Year 2009

Everything in our Life and Worship points to Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Everything in our Life and Worship points to Christ
Sunday before Theophany
4 January, 2009
2 Timothy 4:5-8 ; Mark 1:1-8

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

When John the Baptiser was proclaiming repentance and the manner of life that leads in righteousness to the Lord, he gained the title of Forerunner because he was living out the words of the Prophet Isaiah : “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). That is precisely what he was doing : preparing the way of the Lord, speaking about repentance, speaking about changing from selfishness to life-giving love, and turning away from darkness to light. He was preparing the way of the Lord by speaking about Him in advance.

This is what you and I are also supposed to be doing with our lives. The Forerunner is an example for us. He is not merely an historical figure. He is an example for us about how we, Orthodox Christians, are supposed to be living our lives. Everything about us is supposed to be (it is not always) pointing towards Christ, referring other people to Christ, and drawing other people to Christ by how we live. How we live as Orthodox Christians includes how we love, and how we repent, also. We have to be exhibiting in our lives the sort of love that the Saviour gives to us every day. In our relationships with each other, we should be as Christ to each other. The way we repent is important, too. It is important that we admit that we do wrong things, that we make mistakes, and so forth, and that we turn about. In other words, it is essential that we have hope in the Lord’s love that He will forgive us, and that He will cleanse us from our sins.

It is crucial for us to remember these things at this particular time of the year. We have finished celebrating (if we ever really finish celebrating) the Nativity of the Lord, and we are about to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. These two feasts used to be one feast a very long time ago. The Armenians still keep them together. These feasts are an example of the concrete, material way in which the Lord loves us. In the Incarnation, He takes on flesh. He takes on humanity. He takes on our human nature. He takes on everything about us – for better or for worse. In the Baptism that He accepts from the Foreunner, our Lord is showing us how we ought to be being baptised in the future. Our Lord Himself is baptised in obedience to the will of the Father. He is accepting baptism out of obedience as He said (see Matthew 3:15). The Prophet and Foreunner, himself, obeys the Lord who has come to be baptised. All this obedience is in the context of the fact that God is love. It is a response of love.

People from outside the Orthodox way (and some insiders, too) are very often over-emphasising the Resurrection in their perception of our way of life. That is true enough. However, the Resurrection does not mean anything without the Incarnation. The Orthodox way is very much the result of the Incarnation. Our worship is very material. Everything about our life in the Church is very material. It is not separated from the body ; it is not separated from the world. Orthodox Christians bless everything in the world, everything that is good, and we emphasise what is good. In accordance with the words of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil, our way is to help to make what is not good become good. This is our purpose in the world, and in this life.

Because of the incarnational element that is so much in the front of our hearts at this particular time of the year, I am going to take a few minutes now to speak about the Divine Liturgy, and the arrangement of this Temple. This Temple is also one which is a cathedral. We did not know what we were getting into when we moved into this building. However, the Lord knows what He is doing with us, and there is much prepared for us in the future in terms of our ministry to this city, to this country, and, in particular, in our case, to the diocese. Cathedral churches properly have to express things that parish churches do not necessarily have to express (although the parish churches do to some extent). There are some particular things about this current arrangement that I want to speak about because – do not forget – our worship has everything to do with Christ. Everything is referring to Christ, and not to any bishop in particular, and not to any priest in particular.

Here we have a building shaped something like a basilica. This is not the typical architecture for Orthodox worship (although many of them exist). This is not the typical construction of our Temples, but this is what the Lord gave us. In making this former Roman Catholic Temple into an Orthodox Temple (as much as possible), some modifications have had to happen. As you recall, the ambo on which I am standing right now did not exist before : everything to do with the Altar ended at that arch. Before, there was a big separation between the people, and what was going on in the Holy Place. Even though everything was open, it was still far away. When we began to rebuild this place, it was important to bring everything closer to the people, because the work in the Altar is not something that is separated from the people. The Divine Liturgy is served by the bishops, priests, deacons, and everyone else in the Altar one way or another, but they are not doing what they have to do separated from the people. The architecture of the Temple has to express the unity between the Holy Table here behind me, the service being offered, and the people who are part of the Offering, (without whom this Offering could not occur). Let us not forget that no priest or bishop can serve the Divine Liturgy by himself. Someone else always has to be present.

In most Orthodox Temples, in the middle of the solea, in front of the Royal Doors, there is a projection called the ambo of the solea. This allows the priest and the clergy to come out closer to the people when they are preaching or giving blessings or whatever else they might have to do. It is out like this, projecting into the middle, so that the people can stand around it. Except, this is Canada, and there are pews in this building. Between liking to sit down, and being too shy to come to the front (as Orthodox people do in other parts of the world), perhaps one might find the meaning of this projection to be a bit of a mystery. However, the purpose is to be close to you, and to allow you to be close to the Holy Table. If this were a Temple somewhere in Europe, people would be all packed up here before me near the iconostas, close to the Holy Table. It is the late-comers who have to stand at the back. Somehow, it is universally Canadian to start sitting at the back, working towards the front. I suppose we have a fear that someone is going to ask us to do something, or we might have to be answering a question as if we were in school. We have this strange mentality, but it is universal in Canada. There is nowhere in Canada that we do not behave like this.

Anyway, this projection on which I am standing (the ambo) is here to serve as an inviting access to you to come here to receive Holy Communion. It is the privilege of Orthodox people to come as close as possible to the Holy Table to receive Holy Communion. The traditional place for Holy Communion to be distributed to the people is in the middle of the Royal Doors. The priest or the bishop is supposed to be standing right under the arch. You are expected to be coming right up to that arch to receive Holy Communion. This is as close as it is possible for lay people to approach the Holy Table at the Royal Doors.

Everything is pointing to Christ. At the liturgical east of this building, we see the High Place, on which there is a chair, which is referred to as the bishop’s chair (as it were) or the cathedral seat. The bishop sits in that chair in the place of Christ. The High Place in any Temple is always referring us to the Kingdom of Heaven : the future resurrection, the future culmination of all things, the future end of all things. Whether the bishop is there personally or not, that chair is not representing him, himself. It is re-presenting Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ’s chair which the bishop is occupying. Again, let us not forget that everything (including this chair) is all focussed on the Saviour.

In recent times, we have added to this Temple this dais to be permanently in the middle. It used to be removable, and was removed as it would be in parish churches. What is it for ? The dais is another aspect of the presentation of the Incarnation. The reason that this dais is here is to demonstrate that Christ is in our midst. When a bishop is coming in and standing where I am now standing, he is re-presenting Christ in whatever limited and imperfect ways that he can do it. Who I am or who any bishop is does not matter. It matters that there is a bishop. This bishop has to present Christ to you in whatever way he is able. You should not be seeing the person himself – you should be seeing Christ. Bishops are not some sort of remote, distant potentates (even though they are all dressed up to look like that sometimes). All these things that are put on a bishop are put on him because of Christ. The bishop thus dressed is visibly re-presenting Christ as the Shepherd.

From the time of early church architecture, there has been a dais in the middle of the Temple. From this time also there has always been a perceived unity between the solea and this dais. Many times a person can see that the solea extends as a raised platform all the way to the dais. Sometimes this unity is maintained by some sort of fence either in metal or in stone. In some Temples (I have not been there, I have only seen pictures), it can be seen that there is an actual raised connexion between the two. In the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome there is a very old example of this, but in many places in Russia and Ukraine, one can see the same thing. It is all one unit ; it is all connected. However, the dais in this building is actually not far enough back. Everyone is sitting so far back already that the purpose of this dais is being lost. That purpose is to be a visible expression of Christ being in our midst. Maybe in the future we can move the dais back a little farther. However, this was the best we could do when we did it (I can feel the builders saying : “Oh no !”).

The point of the presence of this dais in the middle is that when the bishop is standing on it, it can be seen that Christ is in our midst. When the bishop is not there this dais is to remind you that Christ is in our midst. This is not the bishop’s “grandstand”.

What happens when a bishop is standing on the dais ? Well, again, we shy Canadians are not necessarily so free to do what other people might do. When a bishop is standing there, people could come and approach him, ask for a blessing, and speak to him while he is sitting or standing there during the services. For instance, during Matins, he is standing there, and anointing people. He is standing in the midst of people, and surrounded by them. This is a clear demonstration that the bishop is to be, and is, approachable. If the bishop ever thinks that he is somehow higher and mightier than anyone else (because bishops can be deluded like that, too), this dais is a reminder of the fact that he is not higher and mightier than anyone else or separated from anyone else – he is in the middle of the people. He is the people’s servant. That is the work of the bishop : to be a servant as well as he is able to be.

Besides all this, there is one last thing. It is so prevalent in liturgical services that people are frequently bowing to each other. This bowing in Orthodox communities everywhere is not limited to liturgical services. This bowing is done towards people naturally on all sorts of occasions. Why this bowing ? Again, it is directly connected with our understanding of the Incarnation. Bowing has to do with our respect for the presence of Christ in each other. It is actually a living out of some things that Saint John Chrysostom said that we should be doing. The bowing that we do to each other is a visible sign of our recognising the presence of Christ in the other person, and also our respect for that other person in Christ. People cannot be separated from Christ. The image of God cannot be separated from the human being because we are all created in His image. Moreover, all we Orthodox Christians are Christ-bearers. We are giving honour to God in our bowing and in our respecting each other. When we are bowing liturgically, we are respecting each other, and we are respecting and acknowledging the presence of Christ. We are acknowledging our gratitude to each other by bowing. These bowings are all referring to Christ, because everything in the Orthodox life should refer to Christ. Everything.

Brothers and sisters, I hope that we can take more steps, ourselves, towards improving our presentation of Christ and His love in our lives. Let us try to imitate Him more, by living the way of repentance, by turning from darkness to light, by living love. Let us put into action the words of Saint Herman of Alaska, who said : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in doing so glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Theophany of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
What it means to be a Christian
Feast of Theophany
6 January, 2009
Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 ; Matthew 3:13-17

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

Today we are celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. At the same time, we are celebrating also the first truly clear revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In the words of the tropar, we confess that the voice of the Father is announcing : “‘This is My beloved Son’”. We see the beloved Son standing in the waters of the Jordan. We see the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove upon the Saviour. The Holy Spirit is confirming the truthfulness of the word of the Father. (The “truthfulness” of His word would be better translated as “steadfastness”.) When we are hearing in the tropar of the feast about the steadfastness of the word of the Father, this has two meanings : Jesus Christ is the Word of the Father. He is the Word who speaks everything into existence, whose only purpose is to do the will of the Father. Of course, the word of the Father also means today that we hear the voice of the Father speak.

It is truly important for us to remember this. This Event today is a revelation of what it means to be a Christian. Our Saviour Himself is living in perpetual love and harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is how the Holy Trinity lives. The Apostle John says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). What we are seeing today in the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan is a clear revelation of what this harmony of love means. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are one, yet three. They live in the unity of love, and the harmony of love. They do everything together. There is nothing that is separating any one of the three Persons from any one of the other two Persons. All the three Persons of the Holy Trinity live in perpetual love and harmony. It is always the will of the Father that is done.

Today, our Saviour, the Word Himself, comes to the River Jordan and is baptised. He is fulfilling the words, the promises of the Father, all those expressions of love in the Old Testament to the Patriarchs as far back as Adam and Eve. When our Saviour says to John, the Forerunner : “Baptise Me”, a paraphrase of how the Forerunner responded could be : “But You are the One who is the Great One. I am nothing compared to You. How can I baptise You ?” Our Saviour says to the Forerunner, in effect : “This is the will of the Lord. We will do the will of the Lord”. Thus, the Forerunner, John, baptises the Saviour in the water. The Forerunner is living already in the harmony of this love that is expressive of Who is the Holy Trinity.

If we are Christians, and in our baptism we have truly put on Christ (as we are singing today), then our lives have to be showing how this love is effective in our lives, how this love heals our brokenness, how this love heals our fallenness, how this love brings light to our darkness. Our lives should be so much filled with this love that we express this relationship of love in everything.

Our lives should also be showing what is the true meaning of obedience. We, who grow up in the west (in North America, in particular), understand obedience to be grudging acceptance of agreeing to do what laws say, somehow. Obedience is usually understood to be that the will of one person or an authority is imposed on another (for example : stop signs, speed limit signs, or parking signs). Outside here, for instance, the parking sign says : “No stopping until 9:30”. The police come along at 28 minutes after nine to make sure that you get out of there (if you are sitting there already) or you get a ticket. There are many examples of how the will of other people is imposed in our society. The law says to drive at sixty kilometers per hour. What’s 62 ? There is not much flexibility in the laws of human beings, and the forced imposition of this sort of obedience. It is no wonder that we do not understand the true meaning of obedience in this environment.

True obedience is nothing like this. True obedience is the obedience that is shown to us today in the behaviour of our Saviour, in the behaviour of the Forerunner, in the relationship amongst the Persons of the Holy Trinity. True obedience is the fruit of love. True obedience is the desire out of love to do the will of the other. That is why, in a marriage that is properly functioning, a husband and wife are living in a sort of obedience to each other, and they always try to please each other. They are doing each other’s will because they love each other. If they are truly believing people whose hearts are in harmony with the Lord, their hearts are going to be showing the Lord’s will to each other, anyway. They correct each other, and they help each other to grow in a marriage relationship which is in the atmosphere of the love of Jesus Christ. This love is not death-dealing and oppressive, but it is love which is life-giving, and full of freedom.

There are strange ideas about freedom in North America. In North America freedom does not mean freedom, but license. It means that we can do whatever we want to do. True freedom is the exercise of love in the context of being sensitive, and understanding about the weaknesses and the strengths of everyone around. We do things that give life. We do not do things that are going to scandalise or make someone else fall (as much as we can). It is true, however, that we are all sinners and we make mistakes. The idea is that the more we grow in love, the less we are going to be scaring people, offending people, and whatever else. Instead, in our behaviour, we are going to be bringing the joy, the life, the light, and the love of Jesus Christ wherever we are.

To be an Orthodox Christian does not mean that we have to be able to give detailed examples of one thing or another in the Church’s history, or be able clearly to define what is the Holy Trinity (no-one ever did manage to do so). We do not have to pass theological exams about details. What matters for the Orthodox Christian is : Do we love Jesus Christ ? That is first. Do we know that He loves us ? I remember that when I was about eight, I had to memorise this particular verse : “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We experience God’s love and we respond to God’s love with the same love. We grow more and more in this life-giving love. This is the essence of being a Christian. From this love comes everything else. From this love comes the ability to live in harmony with the will of God over the course of our lives. With this love comes the desire to be more and more pleasing to the Lord instead of being self-willed. With this love comes the possibility of being a means by which the Lord touches other people and brings them consolation, joy, encouragement, strength and sometimes even healing.

Brothers and sisters, today we are standing here with the Lord at the Jordan River (even if we cannot see it, that is where we are), and we are participating in these Events : the Baptism of the Saviour, the blessing of the Jordan water, and the blessing of the universe as a result. Very soon, we are going to ask the Lord to send the blessing of the Jordan upon this water. We are standing by the Jordan with the Saviour. Let us ask the Lord to pour out the Grace of the Holy Spirit upon us, so that we will be renewed in the sort of love that has brought us here in the first place – love for the Saviour. May this love be increased and multiplied on this day. May the Lord renew our strength, and give us the ability faithfully, with love, to follow Him, and to live a life that is pleasing to Him in loving, true obedience to Him, in loving harmony with Him. May our lives glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
God reveals His Love in the Incarnation
Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Old-Style)
7 January, 2009
Galatians 4:4-7 ; Matthew 2:1-12

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

In the beginning, Adam and Eve, our first parents, lived in complete harmony with God and His will. They were His children. He loved them, and they knew that He loved them. They loved Him. There was no break between them at all. Adam and Eve instinctively did the will of their Father because they loved their Father and they wished to be pleasing to Him. However, they fell. When they fell, fear immediately began to enter their hearts, and immediately it began to enslave them. They did not completely forget that God was their loving Father, but fear kept breaking the relationship. They continued to make mistakes, because they kept forgetting, also, to listen in their hearts so that they could perceive God’s will.

As time passed, God continued to remind their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children that He is their loving Father. Sometimes people remembered and sometimes they forgot. The more time passed, the more they forgot. By the time of Abraham, the Patriarch, God had to re-introduce Himself to Abraham and re-teach him Who He is. The descendants of Abraham had a hard time remembering about this love because fear was always there. When the Hebrew people (the descendants of Abraham) went to Egypt and lived there for a few hundred years, they became slaves in Egypt. The whole life of most slaves is based on fear. After about 200 years, the Hebrew people did not remember much about love, but they did remember a great deal about fear. They lived in the middle of a people whose worship of idols was based on fear.

When Moses came, he gave the Law on Mount Sinai because God had to re-teach people completely how a life is lived in the context of His love. He gave them the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are called the Law. However, they are not law in the manner that stop signs, red lights, and speed limits are. They are more like concrete directions. The Ten Commandments tell people very clearly that if a person loves God (which is how everything begins in the Ten Commandments) then that person will do some things, and not do other things. This Law was to show people how to live life correctly, but once again, it was not like stop signs. Because people’s habit of fear has always been so strong, in the end, the Law came between the people and God. Again, they were living in fear.

The Apostle Paul is telling us today that “when the fulness of the time had come”, the Lord God sent His Only-begotten Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ into the world. The Saviour, born of the Virgin, overcomes our fear, and He overcomes slavery. He gives us freedom and life in the context of His love. Who is Jesus Christ ? The Son of God. What is God ? The Apostle John tells us : “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The experience of believing people has always been the same experience as that of Adam and Eve – that God is truly love. Our relationship with Him, also, is to be one of love. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in taking on our human flesh and our whole human condition, redeemed it by His death and His Resurrection. He broke down the barriers that we had built up between ourselves and our heavenly Father. He re-united us with our heavenly Father. He opened the way because He, Himself, is the Way, as He said (see John 14:6). In Him we return in love to God, our heavenly Father, our Creator.

This feast of the Nativity of Christ celebrates the beginning of the restoration of this relationship of love and harmony between ourselves and God. It is a proclamation of God’s love for us. The confirmation of it is in what the Angel says to Joseph (as we heard in the Gospel last night at Vigil). The Child born of Mary is to be named Jesus. He us to be called Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. Who is Jesus Christ, then ? Emmanuel, God with us – that is Who He is. This also means God’s love with us. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, restores this relationship of love.

Since His Incarnation, for 2,000 years or so, believing Christian people have encountered Him in His love, and have lived in His love. The ones who have shown the way the best are those whom we call saints – holy people. These holy people are the ones who show us best the love of God, and reveal how a Christian should be living. By what are their lives characterised ? Essentially by three things, I would say. First, they are characterised by love. Second, they are characterised by compassion. Third, they are characterised by knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and therefore they live in accordance with the Ten Commandments. They help the rest of us by their example and by their prayers to remember who we are in Jesus Christ. They help us by their prayers to be more and more like Jesus Christ. They help us by their prayers to be loving, compassionate, Christ-reflecting people, people in whom others can see Jesus Christ.

When Jesus takes flesh today, He is not only saying to you and to me : “I love you”. He is also manifesting this love in a very visible and concrete way. Likewise, you and I in our lives as Christians must put our love into concrete action. We cannot simply tell people that we love them. We cannot merely say to people : “God bless you”. We have to do something concrete about this love. In fact, I do not know of one married couple that I have ever met where it is enough for the husband to say to his wife : “I love you”, and it is enough for the wife to say to her husband : “I love you”. Saying is only saying. We have to do it. We have to live it. This is the Orthodox Christian way – the unified life. If we say that we are Orthodox Christians, and that we love Jesus Christ, then we must live our life in this love. We must do it.

God is with us. Emmanuel. Let us ask our Saviour today as we are celebrating His Birth, to give us the strength by the Grace of the Holy Spirit to live our lives concretely as true, authentic, Orthodox Christians. With our hearts, with our souls, with our bodies, with our minds, with our strength, with our whole being, may we show and do the love of Jesus Christ in the same way that He has always been showing and doing His love for us. Always He has been like that. Always He will be like that. Let us ask Him to help us to grow into this quickly so that in everything, our lives may glorify our merciful, loving, compassionate Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Surprise ! The Kingdom of Heaven is not what we expect

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Surprise ! The Kingdom of Heaven is not what we expect
Saturday after the Feast of Theophany
10 January, 2009
Ephesians 2:11-13 ; Luke 13:18-29
Ephesians 6:10-17 ; Matthew 4:1-11

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

What our Lord is saying to us today in these parables is very much apropos to the way we are living now. Not that human beings throughout the ages have been so different, but we are particularly obnoxious in our current behaviour, I would say. This little grain of mustard seed that our Lord is talking about today is a seed (as I have seen) that is very, very tiny indeed. I think it is even smaller than a poppy seed. However, our Saviour says that this little, tiny seed grows into a very large sort of tree so that birds come and nest in it. Then He compares the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast, the grains of which also are quite small. A little bit of yeast goes a long way. A little bit of yeast in a large amount of flour makes all the dough rise considerably, and multiply over and over again in volume.

This is the whole point. The way of Christ is and always has been a hidden way. It is not loud and brash. It is not “me, me, me : look at me, and pay attention to everything that I have been doing”. It is not “look at all my virtues, my strength, and what a good person I am”. All these ideas that we have been living in and growing up amongst are opposite to what our Lord is saying about the way of the Kingdom. The proper way for the Orthodox Christian is to be a lover of God and a doer of the Lord’s will. It is the Lord who turns our little-grain-of-mustard-seed existences into something that is beautiful, good, strong, and life-giving, to His glory, and for the good of the people around us.

Let us consider that grain of mustard seed, for instance. It is simply growing in the garden, and then it becomes a tree which is a home for birds, as our Saviour is saying. Birds come and live in this tree. They probably eat the leaves of the tree, as well. A little grain of yeast makes a big loaf of bread which is very good to eat. In fact, bread is and always has been a staple of life for most of the world (as far as human beings have been involved in it). The way of the Christian does not consist in calling all sorts of attention to oneself, but rather in knowing who we are in the Lord, knowing that the Lord loves us, and that we love Him. It is knowing that He is prepared to forgive us our iniquities, to forgive us our mistakes, to forgive us our selfishness, and to forgive the other occasions on which we (even deliberately) go astray from Him. He is there with His love to accept our repentance, to help us turn about, and to help us become productive and life-giving like this mustard seed and these little grains of yeast.

Our Lord says in a parable at the end of today’s Gospel reading that knowing about Him is not enough. In the parable, He says that that people would come late at night, and knock on the door of the master, and ask to come in. The lord of the house would answer, in effect : “I do not know who you are”. They reply : “We were listening to you teaching in our streets, and we were always around there”. The lord of the house says (as it were) : “I still do not know who you are”. It is the same thing with the Lord Himself, when we are knocking on His door. Why does He not know who they are ? It is because they did not understand what He was saying, and they could not and would not enter into a living relationship with Him. They treated Him as though He were some sort of philosopher, idea-maker, politician or whatever, instead of treating Him as the God-Man who loves the world and whose Kingdom is not of the world. His Kingdom is in, but not of, the world. The Kingdom is in our hearts, but it is not of the world, because to be of the world means to be in rebellion. There is a difference. We can be in the world and be in harmony with the Lord. However, if we become of the world, that means that we become attached to the world ; we become attached to things, instead of attached to the Lord, Himself.

In other words, everything has to be in its right order. We love the Lord, and our relationship with the Lord is first above everything else. As a consequence of this, everything else falls into place. The Lord loves us. We love Him. We turn away from darkness to His light. We turn away from the fallenness and rebellion of the world to loving harmony and obedience to Him. Life comes. Joy comes. Strength comes. Eternal life comes. By the way, when people are speaking about salvation, salvation does not simply mean being rescued or spared or delivered. Salvation has to do primarily with health (if we look at Latin etymology, and so forth). Salvation has to do with being healthy and whole. Being healthy and whole can only come in a life that is conformed to the Lord in the Kingdom.

Let us ask the Lord today to help us to live our lives like that. The Apostle Paul is saying today (as it were) : “Do not let any of these dark, evil deeds be seen amongst you”. The fact is that in our fallenness some such things do occur from time to time. However, the Lord, in His mercy, helps us to overcome these dark and evil deeds and the pressure to conform to the world, so that these dark deeds, these acts of rebellion and whatever else, do, in time, fade away. His love prevails, and this is what matters. This is what counts. Let us ask the Lord to help us to grow and to mature in this relationship of love with Him so that our lives may become completely pleasing to Him. Let us 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 Way of Repentance

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Way of Repentance
Sunday after Theophany
11 January, 2009
Sunday after Theophany

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

I always appreciate the way in which the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew is presenting to us the work and the Person of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He shows us how the Saviour is fulfilling everything that had been prophetically proclaimed beforehand. Today we heard several of those quotations from the Prophet Isaiah.

