Holy Forefathers of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Accepting the Lord’s Invitation
Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ
14 December, 2008
Colossians 3:4-11 ; Luke 14:16-24

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

Today, we are celebrating the Forefathers of the Saviour. The Forefathers of the Saviour are different from the Ancestors of the Saviour. This week we are remembering all those who have gone before the Saviour in preparation for His Incarnation. Amongst them there are patriarchs, prophets, kings and others, such as the Prophet Daniel, and the Three Children in the fiery furnace, who were being faithful to the Lord and His love. In fact, last night we were singing about the fiery furnace. It is important to remember that all these people were faithful to the Lord and His love. They took the Promise of the Lord seriously. This is whom we are remembering this week.

Next week, we are going to be remembering the Ancestors of the Saviour. The terminology of these two Sundays sometimes gets a little confused. It is important to know the difference. This week it is those who are Forefathers in a spiritual sense. Next week we are remembering those who are in the direct ancestry of the Saviour, physically, all the way back to Adam and Eve. There was a lot of preparation for the Incarnation. We cannot say that it is only the physical ancestors of the Saviour that were faithful to the Promise. There were many more who were faithful to the Promise. For instance, there are the Maccabee martyrs 100 years or so before the Incarnation of Christ. These were people who were defending the truth (albeit a bit violently). They took the Promise of the Saviour seriously. As another result of this ancient faithfulness to the Promise, we have ourselves, in Christ, acquired this long series of determinedly faithful men and women as our own spiritual predecessors.

When our Lord is giving us the Parable of the Banquet today, He is making a distinction. The distinction is between people who were faithful (faithful to the Lord’s promises, confident in His promises because of their being faithful to His love), and people who did not trust the Lord’s love very much. Therefore, after the Lord gave the Covenant on Mount Sinai, with the Ten Commandments (which were guidelines as to how a person lives who loves God), the Law became instead a slave-driver, as the Apostle Paul is frequently repeating. The people began to be afraid of breaking the Law. They treated the Ten Commandments as though they were government legislation. We are afraid to jaywalk because we might get arrested. We are afraid to drive too fast because we might get arrested. When we tend to legalism, we very often treat our relationship with the Lord as one of fear ; we thus tend to behave towards Him as though He were waiting for an opportunity to give us a whack on the head, or something like that. This is not at all Who or how the Lord is. The fear of the Lord is not being terrified of Him. Rather, the fear of the Lord is being respectful and in awe of Him.

However, love remains the context. When our Lord is talking to us about the banquet and the people who are being invited by the host, it echoes for us a similar parable about the invitation by a king to a wedding-banquet (see Matthew 22:1-14). A person making such an invitation would be a wealthy man of considerable social stature. Our Saviour is speaking about people who had already disregarded the importance of the banquet, and who had put the focus on themselves. Can anyone imagine that, when an invitation to a banquet would arrive through a personal messenger from a king or a wealthy person, the response to the messenger would be : “I cannot come because I just bought a new cow and I have to try it out”. If Queen Elizabeth were to invite anyone of us to tea, would we answer like that ? Probably not. It would be similar if the mayor of the city made the invitation, or if we were to be invited by the wealthiest person in the city. However, this is how we too often are behaving towards the Lord. The Lord is far greater than any king, potentate or rich person. Indeed, the Lord God loves us more deeply than any monarch, politician or businessman ever could or would.

This is the really important thing that we have to understand regarding what our Lord is trying to tell us. He uses a rich person as an example because He knows how people are with the wealthy and with the mighty. If Queen Elizabeth invited me to dinner, I would be very happy to go to dinner with her (although I would probably be a little bit nervous about etiquette). It would be very nice to be invited by the Queen even to go to dinner, let alone to a banquet. The sort of banquet that our Lord is referring to is not just a three-hour affair. He is talking about the sort of dinner that goes on likely all day, day after day for several days. It is a banquet at which people are sitting at the table extraordinarily enjoying themselves in the presence of the king, rejoicing in his presence. I reckon that, if the Queen were to invite one of us to such a prestigious occasion, then every one of us would be very quick to respond saying : “Yes”, rather than responding : “I just got married, so I cannot go”. Would we say : “I have other things to do that are more important ?”

