Catching and Teaching : Humility, Integrity, and a Christian Witness to the University (2009-10-20)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
Catching and Teaching : Humility, Integrity, and a
Christian Witness to the University
[given at the OCF : University of Toronto]
20 October, 2009


Professor Richard Schneider :

I was invited to introduce His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim, to those of you who do not know him, and also to open up some of the issues of the night, and to raise some opening questions. This is a very great honour, and a wonderful opportunity. Then I was told I had to do it in five minutes. That is an impossibility, but I will try.

In the West, we would say that the real name of the man I am about to introduce to you is Kenneth William Storheim. In the Orthodox Church, we would say that his real name is His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim. In the university we would say : “What is reality ?” We would say : “What is the dialogue between the history of Kenneth William Storheim growing up out there in the open prairies of Canada, and never ever leaving it in his heart (he goes there as often as he can), and this world figure who has travelled, I guess, to every Orthodox country now”. [Archbishop Seraphim interjected : “No, not quite”.] He is the ruling bishop of the largest Orthodox diocese (by territory) in the whole world : all of Canada. At the moment there are archdiocesan entities in almost every single province, from Newfoundland all the way to BC, and also up to Whitehorse, too. And true to his Episcopal responsibility, he is a visiting bishop, one who makes sure he visits every one of the entities.

Let me tell you a little bit about his life, because the life leads into the themes. As you can tell by the name, His Eminence is a Norwegian ; and if you are not careful, he will break into Norwegian in the middle of the talk. He is the son of Lutheran parents. He went to a western school of theology, the Vancouver School of Theology, and came out as an Anglican pastor. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978, and immediately he went to Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, which (for those of you who do not know or do not recognise the name) has been known for decades and decades as being a pre-eminent academy of Orthodox studies, as well as being a place where priests are richly formed. Also, characteristically, Kenneth Storheim, under obedience, took the most advanced degree – not the regular, simple Master of Divinity (M.Div.), but a Master of Theology (M.Th.), which he received in 1981. He was ordained in 1979, and then soon went to New Valamo Monastery in Finland in 1980.

This is very interesting, too, because first of all the liturgical tradition at New Valamo is world-famous. They have their own peculiar form of chant, which came with the monks from Old Valamo (in Russian, Valaam), and which began to be translated from Slavonic into Finnish. The monastery is a major destination of spiritual pilgrimage. However, there is an important North American connexion. If you remember hearing Reader Michael two weeks ago, it was from Old Valaam Monastery that Orthodoxy came to North America, and inspired North America with its outlook and its traditions. After some time in the monastery Father Seraphim (who took his name, by the way, from Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the great spiritual teacher in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) came back to Canada, and served for a while as rector in Winnipeg, at Holy Trinity Sobor. That is another interesting connexion with Tradition, because that Sobor in Winnipeg is actually one of the oldest Orthodox Churches in Canada (and certainly, in The Orthodox Church in America). Its roots go right back to the days of Saint Tikhon at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is a great tradition there. The sociology of the place in the pastoral field was very representative of the condition of the churches in Canada at the time when Father Seraphim served there. The church was very, very mixed in its population : many Russian-speakers, committed to the Russian tradition, many young converts committed to outreach in Canada, and so on. How one does “pull this off” is always an interesting problem.

At that time, Canada had no ruling bishop. From 1981, when Archbishop Sylvester retired, until 1987, The Orthodox Church in America in the diocese of Canada had no ruling bishop. And, not to put too fine a point on it, things were in a mess. Things were underdeveloped, and they were depressing-looking to people on the outside. There were at that time (I think I counted it right) in the whole of the country, seventeen OCA entities. That means any sort of entity : churches, missions, and so on. There was one active monk, who lived by himself as a hermit in Québec. In 1987, Bishop Seraphim was called to take over the leadership of the archdiocese. In 1990, he became the ruling bishop, and he immediately started to pursue his course of active pastoral care. He is one of the few bishops I can think of who knows practically every single person in his diocese by name and face, and knows their families, and knows their dogs – knows everything about them. That is why, when I was thinking about giving this introduction, I was tempted to say that, for people who know him well, Archbishop Seraphim actually needs no introduction. The people who know him well would simply say : “What is it that you know of Christ ? That is what you will see at work in Archbishop Seraphim”. There is one exception to that, however. He is known throughout the world as the giggling Orthodox archbishop, the one with the absolutely irresistibly appealing giggle. As far as I know there is no mention in the Gospel of Christ ever giggling. [Archbishop Seraphim interjected : “That does not mean He did not”.] Jesus wept, and believe me, Archbishop Seraphim has had his share of participation in that, too. He has added the giggle, and it is an inspiration to us all.

