Year 1993

Christ is our only Hope

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ is our only Hope
Funeral Service
20 February, 1993

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

As we come today to lay to rest our brother n, who has fallen asleep, we, who are left behind, are grieving. However, it is clear that we are not grieving as those who have no hope (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Over and over again we are assured that our hope rests clearly and squarely on Him. The Lord is our hope. We live our life for Him and in Him.

At this time, particularly in North American society, because people are so afraid of death and so uncomfortable with it, it is customary to hide from it (or at least to try to hide from it). Now we have either funerals where the coffin is kept closed or even worse, funerals where the person who has died is not even present at his own funeral. Already that person has already been put away somewhere. This is not the way Christians should be behaving. This body, which is in our midst which we are lovingly putting to rest today, is the body of n, who, Sunday after Sunday, was sitting in this front row where his family are sitting today. His body has been a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Lord, the Giver of Life, breathed life into him. Despite his mistakes and whatever his sins may have been, nevertheless, n was faithful. It is for you and for me who are now left behind, with our various memories and experiences of him, to pray for him because we still love him. It is for us to continue to pray for him and we continue to pray for him that the Lord will have mercy on him and forgive him his sins.

We live in a world which is full of ideas and attitudes which are not those which the Lord wants us to have and live for. It is hardly likely that any human being can survive a whole lifetime without being poisoned at least somewhat by these ideas. However, the Lord is not expecting us so much by our own strength to be pure from start to finish. He shows His love for us because He does not expect us to do all this without His help. If we do sin, if we do fall from His love and His Grace, if we do betray Him from time to time in our life, He expects us to repent. He expects us to say that we are sorry for our sins, for our rebellion, for our selfishness. He expects us also to do something about making it right again, and to turn away from it. Thus it is necessary for you and for me now at this time and in the coming weeks and months to continue to pray for our brother n. In praying for him, we will work on prayerfully forgiving him for anything that he did or said which hurt us deeply. Not only that, but also we will ask for his forgiveness for our behaviour – whatever we may have done or said to hurt him, to cause him to fall into temptation. As we have begun today and the day before, let us continue to ask the Lord to have mercy on him, to forgive his sins and to have mercy on us and forgive our sins.

The whole point is that, as our Lord Himself said : “‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’” (Matthew 22:32). It is His love which gives life and maintains life. What love we have in Christ for each other is not broken and ended by the death of the body. The Lord promises us that if we are faithful and if we live in Him a life of repentance, then there will come a life of resurrection – eternal life which does not end – just as we have been praying today. Love in Jesus Christ keeps us all alive and united with one another even though our bodies will get old and die. We do not end up separated from one another, because if we follow Him and live a life of repentance, we all will continue to live in Him. The Lord truly does not want us to die in darkness, to die in rebellion, to die in our own stubbornness. It is we who condemn ourselves to death by our own pride and stubbornness and rebellion by separating ourselves from His love. It is we who do it. The Lord wants us to live in Him.

Let us today, as we must always do every time we are faced with death, take this opportunity to remember that our lives are short. Time is short for repentance ; time is short for doing good and being good towards each other. Let us make the most of this life in doing good and being good to each other, being reconciled to each other, forgiving one another, encouraging one another and strengthening one another so that we may have clear hope of participating in the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. May we glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The concrete and tangible Action of Love

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The concrete and tangible Action of Love
Sunday of the Last Judgement
21 February, 1993
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2 ; Matthew 25:31-46

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

As we prepare for Great Lent, today is the last day for eating meat, so I hope you enjoy yourselves today with whatever roast beef, pork, or kolbassa that you particularly enjoy. However, do not let it touch your lips again until Pascha. One of the real, sad dangers of living in this county, Canada, is living in the midst of this attitude which has grown up and which says : “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. “You can do anything you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. You have all heard that. Even the former Prime Minister Trudeau said it in an oblique sort of way when he started to adjust the laws of morality in the country : “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. For such an attitude to grow up in a nation which is reputed to be Christian is really pitiful because it shows a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian.

