Living in the Love of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Living in the Love of Christ
20th Sunday after Pentecost
2 November, 2008
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Luke 8:26-39

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

In today’s Epistle, the words that the Apostle Paul is giving to us are very important for us to remember. These words address his experience of the Lord, and the love of the Lord. They relate how the Lord, in His love, intervened in his life, and by revelation drew him into His one flock. The Lord not only drew him into His one flock, but ultimately made him a leader and a very great expander of that one flock. The Apostle Paul is a living expression of that yeast that our Saviour, Himself, speaks about in a parable (see Matthew 13:33). He was and is, himself, the enabler of very many other people to find Christ and to come to Him.

It is very important for us to remember this outpouring of the love of the Lord on the Apostle Paul, who, himself, admits that he had previously persecuted the Church, and had resisted this love. We see how the love of the Lord is both insistent and persistent with us. The Lord tries to do everything He can to draw us together into His one flock in unity, in love, and in life.

Keeping this in the forefront of our hearts and minds is necessary, especially today, when we are hearing this Gospel-event about the exorcism of the man possessed by a multitude of demons. This man of the city had been driven out of the city, away from unity, away from society, by the activity of the demons in his heart. Now, upon the very approach of Jesus the Christ, this man is already encountering the love of the Lord. As we well recall – we heard it – our Saviour, without even beginning a conversation with the man, is already commanding the crowd of demons to come out of the man. When our Lord comes into the presence of this man, the demons in whom are already starting to say through their slave : “'What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?'” We recall that what appears to be a singular demon is in fact a multitude. This phenomenon amongst demons is not uncommon. Our Saviour is liberating this man in the same way that He liberated the Apostle Paul from chains. The Apostle Paul’s chains were rather different from this man’s chains, but they were chains, nevertheless. The Lord sets us free. The Lord draws us into unity with Himself, and with each other.

Let us remember this as we come here every week, and stand in the presence of the Lord and His love. In fact, by His love, He Himself has drawn us to be here, in the same way that He drew the Apostle Paul to Himself. The Lord is first in our lives. He is the only purpose of our lives. His love for us, and our love for Him, are the only reasons for anything at all.

At the same time, however, when we are confronted with this man possessed by a multitude of demons, it is important for us to ask ourselves : “How am I different from that demon-possessed man ? Am I more like the Apostle Paul after he was set free ? Is my love for the Lord like the Apostle Paul’s – intense, full of life, full of joy, well focussed, and life-giving ? Or, have I allowed myself to become divided and broken like the man who was possessed by demons ?” Perhaps I fall into the trap of believing that there is no such thing as evil. Some people like to say that there is no such thing as personal evil, but that evil is some sort of a concept, or whatever. They say that evil is “just there”. They say that evil is bad people, or people that are merely out-of-focus, or misled or sick or something. These people are denying the reality of the forces of evil. Well, when we get into that department, we are prime prey to becoming like the demon-possessed man – broken, divided, paralysed, separated, and driven away.

What is the nature of our life here, amongst ourselves ? How am I when I come to this Temple ? Am I in harmony with my brothers and sisters ? Do I live in forgiveness with my brothers and sisters ? Do I pray fervently for those who are very difficult for me to be with ? Or, do I come here feeling all raw, angry, and just plain dark, and bitter ? Do I come here with these passions afflicting me – feeling anger, and so forth ? Do I come into the Temple like that ? If I come into the Temple like that, then (if I am a Christian), I have to be crying out to the Lord (who saved the Apostle Peter, and who liberated this man from the demons) : “Liberate me, O Lord, from these terrible passions. Liberate me, O Lord, from the slavery to anger, the slavery to bitterness, the slavery to anything that divides me from my brothers and sisters”.

Do I come here into this Temple while having an agenda against my brother and sister, and having no respect for my brother and sister ? Do I come into this Temple while feeling some sort of division between me and someone else ? When I have no respect for my brother and sister, I have to realise, then, that I have no respect for Christ. No matter how difficult that brother or sister is for me to get along with (because of weakness, fallenness, or illness), that person is a creature of the Lord. In that person we must be able to see Christ. In the most difficult persons that we have to encounter, we must be able to see Christ. We must be able to respect Christ in that other person, no matter how much that person’s illnesses, weaknesses, brokenness make it difficult for me to be near that person. If I am truly an Orthodox Christian, and I truly have the love of the Lord Jesus Christ alive in my heart, if there is someone who is very difficult for me to be with, then I must be offering that person to the Lord constantly in prayer, asking the Lord to heal that person, and to heal me. In fact, I need to ask the Lord to heal me first, before I can manage to ask the Lord properly to heal anyone else. Who am I, with my house all dirty, filthy, and full of refuse, to criticise someone else whose house might merely be somewhat dusty ?

Often it is the case that when we get into moods like that, and we are grumbling about this or that person’s behaviour, that person’s ideas, that person’s disposition – in fact, compared to me, that person is in very good shape. When it comes down to real analysis of life, that person is in much better shape than I am, because my heart is so full of turmoil ; my heart is so full of anger ; my heart is so full of condemnation of my brother and sister. When I have come to this state, how can I see Christ in the other ? How can I respect Christ in the other ? How can I be like Christ, then, who says : “'Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me'” (Mark 8:34). He also says : “'If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet'” (John 13:14). We have to love and serve each other like Christ. Having put on Christ, we have to demonstrate this love which serves, which gives life, which nurtures, which enriches, which lifts up, which unifies, which binds, which brings people tightly close together in the love of Jesus Christ.

We cannot let ourselves forget the love of Jesus Christ. We must remember what is its true force. This love is not warm, fuzzy, flabby, cozy, comfortable, sit-in-front-of-the-fire sort of love ; but rather, it is love which gives life, which raises from the dead, which liberates, which sets free, which delivers, which conquers death, and which conquers evil. Indeed, we would be far better off not to refer to the Lord’s love using the word “which”, but rather to use “Who”. Who is this Love ? Who accomplishes all these things ?

It is crucial for us always to remember the Lord and His love. It is extremely important for us to be continually living in the context of this love, pleading with the Lord to renew this love in our hearts, and pleading with the Lord, by His love, to heal our brokenness, to bind us up, to renew us within ourselves, and together, with each other. Where there is brokenness, division, separation, driving away, the Lord is not at work. Where there is drawing together, where there is unifying love, where there is gathering, where there is life, where there is multiplication of joy, the Lord is greatly at work. It is our responsibility, all together, to be engaging in this work of the Lord. It is our responsibility to lead into the Kingdom of Heaven, through our joy, through our life, through our liberty, people who are bound and fettered by fear. It is our responsibility to show them (through our love) where life truly is to be found, where hope truly is to be found.

Brothers and sisters, please let us make sure that our only purpose in life is to do what Saint Herman said, and says : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and glorify the all-holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.