Words at the Conclusion of the Archdiocesan Assembly (2010-07-30)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
Words at the Conclusion of the Archdiocesan Assembly
Victoria, BC
30 July, 2010


The Lord shepherds me, and nothing shall be lacking to me. In a place of green pasture, there He has pitched my tent. By restful water has He brought me up from childhood. He has turned my soul about ; He has led me on the way on the paths of righteousness, for the sake of His Name. Even if I were to walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall not fear bad things ; for it is You that are with me : Your rod, and Your staff — it is they that have consoled me. You have prepared a table before my face, opposite those who oppress me. You have dressed my head with oil, and Your cup which inebriates me, how greatly excellent it is. Your mercy shall closely pursue me all the days of my life, and my dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord for length of days.

These are the important words of Psalm 22, a psalm which I had to commit to heart in my early childhood. In stark comparison to the present, one of the places in which I had to be ready to recite this psalm was the public school which I attended. I believe that I was in Grade 6.

Regardless, in the context of all our conversations and considerations of this past week, I am going to repeat the following words from this particular psalm as words suitable to be a main guide for our life together in the archdiocese in the coming days and years. These words are : “You have prepared a table before my face, opposite those who oppress me”. These are words that both prepare for, and complement the words of the “Our Father” regarding the importance of forgiveness.

The words are, indeed, radical, and what they express is radical. We are saying with the Lord that, in complete harmony with His love, the state of our readiness to forgive is such that we consider no-one at all an enemy. Others may consider themselves so towards us, but we, in Christ, are determined to live in forgiveness to such an extent that, with the Martyrs, we can forgive even those who may kill us. Thus it is that, completely contrary to the way of the fallen world, we could sit down at table to eat, and across from us at the same table are those who oppress us, or who would oppress us. This sort of radical forgiveness through love, Christ’s love, is what does characterise us Orthodox Christians, and it is an integral part of the words of the “Our Father” : “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

It is going to be possible for me, for you, for us, to accomplish in Christ all the work that must be done in building Christ’s Church, His Body, in this Dominion, only if we take seriously this imperative of forgiveness, and the practical application of Christ’s self-emptying love.

I understand the importance of this as affecting and influencing every aspect of our lives. This manner of living in Christ’s love, and having no enemies, is far from easy ; and it cannot be arrived at quickly. However, it is in doing this that we are addressing the world in the manner of yeast and salt. Knowing that it is our responsibility to take steps, little by little, to offer our lives to Christ, to invite Him to form us in this manner — knowing this, will in itself, enable us to accomplish this.

If we comprehend our responsibilities as co-workers with Christ in this world ; if we hope to fulfil our responsibilities towards our neighbour in precisely the manner that our Saviour showed by example and by parable, then this manner of living in His Way must become ours. We cannot love our neighbour properly without this Love. We cannot even see who is our neighbour, unless our eyes are opened in this Love. We cannot be our true selves unless we are on this Way, in this Love. We cannot bring life and healing to our neighbour (including all aspects of physical healing), unless we are on this Way, and in this Love. Unless everything we undertake is undertaken together with, and in constant consultation with Christ in our heart, we do things on our own ; we quickly weaken, and we fall away. It must always be our Saviour who is working in and through us concerning everything in life.

Although this may be perceived by some as platitudinous, it is nevertheless the plain facts of our life as Christians. Our life as Orthodox Christians is not simply “niceness”, “sugar-and-cream”, “sweetness-and-light”. This way of following Christ involves pain. Our Saviour suffered and suffers in love. Love must be vulnerable, and there is therefore always pain with this love. Indeed, the pain in this Christ-like love often does not come from those who are remote, but rather from those who are near, sometimes very near. That makes the challenge of loving much sharper, of course. This vulnerability is the way in which we follow our Saviour. I cannot in this context say more than this : normal Christian life, formed by daily prayer, reading of the Scriptures, frequent confession, frequent receiving the Mysteries, knowing lives of holy persons — this, and more, form us and heal us.

During this week, we have been ruminating on the theme : “When did we see You ?” We have had the eyes of our hearts opened somewhat more. We have seen how the Lord is working with us. We comprehend more clearly what is the clear foundation, and what is the direction of our life — in the Love of Christ, serving Him, and caring for all. Therefore, let us simply now open our hearts and arms to our Saviour more and more. Let us ask Him to heal us, to renew us, to direct us, so that we may be able to reveal Him, in His love, in our living. Let us ask Him to help us to support our neighbour. Let us ask him to help us, as Saint Herman says, to know His will, and to do it.