Radio Interview in Yorkton, SK (2009)

Archbishop Seraphim : Radio Interview
The Communion of Love is precisely the whole Point.
Yorkton, Saskatchewan
2 June, 2009

[This radio interview was recorded in a Yorkton, Saskatchewan radio station (called “The Rock”, because it is a Christian radio station). The host, Father Andrew Piasta, interviewed His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim, on the occasion of the Feast of Pentecost.]

Father Andrew Piasta :

Before we go into our main topic, Your Eminence, would you tell us something about the Archdiocese of Canada ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

The Archdiocese of Canada is one of the thirteen dioceses of The Orthodox Church in America. Our history begins with the mission of monks from Valaam Monastery in west Russia, or Karelia (almost Finland you could say) in 1794. They came to Alaska, and from that came everything else in due course. Our own diocese had its beginnings with the Ukrainian and Bukovinian settlement at the end of the nineteenth century. Since then, we have slowly developed, with various difficulties and catastrophes slowing us down from time to time. The first bishop in Canada of this (in those days) “Russian” mission was Archbishop Alexander who came to Canada in 1916. We have had a series of resident bishops in Canada ever since then, of whom I am the latest. In the history of the diocese, too, after World War II there was an attempt to divide the diocese more sensibly into at least two. After the bishop who had been consecrated in 1947 with that in view had been put in place in Montréal, suddenly, after six months, he died. As a result of that, everyone was in shock. We did not have another ruling bishop or resident bishop in the country for another five years. It seems that, until now, we have never really recovered from that sudden death of Bishop Antoniy. In these days, the diocese has recovered to a population roughly equal to what we had in the 1950s. For us, this is not bad, because we were almost finished about thirty years ago in terms of size, numbers, and organisation. However, God has been merciful, and now our Church is about to have an auxiliary bishop, the first one for many, many years, and there is hope for a second one as well before too much longer. Then, maybe we could get back to where we were in 1945.

Father Andrew :

Last week people on the “new calendar” celebrated Pentecost. This Sunday we are celebrating the feast on the “old calendar”. Your Eminence, please tell us about the significance of the feast, the meaning of the feast in eastern Christianity, and how we understand its importance as part of God’s providence, and salvation for the world. How, and why do we observe Pentecost in the Orthodox Church ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

In the Church, the Feast of Pentecost is really called the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The title “Pentecost” is an Old Testament title for a particular feast that came fifty days after Passover. Fifty is the meaning of the word. The Feast is logically called Pentecost by us as well ; but for us, this feast primarily refers to the Event of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem which we read about in The Acts of the Apostles, and which I recommend that everyone read (see Acts 2:1–11). Other people will also be familiar with calling this feast the Feast of the Holy Trinity or Troitsa. That is because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and apostles on this day is a very clear, unmistakable demonstration of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, on the one hand it is really the Feast of the Holy Spirit, but on the other hand it is an occasion of the revealing of the Three-Personned nature of the One God.

Why is the feast so significant ? There are two aspects. One is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us at Pentecost, which gives us the Grace to live a truly Christian life. This is not some sort of magic or anything like that. As we see in Acts 1:8, our Saviour says to His apostles : “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. The Holy Spirit was promised to us by our Saviour, and who told us beforehand that He would give us a certain power. The Prophets in the Old Testament, from time to time, were given the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and they spoke for God about repentance and the correcting of life. There are many such occasions in the Old Testament days when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon a particular person. However, almost no-one in those days had a long and continuous experience. The Holy Spirit came to a person for a time, and for a particular purpose, and then the person was not necessarily so inspired afterwards. In the Old Testament, there was not this sense of a continuous gift.

However, this time, on the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon everyone, and not only on particular apostles. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon everyone at the Feast of Pentecost is part of our understanding of what happens to us in baptism. The Grace of the Holy Spirit is given to us for the purpose of living our Christian life. The Holy Spirit is with us at all times enabling us to live our Christian life. When the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us power, the Holy Spirit does not give us power over other beings (except to drive out evil), but rather the power to serve, the power to heal, the power to love, the power to endure, the power to follow in the foot-steps of Christ.