It is important for us to remember that our Saviour did not just drop out of nowhere with no preparation (as though He was suddenly there, and suddenly He was supposed to be understood, somehow). The Lord in His mercy and His love had been preparing for the Incarnation and the saving work of the Saviour ever since He led our first parents, Adam and Eve, to understand that there would ultimately be a resolution. Saint Irenæus of Lyon and Saint Cyprian of Carthage both refer to this. The Lord would provide as the Lord has always provided, as He did with Abraham, and the sacrifice of Isaac. The Lord provided the ram that was in the bushes, caught by the horns. The Lord provided and does provide always. We see this clearly when the people were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and when they were hungry. Quails, manna, all sorts of things the Lord provided while the people wandered in the wilderness. When they were thirsty, the Lord provided water in the wilderness. The Lord provides. The Lord provided the way of repentance when everything was falling apart in Jerusalem, and when people were taken away into captivity to Babylon. The Lord provided the way back for them. The Lord always provides.

It is really important for us to remember this. The Lord was preparing the way for the Incarnation of His Only-begotten Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. “When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). We hear today the Lord saying : “‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’”, just as His cousin, the Forerunner had been saying.

What does the word “repent” mean ? We hear it often (especially amongst western evangelicals). It does not mean “boo-hooing” all the time that I am such a terrible sinner, that I am so bad – boo-hoo. Sometimes it does involve that, because we do have to bend our heads in shame and admit that we are sinners. We have to admit that we do, in fact, fail. However, this is not the essence of repentance. The word “repent” actually means to turn about. How ? To turn about from death to life, from darkness to light, from fear to love – this is repentance. Repentance is turning away from the ways of death, sin, darkness, and turning to the way of life in Him who is the Way, who is the Truth, who is the Life (see John 14:6). Repentance is this daily exercise that we all must engage in : getting up in the morning and choosing to follow the way of Jesus Christ. That is the way of repentance.

When we fall and slip because we forget (because you-know-who-down-below is so clever at helping us forget), then again we ask the Lord to help us up. We say to the Lord : “Help me, and save me”. He pulls us up ; and we start again, choosing the way of our Saviour, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

The words of the Apostle this morning are also important in this connexion because the Kingdom of Heaven is not a political entity or political creation. It is a way of life. It is within us already. What is the way of the Kingdom ? That way certainly does not ever involve selfishness. It certainly does not involve personal autonomy. The Apostle Paul is telling us that the way of the Kingdom consists of humility : forgetting ourselves, putting the Lord first, putting everyone else first in front of us, and being the sort of person that the Lord created us to be. The Lord created each of us, like Him, to be servants. He created us to serve, to care for other people, to look after other people and His creation.

The Apostle Paul is telling the Ephesians (and with them he tells us) that everyone has been given particular gifts – all sorts of gifts. No-one has all the gifts, nor every gift. Some people are given many gifts, and it is hard for them to live with so many gifts. This is between them and the Lord, anyway. The Lord gives gifts to each of us as He wills and as He pleases, because He knows how things are best ordered in His Kingdom. He gives these gifts according to His will. Some people are bishops, and some apostles, and some are teachers. There are all sorts of gifts, as the Apostle is suggesting (and his list is not a complete list). Why does the Lord give all these gifts ? He gives all these gifts so that each of us can help others in accordance with the gifts that He has given us. These gifts are for building up the Body of Christ. What is the Body of Christ ? It is us, all together, the Orthodox Church. The Lord gives all these gifts so that we can strengthen each other, lift each other up, and help each other into the Kingdom. We are all together interconnected in the Body of Christ. We are not separated from each other.

Therefore, the good things that I do in my choosing daily to follow Christ are helping other believers (and even people who want to believe). My choices are helping them to do better, themselves. When I fail, when I turn away from the Lord, when I forget, when I fall, I am dragging down my brothers and sisters, because I am no longer a healthy person. Then they need to support me and help me out of my darkness. All our choices are affecting our brothers and sisters all around us, and all creation, in fact, for good or not for good.

The Lord proclaims : “‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’”. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. It is now. It is amongst us. Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to give us the awareness of how important each of us is to every other person ; of how important is our every choice towards the Saviour, and what good comes from it because of His love. Let us ask the Lord to help us to exercise those gifts that He has given us for the good of other people, and for the good of His creation so that with us the rest of His creation will understand, and be able to live in the joy of the reality that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). There is no other truly good reason to carry on, except for His love, His joy, His peace, His strength, His life.

Let us ask Him to give us the strength and the mindfulness every minute of our lives to call upon Him for health, and strength, and renewal of heart. Finally, let us ask the Lord to fulfil the words and exhortation of Saint Herman of Alaska : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In doing that we will fulfil our purpose in creation, which is to glorify in everything the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Attitudes of Gratitude

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Attitudes of Gratitude
Saturday of the 31st Week after Pentecost
24 January, 2009
1 Thessalonians 5:14-23 ; Luke 16:10-15

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

In the Gospel reading today, our Saviour is speaking directly against the way we are formed here in Canada. Our Lord is speaking about the absolute necessity for unity – for unity in our life, for unity in ourselves. He says that we cannot serve two masters. He gives examples which show how we are so divided, and the consequences of this division. We, who are living in this modern, western society, are prepared to live in a divided sort of way. We are encouraged to live in this compartmentalised and divided way (not merely two divisions, but usually multiple divisions). It can happen that we show one face when we are at work, another face when we are with our family, another face when we go to church or another face wherever else we go. We do not limit ourselves to being merely two-faced. Sometimes the face is accompanied by a somewhat different personality.

It is natural for us to behave slightly differently in one context or another, and when we are having a conversation with one person or another. However, it is not natural to be very different. Sadly, this is how people have come to behave in our society, behaving very differently in one context or another. It is almost like being a different person, sometimes. This is contrary to what the Lord is telling us to do.

It is important for us to remember those very crucial words that our Lord has said : “‘What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God’”. This abomination is our focussing on ourselves, and putting ourselves in the place of God. Throughout history, human beings have been mostly concerned about personal power, acquisitiveness, and making themselves comfortable here on this earth. In the context of all this, they have been forgetting that God is in charge. As a consequence of this they have been determining that they are in charge. A human being will put himself in the place of God, and will say : “I am in charge of my life. I do not need anyone. I do not need anything. There is only me that counts. I am in charge of everything”. This is how bad it can be. This is how it goes, too, when we are so forgetful of who we are, and Who is the Lord, and what is our way.

As Christians, we have to remember that we are dependant. We are not God. We are indeed, dependant. We depend on the Lord for everything. He created us. He brought us into being. He is with us in the course of our whole life. He is nurturing us in everything that we do. He is protecting us in everything that we do. In the course of my life, I have been protected from a great number of consequences of absolute stupidity. I have very great confidence in how the Lord is protecting us. I still have memories from childhood when I was so reckless that I should have been dead at five. However, the Lord did not let that happen. The Lord and His Guardian Angels protected me, and spared my parents from undue sorrow. (That does not mean that they were not anxious, but they did not have undue sorrow.)

We have to remember that we are dependant on the Lord, and that we need to be calling upon Him at all times, in every place, for everything. That is partly what the Apostle is saying when he is writing about how we are supposed to be encouraging the gifts of the Holy Spirit in each other, and the attitude we need to have. There is a catch-phrase nowadays that I hear from time to time which actually works (because it also rhymes in English) : We Christians have to learn to live at all times with the attitude of gratitude. This is precisely what the Apostle is saying : our lives as Christians have to be reflecting our gratitude to God, and be lives of constant thanksgiving for everything. We have to be giving thanks to God for His protection, for His love. We have to be giving thanks that we are standing here today in the Temple of the Lord, that we are His servants, and that there are fruits of His love in our lives.

Here is this point again. Attitudes of gratitude are not going to be showing in our lives unless there is genuine love for the Lord. The characteristic response of this relationship of love with the Lord is, in fact, gratitude : giving thanks to God for getting us up in the morning, for food that we have to eat, for shelter under which we can live in this very cold climate, for protection and safe arrival on every journey that we take. Gratitude is giving thanks to the Lord for His love and His provision. I do not produce all sorts of things by my own power. It is the Lord who gives. We can have every sort of technological advance in terms of food production, and so forth. What do we do with our technological advances ? We kill weeds, and make food that is not so good for us in the end because of our great skills. However, the Lord has always provided and is always providing for us. He has always enabled the earth to provide what is good for us. Ever since the beginning He has been like this with us. We have to do our part, but we have to do our part in harmony with Him.

In order to try to live our lives more in the context that is natural and correct for a Christian (constantly living with the attitude of gratitude, constantly giving thanks for everything), let us ask the Lord to renew His love in our hearts. Let us ask Him to build up and strengthen His love in our hearts so that we will have true, spontaneous, instinctive gratitude towards Him. In that way our lives will proclaim His love, and everything about us will glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Saint Gregory the Theologian

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ’s Love embraces All
32nd Sunday after Pentecost
(Memory of Saint Gregory the Theologian)
25 January, 2009
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ; John 10:9-16

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

The Lord’s encounter with the Canaanite woman today gives us the first sign that the Lenten Spring is coming. The renewal of everything is coming.

It is fundamental for you and for me in the course of our lives to remember this important meeting of our Lord with the Canaanite woman. This encounter underlines that the Lord is the Lord of everyone. Even though the Lord says to the Canaanite woman that He was only sent to the people of Israel, He is testing her in a sort of way. In fact, the Lord is sent to everyone. When our Lord delivers the daughter of the Canaanite woman from her slavery to evil, He is emphasising, in fact, that He loves everyone and everything that is created. The fulness of the time had not yet come for it to be understood what this ultimately means. His love is all-embracing. His love embraces every human being, every creature on this earth, and the whole universe. The Lord embraces everything and everyone in His love.

If we are in Christ, if we are Christians living our lives the way the Lord wants us to live our lives in harmony with Him, we, too, have to demonstrate the same all-embracing, all-inclusive, no-distinction-making love. We have to treat all human beings the same, no matter where they come from, no matter what they look like (and very often, no matter how they behave). We have to behave as much like Christ as possible towards them, embracing them in love, being an example of Christ’s embracing, forgiving love, and welcoming them with hospitality as the Saviour does to you and me. The Saviour welcomes us. We must welcome everyone else. The Lord embraces you and me in His love. We must embrace everyone else in His love. This is our way.

In order to help us do this, the Lord gives each of us the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He gives each of us particular gifts – gifts that are able to help other people, gifts that are good for other people (besides ourselves) to help to bring them into the Kingdom. He gives us the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can use these gifts. Not only does He give us the gifts, but He gives us the Grace to use the gifts, and to make them grow. Sometimes, in the course of our lives, He might even change these gifts according to the needs of the people around us. Sometimes, we might be able to say something prophetically from the Lord – for the Lord – to someone : the right word, the perfect word for that person at a particular time. We may never have that gift again, but the Lord gives it to us at this particular moment because of the need of the person. We may not become a prophet like the Prophet Isaiah, for instance, or Jeremiah, but we might be a “particular-moment” sort of prophet.

Through their prayers, some people have the ability to heal other people. Through their prayers, the Lord brings health to other people. This is a very good gift, a very useful gift, and a very appreciated gift. However, in every case of these gifts that the Lord gives us, they are not things that we can simply do as if it were magic. Yes, the Lord gives us a gift, and it is a gift that is activated by Him through us, through prayer, through love. However, it is the Lord who is in charge. It is not I, by myself, who can suddenly say : “Be healed”, and the person gets better just like that. That is not at all how it works.

Every person who has the gift of healing is a person who, of course, is asking the Lord : “Please heal this one who is in need”. The person who is asking already knows, because of love, something of what is the Lord’s will in this case. So the request is already in harmony with the Lord’s direction. This is how these gifts are from the Lord. This is the case with any gift – whether it be teaching, healing, a prophetic utterance, or any other sort of gift that the Lord gives us to use. They are more numerous than we can even imagine. They are always His work through us in the context of His love, and our prayer. All these gifts are given so that people may become healthy, especially in the heart, and grow nearer in love to the Lord.

On this day that we are remembering Saint Gregory the Theologian, it is a good opportunity to speak about his particular gifts. This theologian is perhaps the greatest of Orthodox teachers, ever. In this context, I remember extremely well when I was in seminary how Professor Verhovskoy, of blessed memory, used to say to us : “Well, my dears, not all the Fathers were 100 per-cent Orthodox. Some of them, like Saint Gregory of Nyssa, were maybe only fifty or sixty per-cent Orthodox in their teaching” (according to his assessment). However, for him, Saint Gregory the Theologian alone is to be considered as being 100 per-cent Orthodox. How vividly I remember that, thirty years later. Professor Verhovskoy was an excellent teacher. However, what does this mean, though, that Saint Gregory the Theologian is 100 per-cent Orthodox ? I think Professor Verhovskoy could very well be right, although I do believe that one of our recent scholars has detected one error. Maybe it is only 99.9 per-cent, which is actually in harmony with our way, because who is perfect, ultimately, except the Lord ?

What does it mean to be a theologian ? How did Gregory, the Patriarch of Constantinople, manage to be like this ? It is not simply because of the sort of education he had. His education certainly was classical ; it was full, and it was great. However, that is not why he is a theologian. In the Orthodox Church we have only a very few theologians. To be a theologian in the Orthodox way has not so much to do with your education (although it helps). It has to do with your heart. To be a theologian means to know God, and to be able to speak about this encounter with God well, clearly, and accurately, so that people will have a better understanding, themselves, and be able to walk on the right path.

Because Saint Gregory the Theologian was such a person, a person whose heart was full of the Holy Spirit, the Grace and the love of God, he was able from this encounter to share this love accurately and clearly with others. He is a solace, comfort and strength for you and for me today, 1500 years or so later. Because of this love, and despite the difficulties of his time, he was able to live out the actual words which our Saviour says to us today : He, Himself, is the good Shepherd, that He cares about the sheep and loves His sheep. Saint Gregory fulfilled those words in himself and in his life by how he cared for his people – not only by teaching and by writing, but by doing as well.

The good shepherd should love his people with the love of Christ. Bishops, priests and deacons have to walk in this way, caring for and loving the sheep of the Lord. These are not our sheep, they are the Lord’s sheep. Because we are fallen, we have to be behaving as much as possible like the Lord in caring for His sheep, and leading them in the right way. Notice the word “leading” – not pushing, driving or shoving – but leading them in the right way, and helping them to find their way to the Kingdom. In this flock, we are all together, the shepherds and the sheep. The shepherds in this case are still sheep. The sheep who are in the lead have the responsibility to know the Lord as well as possible, and to know the Orthodox Faith as well as possible. In this way they will be able to help bring the faithful, by example as much as possible, to the Lord in the right way. In this relationship of love and mutual care, it is important that the flock pray for, and support in love those who are in the lead, so that they do not get lost and take the flock in the wrong direction. It is for the flock to pray for the leaders, so that the whole flock will always be led in the right direction all together into the Kingdom of the Saviour. Our way is a way of mutual support : mutual working together and mutual love in Christ.

Let us remember that everything in the Orthodox life is involved with our relationship with our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Everything. Everything that we are doing here today is concerned with Jesus Christ, and Him alone. This is what we were created to do and to be : to live for Him, to worship Him, to live in Him. Let us ask the Lord to renew us in the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we will be able more and more fully to follow Him in righteousness, on the right path to Him and in Him who is the Truth, our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us glorify Him in everything, always, everywhere, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

We are all Servants

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We are all Servants
Saturday of the 32nd Week after Pentecost
31 January, 2009
1 Thessalonians 5:14-23 ; Luke 17:3-10

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

It is interesting how our Lord responds to the request of the apostles : “‘Increase our faith’”. Our Saviour says to them : “‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea”, and it would obey you’”. He said that, not expecting that anyone would actually do such a thing, and expect it to happen.

The point is that as Christians we absolutely do not do magic. Rather, we do God’s will as Christians. Our Lord is saying that if a sycamine tree were to move into the sea, this would be done when we asked because we already knew in our hearts that it was the Lord’s will that this would happen. However, the Lord does not usually plant sycamine trees in the middle of the sea. If He had really wanted to do that, we would have seen them there a long time ago. Some of them might exist in certain parts of the sea, but the Lord would already have put islands there on which they might grow. It is certain that they would not simply and strangely be growing there, standing in the water.

The Lord is asking us to listen with our hearts. He wants us to listen to Him with our hearts, in love, so that we will come to understand more and more what is His will, and do it. Our Lord gives us an example of a slave. Of course, there are officially no slaves in Canada, and we therefore officially do not know about this. A slave-owner, after having had his slave work in the fields all day, as our Saviour says, does not immediately say to the slave : “All right, let us eat”. The slave-owner and the slave did not eat together. They ate separately. It was the task of the slave who had been working in the fields all day to prepare the meal for the master. After the master had eaten, then the slave could eat. That is how it was, and it certainly is just like that in many parts of the world today. Our Lord is saying to us that we have to be not so much like that slave-owner, but like the slave, himself. We Canadians are so spoiled, because every time we turn around to do anything for anyone, we expect to be thanked. If anyone does anything for us, most people expect us to thank them. If we do not say thank you, we are considered to be rude, uncultured, uncivilised and barbaric. People then would look down their noses at us very quickly.

If we are truly living a life in Christ, our lives are to be full of gratitude, it is true, but to whom ? To the Lord. The Apostle says that in his words to the Thessalonians (and to us) this morning. Our lives are to be filled with thanksgiving and gratitude to the Lord. In fact, giving thanks is the characteristic of the Christian way : love combined with gratitude. If our lives do not have gratitude, but we say we have love, we do not truly have love. Love and gratitude go hand in glove. Our lives have to be characterised by giving thanks. That is why it is such a characteristic of people in Orthodox countries who have grown up in these Orthodox cultures to be giving thanks to God in everything. I always remember the very sharp lesson I learned about this, myself, a long time ago, when, being green as grass, I went to visit a monastery. I experienced the hospitality of an abbess and her nuns who were wonderfully Christian and generous. On my departure, on thanking the abbess, she said : “The Lord”. I said : “Yes, but thank you, too”. She answered : “No – thank the Lord”. I learned my lesson quickly.

All thanks has to be given to the Lord. This abbess knew exactly what her place was. What is her place ? What is my place or your place ? Our place is to offer loving hospitality because we live in Christ. Christ lives in us. If we are offering anything good, or doing anything good, it is because the Lord is working in us (as we understand in reading the Scriptures). It is He who is working this good. That is what the Lord is speaking about when He says that we should be saying, thinking and understanding that we are unworthy servants. We have only done our duty. We have only done what is natural and right for a Christian to do. If I am a Christian and I bear Christ, then because of His love I must be good, and do good for other people. It has to be in my bones and in my nature to do good, and to be good to other people. Why should I get any thanks for it ? It is, in fact, my nature to do this as a Christian. I have to do it because I love people. I have to do it primarily because I love Christ, and He loves me. This is the product of His love. Everything is referred to Christ in our lives.

Today, by God’s mercy, we are ordaining a deacon in the Church. This deacon, by what he is being ordained to today, is showing us an example of what is the meaning of service. A deacon is a servant, as all Christians are servants. Even if one is a bishop, one does not ever stop being what these deacons are. We never stop being servants if we are in Christ. Christ, Himself, has never stopped being a servant towards us. He who speaks everything into existence, the Word of God, the Lord of all, is always serving us as He washes the feet of the disciples, as He heals the diseases of those who are sick, as He raises the dead, and as He still continues every day to meet our needs. He, in His self-emptying love, continues to serve us. We, the servants, are not greater than our Master. We Orthodox Christians must always keep this mentality in our hearts that we are servants.

When we have deacons serving amongst us, they are a constant reminder to themselves, of course, and to us all (including bishops), that we are all servants. We are servants of Christ, servants like Christ as much as possible, servants in Christ in our way as Orthodox Christians. That is why we “kill” each other with hospitality. This is an expression of this servanthood. It is an expression of how we love each other by serving and caring for each other, and nurturing each other. This is the way of a deacon. Some people are asking why more than one deacon in a parish is needed. From the bishop’s point of view, one deacon is never enough, because there is so much that needs to be done in parish life, and in the life of the faithful. Deacons are the extension of all our ministries. They help to feed, nurture and teach the flock. Each deacon has particular, unique gifts. Each deacon helps the Lord to enable His Church to grow up by ministering according to his personal gifts.

Now this parish will, at least for a time, have two deacons. They will serve together at the Divine Liturgy. They will serve together in the parish in different ways. They are different men. They have different gifts and different ministries. They will do different things in our life together. However, it will all be in harmony, and all in accordance with God’s will. I hope that I will be able to see in this parish (and in other parishes, too), three, four, five, seven deacons because there is so much to do. The priest (who is always a jack-of-all-trades, like a bishop) cannot do everything, and cannot be everywhere. The priest’s responsibility is generally to feed and to teach. The deacons do all sorts of other things that the priest cannot possibly do by himself. However, all together, the flock is fed ; the people become strong in Christ, and they grow up shining with the light of Christ. The Kingdom of God is increased as people are added to its numbers.

Brothers and sisters, please pray for our new deacon because you-know-who-down-below, wolf of souls that he is, will come after him right away to try to attack him and separate him from the flock. Sometimes the tempter will arrive in the appearance of a sheep. By your prayers, and by your love, you will protect the new deacon and keep him on the right path. He will help your priest to lead you into the Kingdom. In so doing, all together, let us now continue to glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Zacchæus Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We turn a new Leaf
Zacchæus Sunday
1 February, 2009
1 Timothy 4:9-15 ; Luke 19:1-10

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

When we hear in the Gospel reading today about our Lord’s encounter with Zacchæus, we know that Great Lent is near, and that we have to start to get ready. Every year when we hear this Gospel, Zacchæus comes to us and tells us it is time to get ready to meet the Lord, just as he is meeting the Lord today.

What does Zacchæus show us in his meeting with our Lord today ? He is anxious to see the Lord because he had never encountered Him. Zacchæus was a tax collector in the Roman Empire, and therefore, he was a robber. In the days of the Roman Empire, every year the emperor decided, together with the senate in Rome, what his budget would be, and what he wanted to do. A decree went out to all the official tax collectors in the Roman Empire telling them to get such-and-such an amount of money out of the people, and send it to the emperor. Only the tax collectors knew what was this amount of money. The tax collectors generally took whatever they wanted from the people. It was a serious sort of game between the tax collectors and the people. The tax collectors extorted from the people as much as they could, and the people hid from the tax collectors as much as they could. When the tax collector came to the house, he could just say : “I am taking this, and this, and that, and the cows and the sheep”. He could strip the household clean if he were that sort of person. Some of them certainly did.

Zacchæus was in an even worse position amongst the Jewish people because the Jewish people were a conquered people. They resented being occupied by the Roman army. When the Roman Empire chose Jewish people to be tax collectors amongst the Jewish people, all the Jewish people considered them to be absolute traitors, which in a way they were. Certainly, as we hear in the Gospel today, they were called sinners. When Jesus encounters Zacchæus, to the great shock of Zacchæus, He says : “I am coming to your house”. (There was a song I learnt in childhood that said : “Zacchæus, come down from that tree because I am coming to your house for tea”. However, that was before they had tea in those parts.) Zacchæus encounters the Lord, and hastens to host Him in his home.

Immediately, our Saviour is severely criticised by all sorts of people because He is eating in the house of a sinner. One was not supposed to associate with such people in Jewish society. However, in our traditional Orthodox way of life, we customarily do not invite simply anyone to our home to eat. If we are going to eat with people, there is a communion established between us when we are eating at our table, because the table at home is not so different from the Holy Table here in this Temple. In Orthodox consciousness, the two things are directly connected. Therefore, we have to be careful to invite not just anyone to dinner in our home. That is the custom, although it is not always what we do. This custom does not exclude the stranger or the needy, as we see everywhere.

What happens today when Zacchæus accepts the Lord’s inviting Himself to his house ? In the first place, we have to understand that at such a dinner it was not simply our Lord and Zacchæus and his family who were present. When a dinner like this is taking place, this is going to be (even though it is sudden and unexpected) a dinner at which our Lord and His disciples would be present (which is one reason why we hear about it today in the Gospel), but also there would be friends and relatives of Zacchæus, and other people at the dinner. (It would be something like our experience in this church on Sunday after the Divine Liturgy with all sorts of people sitting down together at the table.) So, Zacchæus stands up today, and we hear him say (and in saying these words, he is doing repentance) : “‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor’”. This passage is preparing us for us for Great Lent because in Great Lent, giving to the poor and caring for the needy is one of the major occupations in which we should be involved.

We often think that Great Lent is simply about going to church much more often, reading more, and eating different things (but not necessarily less). There is more to it than that. As you will hear over and over again in our hymnography in Great Lent, giving to the poor and needy, the widows, the orphans, and so forth, is one of our major preoccupations in Great Lent. This emphasis is supposed to be helping us remember how our lives should be all the time. Zacchæus stands up and says in repentance : “‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold’”.

Zacchæus still ends up not a poor man. Although he had taken so much one way or another as a tax collector, this was what he was allowed to do. He did not do anything illegal. This was all legal in the Roman Empire. Maybe it was not ethical, but it was certainly legal. No doubt, he was a very good business man, and he knew how to invest everything so that he gained even more from his investments.