During his tenure, the archdiocese has now grown to something over 90 entities, and there are monks throughout the country living various lifestyles and forms. Growth is a constant. This is, of course, a major handful for anyone to handle. At the same time, Canada is only one diocese in The Orthodox Church in America. His Eminence has to work with the Holy Synod ; and he is not just a member of the Holy Synod – he has been the Secretary of the Holy Synod. During a period of severe crisis in the Church (and we cannot put too fine a point on that), he was asked to become (as it were) the administrator, and he had to do that for a long time. Besides that, he is also one of the two leaders of the Department of External Affairs of the OCA, and that is what has caused this travel all over the world. It is partly his gift at languages that got him the job, but it is mostly the giggle, I think.

On top of that, he has been on the Board of Education of the OCA for many, many years and its chairman since 2007. That makes him responsible for education, especially the seminaries within the OCA, which gives him a lot of experience for tonight’s topic. Tonight’s talk being in the University of Toronto, there is, of course, an ecumenical dimension also. Among other things, since 1992, Bishop, and then Archbishop Seraphim (he became Archbishop in 2007) has been on the bilateral dialogue between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, at the level of the Bishops’ Conference, between SCOBA (the Orthodox bishops), and the NCCB (the Catholic bishops in the USA). Since 2004, he has been the Orthodox co-chairman of that. This is, as you can imagine, a very important responsibility, and it requires a lot of experience with ecumenism, which is part of what has made him one of the strongest supporters of the Canadian Council of Churches. It has made the OCA very active in the CCC. I will just point out that Archbishop Seraphim also has just an ordinary Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta. That means he had an education in a secular university, and he was taught with the methodologies of a secular university. This leads to just a few opening questions that I hope will provoke some thought, and perhaps provoke some dialogue from you, after His Eminence is finished.

If we are going to talk about Orthodox witness, it is not just about Orthodox education. In the context of the modern university there are at least three issues that immediately spring to mind. All of you have experienced this. The first is the issue of being a person of faith, a witness in a context that is predominantly secular. How is this to be handled ? What does it mean to have an Orthodox mission on a campus like this ? How are you going to talk to your friends ? What is it like at parties ? To what can you invite your friends without seeming pushy, and what form is the invitation going to take ? What are you going to tell them about yourself ? So, there is that problem. It is not unique to campuses. It is a problem of being a person of faith in the whole world, of course, but on campuses it is particularly intensified at a time when the majority of the people who live and work in this place are in the process of casting off the shackles of childhood, and trying to discover what the constraints of adulthood really are. Does Orthodoxy speak to that ? Does religion speak to that ? When I taught Church History at York University, I always had a very diverse group of students in my class. I always asked them : “Why are you taking this course ?” The answer was always the same answer, no matter where they came from, what Church they came from. They said : “The Church educated me till I was eight years old, and then talked to me like an eight-year-old ever after. I want someone to talk to me like an adult”.

The second issue is the problem of ecumenism. It is really a version of the problem of multiculturalism, but as a person of faith, you cannot stick your head in the Orthodox sand. You are not safe because the Orthodox have all the answers (and it is just remotely possible that they do not have all the answers). If someone else is raising questions that the Orthodox have been too timid to raise (those questions need at least to be heard, and an Orthodox answer needs to be searched for), well, what must be the methodology for this search ? Should the methodology be within a narrow Orthodox group, so that doctrine, and so on will be preserved ? Or might that search better carried on within the ecumenical dialogue ? As you all know, the University of Toronto is world-famous for pioneering the idea of ecumenical education without giving up commitment to the rigours of doctrinal orthodoxy in every one of the Churches. That is the Toronto School of Theology model, and it is a wonderful model. In a lot of ways it was the basis of the model that was pioneeringly adopted in the Canadian Council of Churches. It means, however, that one has to know, once again : How do you talk ? How do you witness in such a situation, in such a dialogue ? I will go right to the most extreme example, why not ? (It is in the news this week.) You all know that Toronto has just been selected as the host city for world pride in 2014. And this is because Canada looks good in the eyes of the “pride world”. And Toronto looks especially good. We have a very big pride parade. Canada has pioneered giving civil rights to same-sex couples. There is a lot going on, and it is a “natural” choice. Now, we turn to consider the Churches and the faith dialogue about this subject ; and lo and behold, what we hear is real confusion. We are hearing doctrinal arguments ; and they are, believe me, good doctrinal arguments on every possible side of this question. What sort of response are you going to make in conversation ? How are you going to handle the university situation, which is extremely touchy about political correctness, and in which gay/lesbian movements for the defense of students have been very powerful ? How are you going to talk ? How are you going to witness ? That is just one example of the ecumenical problem. We had to face that in the Canadian Council of Churches, too.

The third and most significant issue is that the university is a place devoted to critical thinking. Its one real purpose is to motivate you to abandon all your old clichés, your axioms, your idioms, everything that is the familiar and comfortable answer, and to adopt a methodology of critical thinking. This is true, no matter what your field is. How does that “jive” with the person of religion’s notion that they are called by the Truth, and that their whole way of being in the university is to witness to the Truth ? These are very profound problems, and we are all looking forward to hearing what His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and all Canada has to tell us about them.