There is a second significant aspect of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is important and significant for us Orthodox Christians. When the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and apostles in the Upper Room, they began to speak in various sorts of languages (tongues) that they had never learnt. It is not insignificant that there appeared tongues of fire upon all those in the Upper Room, which are linked with the multitude of languages to be spoken and understood. When the disciples and apostles went out from this room, people all around were hearing them speaking in their various languages (see Acts 2:4-12, where it says that this is what happened). Why did the Lord give this particular gift in this particular way ? Well, on Pentecost itself, the whole purpose of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this way was to show people that all Christians are expected to be sharing the truth about Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, with the whole world. That is why there were so many languages being spoken all at once. This Faith, this experience of Jesus Christ, this life in the Truth is for everyone in the whole world. There is only one Truth : Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

Father Andrew :

Quite a few people who call themselves Christians are often confused about Who the Holy Spirit is. They often refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”, or they think of the Holy Spirit as a “power” – the power of the Father or the power of the Son. Please tell us how we understand Who (and not what) the Holy Spirit is.

Archbishop Seraphim :

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. God is One ; but at the same time, God is a Community of Three Persons who live in a complete, utter unity that is truly beyond human understanding. There is nothing that any one Person of the Holy Trinity does, says, or thinks in which the other two Persons are not involved. They are living in this complete, utter harmony. The Fathers are telling us that this logically must be so, because if God were any fewer than three Persons, He would be somehow self-motivated and unconcerned about everyone else (or God would be completely exclusive). If there were simply one Person, then one could say that He is egocentric. If there were only two Persons, then it would be an exclusive club of two. However, when there are Three Persons, there is a continuous movement of communication and uninterrupted love amongst all Three Persons in complete balance – completely outward-looking, one might say.

We do not ever want to dare to call the Holy Spirit a “thing”. If we call the Holy Spirit a “thing”, or a “power”, the Holy Spirit becomes a created being, and that makes the Holy Spirit no longer God. That is why it is not safe to call the Holy Spirit a thing, or to talk about Him in impersonal, inanimate terms. The Holy Spirit is a Person, a living Person, one of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is a Person who is intimately identified with the other two Persons.

In the understanding of the Christian Fathers over the years, there is a sense of how the relationship amongst the Three Persons works. The Father is the Creator and Origin of everything. The Son is the Only-begotten Son of the Father (by begetting, although no-one really knows what that means, but such is the term that we use). Nevertheless, the Son comes from the Father by being begotten. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father by proceeding (this is another term whose meaning we do not and cannot truly understand), because the Father is the Source of everything. And yet, one could never say that there was ever a time when there were not the Three Persons all together. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity were, and always are involved in this continuous, harmonious communication of love.

We cannot speak about the Holy Trinity as though we somehow invented this understanding. Orthodox Christians have always understood from the very beginning that we understand God only because He reveals Himself to us. He reveals Himself to us, and we respond to that Self-revelation. God has given us not only His revelation of Himself, but also a certain amount of reason that is inspired by the Holy Spirit with which to talk about these relationships. It is really important for us to remember that our use of any words about the Holy Trinity has to be related directly to God’s revelation of Himself. We, in the Orthodox Church are singing : “The Lord is God, and has revealed Himself to us. Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord” (see Psalm 117:27). (If we are monks, we sing this every day at Matins, and at some other services also.) It is a good thing that we sing this every day ; because if we did not, we human beings in our self-preoccupied pride, could well be inclined to think that we are somehow greater than God, and that we are defining Him. Instead, He is defining Himself in such a way that we can understand a little bit.

Father Andrew :

Christianity is not a system of simply following the rules of God, but it is a life lived such a way that we get to know Who God is. Christianity does not involve the concept of God as being “the Big Guy sitting on the chair”, but rather, it is the living of a communion of love.