That is why, under these circumstances, he ends up being not a poor man. I am quite certain that he went on to be more than that because there is a Zacchæus who is an apostle of the Seventy, who became a bishop of the Church. I rather think that Zacchæus ended up doing much more (although we are not told that in the Scriptures today).

It is important for us to remember that repentance is not what many people think it is. Many people say : “Boo-hoo, I am so sorry for what I did wrong”. They weep and weep, feel dejected and morose, and all those things. There may be weeping involved, but weeping and saying : “I am sorry” is not the main thing. Repentance is doing. It is not talking. The word “repent” means to turn about. Zacchæus is showing us exactly what this means : he had led a corrupt and broken life ; it was a life that was obviously completely selfish, and he turns about today in front of us, in front of the Saviour. He says : “I am correcting everything that I did wrong insofar as I am able”. And he does it.

However, he goes much farther than that, because now he is following the Saviour. He is following the Saviour who comes to him, who encounters him, who shines the light of His love into his heart, and enables Zacchæus to do what his heart is telling him to do. That is why he wanted to sneak up into the tree and see the Lord in the first place – to turn about, to serve the Lord, to follow the right path of life. Zacchæus turns from darkness to light, from death to life, from fear to love, from selfishness to selflessness. He turns about completely today in front of our eyes. This is a very big lesson for us all to be learning today.

Besides the important example of Zacchæus, today we have also heard the important words that the Apostle Paul is speaking to Timothy. He is saying those words that are addressed always to every priest (and bishops, too) : “Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” so that the faithful will know what is the right path. What is not mentioned by the Apostle (but is implied, anyway) is that the clergy – bishops, priests, and deacons – are called to be an example primarily in repentance : the same repentance as that of Zacchæus. Without repentance, this goodness, purity, joy, peace, and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit are not going to come. Repentance is the first step.

“Repentance” ? you might say to yourself. Repentance for the “bishop” ? “priest” ? “deacon” ? Well, the fact is that bishops, priests and deacons are human beings. Bishops, priests and deacons can, and do make mistakes. Bishops, priests and deacons are given extra-special attention from you-know-who-down-below because they are leaders of the faithful. This is why they can make some mistakes. Sometimes, they can make catastrophic mistakes because they get distracted, led astray, confused. Sometimes, they can trip badly because Big Red is so effective in his divisive and distracting techniques. How often have I said in my life (as I have heard other people, also, say in confession) : “I forgot myself. I forgot this or that. I forgot my sense of direction”. Where does this forgetfulness come from ? It is not only because I am lazy or careless (although I have been, and am, often enough). Forgetfulness is something that is sown into our hearts by you-know-who-down-below.

Many of you will have seen the movie, The Lord of the Rings, or read the books. (If you have not read them, you had better do so, for they are better than the movie.) In the third book, as the ring is coming closer to its destruction, the greater is the forgetfulness that falls on Frodo. The closer he comes to trying to get rid of this horrible, evil thing, the more forgetfulness, distraction, and even selfishness fall upon him and take over. He does not survive this exercise without his friend, Sam, does he ? No. Tolkien understood how evil works in people’s lives and hearts. He knew how to explain it to us so that we would understand when it is bothering us in the same way. We can see ourselves in these characters. Tolkien, being a believer, knew how to write right. Forgetfulness comes upon us because you-know-who-down-below is working on us in order to separate us and to take us away from the right path, from life, and from the Lord.

You and I, who are believers, have the responsibility of praying for, supporting, encouraging, strengthening and nurturing each other. We have the words of the Apostle to the Apostle Timothy which tell us how to do this. We encourage each other. We strengthen each other. We correct each other. As well as we can, we are to be an example for each other.

The Apostle Paul rightly reminds us that we all must pray always for our leaders. Our leaders lead us, and our prayers protect them and minimise the danger of their falling too seriously into the snares of the Tempter. The Apostle exhorts us to pray not only for the clergy, but also for the temporal leaders as well, most of whom do not even know the Lord. However, they still have to make all these decisions that affect our lives so seriously and so deeply.

Our responsibility as believers is to pray for each other, to support each other, to nurture each other, to correct each other, to be examples for each other. Let us ask the Lord to give us, all together, the Grace, the joy, the love, the strength and the sense of direction to keep doing this, so that in everything, we will glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Meeting of the Lord

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We emulate the Love of the two Elders
Feast of the Meeting of the Lord
[Given outside of the Archdiocese]
2 February, 2009
Hebrews 7:7-17 ; Luke 2:22-40

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

Today, when we are actually present with the Lord as He is presented in the Temple, we see Him with His parents, fulfilling the prescriptions of the Law. He is the first-born Son. According to the old Law, the first-born son had to be brought to the Temple, and a sacrifice had to be offered to the Lord on His behalf in the Temple. However, today, with the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple a great change is coming. People are not prepared for it yet, because many of them have apparently not been listening to the Lord properly ; they have not been paying attention to the Prophets.

Nevertheless, the Lord today provides two persons who had been prepared during their whole lives for this moment. These two highly-regarded persons are testifying about how the Lord, during their very lifetimes, is fulfilling all that has been previously prophesied in expectation of the Messiah. They were faithful persons who did understand the Law and the Prophets. Simeon (we call him the God-receiver) today takes our Saviour as a little Child into His arms, and he proclaims to the people what is the significance of this Person who is going to be the Saviour of the world. Simeon has been waiting his whole life for this moment. He had known, somehow, in his heart by the Grace of the Holy Spirit that this moment would come. He then says : “‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your Salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples’”. In effect he is saying : “O Lord, now, I can go. As this Child is brought into the Temple, I can see the beginning of the work of salvation. I can see the progress of the fulfilment of Your promises. I can see that the end of my days is now here. You are letting me go in peace”.

To confirm this understanding of Simeon, the God-receiver, the Lord gives us Anna, the Prophetess. She, also, confirmed from her life-experience of reading the Scriptures, and glorifying the Lord every day in the Temple, that this Child is for our salvation.

It is truly important for us to remember on this day how the Lord prepared for the coming of the Saviour. The Lord always prepares. He cares for you and for me in this way. He cares for all of us, His creatures, in this way, because He has always been preparing. We, who know Christ, the fulfilment of everything, we, who live in Christ, must have our hearts open always to the activity of this same love amongst us. The Lord God has not stopped being present with us ; the Lord God has not detached Himself from us after the confirmation of all the work of salvation in Christ in His Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Sending of the Holy Spirit. He continues to be with us to this day. He is caring for each one of us. He is preparing the way in our lives for each one of us. The Lord in His love is with us. God is with us.

In Great Compline we sing : “Understand all you people, and submit yourselves, for God is with us”. God is with you, and He is with me, His beloved children. He continues to prepare the way for you and for me in the heavenly Kingdom. With the eyes of our hearts open, let us always look for His guidance and His presence with us. Let us allow Him to bring us into the heavenly Kingdom, into the place that is being prepared for us, so that now and in eternity we may glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Publican and the Pharisee

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We conform ourselves to Christ
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
8 February, 2009
2 Timothy 3:10-15 ; Luke 18:10-14

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

The words that the Apostle is speaking to the Apostle Timothy today are important for us all to remember all the time because living the Christian life is not easy. The Apostle makes it clear that there is going to be opposition from the outside. However, he also says that there are people amongst the believers whose minds are led astray, whose hearts are led astray, and who allow themselves to become twisted, distracted and distorted. They perhaps actually make things worse for believers because from within the community of faith they are making confusion. They are putting clouds of fog over the eyes of people who are trying to be faithful.

The Tempter is always playing with us in this way, trying to help us forget or to think that we have a better idea. Very often it has been Christian experience that there are those who are infected by one philosophy or another or some worldly idea or another, who think that they can remake Christ into their own image, as it were. As a result, we might say that most of us, in the course of our life, tend to pass through many “heresies” because we choose “our own thing”. We do not listen to the Lord. We know better. We make a choice that is different from what is the will and the truth of the Lord. In making a choice for something else, we may try to remake Christ into some sort of holographic projection or some sort of creature or nice-guy philosopher, or something like that. We do that instead of accepting Who He is.

If we are going to be serious Orthodox Christians, we have to be prepared to live according to the psalm that we are repeating at Matins which says : “The Lord is God, and He has revealed Himself to us”. He has shown Himself to us in His fulness in the Incarnation of Christ. This revelation of Himself in love, in suffering love, is that to which we, in the course of our lives, must always respond in similar fashion. We cannot make Christ into someone other who would be more convenient and more comfortable for us.

How can we actually presume to do such a thing when we, ourselves, are always objecting when people do not understand us and do not accept us as we are. They try to make us into something different from what we are. They sometimes actually speak about us in such a way that we do not even recognise ourselves. They do not accept us for who we are or comprehend who we are. We complain all the time about this, ourselves, so how can we behave like this to our Saviour who is incomprehensibly more than we ?

It is important for us to pay attention to who we are, and Who is the Lord to us. Who is He ? Therefore, how do we live ? I am saying all this because, in my opinion, this is directly connected to the parable about the publican and the Pharisee that the Saviour is teaching us today. The Pharisee is defending himself, and also making himself out to be something that he is not. He says to the Lord : “I thank you that I am not like all these other people around here – this riff-raff, and these various sorts of sinners – especially not like that publican back there”. (A publican was a tax collector, like Zacchæus, about whom we heard last week.) We remember what sort of person he was, in terms of how he had been living his life. The Pharisee pretends that he is not like this tax collector. He says : “How much better I am”. By talking like that, he already condemns himself out of his own mouth, because he considers himself to be better than anyone else. Anyone who thinks he is better than anyone else has his eyes on himself, not on the Lord.

If we are truly following in the footsteps of Christ, we do not exalt ourselves. We do not make ourselves out to be anything more than what we are – which is, a servant of God, a lover of God. We are not something great. The Saviour Himself, who is the Lord of the whole universe after all, came in our midst, washed the apostles’ feet, and said : “‘I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you’” (John 13:15). This means that we have to be servants of each other, as He continues to be our servant to this day. We are not greater than God. We are not greater than this Master who served all the time that He was amongst us in the flesh.

The Lord continues to serve to this day amongst us in love, caring for our needs, fixing our “boo-boos”, straightening us out, protecting us, supporting us and helping us. We have to keep the same disposition, ourselves. We are not greater than anyone else. We are the Saviour’s servants. If the Lord has given us gifts, it is our responsibility to use them for the benefit of everyone else. Those gifts are not only for me. I am not the centre of the universe. I am a co-worker with the Lord who created me.

In the Greek text of today’s Gospel reading, the publican says : “God, have mercy on me the sinner” (there is a definite article in the Greek), and not : “Have mercy on me, a sinner”. This is the way the Jesus Prayer works : Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner. If I say a sinner, I am therefore calling other people sinners by implication when I do not know anything about them. I can only speak about myself as the sinner. If I say : “I am the sinner, I am not saying anything about anyone else except me”. If I say : “a sinner”, I am saying that I am one among many ; there are greater, and lesser. I am already getting into the category of this Pharisee by saying : “a sinner”, because I am already saying that everyone else is a sinner, and I am no worse and no better than everyone else.

That is how we like to think : I am just like everyone else ; I am just a regular sinner like everyone else. This is not the way it is. It cannot be the way it is, because this is not how the Lord teaches us in everything He is saying to us and doing amongst us. The publican is not making any comparisons with anyone else. He is saying : “Have mercy on me, the sinner”. He is only speaking about himself and his own condition to the Lord, and asking the Lord to save him, heal him, correct him and help him in repentance. That is what his prayer is about.

It is essential that we remember the words of my grandmother, who said : “Comparisons are odious”. That means that comparisons are hateful and really awful. It is important not to compare ourselves with anyone else one way or the other, or to compare anyone else, one with another. We have to pay attention to who they are in themselves, and also to who I am. The game of comparisons is dangerous. It is dangerous to say : “I am better ; I am worse ; I am higher ; I am lower”. We, each and all, have own gifts from the Lord, and our own responsibilities to the Lord. We each have our own service in the Lord, and it is necessary that we know how we measure up to His Gospel. If we see someone who is getting off track, it is important for us not to get busy condemning, but to start supporting that person in intercessory prayer, helping that person to come out of whatever it is that is a pain, a difficulty, a distortion, a suffering, a fall. If we see someone that is obviously flourishing in the Lord, it is necessary that we give thanks to God that this person is flourishing in the Lord, and that this person is doing whatever the Lord has been calling this person to do.

However, it is important, also, that I do not start saying : “I am lower ; I am higher” or whatever other sort of inadequate comparisons, because these comparisons do not mean anything. I do not know anything about the heart of anyone else. I can only see some symptoms. It is essential that I intercede, and that I give thanks for my brothers and sisters in their strengths and weaknesses. It is necessary for me always, in every way, to be supporting and helping my brother and sister come closer to the Saviour, and grow up in the Kingdom of the Lord.

While we are singing (as we have done last night) about preparing for the Fast, we enter this week of no fasting at all. It may look like irony, but it is the Lord, in His mercy, helping us to get ready. We approach the fasting period with all sorts of hymnody saying that it is getting to be time. Then we have a week of zero fasting ; then we go back to one regular week, and then a week with no meat. Finally we get to the full abstinence of Great Lent. Fasting is not exactly the right word because fasting implies that you are not eating anything at all. Not very many of us pass through Great Lent eating nothing at all. Even in monasteries, there are very, very few such persons who have the gift to eat nothing during all the days of Great Lent up until Pascha.

However, we do abstain from all sorts of things. We offer this abstinence to the Lord. The Lord, in his mercy, gives us the blessing of having not to fast for a whole week with the easy adjustment into the fasting period because He is so merciful and so kind to us. It is important for us to remember that. It is not an irony at all that we are talking about Great Lent and the abstinence that goes with it, and now (this week) we have no fasting. It is simply the expression of the Lord’s love and His care for us. He understands that we do like our food, and that we are going to miss during the period of Great Lent all those nice things that we like to eat. So, we have a whole week in which to indulge ourselves by eating what we like to eat (if we can afford it). Then we progress seriously towards the period of abstinence, which we offer to the Lord in gratitude and love.

May the Lord grant you a good, spiritually productive, healing and integrating Great Lent. May the Lord grant that every one of you live to see the Pascha of the Lord, to be able to be in this Temple celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. May the Lord grant you the joy of the Resurrection throughout the whole period of the abstinence of Great Lent. May the Lord grant you the renewal of love for Him and for each other so that you will be able to resist every single attempt of the Deceiver to divide and conquer. Instead, in the love of Jesus Christ, may you be able to hold on to your unity with each other as a Christian family.

May the Lord grant you the heart to increase in love, and increase in your knowledge of your real self as a beloved child of Him, who created you. May you rejoice all throughout Great Lent when it is our privilege to hear all these wonderful readings from the Scriptures about His creation of us, and about His perpetual, saving activities amongst us. May the Lord increase your joy as you pass through these days, and multiply your ability to serve Him. May you be a shining and effective witness of His love, all together, and personally, too, in this city, which in its own native beauty needs to shine with the beauty of Christ in order to be properly fulfilled in itself. May you glorify in your lives our Saviour, Jesus Christ, whole-heartedly, single-mindedly and brightly, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Saturday of the Week of the Prodigal Son

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Trusting in the Lord’s provident Care for us
Saturday of the Week of the Prodigal Son
14 February, 2009
2 Timothy 3:1-9 ; Luke 20:46-21:4

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

In the Epistle this morning, we heard the Apostle Paul describing the Last Days. He is saying that there are going to be expressions of selfishness. These behaviours are certainly rampant today. Every sort of evil and perversion is rampant in our world today. It is not as if we have been lacking these terrible things in the past. Yet, it might be said that, in the past, these things had some sort of brake on them, because people tended to be more believing in the past than they are now. When the Apostle Paul is speaking about certain sorts of persons that go around taking advantage of people (and he mentions women in this particular case), he is speaking of women as a class of society that generally had no education whatsoever. They were very vulnerable to what anyone would say to them.

When human beings have taken the focus of their hearts off the Lord, when they have depended upon themselves, and determined to be do-it-yourselfers, then this means that they have also decided that they are going to be comfortable in this world. The characteristics that the Apostle describes always take over. Human beings without God are fear-driven in very many inexplicable ways. The way people turn in on themselves and decide to make themselves comfortable here, apart from the Lord, these selfish behaviours described by the Apostle, cause people to go to pieces. These behaviours make society, in fact, go to pieces, as it characteristically does under these circumstances.

Not so long ago I was told that when things were in the proper order in Chinese society, the whole society prospered. This has been the case for 5,000 years or so in Chinese history. If the emperor was worshipping God correctly according to ancient history (even though he was not a Christian or a believer in the sense that we understand, but he was nevertheless monotheistic), he was responsible for keeping society in order, and for feeding the people. He, himself, was responsible for feeding the people through the character of his leadership. Therefore, when he was a believer and setting a good example, the society (which must be agrarian, fundamentally, in order for this to work) was able to produce enough food for everyone, and there was general harmony amongst the people. In the course of Chinese history, repeatedly and periodically, business has taken over the driver’s seat of life. Following the ancient mentality of China, business must be a product of the agrarian society, not in charge of it. This agrarian-business order is understood to be divinely directed. Every time the order has been inverted, war has been the product, with the usual devastation of everything, including the fall of the government of the time. The only escape from this many-times-repeated cycle would be if there were a reform. Otherwise the dynasty fell.

This is not so detached from the words of a French philosopher of the last century who wrote a book which said that in his opinion the greatest disaster that has happened to human beings was the invention of the internal combustion engine. Until the internal combustion engine and the development of automobiles, human beings had to be pulled out of themselves so they could care about their environment. They had to be responsible for animals so that the animals would serve them well enough. I have heard from my own father how the care of these very creatures was abused. Nevertheless, the basic principle remains that we humans need to be pulled out of our self-obsession by our responsibilities. Everything is able to be abused because human beings are always fallen ; they can abuse things and distort things. This French philosopher was right. I think that his philosophical idea comes from a Christian formation and a Christian heart. (I met the person, and I believe that that is where it comes from.)

The persons about whom our Lord is speaking to us today always want the attention on themselves. I mean to say persons who go parading around, making a show of being believers, of being faithful. These persons are pretenders, one could say. True worshippers of the Lord, who are doing things for the Lord, do not call attention to themselves, but rather they try to hide from attention if at all possible and recoil from having attention drawn to themselves. Our Saviour says today that the person who is a true giver in the spirit of the Law, and in the eyes of the Lord, is this widow who has just now put only two pennies into the treasury. Even though it was worth nothing monetarily, it was worth everything to her because this was all she had. Our Saviour says that it is her whole living. She is giving the Lord everything because she is trusting that the Lord is looking after her.

How many times in the course of my life have I been given examples of people who have trusted the Lord in a similar way as did this woman. This woman has complete, utter trust in the love of the Lord. She trusts in His care for her, and how He is providing for her. How many times I have seen and heard of this happening in the lives of people even today. When they are in all sorts of desperate conditions one way or another, the Lord, nevertheless, provides. The stories that I have been told in the course of my days are more than I can repeat or even remember. People who trust in the Lord have their needs met by the Lord – not according to their own labours and their own doing, but because the Lord, in His love, out of the blue, has provided for them.

For you and for me (and I suppose for bishops particularly) these words about making a show, and being a pretender and so forth, are very crucial. When one is a bishop, there is no way that one cannot have attention put on oneself. However, there are ways to try to divert this attention. It is important for us all to remember this at all times. When we are being thanked for something or when someone is saying : “What a wonderful thing”, it is always necessary that we do what Orthodox Christians characteristically have always been doing -- we refer that gratitude immediately to the Lord. Therefore, we should be saying instinctively, out of our hearts : “Glory be to God” or “Thanks be to God” for whatever it is.

We must always be referring to the Lord whatever good is happening, because we ourselves are fallen human beings. We sin. We get distracted. We do all sorts of things that we ought not to do, and think all sorts of things that we ought not to think, and so forth. The Lord loves us, and if good comes through us, it is because He does love us. He cares about all of us. He is with us. He is protecting us. He is nurturing us. Most of all, He is saving us. The Lord is with us ; He is not distant from us. He is with us, and He is involved all the time in everything that we are, and everything that we are doing.

Let us ask the Lord to give us the Grace and the trust of this woman whom we see today with Him as she throws her whole living into the treasury. She is demonstrating to anyone who has the eyes to see that she truly loves and trusts in the Lord. Let us ask the Lord to give us this love and this trust in our whole lives. Let us actively put our trust in Him because He who loves us will not desert us. He who cares for us will not forsake us. The Lord will protect us, and He will help us truly to be ourselves, so that in everything, truly, openly and honestly, we will be able to glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Love draws us back Home
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
15 February, 2009
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 ; Luke 15:11-32

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

How could it happen, we might ask, that a young man who has everything would do as the young man did today in the Gospel parable : leave everything, go to a different country and waste all of his inheritance completely on himself (not just on bad investments or something like that). He was merely playing. He was not playing in a nice way, either, because the way he was living was impure. How could he do such a thing ?

The Lord does not tell us how it happened that he did this. However, perhaps you have noticed in your own life that sometimes, when you know precisely what is right to do, a sort of cloud can come to you, and you forget. Perhaps some sort of unexplainable desire or drive comes over you and you feel that you have to get away, and do something completely different. These sorts of drives come from below, from the powers of darkness. These drives are intended to separate a person from the Lord. Do not forget that the Apostle is telling us this morning that we are made for the Lord. We are not made for anyone or anything else, except for the Lord. How can it be that Adam and Eve at the beginning (who had absolutely everything), could forget who they were and what is their relationship with the Lord, and agree to do what the Lord had said not to do. How could it happen ? It is because this cloud of forgetfulness, combined with suggestions from down-below were accepted by them. There is a famous English saying (which probably exists in other languages, also) : “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. Many times in my life I have said that : “It seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed like an interesting thing to do. Why not ?”

Another famous element in all this is that we also forget to think things through. I still remember from my childhood that many times when I got into some sort of mess, my father would ask me : “Why did you do that ?” I would say : “I did not think”. He would reply : “That is the trouble. You do not think”. He was right. I did not think things through. I still have trouble with this sometimes : not thinking things through, not remembering all the details, and mostly, not remembering Who is the Lord and who I am to Him.

The powers of darkness managed to separate Adam and Eve from their Creator. Adam and Eve forgot. They fell. They immediately began to lie. They were immediately full of fear. We, ourselves, recognise that in our lives. How do we get out of these messes ? There is only one way, the same way that the prodigal son got out of his mess. The son, in his desperation, remembered his father’s house and what it was like to be a hired servant in his father’s house. He recognised, at least, that in his father’s house there could be some sort of security. What else was producing this security and this fair treatment of servants and slaves in his father’s house, except love ? A person who treats one’s family in the right way knows the Lord and therefore knows how to live with the family. One knows, also, how to treat slaves (if that is the case in the society) or how to behave towards employees – that is, with love and with generosity.

The young man returns to his home. Before he even gets home, his father (who has been watching for him all this time) sees him, and runs to meet him. He brings him back into the family not as a hired servant (as the young man tried to ask for), but as a son (even if he did not get the inheritance any more). What was it that drew him back home ? It was his father’s love and prayers that followed him to that country and into his destitution and desperation. His father’s love and prayers were with him all the time, and brought him home. That is why his father could tell that his son was coming home.

It helps us to understand about the father that, in his behaviour, he broke every custom and convention because of his love. It was not at all done to divide an inheritance while the father was alive. Even were it to be so, it could not be spent until he died. A father would not run to his son in those cultures. It is not dignified to do so. The children had first to come to the parents and/or elders. The fatted calf was part of the elder brother’s inheritance, as the father has just said to the elder brother : “All that I have is yours”. Such was the depth of this father’s love, that celebrating the return of the lost son (who might have been dead but was not) overturned the usual customs and conventions. The father would, regardless, understand that any signs of forgiveness and reconciliation given to the younger son (whatever the cost) could be replenished through the younger son’s participation in the work and maintenance of the family’s farm. Such was the confidence of this father in the Lord’s love and blessing.

It is the same with you and with me, too. It is the Lord’s love that is always with us. It is the prayers of family, friends, saints, and the Mother of God that are with us, that bring us, also, home from our messes, from our desperation and from our destitution. It is the Lord’s love. I have heard in my life many stories from various families of how this has been precisely the case when children behave as this young man did today. They go away and rebel. They fall into forgetfulness and all sorts of horrible things. Yet, through their parents’ prayers, the prayers of their friends, and the intercessions of various saints, these young persons eventually come home. They eventually come to themselves and find their way (in a healthy way). This has happened many, many times in the lives of people that I know.

There are also many stories that I have been told about people who have been serving in one army or another, who have been in a war somewhere or other, and who have somehow managed to avoid being killed when people all around were being killed. Sometimes a bullet would hit some sort of Cross on the chest, a Bible or something else which would stop it there. There are many such stories. These are people whose parents were fervently praying for them. The prayers of parents for children who are losing their way are very strong. The Lord uses these prayers and this love to help to bring the children to themselves, to bring them home, to bring them into order, and to draw them into the right path.

