Who is Lazarus for us, now ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Who is Lazarus for us, now ?
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
16 November, 2008
Galatians 6:11-18 ; Luke 16:19-31

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

Today, I want to speak about the way we are living, and about the way the love of God is revealed to us. In the words of the Apostle this morning, we hear how he wants only to glory in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He wants to be pleasing only to the Lord (in contrast to people who are very much concerned with the letter of the law). Pleasing the Lord does not imply that we forget the Law altogether. However, there are some things about the Law, itself, that are not absolutely necessary for living the Christian life. We can see this balance in the life and writings of the Apostle. However, at all times, there are people who do not seem to be able to live in the freedom of God’s love, but cling to the apparent security of the rules.

Let us consider, for instance, the Ten Commandments. Is there any one of the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament given through the Prophet Moses on Mount Sinai that is not applicable today ? I can see by your silence and by the shaking of heads that you have the correct answer. There is not one of those Ten Commandments that does not apply nowadays. What are those Ten Commandments ? They are not laws like stop signs and speed limit signs. They are not laws like those laws which legislatures and parliaments are passing. The Commandments are signs of how a person who lives in the context of the love of God lives life. A person who loves God is going to put God above everything else, and is not going to make any sort of substitute. Nothing will come between this person and God, just as the Apostle is saying to us this morning. Such a person is also going to honour parents, keep the worship of the Lord in first place in his/her life, and so forth – no stealing, no lying, no murdering, no coveting, and all those other things. None of those negative things, and all the positive things will be characteristic of the life of a person who loves God. So, the Commandments are very strong guideposts or signs of indication of the life of a believer.

If a person is truly putting the Lord’s love above everything else, one will not even have to know those Ten Commandments, because one is going to live according to God’s inspiration of love. The Grace of the Holy Spirit living in us is going to guide us in precisely those directions : putting God above everything, respecting everything that is holy, respecting our ancestors, our parents, and other human beings. We are going to be doing all these things naturally, because of love.

We Orthodox Christians use the word “canon” in a similar spirit. I mean to say that canons are like direction-signs about the correct way to go, about the correct way to behave. They tell us where we have to be cautious, where we have to be discreet, how we should watch out for one or another danger. The canons are not like traffic signs that indicate legal limits with attached punishments. They are, in their pointing-the-way, also used as medicines for heart and soul. There are suggested dosages for the spiritual father or mother to administer, in order to bring an erring person back to the way of the canon, and therefore to spiritual health. Just as with the true physician, the dosage is applied in accordance with the nature of the patient. As we all know, too much of a good thing can be deadly. Some few times in Orthodox history (during the time of the Roman Empire, for instance), certain canons were incorporated into imperial law-codes. These empires are no longer, and we need not think that these canons have the force of imperial law simply because of this history. Nevertheless, they remain as medicines to be applied with loving care and true knowledge of the patient.

Today, we hear about the rich man to whom we give the name “Dives” (which means “a rich man” in Latin). We can live our life according to the rules, or we can live our life very selfishly, concerned only about ourself, as this rich man did. He apparently did not even see Lazarus. If he did see him, he certainly did not pay attention to him, sitting and begging outside his gate all these days. By the time Dives came to being concerned about his brothers’ welfare (when Dives was already suffering torments in Hades), there was nothing more that could be done. The rich man still did not understand. He wanted some sort of miracle or big sign to be shown to his brothers – someone like Lazarus being sent from the dead – to warn them about what will happen. Our Lord said : “'If they do not hear the Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead'”. The idea that a miraculous apparition might persuade someone is a futile idea. Many saw and experienced great wonders at the hand and Presence of Christ, but not everyone believed. Many saw wonders beyond anything in usual experience during the martyrdoms of many saints, yet they refused to believe. This includes emperors.

Nevertheless, the Lord is working wonders and miracles amongst us all the time. The age of miracles is not past. Those miracles and those wonders are happening all the time. I see them all the time. We experienced it very much this last week at the General Assembly of our Church. It is not a small thing that a priest, whose heart is broken because of the big arguments and in-fighting in our Church, should die during the Assembly after having received Holy Communion, after having asked forgiveness of everyone around him. It is not a small, insignificant thing that this man should die under those circumstances. He was a faithful, God-loving priest whom our Father Gregory here knows. It is obvious that this man, after his death, was instantly praying for us, because the atmosphere at the All-American Council began to change immediately. Not everyone could see it, but some of us could see it. The atmosphere already began to change in a more positive direction. Then, this wonder happened – unplanned, and without even any sort of debate – the election of the youngest bishop to be the head of our Church. I will tell you, in case anyone has any ideas to the contrary, that there was no hesitation amongst the bishops when it was time to elect. Archbishop Job, himself, said : “It has to be Jonah”. He said so, and the rest of us understood that it had to be so.

This is the first time in our local OCA history that the bishop who has the most nominations is elected by the bishops, also, to be the head of the Church. This is the first time in our Church’s history that we have the youngest bishop being elected in this manner. It is not the first time in Church history, by any means, as it has been explained to me. It has happened many times, even recently, in other Churches. We are right in line. The Lord is with us and guiding us. Everything that has happened in this past little while (including the death of Father Stephen) has to do with this presence, with this guiding. The very difficult and painful process through which we have been passing is an indication of how the Lord is cleaning our Church, and putting things in better order. However, do we see that it is He that is doing this, or do we forget about Who is in charge, and thus think that we are doing it ourselves ? Because we are so pre-occupied with ourselves, we often think that we can repair things and situations with our own strength, with our own logic, with our own systems and own strategic policies.

We forget to ask the Lord, to involve the Lord. When we behave this way, we can very easily perpetuate what is out of order. Some people call this “rearranging the furniture on the Titanic”. If we are going to correct anything in our lives (or in our lives together in the Church), then this correction has to be completely in obedience to, and guided by the Lord. The Lord gave us a great boost towards doing this. Now, our challenge is to pay attention to the direction of the Lord. If we do not pay attention to the direction of the Lord, we are going to be like the rich man, and ignore the opportunity that is Lazarus, given to us right under our noses. The Lord is sending us many other opportunities in our daily lives besides such a big opportunity as was this election. If we hope to co-operate with the Lord, and be fruitful, it is crucial that we keep our hearts focussed on the Lord, and allow them to be afire with His love, so that we can see what or who is our daily Lazarus. Let us ask the Lord to keep the eyes of our hearts wide open in Him.

This particular community (which has been a mission for a long time) has touched the lives of many such persons, as I have seen. The context of this mission is very resistant to the Truth. Regardless, all can be won to Christ by love. Therefore, let us ask the Lord again to help us to be faithful witnesses of His love, and to glorify Him in everything : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.