In the Epistle reading today, for instance, the Apostle Paul is speaking about meat that was sacrificed to idols and about whether it was all right to eat it. He understood that a Christian has this liberty to eat anything because as long as we bless what we eat, it is God who gives us the food, and it is God who blesses what we eat. It does not matter if it is poisoned, because we can still eat it if God gives the blessing. Some people tried to kill the Apostle himself with poison, and they were surprised when nothing happened at all, and they converted to Christ. Remember the time when an adder bit him ? It was expected that he would swell up, fall down and die in no time at all (see Acts 28:3-6). Nothing at all happened to the Apostle, because he was about the Lord’s business.

Christians have a certain sort of freedom, a powerful sort of freedom, but it is a freedom which has to be exercised in accordance with God’s will, and in accordance with God’s will only. If we start to get cocky with this freedom, it turns into licence just like that, and then it is sin, and it is against God’s will. If we try to drink poison or get bitten by snakes, we are liable to die very quickly. We can die very quickly if we are not depending totally on the Lord’s will and witnessing for Him totally. The Apostle said that even having this liberty, this power and this freedom in Christ, he would set it all aside if one of his brothers was weak in faith and if he was going to scandalise one of his brothers or sisters by the way he exercised his freedom.

Let us take today’s Gospel reading, for example. We all know this Gospel, but are we really paying attention to it ? It is clear from this passage that the Lord wants us to understand that if we want to serve Him, if we want to do good for Him because we love Him, then we cannot be satisfied with saying : “I love the Lord. I come to church every Sunday. I do good, and I don’t hurt anyone. I don’t rob ; I don’t steal and I am no worse than anyone else”. That is just nothing. That is zero for being a Christian because our Lord says in effect : “I want you to do good for Me by doing good for My children (in other words for each other)”. He says very clearly that as much as we visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit people who are in jail, take care of people’s physical and spiritual needs, we are serving Him”.

We learn two fundamental and extremely important facts about Christian living today. If we want to serve Christ, we cannot be abstract about it. It is very popular in Canada (in particular for people who are not Orthodox Christians) to look at Orthodox Christians and say : “Oh, how we admire you and your worship. It is so lovely. It is so mystical. You Orthodox Christians are so spiritual”. Well certainly, I suppose we are spiritual, but not in the way they understand. Spirituality does not have to do with levitating off the ground or walking on air. Orthodox Christian spirituality does not have to do necessarily with being some sort of ascetic guru who eats nothing but potato leaves and says very wise, wonderful and profound things. For the Orthodox Christian, that is not spirituality at all. The Orthodox Christian is a Christian who is very much aware of the concrete reality, the materiality of our environment and what God expects of us. In all Orthodox Christian history and in the greatness of all our saints is found care and love for human beings and for all God’s creation.

We cannot say that we love God or are in love with Christ unless we are life-givers ; unless we are love-givers ; unless we are doers of good for human beings ; unless we are protectors and healers of the environment ; unless we are integrated human beings who care well about our bodies (not for selfishness) but for how well we can serve the Lord. We care for the welfare of each other, our brothers and sisters. We care for all the people whom we encounter every day on the street who are wandering along with blank looks on their faces. It is easier to care about people and be concerned about the welfare of people who are actually physically hungry by giving them some soup, than it is to be truly concerned about these people that we live with every day, whom we mix with every day who have these blank, empty and sometimes very angry faces. These are people who are lost, people who are wrapped up in themselves, interested only in making money, money and more money. They are interested in building walls around themselves and protecting themselves from everyone else for fear of what people might say or do to them. They are paralysed and enslaved by fear. Those are the people who are the neediest of the needy in our society. Their numbers are not just increasing slightly. They are multiplying exponentially these days.

What can you and I do about them ? When the Lord presents such a person to you or to me, do we diligently pray for that person ? Do we try to show that person that emptiness is not the only story in life, that it is not the end of everything ? When we are busy doing good for people and meeting their needs, that is when we Orthodox Christians are living our spirituality because our prayer-book conversation with the Lord then has flesh on it just as His love for you and for me has flesh on it. He took flesh, human flesh. Without falling into sin, Our Lord took all our humanity, everything about us, all our darkness and He allowed us to kill Him. He did this in order to save us and in order to rise victorious over that rebellion with which we are enslaved. His love has substance, and His love active in you and me must also have substance. It must be concrete and tangible.