Archbishop Seraphim :

Richard’s introduction makes it difficult for me to speak. However, I will try to speak about education in our context as well as I can. I cannot help remarking, however, about a couple of things that Richard mentioned.

The first has to do with the name. The fact is, as we understand it, when a person is tonsured in a full way to be a monk in the Orthodox Church, it is called a Second Baptism. So the person that was, before coming to the tonsure, is “kaput”. So, whoever I was before is no more. It is only this Seraphim-sort-of-a-person standing here that really is now, ever since the tonsure. Let us understand that we Orthodox use the word “monk” for any gender ; besides this, ever since I was young, I have understood that there are three genders : male, female, clergy. Therefore, if you talk to a serious monk, and try to address this monk on the basis of who he or she was before, then any serious monk is going to resist talking about pre-tonsure history. What matters is the commitment that goes with being a monk. That commitment is to serve Christ, and to serve Christ only. So, whatever went before — well, it exists, but it is not relevant, somehow.

Going to New Valamo was a very interesting experience for me. Richard pointed out some of the connexions that are significant about going to Valamo vis-à-vis the history of Canada, and the history of The Orthodox Church in North America. However, for me, it was a most interesting experience. This was already into the middle of a long series of convincing experiences of God’s direction in life for me. Archbishop Paul of Finland came to visit Saint Vladimir’s Seminary towards the end of the spring semester of 1980. He served the Divine Liturgy in a way that I have never experienced the Divine Liturgy since. I have never experienced the Divine Liturgy served so peacefully, so profoundly peacefully as that. The sense of God’s presence was amazing. C S Lewis writes about the weight of glory. I think that there is a sense of the weight of the presence of God. Under certain circumstances, you can encounter that weight. This was, for me, the greatest of all such experiences.

All impressed as I was, I still had my work to do. The archbishop had had breakfast with the students, and then he had gone to Father Schmemann’s office. They were busy speaking in Russian. I had to go and pour coffee for them, since I was captain of the breakfast crew at the time. In the middle of all this coffee-pouring, Father Schmemann looked at me, and he said : “What about you, Seraphim ?” I was a bit nonplussed, and he said : “Are you doing anything you cannot get out of this summer ?” It turned out that the archbishop had asked for a priest to go to Finland for the summer, and to serve daily Divine Liturgies and to fulfil other responsibilities at the monastery in Finland. They had a shortage of priest-monks, but a multitude of visitors. The monastery, even in those days, was having in the vicinity of a 100,000 tourists per summer, arriving by their busloads. The monks needed people who spoke English, and who could speak to the tourists about the monastery, the Church, and Orthodoxy in general.

Therefore, ten days later, I was, as I say, in the baggage of the archbishop on Finnair. After arriving in Helsinki, and going immediately to Kuopio, the next morning I got up to have breakfast with the Archbishop, who said to me, first thing : “Hyvaa paivaaa” (that means good-day). This was the beginning of my learning how to speak Finnish. The Lord knows what He is doing with us. This experience, going to New Valamo (supposedly for a short time), turned out to be for a rather longer time. At the end of my time there, when I, under obedience, had to come back to North America (obedience is important) it was nevertheless the most heartbreaking experience of my whole life. I have never yet quite experienced the pain that I felt when I had to leave that monastery, and come back to North America to do what had to be done. I have come closer, now that I am getting old, but that experience of painful parting remains unique.

Now, I want to talk about the basics of the nature of our Orthodox life as Orthodox believers, as I see it, in terms of our embracing and grappling with education, particularly in our society. It is not so different in any other society, anyway, because there is not one society in the world that is not affected significantly by our way in the West of going about things. The first thing that we have to pay attention to is that motto of the University of Alberta for which I will ever be grateful. It is a quotation from the Apostle Paul. The quotation is : Quaecumque vera. Who here knows what quaecumque vera means ? One person ? Good. So, there is a little Latin left in the world. Well, thank God there is still some Latin alive in our teaching and consciousness. I heard rumours that they are trying to teach it again, and I really hope that is the case. English has so much Latin in its foundations that we need to know Latin to understand our own language properly. But quaecumque vera is an important thing to remember. Quaecumque vera is intended to remind us about the apostolic words, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just [righteous], whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). What is this “whatever things are true” referring to ? For the Apostle Paul, everything that is true refers to Christ. It refers to the Logos. It refers to the Truth.

In Canada, we are educated into thinking about truth as a plural and as a variable. Truth is even considered to be optional. This is still hard to get used to because, as I said when I came in, I am really a dinosaur. The older I get, the more I realise that I am definitely a dinosaur. So, when I was a child and growing up, until – well, I guess I cannot tell exactly how long ago now because I do not have a good sense of time (with all this traffic in my life, it is hard to know when anything happened) ; but for much of my life, I have understood that Truth is an absolute, and should be spelt with a capital “T”. Now, it is not considered to be so. Therefore, I have asked myself : “How can this be ?” Actually, when you come to think of it, that there should be more than one truth is not even logical. We are supposed to be talking in logical ways. That there should be many different sorts of truth is simply not logical, and it is therefore crazy. Everything really is changing.