However, are we not, ourselves, often like this in our relationship with the Lord, as I already suggested ? For us, it seems that other things easily take precedence over our being here in the Temple with the Lord. Thus, our prayers, our communion with Him on a daily basis, can fall into the background of our life instead of being the heart. We frequently find ourselves saying : “I just cannot miss this particular episode of my favourite television serial”, or “I am addicted to my computer and cannot get away from it”, or “I have some sort of meeting (that is more important than the Lord)”. This is what we are ultimately saying by our actions. If I schedule something at a time when we are supposed to be in the presence of our Saviour, then I am actually daring to say that God can take the back seat. I am saying that our Saviour can be patient, because I have more important business to take care of just now.

Our treatment of our Lord and Saviour, our disposition towards Him, is very important in His eyes. Where is He in our lives ? Are we accepting the invitation to His banquet ? Here we are now, in this Temple, at the Divine Liturgy. This is the banquet to which the Lord is inviting us. From this Table is going to come the Bread of Life, and the Blood that washes us from our sins and gives us life. We are going to be partaking of the banquet of the eternal Kingdom. This is what our gathering today is about. Our Lord is inviting us to the eternal banquet in His glory which never ends. Where are we to be found ? Are we to be found amongst those who are trivialising the invitation ? Or are we going to take the invitation seriously ? Are we going to come to the banquet with joy, recognising Who is the Lord – the Lord of love, not of fear ? The Apostle John says to us : “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Fear, in the way we understand fear, is always from “down below”, from the opposition, from the Adversary. That sort of fear is not from the Lord, who is Love.

In his Epistle today, the Apostle Paul adds to the seriousness of this particular passage. Because the passages are connected, the Fathers put these two readings together for this Sunday. The Apostle Paul speaks about how important it is for us to put away from us every sort of dirty and unbecoming behaviour. Those of us who are believers have to reflect Him whom we serve. In law, there is truly guilt by association. We will be held accountable as guilty by association with someone who has done something terribly wrong. We try to weasle out of it by saying : “I did not intend this or that or whatever”. However, I was there, and I was in association with and appearing to support the whole thing. Therefore, I am guilty by association. We become guilty by association, too, when we pay so much attention to certain very unpleasant and improper things that are on the internet, on television, in the movies, in magazines or in books. When we pay a lot of attention to those distorted, improper, unclean or even dirty things, we become associated with that dirt, and that dirt clings to us. It is very hard to wash out and get rid of that dirt.

Our spiritual Fathers talk about how the Tempter comes to us in our thoughts. Here again, we North Americans seem mostly to be naïve, and “out to lunch” in our self-sufficiency and psychological ideas, because we think that everything in terms of thoughts originates only in our grey-matter. That is not at all the case. Thoughts come from outside, too. They are insinuated into us. They come from the environment (even from the air, somehow). This happens because we are members of the fallen human race. Everything round about us is suggestive of something or other. Most of the things that are being suggested are things that are contrary to the Lord, contrary to Christ, contrary to His way.

In my opinion, the major characteristic of the society in which we live is fear. Almost everything seems to be propelled by fear. Why are we in an economic wreck just now ? It is because everyone in the stock market, it seems, became afraid of losing money ; and this reaction of fear made certain that they lost even more money by behaving in a panic. Almost everything is driven by fear. Cunning people manipulate that fear, because they know that we are so enslaved by it. People are driven by fear, and perhaps this contributes to the frequent repetition of economic turmoil. This has always been suggested and insinuated into us. We encounter it everywhere and we cannot escape the influence. What we can escape is becoming enslaved, ourselves.