As much as we demonstrate our love for God by the good that we do, and as much as we demonstrate our love for God by strengthening, renewing, encouraging, praying for, healing and meeting the needs of other human beings, it works also the other way. Contrary to that popular Canadian saying : “It doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t hurt anyone”, the fact is that the Orthodox Christian knows very well that when you or I commit even small sins, we are hurting our brothers and sisters. It is high time that we began to be open about this. In every small or large sin, we are sapping courage and strength to follow Christ from our brothers and sisters. Not only that, we are increasing the poison which we have already inflicted on this environment, the earth on which we live, which the Lord gave to us to be the custodians and caretakers of it. In either direction, whether we do good or whether we do evil, everything that we do affects all our brothers and sisters, all humanity (not just here in n) all around the world. It affects everyone and everything. That is what Saint Seraphim meant when he said that if you save your soul, thousands will be saved with you. Conversely, if you lose your soul, thousands will be lost with you. If you are struggling to follow Christ, your struggle to follow Christ and the good that you do, makes a wake just as a boat does, which makes it easier for other people near you to do the same thing. It encourages them, strengthens them, and makes a sort of current in that direction. You yourself are not breaking new ground, because you also are following in the wake of others who have shown you the way to Christ, the way to be a Christian and the way to live the Gospel. You yourself are following a way that has been made easier by the suffering and struggles of others.

Today, the Lord is asking you and me : “Which way are you going ? Which way is your life going ? Whom are you following – yourself, or are you following Me, the Giver of Life ? Are you going to do as I have shown you or are you going to do as the thief of souls teaches you to do ? Which way are you going ? How do you live your life ?” Sooner or later you and I will all come to face the Lord. Precisely how you and I live our lives now is going to determine what will happen at the Last Day when we come to face Him in His love. Will you and I by our loving lives now be able to accept Him then or will you and I, because of our stubbornness, be afraid of our Lord and run away from Him ? Which way shall we go ? How is our life today ?

If I have been going the wrong way, the Lord has this to say to me (and to anyone who has been going the wrong way : “‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28, 30). He says : “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Matthew 14:6). He says : “Come to Me, all of you, and I will give you life”. He wants us all, everyone, to enter into His Kingdom and live and reign with Him forever. Today, let us renew our determination to repent : to turn away from selfishness, to turn to selflessness : to turn away from darkness and turn to the light. Let us turn to the Lord and serve Him in each other as Saint Herman has taught us and exhorted us : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”. Thus will we glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Are we responsible Tenants in Christ’s Vineyard ?

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Are we responsible Tenants in Christ’s Vineyard ?
13th Sunday after Pentecost
5 September, 1993
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 ; Matthew 21:33-42

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

For me, to come back home here to n this time is especially pleasant. For the first time in many years, there are many children. I am not sure if I can even remember having heard them here before. I hear a baby. That is a special blessing. That there are children and babies encourages me very much about the life of this parish. May God grant that these signs of life and hope will in time be concrete evidence of the future life and growth of this parish. Even now, this morning, there is a Sunday School and there are children able to ask the bishop really intelligent questions. That is so refreshing. This gives so much encouragement. I hope that you yourselves understand what a blessing these children are.

Today, we heard in the Gospel reading about people who are tenants in a vineyard owned by someone else. They try to steal the property and make it their own. When this story was told by the Lord, He had another situation in mind, but it applies to you and to me now, today. Here where we are together today is the vineyard. The Lord comes to you and to me and He says, as it were : “It is time to reckon up, to give to Me what you owe”. He comes to you and to me here today in this Divine Liturgy. In fact, He comes to us almost every day saying the same thing : “Give to Me what you owe”.