I had to come to grips with that some years ago when I had to write and present a paper on post-modernism. Then I came to understand to an extent what is happening – why there is all this shifting of words, and why there is such a difficulty having real meaning in words. This led me further to believe that hesychasm (i.e. silence) is golden. It is better to say less than to say more, because the more you blather on, the more people do not understand anything you are saying, anyway.

We have really come to a pretty pass, when words are so empty of meaning, or shifting in meaning, that we cannot communicate with each other anymore. Silence is perhaps even better than words. But then, what do you do ? That is not my question to answer. What do you do when everything is so fluid and shifting ? How do you really communicate one with another ? The answer to this is still, to my mind as an Orthodox Christian, founded in my understanding of Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth, as I have said, is Christ. He says in the Scriptures : “I AM”. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He is not talking about this as an indication towards something. Rather, He said : I am this : the Way, the Truth, the Life. Thefore for me, as an Orthodox Christian, on the basis of my encounter with Christ, I have to know Him as this : the Way, the Truth, the Life. If He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, then everything about my own life should somehow be in harmony with this Way, this Truth, this Life, because this Way, this Truth, this Life, is the Logos, the Word of God. This Way, this Truth, this Life, is He who spoke, and who speaks everything into existence. This Way, this Truth, this Life, is also the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

As the Scriptures are showing us very clearly also, this Way, this Truth, this Life, is Love (see 1 John 4:8). He emptied Himself, and took flesh, and opened the door to us all to be partakers in this Way, this Truth, this Life. In the context of 1 Corinthians 12 (the Apostle Paul’s description of the Body of Christ), we all, in baptism, become members of the Body of Christ, the Church.

Here we are in a university, a university which is based on reason. However, as I like to say (people get sick of my saying it sometimes, but anyway, I will say it again) : this university, and all other western universities, are the victims of a change that took place in the West a long time ago. In this change, the tail began to wag the dog. By that metaphor, I mean that theology stopped being in the “driver’s seat” of education (when all education was in the context of God’s revelation of Himself to us) ; and instead, philosophy took the “driver’s seat”. Everything, including God, became subject (as it were) to human reason. As a result of this, here we are today, all we Canadians, all living “in our heads”, and very many of us forgetting completely about our hearts. Thus, we find ourselves needing psychiatrists a lot, when we would not otherwise necessarily need to trouble them so often (human beings being human beings, psychiatrists would never be without work). Because we are living so much “in our heads”, we are all confused because of our conflicting thoughts. The Apostle Paul said something to the effect of being blown about by our conflicting thoughts (see Ephesians 4:14). This is how we are, because our heads are full of all sorts of thoughts, which we have come to think are all resident in, and produced by, our own grey matter.

Nowadays, young people are all talking about “my brains”. It is “my brains” this, and “my brains” that ! Do you see, then, why I feel that I am a dinosaur ? “Brain” this and “brain” that ! However, the brain is only a small part of who I am. It is not the focus of who I am. Biologically, medically and psychologically, we can talk about the brain, about thoughts, and so forth, but that is only a part of the whole environment. According to our tradition in the Orthodox Church, the brain is not the control-centre. Rather, the heart is the control-centre. Amongst us, the focus is the heart. It is the heart (as the Fathers and Mothers of the Orthodox Church are going to tell us rightly) that puts into order all the messed-up thoughts and the confusion in the head. It is the heart that does this, because it is in the heart that we encounter Christ our God.

What is the characteristic of our Orthodox life of prayer ? The foundation is the Prayer of the Heart. It is called the Jesus Prayer, but its foundational name is the Prayer of the Heart. The Prayer of the Heart is focused on and in the heart, where we encounter Christ. Christ is not “out there” somewhere. This is contrary to how almost everyone I know speaks about God, and regards God. People generally seem to think that God is somewhere out there, and that He is detached in His distance from us and from all His creation. In fact, I would say that most Christians that I know are in fact Deists. Do you know this heresy ? I see some nods, and that is good. Nevertheless, for whoever is not completely current about this heresy, it essentially says that God created the whole universe, and He wound it up like a clock. Since then He has been reading the news-paper or a cozy book. There is no connexion. He is there, and we are here, and we are ticking along, doing whatever we are doing, and we are busy analysing ourselves and everything. This is how we are going about our life – with no reference to God. As we do so, we think that He does not have any reference to, or interest in us.