Archbishop Seraphim :

This communion of love is exactly the whole point.

Father Andrew :

The simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s love for us : Grace and redemption are given to us by the love of God. Our existence, and all creation are there because of God’s love. Your Eminence, would you now reflect upon the role of the Holy Spirit in the act of bringing creation into existence ; and would you also reflect upon salvation as related to the Holy Spirit and love ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

First, I would say that there are some people in the history of the Church who have thought that the Holy Spirit was only the relationship or the power of love between the Father and the Son. That is an unpleasant sort of conception of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is then depersonalised : the Holy Spirit is turned into some sort of “force”. I do not know of any human being who would like to be reduced to being just a force. You could not then call the Holy Trinity a communion of Three Persons if the Holy Spirit were just a force or some sort of activity or energy. If we go so far as to call the Holy Spirit an “energy” or a “force”, it turns the Holy Spirit into something that is created. All these things are very touchy. Human beings have to be very cautious when speaking about God, so that we do not run away with ourselves, as it were, because we can get into trouble. Anyone who talks about the Holy Spirit in terms of forces and powers instead of “Person” gets into really dangerous water.

In fact, we have been encountering the Holy Spirit right from the beginning of everything. If we look at the beginning of the Old Testament in the First Book of Moses (which most people call Genesis, and this is appropriate because the word “Genesis” means “beginning”), we are going to see about the Holy Spirit that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water” (1 Moses 1:2). We read that God is saying : “Let Us make …” (1 Moses 1:26). The “Us” that God is using in the First Book of Moses is not a royal “we” in this case (although some people might like to think so). It is not an expression of the royal “we” at all. It is an expression of the Community of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is speaking : “Let Us make ….” The Holy Trinity then speaks through the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word (who is our Saviour, Jesus Christ). This Word speaks into existence everything that is. It is the Holy Spirit that gives life to everything that the Word is speaking into existence. All of this is happening because the Father is creating in this way. The Father, who is the Father of everything, brings into harmonious existence everything that is, through the word of the Word, the words of His Son, by the Grace and the operation of the Holy Spirit. All Three Persons are operating in harmony and unity. The Holy Spirit, the Son, and the Father, together, are always acting at all times, in every place, and there is never a time when this is not the case.

The Holy Trinity is not so clearly and explicitly revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. Nevertheless, one can see the evidence of the All-Holy Trinity, even in the Old Testament. For instance, there are many who will say that the visitation of Abraham by three Angels is precisely one of those moments of revelation of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. How is the Holy Trinity revealing to us Who they are ? (One can see how difficult it is to talk about the Holy Trinity. Words do not suffice. I, myself, am not capable. I am speaking with my limitations.)

The Holy Trinity becomes as fully as possible revealed to us at the time of the Incarnation of our Saviour. The revelation already begins in the Nativity cycle and the Theophany cycle with the Baptism of our Saviour. The revelation is really evident now with the celebration of Pentecost, and the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. These are high moments, moments of clarity as to Who is the Holy Trinity. All through our whole experience as human beings from the very beginning, we have had the encounter with the All-Holy Trinity.

What is the nature of the Holy Trinity ? God reveals Himself to us as Love. It is not only the Holy Spirit who is Love. As you were saying earlier in our discussion before this interview, our Saviour is speaking about love before He talks about the Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Holy Trinity is involved in this love. The Lord has revealed to us that His own very nature is Love : love which is inclusive, and love which is life-giving. In this whole context, too, we have to understand (because of the nature of this life-giving and inclusive love) that there is no place in creation at any time in which God is not fully present.