What do I owe to the Lord ? Two dollars ? A loonie ? What do I owe to the Lord for all that He has given ? For the fact that He died for the sake of my sins and rose again in order to give me life, what do I owe Him ? Two dollars ? A loonie ? Five dollars, perhaps ? For the Lord’s enduring my perpetual rebellion, for His endless suffering and patience with me in my continual ignoring of His love, what do I owe Him ? Two dollars ? Three dollars ? Five dollars ? One dollar ? For the love, the hope, the encouragement ; for the many times that He comes to me through my brothers and sisters and gives me hope, encouragement, correction ; for the many times that He wakes me up in time on the highway when I am driving and saves me from a terrible accident, what do I owe to the Lord ? One, two, five, ten dollars ? In fact, what I owe the Lord cannot be measured by money alone. Indeed, I owe Him everything that I am and that I have.

If I am going to be a good Christian, if I am going to be like Christ and if I am going to be an Orthodox Christian, I have to understand that it does not matter how much I work in order to acquire this or that thing, how much property, how much money I may have in bank accounts, what good farmlands, gardens, cars, what good church buildings : it is not mine. Even though I have it, it does not belong to me. It belongs to the Lord. If the Lord is so generous to me as to allow me to build up a nice bank account, a nice house, nice land, even a nice church, I am like that tenant in the vineyard. Either I honour the Lord who has rented out and lent to me this vineyard, this house, this land, this car, this bank account, this church, this anything that I have, or I dishonour Him by claiming it all for myself alone.

What am I going to do ? If I insist on being selfish and wicked, only looking after myself, at the end of my life I will come in front of the Lord. The Lord will say to me : “So, I gave you a great deal in your life. What did you do with it ? What have you got now ? Where is that house now ? Where is that car ? Where is that bank account ? What will you do with it now, here in Heaven ?” He will say : “As much as you were so selfish and did not care about the needs of anyone else and only looked after yourself in your life, you made it impossible for yourself to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You make yourself stay out now because you care still only about yourself”.

If we want to be with our Lord who gives us life, who saves us, it is necessary for us to be like Him, to do as He does for you and for me. It is necessary for us to be filled with love for other people as He is filled with love for us. It is necessary to help, strengthen, encourage, and save other people as He helps, encourages and saves us. Most of all, it is necessary to do what Saint Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to do and what he is encouraging you and me also to do today. If we are going to be like Christ, and if we are going to have any hope of salvation, any hope of being with the Lord in the Kingdom to come at the end of our life, then we must do as Jesus Christ, who said : “‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’” (Matthew 20:28). You and I, out of love, must serve each other. We must do the best we can to be good to and for each other. We must be careful to pray for each other all the time.

When someone is hurting, we should be aware of it. If the person is not answering me in the way that I would like to be answered, it is not for me to get a crooked nose, but instead it is my responsibility to pray for that person. That person is not behaving normally because of pain. Why should I be afraid of anything ? I hope and I pray that that person has not changed towards me. How can I help that person who is hurting ? This or that person might have been late for church, when the person is usually on time. Maybe that person is not well. Instead of being quick to criticise and condemn that person for being late, I should be praying for that person who might be unwell or might have had a traffic accident on the way to church. Who knows what happened ? If that person is actually lazy, then it is my responsibility to pray and not become the judge.

It is my responsibility to serve, and serve only. If my brother or sister is ill or weak, then I should be phoning my brothers or sisters to say : “Let us pray for so-and-so who is ill or weak”. We should be demonstrating our care, our genuine love and concern for each other in these concrete ways. If we are going to be like Christ, if we are going to be good tenants in the vineyard, let us “from this day, from this hour, from this minute, love God above all and do His holy will”, and serve Him and serve each other. Thus we shall glorify the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Bicentennial Celebration of Orthodoxy in North America

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Bicentennial Celebration of Orthodoxy
in North America
21st Sunday after Pentecost
17 October, 1993
Galatians 2:16-20 ; Luke 8:5-15

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

In today’s Gospel reading we hear a history of our diocesan life in Canada (except our life does not work out exactly as the Lord described in the parable). In the soil of Canadian Church life, the Lord sowed the seed one hundred years ago. As we are celebrating the bicentennial of Orthodoxy in North America, we celebrate also our one hundred years of Orthodox life here in Canada. About a hundred years ago, the seed was sown through immigration. People came mostly from Galicia and Bukovina.