Au contraire, says the Orthodox perception. We believe that God is completely involved in everything that He has created and is creating, because everything that is, is the product of His love. Everything has life because of His love. Everything that exists is the product of His love. That is why Orthodox people have to be so ecologically responsible, and so holistic about everything. There is no part of our existence, and there is no part of the universe in which God is not involved. God is everywhere. God is in everything. In a frequently-repeated hymn, we address the Holy Spirit as being “everywhere present and filling all things”. These are the words of the Tropar to the Holy Spirit which begins almost every service. The Lord is in everything.

Although we are not so good at living up to all these things that I am saying, it is not just airy-fairy theories that I am talking about. From the Orthodox perspective, this is simply the reality of who we are, and what is our relationship with God. God is the Creator of all. Everything comes from His love. He is the Truth. Everything else that is true comes from Him, and everything is in reference to Him who is the Truth. There can be many things that are true, but they are only true because they are in reference to Him who is the Truth. Things can claim to be true, but if they are not really in harmony with Him who is the Truth, then there is a distortion, and the claim is faulty.

How are we going to live in this difficult and challenging environment ? From the Orthodox perspective, in many ways, this environment is exactly the opposite of how we are supposed to be as Orthodox believers. In the first place, the Orthodox attitude can be to recognise that we are no better than anyone else, anyway. If we look at ourselves honestly, we are really not measuring up to Christ very well. We are not doing so well. We like to talk about it (and it is good that we talk about it). In the musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Dolittle said in effect to young man (whose name escapes me) who quoted poetry to her all the time : “Do not talk about love. Do not talk at all. Show me !”

This is the Orthodox challenge. If we are going to profess that we love God ; if we are going to profess that we are Orthodox Christians ; if we are going to profess that we have some awareness of all this that I just talked about, then that is all very well and good. However, everyone around us is still saying to us : “Show me”. Nowadays, it is obviously not going to be very successfully done with words (whereas it could be done in the past). This is why I am sad, being a dinosaur, because it was more fun in the old days, when you could use words, and know what you were talking about, and have confidence that you would be understood. Now you have to define everything before you start talking ; and by the time you have defined everything the meaning has already changed again.

Therefore, what are we going to do ? We are going to do what is necessary by being : by being an authentic, God-loving person who is trying to live in harmony with Him who is the Way, the Truth, the Life ; by loving and trusting God to give the right words at the right time, just as He said He would. Do you remember the words of our Lord and Saviour in the Gospels ? Do you remember the words of the apostles ? These words are not simply words, but words conveyed to us heart-to-heart in Christ’s love. They have living substance. In these words, there are assurances that if we trust the Lord, the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts will give us the right words at the right time, when the need is there. We are not 100 per-cent dependent on what is in the head. It is not by any means all in the head. However, if we do insist on this capital limitation and the ensuing disorder, then a physician would be justified in saying that our distress and illness truly is all in the head.

I still recall those long-ago days in 1968-1969, when I was first learning the New Testament. The professor who was teaching us was from Yorkshire, and what a sense of humour he had ! Ever since then, I have thought that Yorkshire must be the best part of Britain. I cannot go into every aspect of his sense of humour, but he gave very practical advice about passing exams and writing exams. He said : “If you have not been doing your exercises ; if you have not been doing your reading ; if you have not been doing your writing during the year, then there is no use in cramming. The best thing for you to do if you want to pass your exams and do the best you can, is to write your papers ; to do your reading as much as you can (you can never read everything but do the best you can with the reading) ; to go to the lectures ; to listen, and to ask questions. Then, the night before the exams, go to the movies. Do something not at all connected ; say your prayers ; go to the exams, and write them. If you do this, then, it is in you ; it is part of you by this time. If you have read what you have to read, heard what you have to hear, written what you have to write, then you have come to the maximum of your ability to do whatever is required of you in this exam or this essay, or whatever it is. So just relax. Do something completely different (à la Monty Python) and then go to the exams”. I have tried to follow that advice, although I have been scared enough about my inadequacies that I have not always managed to follow his wise words.

However, this is fundamentally the right way to live, regardless. We have to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word, and the words. We have to trust God to give us what is necessary, and He always does. In this context, I have often been corrected by grandmothers ; I have been corrected by shopkeepers, cashiers, people on the street, and people sitting next to me in a plane. When I was out of focus in here, in the heart, someone would say something that hit me right between the eyes when I needed it. It is exactly because the Lord gives to people the words they have to have that are needed at the time. I have had this happen so many times in my life that I know that this is exactly what goes on amongst us. The Lord gives us what we have to have that is needed at the time. Therefore, if I am slacking off in my study, in my responsibilities, well then, that I am a slacker will show when I am put to the test. This is just reality, and I have to swallow and accept the fact that I did not do what I was supposed to do. I did not study enough, and I did not do everything I could have done. However, when I wrote the exam, I still did the best I could do under the circumstances. I can also repent, and try to do better the next time.

