The Gift of Autocephaly

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Gift of Autocephaly
7th Sunday after Pentecost
11 July, 2010
Romans 15:1-7 ; Matthew 9:27-35


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

It is difficult to imagine that after two blind men are healed, such a thing could be hidden. It is certainly not hidden today because as soon as these blind men received their sight, no-one could deny the fact. I almost said “restoration” of sight, but there is no indication in the Scriptures that these men ever had the ability to see before.

We hear our Lord say to them today : “‘According to your faith let it be to you’”. This is not to say that the healing (or any healing) is absolutely dependent upon the faith or the request of the person who is being healed. In fact, our Saviour is demonstrating that these men did believe, and as much as they believed, they would have their sight restored or given in the first place. Indeed, they received their sight which confirms the fact that they believed in Who He is, in Who is Jesus Christ. There are examples elsewhere in which the Lord simply healed the person.

The blind men ask our Saviour to have mercy on them. Then they follow Him into the house, as we see. There, our Saviour speaks to them and heals them. After this, a man who is dumb and who is demon-possessed is brought to Him. Our Lord liberates the man who is demon-possessed, and he is enabled to speak. The man is completely set free by the love of the Saviour. The next thing that happens is that we hear that people are saying (because their hearts are hard) : “‘He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons’”. This is what they accused Him of. There are people amongst us today who are of the same mind. Things do not change because people do not change (no matter how much we pretend to ourselves that we do). “There are none so blind as those that will not see”. My mother repeated this to me many times (because I sometimes fell into that category).

Nevertheless, in circumstances similar to this, we, ourselves (childish human beings that we often are), react very differently from the way our Saviour reacts. What do we see Him do immediately after He is slammed with these blasphemous and awful lies? He goes and heals people all around the country from every sort of disease. That is what He does. What do we do ? We want recognition. We want everything to be fair. If someone were to say about us the equivalent of what is said to the Saviour today, then, very likely, we would take that person to court. We would probably say : “Prove what you say, or give me lots of money”. We have the deceptive mentality that there is such a thing in this world as fairness and justice. There is not any justice because we, ourselves, do not behave justly. How can we expect anyone else to be “just” in the way we are talking about justice if we, ourselves, are not just ? Anyway, the Lord is not asking us for justice, and He is not giving us the example of justice.

The Lord is giving us the example of self-emptying humility and love which add up to the word “righteousness”. He is showing the way of righteousness. He does not pay us back for our evil deeds and our betrayals. He does not “even the score” with you and me. Instead, He absorbs the loss in His love. He absorbs all our damage and brokenness in His love. He does not pay us back eye for eye, or tooth for tooth, or tit for tat. He pays us back with self-emptying, healing love. We have a lot to learn about how to live as Christians if we are still expecting that we should have recognition for the good things that we do, when the Saviour received crucifixion and blasphemies (as we just heard) for His good deeds, which He nevertheless continued to do, even from the Cross. He forgave from the Cross those who were killing him.

We have a long way to go in learning how to live as Christians if our criterion is balances of so-called “justice”. I do not believe that there is really such a thing as what we want to consider as “justice”. I do not believe that we, in our fallenness, are capable of giving justice to anyone. We are too broken, damaged and dim of vision to be able to see all the truth that is required to provide such justice. However, in God’s mercy, in His love, we can give righteousness. We can give His healing love. We can, as He does, in love absorb wrongdoing and mistreatment. We can transform mistreatment and wrongdoing into good in precisely the same way that we are asking the Lord during the prayers of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil : “Make the evil be good by Your goodness”. We can participate in what we are asking Him to do by participating in the action of His love.

That is what the Apostle is talking about today, when he is asking us to bear with the weaknesses of others. He is not asking us merely to endure and to put up with those who are weak ; rather, He is asking us to give concrete support and help to the people who are weak. We, who are strong, should be ready to carry those who are weak, and help them to become strong by sharing with them more of the love of the Lord. The Apostle is asking us to live in mutual support of one another and mutual encouragement of one another so that we can be like Christ. We can lift each other up in Christ and strengthen one another in Christ.

In these days, there is much blathering going on about autocephaly : “What is the meaning of autocephaly ?” “How are we going to defend it ?” “How are we going to protect it ?” There are many similar questions. In the whole course of my episcopate, I have not heard any significantly different questions. This is but a fresh wave of the same old thing. Very often, people in our Orthodox Church in America are saying : “Our autocephaly”. They wave this flag and banner, and declare : “We have this autocephaly”. All that blather about autocephaly does not mean anything when it is treated as if it were a private possession triumphantly clutched by a particular group. The autocephaly that we were given in 1970 by our Mother Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, does have a meaning. It was a gift to us to be a gift to the rest of North America (and, as it turns out, to the rest of the world).

This gift of our ability to govern ourselves by ourselves in North America (even though we were unprepared for it) enabled us to become truly the local Church in North America. In each of the main three countries in North America we are clearly the local Church. We are here, and we are of this place. Our people are not going somewhere else. Living here, and being who we are, we are simply and only resident Orthodox people. In this case, it means that we are Orthodox Christians who are Canadians. We are who we are, and our responsibility is to be yeast here, just as we have been trying to be (see Matthew 13:33). This has been the case for all of us in North America over the past forty years. Our autocephaly is a gift which we have been trying to give. Not by any means has everyone in North America been ready to accept the whole fact of the autocephaly. However, the characteristics of how we are living our life in the context of this autocephaly have been very much accepted by North Americans. North Americans have very much accepted the quality of life that we have had as The Orthodox Church in America. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Orthodox Church in North America in 2010 would not have anything like the character she has now if that autocephaly had not been given to us, and if we had not been trying to be faithful.

However, here we are now, at a time when the Lord is presenting to us the opportunity to establish the beginning of what can become normal Holy Synods in each of these three countries in North America. At this time, we, The Orthodox Church in America, ought not to be so proud and unwise as to be waving this banner : “We have autocephaly. Put this in your pipe and smoke it”. (That is actually what we are saying by talking in such a triumphal manner.) Our responsibility is to say to the rest of the Church : “We have this gift. How can this gift fit what God is giving us all now ?” That is the question. We have this gift. How can we share it (not impose it) ? Since God gave us this gift forty years ago (even though we were not expecting it), we do not dare tell Him what to do with this gift that is starting to come to maturity now. We cannot tell Him. It has to be He who will show us what to do with this gift, and how it will be used to help to contribute to normal Orthodox life in North America.

We cannot be faithful to Christ ; we cannot be faithful to the apostles ; we cannot be faithful to the Canons and Tradition of the Church ; we cannot be faithful to this gift of forty years ago if we want to remain in isolation from the rest of the Church waving this flag with a big “A” on it. That big “A” can mean something different than “autocephaly” : a little three-letter word which I am not saying here.

Brothers and sisters, let our faith be the faith of those blind men, trusting the Lord for His love, His life-giving power, His intimate care for us, His readiness to make all things right and well for you and for me, and for our Church. Let us ask the Lord to give us the faith of these blind men, the faith of these persons who brought the demon-possessed man to the Lord today, and the faith of the Apostle Paul, who understood the workings of the love of the Lord. Let us ask the Lord to give us that understanding and that faith, so that in everything we may be true and faithful to Him, and that in every aspect of our life we might personally and together glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.