Unconditional Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Unconditional Love
16th Sunday after Pentecost
[Given outside the diocese]
5 October, 2008
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 ; Luke 6:31-36

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

In the words of the Gospel today, our Lord begins with the familiar words : “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise”. We like to hear those words because it sounds so simple and so comfortable. However, we have to pay attention to the context of these words.

These words come at the end of our Lord’s giving the Beatitudes in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Our Lord distils the Beatitudes into these well-known words, as He exhorts us to behave towards others as we would have them behave towards us. We will find that this phrase is reflected by the Apostle Paul in the experience of his own life. After his encounter with our Saviour on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-18), the Apostle’s whole life was changed, and his priorities became those of Christ. In addition to “just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise”, our Lord says to us : “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful”. He says to us that if we are going to do good to people who are good to us, how is that different from anyone else on this earth ? All human beings behave like that. Of course, all this comes under the classification of “scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back”. This is how human beings are with each other. There is always some sort of condition. As I always say, there are strings attached (just like an American tea bag which characteristically has a string on it). God’s love, however, is without condition : no tit-for-tat, no return, no strings attached (like the old Canadian tea bag used to be before it became Americanised).

Our way of life as Christians has to be mirroring and living in God’s love. Everything that our Lord is talking to us about today has to do with His love, with the expression of His love, and the living out of His love. Therefore, if we are going to be followers of Christ, if we, who have been baptised into Christ truly have put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27), then our lives have to show Christ to people around us. Our love has to be like His love. We have to be prepared, as He does, to love people who cannot stand us, to love people, to pray for people, and to bless people who are mean and nasty to us. We have to bless people : which is, in fact, the opposite of how we are mostly formed (or rather, deformed) by our society. We have to be prepared to bless people who are ready to kill us.

I love to tell the story that Father Michael Oleksa tells over and over again about the martyrdom of Saint Juvenaly in Alaska. Father Oleksa, being married to a Yupik, has access to the verbal history of the peoples of Alaska, and, in particular, the Yupik people to whom he is related. It was their ancestors on the west coast of Alaska who caused the martyrdom of Saint Juvenaly. Saint Juvenaly was coming on a boat towards the shore. He was going to bring to them the love of Jesus Christ in words. Instead, he gave them the love of Jesus Christ by his death, and a witness that made sense to the people afterwards.

The descendants of the people who killed him said that he looked to them as if he were an invading shaman because he was wearing a gold Cross with a gold chain. This chain would appear to be somewhat similar to the necklace that a shaman would wear in those days. Therefore, it seemed to the shaman and his company that Father Juvenaly was invading his spiritual territory. With various signs, they tried to tell him not to come. However, he continued to approach regardless, and they started to shoot arrows at him. He kept coming in the boat. The descendants said that they thought that he must be insane because it looked to them as though he were brushing away those arrows as though they were mosquitoes. We know that oral tradition is very accurate. What they did not understand at the time was that not only was he blessing himself (as he knew what was happening to him), but he was also making the sign of the Cross on them, who were killing him. He knew what was happening, and he was blessing those who were killing him. To them, the sign of the Cross looked as though Saint Juvenaly were brushing away mosquitoes, but it was only afterwards, when they came to Christ, themselves, that they really understood what was the case.

These peoples were evangelised by the original Russian monks. Having found the Orthodox Faith, they held on tightly in their faithfulness to Jesus Christ, even when we, who were responsible for feeding them, repeatedly neglected them, and sometimes starved them. The Yupik people continued to be faithful. They continued to gather together and worship and pray in their Temples and in their homes even when there was no priest. They continued to do this even when, because of us, they would almost not see a priest at all for decades at a time.

The foundation prepared in love, the love of Jesus Christ, continued to enable abused and abandoned peoples not only to be faithful, but also to bless and give hospitality to the ones who neglected and abused them. Such is the way of Christ. To be clear, we are the ones who neglected and abused them (directly or indirectly).

We, ourselves, can only live and express this sort of love, when we determine to leave the Lord in charge of our lives, and to seek His will in everything. As the Lord has blessed the Yupik people in His love, as He has multiplied the offering of His love, so He does, and so He will do with us.

Two hundred years after the death of Saint Herman of Alaska, who was a lay-monk, not a cleric, the descendants of those brought to Christ by him, remember him as alive today. We live in the eternal present in Christ. The fruits of Saint Herman’s love for Christ continue to show themselves to this day as alive. Let us ask the Lord for the Grace to love as he loves, and to bless as he blesses, by remembering and living out his exhortation : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and thereby glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.