Now I want to address this one word, humility, that was used in the “bumph” that was preparatory to my talking. Humility is an important element in our self-understanding, of doing and being what we are supposed to be doing and being here as Orthodox Christians. I would also say that one of the harder things for us to achieve is humility. We are so good about being triumphalistic about Orthodoxy, and saying : “This is the right way, the only way, the only right way ; we are perfect ; we have got it right”. We do not have anything right. Only the Lord has anything right. If there is anything right about us, then it is only because we are in harmony with Him.

However, it is still He who is right, not I. There is only One who is good. There is only One who is right. There is only One who is the Way, the Truth, the Life. So what is this humility about ? Well, it is definitely not like Uriah Heep : “Ee, I’m ever so ‘umble’”, of Dickens’ novel, David Copperfield. It is not : “Ee, I’m ever so ‘umble’” at all ! This is because, if I say : “I am ever so ‘umble’”, then humble I am definitely not. Humility has nothing to do with beating yourself up and bashing yourself with canes and chains. Humility has nothing to do with starving yourself half to death. Humility has to do with loving God above all, and trusting Him for everything so that we do not worry about ourselves. Our Saviour said : “Consider the lilies of the field [...]” (Matthew 6:28 ; see Luke 12:27). Besides this, what about those sparrows (see Matthew 6:26) ? What about all the creatures that God is looking after ? All these animals that have enough to eat, are not, in the scheme of the Lord’s plans, nearly as important as are you and I : human beings, created in His image, who are called to be responsible co-workers with Him, here in His creation. We are not to be poisoning it, but adding life to His creation. We are not to be disordering it ; but rather, we are to be helping to put His order into His creation, to be working synergistically with Him, not against Him.

This humility has to do simply with living in love with Him who is Love. It has to do with trusting Him, who is Love, with our lives, and with everything about us. If we can be in this university as students or teachers with an attitude something like that, it is not going to be easy. Nevertheless, it can be life-giving. There is nothing at all the matter with study, absolutely not, because study is given to us by God. However, the study has to be in the right direction. We have to learn how to ask questions that are going to be real questions, not questions that are just frivolous and fabricated, not questions that show off my great cleverness. It is important that they be real questions that are connected with reality, liable to bring us into the enlightenment of the Lord’s truth. So, I think that is enough for me to say.


Archbishop Seraphim : Comment - On God as revealed in Science :

This is wonderful. I would be happy to be your student. What you were just saying now is in fact a specific example of what we are saying in our services all the time : “The Lord is God and He has revealed Himself to us” (Psalm 117:27). He does. He has revealed Himself in all creation. Because a scientist has the eyes to see, a scientist can understand, just as you were saying. There is no conflict between our faith in God, and science (the science of an honest scientist, anyway). Science does mean knowledge, and true knowledge means knowledge of God and His ways in creation.

Archbishop Seraphim : Answer to Question - On Growth in the Church :

It all depends on how we decide to count. Are we counting by people who are financial givers, and people who declare themselves as members ? Or are we counting by the number of people that are actually in the churches ? First of all, I will speak of my overall experience of the Church at large.

The Orthodox Church in North America is steadily growing ; and in some places, it is growing very quickly. However, whether there is growth or whether there is shrinkage, everything depends upon what is going on locally. It is all so subtle. Sometimes a community will shrink because after a period in which a parish may have crowds of children (and there are also people who are converting), then the children grow up and go away to university or to work. Many disappear for practical reasons, and the population is severely reduced for a time. Then it rises again. There are such ebbs and flows depending on the ageing of children, depending on schools, depending on employment, depending on the number of people coming and going. We have to be very careful about how we measure, and under what circumstances we measure.

Nevertheless, as I have been going across this country, and travelling around North America over the 22 and some years that I have been a bishop, I have seen only growth. Our diocese has grown. It has not grown because we stole something or someone from someone else. (I mean stealing sheep from other Orthodox jurisdictions.) We did not steal anything from anyone (although that does, admittedly, sometimes happen). Indeed, we did not do that. Generally speaking, the increase in our diocese has been because there have been new missions, new parishes, new monastic communities and other entities developing everywhere. Still, there remains the question : under what circumstances is a community really growing ?

A community is going to grow if it is faithful to Christ, and if it is embracing the environment around it in love, and without fear. This is another important thing to remember : without fear. We are told by the Apostle John that perfect love casts out fear (see 1 John 4:18). Indeed, perfect love casts out all fear. This perfect love is Christ, Himself. Wherever there is Christ, there need not be any fear. There is no room for fear unless and until we invite it. Fear is always from below. Therefore, if we are not afraid of our neighbours and of our environment, but we have, rather, confidence in Christ ; and if we live in His love and in the confidence that comes with His love, then there is growth.