This seed took very well and quickly in the soil in which it was planted here in Canada. It spread all around and in no time, within ten years, there were already churches and parishes scattered all over the prairies and eastern Canada. Some of these Temples still remain to this day in northern Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. People say that it became like the old country : every five kilometres there was a church somewhere. Although today they may not belong to the same bishop necessarily, in those days they did. There seemed to be churches everywhere, just like home. By 1910 there were Temples built as well in most of the major cities of Canada. Even in Ottawa, there were services already in 1899 on a fairly steady and regular basis, although there was not yet a formally organised congregation.

We had in Winnipeg, as I heard recently, the famous phenomenon of Metropolitan Seraphim (Ustvolsky) and the “Tin Can Cathedral”, built in 1904. In 1993 there was a play written about this messy phenomenon. Metropolitan Seraphim was a pretender who was ordained by no bishop. He was quite a character. Despite everything, he really has my admiration because he was a brave man. Tin Can Cathedral has a famous story about him and the blessing of water on the Feast of Theophany. They cut a hole in the ice in the Red River as usual, and they blessed the water of the Red River. Then, as one would expect Orthodox people to do, and much to the surprise of the mayor of Winnipeg, his office was invaded one day by this “bishop”. There were standards, deacons, clergy, and water all over the place. After the Revolution, unity and order began to break down, as you know. We did not lose our characters – we still have some around to this day. However, the life of this particular diocese went through turmoil, deprivation, confusion and severe lack of communication. The effects of this remain until the present time. Nevertheless, the Lord has not finished with the building of His Church in this country. Setbacks and difficulties there have been, but the Lord has now given us the rebuilding. We see by God’s mercy (and only by God’s mercy) once again the beginning of the flowering of Orthodox life in this country. It is only the very beginning, but it is a beginning.

We are now at a particular crossroads in our life as Orthodox Christians in this country. No matter with what difficulty, and no matter how hard it was, with seriousness and stubbornness even, our spiritual fathers and mothers for the past one hundred years have planted and kept alive tiny remnants of the Orthodox Faith in this country. Now we, their spiritual children (if not their blood children), are being called by the Lord to imitate their zeal with new seriousness. We are being asked to put things right in our own time, so that the second chance that we have been given right now will develop fruitfully.

When I was in Alaska, I felt quite at home there because, in fact, there are many similarities between life here in Canada and life in Alaska. However, we have a distance to go. We have been through many of the same struggles, many of the same difficulties (neglect and priestlessness for a long time, and all these sorts of things), but we have farther to go than they do. I really encourage any of you who can manage it somehow, to go to Alaska (but not on a tour boat). That is not the way to see Alaska. You will never see the real Alaska on the tour boats. If to nowhere else, you have to go to Kodiak. You have to go to Anchorage. Anyway, there is no way to escape Anchorage. Go to Kodiak. At least it is easily accessible. Pray with the Faithful there. Metropolitan Theodosius describes these Alaskan people as being supremely faithful people, truly Orthodox Christians. These people, who actually do not have great houses themselves, make sure that the Lord’s house (even though it may be modest) is scrupulously clean, bright, and definitely prayed in. I intend to do everything I can to enable others to get there.

The Alaskans say (for whatever reason) that we Canadians should definitely go there. In fact, I know many Canadians who have actually gone on those nasty tour boats, but they have not encountered the Church there, except by accident. I know of one lady who went to Sitka on a tour boat and she accidentally managed to get to church. The people there were surprised that she was an Orthodox Christian. She had a nice time because she had the opportunity to pray. Most of the time you do not get that opportunity if you are on a tour boat. You might be able to organise a pilgrimage in the diocese, or get there with some organised Orthodox tour group. FOS Tours no doubt has pilgrimages to Alaska arranged on a regular basis. We ourselves need visits to Alaska to help us remember where our priorities are, because we are definitely going in the same direction as Alaska, and the challenges we face are much the same.

Brothers and sisters, with new seriousness, with new zeal and with new commitment at this crossroads here in our country, let us really put the steam on in being Orthodox Christians, renew ourselves, and once again do as our beloved Saint Herman exhorts us always to do : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”.