Saints of 4 December

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
God is to be glorified in Everything
4 December, 2008

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

Always, our Lord was being put to the test by people who did not understand Who He is, and what He does. They were always asking Him difficult questions. Even the apostles, themselves, in those days did not exactly and correctly understand just Who He is. However, when the time came for the Resurrection and the Giving of the Holy Spirit, by this time the holy apostles were beginning to understand Who is Jesus Christ.

It is the knowledge of Who is Jesus Christ that kept the Apostle Paul on a steady course in the face of every sort of difficulty, obstacle, and suffering. It is the same knowledge of Who is Jesus Christ that has kept all sorts of people on a steady course throughout their whole lives, knowing Who is their Captain, their Leader, that is to say Jesus Christ. Because they know Who He is, they know that He is Love. They know that He loves them. They also know that in Him is eternal life, as the Apostle Peter once said to the Lord : “'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'” (John 6:68). That is how Orthodox believers have felt for the past 2,000 years.

On this particular day, we find ourselves celebrating all together at the same time the memory of some very well-known saints, who put their trust in Jesus Christ, lived for Him, trusted in Him, and became strong in Him. My own “patron” saint, whose memory is amongst them, is well-known only in some circles. However, Saint John of Damascus is one of the ones who is best known. He was a great teacher, a great writer, and a great theologian. How did he become such a great theologian ? It was by his personal experience of the Lord. He was able to speak in such a way that his words affect us even until now, 1500 years later. He was able to write like this because of his love for Jesus Christ, his relationship of love with Jesus Christ. This relationship steadied him, formed him, directed him, and made him solid. He had to be solid, because he was a civil servant in the court of an Islamic caliph. If a person were a Christian, it was not at all an easy environment in which to live, and not lose your life.

There is also the example of the great virgin-martyr, Saint Barbara. Her father had her put to death because she insisted on being faithful to Jesus Christ regardless of everything and anything. The memory of Saint Alexander Hotovitzky is also kept today. He is a new-martyr, a priest, of the communist period of the last century. At one time, he served actively in several places in North America, one such place being Montréal. He was put to death by Stalin. Saint Alexander was a strong missionary priest because of his love for Jesus Christ. He was able to survive the tortures, exile, and death that he had to endure because of his love for Jesus Christ.

The memory of Saint Seraphim, Archbishop of Phanourion, the hieromartyr, is kept also today. He was the head of the Greek-speaking people in the province of Thessaly, Greece, in the time of the Ottoman Empire. While he was the archbishop, there happened to be an uprising in that region against the Ottoman government. It was put down. However, because the Ottoman Turkish system regarded any bishop (and therefore Archbishop Seraphim) to be the civic leader of the Greek-speaking people in his territory, he was held responsible for the uprising of the people in his area. He was beheaded after horrible tortures. As a supposed deterrent to the people, his head was put on a spike on a bridge where there was plenty of traffic. What happened then is not atypical, although people in their cynicism like to think that such things do not happen. However, things like this do happen. For several days, his head always turned to face the sun. His head moved on the spike to face the sun like a sunflower. When the people saw this happening, there were Muslims that were becoming Christians right away. Because of this, the Turkish authorities threw his head and his body into the river to destroy his remains. However, this did not succeed because the Christian faithful were clever enough to rescue his remains. His body can still be venerated in Greece to this day.

The Lord is constantly with us. He is constantly showing us that despite the difficulties, the pains of life, despite the fact that Christians are even being killed for His sake, His glory is being revealed for the sake of bringing us to Him, and giving us eternal life. His desire is that we be with Him in eternity, and that we share His love eternally. In this eternity, He wants us to grow up to be our real selves. Right now, we are obscured shadows of our real selves because of our fear, our forgetfulness, our blindness, and our self-will. However, in the Kingdom we become truly ourselves, alive forever in Him. We are ever-growing in Him. (Life in the Kingdom is not static – just sitting around playing a harp, as some people seem to think.) Life in the Kingdom, life in Christ, is always full of joy, full of life, full of strength, full of energy, full of growth. In Him, life never ends. This is what He wants for us. That is why He does things like turning the head of a decapitated martyr on a bridge. He wants to show people that His love is greater than anything. His love is much greater than their fear, and His life overcomes death.

All the martyrs and saints of this day (and of every day of the Church year) are persons who have so experienced the love of Jesus Christ that they were ready to face anything for the sake of life in Him. They were ready for anything, because they have had this sort of confidence and hope in Him. Here in Canada, we have some small difficulties in life. It can be said that these days of Canadian political turmoil are not anything at all compared to what some people suffer. Regardless of the uncertainty (in our Canadian teapot-tempest), we must remember to trust the Lord that things will come out well, and that He will stabilise our government, somehow. We must trust Him to enable us to come out of this with a typical Orthodox sense of humour as well, and in everything to glorify Him.

Let us take the example of these saints, and their love. Let us put our whole trust in our Saviour who never deserts us. He never leaves us. He never abandons us, as He is continually saying : “'I am with you always'” (Matthew 28:20). Let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.