As long as you and I are alive, we are most likely going to suffer from these so-called “good ideas” and these periods of forgetfulness. Sometimes, these things will come upon us unexpectedly after we have received a very big blessing. In fact, it happens so often that I would say that it is an axiom that this will happen. Every time there is a big blessing in a person’s life, it is followed by some sort of weird temptation. It comes from nowhere, unexpectedly. Sometimes it is a flashback to some weakness in a person’s earlier life. Fear is usually at the root of it all. Why does this come ? It comes because the father-of-lies is always trying to take blessings away from us in the way he managed to persuade the young man to go away with his inheritance, and to waste the whole thing. The Tempter thought he could deprive the young man of his inheritance and the loving support of his family. However, the young man was restored because of love.

When these things occur (big temptations after big blessings), it is necessary that you and I be quick to call to the Lord for help, for His protection, so that when the Tempter is tempting, he will not succeed in depriving us of the blessing that the Lord has given. These things are going to keep happening throughout all our lives. As long as we live, the Tempter is going to be trying to separate us from the Lord. It is important that you and I always hold on to the Lord, and that we be quick to turn to Him for help. We must be quick to turn to the Mother of God for her intercession because she is quick to hear. It is essential that we, like the prodigal son, remember the love of our heavenly Father and always turn to Him.

Let us ask the Lord to keep the awareness of His love alive and active in our hearts at all times, so that no matter how intense the temptation, no matter how “good” the ideas may present themselves to be, we will still remember that we were created for Him and that we belong to Him. We want to please Him. We want to be with Him in His Kingdom so that we can glorify Him eternally : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Last Judgement

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Everything must be under-girded with Love
Sunday of the Last Judgement
22 February, 2009
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.

The words of the Apostle this morning are very important for us to remember. He is speaking about how we are supposed to be treating both food, and each other. I still remember the anecdote about a bishop (not an actual bishop, although there are some who do have this sort of reputation) who, before he went into his office every day, would eat at least one priest for breakfast. The point of this is that we have to be very careful how we are towards each other. In terms of our behaviour towards each other, we can be eating each other up by our words, by our thoughts, by the way we speak about each other, by the way we point fingers at each other, and by all sorts of things.

Thus, the Apostle is saying, in effect : “Yes, it is true that we Christians have a great deal of freedom. It is possible, if food is offered to idols, that we could eat it. We give thanks and we ask God’s blessing on this food that has been offered to idols. God takes away anything that is poisonous (spiritually speaking or even literally speaking). He makes it good for us”. People have tried to poison Christians for one reason or another, and God has taken away the deadliness from whatever it was so that when people ate, they remained alive and well. Let us not forget that the Apostle Paul, when he was in Malta on his way to Rome for judgement and eventual death, was bitten by a deadly snake. Nothing at all happened to him ; everyone was waiting for him to swell up and die. Nothing at all happened because of God’s blessing.

We Christians have a great deal of freedom in our way of life. We give thanks for everything, says the Apostle Paul. A Christian’s life, out of love, is supposed to be characterised by giving thanks. The Apostle also says that this freedom has responsibilities. He says that if someone tells you that a particular food has been offered to idols, we have to be careful how we exercise our freedom. If a person is going to say that this food is somehow polluted, it means that that person has certain scruples and may even be afraid. The Apostle says that out of our love and our concern for the weak spots of our brothers and sisters we voluntarily limit our liberty and our freedom. We understand the weakness of our brother or sister. If our brother or sister says that this food has been offered to idols, then, out of concern for that one’s weakness, we do not eat that food.

It is essential that we do not forget to care for our brothers and sisters in the coming Lent. To pay attention very closely to what someone else is eating or not eating is a very common temptation into which Orthodox Christians fall. They may actually condemn their brother or sister for some sort of fault. If we behave like this, how are we different from the Pharisees that were accusing our Saviour all the time ? In fact, how are we different from the Apostle Paul before his conversion ? However, the Apostle Paul subsequently understood the difference very well, and that is why he is speaking to us like this today. He is saying that we have freedom, but the freedom must be exercised with responsibility. Everything must be under-girded with love – the love of Jesus Christ, and the love of Jesus Christ in our brothers and sisters. It is important that we be careful how we live our lives, and that we keep watch over the attitude of our hearts towards each other.

I am going to tell you an anecdote about this. Mother Dorofea, of blessed memory (who used to live in this skete a long time ago), told about her time in Bussy, France, when she was, of course, cooking. Mother Theodosia sent her out to buy groceries. Mother Dorofea went out, bought the groceries and went back to Mother Theodosia, the abbess. She said that she had fulfilled her obedience, but that there was one thing on the list that she had not bought. Mother Theodosia said to her : “Why did you not get it ?” She replied : “I could see that it was not completely lenten”. Mother Theodosia asked : “Well, how did you know ?” Mother Dorofea answered : “I read the label”. She was beginning to think that maybe she had done the wrong thing, so she said : “Mother, do you want me to go back and get it anyway ?” Mother Theodosia said : “Now that you have read the label, we cannot have this thing – but next year, do not read the label”. I think that this anecdote is a practical application of what the Apostle is saying to us today.

When we are hearing from our Saviour the description of the Last Judgement, it is important for us to remember His words about how people are going to respond. People who are going to be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven are people who have fed the hungry, visited the sick, visited those in prison, looked after the needs of everyone else and cared for people. These people will not have been aware that they were doing it for Christ, who says : “‘Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’”. Our whole way of life has to be led by, directed by, fed by, supported by, and kept in the environment of the love of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we are giving money to someone who is asking for it, when we are helping a neighbour who needs help, or visiting someone who is sick in the hospital or otherwise indisposed, when we are visiting someone in prison or we are caring for the needs of others, we are also offering this to Christ. In the same way, Saint John Chrysostom has written that after we have received Holy Communion, the presence of Christ is great in us, and we should, in fact, be making prostrations in front of each other because of Christ. It is not only then, of course. In every situation we, as Christians, have to remember that we who are created in the image of God and who bear His image, should be able to recognise that image in others. When we are living in the love of Jesus Christ, we, ourselves, are showing the likeness of God.

When the people are being sent away into the fire (as it were) that has been prepared, they are answering in effect : “Lord, we never saw You. How did we not look after You when we never saw You ?” That is precisely the point. They never saw Jesus Christ. The icon of the Last Judgement shows Christ at the top, and, coming from His throne there can be a river of fire in red, or a river of fire with also a river of life in blue coming from His throne (it depends upon who wrote the icon). Everything is happening in front of us in this icon. There are the people who are with Christ, and the people who are not with Christ. They are all there. It is important that we understand that the Kingdom of Heaven, and hell are not some sort of places. They are states of being. We also have to remember that there is no place away from God. There is no place anywhere where God is not. David, the Psalmist, says : “Where could I walk away from Your Spirit ? and from Your Face, where could I flee ? If I were to go up into Heaven, You are there ; if I were to go down into Hades, You are present” (Psalm 138:8-9). There is no place in which anyone can get away from God.

What is this lake of fire, and this hell ? They are actually the results of our refusal to see God. The river of fire and the river of life both come from the throne of God Himself. People experience God’s love either as Life or as extreme pain. Why this extreme pain and fire ? It is because sometimes people, in the presence of Christ’s love, still refuse to accept Him. Therefore, in their refusal and rejection, they experience God’s love as fire. However, the fire is still trying to wake them up, and bring them to the refreshing waters of His love.

We cannot hide from God. There is no place to escape from Him because He is everywhere. He is in all things. He is the Creator of everything. Nothing exists without Him. God is everywhere. I read a long time ago the book by C S Lewis called The Great Divorce. It is precisely about this difference between Heaven, and hell. He describes it very well. (Even if he was not Orthodox, he understood it correctly.) His allegorical story vividly describes for us what is the difference between Heaven and hell. Heaven is being in and with Christ, fully alive in Christ. Hell is supposedly being away from Him. However, it is not that anyone could truly be away from Him. It may seem so, but it cannot be. One turns one’s back on the Truth, and it feels like absence, emptiness, burning, and whatever else can be part of this self-deception. Even though we may deny and reject His presence, it is impossible to be apart from God, as the Psalmist says (see Psalm 138). In the Paschal Canon we jubilantly sing : “Now all is filled with light, Heaven and earth and the lower regions”.

The Lord is the Truth. Jesus Christ says : “I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life” (see John 14:6). Everything is in Him. Even if we try to reject Him, we cannot get away from Him. He is still with us. He is Life-giving Love. It is important that we offer our abstinence and our prayers in the course of this Great Lent to the Saviour. Let us ask Him to do this one thing : to increase our love for Him. Let us ask Him to increase our ability to live this love in the way that He shows us.

Let us ask the Lord to increase this love in us. May our lives be more and more like His life. May we become more and more like Him. May people more and more be able to see Him in us, and with us glorify Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Saturday before Great Lent

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Humble, open-hearted, generous Almsgiving
Saturday before Great Lent
28 February, 2009
Romans 14:19-23, 16:25-27 ; Matthew 6:1-13

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

Our Lord speaks to us today about almsgiving precisely because the character of Lent is about almsgiving as much as it is about abstaining from this or that. Almsgiving means that we are supposed to be caring for the needs of other people (especially for the poor) at this particular time of the year. Indeed, this is something that love calls us to be doing throughout the whole year. However, we should be giving alms particularly now to make sure that we have momentum for the rest of the year in caring for the poor and for those who have needs. Our Lord is very clear about how we are supposed to be going about this. He said that we are supposed to be doing this in secret. We are not supposed to be making a big show of it.

According to the Gospel, our almsgiving in Canada is, in fact, upside down. It could be said that we have gotten used to doing things in a perverted way. If we are going to give to the poor in Canada, what happens ? When we meet some person in the street, cap-in-hand, asking for money, we are taught to say : “No”. We are taught not to give money to this person because this person might drink it, or use it on drugs, or otherwise misuse this money. On the other hand, if we have a tax-deductible receipt to be received because we are giving to some charity or other, that is all right – we get a tax reduction ; we get credit. This is precisely what our Lord is saying that we are not supposed to be doing. For the whole of my life as an Orthodox Christian, I have been hearing over and over and over again from one person or another who lives in a traditional Christian manner, that how we are going about things these days does not fit Christ’s way.

Metropolitan Leonty, of blessed memory, is known always to have had money in his pocket specifically for the purpose of giving money to those who were going to ask for it whenever he was walking on his way somewhere. Father Sergei Glagolev tells stories about how Metropolitan Leonty did this. He had a conversation with Metropolitan Leonty which confirmed for Father Sergei Metropolitan Leonty’s determination that this was how God was directing things. Metropolitan Leonty was not alone, because Archbishop Gregory, of blessed memory, and his uncle, the famous choir director, Nicholas Afonsky, behaved in just the same way. The uncle said to his nephew, Archbishop Gregory : “If you are walking about somewhere and someone is asking you for money, it is not your business to ask him questions about this money. If he asks for money, he needs it, so give him whatever you have to give him. You do not ask him questions. If he is going to misuse it, that is his business. It is between him and the Lord”. Just because he is poor and needy, I cannot assume automatically that he is going to misuse it. If I do that, I make myself the judge-and-jury of this person. This is not in character with what the Lord is speaking about today.

This is not in character with what the Apostle Paul is speaking about, either. He is saying to us today that we have to be very careful and sensitive with each other. Christians have liberty and freedom, especially those who somehow are properly understanding the Lord in their heart. Such people have particular freedom. However, there are many who are still bound by fears one way or another, and who are therefore very sensitive. Their faith is not yet mature in some ways. Therefore, if they see a person eating one thing or another (which one should not eat according to the rules), they can become scandalised, as it were, or even weakened. The Apostle Paul is saying that we are supposed to be sensitive to the frailties of our brothers and sisters so that we do not provoke them in their weaknesses. Instead, we should be holding ourselves back in our liberty. Although the Apostle does not say it explicitly, it is understood that we should be praying for and supporting the person who has such a weakness. We should be interceding for this person, and helping this person by encouragement and other means to overcome the fragility, to overcome the weakness, and ultimately to overcome the fear (because all these things do come from fear).

The Orthodox Christian way is, and always has been, a way of being hidden. It is sort of an awkward thing, because in North America, people are always complaining about the Orthodox Faith : “We cannot find it”. “It is hidden”. “You are deliberately hiding it”. The fact is that Orthodox people are not actually deliberately hiding it, and they are not being irresponsible. For those who are trying to find the Orthodox Faith, the problem is that it is difficult for them to understand what they are encountering. When Orthodox people are seriously trying to follow the words of our Saviour which we heard today – they are not trumpetting themselves and advertising themselves. They are living their Christian lives in a practical manner. This is what is important to remember about the Orthodox way. It is not about : “Blah, blah, blah, and let me tell you about everything”. It is more about : “Come, and see”. It is more about : “I love the Saviour, and I am trying to repent of my sins”. “I am trying to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord”. “I am trying to overcome these weaknesses in my life in which I have not been pleasing to the Lord. I am trying to do this by the Lord’s Grace and by the Lord’s help, and not by my own strength”. This is what makes us hidden, and, as one could say, there is not this “in-your-faceness”.

In general, North Americans seem to expect some sort of a selling-job when we share the Gospel. However, I have learned long ago to keep “sellers” at a distance. What people advertise as being such-and-such often is not the case at all. What you see is often not what you get, and then there is a disappointment. I bought a perfectly good-looking suitcase because the other one was broken. On the first use, the new one was broken. The same thing happened to Bishop Benjamin yesterday : on the first use, a beautiful-looking suitcase broke. What we see, what we pay good money for, and what looks good, is not necessarily so. It is important that you and I understand that because of our weaknesses, our fragility (and because we are still bound by fear), we cannot present ourselves as being all that special. Despite our weaknesses, however, we can do our best in Christ to follow in the footsteps of our Saviour, and, with His help, to live in accordance with the Gospel. He will do this work through us. He will bring people to Himself through us. He, through our love and our service, will act. He will bring people to Himself when He knows the right time has come. This is how things have been, and always are going to be in our Church because it is He who is alive in us.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, as we are about to begin Lent, let us do our best to co-operate with the Lord and His love. Let us begin Lent with the understanding that the main point of Lent is that we need our love for the Saviour to be increased more and more. We need to remember that we cannot do anything good except with His help. He will heal whatever is amiss with us more and more as we offer ourselves to the Lord. Caring for each other, let us ask the Lord to be with us in everything at all times. Let us ask Him to help us, support us, and bring us into His Kingdom so that we may 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.

Forgiveness Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Forgiveness is not an Option
Forgiveness Sunday
1 March, 2009
Romans 3:11-14:4 ; Matthew 6:14-21

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

Today, the Lord is emphasising to us the need to forgive. It is true that this is Forgiveness Sunday, and it is natural that we would hear about this subject from Him in the way that we have just heard. However, the Lord speaks to us about forgiveness not just today as we are formally about to enter Great Lent. He is speaking to us about forgiveness all the time. In the context of the Our Father, our Saviour is saying to us : “‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses, then neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’”. We are saying the Our Father every day, many times.

In this prayer, we are saying to the Lord precisely this over and over and over again : “Forgive us our debts or trespasses as we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us” (depending on the translation that is being used). It all means the same, anyway. As much as we forgive those who are sinning against us or who are hurting us, we can expect God to forgive us. However, if we do not forgive, then how can we expect God to forgive us ? The way of the Christian is the way of forgiveness. This is the foundation of the Christian way.

For example, how could some martyrs (and there have been many like this) be thanking their executioners, saying witty things while they were being tortured and burned alive such as : “Turn me over now, I am done on this side”. This is exactly what one martyr did say to his executioner. The people who were being killed were blessing those who were killing them. In this context, I always like to speak about Saint Juvenaly, the Alaskan martyr, because Saint Juvenaly had precisely this experience.

Saint Juvenaly, an early missionary-priest-martyr, was one of those zealous missionaries who were competing with each other (we have this in writing) to go to this or that place to bring Christ to the people. Saint Juvenaly went to western Alaska. We were told in earlier times (by some sort of mistake) that he was killed at Lake Iliamna, in Alaska. This was not the case, in fact. If one talks to the descendants of all the peoples there (in what I like to call Yupikia, the place where the Yupik people live in western Alaska), they say, as is confirmed by Father Michael Oleksa, that he did not die at Lake Iliamna. He died on the west coast of Alaska as he was coming in a boat towards the coast. As he and his reader-helper were approaching in the boat, there was a shaman with a group of people on the coast. From the look of Father Juvenaly, they thought for certain that he was a competing shaman because of the way he was dressed with a gold Cross and chain on his neck. This looked like the insignia of a competing shaman. They tried to prevent Father Juvenaly from landing.

However, Father Juvenaly kept coming towards the shore. The descendants of the people who killed him have told Father Michael Oleksa that their ancestors thought Saint Juvenaly was out of his mind because when they started to shoot arrows at him, it looked to them that he was brushing away the arrows as if they were mosquitoes. This was not the case, of course. As the descendants understood later, he was not brushing away the arrows – he was blessing the people who were killing him. He was making the sign of the Cross on himself and on them as they were killing him. From that death came a flourishing life in the Church in western Alaska. I would go so far as to say that this happened because Saint Juvenaly was forgiving those who were killing him. He was showing the people how to live.

Bishop Benjamin, who has been serving as the Administrator in Alaska, is aware of how the Yupik people and all the other Aboriginal people in Alaska have been very badly mistreated. They have been badly mistreated even by their Orthodox white brothers. He has said a number of times that it is a miracle how these people are still Orthodox Christians after all this. They endured for many, many decades, scarcely seeing a priest until recently. Now, at last, there are getting to be enough priests in Alaska. Even during the many decades with no priest, every Sunday, every feast-day, and any time there was any need, they still gathered in the local Temples which they had built. As much as people have mistreated them, they, who have come to know Christ, have been unshakeably faithful to Christ. It was not just externalism that made them Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Faith was and is their way of life. Moreover, they have remained faithful because of their combined, mutual love for Jesus Christ, and their knowing how to live in forgiveness on the foundation which was laid by the death of Saint Juvenaly.

Most of the things that trouble us, that eat us up, that cause us pain are directly connected with whether or not we are ready and willing to forgive. Forgiveness, for the Orthodox Christian, is not simply one of those occasional things. It is not an option. It is a fundamental. It is the foundation of our way of life. It is the foundation of our life in Christ. We must be living in forgiveness with each other every day of our lives, and every minute of our lives. If we do not forgive, and we are holding grudges and nursing bitterness towards someone else, this anger, this non-forgiveness becomes an idol for us. It becomes something between myself and the Lord.

Anything between myself and the Lord, that takes the place of the Lord, is an idol. Thus, if my anger towards someone is so precious that I hold on to it and nurse it, despite the words of our Lord, despite the example of our Lord who forgave His executioners from the Cross, it has taken the place of God in my heart and in my life. It is serious business not to forgive. If I will not forgive, then I have become an idol-worshipper without knowing it.

Today, it is important that we are formally forgiving each other. It is essential that we forgive each other everything even if we do not know each other, because the way of the Christian is to live in forgiveness with everyone always and everywhere. It does not matter if I do not know everyone before whom I am going to make a bow or a prostration, because I have to live in forgiveness with everyone. I, myself, have to ask forgiveness of everyone else even if they do not know me, because when I fall, when I sin, it affects everyone else. It affects not only everyone else, it affects the whole of creation. For good or for bad, how I live affects everyone and everything everywhere. We are not all little, separated islands or “individuals” (as we, in North America, like to say). For the Orthodox Christian, there is no such thing as an individual. An individual has no connexion with anyone or anything else. By definition, the individual is not a person but a thing, by itself. In the mentality of the individual, we actually treat each other as things, not persons. Human beings are not like that, and cannot be like that. Even a hermit in a cave who never sees anyone for years is not an individual. We are all persons who have a relationship with other persons, and with the whole of creation. So, this hermit-person, sitting in his or her cave for who knows how long, has a relationship in the heart with the whole Church, with the whole of humanity, with the whole of creation. Those prayers and the worship offered by the hermit in that cave (wherever it may be) affect everyone and everything everywhere. People who are living lives like this tell me that they do not need to be told what is going on in the world because they can feel it anyway.

We need to forgive each other. We need to be asking each other’s forgiveness (and not only today). It truly is the Orthodox way to be asking forgiveness one of another all the time. Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us get serious about this forgiving. Let us ask the Lord to renew our hearts so that we will be both able and willing to forgive (starting now, right here, this minute) everyone around us. Let us ask the Lord to help us to forgive those whom we will encounter soon in “official forgiveness”, and then to be able to live our lives in perpetual forgiveness from the heart.

Let us ask the Lord to enable this forgiveness to flow freely in our hearts starting right now. Let us ask Him that this forgiveness may have fulfilment when we approach His Table. When He is giving us Himself in His Body and Blood, may this forgiveness multiply His presence in us. It is by living in forgiveness that we will truly be able to live in love, and to demonstrate Christ in our lives. May the Lord give us the Grace to glorify Him always, everywhere, and in all things : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Observing the holy Sabbath Day

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Observing the holy Sabbath Day
Saturday in the First Week in Great Lent
7 March, 2009
Hebrews 1:1-12 ; Mark 2:23-3:5

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

Today, we are hearing the Apostle speak very, very clearly about the difference between the angels and the Son of God. He is making it very clear that there is a difference, and that the Son of God is of a different order. He is not created, whereas the angels are created. They have a particular purpose which is very different from the Son of God’s work in Creation. In other words, the Son of God Himself is the Agent of Creation. He is the Speaker of things into being at the will of God the Father. Angels are part of that creation. They are doers of the will of God, yes, but they are not God. There is a difference in the order of creation. The Son of God is not a creature, but the Creator.

It is essential that we remember this. As the old saying goes : “It is important that we read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest these words”. In our day, there are many people who are trying to think up and dream up, somehow, a cheap substitute for Who is Jesus Christ. Amongst these substitutes, we often find the idea that He might be an angel. If we hear these sorts of theories floating around, it is very important to remember the words of the Apostle to the Hebrews today. He puts his finger right on what is the matter with us all the time. As human beings, our over-riding tendency is to substitute the creature for the Creator. We have habitually done it, and I am afraid that we are going to keep doing it because of our inability to learn. The Apostle Paul helps us when he makes such a clear distinction between the Creator and the created. He gives us a whole list of Old Testament references to help us understand how it has always been so from the beginning.

Our Saviour Himself is underlining this in the Gospel reading today, as we walk with Him in the grain-fields. He gets criticised for taking grain in His hands and eating on the Sabbath Day. With His disciples, He is doing that which, according to the strict rule of Judaism, is work. Our Lord reminds them that when King David was hungry, he did precisely the same thing and even much more. King David seemingly disobeyed the Law. With the people who were accompanying him, he went into the house of God (the tabernacle in those days), and ate the showbread which only the priests were allowed to eat, because it had been offered to God. David, the King, is a prophet, but not by any means a person to be compared with the Person who is walking in the grain-fields together with His disciples.

The Sabbath Day of resting was made for human beings. Our Saviour says : ”‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’” . Once again we have an example of how we are constantly turning things about. The Lord gives us a day of rest, and we turn it into an absolute slave-master, and make it compulsory. In some respects, we drive people to despair because of the rules that get associated with the observance of the Sabbath Day. I remember hearing stories from my ancestors who were brought up in a very strict manner. On Sunday (in the mentality of some Christians, the Sabbath Day is transferred to the Lord’s Day), except for going to church, people were allowed to do nothing. All the cooking was done on the Saturday before. Nothing was cooked on Sunday ; no work was done, and the children could not do anything on Sunday except read the Bible. They could not read regular books. The shades were drawn ; everything was dark and sombre on the Lord’s Day. My ancestors remembered, and commented frequently on how they felt oppressed by these rules. Because of these rules, they did not feel inclined to be in the Temple of the Lord. They would not have regarded the place of assembly as the Temple, anyway. They certainly did feel that participating in these assemblies in which they felt condemned, was oppressive. The rules were oppressive and pushing them down. This is an example in the olden days in my family of how people forgot the right order of things.

My ancestors were not right in transferring the Sabbath to Sunday because we never did give up the Sabbath. Saturday is, and always has been, the Sabbath. It is the seventh day, the last day of the week. It is still a day of rest. In Great Lent, we relax the fasting on Saturday and on Sunday. The Sabbath Day is still respected. It is a day on which we can offer the Divine Liturgy to the Lord during the Lenten period. Just as on Sunday, we can have wine and oil to refresh us. Then we return to the sharper abstinence, if we are able to do this. Saturday is still the Sabbath Day. Sunday is the Day of the Resurrection. They are two different things. Sunday is both the First Day and the Eighth Day. It is the day of the Creation, but it is also the Day of the Kingdom, the Eighth Day. It could be said that Sunday is “a different-kettle-of-fish”. It is not the Sabbath. Saturday is still the Sabbath.

If we are going to rest, we are going to rest in a positive way, and not because an axe is going to fall on our heads if we do not rest. In the coming days, we are going to offer our abstinence to the Lord as a positive offering, and not as something that we must do or our heads are going to come off. These things must be offered to the Lord in the right way.

