Feast of the Birth of the Theotokos (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Listening to our Hearts in Christ
Feast of the Birth of the Theotokos (Old-Style)
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Altar Feast
21 September, 2008
Philippians 2:5-11 ; Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28
Hebrews 3:1-4 ; Matthew 16:13-18

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

It is not so often that it happens that we are celebrating two great feasts at the same time, but this time, it is happening. There are two great feasts. The first is the Birth of the Mother of God. That is why the colour is blue. The other great feast is the Altar Feast of this parish, the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and that is why some of the colour is gold. So, we are wearing blue and gold today. Some people are joking and saying that it looks like the Ukrainian flag, but that is another story. Still, it is a special blessing to have these two particular feasts together.

The birth of the Mother of God had been prepared for many, many, many generations. Many believing families before her, accepting the promises of God, remained faithful, waiting for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the One who would come to save us. They were faithful, suffering every sort of difficulty, obstacle, and torture. They were waiting for the fulfilment of the Promise. The birth of the Mother of God is the first step in the visible fulfilment of these promises.

The Mother of God was prepared by her ancestors who had gone before her, to be able to be in her whole life this one word to the Lord : “Yes”. Her whole life even until now is all “Yes” to the Lord. When the Archangel Gabriel came to her, and told her that she would conceive, she said : “'How can this be?'” (Luke 1:34). She did ask the question ; but, nevertheless she said, as it were : “Let it be done to me according to God’s will” (see Luke 1:38). To be the Mother of God was not just a glorious gift and a glorious service (although there is glory involved). Everything that has to do with our life in God has to do, first, with love : God’s love, God’s open, self-emptying, self-sacrificing love. This way of life involves pain. As we know in the case of the Mother of God, great pain was hers, and most especially at the time of the Crucifixion of her Son.

At the same time, great joy was hers at the Resurrection from the dead of her Son three days later. This is an important connexion for us to remember. There may be considerable pain involved in following in the foot-steps of Christ, but there is always joy. There is always light. There is always life. There is always victory, because the Lord is the Lord, after all. The Lord is the Lord of the whole universe. The Lord is the Lord of our lives. In this morning’s Gospel reading, we hear the Apostle Peter confessing to Christ, saying : “'You are the Christ'”. Our Lord responds to him, as it were : “You did not know this by yourself, but it was given to you by God to understand it”.

It is important for us all, in the living of our lives, to remember this perpetual reference to the Lord in everything. In the life of the Mother of God, everything is pointing towards her Son. In the icons that we see of her and her Son, she is always pointing us to Him. If she is not pointing with her hand directly to Him, she is with both hands holding her Son in front and showing Him to us. Everything about her life and her love points to her Son. It is not simply by her own strength that she was able to do this during the time of her life amongst us, and even until now in our days. Let us not forget the context – she was prepared to do this, to be able to love like this by all those who went before her. She was supported in her obedience and love by all those who went before her.

We, ourselves, are able in these difficult days to live lives in North America that are something like Orthodox Christian lives should be, because of the people who have gone before us, who have brought us into a relationship with Jesus Christ, who have introduced us to His love, who have shown us the way by their faithfulness. We all have such people in our lives : people who have been faithful, people who have touched our hearts and our lives with the love of Jesus Christ. They continue (even when we are weak) to reinforce us in His love, and to remind us of His love when we are being forgetful.

The Apostle Peter, even though he had direct encounters with our Lord, periodically got distracted by one thing or another. He fell into himself, somehow, one might say, and forgot the whole complex environment of the Lord’s love. Therefore, he made mistakes, just as you and I do, too. There is a holy monk of Mount Athos, who, in answering a question, described how human beings get distracted like this. He said that very often we limit ourselves to our own thoughts, to our own minds, and we forget about our hearts. We forget that it is in the heart that we are encountering the Lord, and knowing the Lord. Our hearts are supposed to be informing our minds, and directing our minds. When the heart, which is full of the love of Christ, is not in charge and directing our mind with its conflicting thoughts, we get confused. We get muddled up. Then we become very much the prey of fear. Who is the father of confusion, and the father of fear ? It is not the Lord. It is from the opposite direction below.

