered pain at the hands of his brothers and sisters. How can this be ? Everyone says that it is not right that it should be like this — that Christians are hurting each other, and that they are inflicting pain on each other. They are even sometimes persecuting each other.

Well, their sensibilities are absolutely correct. It is not right. Why does this sort of thing happen ? It happens because human beings are fallen. It happens because we are sinners. It happens because we decide very often in our lives to take matters into our own hands. We solve all the problems and leave God to the side, not involving Him in all our difficulties, problems, suspicions, and our fears. Instead, we transfer our anger onto our brothers and sisters. In fact, the church family is not so different from most ordinary families in which I hear (in, and outside of confession) something like : “Ah, my husband (or my wife) comes home, and I get it when he (or she) comes home. I have to hear everything that went wrong today, and sometimes I have to bear his (her) pain of the day”. Sometimes it is the other way around, and the one who is at home is telling everything that is painful that day. Perhaps the other one is acting angrily because of what has happened that day at the office or at work. They hold anger about one thing or another that has happened that day : exasperation, frustration, and then they just dump it on the family. The family says : “What did I do ? What happened ? I did not say anything. I did not even open my mouth. It was a nice day until he (or she) came home”. These things are happening all the time, and I can tell by your reaction that this is familiar. It is familiar because we are fallen, and we are doing the same thing to each other in our church life.

In our church life, we are family to each other. We try to trust each other, and we expect to be able to trust each other. Included in this is the trust that, even if we are not behaving well to each other, there likely will be forgiveness sooner or later. We are presuming on our brother or sister, just as we are presuming on the love of our family, that the brother or sister or family member has the spiritual strength to cope with this unprovoked outburst of anger or sometimes, sad to say, even violence from me. We expect that they will forgive, pretend that it did not happen, live as if it did not happen, and everything will be all right again even if I do not admit my wrong-doing. This is the reality of how we live, but it is not the way it is supposed to be.

I am saying these things about our family life because both Saint Seraphim of Sarov and the Prophet Elias were in the same condition as we. The holy Prophet Elias, for instance, was rejected by the king and queen of his country ; he was rejected by almost everyone else. Even though he was speaking for the Lord and telling the truth, he was being rejected. He was rejected even though, long ago he demonstrated beyond doubt with fire coming from heaven on a soaking-wet sacrifice that God is the Lord. He demonstrated beyond doubt that the Lord is the only One, the only one God. He had proven that all those idols are nothing because they could never bring fire from heaven. There is only one Lord. He is God. Did they accept the Prophet ? No. The queen said that she was going to kill him.

The Prophet ran away. He thought that he was alone. Finally, when he heard the voice of the Lord at Horeb, the Lord got through to him saying, as it were : “You are not at all alone. Pull yourself together. There are 7,000 people still in Israel who did not bow the knee to the idols” (see 3 Kingdoms 19:18). “Go back and be an encouragement to them, and let them be an encouragement to you”. However the point is : there were parts of the nation that were terrorised into silence, so that the Prophet Elias did not know whether there existed anyone to trust anymore, or whether there was a believer left in Israel under the circumstances. Moreover, he was persecuted by some of his own people.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the great, great saint whom we love, whom we respect, and to whom we are turning all the time, did not have, himself, such an easy time of it. Did his brothers in the Sarov Monastery accept him as he was — a different sort of person, a hermit, a loner, living in the forest in a strange way ? Did they ? No. They made fun of him. The same thing happened in the Optina Monastery with the brothers who were living in the desert in the “Pustin”. Did the brothers in the main monastery take seriously the people who were praying in solitude like hermits ? No. They made fun of them and thought that they were just being prideful, I suppose. In both places, the brotherhood did not understand what was God’s call to these holy persons, and they put them to the test. They thoroughly put them to the test. Nevertheless, Saint Seraphim and the saints of Optina came out of it, despite the difficulties, despite the ridicule, despite the rejection, despite feeling all alone. They knew that they had One, that is the Lord, whom they knew loved them. Each of them was loved by the Lord. They knew that, because of this love, even if their brothers did not understand, they had to persevere. They did persevere. This perseverance produced a change of heart in the main brotherhood in due time in both places. This sort of thing happened not just in these two monasteries of Sarov and Optina. It happens everywhere. It is always happening, because people still are behaving in much the same way all the time.