If we are afraid of losing something, or if we love something to excess and want to retain a particular moment or situation ; if our first purpose is not the Gospel but preservation of something that we love ; if, for instance, we want to preserve our Orthodox Faith and to protect it by ourselves, then all this actually means that we want to pickle it. Then it is not alive. If we are going to try to pickle Orthodoxy, then the result is inevitable : our community is going to shrink. It is going to become like a dill pickle : like a cucumber that has the water sucked out of it by salt. That is how we would become. We would become soft and shrivelled. Actually, a dill pickle is all right when it is rather fresh ; but after some months in the jar (and especially an opened jar), it is not so pleasant. Regardless, I hope you catch what I am trying to say.

As long as we are able to let ourselves be alive in the Lord’s love, there is only growth and increase. That is precisely what has been the experience of the Church in the former Soviet Union. When people were no longer forbidden, they came out of hiding. They started to go to church and to fill them up. I still remember when I was in a delegation to the Moscow Patriarchate, just at the time of the consecration of Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Here are two examples of how things develop in Christ. Christ the Saviour Cathedral holds as many as 10,000 people upstairs and 7,000 downstairs. The downstairs did not exist at all, when the first church stood there before it was destroyed by Stalin’s agents – but that is a long story. Regardless, there is a downstairs church now, along with many other previously non-existent facilities. In that same series of events, Patriarch Alesky II stole the North American delegation from our Representation Church on a Saturday evening (when we were supposed to be at a Vigil there), and he ordered that we be driven over to a construction site in the south end of Moscow in the middle of very many apartment blocks, where they had built the basement of a new church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. When it is completed, this church will probably hold 7,000 people. I was told as we were driving there for the laying of the foundation stone that all sorts of people were saying : “Why are they building such a big church in this place, where there has never been a church before ? It is surrounded by all sorts of ex-Soviet people, and the like. The apartments are there, but who would go, anyway ?” It was a rainy day. There we were, with umbrellas and our monastic regalia, walking on the construction planks. There we were in the basement. Patriarch Aleksy was already there, and he was ready and waiting for us. As the service for the blessing of this foundation stone began, the sun came out – there was no more rain. Everything was in its proper place and order. The planks were not slippery, and the service of blessing the foundation was able to proceed peacefully. The service came to an end. The clouds came back. Again, it began to rain. At the same time, as we looked up, we could plainly see, standing all around on the ground above the unfinished basement and looking in and participating, were about 5,000 people, who were waiting for the church to open. So it turned out that when this church was finished, it was already full. The church stayed full, and other churches have been built in this district since then because there are so many people there who want to go to church.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was built as a “salve of conscience” by the government, and also by Yurii Mikhailovich Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, who seems to be very clever. He had been baptised by Patriarch Aleksy. He was part of the movement to rebuild this Temple for the sake of conscience. How did he build this Temple that cost three quarters of a billion (750,000,000) dollars ? At the beginning of Perestroika there, all sorts of people wanted to do business in Moscow. Therefore, he said to them, as it were : “All right. Do you want to do business in Moscow ? Then make a donation to build the Temple”. This is how the Temple of Christ the Saviour got built in “jig-time” (that expression comes from when I was a child). Do you use that term anymore now ? Jig-time ? No ? You see, I really am a dinosaur. They really did build the cathedral very quickly. Was it a year or two years that they took to build that church ? Do you remember, Father Oleg ? [Father Oleg answered : “It was two”.] Perhaps it took slightly longer. However, it took 40 years to build the original. That was before poured concrete.

Nevertheless, they were working on this church 24 hours a day. Now it appears exactly as it did before Stalin’s agents blew up the original. Once the cathedral was again functioning, the state was (for several years only) covering the costs of running this church which has a staff of 1,000. It is true. We were told that to run this immense building (and the whole complex that is now associated with it) requires 1,000 people. Because of all this, everyone in the Local Church was really nervous, and particularly those few who live near and attend services in this cathedral. You can imagine the implications of this giant building. It is about 300 m from the floor to the top of the cupola. It is truly an enormous building. They have to pay the heat and the electricity bills ; they have to pay all the employees of this place.

How could they manage to do this ? This building is next to the Kremlin. The Kremlin is in the middle of the government. That whole area around Christ the Saviour is taken up by hotels and government offices and businesses. Very few people live there. Naturally, they were asking : “Who is going to come here ? How are we going to pay our bills ? After the three years the state has given us, we will have to pay all the bills. What are we going to do ?” I did hear those questions asked. As God blessed, I was there again a few years ago, and the rector of the Cathedral said to us : “Well, you know, we were asking these questions ; but ever since then, somehow people are showing up, and the church always has many people in it. Every day there are liturgies upstairs and downstairs. There are liturgies all the time. There are people baptised almost every day of every week in the lower church. All these people are coming, and we are paying our bills”. This is the very real example of how things are alive in Christ.

