Going through the Eye of the Needle

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Going through the Eye of the Needle
12th Sunday after Pentecost
7 September, 2008
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ; Matthew 19:16-26

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

Sometimes, when we hear today’s Gospel about the rich man and our Lord’s response about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, there will be in the homily an explanation of this verse : “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”. The explanation will be that the “eye of the needle” has to do with a particular gate in Jerusalem which was controlling how much could go on a camel’s back to get into the city of Jerusalem. It was a sort of traffic control, I suppose, and the equivalent of limiting the size of the trucks that go into a city these days so that there are no trucks with three or four trailers behind them pretending that this is a railway.

Nevertheless, there is no point in feeling the need to know details about a particular gate in Jerusalem. What comes first ? That is the point. It is so difficult for rich people to enter the Kingdom of Heaven because all the things that they have are big burdens of care for them. We see this in the parable of the man who had such a super-abundant harvest that he had to build a bigger barn. However, in effect, the Lord said to him that night : “Time is up. Your passport has expired. What are you going to do with all the grain that you stored up ?”

Rich people have many cares because they have very many things. Often they have many irons in the fire having to do with business, and so forth. Anything that stands between any of us and Christ, is going to be a weight and a block that is going to make it questionable as to whether we will get into the Kingdom of Heaven. For the Orthodox Christian, it is absolutely important for us to remember that, above all, Christ must always come first in everything. In our life, Jesus Christ must always be first.

That is why it is our custom (and it is in our prayer books if we ever bother to use them) to get up in the morning, and, first thing, to speak to the Lord, and to ask Him to bless the day. With the help of the prayer book, we also ask Him to bless all sorts of things during the course of the day. We ask the Lord to bless the end of the day, and to forgive our sins, our shortcomings and our distractions. We ask Him to help us walk on a better path the next day, and to sleep protected from evil spirits during the night. That is why, in the Orthodox way of living, the custom is to refer everything to Christ, and to ask the Lord’s blessing on everything all through the day.

That is why it is also the custom for Orthodox Christians not to accept thanks directly for anything, because anything and everything that any of us can do that is good is coming from Jesus Christ, and is enabled by Him in us. An Orthodox Christian should be saying : “Glory to God”, or “Thanks be to God”, or something like that, every time someone will say thank-you to you or to me personally. Everything must always be referred to the Lord.

Maybe it is because I played the piano at an early age, I do not know. For some reason, in the course of my whole life, it has always been a temptation to focus on myself. I mean that when one is performing for others, then it is easy to say : “Look at me”. “Look at what I can do”. When we consider the condition of being a bishop, it seems that, in the context of the grandeur that happens during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, people are often thinking that this grandeur is associated with that particular person. The bishop, too, can fall into that temptation. However, everything about a bishop has to refer to Christ. Everything that people do, regarding a bishop, has to be offered to Christ because Christ is the real bishop. The bishop is standing here in the place of Christ, re-presenting Him (and often the re-presentation is less than perfect). Nevertheless, the bishop is the re-presentation of Christ amongst the flock of Christ. So things that are done to, and for the bishop are done for Christ, not for the bishop. Even if we might like the bishop, all this ceremony and grandeur is not done for the bishop himself. If we should dislike the bishop, all this is still not done for the bishop himself. Everything is for Christ, and for Him alone.

Everything that we are doing in this Divine Liturgy, also, has to do only with the worship of God, and with nothing and no-one else. If anything comes between us and Christ, that thing becomes an idol, a substitute for Christ. There cannot be any substitute for Christ in our lives. Jesus Christ must come first for all of us, always. If He is not yet at that place in our lives, then we have work to do, giving up more to allow Him to be first, backing off more so that He can become first. As the Forerunner says : “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). People should not be seeing me, me, me. Rather, they should be seeing the love of Jesus Christ, and experiencing this love in their contacts with each one of us. Indeed, it may be said that this is one of the main reasons why any one of us is an Orthodox Christian, and not something else.

Everything in and about our daily life and our worship is completely concerned with the love of Jesus Christ and His priority. If He is my priority, then it does not matter how much money I have, how much land I have or how many businesses I have. Christ comes first in everything ; everything is in the correct order, and there is hope then to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, let us not forget the words of our beloved Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska who said (and we must live it) : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, glorifying the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.