The Attitude of Gratitude

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Attitude of Gratitude
25th Sunday after Pentecost
7 December, 2008
Ephesians 4:1-6 ; Luke 17:11-19

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

Gratitude is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian way. However, the ingratitude of the nine of the lepers, healed today by our Saviour, is an expression of the way that we human beings tend to behave. In this particular Gospel event today, it is the foreigner, the Samaritan, the outcast (considered by his people to be in the class of dogs or even pigs) who comes back to our Saviour, and expresses gratitude by falling down at His feet.

When our Saviour says to him : “'Your faith has made you well'”, at the same time He is showing to you and to me that gratitude has to be at the front of the Christian’s life. Our lives have to be lived in this context of gratitude. When our Saviour says to this man : “'Your faith has made you well'”, He is saying that not only the cure from leprosy has happened to him, but also that he has become a whole person — a whole person, acting and living in the way a believer ought to act and to live.

Today, the Apostle is talking to us and to the Ephesians about the importance of unity, which is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian way. It has to be so, because the Christian way is life in our Saviour, and no other way. Our Saviour draws everything into unity, and we who follow Him must collaborate with Him in this work. The Apostle Paul proclaims that the way of Christ is in unity. Then it is for us to look for signs of unity as the fruit of the presence of the activity of the Lord in our own hearts, and in our relationships with other people. We look for signs of unity not only in our relationships one-on-one with other people, but as communities amongst other communities.

When the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church, and people spoke in all different languages, and praised God in every sort of language under the sun at that time, this was not a sign of one more tower of Babel (which expressed and definitely emphasised the separation of beings). Instead, Pentecost reverses the division. Pentecost brings everyone into harmony and unity despite the multiplicity of languages, despite the multiplicity of cultures. For every human being, the one Way is Jesus Christ. It is He alone who gives life to everyone. It is He alone who brings us into the eternal Kingdom. It is He alone who conquers sin and death. It is He alone who establishes this unity between us and the Father ; between us and Himself ; between ourselves, and other people.

This unity in the love of Jesus Christ is the absolute centre of the Orthodox way. When human beings are breaking down, and they are having to go and visit psychiatrists, psychologists, and so forth, it is because they have lost unity. For the most part, they have become broken and separated inside themselves. The devil has managed to infiltrate them, to disturb them, and to cause interior division. Another of his favourite techniques is to turn us in on ourselves so that we think that we are the centre of the world. Much like a toddler, we believe that there is no-one else around except ourselves, and that everything revolves around ourselves. This is in stark contrast to the outward-mindedness of our Saviour. How is our Saviour responding to the Samaritan and to the other lepers ? He is open, life-giving, healing. He is concerned about glorifying God in restoring these persons to wholeness. However, in the end, it is only the Samaritan who is able to come to true wholeness, because he comes back to the Saviour, and gives glory to God directly.

The foundation of your life and my life as Orthodox Christians has to be founded on gratitude, giving glory to God, and expressing the unifying way of the love of the Lord. For thirty years, this parish has been trying to be a sign of that way, with a fair amount of success (thanks be to God). This community has been embracing everyone, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak. All the national flags that have been characteristic of this parish (expressing how many languages are spoken, and from how many different nations people come), are exactly the expression of the unity that the Lord wants us to live out. True unity in Christ. Not fabricated unity, not forced unity, but unity in love, unity in harmony with Jesus Christ, unity in following in the foot-steps of Jesus Christ, unity in showing His love concretely to each other.

Thirty years seems like a long time, and especially when it took us so many years to come to this point of having a large solea now in this Temple. It is always just big enough (and not too big) for liturgical celebrations, and it brings everything closer to you. The Altar has come closer to you, the way it is supposed to be. The whole Altar now is reaching out towards you. (I will just mention that we are so “Canadian”, so polite, and so standing-back, whereas in other parts of the world people clamour to come as close as possible to the Holy Table. However, we Canadians are so polite ; we sit here and there, and we keep our distance because someone might ask us a question or look at us or pay attention to us, somehow. We do this because we are such shy Canadians.) I hope that you are going to feel free to come closer, yourselves, to the Holy Table. This carpet running along here does not mean that it is some sort of barrier or “no-person’s-land”. In fact, it is a nice, comfortable place on which to stand. I invite you to come closer. Then, you can see and hear everything. Then, the Holy Table is near, and not far away from you.

Soon there will be an iconostas here, too. Soon this Temple will be able to be consecrated. It may seem as though it has taken a terribly long time to get to this point. However, building Christian community is not an instant process. Coming to this concrete expression of who we are as a parish does not happen overnight. It cannot happen overnight because people do not develop like that. Everything develops slowly and organically, just as this community has been growing slowly and organically. Trying to maintain this unity in the love of Jesus Christ is not an easy thing. It is very difficult for us to trust each other, and to be sure that we each love each other. It is difficult because we are so subject to the fears from below. Nevertheless, difficulties or not, these thirty years (which, in fact, is not such a long time) have culminated now in this solea, and the soon-to-be iconostas. This will be a space in which to serve our Lord decently and in order. That is what all this development is concerned with : serving the Lord beautifully and decently, and building up the Body of Christ person by person.

These thirty years have been productive in preparing a long-lasting and beautiful environment for worshipping the Lord, and productive in nurturing love between human beings of many different cultures. With the Lord’s help, maintain this way of gratitude, and this way of love as well as you can, so that this parish may live up to the multiple implications of the word “Sign” after which this parish is named. May you also live up to the loving obedience, example, and powerful witness of the Mother of God, herself, with whom we glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.