In the case of the Orthodox Church, life can be seen to be similar to the expression in a certain baseball movie : “If you build it, they will come”. Because of how we live and worship, this is how it is for us. In the context of a worshipping community, there is growth. The Orthodox Church is growing all over the world. The Orthodox Church exists and multiplies in Korea. Against all expectations, she exists and flourishes in Indonesia (including martyrdoms). She is growing in Australia, South America, North America, Africa (yes, immensely in Africa). The Orthodox Church exists in China too (including martyrdoms), where Christianity is still much resisted by the government. Indeed, martyrdom has accompanied missionary development in China from the first. There were some such martyrdoms following the initial mission of the Apostle Thomas, and in subsequent centuries, but they increased after the Russian Orthodox missionary outreach began to be more visible after 1685. Here, because of the way in which the Orthodox Church grows, the challenges are great.

Question - On achieving Unity in the Church :

Archbishop Seraphim : Answer to Question – On Unity in the Church :

Well, you did, yourself, already answer part of the question much as I would have done. As much as possible, it is important to live a life honestly, and with integrity, to live a life of honest repentance. Now I had better explain this word “repentance”, because people misunderstand that all the time too. Repentance is not concerned with lamenting : “Oh, boo-hoo, I am so bad, and blah-blah-blah”, nor with bashing the chest while saying, “mea culpa”, “mea maxima culpa”, and so forth. Rather, repentance is concerned with turning about. The Greek root of this word means precisely that. Repentance is concerned with making a change, and allowing the Lord to change you so that you can become more like the person He created you to be in the first place. When we are rebellious and are turning away from Him, we become caricatures and distortions of who He created us to be. Repentance is simply concerned with allowing the Lord to bring us into conformity with His love. It is that simple. No doubt tears are sometimes involved. However, the point is not the tears themselves, but the action of turning.

I cannot resist this other addendum, and then I will come back to your question. You will no doubt remember Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and what was said about Scrooge at the end, after his repentance ? (I still think that the actor Alistair Sim represented him best.) In his repentance, Scrooge was described as being as good as his word. Is my memory correct ? Well, this is what should be characteristic of us, Orthodox Christians. We should be as good as our word, because in Hebrew, “word” and “deed” are the same word : dabar. If you are going to say something, you do it. A word and a deed are the same thing. In Greek, I believe that it is implied to be so. When God, the Logos, speaks, it is. That is how we are supposed to be. As the apostle said : “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’” (James 5:12). We should be as good as our word. Then our words can have some meaning, and stability of meaning, too.

Our big deficit in North America is precisely our division. Division in any form in the Church makes a scandal. We Orthodox Christians talk about the Body of Christ, but we do not always live it. The first thing to be done in order to help bring about what is necessary, is to pray fervently and regularly for the unity that is necessary. All the time, we are praying liturgically for the unity and stability of the Church. It certainly does not hurt if you make it a project of your regular, personal intercessions before the Lord, asking Him to open the door for this to happen.

The second thing is to behave with other Orthodox Christians as if there were no division, anyway. When we have our services together, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy for instance, and when we have some other sorts of services that we sometimes serve together, we are all together (and we are serving in all sorts of different languages as at Pentecost), and everyone is very happy with this experience. I repeatedly hear people who are attending (and especially grandmothers), saying : “Would it not be nice if it could be like this all the time”.

This takes me to the Transfiguration, and to the words of the Apostle Peter who wanted to make permanent the Transfiguration by building booths. It would be nice. I have said the same thing a few times in my life, but it does not work like that. It would be nice to have it just like this forever, always, everywhere. However, trying, as it were, to “press the pause button” is not possible, and if it were it would actually be another sort of pickling. Pickling does not work at all, because we are alive. It is important to behave as if there were no division, and to pray for the healing of the administrative divisions (because divisions are only administrative, and therefore, they are stupid). Administration is necessary ; but when it is divisive it is stupid and counterproductive. I will go so far as to say that we are schizophrenic, and verging on being anti-Orthodox by our division. If we do not work on co-operating with the Lord and overcoming the division, we are going to lose our Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Church must be visible, and she must be visibly one. The Orthodox Church is not concerned with mere theories, and with so-called diplomatic “blah-blah-blah”. It is concerned with the action and reality. Therefore, if we are told by the Apostle that the Body of Christ is visible and one, then the Orthodox Church must be visible and one because she is that Body of Christ. We must then also say that all Christians must be visibly one in the one Body of Christ. You may perhaps be able to imagine how I feel as a bishop when I know that this is how the Christian life, how the Church really is and must be, and yet I have to live with all this fracture and fragmentation. I pray that I could live to see, at least in Canada, the fulfilment of what I heard Metropolitan Sotirios say. I did not hear him say it with my own ears, but I was told by a reliable source that he did say that in Canada, we have more hope than does the rest of North America for coming to some sort of ecclesiastical unity soon. I hope that he was speaking in a prophetic way when he said that. In addition, you, yourselves, can always go and say to your bishops : “Vladyka, when ? What can we do to help ?” You can pester the bishops until they get irritated, and say : “Get away from me !” [Everyone laughed.]