We, too, can in Him be perfect

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We, too, can in Him be perfect
Saturday of the 1st Week after Pentecost
29 May, 2010
Romans 1:7-12 ; Matthew 5:42-48


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

Today, the letter of the Apostle to the Romans begins with a reminder about how we ought to behave towards one another. When he approaches the end of this pericope, in an outpouring of love, the Apostle exhorts us to be mutually supportive, and mutually encouraging. Along with his own words to them of encouragement, direction and correction, he also writes that he is looking forward to being able soon to meet his Roman readers and hearers in person, and to be renewed and strengthened in Christ by their love.

This is a really important reminder for us all. Who are we to each other as Christians ? Who are we to each other as Orthodox Christians ? Are we so different from the Apostle Paul and those Romans whom he so encourages and to whom he is so grateful for their faithful witness ? If we are honest in our response today as Orthodox Christians, and if we are truly giving a response in humility, we will likely admit that we do not live up to their example of fidelity and love for Jesus Christ. We can see that the Apostle and the Christians in Rome are living in harmony with the words which we have just heard from our Saviour today in the Gospel reading ; but we, ourselves, are tending not to do so these days. In the twenty-first century, we like to think that we are so much better than everyone else that has gone before. We think that we know so much more, and that we are so well advanced. If that is so, however, then why do we keep making the same mistakes that human beings have always made ? Why do we not learn from history ? Why do we, instead, keep refining the mistakes of our predecessors and making them even worse ? For better and for worse (depending), I think that we are the same as human beings have always been.

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to be a sign in Christ of the way in which human beings are supposed to be living with each other. God created us to live in harmony with each other. He created us to live in forgiveness with each other. This is why the Apostle is looking forward to being strengthened and encouraged by the faith of the Romans. They are also benefitting from his faith, courage, long-suffering, patience, and the Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we are supporting each other, strengthening each other, and encouraging each other in the love of Christ, we are actually behaving in the way the Lord wants us to behave. We are behaving as we ought to behave ; we are being the sign that He is asking us to be.

Today, our Saviour is giving us very direct and difficult words : “‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’”. There are many examples of those amongst our martyrs who did so. They blessed those who were killing them. Then our Saviour makes it all crystal clear for us by saying : “‘Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’”. This is a big responsibility that we have. We like to think that we cannot do it, since we human beings are always giving ourselves excuses and taking easy ways out of things. This is one of the big reasons that we get into trouble. However, the fact is that our Saviour tells us plainly that we are to be perfect. This means that to be perfect is not impossible. It is, in fact, possible.

How are we going to be perfect ? Perfection comes in living in selfless love. Perfection is not found in the obeying of all sorts of rules. Perfection is found in purity of heart : purity of life in the love of Christ which makes it possible for us to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. If we are able to bless those who persecute us, to give to anyone who asks without question, and to trust God for everything in doing these apparently difficult things, then we are living in Christ. We are able to do these difficult things because Christ is in us, and we are in harmony with Him. That is why we can be perfect. We can achieve this perfect love which gives life, which directs us always in the correct and right way, the life-giving and healing way. We can become like Saint Mary of Egypt, who in her repentance learned how to love the Lord completely and whole-heartedly. We can become like others who have lived such a life of repentance. They have come to know the will of the Lord in their hearts. I would say that they have come to a point somewhat similar to long-married couples who, after thirty to fifty years, know each other and are so in harmony with each other that they already know what each other might want to say, ask or think, even before the words come out. I have seen very often how such couples complete each other’s sentences, and so forth, so much are they in harmony. This is the harmony that is reflecting the harmony of life in Christ. It is really this harmony of self-sacrificing, selfless love in Christ which enables such harmony and unity to arise. Thus, we see that if it is possible for married couples to come to this unity, then it has to be possible for everyone else to come to this unity with Christ, also. It truly is possible to come to this perfection in love.

The Lord does not ask us to do what is not possible. He gives us the Grace to do what we have to do. Our responsibility now is simply to say : “Yes, Lord, I want to go in this way. I definitely do want to go in this way of love with You, in harmony with You. Help me to do it”. He does help us, and He will continue to help us. Today, let us simply ask Him to do that, as we come to the end of this Feast of Pentecost.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to refresh us, renew us, inspire us with love for the Saviour so that we may be taken into the Holy Trinity in Him, and glorify the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.