When the Lord in the synagogue (immediately after walking through the grain-fields on the Sabbath Day) looks at a man with a withered hand, He sees a man in dire need. (A man with a withered hand was severely limited in his ability to gain a living. There was no such thing as welfare in those days.) The people who were the rule-keepers and rule-enforcers in the synagogue were watching the Lord, as we have seen, and they were waiting to see what He would do. If He healed anyone on the Sabbath, that meant that He was doing work publicly on the Sabbath, and they could accuse Him according to the Law. They were just waiting to catch Him. The Lord says to them : “‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’” They would not answer, because they had hard hearts. The Lord then says to the man : “‘Stretch out your hand’”. The man’s hand was healed.

The Lord is the Lord of the Sabbath. We, in the Lord, are lords of the Sabbath, too. The Sabbath is there to be observed. It is there as an opportunity to rest. We should rest because God rested. (Not that I do rest. I should be resting on one day of the week, and taking a Sabbath in one form or another. That is for me to answer to the Lord as to why I did not follow His example and direction, and rest.) The Lord does not give us the Sabbath as an oppressor. He gives the Sabbath to us as an opportunity. It is an occasion in which we can renew ourselves. Therefore, let us ask the Lord to renew our hearts, and re-focus our hearts so that we can make an improvement in our lives. Let us learn how to make the offering in love and loving obedience to the Lord in such a way that the Sabbath can be properly observed. In this way we will be able to mature in the right understanding as Orthodox Christians.

Let us glorify the Lord, and ask Him to increase the correct focus in our lives. Let us ask Him to help us to offer our obedience to Him more lovingly, to enable us to become more like Him in every way, especially in love, and glorify the all-holy Trinity : the unoriginate Father, the Son, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Church
Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers
8 March, 2009

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

In these words [John 15:1-10 had been read], our Saviour is telling us how we should be living our Christian lives. He says that we have to be conscious that we can do nothing without Him. However, in Him we can do everything. In fact, in the Lord we can do what human beings will consider very often to be impossible. It is important for us to remember that our life is in Him. We, like the branches of a vine, are part of Him. He says that He is the vine, and we are the branches.

This evening, on an occasion like this, it is always a great joy for us to be able to be together, to sing together, to worship the Lord together. With joy we see how much variety there is in the Lord’s work in His Kingdom. We see how He reaches out, and how He embraces everyone and everything, everywhere, at all times. He, who has spoken everything into being, is also uniting everything to Himself. He gives life and purpose to all things. His desire is to give everyone and everything life eternal with Him in His Kingdom.

The “downside” of our being together as we are this evening (and there is one) is what we all keep talking about – the fact that even though we all possess one Orthodox Faith, and our belief and our worship are the same, and even though our joy is great in being together, our joy is limited. This is because, in fact, in North America we are still very far from living the Orthodox life, day by day, in the way that the Lord has called us to live it. This experience that we have now is a once-a-year sort of experience. With the joy, there is sadness precisely because we are not completely one. The Lord, who calls all to unity, and who is Himself the expression of unity, is embodied in the Orthodox Church. If we, the Orthodox Church (especially in a city like this one), are going to demonstrate with any strength the truth of Jesus Christ, sooner or later we have to come to the point of being all together the one visible expression of the Orthodox Church – not divided up with six or seven bishops in the same city.

This is the “downside” that I am talking about. It is a painful part of our life, but it is not at all hopeless. It is a reality which we have to be prepared to face and embrace in prayer. It is high time that we, the faithful of the Orthodox Church in Canada, start praying and fasting seriously, and offering to the Lord our intercession for His Church here in Canada, so that the necessary unity can be achieved. As long as we are divided as we are, and as long as we are not one visibly united Orthodox Church, which looks after everyone in this country, we are, in fact, betraying Christ.

For the Orthodox Church to be herself and to reveal Christ, who is One, we have to be one. In Canada, everything about the Orthodox Church – not only the iconostas, not only the Divine Liturgy – but the whole structure of the Orthodox Church must sooner or later reveal the oneness of Christ. There is nothing invisible about the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church must be visible. It always has been. In our ancestral countries, the Orthodox Church is one, and it must be one here, also. When that time comes, it must be one Church that embraces everyone, and that allows all to bear fruit according to their kind. It must be an Orthodox Church in Canada which nurtures Greeks, Serbs, Romanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Russians, Ukrainians – everyone. It must enable everyone to flourish together sort of in the way that we are offering our worship to the Lord here, together, this evening. Our Lord said to us just now in the Gospel that if we ask Him in the right way, knowing what is His will, we can, in Him and with Him bring about what is His will. It cannot be the Lord’s will that the Orthodox Church in Canada continue to exist indefinitely as something looking like a Protestant grouping. People outside look at us and think of us as a group of different-language-speaking Protestants. We cannot continue to appear in that way. The Lord put us here in this country to be yeast and salt. He put us here to do something for this country : to bring the Truth of Jesus Christ to this country. We, Orthodox Christians, are the only ones who can do it.

Brothers and sisters, our challenge is to take hold of this joy in Christ that we have in being together, to offer this joy to the Lord, and to ask Him to help us not only to understand what is His will, but to have the guts to implement His will. He will show us what we must do in order to come together in due course in His time as one Orthodox Church in Canada. This must be our prayer-project for all of us together. It cannot happen simply because the bishops would like it to happen (and we would). However, we, the bishops, cannot do it. It has to be on the foundation of your prayers. I think that when you pray, and the Lord reveals the time and the way in which this will occur, the bishops will be ready to do whatever has to be done.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord enable us by all your prayers to be a visible, concrete, tangible witness of the love of Jesus Christ. He, Himself, put flesh on the love of God ; He reveals Himself to us as love, and saves us. May He, our Saviour, give us the heart to be obedient in prayer and in action, so that in everything we will be able to do precisely what the first missionary to North America exhorts us to do. Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker to Alaska says to us all the time : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. Therefore, let us glorify with him and with all the saints, the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

2nd Sunday in Great Lent : We bring one another before our Saviour

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We bring one another before our Saviour
2nd Sunday in Great Lent
[Given outside of the Archdiocese]
15 March, 2009
Hebrews 1:10-2:3 ; Mark 2:1-12

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

We live in difficult times. It is not that it is worse than it ever was, but it seems like it is to us. It is good that the Lord comes to us regularly, reminding us about Who He is – Who He is in general, and Who He is to us in particular. He is not some sort of distant idea. He is not a manufactured product of our thoughts. He is not a projection of ourselves. He is the One who created everything, sustains everything, and is involved in everything. He knows everything, and does everything on the foundation of love. He is not someone who has wound up the universe, lets it sit on a shelf to tick away until it finishes its course, and that is that (big bangs, and other assorted theories included). He is involved in everything that has been happening and will be happening in His creation from the very beginning until the very end. This is, again, because of His love.

In the Gospel reading today, we are with the Lord in His love in this house where He is surrounded by so many people that I am sure that He Himself had difficulty moving. The persons who are bringing this paralysed man could not get in. I have always marvelled at the persistence of these four men who cared enough for the paralysed man to open the roof, and let him down into the middle of the house so that the Saviour could address him directly. In other words, they opened the roof and put him down straight in front of the Saviour, between the Saviour and all the people. When I was a child, I could not imagine how this could happen. However, since then I have learned a little bit more about Middle-eastern and ancient construction techniques, so it is not quite as amazing as it was when I first heard this at the age of five. Nevertheless, how our Lord addresses the man is always amazing. Just as He always does, our Lord immediately addresses the person who is in need. He understands everything right away, and even understands the cynical thoughts of the Pharisees sitting around there criticising Him. He addresses this man and says to him : “‘Arise, take up your bed [stretcher], and go to your house’”. And he does. He gets up, takes his stretcher away with him, and goes home.

This man who was released from his paralysis certainly was grateful, although there is no sign that he said anything today. Nevertheless, he has to have been grateful. Our lives do indeed have to be lived in an attitude of gratitude – gratitude towards the Lord for His love, His care for us, His nearness to us, His presence with us, His saving us. There is much more to life than meets the eye.

In the context of the short time that I lived in New Valamo in Finland, I want to share my experience of how the Lord works with us. People tend to think of New Valamo as being merely a new monastery sitting there in the middle of Finland. This is especially the case now, in the 21st century where everything is quite new, and there are not many people from former days around. This tendency is not helped by the monastery’s name of New Valamo. However, in 1940 in central Finland, this monastery was populated by about 250 monks who had recently been exiled from the island of Valaam in Lake Ladoga. Because of the big war between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1940, they all left the holy island of Valaam and went to live in New Valamo Monastery in very cramped quarters. They had a very difficult time.

The first time I went to New Valamo (in 1980), the first lesson I learned was the importance of stability of place. By 1940, the monks at Valaam Monastery had decreased from 1,000 to 250 because the Soviet Union had closed its borders from 1918. Far fewer persons were able to enter the monastery than there had been before. Previously, people had come from all over the Russian empire to enter this monastery. Therefore, entrance was limited to people of the Finnish territory or those who lived in Estonia or Latvia or one of the Baltic states.

When those monks were exiled from Lake Ladoga to central Finland in 1940, they suffered a terrible shock. They had left the island where the brotherhood had been established for close to 1,000 years. Even though the monastery itself had been previously destroyed several times, it had been always been revived by the brotherhood (even as it has been again revived after 1989). Nevertheless, the brotherhood suffered a great deal in its exile in Finland west of the new 1940 border. They also suffered from living too closely together because they were squeezed, all 250 of them, into the still existing small buildings that used to be something like barns on what had been a rich man’s manor in central Finland. When people live that close together (as you are certainly aware), they can catch every illness that is going around. Of course, people came, and they imported all sorts of viruses, and so forth. Many of these men were rather old by the time they had arrived there. Therefore, there were many deaths after 1940.

The monks, also, were suffering in their hearts because they did not know what to do. They were in exile, and just as other exiles, they were suffering a great deal of interior pain. Stability of place plays a big factor here, spiritually speaking. When any of us moves from place to place, it is destabilising, and it causes disturbances. It is a well-known old principle that if anyone might try to escape the devil in one place and move to another place, not only does that one come with the person, but new demons present themselves also. It may be said that that happened when they moved to central Finland. They went from a generally Orthodox environment to an extremely hostile Lutheran environment in an area of Finland where they would still in those days burn down an Orthodox church from time to time in a certain sort of evangelical zeal. It was not at all friendly territory. It was a very difficult place in which to live. In this context, you can read the works of Igumen John of Valamo and others.

I want to speak about two particular personalities that I met – the remnants of the old monks. These two men taught me by their example (I could not talk to them because I did not speak any Russian in those days). They did not speak Finnish (and neither did I), and certainly they did not speak English or French. Therefore, we could only communicate in the heart. I could see their example, and hear the other young people in the monastery speaking about what they knew about these men. The first thing I learned while I was there during that short time was that the prayers of all the fathers who had gone before in this monastery were still supporting the community that was there then. Their intercessions continue to uphold the community to this day. I cannot explain it, but I could sense strongly in my heart that that is very truly the case. The practicalities show that this is the truth. The fathers of this monastery, although long departed, still carry the current brotherhood, just as the paralytic was carried by the four men. In the same way, the fathers also bring the current brothers before the Saviour.

My story is about two old monks. One was Father Akaky. Father Akaky was just a regular monk. I do not think he was even a reader. At the time of the Russian revolution, he ran away from central Russia somewhere. He rode a horse as far as the horse would carry him before it died. He walked the rest of the way, all the way to the Arctic coast to the Monastery of Pechenga. This was not a small undertaking. He lived in this monastery until 1940, when the borders shifted, and again he had to move. He moved south, and joined the brotherhood of Valamo in central Finland, serving in the monastery as a groom of horses. He cared for all the horses that were used to work the monastery farm. When he was 95, the brotherhood stopped farming with horses. There were too few monks anyway, and by then there were tractors available. When they stopped using horses, that meant that Father Akaky was retired. Then he felt useless, and did not talk to anyone for three years. Perhaps there was anger there, too. After three years, he began to talk to people again. When I encountered him, he was 107. He was saying that God had forgotten him. At the same time, he got a notice from the Finnish school system saying that it was time for him to enter grade one because he was seven according to their records. However, he did not go to school, but every day he was brought by the brotherhood to church in his wheelchair. He could walk, but not a long way. He was all bent over with age.

Father Akaky was a very interesting man. The young novices who lived in the rooms above him said that they could still set their watch by him because every night at midnight they could hear him start to sing “O heavenly King” as he began the midnight office. At that time, he was 107 years old, and he lived to be 111. As far as I know, he kept going to church right up until the end in the same way, brought by his brothers in a wheelchair.

The other person I want to speak about is Archimandrite Simforian. For most of his monastic life, Archimandrite Simforian was a regular sort of monk. He was kellenik to a long series of abbots, even before they left the old monastery in Lake Ladoga. When they left the monastery, through God’s mercy, they had time to clean out the whole place, and move it to central Finland. The Communists did not get a chance to break up much. However, there was one very big bell that they simply could not manage to transport. They left in wintertime and they drove across the ice. As all the monks were leaving for the last time, Father Simforian went into the bell-tower and rang this giant bell. (I can imagine how heart-rending that whole experience would have been.) He went with the whole brotherhood to New Valamo where he lived and served in the same capacity for a long time.

However, as the brotherhood was diminishing, the needs were increasing. So the brotherhood sought his ordination to the diaconate and to the priesthood in due course. As the brotherhood continued to diminish, Archimandrite Simforian ended up being the abbot, the last of the old abbots of this monastery. Because of the illness and weakness of the remaining brothers, he served the whole typikon every day for 25 years without stopping. He served eight hours worth of services, and sometimes more every day. According to the old typikon, it was the custom in the evening to recite 500 Jesus Prayers within Compline. Therefore, it took a little longer than usual. This addition occurred long before because on the islands there was so much hard farm labour to be done that many of the brethren could only participate in this service of Compline every day.

Archimandrite Simforian did this all those years faithfully out of love for the Lord, and it bore a great deal of fruit in his life. He became very much a source of consolation to people. I remember that when I was there, the former Metropolitan of Tallinn (who later became Patriarch Aleksy of Moscow) came to the monastery to visit Father Simforian. Patriarch Aleksy had gone as a child to the old monastery in Lake Ladoga, and he knew Archimandrite Simforian and the brothers. He still snuck into Finland from time to time when he could, to visit the monastery.

Archimandrite Simforian lived and prayed in his cell very faithfully and quietly just as a regular, God-loving monk. During the time when I was serving in the monastery, I was serving almost every day. I had to serve about 80 per-cent of the services in the course of the time that I was there because the brotherhood was small, and the other priests had other responsibilities that they had to take care of. Even then, over the course of the summer, that monastery was receiving 100,000 tourists who would arrive on buses. That was one of the reasons I was brought there to serve.

While I was serving, Archimandrite Simforian, who was 88 at the time, would come into the church in the middle of Matins. I could hear him coming in by the sound of his loose slippers (because his feet were in rather bad condition by that time). I could also hear the feet of people running to him to ask for his blessing. Coming into the Altar, he would stand at my right hand beside the Altar during the whole Divine Liturgy. Every day he came up to the Holy Table for Communion, and every day he came with tears in his eyes. Always there was such a sense of peace and joy surrounding this man. That is why I say there was great fruit from his labours and his prayers. He was full of peace, and he was full of joy. This is the characteristic of the Christian, and this is the whole point of being a monk – to be filled with Christ and His love, and to share somehow, as God blesses it to be shared, but at least to share it with the Lord.

When I was there, Archimandrite Simforian showed his mettle. At Christmas-time, they had the custom of wearing vestments that had been given to the monastery by the Empress Catherine the Great. Each phelonian weighs 25 kilograms. He was a little man, who, when he was 88, came up to my shoulders. However, he was a strong man. After the New Year, he had a stroke. It was rather severe, so they took him to the hospital. He was suffering a great deal. While he was lying there, we discovered that there was one thing that helped him. (This was an example of the four men carrying the paralytic.) We found out that if we could say the Jesus Prayer in Slavonic audibly for him, he calmed down. Then the whole brotherhood took turns sitting beside him and saying the Jesus Prayer in Slavonic audibly so that he would be able to keep his heart focussed. He was a spiritual warrior. The brotherhood helped him to continue praying for some time until he reposed. He reposed in the middle of the winter. I was serving the Divine Liturgy as usual when, in the middle of the Trisagion, they brought him into the Temple in his coffin. We stopped everything, went and dressed him (he was still warm) in his mantya and klobuk. We prepared him in the middle of the nave, and finished the Divine Liturgy as we normally would.

I could not resist sharing these little elements from Valamo with you not only because this monastery has some sort of spiritual connexion with Valaam, but also with the hope that this will help you to persevere, yourselves. This perseverance is not based only on one’s personal determination, but by asking the Lord for help all the time, and looking for the support and prayers of our brothers who are alive in the flesh as well as those who have fallen asleep. Those who have gone to the Lord, in their love for the Saviour, still love us and pray for us.

Dear brothers and sisters in our Saviour, let us do the best we can to persevere in love, and allow the Lord’s joy and peace to grow in our lives, knowing that the Lord is with us, just as He was with those Valaam monks and others. He cares for us. He will support us. It is important for us always to hold on to Him, and to 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.

Let us turn about and follow our Saviour

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us turn about and follow our Saviour
(Soul Saturday)
2nd Saturday in Great Lent
21 March, 2009
Hebrews 10:32-38 ; Mark 2:14-17

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

These words that our Saviour is saying to us this morning in the presence of those Pharisees who are criticising Him are very important for us all to be remembering always. This has always been the case, but in our day, in particular, there is a tendency to expect that people who go to church, who are amongst the believers, who say that they are Christians, are somehow supposed to be perfect. That is precisely one of the reasons why our Saviour is being criticised by the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the ones who were the keepers of the Law, and who were making sure that everything was being done correctly. Our Saviour is sitting with publicans, tax collectors (traitors to the people of Israel), and other sorts of sinful persons. The Pharisees ask, in effect : “How can someone who is a teacher of the people, a supposed leader of the people be associating with scum such as the people He is sitting with at dinner today ? How can He be sitting with such people who have even become His followers and disciples ? How can this be ?” These particular Pharisees do not allow for the possibility of repentance.

What do we see at the very beginning of this encounter with our Lord today ? We see Him coming to Levi (who is actually Matthew), sitting at the customs office where he is a tax collector. What happens ? Our Lord says to him : “‘Follow Me’”. Immediately Levi gets up, leaves everything behind and follows the Saviour. He immediately responds to the Lord. In other words, this man repents. He turns away from his unrighteous way of life of greedy gain (as was the way of tax collectors in those days). He turns away from it all and follows the Saviour.

This is the whole point of everything when it comes to life in Christ. The Church (and any congregation of faithful Christians) is not the society of the perfect. It is the society of those who are sick, who are wanting to be well, who are turning to the Lord. They are trying to be faithful and to follow our Saviour as Levi did just now. This way of repentance is the whole point of the Christian life : hearing the voice of the Lord saying to us : “‘Follow Me’”, and following Him as Levi has done today, and as the many other persons have done that we have encountered in the past weeks. These are people (like Zacchæus) who are living lives focussed on themselves, but who, nevertheless, hear our Lord calling to them : “‘Follow Me’”, and they do follow.

May the Lord help us to continue to hear His voice, and to continue to have the desire in our hearts to turn away from our own selfishness and darkness. May we follow the Saviour, and may we find in Him healing, strength and life. In following Him, may we glorify Him in eternity, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Veneration of the Holy Cross in Great Lent

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Cross is the Sign of Salvation and Life
Veneration of the Holy Cross
3rd Sunday in Great Lent
22 March, 2009
Hebrews 4:14-5:6 ; Mark 8:34-9:1

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

The Lord, in His mercy, places the Cross before our eyes in the middle of Great Lent. He does this in order to help us remember who we are, Whom we are following, and where we are going. We have now passed through several weeks of Great Lent, and we may be finding it difficult to persevere. Perhaps we find that it is difficult to give alms to those in need. Nevertheless, this giving of help to the poor is one of the first directions of the Lord for our life. It is an expression of His love. If we love Jesus Christ, we will help people who need help. However, the Tempter likes to make us think that this is difficult. His main work is to discourage us and to help us to forget. He makes our vision blurry, and he also puts false visions in front of our eyes.

Perhaps we are having difficulty with fasting in Great Lent because we are determined to do this fasting by ourselves, with our own strength. Maybe we are determined to fast strictly because that is what the law says. If we are approaching fasting with this attitude, we will definitely have difficulty because we are then treating fasting as some sort of martial art. Perhaps I am treating fasting in the same way in which the Chinese actor, Jet Lee, does, so that because of his physical strength he can be leaping about from place to place, doing things that usually would seem to be impossible. These ways of doing things are all about “me”. When I am fasting because I want to show how well I can do, and how well I can obey the law, it is all about “me”.

When we are passing through the fasting period, we are supposed to be offering our abstinence and our fasting to the Lord out of love. If I am making that sort of offering to the Lord, with my heart open in the same way that you see my hand is open before you, then it is He who is enabling me to make this offering of love. In co-operation with Him, He helps me to fulfil this offering. The Lord knows that ever since the time of the Fall, we human beings have been enslaved by fear. He does not come to make us more afraid. He does not come to increase our enslavement to fear. He comes to set us free from all this. He wants to help us grow in love.

The Lord places the Cross before our eyes today and during the coming week to give us encouragement for the rest of Great Lent and to give us encouragement for the rest of our life. Our Saviour is voluntarily crucified on this Cross. He says to us today that : “‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me’”. Our Lord shows us that His way is truly the way of love. However, if we are truly going to love as He does, in Him, our love will inevitably be accompanied by suffering in this world. As the Apostle John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel : The darkness is trying to overcome the light, but the darkness cannot overcome the light (see John 1:5). In the same way, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, nailed to this Cross before our eyes, is not overcome by death. Instead, through the Cross, the Lord overcomes death. Thus this Cross, which was once the sign of the most horrible torture and death, is now the sign for us of salvation and life. This sign of the Cross, for you and for me, is the sign of how love works in our lives and overcomes all difficulties.

It is the Orthodox Christian paradox that this sign of death, the sign of the Cross, is at the same time the source of our joy. We sing at Pascha : “Through the Cross, joy has come into all the world”. Today, the Lord is saying to you and to me that He is with us, and that He will be with us always. Our Saviour will support us in everything. Let us ask our Saviour to renew our confidence in Him this morning. Let us ask Him to help us to remember that loving Him, living in love in Him is the first thing in our lives. Let us take His hand which is always stretched out to us, waiting for us, and let us let Him lift us up. Let us stand with love and joy in His presence. Let us 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.

Feast of the Annunciation to the Mother of God

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
May we respond instantly to do the Lord’s Will
Feast of the Annunciation to the Mother of God
25 March, 2009
Hebrews 2:11-18 ; Luke 1:24-38

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

Very often I get asked about this particular Divine Liturgy : “Why are we celebrating it on the twenty-fifth itself, and not last evening ?” Last evening, all the texts in Great Vespers and Matins were about this feast-day. This evening, we are already hearing about tomorrow, which is the feast-day of the Archangel Gabriel. The reason it is like this, of course, is because once the sun is setting, according to the Orthodox and ancestral Jewish way of doing things, we are starting the next day. Once we come to the “Lord, I call” we are already preparing for the next day. The question is certainly legitimate, but it is not as simple as that. Yesterday, all the texts were about today.

Where are we ? We are in the middle of Great Lent. The Feast of the Annunciation never happens except in Great Lent. What, then, does this mean ? During the week-days in Great Lent (it does not matter office we are serving, whether it is the regular Wednesday or Friday Presanctified Liturgy, or any feast-day services), we are not celebrating anything until the evening. This is because during the day-time on Lenten week-days, we are keeping a fast. If we were in a monastery and being strict (not bending the rules one way or the other), we would not be eating anything until the sun sets. Therefore, we cannot celebrate the Presanctified Liturgy until the sun sets, and we cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy on a feast-day like this until the sun sets. However, this is where we have these confusions. Yes, liturgically, March 26 has already started, and the feast-day of the Archangel Gabriel is beginning. However, we are receiving Holy Communion for today. We have fasted all day on March 25 on this feast-day, in order to receive Holy Communion on this Feast of the Annunciation to the Mother of God.

This may not make any sense to you even yet, but this is how the Orthodox Church always approaches things. Two things are overlapping at the same time on more than one occasion during our year, and this is one of those occasions. Liturgically, the new day begins at the time of sunset, but when it comes to fasting, fasting only starts when you get up in the morning. It finishes at the end of the day. That is why we are doing it like this.

On this day we are celebrating the Annunciation to the Mother of God. Nothing on this feast-day and nothing about this Event is accidental. Everything has been prepared. This is not simply some sort of out-of-the-blue event in which we are participating. We have just participated in the announcing by the Archangel Gabriel to the Mother of God that she would conceive and bear a Child. Yet, she was only betrothed to Joseph. She was not yet married to Joseph. She had been correct about everything. In other words, she was a virgin, and remained a virgin, and her question to the Archangel Gabriel is absolutely necessary. If this is going to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit, how is it going to be ? What does all this mean ?

“‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you’”. This is how the Archangel Gabriel explained it. In fact, he said words that Our Saviour Himself will say : “‘With God nothing will be impossible’”. This Conception of the Son of God today is definitely exceptional, but with God everything is possible. The Lord is doing this today in order to show you and me the depth of His love and how He is preparing everything. Today, the Angel says to the Mother of God : “‘You shall call His name Jesus’”. This is not just any old name, because this Name carries with it the meaning of “Saviour”. A person who knows Hebrew would understand the meaning behind this name “Saviour”. When we are speaking about our Saviour, we tend to speak about Him as though the second title, “Christ”, were His family name, or something. We speak about Him as Jesus Christ and we probably seldom think about what are the implications of these words. This is understandable, because most of us do not know too much Greek. However, it is still important for us to understand.

When we are saying Jesus Christ, we should not be saying this as if it were two names. We should, correctly, be saying : “Jesus, the Christ”. The Christ means “the Anointed One”. Jesus, our Saviour, is the ultimate Anointed One. There were anointed ones before Him, such as David, the King and Prophet. In other words, there were christs before, but Jesus is The Christ. He is the ultimate Christ. He is the Anointed One, which is the English meaning of the Greek word Khristos, Christ. The Greek word Khristos is itself a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. Jesus is the Promised One. He is the One who is going to save the world and establish God’s rule permanently. It is He who is overcoming evil. It is He who is overcoming death. He is the One who is sent, who is anointed, who is appointed, who is prepared. Underlining all these things is the fact that His cousin was conceived six months previous to this day, as we are told by the Evangelist Luke. Saint John the Forerunner was conceived under wonderful circumstances also, to parents who were barren, old, and who ordinarily could conceive a child (and yet, they did).

The Lord was preparing, and is preparing. These things that are happening are not accidental, and they are not obscure. Every Event that is happening is significant, and needs to be understood in accordance with the Lord’s love and His presence with us. That is one of the reasons why the Mother of God, who had been living her life as one of perpetual preparation to do God’s will, is able to say at the end of this encounter with the Archangel Gabriel : “‘Behold the maid-servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’”. The Archangel says that even though it is very strange, with God it is possible that this can be. The Mother of God instantly accepts. She accepts the words of the Archangel, and the obvious will of God in the same way which the first Eve did before the Fall. The Mother of God is called the Second Eve because the first Eve before the Fall always, instantly, and without even having to stop to think about it, said “Yes” to the Lord. (After the Fall, she started to ask too many questions, and became all confused.) The Mother of God puts everything back in order today by immediately saying “Yes” as the Second Eve.

It is important for you and for me to take heart and example from this Event that we are participating in now. Just as the Mother of God is saying “Yes” instantly to God’s will out of love, without having first to think about it, so should and can you and I, in Christ, by the support and prayers of the Mother of God. You and I can come to that point in our lives, also. Before we die, you and I can come to the point where we can say “Yes”, instantly, to God’s will expressed to us. Through the intercessions, support and example of the Mother of God, and by the Grace of the Holy Spirit that is overshadowing her now, we, also, can do it. To prove it, there have been many saints in the past 2,000 years who have come to that. There are actually very many whom we do not even know. God, in His mercy, does not tell or show us everything because we would get “too big for our britches” too fast.

The Lord loves us. He is with us. He is showing us His true, immediate, tender love for us all in this Event that we have just witnessed. Let us ask the Lord to enable us to respond to Him and to His will with love, and to shine with His love, as the Mother of the God does. Let us ask Him to enable us to become strong, powerful, mighty intercessors, as the Mother of God is for us and with us. As she does, so may we also do in everything, glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Soul Saturday in Great Lent

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We are there with the Lord, now
(Soul Saturday)
Saturday of the 3rd Week in Great Lent
28 March, 2009
Hebrews 6:9-12 ; Mark 7:31-37

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

Liturgically speaking, our mentality has to be that we are with the Lord “today”. Being with the Lord, we are hearing Him speak, and we are witnesses of the healing that has just taken place. Therefore, today, now, this deaf man with a speech impediment is being brought to the Lord and they are beseeching Him to do something for this man. Our Lord is before us now saying : “‘Ephphatha'”, and healing this man. We are amongst those who are saying : “He has done all things well”. We are amongst those who, as a result of this, are proclaiming the wonders that the Lord is doing.

There is much that is apparently calcified about the way we live our lives nowadays, in North America especially. Popularly, such things as this healing tend to be automatically put into the past tense. Orthodox people, however, have never had the understanding that these things are in the past tense, but always “now”. Especially is this so when we are standing here in the Temple of the Lord and singing the praises of the Lord. The Lord is not a “has-been” that was once upon a time. The Lord IS. He is here with us, NOW. We are in His presence. When we are hearing the Holy Gospel, we are in His presence. Today, as the Lord is preparing to heal this man, He is showing His compassion for us. This compassion is revealed by his deep sigh. He continues to show His compassion for us. We are with Him. We are hearing Him sigh, as He, in His compassion is preparing to heal this man.

In a very short time we are going to be in Holy Week. It is not going to be a “memorial celebration” in the past tense of the Lord’s Passion and Suffering. In these days in particular, the texts of the services make it clear that we are there, in Jerusalem. We are liturgically there in Jerusalem, and it is all “today”. Our liturgical texts for other times of the year, also, are very frequently saying “today”. “Today is the beginning of our salvation”. “Today is the prelude of the good-will of God”. “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One”. “Today You have appeared to the universe”. It is always today, today, today. It is NOW. We are there. We are participating in the Event. It is very important that we keep this sense of everything being in the present tense. It is essential that we remember that we are there with the Lord, NOW. Our Lord heals this man today.

Our Lord heals this man in a manner that is different from other times. Sometimes He does not do anything special. This time there are some special actions that go with the healing. The Lord does these things because He knows who we are. He knows our hearts. He knows that sometimes we need to see something extra happening (such as spitting or touching or something like that). He knows what is necessary. It is not because there is some magic formula required for the healing of a deaf and dumb person. The Lord knows our hearts, and He knows the hearts of those who were there when the man was healed.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in our hearts this sense of His eternal presence, and this sense that everything is eternally NOW. In Him there is no past, present or future. In a similar manner, in the Divine Liturgy which we are celebrating, we are even celebrating the Second Coming as if it had already taken place. It is the eternal NOW. Always, everything is here in the Lord, NOW. The Lord is eternally present, eternally with us in His love. He is never changing. He is always loving, always compassionate, always supporting us, always guiding us, always renewing us in His love. Let us 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.

Commemoration of Saint John of Sinai

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Looking to the Lord at every Step of the Ladder
(Commemoration of Saint John of Sinai)
4th Sunday in Great Lent
29 March, 2009
Hebrews 6:13-20 ; Mark 9:17-31

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

Today, we see our Lord casting out of the child the demon that was keeping him from speaking and that was paralysing him in other ways, too. We also see the apostles coming to Him and asking Him why they could not cast out the demon. There are many things here to which it is important to pay attention. As soon as the boy comes into the presence of the Saviour (and we have seen this many times before), immediately the devil is reacting in the possessed boy and is convulsing him in a very violent way. This is not a case of epilepsy. Our Saviour immediately begins to address the whole situation. He asks the father how long this had been going on. Our Saviour then addresses the devil and commands him to come out of the boy. Immediately the devil is gone, but not before first causing more trouble. The child is then at peace and restored to his normal, peaceful, healed self. The Saviour immediately takes his hand, lifts him up and gives him to his father.

Evil is always reacting in the presence of the Lord. Evil is always stirring up distractions and trouble in the presence of the Lord because evil feels great pain in the presence of the Lord’s love and life. Evil feels this pain because it is living in complete denial of the power of God, and Who He is. It is living in denial of the nature of His love. The Lord is love. Always there is a reaction. We can see it in the course of our own lives, I am quite sure. I have seen it in my life, and I have heard people talk about this problem many times. People are asking : “Why is it that after a deep, spiritual experience of the Lord, or a great blessing that has happened to me, suddenly there is every sort of trouble happening ?” The answer is always the same : Evil cannot stand to be in the presence of the Lord, His love and His blessing. When a blessing comes to you and to me, the devil always tries to stir up something in order to take our attention away from the Lord. He tries to take our gratitude to the Lord away, so that we will again be paralysed by some sort of fear, and be ruled by some fear instead of living in gratitude and thankfulness to the Lord for everything, acknowledging the Lord’s love, and participating in the power, the life and the light of His love. This is always the case in our lives.

The same thing happens in our parish life, too. Blessings occur. Temptations occur. Do we let the Tempter get away with the tempting ? Do we let him get away with distracting us or do we keep our eyes on the Lord ? If we keep our eyes on the Lord, we will always be all right, even if we get scratched up, somehow. We will still be all right if we keep our focus on the Lord.

This lesson is also connected with what the apostles were asking the Lord. They were still learning. They were still at the beginning of their experience of the Lord. Even though He had given them a great deal of Grace, they did not yet comprehend everything. Therefore, they asked Him : “‘Why could we not cast it out ?’” In my opinion, this was not the right question to ask, and it reveals that the apostles had yet more to learn. The fact is that none of us ever can cast out the devil. Who can ? Only the Lord, our Saviour, Jesus Christ can. Only the Lord Himself can cast out evil. Therefore, our Saviour is saying : “‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting’”. By prayer and fasting, we understand that everything is done and accomplished in harmony with the Lord. If a devil is to be cast out, it is the Lord who does the casting out.

Here we come to another important spiritual principle in our lives. People talk to me from time to time about how they are struggling with the devil in one way or another in their lives. That is the worst thing that they can do. If we ourselves engage in a fight with the devil, we are always going to lose. The only successful way to combat the devil, and to combat evil in our lives and in our surroundings, is to be pleading with the Lord for help. We can overcome temptation and evil not by fighting with the devil, but rather by letting the Lord, who conquered the devil, overcome the evil, Himself. How ? By a simple plea, saying to the Lord : “Help me ; save me”. Do we do this ? It seems that we do not do this very often. Why not ? Most often we do not because we forget. Why do we forget ? Because "Big Red" is the master of helping us to forget. He is the father of lies, and he is the father of forgetfulness, too. I have said so many times in my life : “I forgot”. I forgot to do what was right. I forgot to say “No” to you-know-who-down-below. I forgot to say : “Help”. I forgot to say : “Save me”. I forgot because I, like all the rest of us human beings, still have a tendency to be a do-it-yourselfer : I-can-fix-it-myself-don’t-bother-the-Lord-I’ll-do-it. However, if I do that, I am definitely going to find myself deeply humiliated and embarrassed. This has happened many times in my life. I am getting old and it still happens. I hope that the Lord will ultimately have mercy on me because of this perpetual forgetting to ask the Lord first, instead of thinking and doing things myself. I suppose that when I had those “Think-and-Do” books (which existed in my Grade One days), I learned that lesson a little too well. Nevertheless, it is true that it is too easy to forget.

Today, we are remembering Saint John of the Ladder, the abbot of Sinai. The icon here before us does not have the usual ladder of ascent into Heaven that one often sees. However, many are probably familiar with the icon where people are ascending on a ladder towards the Saviour who is at the top with His hand blessing the people who are coming up. At the same time, many people are falling off this ladder while they are distracted and pulled by little black figures on the side. Let us keep this in mind. Why are they falling off ? I remember in my childhood my father and my grandfather teaching me how to climb a ladder : “Going up the ladder, do not look down. Going up the ladder, always look up”. It is the same thing with mountain climbing. Always “look up”, as the Friendly Giant said.

A few weeks ago when I was on retreat in the monastery, the brotherhood was as usual, in Great Lent, reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent. They were on Step Six, which is very hard to bear. Step Six is all about mourning for sin. Mourning for our sins is a step which can get us into trouble if we are not keeping the right perspective. Saint John rightly says in a very extreme way that we should be mourning for our sins. Why should we be mourning for our sins ? It is because we have disappointed and failed our Lord, who has created us. It is not because we are failures, and cannot succeed at anything and will never get anywhere. That is absolutely the worst thing to think about ourselves. That sort of thing is from you-know-who-down-below who encourages the “O poor me” attitude that is bound to get us off the ladder and right back to Step One. If we are mourning our sins, the sorrow we feel for our sins has to be only because we have fallen short of the measure of the Lord’s love. At the same time, while mourning for those sins, we can never take our eyes of concentration off the Lord. This is why Step Six is so tricky. It is too easy to look in, and concentrate on, and be sorry for all the things that we have done wrong, and pay so much attention to that, that we do not look up any more. We only look at ourselves. We put ourselves between ourselves and the Lord, and down we go.

There can only be the Lord and ourselves with nothing in between. It does not matter if it is Step Six or any other step on this ladder to which Saint John Climacus is referring. If we do not keep looking at the Lord at every step but instead look at ourselves (or anything else), down we go. We have to begin again. (I suppose this is somewhat like the Twelve-step Programme which is not so different from this Ladder.)

Whether it is casting out a devil or doing anything good at all in our lives, everything has to be undertaken in the context of the Lord, His love, His supreme ability in everything, His giving us life and help to accomplish everything. He is the only end. His love is the only purpose in our life : growing in it, and sharing it.

Brothers and sisters, as we are getting close to the end of Great Lent and drawing closer to Pascha, let us ask the Lord to renew our love so that we will not take our physical eyes off Him or the eyes of our heart off Him. Let us ask our Saviour to give us the memory and the mindfulness always to say to Him : “Help me ; save me”. May we involve Him always in everything. Let us ask Him to help us to live with an attitude of gratitude, and, living in His love, to glorify Him unceasingly, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Commemoration of Saint Mary of Egypt

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Let us keep our Eyes on the Lord and on His Love
(Commemoration of Saint Mary of Egypt)
5th Sunday in Great Lent
5 April, 2009
Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Mark 10:32-45

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

As you know, our beloved Metropolitan Jonah expected to be here today but an emergency arose and stopped him from coming. When I was at the Holy Synod meeting last week, I told him that there was much disappointment because he was not coming to Montréal. He said : “Yes, I understand, and I also am disappointed”. He really very much wanted to come. It is a pity, too, because when he comes the next time, it will not be so relaxed and like family as this could have been. Perhaps we can pray and the Lord will provide an occasion in a year or two when we can bring him to Montréal, and we will be able to give him a good visit to this mother-city of Canada. I mean it when I say that Montréal is the mother-city of Canada because almost everything west of here comes from this city. In my opinion, Montréal is the only city in Canada that can truly call itself a “metropolis”. I say this because meter and polis are Greek words meaning “mother” and “city”.

We can see from the Metropolitan’s absence today that not even the head of the Church is able always to exercise his own will. This is because he (like all bishops) is what is called in Latin servus servorum Dei. Servus means a slave, or a servant, and servorum Dei means “of the slaves of God”. The bishop is the servant of the servants of God, and these servants of God are every Christian. In this experience, we have the application of what our Saviour is saying to us today : “Whoever of you desires to be first shall be slaves of all”. He Himself gives us His example. We will participate with Him in this in a very short time when He will wash the feet of His followers. As we heard in the Gospel reading today, the Lord is correcting the apostles who want to sit with Him on thrones in the Kingdom. The way of Christ, the way of Orthodox Christians, is the opposite of the way of the world.

In the world everything is focussed on “me”. In the way of Christ, in the Orthodox Church, everything is concerned with everyone else, and not with merely “me”. Therefore, it has always been the Orthodox Christian way to care about other people first. In the love of Jesus Christ, this is the root of our famous Orthodox hospitality. In the world, most everyone is saying : “Who is going to serve me ?” In the Orthodox Church, everyone ought to be saying : “How can I serve you ?” This is the way of Christ. This is the way of His love. It is not easy to do this. It never has been easy. This is one reason why Orthodox countries and nations are often suffering at the hands of other people. The Orthodox way may have its difficulties, but our Saviour says : “‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:30). If we turn to the Saviour and ask for His help in everything, He will give it. I know very many families who can recount wonderful stories about how the Saviour has met their needs. We do not have time to hear all these stories this morning, but understand that I have heard very many accounts of how the Saviour has met the needs of people who were desperate.

That is why it is important for us all to be constantly asking the Lord for help. It is not easy to be a servant, but with the Lord’s help we can do it well. If we truly want to follow in the footsteps of our Saviour, then it must be in the way of being a servant. It is possible to be a king or a queen and still to be saved, but the head that wears the crown does not sleep very well. This is because there is so much concentration on “me” in such a position. If anyone has this sort of political, secular, civil responsibility, then the focus tends to be very much on the self, the ego, the “I”. It is, therefore, death for the ruler and death for the subjects, also. On the other hand, if the ruler’s self-understanding is being a servant of the people (servant of God first, and servant of the people second), then there is life. When there is any authority at all amongst human beings, there must also be responsibility.

Let us keep our eyes on the Lord and on His love. The Lord is the Lord of Saint Mary of Egypt, too. She is a person who led a terrible, ugly, twisted life. Yet, because of His love for her, the Lord moved her heart and she did listen. She turned about, enabled by God’s love. She used to like to take people down with her into sin, and instead she became a sign of God’s love and life. Because of such a complete change in her life, Saint Mary of Egypt shows us the meaning of repentance. In the first place, she did not make the change all by herself. She made the change with God. In the second place, she turned about from darkness to light. Now, Saint Mary of Egypt is a sign of hope for you and for me, because she shows us that no matter how bad we have become, no matter how darkened our hearts have become, it is still possible to find salvation in Christ. The Lord is always with us in His love. He is always patiently waiting for us to accept His help. As in the case of Saint Mary of Egypt, He is always calling us to Himself.

When we remember Saint Mary of Egypt, let us ask her to pray for us. By her prayers may we be able to live in the Lord as she lives in the Lord. By her prayers may we be able to come to the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection truly living a life of repentance as she did. With her and with all the saints, let us glorify the All-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Resurrection of Lazarus Day

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Fire of the Lord’s Life-giving Love
Resurrection of Lazarus Day
11 April, 2009
Hebrews 12:28-13:8 ; John 11:1- 45

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

The Apostle says to us this morning that the Lord is a “consuming fire”. This is true. However, this is not the sort of fire that is destroying, burning up and getting rid of everything altogether without regard like a forest fire. The Lord’s fire is the fire of His love. In this consuming fire He burns up everything that is unworthy, that is dross. He burns up everything that is impure and contrary to Him. He does the same in our lives. He cleans us. He washes us. This consuming fire is a purifying fire. It is the fire of His love. It is the fire which can make all things pure.

The Lord demonstrates this fire in a different way as He comes to Bethany today and raises Lazarus from the dead. This is an expression of the fire of His consuming love. This love and this fire are alive. No-one can ever say that fire is static. No fire is not alive, somehow. Fire is alive. It is purifying. It is cleansing. It can be live-giving, too. In the case of Lazarus, the fire is life-giving. If anyone has any doubts about life-giving fire, well, let us pay attention to certain sorts of coniferous trees such as the ponderosa pine trees, for instance (but probably a large number of the pine trees of the boreal forests of Canada, too), whose seeds do not germinate unless they have been burned. After a forest fire, there is new life always coming from the earth. The forest fire is cleaning out the dead wood, and other dead underbrush. After the forest fire has passed through, new life springs forth from the burnt-out underbrush.

Fire can give life. This consuming fire – this fire of the love of the Lord – gives life today to Lazarus. This consuming fire is love. This fire brings faith. Martha already knew, along with Mary, about the resurrection and the life of the resurrection. They believed that there would be the resurrection even before they understood what it really meant. They simply accepted the promise of it. They believed that God’s love is such that this resurrection would occur eventually. They had no idea that they were going to have a concrete experience of it on this very day. Today, our Saviour says to Lazarus : “‘Come forth’”. And Lazarus does come forth, not stinking, but full of life. He went on in his own life to be a life-giver because he became later on a bishop in Cyprus. He, himself, became a missionary, a living testimony of how God’s life-giving love operates.

We, ourselves, are not deprived of His love, His life-giving love. This life-giving love also has another face which we see very clearly today. Our Lord shows to us His humanity in a very concrete way : first, when He is groaning in His spirit, and people are hearing these groans ; secondly, when He is weeping. He is doing this because He is compassionate. The Lord’s love is not untouchable by our sorrow and our pain. He is concretely showing us and reminding us today that His love for us is not some sort of remote theory. The Lord, in His love, is not merely some sort of philosopher or demonstrator of magic tricks or something like that. The Lord is Life. The Lord is Love. The Lord is Compassion. He cares about us. He cares about the difficult pains of our lives, our sorrows, the struggles we endure, our darkness. He cares about all that. That is clearly demonstrated today as we see Him weeping and we hear Him groaning in the context of all those who had been weeping for the death of Lazarus. He was feeling compassionate sorrow for Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.

The Lord loves us. His love is capable of showing deep compassion and empathy, one could say. Empathy may seem to be a shallow word to describe how the Lord is involved with us and with our pain, with our difficulties and with our whole life. His love penetrates our whole life.

It is important for us, in the context of His life-creating love, to remember those words which are irrevocably my favourite words of Scripture from my childhood : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in His love, never changes. He is always the same Person. This same Person whom we see raising Lazarus today, is the same Jesus Christ, who 2,000 years later after this life-giving Event, still loves us in the same way that He loves Lazarus, Mary, Martha, His disciples and apostles, and everyone around Him.

Let us be confident in this life-giving love on this Resurrection of Lazarus Day which is prefiguring the Resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. These Resurrections are our hope, our own hope of eternal life in the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is unchanging in His love and who is constantly with us.

Let us give thanks to Him for His love. Let us ask Him to enable us never to forget this love in the difficulties of our life, but rather daily to give thanks for it, and to participate in it willingly and openly. Let us 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.

Palm Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We participate in the Events of our Salvation
Palm Sunday
12 April, 2009
Philippians 4:4-9 ; John 12:1-18

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

On this day, it is important for us to remember that we are not simply recalling events of the past. The very words that we sang yesterday, that we are singing today, and that we will sing throughout the coming week are telling us that we are participating in the Events of the Passion of our Saviour. We are not merely playing “let’s pretend that we are in Jerusalem”. While we are standing together today in the Temple of the Lord in the Divine Liturgy, we are in Jerusalem. We are together here with our Saviour. We, together with the people in Jerusalem and all the believers in the world today are singing : “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” Time is telescoped. Time is no more, as it always is for us during the Divine Liturgy and during the services while we are in the Temple. There is no time. There is no passage of 2,000 years. We are here in Jerusalem.

It is important for us to pay attention to the joy of all who are welcoming our Saviour into the city of Jerusalem today. It is true that there were some people who had ulterior motives. They had some sort of political agenda. There are always some who fall into that temptation, but then there are always people who are tempted by some sort of political agenda. Nevertheless, the joy of this day in Jerusalem is not diminished at all merely because there are some people who have a political agenda. The joy is there because the prophecies are being fulfilled and the King is coming, riding on a colt. The King, the Anointed One, the Christ is coming to save us. This work of salvation is coming to a head in this week. His voluntary self-offering, the self-emptying expression of His freely-given love is being shown and worked out. The Lord does not just say things, as we human beings habitually do. We tend to say things that we think that people want to hear. The Lord does not do that. The Lord, who is Truth, speaks Truth straightly.

The Lord is entering Jerusalem for us. He is entering Jerusalem for our salvation. The joy which we are feeling, together with the jubilant crowd in Jerusalem, is that joy which is the foundation of the Christian Way. That is why the Apostle is saying to us today these very words : “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” The Orthodox Christian Way is the way of joy. It is the way of rejoicing, no matter what happens ; no matter what sorts of difficulties we face, no matter what pain, no matter what sorrow and even no matter what betrayal. We hear today the criticism of Judas about the expenditure of all this money on the expensive ointment for anointing the Saviour. There are always betrayers, too, in our lives. However, no matter what, our way has to be the way of rejoicing in our Saviour, who loves us, who shelters us and who protects us in all things, always.

Our Saviour is going to stretch out His arms on the Cross voluntarily. When He is stretching out His arms voluntarily on the Cross, at the same time, He is embracing you and me and the whole creation as He is bringing it back into harmony with God.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice”, says the Apostle to us. He also says : “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, 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”. When we go home, let us open the Scriptures to chapter four of the Epistle to the Philippians and look again at this list. When we see the word “meditate”, let us remember that this word “meditate” in the bygone days meant to repeat orally over and over again. It does not mean to sit there in solemn silence, look at those words, and think about them. “Meditating” in the old days meant to repeat those words over and over again with our mouth and our voice. The Apostle is telling us to do that. Why ? It is because every word on that list applies to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Everything that he says to us today refers to Jesus Christ and points us to Jesus Christ. If we repeat those words over and over again with the old understanding of “meditate”, and remember in our hearts that these words apply to Jesus Christ Himself, this meditation, this repetition, cannot but renew in our hearts the joy of our love for Jesus Christ. It cannot but refresh our confidence in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

A long time ago, I went to a university whose motto is the very first phrase of that group of reflections of the Apostle Paul. In Latin, it begins : Quaecumque vera. A hundred years ago and more, when that university was founded, maybe someone still understood all the implications of this introductory phrase. However, as I have seen this alma mater university develop, they have certainly in the last part of these 100 years completely forgotten what is vera (truth), and Who is Truth. They have forgotten the meaning of “meditate” (even if they still teach Latin and Greek there). It is too bad that they have fallen into the intellectual world instead of remembering the wholeness and the unity that goes with the Christian life.