In other words, God’s creation is not outside Himself, but He is always present in everything that He is creating. We would not want to say that there is no distinction between God and His creation, because creation is not God. However, God is in all His creation, everywhere, always, throughout all these galaxies that we are finding through the Hubble telescopes, and other telescopes. God is everywhere at all times in the whole universe. One might correctly refine this to say that God is everywhere at all time and at the same time in the whole universe. Everything that is floating in outer space, and everything that is visibly and tangibly in our presence here on earth is filled with Him, His love, and is an expression of His love. We human beings are an image and an expression of His love in a specific way. He desired to create us to be like this : a visible expression of His love, of Him in a particular sort of way, and co-operators with Him in the ordering of His creation (and oi yoi, did we fail in that part). Still, His love has overcome our failure, and His love is still overcoming our failure. His love wants to renew the unity between ourselves and Him. This love wants to re-create us, heal us, and bring us back into full communion with Him. Again, I am talking about things that are so mysterious and wonderful that it is difficult to speak about them.

Father Andrew :

I would like to paraphrase another theologian, who said : Because of love, we are created. We are created so that we can love. Because of love, we are saved (even when we did not want that love), and it will be into love that we will be resurrected.

Pentecost is the celebration of the manifestation of the fulness of the Holy Spirit in creation. Nevertheless, we also celebrate it as the “birthday” of the Church, the beginning of the Church. The Church, therefore, is not simply an institution ; she is something that is linked with God. What, then, is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church ?

Archbishop Seraphim :

Everything about being a Christian is about relationship because everything about God, Himself, concerns relationship – relationship in love. Therefore, if we are speaking about the Church as such, you are right in saying that she is not an institution (even though there are the characteristics of an institution about her). However, the Church has never been able to be confined to being an institution in the normal way human institutions operate. That is because the Church is a living organism. In the First Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, the Church is described by the Apostle in chapter twelve as being the Body of Christ. That is the most crucial thing for Christians to remember about the nature of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Head of this Body is our Saviour, Jesus Christ. That is how the Apostle Paul speaks and writes about it. A body is a living organism. The Apostle speaks about our participation in this Body in exactly these very frank ways. We are members or cells of this Body, and each one of us has a particular purpose and role to play. Without each one of us, the Body does not function very well. If I get sick or distorted, distracted or fallen in some sort of a bad way, then these falls, these weaknesses or these illnesses affect all the other members of this Body. That is how any body operates. The Body of Christ is not different from that, except that, different from my body sitting here, the Head of the Body of Christ is our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Saviour is not as vulnerable as my head sitting here on these shoulders, which is definitely limited. So, the Church is a living organism, and this living organism is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the disciples and apostles, and this signals the beginning of the visible activity of the Body of Christ, which had already existed in some manner before. The out-pouring of the Holy Spirit began enabling this Body to function according to the Lord’s will. What immediately happened ?

There is at first the speaking in a multitude of languages. Afterwards, there is the sermon of the Apostle Peter, followed by the baptism of many, many people on that first day. This is the fulfilment of the commission of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, at the time of His Ascension when He said : “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). We are to share with all the nations of the earth, in all the languages of the earth, the truth of His love, the truth of Who is Jesus Christ.

We do all this by the Grace of the Holy Spirit : the activity of the Holy Spirit’s presence in us. This gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred on us at the time of baptism. It is associated with baptism just as we see in The Acts of the Apostles. From the time of the apostles, nothing has really changed in the baptismal practices in our Church. In the Name of the Holy Trinity, people are baptised in water ; and in our day, they are given the gift of the Holy Spirit through the anointing with a special oil, together with special prayers. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every Christian in the beginning, and the Holy Spirit enlivens and enables us to live as healthy, living members of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit enables us to grow up into our real selves, and to be reflections of Jesus Christ, Himself.

Father Andrew :

The Holy Trinity is a communion of love : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – different Persons, but One in divine love. We, who are different persons, by means of Pentecost become one through divine love. The Church is actually the image of the Holy Trinity, and that is what God willed from the beginning.

Archbishop Seraphim :

There are some people who say that every human being is made up of three elements : body, soul, and spirit. This can be taken in a way as another reflection of the Holy Trinity.

Father Andrew :

Thank you very much, Your Eminence, for your reflections. It is wonderful to have you back here again on our programme, and we hope that you can come back soon. We pray that God will continue to bless and uphold your pastoral ministry. God grant you many years !