Saint Seraphim became a bright, shining star of the Orthodox Faith. He is still a great sign of hope for us in our lives. Shining with the love of Jesus Christ, and bringing so much consolation to so many people in his lifetime (and after his lifetime) out of love for Jesus Christ, he continues to pray for us. Saint Seraphim continues to intercede for us, and he continues to bring the Grace of the love of God to our lives now, more than 100 years after his death. We are still turning to the Prophet Elias, who has been dead now for more than 3,000 years. We are asking for his intercessions for good weather because, we remember, in the time of the Prophet Elias, there was a big drought because of the faithlessness of the people of Israel. The drought came at his prayer, and at his prayer the end of the drought and the beginning of the rain came (see 3 Kingdoms 17:1 ; 18:1, 41-45).

When we ask for rain or ask for rain to stop, we are turning to the Prophet Elias 3,000 years after his death. Because of his love for God he is still hearing us and praying for us, and bringing the weather into normal parameters, one might say. We all need to remember the Prophet Elias and our holy Father Seraphim when we, ourselves, are feeling so alone, persecuted, ridiculed, and having such difficult times one way or another. Let us remember their example, and how their love for the Lord brought them through every difficulty. People are always fallen ; people are always failing and betraying because they are weak. Even bishops fail, betray, sin, fall, and all these things because they, too, are weak. However, despite it all, the Lord is God. He is with us. He is reassuring us constantly of His love. He gives us the example of these two very holy men, the Prophet Elias and Saint Seraphim. Like us, they faced very many difficulties in their lives. We can turn to them, and by their prayers all sorts of wonders occur, as we see in our lives.

For instance, a week ago tomorrow, I was in Ukraine, in Kyiv. I was serving with Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Aleksy, and also with Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens. There were four heads of Churches serving together in Kyiv last Sunday. We cannot forget Metropolitan Volodymir, also, because even though Ukraine is not officially autocephalous, they have everything except the name of an autocephalous Church. You could say that there were five heads of Churches serving together with probably close to 150 bishops. There were double that many priests, and thousands and thousands of faithful people. There was a great fear that because of the political intentions of the president of Ukraine at the time, with the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew, there would be some sort of attempt to force the union of the three broken parts of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. However, when the patriarch came, not only did he meet the prayers of the faithful there, and the fruits of the prayers of the faithful, but he also encountered the real love of the faithful in Ukraine for Patriarch Aleksy. No-one could misunderstand the thousands of people who were (without any orchestration) chanting “Christos voskrese” (which you do not usually say at this time of year). They were also saying over and over again : “Aleksy, our Patriarch”. No-one could be so blind as to ignore what the people were saying about the situation. In this context, Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Aleksy (who had had some difficulties talking to each other because of other matters), had two long, fruitful conversations with each other. They agreed that they are going to talk more with each other in order to try to bring a peaceful and God-directed resolution to the split in Ukraine.

This does not happen just because some bishops decide that this is how things will turn out. Things turned out 100 per-cent opposite to the expectations of most people. What fear-driven rumours I was hearing, even in Romania, for two weeks before I went to Kyiv ! There were plenty of fear-driven rumours about what might or might not happen. The rumours were all about catastrophe, and the sky was really going to fall. However, the God-loving people were praying. The saints of the Kyiv Caves Lavra were obviously also praying. These prayers produced the God-given solution to everything : brothers talking peacefully and with love together with each other, opening the doors for a Christian solution to the difficulties. The people’s prayers bore fruit. The prayers of the saints of the Lavra bore fruit.

Our prayers can bear fruit, also, if we, like they, turn to the Lord first, just as the Prophet Elias turned to the Lord first for everything, and truly only to the Lord. If we, like Saint Seraphim, turn only to the Lord, if we put our trust only in the Lord as these saints, and as the faithful of Ukraine have done, then the Lord will pour out great blessings. He will protect us. If we are abused by our brothers or sisters, then He will give us consolation in our hearts. So that our hearts will be healed, He will help us to pray for our brothers and sisters who are hurting us. Our prayers will help the woundedness of the brother or sister that is taking out that pain and anger on us. In other words, the Lord will resolve it all.

We must turn to Him. We must not delay turning to Him. As Saint Herman said about 200 years ago (he said it then, and he continues to say it now, and it is for us to follow) : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing, glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.