Let us ask the Lord to help us to meditate on those words and to remember our participation in the Events of the saving work of our Saviour, Jesus Christ today, and in the coming week, and in fact, every time that we are gathered here together. Let us ask the Lord to renew our love for Him, refresh our joy and multiply our confidence in Him. May the Lord enable us, with all joy and rejoicing always, to glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Pascha

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Darkness cannot overcome the Light
Feast of Pascha
19 April, 2009
Acts 1:1-8 ; John 1:1-17

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Even though it is not expected that I should do so at Pascha, I usually stop now and say something. During the course of this long night, we can begin to get tired because we are not used to being up in the middle of the night, praying and worshipping like this. It does not hurt for you to sit down for a few minutes, rest and catch your breath (especially the choir).

Human beings always have difficulties in life. Always they are facing trouble of one sort or another. That is the case with every human life. It is the case (and even more so) with Christians. I would dare to say this is more so with Orthodox Christians. In part this is because we are trying to follow Christ and to live in Christ. When we are trying to follow Christ and to live in Christ, we face many of the obstacles that came to Christ, Himself, in the course of His years of service amongst us, because we are living in the environment of our Lord.

What did we just hear in the words of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian ? We heard : “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”. However, true as that is, there is another translation that is possible : “the darkness did not overcome it”. Both of them together are important for us to understand as Orthodox Christians.

In the first place, you and I are here today by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which is spoken of by the Evangelist in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit we are here in one of those very far-flung parts of the earth (compared to 2,000 years ago). The Gospel has reached “even Canada”, one might say. There are some people who do, in fact, mean to say : “so far as back-water Canada”. We are here by the Grace of the Holy Spirit and we are here because, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we are being given a living and personal relationship and connexion with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is not a one-time occurrence. It is a perpetual state of being – we are being given this personal relationship.

If our Saviour Himself, being the Light, was opposed, we ourselves, participants in that Light, cannot expect other than to have both opposition and non-comprehension. I think that we can say that many people do not very well understand why we Christians do the things that we do, and why we behave the way we behave insofar as we behave in conformity with this Light and this Love. It is this Light in which we are participating, the love of Jesus Christ that is alive in us and active in us, that prompts us to act in ways that most people in the world would not act.

Most people in the world are geared to living according to a pattern that is opposite to our pattern. The world is about “me, me”, “I, I”, and “self, self”. The way of Christ is about service of others and forgetting about self – not putting oneself down and saying bad things about oneself – but simply being so full of the love of God that we do not worry about ourselves, because the Lord is taking care of us. He is with us. His love is with us. It does not matter if we are misunderstood or opposed. What matters is that the Lord is with us. He is giving us the ability to pass through all these difficulties and all the pains of life because we turn to Him and we accept His strength, His help, His love, His life.

I was told this past week about one serious believer’s life. He said to me that he and his wife both had had difficulty in their spiritual lives, primarily in this Holy Week. In their whole lives of going to church, they found that this last week of the preparation for Pascha was the most difficult. Very difficult things were happening in their lives ; problems were occurring ; cars were breaking down or they were having horrible dreams, and all sorts of things. He said to me that this particular past week for him was one of the most difficult in the course of his life in terms of these strange, opposing and distracting phenomena. He and his wife are an example of how we go about our lives in the context of spiritual warfare. This couple are, and have been serving the Lord their whole lives and have been trying always to be faithful. Therefore, it is no surprise at all that in the holiest time of the year they had the greatest difficulty in persevering. Such experiences are not so different for some of us (or maybe for many of us) from being with the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. This week we were there ; the services were long, and it was difficult.

However, being there during Holy Week was still energising, life-giving and renewing. That is the point of it all. Here we are, in the middle of the night, on this glorious Feast of the Resurrection. We are here because of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We are here because of His love. We are here because this Resurrection is our life. Therefore, let us take very seriously the words of encouragement of our Father, John Chrysostom, who spoke to us again tonight in his glorious exhortation. Let us have confidence in the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and persevere in His love, holding on to Him tightly, no matter how difficult anything may get. Let us, every day of our life (and not only in the Paschal season) be ready to proclaim even without words but in the whole context of our life : Christ is risen !

The Way of Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Way of Love
Saturday of the 3rd Week of Pascha
9 May, 2009
Galatians 4:4-7 ; Matthew 2:1-12

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

I do not know if you are aware of this, but in the Scriptures, in the Gospel, we do not hear our Saviour saying very many times : “I command you to do this or that”. Mostly He is setting an example for us to follow and telling us the direction in which we should be going. He is being like a teacher. However, today He gives us a very specific commandment. This commandment is : “‘Love one another’”. Our Saviour will usually say : “‘Love one another as I have loved you’” (John 13:34 ; 15:17). In other words, the way of those who follow Christ is the way of love. This is His commandment – that we should love. We should live a life of love. We should live a life in which we love God first above everything else, and one another as ourselves.

It might be remembered that He, Himself, says that in the summary of the Old Testament Ten Commandments. If we look at the Ten Commandments, themselves, these Ten Commandments are, as our Saviour says, all focussed on the love of God and the love of neighbour. In fact, these Ten Commandments (which anyone can look up in 2 Moses [Exodus], and 5 Moses [Deuteronomy]) are summarised by this direction from the Lord : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” ( Mark 12:30, [5 Moses 6:5]). Our Saviour says, connected with this : “‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Mark 12:31 and 3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:18). In other words, the whole environment of a Christian should be characterised by love : love of God. Our self-identification as Christians, should be with Christ. If we pay attention to the Gospel today, our Saviour is saying to us : “‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’” (John 14:9). In the reading today, He is not saying this in precisely these words, which He says elsewhere, but in words to this effect. There is a complete identification in love between the Father and the Son.

In the life of the Holy Trinity, the same may be said to be true about the Holy Spirit. In the life of the Holy Trinity, the Three Persons are never absent from each other. The Three Persons all exist in love. They all have distinct Personalities. They are not detached from each other in any way. In every way, they are involved in everything each other does, says, and thinks. This is a mystery beyond any human comprehension, so let us not try to figure it out – no-one has until now. Saint Alexander of Svir, a great Karelian saint (whose relics we venerated very recently), was given a vision of the Holy Trinity and yet even he still did not figure out how the Holy Trinity lived together (I am not sure that he even tried). He simply experienced the Holy Trinity, and responded in his life to this revelation of the Holy Trinity. God reveals Himself to us as love and in love, and He invites us to respond in the same way.

Today we are with the Apostle Paul as he is in the process of responding to Christ’s self-revelation to him. I think there is very often a big misunderstanding about the Apostle Paul and his motivation. We heard that before this revelation of Christ to him, he had been breathing threats against all Christians everywhere in Jerusalem and Damascus. We heard how he was putting them in prison and was responsible for the deaths of many. Why was he doing this ? It was not because of hatred. It was because of being completely misguided. It seems to me that he was over-zealous in his love for the Lord. He suffered badly from tunnel vision, and did all sorts of strange things, just as the Lord said at the end of today’s Gospel reading : “‘The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service’”. Because he was completely out of focus, this was the precise position of Saul of Tarsus (as he was then known) at that time. He loved God, but he was out of focus. Our Saviour knew this love, met him face-to-face and straightened him out. The Apostle Paul, being no slow learner at all, responded in love. He immediately began defending the One he had been persecuting. As a result, he, himself, received a “dose of the medicine” he had been giving before to others from people who had the same sort of tunnel vision.

As our Saviour Himself is warning us today, we, who follow Christ, have to be prepared for opposition. The world certainly does not owe us a living. I remember hearing, many years ago, a parishioner of our Cathedral complaining to Father Gregory Papazian. Father Gregory was definitely formative in Cathedral history by his personality and character (I mean that in the best sense) because of His very clear love of the Lord. This person was complaining to Father Gregory that he could not get any work. He was saying : “Should not the Lord provide me with work, somehow ?” Father Gregory said : “You are living in the world, but you are not of it. The world does not owe you a living. You have to wait for the Lord to open the doors. The world is the world, and because you are a follower of Christ, the world is going to resist you”. Eventually this person did get work, and he has been able to live until now, although he is one of those persons who does not have an easy path in life. Nevertheless, he is still with us and he is still a person who loves the Lord.

This is what is important for us, as believers : to remember that our relationship with the Lord is the way of love. This love is not like the world’s love. It is love without any sort of conditions, without strings attached. It is love that is self-emptying, in the same way that the Saviour’s love is self-emptying. It is love that looks to serve the other and not to be served, in the same way that our Saviour has taught us. It is love that helps to give life to people around us. This way is not an easy way in many respects because the darkness does not like the Light shining in it. We, who are carriers of Christ, in some way are participants in that Light. The darkness tries to hide from the Light or put out the Light, and the Light will definitely be put to the test.

However, if we keep our hearts and our minds focussed on this relationship of love with the Saviour, and if we continually try to live in accordance with it in our relationships with each other, the Lord will always be with us, no matter what. He will increase this love. He will enable us to live the lives that He has prepared for us. He will help us to grow up into the persons that He has prepared us and designed us to be (people who are like Father Gregory, whom I wish you all could know). I hope that you all will be able to grow up in your lives to have this clarity of character that such people have. The true mark of Christians is a unique character that is stable, that is at peace, and that is characterised fundamentally by the love of Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Paralytic

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Healing, Life and Love
4th Sunday of Pascha
10 May, 2009
Acts 9:32-42 ; John 5:1-15

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

As we pass through the Paschal time, we seem often to be saying : “Christ is risen” to each other as though we were saying : “Good morning. Nice day, isn’t it ?” This exclamation : “Christ is risen” is the purpose of our being. It is our raison d’être. To be able to say : “Christ is risen”, to proclaim His Resurrection to each other, is part of our spiritual discipline. It is a reflection of the state of our hearts. The discipline is in keeping ourselves ready to proclaim the Resurrection of Christ with some true vigour every time we say it. If we are not saying it very vigourously, then it is a sign that the condition of our heart is waffly, or maybe a little bit soft because we are getting used to saying it or we are somewhat distracted by something else. Therefore, we tend to say : “Christ is risen” as we would say : “How do you do ?” We have to be careful about this. The whole purpose of our existence is rooted in the fiery love of Jesus Christ, the life-giving love of Jesus Christ. If we are going to say : “Christ is risen” to each other as we pass through the Paschal time (and then afterwards at any time), then we should be able immediately to say this exclamation with some strength, and to answer it in joy with the same sort of strength.

Such was the love of Saint Seraphim of Sarov for the Saviour and such was his experience of this love, that at the end of his life he was saying : “Christ is risen” to everyone all the time, every day of the year. He was saying it to everyone, not simply to special, chosen persons. That is a very clear expression of the depth of his experience of the love of Jesus Christ, and how intense this love was in him all the time. By the end of his days, he was never losing sight of the freshness and the power of the love of Jesus Christ.

That love is expressed today in the raising of this paralytic man who lay by the Sheep Pool for 38 years, waiting to be healed. He always had hope, but he was never able to get into the pool in time because he was paralysed. When the angel came and stirred the water, someone else always got in first, as he said to our Saviour. However, our Saviour tells him to get up, take up his pallet and walk. And he does, just like that. Such is the love of Jesus Christ. Afterwards, the man immediately goes into the Temple to give thanks (after having been rebuked by the scribes for carrying his pallet on Saturday). He puts his pallet down, and he goes straight into the Temple to give thanks to God for his healing and for his new life. He is no longer a beggar. He has to find another way to make a living. He has infinitely more possibilities now that he can walk with the strength of a person having all physical faculties intact. Therefore, he is giving thanks to the Lord in the Temple. That is where our Saviour finds him, and reminds him to be very careful not to sin so that something worse would not befall him.

These words, however, do not imply that it was because of any particular sin that he had endured living in paralysis in the first place. However, sin can bring something much worse than physical paralysis. Sin, in itself, can bring spiritual death (as we all understand) because we all have our brushes with that in one way or another in the course of our lives. Such is the love of the Saviour for this man (and also for us) that He is ready always to give us healing and life. This man, who had been a paralytic for such a long time, had nevertheless been giving glory to God in his paralysis. It is important for us to comprehend that he was not merely lying around by this Sheep Pool every day for 38 years hoping he would get healed some day (although that is certainly part of it). Indeed, he had confidence in God’s love for him that the Lord would look after him. It was in his perseverance for 38 years by the Sheep Pool that he was giving glory to God. It is essential that we remember this, ourselves, in the course of the challenges in our lives, because we all face greater and lesser difficulties in our lives. In the course of facing these difficulties, it is important that we give glory to the Lord for everything, and in everything.

To underline the immediacy of the Lord’s love for us, and the consequences of it, in the Epistle reading today, we immediately have the example of the Apostle Peter. He is raising Aeneas from paralysis (in imitation of our Saviour), and in co-operation with our Saviour’s love. To double underline this life-giving love for us, immediately afterwards this apostle is summoned to a near-by town, and in the Name of Jesus Christ, and through the Grace conveyed by the Name he raises Dorcas (Tabitha) from death.

It is necessary that we remember this, and understand that it is not only the apostles who have been given the Grace to do such things. In the past 2,000 years, in the experience of the sacramental life of our Church, we have been experiencing precisely these same things. Through the prayers of the faithful, and through the anointing with Holy Oil, people have been healed from multitudes of different sorts of diseases, and they have even been raised from the dead. It is not only the apostles who did it. This is happening in our day, even. For instance, how many times (in fact, probably every day) is it the case that people go to the icon of the Mother of God in Sayednaya Monastery in Syria asking for the blessing to have a child when they cannot have a child. Even Islamic people go to her in Sayednaya to ask for this, and God gives to them. In Moscow last week, I met a classmate of mine from a long time ago. He and his wife had been trying to have a child for a long time, and the doctor said it was not likely. He is a professor at one of the universities in Moscow. He and his wife went to the Feodorovskaya icon of the Mother of God. Now they have a seven-year-old daughter.

The Lord’s love is with us, and His intimate care for us is always with us. When I was travelling with the Metropolitan, I found it to be a very high-speed sort of travelling, and we covered a lot of territory. We managed to go to the relics of Saint Matrona of Moscow in the Pokrovsky Monastery. Everyday there is a very long line-up of people there waiting to venerate her relics. On an average day, a person has to wait at least an hour (maybe two), and on her feast-day one might as well line up all day. The nuns were saying to us that there is not a day that passes by when someone does not receive a blessing through the prayers of Saint Matrona. There is not a day passing without the Lord acting through her intercessions in the life of someone who has passed by her relics. In other words, many, many healings occur. In Moscow, the monastery where the relics of Saint Matrona are resting is not by far the only place people go. There are many places where the Lord in His mercy is pouring out His love through the intercessions of various saints, through wonder-working icons of the Mother of God or other saints. The Lord is with us.

The Lord is with us here, too, in Canada. It is true that in Canada we have a harder time of it in many ways as Orthodox Christians, and our life is often considered to be a spiritual desert in comparison with countries in eastern Europe. That is mostly because we are so few Orthodox Christians, and we are so separated by time and space in this giant country. This is the way things are. However, regardless of all this, the Lord is with us, and He is pouring out His love on us. He is healing our diseases. There are people in this parish who have been touched by the Lord in this way. The Lord is with us, and it is important that we keep His love and His faithfulness to us in the front of our consciousness at all times, so that, if possible we may be able to say with great joy at all times in our lives, just as Saint Seraphim did : “Christ is risen”.

True Freedom in Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
True Freedom in Christ
Saturday of the 4th Week of Pascha
16 May, 2009
Acts 12:1-11 ; John 8:31-42

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Today, our Lord is saying hard things to the people who are debating with Him. They are certain that they are the children of Abraham. However, the problem with their certainty that they are the children of Abraham is that they are over-confident that this is a guarantee that everything is all right with them. To be a descendant of Abraham according to their mentality (as our Saviour is clearly pointing out) is like having a passport into Heaven. Our Lord is pointing out to them that they have their priorities out of focus. They are depending upon the fact that they are in the direct lineage of descent from the Patriarch Abraham. However, this is not the point.

What is the point that our Saviour keeps trying to get across to them ? It is that Abraham, the faithful one, lived in a living relationship with God. He spoke with God. God told him how to behave, where to go, and what to do. Abraham (because he had conversations with God and asked Him what He meant, and so forth) was able to go and do what God told him to do. God gave a Promise, and He made a Covenant. Abraham entered into and embraced the Covenant and the Promise. The relationship between Abraham and the Lord was alive.

Perhaps the relationship between our Saviour and the people who are debating with Him today is not alive. They are bound by fear. That is what our Lord is trying to say. Therefore, in fact, they are slaves of this fear, and slaves of sin, also. Fear and sin go hand-in-hand. Therefore, ultimately, what is our Saviour saying about who is their father ? When one is living in fear, and one is a slave of sin, one’s father is not God. The question then is : “Who is your father ?” Just after the end of today’s periscope, our Saviour says it very clearly. The answer is, therefore : “If not God, then the devil”.

The Lord is pointing out that the relationship between us and the Lord is supposed to be like that of sons and daughters. He says today “sons” but He really means sons and daughters (or children). He says that we have the right, as children, to live in the house forever as children. If one is an outsider, an employee or a slave, one does not live in the house. One lives in a shack some place outside. One does not have the right to live in the house of the master forever. This is what our Lord is trying to get across today to these persons of hard heart and thick head.

I am quite certain that some of these people eventually understood what our Lord is saying. It is hard not to accept what He is saying on account of Who He is (unless a person is absolutely stubborn, absolutely resistant, and absolutely deceived). It is a very strong resistance that is required to resist God’s Love and His Truth when faced with them. The Apostle Paul (as we hear earlier in the Acts of the Apostles) was one who thought he loved God, but was out of focus. When the Lord met him face-to-face, he came into focus immediately. He immediately began to serve the Lord whole-heartedly with clear heart, clear eyes, clear mind and clear vision. It depends on what is the condition of our heart. Are we slaves of fear ? Are we slaves of sin ? Or are we free, as children of the Lord ?

The event which just occurred with the Apostle Peter in today’s Epistle reading is a concrete example of this. In this reading, we understand that the Apostle Peter is chained not only to the wall, but to two soldiers. He is in prison with guards everywhere. Herod was determined that he was going to do away with this apostle Peter because it was politically expedient for him. He saw that this pleased certain people in power, and he wanted to make sure that he kept his own power base (and this was folly). For these political reasons he was ready to kill the Apostle Peter as he had already killed the Apostle James. However, as we see, the Lord had other plans. The Lord sends His angel and releases him from the prison and sets him free so that he could continue to do what He, the Lord, had prepared him to do. It could be said that the chains that are falling off the Apostle Peter today are a sign of how fear also falls off him. His understanding of his own relationship with the Lord was again reinforced. Because he was not a young man when he encountered the Lord in the first place, he had quite a fixed way of understanding life, and everything else. The saying : “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks” does apply. We can see that in the Apostle Peter’s life. He had grown up in a particular way, and he had understood life in a particular way. These habits of behaviour sometimes overcame his experience and clouded his vision. One could say that these chains falling off could be likened to the way in which fear and the limitations of vision, and limits of understanding fell off him. True freedom was given to him, and he accepted this true freedom in Christ.

Our life is built upon our relationship of love with the Lord, who loves us. That is what the Lord has always been trying to get through to us, and yet we are always so slow to understand this. We are so slow to accept this sort of relationship mostly because fear is so familiar. Nevertheless, the Lord does indeed love us. The Lord does set us free. The Lord does work with us just as He works with the Apostle Peter today, and continued to work with him and in Him right up until this apostle’s death. Right until the end, the Apostle Peter was constantly preaching Christ crucified, risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in our hearts today this love for Him that sets us free. Let us ask Him to keep away from us those bonds of fear that so sneakily keep coming back to us, trying to tie us down, instead of allowing us in Christ to be full of life, full of joy, full of confidence, full of healing, full of reconciliation, full of the Holy Spirit. Let us ask Him to enable our lives to proclaim at all times that “Christ is risen”.

The Samaritan Woman

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Sharing the Light of the Love of Christ
5th Sunday of Pascha
5 May, 2009
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30 ; John 4:5-42

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Today, we are witnessing the encounter between our Saviour and the Samaritan woman. It could be said that this encounter, in its own way, is bringing together the whole history of Israel, and giving a clear demonstration of the fulfilment of the Promise in “a strange land”. I am saying “a strange land” because Samaria was an area that was considered to be unclean by the Jewish people. There was no contact (or at least as little contact as possible) between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. Regardless of all this, the Samaritan woman knew very well the history of Israel. She knew who were her forefathers (including Jacob). She knew how the Lord had promised that the Messiah would come. She knew what to look for. When our Saviour is addressing her today in the ways that He does, she, being a person not lacking at all in sharp intellect, sees immediately what sort of person is confronting her.

The Samaritan woman is calling the Saviour “a prophet”. However, since the Samaritan people did not recognise any prophet since Moses, this means that she already understands that she is encountering the Messiah Himself – the Christ. She asks many questions, and the Saviour reveals her life to her. She very quickly accepts the uniqueness of this Man, and the uniqueness of this opportunity, and she immediately shares this with the whole city of Samaria. As a result, large numbers of people from Samaria now agree with her that this has to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Promised One of God.

We know from our Church history (although it does not say this in the Scriptures) that in due course the Samaritan Woman was baptised. Not only was she baptised, but her whole family was baptised. We know that her name is Photini, which means “enlightened”. We also know that she went to Carthage, in North Africa, and became a missionary. She also became a martyr there for the sake of Christ. This woman, together with her family, is a very significant person in our Church’s history because of the way they shared the light of Christ. In fact, she and her family are showing the consequences of what is happening today. That is the echo of what we heard at Pascha in the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John that “the light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). Therefore, the Saviour, who is that Light shining in the darkness, is today shining in the darkness that was burdening Photini. The Saviour shatters and scatters that darkness. He shows her the light. She accepts the light, and spreads that light.

Because the Fathers are so kind to us, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to give us the correct sorts of liturgical reinforcement, we have today the same thing happening as a consequence of the Apostle Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. We hear today in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles about the Gospel being spread everywhere by the Hellenists (that is, the Greek-speakers). Some of the apostles were speaking to the Jewish people only, but the Greek-speakers were taking the Gospel everywhere. As a concrete example of that, we have Barnabas going to Tarsus to find the Apostle Paul. He finds Paul and takes him to Antioch. There they are again preaching about Christ and spreading the light of Jesus Christ. We are told today directly that it is there that the followers of Christ, the participants in the Way, are first called “Christians”. The Antiochian Archdiocese enjoys very often reminding us of that. I am glad that they do, because we do need to remember that we were not at first called Christians in the homeland (that is, in Palestine). We came to be known by the Name of Christ outside, in Gentile territory, as Antioch certainly was in those days.

Today, we are encountering our Lord while He is very concretely demonstrating that His love is for everyone. For us who are living the Orthodox life here in North America, this is a very important lesson for us to mark, learn and inwardly digest. There are always tendencies to minister predominantly to our own people. We often hear the saying : “Missionary work begins at home”. Yes, it is true that missionary work begins at home, but it does not stop there. Very often people who are saying that missionary work begins at home are also saying : “That is where it belongs, too”. However, this missionary work has to be spread everywhere because the Gospel must be preached everywhere. We, Orthodox Christians here in North America, are actually the inheritors, in our own way, of what is happening in the readings today.

We, here in Canada, are by-and-large either people who have immigrated from somewhere else as Orthodox or have found Orthodoxy here in Canada. As a result, we are people who have been sent by the Lord to be like Photini and her family. We are sent by the Lord to share this light and this love wherever we are, and whatever we are doing in this country. It is our responsibility to share this light of the love of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Our Saviour is saying to us this morning that the Father wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. We see evidence of the Holy Trinity. God, the Father, is asking us to worship Him in Truth. Who is the Truth ? It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. We are participants in the Person, Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

There is only one Truth. There are not many truths, as many philosophical Canadians might like to say. There is only one Truth : Jesus Christ. The Lord wants us to worship Him in this Truth by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He wants us to spread His truth by the way we live, by the way we love, by the way we have joy, by the way we face adversity, and by the way we have hope in Him in everything. The Lord wants us to share this with people around us, just as Photini and her family did.

This is our responsibility here : to spread the light of the love of Jesus Christ, to share our understanding of Him, who is the Truth, by the way we live. Let us ask the Lord, through the prayers of Saint Photini and her family, through the prayers of the Apostles Barnabas and Paul, and through the prayers of all the saints of North America, to be faithful to Him, to be faithful witnesses of His love, to be faithful witnesses of His truth. Thus may we proclaim, simply by who we are : Christ is risen.