Having been released from the bonds of slavery to fear by Christ, we do not need to become re-enslaved. Our Lord set us free. It is important for us to renew the freedom that He has given us. It is essential for us to go about our lives carefully, so that we associate ourselves with things that are in harmony with the Lord, in harmony with the Gospel, being careful not to associate ourselves with things that are fear-driven and death-giving. Fear and death are “hand in glove”, we could say.

When the devil comes, he insinuates thoughts of fear, suspicion, and division into our hearts. Do not forget that the heart is the important focus for us. We keep talking about brains in our society, and we almost completely forget all about the heart. Without the heart, the brain is all confusion. The heart, which is the residence of the Lord, has to be guiding the head so that the thoughts are in order, and not confused and conflicting.

When the devil is insinuating various sorts of negative, death-dealing, fearful thoughts into our hearts, it is important for us to be careful, to be calling upon the Lord for help and deliverance. We cannot by ourselves try to fight off the negative thoughts, because that always produces the “tar-baby” phenomenon (from the stories of Uncle Remus). When we try to push away the “tar-baby”, our hand sticks to it. The more we wrestle with the “tar-baby”, the more we are stuck to it, and the more we cannot get rid of it. It is sort of like quicksand : the more we try to struggle in quicksand, the more we get sucked down into it.

It is very similar when we are trying to struggle alone against demonic attacks and negative thoughts that come from the Tempter. We cannot struggle alone or on our own. The only successful way is to turn to the Lord, and to plead with Him to help us and to save us. This is why, in the days of the early Church (before the Jesus Prayer came into the Orthodox Church’s normal life), people were saying two phrases from the Psalms : “O God : give heed to my help. O Lord : make haste to help me” (Psalm 69). This is the crux of everything. When we say these two phrases from the Psalms, we are calling upon the Lord for help. When we are saying the Jesus Prayer, we say : “Lord, have mercy” (as Saint Silouan advised that we should be saying).

When we call out to the Lord for help in everything, then those insinuating thoughts are going to be deflected by Him, and they will not get their hooks in. Once those thoughts get their hooks in, it is very difficult for those hooks to come out. It takes awhile, because we immediately become poisoned by them. Because we are the sort of people we are, we are slow to ask for help. We try to struggle like a fish that has been caught on a hook, instead of stopping and saying : “Save me, O Lord”. I hope that you and I can remember this. Bishops are not immune to these things. Perhaps they are even more subject to these sorts of spiritual challenges than most other people, simply because of their responsibility.

Brothers and sisters, let us do our best to keep our focus on the Lord. Let us keep our sense of who we are by being careful about where are our associations. Let us be careful always to ask the Lord to help us, save us, deliver us, protect us, and the Lord will do it, as He always does. I have seen the Lord delivering, caring for, preparing, and being involved in everything so much that I have no doubt about this at all.

Just in the course of this past week, when I had to go to Moscow for the funeral of Patriarch Aleksy II, and come back, there were very many providential things that occurred in the course of that trip – meeting persons that I really ought to talk to in one way or the other, or meeting people who needed to ask a question. I know that such things could never have been arranged by planning alone. In the airport, I met a man from Vancouver who needed a blessing for something. He was probably going to wait until my next visit (maybe next year) ; but instead, there we were on the same plane where he had a chance to talk to me and ask me what he wanted. Neither he nor I could have organised it. He did not know that I would be there. That is one example of many such occurrences on this trip of obedience to the funeral of the Patriarch.

This happens all the time. I am certain that if you think about it a little bit, you also will have ample examples of how the Lord is involved in your life, of how He is organising things, and showing how He cares for each one of us personally. This is why it is important for us to have confidence that He will save us and come to our rescue every time that we need Him. The Lord shows His love for us like this all the time.

Therefore, let us remember the words of Saint Herman (the spiritual father of our whole Church) who said : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. By doing that, we will glorify in purity and in love 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.