Whenever we are full of fear or when we are confused, we can tell immediately that something is out of order in our own selves. In terms of our relationship with the Lord, we forget to look at Him. We forget (like the Apostle Peter, sinking in the waves) to look at our Lord, and instead, we become distracted by everything surrounding us (see Matthew 14:30). In the turmoil of our lives, and in the confusion of our thoughts, we must always turn to Christ, hold on to His hand, and allow Him to keep us firm, stable, and directed.

In the course of the Church’s life, and throughout her history, there have always, always, always been difficulties, controversies, problems. Why ? There are three reasons, I suppose. The first is because the Church is made up of human beings. The second is because human beings have differing opinions about all sorts of things. The third is because we human beings rely too much on our own reason. We start to argue with each other about one thing or another based on our reason instead of remembering to turn to the Lord, together, and to ask Him, together, to show us what is His will. We have wasted a substantial amount of time in our history arguing over things. Instead, we could have stopped, prayed, and waited in silence while listening to the Lord, until we heard our hearts speak together. We did manage, by God’s mercy, through seven Ecumenical Councils to come to agreement about Who is the Lord, and what is our life in the Church. This finally was accomplished, even though it did include a great deal of arguing and debating. It did finally include this listening to the Lord, and agreeing in the heart that all those decisions did seem good to the Holy Spirit, and to the Fathers of those Councils.

We have to learn, ourselves, that in everything we have to stop, listen to the Lord, and see how our hearts agree together in love and peace. We all know that many times, when something is being said or done in the Church’s life, our hearts immediately jump for joy. There is a very strong sense that this is absolutely correct, and that it agrees completely with my experience of the love of the Lord. This is the right thing that has happened. When we are feeling like this together, that has to be the case. Why is it so ? It is because the Lord, Jesus Christ, is One. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord, Jesus Christ, whom the Mother of God knows, loves, and serves, is the same Lord, Jesus Christ, whom we know, love, and serve. He, His love, are all the same, always.

For 2,000 years now, Orthodox Christians have all known, loved, and experienced the one, same Person of the one Lord, Jesus Christ. It is not all different sorts of christs. It is one Person. It is not philosophical ideas. It is one Person – the Son of the living God who spoke all creation into being, and still speaks it into being – the Word of God. It is He. We know Him. We love Him. We experience His love. This is why it does not matter if our Church, our dioceses, our parishes, our families even, pass through difficult times, because we all know the same Lord, Jesus Christ. Because we all refer everything to Him, He leads us in the right way. This parish, itself, has had a few times when there were some difficult moments. However, the Lord in His mercy and in His love, has brought this parish into His peace and into His healing love. He has increased this parish family, and He has enabled the believers here to witness more and more effectively in this city.

Our Lord, when He is speaking to the Apostle Peter, says : “'On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it'”. We, who are Orthodox Christians standing here today in this Temple, in this city, are in the Kingdom of Heaven now. We are now in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is He who is now going to feed us, Himself, with His own life. When we are now receiving Holy Communion, He, Himself, is now going to feed us. He is still amongst us, now. He, who is the Creator of everything, is the Victor over all evil, over all opposition. This is happening now. No matter how much the evil one tries to bring confusion, dissension, and discord, the Lord is still the Lord of all. He overcomes all those attacks. He does this now. He overcomes them all – not by war and destruction, but by love and life. He overcomes by love and life right now, today.

Let us now remember all these promises. Let us remember how the Mother of God is still with us, now. Let us remember that she is still intervening in our lives in love in co-operation with her Son. Let us remember that she, who was so insignificant in the world, is, after all, the Leader and the General of the angelic armies. Let us remember that : “'Many who are first will be last, and the last first'” (Matthew 19:30). Let us remember that the Lord is always present with us now, saving us even when we are forgetting Him. Let us remember all this work of love. Let us follow the exhortation of our beloved Father Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, who is our own example here in North America (just as Saint Seraphim of Sarov is for Russia, and for the whole world), and who says to us : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In living the words of Saint Herman, let us glorify the all-holy, life-giving, saving Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.