Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
True Unity must be visible
Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers
21 February, 2010


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

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

The words which our Saviour gave to us just now [John 15:1-10 had been read] are really important words for us, especially for us Orthodox Christians in North America. We Orthodox Christians in North America are actually at a crossroads, a time of testing. This is a time of testing, because in North America the vine planted by Christ (see Psalm 79), our Orthodox Church, is trying to grow in very poor and inhospitable soil. This soil is not favourable to the growth of the Orthodox Faith, because our society is completely absorbed with acquiring money and power, and with the primacy of the unholy trinity, “me, myself and I”. By contrast, the Orthodox Faith is primarily concerned with serving the Most Holy Trinity, with serving other people, and with putting “me, myself and I” last.

We are at a crossroads, because the Lord is putting us to a sharp challenge in these days. Are we Orthodox Christians in North America going to live up to our Orthodox Faith here and now ? This is our challenge. These visits that we make to each other every year on this feast-day of the restoration of the icons are very good for us. However, we seem to be satisfied with being together as we are now, once a year, and with not doing anything more. This is not what the Lord is asking us to be and to do.

If we are going to be like branches which are growing properly from the vine, then we Orthodox in North America have to allow the Lord to prune us and to put us in order, because at the present time we are wild. The branches on this vine are growing all over the place in a disorderly manner. What do I mean by that ? Well, I mean that according to the normal Orthodox way of life, the Church is visible. What do I mean by “visible” ? First, let us take this feast-day for an example. On this day, we are celebrating the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that the Word did, in fact, take flesh. God took on humanity. Because of this, we have here before us an icon of Christ, our Saviour. Because of this icon of Christ, our Saviour, we know more or less what He looks like. By coming to kiss this icon of Christ, our Saviour, we are coming to kiss Christ Himself. He took on flesh in order to show His love for us, and to unite Himself to us. However, it did not stop there. We have always understood (according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul) that the Church is the Body of Christ. We are that Church, that Body of Christ. Our Lord became visible to us when He took flesh, and therefore the Church, His Body, is and must be visible and one. The Lord is not divided.

The Lord, our Saviour, is one, and the Church is one. The Church’s unity must also be visible unity. When we, in North America, presently have one city which has in it six Orthodox bishops, then there is something disconnected from the visible unity of Christ. This is very dangerous. That is why I am saying that we, the branches on this vine of Christ in North America, are wild. We need to be pruned. On this feast-day, I am particularly asking for your prayers because we, the bishops of the Orthodox Church in North America, are beginning to embrace the responsibility that is ours of overcoming such overlapping administrations that allow us to have six bishops with a title of the same city. The Orthodox Church in her whole history has correctly known only one bishop in one city, in order to express the visible unity of the Church. In some giant city, we might perhaps have more than one bishop ; but the bishops would not be in the same part of the city or the same territory. For example, in this province, there might be a bishop for Toronto, another for Hamilton, another for Mississauga, or some place like that.

The bishop must be the father (not the ruler) of a visible family on a particular territory. Why do I keep talking about this particular challenge ? A consultation of the Orthodox Church last year in Chambésy determined that it is time to put in order the Orthodox Church in the missionary and non-traditional territories. This consultation of the patriarchates provided for us an outline of how to go about it. The bishops of each area are to begin to gather on an annual basis, and to prepare for a coming Great Council by deciding amongst themselves how they are going to bring about this visible unity of the Orthodox Church on our territory. The first meeting of the North American bishops will be 25-27 May this year in New York City. If everyone is able to attend, that means that there should be something like seventy or eighty bishops gathering for two short days. We will discuss the beginning of what we hope to do in order to be faithful, first of all, to Christ, and to the canon that Christ gave us about how His Church should appear. Second, we have to be faithful to the patriarchates that are asking us to live up to our responsibility.

For us in North America, it is not such an easy task to do this, because our Church exists in at least three countries that have very different laws. It is going to be a complicated business to organise us on this continent. That is why I am asking you seriously to pray for us. Bishops can get distracted by many things. We can lose our sense of direction. We can even get distracted by personal interests. That is why it is important for you to pray for us that the Lord will guide us, protect us from ourselves, and keep us open to Him alone as we strive to do and to accomplish His will. His will is, after all, to baptise this continent. The Orthodox Faith is not on this continent to be some sort of alternative. The Orthodox Faith is here in North America (no matter for what reason it came here) because the Lord willed His Church to be here so that we can fulfil His exhortation to His apostles : “'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'” (Matthew 28:19).

May the Lord enable you, brothers and sisters, to live out this unity amongst yourselves, Orthodox believers, no matter what countries your ancestors come from, and no matter what languages you speak. Our Faith is one ; our Church is one ; our Lord, Jesus Christ, is one — to whom be glory, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.