Veneration of the Holy Cross

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us draw near to the Lord without Fear
3rd Sunday in Great Lent
Veneration of the Holy Cross
7 March, 2010
Hebrews 4:14-5:6 ; Mark 8:34-9:1


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

The words that our Saviour is speaking to us today are very important words. He says to us Canadians in particular (who are very happy to be comfortable in this world) that if we are comfortable in this world, we are not likely to find the Kingdom. We Canadians are passing through a very serious time of our life because clearly we have lost our way as Christians, and as Orthodox Christians.

I will explain what I mean. Out of love for us, the Saviour emptied Himself and became a human being. Out of love, He ascended the Cross for our sake and died for our sake. Our Lord gives us the Cross today in the middle of Great Lent to remind us about this. Out of love, He died on this Cross and He rose again from the dead on the third day. Everything that our Lord has done and is doing with us, is because of His love for us. The Lord also says to us today that if anyone is ashamed of Him here, He will be ashamed of that person before God the Father at the Judgement. In this context, we have much to ask ourselves as Orthodox Christians.

How are Orthodox Christians generally behaving in society in Canada ? There is not much generous sharing of the love of Jesus Christ. Instead, in Canada, we are content to stay in our closed families. More and more, we are allowing our service to the Lord to be limited to Sunday mornings only. How are we responding to the Lord who empties Himself for us in love ? It seems to me that here in Canada especially, we are responding in fear. We like to export this fear back with us to ancestral Orthodox cultures, and poison their culture. In the historic, normal Orthodox behaviour in church, people are standing first at the front, and last at the back. Historically, for the last 2,000 years, Orthodox Christians have wanted to be close to the Holy Table in order to be close to the Grace and the love of the Lord. Now, in Canada, two things are happening. In the first place, we are reacting with fear. We keep our distance in case (as in school) the priest might ask us a question. Perhaps we think that we are especially holy and especially humble, and that we should be completely invisible behind some pillar, like a saint we once read about. That sort of humility is very rare and special. The normal place for us is close to the Holy Table. This is so because of love.

In the second place, in Canada we start to put all sorts of furniture into the Temple so that we can sit down comfortably. When we are sitting down, we are looking at the Divine Liturgy as if we were watching television, or a play in a theatre. (It is certainly not as active as a hockey game.) Sitting comfortably, watching the Divine Liturgy from a distance, we stop participating in the Divine Liturgy, and it becomes something that someone else does. We become more and more comfortable, and more and more detached this way. When we do this to ourselves, we make our hearts go to sleep. We become hard in our hearts. From the bishop’s point of view, this is very sad. It is the bishop’s responsibility to encourage people to love the Saviour more and more. I have been speaking about this sort of thing over and over again for 22 years all over this country. Still, after 22 years of talking about these things, and trying to encourage people to overcome their fears, people still stay far away from the Holy Table. Even though this pattern keeps repeating itself, I will not be discouraged.

I must say to you yet again : “Do not be afraid”. These are the words of our Saviour to us all the time. He sends angels to us to say the same thing : “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5). Do not be afraid to be close to the Holy Table. If you have to move because there is a procession happening, or because the clergy and the altar-servers are going in and out, then move a little bit in order to let them come and go, but come back to your place close to the Holy Table. The Lord loves us, each and every one. He wants us to be near Him, not far away. If you have a sore back or sore knees, move your furniture closer to the Holy Table. The Lord loves you and He wants you to be near Him. He said to His apostles : “Let the little children come to Me” (Matthew 19:14). These young people here who are standing close are obedient to the Saviour.

Let every one of us here be obedient to our Saviour in His love, and be close to Him and near to Him. Let us not accept the fear that paralyses so many Canadians. Let us allow the Saviour to set us free from all these chains. We can go so far as to say that it is not only our responsibility to draw near to Him, but it is our right to stand close to Him as His baptised brothers and sisters, members of His Body. The Lord loves us. Let us glorify Him with our whole life, with our whole being : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.