Encouraging one another

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Encouraging one another
Saturday of the 2nd Week in Great Lent
27 February, 2010
Hebrews 3:12-16 ; Mark 1:35-44


[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.

It is interesting that, even when the Saviour has gone away to pray and to be quiet, He is not left alone. This happens to holy people everywhere, always. Rare is the saint who has gone into the desert, and who has not soon been bothered by people. So it was with Saint Anthony the Great, who found himself surrounded by very many people who were so attracted to the Lord’s love in him that they wanted to be near him, and to emulate him in his love for the Lord. However, he was overwhelmed by all the persons around, and he withdrew to another place. He kept on withdrawing, and the desert became very popular and populous.

This happened to many other persons in the “northern desert” (as it is called) in north Russia and Siberia, and other places like that. Other hermits had decided to withdraw there in order to be with the Lord, in order to worship Him, in order to serve Him, in order to put Him first in their lives, in order to turn away from the darkness in their lives. The same thing has happened again and again. The northern desert became populated. There are towns all over north Russia that are there because first of all there were monks hiding in the woods there. The light of Christ that is shining cannot be hidden.

When the apostles come to the Saviour, they say : “Everyone is looking for You”. They ask Him to go back. Our Saviour replies, as it were : “No, let us go somewhere else now”. People love Him so much that they want to hold onto Him. His love is so evident that they feel that they have to be with Him. They want to hold on to Him. They want to make Him their pet, as it were. However, the Lord does not allow this. In a similar manner, we cannot hold on to anyone so as to own and keep that person for ourselves. Even a wife and a husband cannot be like that to each other. So much more so is it the case with a holy person, and even yet more so with the Saviour. They want to hold on to Him, but He says : “‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth’”. Thus, He goes, and He preaches, and He teaches, and He heals. Our Saviour does not go anywhere without healing people. Always, where the Saviour is with His love, there is healing. Things are put back in their proper order, and there is life. Around the Saviour, everything is growing.

In His wonderful and characteristic compassion, the Lord heals the leper who comes to Him today. When the leper approaches Him, it is very significant that he already understands Who He is, because he says to the Saviour : “If You are willing, You can make me clean”. Our Saviour says : “I will”. Modern English-speakers are a little uncertain as to what this expression “I will” really means. We usually take this “will” as simply a future tense. In these cases, we have to be careful when we are speaking English because sometimes “will” means the act of the will. I do believe that that is where this expression comes from. When one says : “I will do such a thing”, this does not simply convey that I shall do it at some time in the future, at some indefinite time. Rather, it has always meant : “I am willing to do this, and it is happening because I will”. Maybe there is a future character about the word, but the will backs up what is coming in the future. Thus, our Saviour says : “I will”, and it happens immediately. He stretches forth His hand, and the man is healed.

To paraphrase, our Lord then says to the man : “All right, do not talk about it. Just go and do what the Law says : show yourself to the priest”. Why does He say : “Do not talk about it” (because obviously the man does not obey) ? He says this because the change in the man from leprosy to a healthy man ought to speak for itself. You do not have to speak about all sorts of things that are happening. The situation speaks for itself. For instance, a person who has lived a rotten life, who has turned about to the Lord and begun to follow Him, should not have to be blathering : “Look what the Lord did”. The change in that person’s life should be obvious to everyone all around. The change in itself should be sufficient. If a person wants to ask : “What happened ? How did this occur to you ?” then is the time to say : “It is because of the Saviour”. That is the right time. When we go around blathering about all sorts of things, our words fall on dry soil, empty ears, and sometimes empty heads. The words go for naught because the person is not ready to hear. People are so used to hearing all sorts of things. The change should be strong enough by itself to provoke a response from the perceiver who might ask : “Why do you have peace ?” “Why do you have joy ?” “Why are you now suddenly so well, when you were so sick before ?” “Why are you alive when you were dead (as has actually happened in some cases) ?” These states of being and these events should speak for themselves.

It is important for us to remember what the Apostle is saying this morning because he is speaking about the basic character of our relationship with each other as believers. In living our Christian lives, it is vital that we continually exhort each other. By “exhort”, he means “to encourage”. He asks that we be supporting and encouraging each other always. Exhortation can even be done without words, as in the example of hermits such as Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, and Saint Herman of Alaska. By their lives overflowing with Christ’s love, they became magnets to people. They withdrew to be alone with the Lord ; but such hermits cannot be left alone, because their light is shining in the darkness. People are drawn to them because the love of these persons encourages them to persevere, encourages them to change their ways, and to put the love of the Lord first.

Encouragement and exhorting each other does not have to be by words (especially in our days when words are so empty and of shifting meanings all the time). Everyone in my family used to say : “Actions speak louder than words”. This is true. We can say things, but not necessarily manage to do them. Others can easily be known for saying but not at all doing, so that those who know them will not believe until it is seen. Therefore, about words, we are, as it were, from Missouri. (For younger people who do not know this expression, the State of Missouri’s nick-name is : “The Show-me State”. Missouri has somehow acquired the reputation of being sceptical.) This action of loving the Lord, giving life in the Lord, bringing joy, bringing light in the Lord is what encourages those around us. That is what is exhorting those around us. Because we are faithful, because of our love, other people are encouraged to love the Lord also. It is not just : “Do as I say”. It is : “Do as I do” which is much more important. Our Saviour Himself says that to us (as it were) : “As I am, so should you be. As I am bringing life, so should you be bringing My life in you. As I am bringing healing, so should you be bearing My healing in you”.

As we are now almost half-way through Great Lent, let us ask the Lord to renew our strength, to renew our focus, to renew our hope, to renew our love. Knowing that no man is an island, let us ask Him to enable us to be an encouragement to those around us by our love, by our hospitality, by our joy, by our peace, by our stability, by our service, and by how we glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.