Opinions differ, but Love and Forgiveness prevail

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Opinions differ, but Love and Forgiveness prevail
Saturday of the 5th Week of Pascha
23 May, 2009
Acts 15:35-41 ; John 10:27-38

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Today, in our encounter with our Lord and the Pharisees who are debating with Him, we are seeing the too frequent appearance of human stubbornness and human resistance to Grace. The Lord, in His love, comes to us. He shows us His love over and over and over again. Over and over and over again, we tend too often to choose our reasoning and our perception of everything, and thus we treat our reasoning and perception as being superior to His love, and to the demonstration of His love. The works that the Lord is speaking about today are precisely those demonstrations of His love. There are healings. The blind see. The deaf hear. Paralysed people are walking. Dead people are standing up.

Our Saviour is saying, in effect, to those with hard hearts and stubbornness : “All right. Maybe you do not believe the words that I say. However, at least believe the things that have happened and understand what they mean”. He is saying to you and to me, too, as it were (because we, ourselves, are receivers of many such signs, also) : “If you have difficulties with words and with human beings, at least see that the works, themselves, these signs that are accomplished, are demonstrations of the work of God’s love”. These works demonstrate in themselves that our Lord and the Father are one. Of course, that is why the Pharisees immediately took up stones to stone Him. They were going to kill Him because they considered that He, as a human being, had made Himself equal to God. They had no way of truly comprehending to Whom they were talking. They were people (as I say over and over again) who were very insistent on the observance of the Law. Their observance of the Law was on the basis of human reasoning, which always gets us into trouble.

We have an example of that happening even today with the disagreement between the Apostles Paul and Barnabas. They had a very sharp disagreement which produced a separation between the two of them. To some persons who are accustomed to the very fallen ways of human beings, the fact that the two apostles could have a sharp disagreement such as this one, and then separate and go their own ways, seems to be some sort of betrayal of the Christian way.

It is important for us to remember that the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter had their differences, too. Their differences are described throughout the Acts of the Apostles. There were all sorts of differences of opinion amongst the apostles and other persons. However, differences of opinion always end up being resolved, because a Christian truly cannot live with that sort of irresolution. Christians must resolve these differences through forgiveness. Thus, we see icons of the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing each other. Ultimately, this is how they were towards each other. According to reasoning, they may not have always agreed 100 per-cent, and what two human beings ever do agree 100 per-cent ? I have still to meet such human beings. Even couples who have been married for sixty, seventy years have still some differences of opinion from time to time. Human beings are simply like that. However, love and forgiveness prevail over those differences of opinion. Even though the Apostles Paul and Barnabas separate and go their own ways, the Apostle Paul chose Silas and with him he returned to strengthen and confirm the churches which had been established in Asia Minor. Now, the situation provided the opportunity for the Apostle Barnabas to go to Cyprus. What do we have in Cyprus as a result of his going there ? We have an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Cyprus to this day, and the relics of the Apostle Barnabas in Cyprus to this day. The Lord is bringing good out of a difference of opinion. He is bringing the multiplication of the preaching of the Word of Life.

At the same time, from our perspective, we must understand that this difference of opinion and this separation of ways between the Apostles Paul and Barnabas does not itself indicate that there was some sort of irreconcilable difference preventing them from forgiving each other. This is not at all the case. The apostles, above all, are known for their example of following Christ and showing His way by their lives. If there is anything fundamentally characteristic of the Christian way, it is forgiving and praying for the one who is abusing us. We pray for and bless even the one who is going to kill us. We see this in the martyrdom of Saint Juvenaly (which I also cite over and over again).

Let us ask the Lord today to renew our own hearts by the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that our lives will never flag in living out and revealing the love of Jesus Christ, and in this love, proclaiming His Resurrection in this love. In some God-given way, may people who see our lives, see also the Saviour, the work of the Saviour and the activity of His love. May they be touched by His love and find Him, and thereby with us be able to glorify Him with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Our Response in Love to Jesus Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Response in Love to Jesus Christ
6th Sunday of Pascha
24 May, 2009
Acts 16:16-34 ; John 9:1-38

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

It is difficult to keep the Paschal spirit and the sense of the intensity of Pascha alive in our hearts for all this length of time. However, it is important for us to pay attention to how we are responding and how we are behaving. The Resurrection of Christ, again and again, I say, is not something matter-of-fact. The proclamation of His Resurrection is the essence of our life. It is our reason for being. It is why we are here today. It is why we continue to persevere in life in the face of obstacles and difficulties, and still have joy. That is why it is so important for us to pay attention to how we are responding. If we are saying : “Indeed He is risen” in the same way that we might say : “Good morning”, “How do you do”, and that sort of thing, that is not the proper way. If I find myself answering like that myself (which has happened in my life, of course), then I have to say : “Lord have mercy” ; “Help me, and straighten me out” (which the Lord does).

Today, we have the encounter of our Saviour with a man born blind. As we have heard just now, the Lord is emphasising that He is the Light of the world. It is necessary that we all remember this. He is our Light, and we are participating in that Light. This Light is the Light of His Love. We participate in that Love. We live in that Love. We manage to survive all the difficulties of life with joy because of that Love. Very often in the course of our lives, we are taking short-cuts, trying to find ways in which we can somehow regulate God’s love because God’s love, as it acts, is always unpredictable to us. In our fallenness, we very often want to control this or that aspect of God’s activity. We try to analyse it, and we dissect it and regulate it so that we will be able to know what to expect, or even so that we will be able to be in control, ourselves. It is a constant human weakness to behave like this : to receive the outpouring of the Grace of God’s love and then try to control it, box it in, dissect it, and do things with it, ourselves, instead of saying : “Lord, I am here ; I am Your servant ; I want to do Your will ; help me to do Your will in everything”. Usually, we try to tinker. We habitually manage and we try to engineer. We can even try to find ways to control Grace as a lens controls and focusses a sunbeam. In the whole course of human history, I cannot think of one instance in which any of us has tried to engineer God’s will and received in return anything but pain and humiliation. It is like building the tower of Babel. We tried that, too. If we have not tried to rebuild the tower of Babel, itself, we have certainly tried many reasonable facsimiles even to this day.

The people of Islam consider that they have it right when they say that theirs is the way of submission. However, they were not the first to understand about it. This submission to God’s will, submission to His love, submission to His way, willing, loving submission (not slavish, forced, fear-ridden submission, but freely-given submission to God’s will) has been the way of Christians from “Day One”. It can even be said that this has been our way through the Old Covenant from the very beginning. Since the time which we have just experienced now when our Saviour opened the eyes of the man born blind, faithful Christian people have embraced God’s will in loving, co-operative submission. However, they have not submitted themselves to the Lord all by themselves. They have been able to accomplish this because the Lord asked them to do so. If we do anything by ourselves, we get into very hot water, and we do not succeed.

I am not going to go any farther with regard to the Gospel Event of today because this Gospel passage is quite self-explanatory. As we stand here with our Saviour today, and experience the healing of this man, everything is told, and I do not need to re-tell it anymore. However, I will, instead, make a tangent. The tangent for today has to do (in this context) with how we serve the Divine Liturgy. What is our attitude towards the Divine Liturgy ? What is our attitude towards our being here in this Temple, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, and year-by-year ? We are here precisely because our hearts have responded to the Saviour’s love. For some of us, this response has been going on for the whole of our lives because we were born into this community of faith. We grew up in this community of Orthodox believers. Throughout the course of our lives, our hearts have been warmed by the love of Jesus Christ. Our hearts have slowly been nurtured, and have grown by the love of Jesus Christ. The reason that we are here is because it is our life to be here, participating in the Divine Liturgy, and worshipping the Lord in love. To be here is the source of our ability to do and to be anything good in life.

At some stage or other later in life, many others have come to this Orthodox witness and Orthodox community of faith. We have been grafted on to this community of faith. However, along with everyone else, we still participate in this response of love to Jesus Christ. We have learned the same lesson : that being here in the Temple of the Lord together, worshipping the Lord, is our reason for being, and the source of our life.
However, I have been reflecting on how I, myself, as a Canadian, have been disposed about these things. I remember lectures by Father Schmemann long, long ago in which he was being very pointed in his remarks about how we modern people in particular like everything to be soft, soft, soft, soft – soft, smooth, comfortable, easy, accommodating. (This does not apply only to Canadians. However, since I am a Canadian, I have to take responsibility as a Canadian. Canadians are not exempt from this disposition.) In my younger days, I was quite accommodating to myself in that respect, and also to everyone else’s ideas of accommodation. However, after a while, I learned that these sorts of accommodations have consequences that are not so good.

A very long time ago, when other people had said it was a good idea (and when I also was uncritical), it seemed to me that it would be a reasonable idea that when there are no catechumens present in the parish, we might not use the Litany for the Catechumens. I passed through that period for a while. To my great chagrin and shame, it was pointed out to me (and I understood it to be true) that if we are not praying this Litany for the Catechumens, then we are neglecting all the places in the world where there are catechumens, and where the catechumens need prayerful support even if they are not in our presence. The Body of Christ is not limited to this particular group of people here and now. The Church is not simply this little community here. The Church is a universal organism. The Church is alive. Therefore, if I am not praying for the catechumens and we, together, are not praying for the catechumens, then why should we ever expect any catechumens to show up here ? This is perfectly true, and so I repented.

It is the same principle regarding the Dismissal of the Catechumens. People say to me : “We are telling the catechumens to go out, and no-one goes out. What does this mean ?” It can mean that the catechumens at the present time are already Christians, somehow. Catechumens in the early Church were all people who had not known Christ before. They were just beginning to know Christ. They were being brought into the Christian way completely “green”. When they went out from the assembly of the faithful (as they did go out in those days), they were educated by deacons and deaconesses. They went to another place not far away, to another room nearby, and they were taught about the Old Testament, which is the foundation of the New Testament.

We cannot understand the New Testament (or even the Divine Liturgy, or any of our services) without knowing the Old Testament. Even if the Old Testament is not read at every service, nor in its entirety throughout the year, it is important to read it at home. All our services have references to the Law and to the Prophets. Besides this, there is a multitude of references to the Psalms, as well. Our spiritual ancestors were bathed in these Scriptures which are inseparable from the Gospels and the Epistles.

Even though our Divine Liturgy has many layers in it, and the way we are serving, according to the full text, sometimes does not seem completely reasonable (according to a certain logic), we nevertheless have to treat the Divine Liturgy and our services in a spirit similar to what the Apostle Paul expresses in his letter to the Corinthian church : “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Likewise we hand on what we received. To understand what are these different layers, and what is their meaning does not therefore require us to be innovators on our own. By all this, I am trying to say that the Divine Liturgy does have layers of additions. These additions, over centuries, express the growth of the Church and her response to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. The Divine Liturgy, as we have now received it, is the expression of our corporate worship of God as the Body of Christ. This Liturgy has approximately the same core and basic structure in all parts of the world. However, there are things about the wording and the way things are done which reflect the local environment of each Orthodox Church. Our worship of God is rich in Scriptural references and local colour. As the Apostle Paul passed on to us what he himself received, it is our responsibility to pass on to others what we ourselves have received. This reception is primarily the truth about Him who is the Truth : our Saviour Jesus Christ. In continuity with this, and in the continuing response of love to Him, we also receive the Divine Liturgy, and we pass this on to others as well. It is the focus of our being. We worship Him who gives us life that never ends. We offer Him our love, our whole lives, our perpetual giving of thanks for everything.

In the Cathedral, not only do we have the responsibility to serve the service fully for the sake of our brothers and sisters in the rest of the diocese, and to offer them well to the Lord, but also, these brothers and sisters expect this of us. It is part of our service to them. Therefore, we ceremonially dismiss the catechumens. However, nowadays, they remain because our catechumens are mostly from an already Christianised background. Perpetuating this dismissal looks forward to a time when there will be many who are not already Christianised, and for whom we will have catechists prepared to take them aside and teach them as in the time of the early Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us keep our hearts and minds always open to the Lord and listening to His direction in everything. Let us 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.

Freedom from Bondage to Fear

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Freedom from Bondage to Fear
(Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council)
7th Sunday of Pascha
31 May, 2009
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36 ; John 17:1-13

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

The words that we are hearing today from the Apostle Paul are hard words, in some respects. He is speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus, and to us as well, about people who are going to come amongst them and us like wolves, to try to separate people out by means of false teachings. These are hard words because this comparison to wolves is not a pleasant comparison. However, the fact is that people who fall into certain temptations end up being in harmony with the wolf-of-souls, the devil. That is why they are compared to wolves.

How does this happen ? It happens when human beings (as they have always been doing from the beginning) try to make themselves greater than God, or equal to God, somehow. They even try to understand things according to their own reason so as to become in charge, so as to manage God (or even worse, to make God do things, somehow). It is in this line that falls the person whose sad memory is kept today, Arius.

Arius was the person who taught that there was a time when the Son of God was not. In other words, Arius, because of his philosophical background and the way his thoughts worked, could not comprehend that the Only-begotten Son of God is eternally begotten of the Father, and that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. According to his logic, there had to be God the Father by Himself in the beginning, and then somehow God the Father would create the Son, and create the Holy Spirit. This is vaguely how his reasoning would have gone. According to his logic, there had to be some time or some point when the Son of God was not. Ultimately, the Fathers realised that this logic could not be applied to God.

This logic could not be applied to God because God is beyond our reason. The Holy Trinity has always been Three Persons. When we speak about Only-begotten regarding the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, these are terms which have been revealed to us. We use these terms, but we can never pretend that we understand precisely what they mean. God is beyond our reason. We can never by our own reason come to understand the inner relationship of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity unless God Himself shows this to us. Even then, we cannot fully and properly put this into words. We, as human beings, must finally come to the point of admitting that there are things we cannot understand. We have to accept these things as they are.

Nevertheless (following the same mentality as Arius), human beings have continually and repeatedly tried to get a grip on Who is God and how things work, and they have fallen into the same trap. When I was growing up (and as young as some of you are today), according to my memory, I think that amongst people that were trying to call themselves Christians, there were only Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses who fell into this Arius category. Both of these groups of people who call themselves Christians, are not Christians at all. They believe that there was a time when the Son of God was not. In other words, they believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was created and had a finite beginning. However, since the 1970s or 80s, all sorts of other people (who may call themselves Christians) have for some reason fallen into a similar trap, going even farther by trying to reduce Jesus Christ to some sort of simple “nice guy” or a “good philosopher” or a very nice social worker of some sort, instead of accepting Who He says that He is. This is always the difficulty for human beings. We want to be in control.

However, the Christian Way, in Christ the Way, cannot be that we could ever be in control of God. Instead, we accept the words that we find in Matins : The Lord is God, and He reveals Himself to us. He has revealed Himself to us, and He does reveal Himself to us. Our responsibility is to accept this revelation of God just as He says He is, and live in accordance with that revelation of Himself. It is not for us to dare to tell Him who He is. He knows very well Who He is. He reveals Himself to us, and He has always stably revealed Himself to us. From the very beginning, we can see the same revelation of Himself in the Old Testament. God reveals Himself to us as a Community of Three Persons whose fundamental nature is love. The Apostle John reminds us of that. I remember when I was about ten or eleven I had to memorise verses from his Epistle that say precisely that – “God is love” (1 John 4:16). God reveals Himself as love. He gives His Only-begotten Son (in a manner which we also cannot comprehend) to take flesh, to become a Human Being (Man) who is fully human and yet, fully God, never separated from God. At the same time, He voluntarily limited Himself so that He can be a Human Being with us, and save us from ourselves. He took on all our brokenness, lifting it up to the Father, and bringing our humanity into the Godhead with Him as members of His Body. We are all members of His Body through our baptism, our chrismation, and our receiving of Holy Communion. The Lord is God, and He reveals Himself to us. He is Love, and He loves us. We exist because of His love.

Today, in the Gospel passage, the prayer that our Saviour, Jesus Christ is offering to His Father contains words that express precisely this reality. It is important that we go home after this Divine Liturgy, read again the words that our Saviour has spoken today, and allow them to sink deeply into our hearts. Our Saviour wants us to live in imitation of the spirit of loving community and harmony which He has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is how we were created to be. We were created to be persons consisting of both mind and body (as distinct from the bodiless angels who have minds but not bodies). We were created in this fashion to live, nevertheless, as the angels. Like the angels, we are created to live in such a way that always, without having to stop and reason things out, we might know God’s will in our hearts because the Lord’s love is so active in our hearts and minds. We then are able to do His will instinctively, with a will that is in harmony with His will, enlivened by love, motivated by love. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, always did, always does, and always will do the will of the Father because of their mutual, selfless love. At the beginning of our creation, Adam and Eve did the will of the Father because of love until they were distracted and fell. Fear was paralysing them and poisoning them deeply.

In these days, it would be hard to find a person who is not a slave of fear. However, the Lord came to set us free from bondage to chains of fear and slavery to fear. He set us free from it all. It is up to us to accept this freedom. Do we accept this freedom or is the bondage that goes with fear so familiar and comfortable that we cannot take the risk to live in this love ? If we are choosing anything because we are still bound with this fear, we are really in a sad way because the Lord has set us free. He gave us, and is giving us every opportunity to live in this freedom, not bound by fear. If we choose fear, we are the most wretched of all creatures and the most to be pitied, because instead of life we are choosing death ; instead of light, we are choosing darkness.

Brothers and sisters, because He wants us to do this, let us ask the Lord in His merciful love to pour His Grace upon us. Let us ask Him to renew this love, this confidence and the willingness, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to be freed of this fear, and to live in the harmony of love in which we were created to live. Let us ask Him to give us the boldness to live in this manner. Most people seem to be living the game of “Let’s pretend” all the time. However, regardless of the game of “Let’s pretend”, human beings all around us are living miserable lives. They have no joy. They have no hope. They are living in illusions and delusions and self-deception because they have only this world and its imagined comforts to hold on to.

We, in contrast, have what is not shifting, not passing and not changing : God’s love, His joy, His peace, His strength and His hope by which to live. We are not subject to crashing stock markets, recessions, depressions, and other sorts of disasters such as war. In the Saviour, we are not subject in our hearts to all these things. Yes, they affect us, but in the midst of it all, we still have His peace, His love and the joy that is His life.

Therefore, let us ask the Lord to renew this joy and this love in us so that people around us will see this joy, this love and this hope, and might have, themselves, the inclination to come towards the Saviour by our example. May they be enabled to share with us the joy, and come into the heavenly Kingdom with as much joy and life as this little girl is revealing to us now during this Divine Liturgy. Her joy and her life have helped me, no matter how old I am getting to be. As this child is free to be just herself, full of joy and life in the presence of the Lord, let us be like that too, in the Lord, glorifying the All-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Pentecost

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Holy Spirit is shining amongst us and in us
Feast of Pentecost
7 June, 2009
Acts 2:1-11 ; John 7:37-52, 8:12

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

As we are celebrating today the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the apostles, we are celebrating also the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church. This gift of the Holy Spirit is not limited only to the disciples and apostles, but is given to every baptised and chrismated member of the Body of Christ.

In the Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit was given to certain prophets at a particular time, and for a particular need. However, not all the prophets always had this gift of the Holy Spirit, and they did not always have the gift of prophecy. The Lord came to them when the people needed to have the voice of the Lord spoken clearly to them. In contrast, since this Day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Himself, has been given to all baptised and chrismated members of the Body of Christ. Every time a person is baptised, this person is anointed with oil, and this oil is for the receiving of the Holy Spirit. We do receive the Holy Spirit at the time of our baptism, and at the time of our chrismation. In the course of our lives, we are responsible to allow the Holy Spirit to develop in us in accordance with God’s will.

When our Saviour is speaking today in the Gospel reading about His light shining, He is also speaking about His light shining in us and through us. He is the Light of the world, and we are His agents. We have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can bring to the world by our lives in a concrete way (much more than by our words alone) the love, joy, peace, hope and everything else that goes with the Presence of Christ for the sake of people around us. It is those people round about us, who have been sent to us, who need to receive this same gift, this same hope, this same light. The Holy Spirit is shining amongst us and in us.

Always, as in the case of any Person of the Holy Trinity, all the other Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved in every act, every thought, every deed of each other Person. For instance, in the creation of the world, the Father is the Creator ; His Only-begotten Son speaks everything into existence, and the Holy Spirit gives life to everything that is coming into existence. All Three Persons are always active together. When the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us, the Person, the Presence of Christ, Himself, is poured out upon us, also. He is present with us. The Father likewise, who loves us, is with us. The whole Holy Trinity is with us. At Pentecost, with the visible and audible Descent of the Holy Spirit, we are given another experience of all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It is right that this parish, named for the Holy Trinity, celebrates on this day its Temple Feast.

This feast is one of the visible moments in which we can clearly see the Holy Spirit being active. How ? First, there is the sound of a rushing, mighty wind. Second, there are tongues of fire that descend one by one on the apostles. Let us not forget that the Mother of God is there today amongst all these disciples and apostles, receiving the Holy Spirit. The Church from the very beginning of this Feast has always portrayed her as being there with the disciples and apostles.

The tongues of fire descend upon the disciples and the apostles. Then they start to speak all sorts of languages that they had not known before (and did not necessarily know afterwards). We do know clearly from the Acts of the Apostles that when the disciples and apostles go onto the street, they are proclaiming the wonders of God in all these languages. On this Feast-day of Pentecost, there were people in Jerusalem from all over the empire, and at this time they hear God being glorified in their own languages. So they say : “‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?’” (At that time, to say that one comes from Galilee is like saying that one comes from Manning, Alberta as compared to Edmonton or Calgary, for instance. It is so long since I have been in the north, that I suppose Manning has grown by this time). So people say, in effect : “How can it be that these Galileans (who do not have access to education and every sort of language that the empire speaks) are declaring the glory of God in these obscure languages from Iraq and North Africa, and all over the place ?”

This was because the Holy Spirit gave that particular gift to the apostles in order to declare the glory of God. He gave the gift also in order to show that God’s Grace is greater than human logic (it always is, no matter how we try to pin God down). Perhaps even most important, our purpose as Christians from the very beginning, from this Day of Pentecost, this Day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, is to share the wonders of the glory of God with every nation on the earth, with every people on the earth and in every language on the earth. We have a three-fold purpose in this Event.

This gift of speaking in different languages still exists sometimes in the Church. Sometimes it is used correctly, and sometimes it is not. The Apostle Paul very clearly says that if anyone is given this gift of speaking different languages, if it is used in a public place, it must have an interpretation. Someone must be there who understands. It must be translated, the Apostle Paul said, because no language is given for no purpose (see 1 Corinthians 14:27, 28). Just to blather nonsensical sounds means nothing. To say : “Jesus is Lord” means something to people who understand. In fact, it means very much to people who understand. That is why the Apostle said that other Spirit-given languages must never be used unless people are able to understand them. Otherwise, people would think that one is crazy (and maybe they are right). In fact, no gift is given from the Holy Spirit just for “me”. If God gives any gift of the Holy Spirit to me, it is for me to use for the glorification of God, and for the helping, strengthening and nurturing of other members of the Body of Christ. No Orthodox Christian, indeed no Christian is alone. We are all together. The Apostle Paul says that we are all members of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

Any gift that the Lord gives us, He gives us so that other people may be strengthened, healed, corrected, enabled to repent. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives the ability to a person to speak another language precisely in the same way as on this feast-day today. I have heard, myself, of some occasions when there were people who were in a difficult position where they had no hope, and somehow the Lord gave the gift to be able to speak and to understand an exchange between people in a foreign language which was life-giving and saving. Afterwards, the apostles did not necessarily retain the ability to speak these languages. It was probably given for the occasion only.

The Lord is merciful. He cares for us. He loves us. He gives us everything we need in order that we may live our lives for Him, and in order that we may be healthy in doing so. He helps us to become healthy, balanced, stable – at peace in Him, glorifying Him in everything. The Holy Spirit is given to you and to me so that we will have strength to live our lives in Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to you and to me so that we will have the boldness to do and to say what must be said and done from time to time when it is necessary. The Holy Spirit gives Grace to you and to me so that we will be able to hear the Lord speak to us and that He might direct or correct us in whatever way that may be necessary. Words of encouragement come from all sorts of unexpected places because of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

You and I have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit. In having this gift of the Holy Spirit, we are going to be able to do what our Saviour asks us to do : to shine with His light in this world ; to proclaim His glory in this world in multiple languages and in multiple cultures ; to embrace people of every culture, of every language, and love them into the Body of Christ ; to share with them our joy, our hope, our wholeness, and give them, with us, the opportunity to glorify the all-holy Trinity always.

This congregation has been here for over 100 years. The centennial celebration today is not the celebration of the absolute beginning. This community was already here for some years before this Temple was erected and everything was established. This community has been a living witness for the glory of our Saviour all those years. I remember that when I was little, in Edmonton, I heard about this far-away parish. It is not as if this parish is just sitting here in this town “vegetating”. It is not. This community of believers, this family of Orthodox believers, has been having a steady effect for good on people all over the place. Probably, if everyone touched by the love of this community were to show up here, there would be no room in the Temple for the people of the town.

It is important that we give thanks to God for all the good that He has been doing amongst us throughout all these years, and, at the same time, to ask Him to give us the Grace and the strength to prepare for the next 100 years of work in His Kingdom that must be done here. Our work only increases. It does not decrease, because His love only increases. His love does not decrease. Let us ask the Lord to give us the heart to follow Him with the loving zeal and dedication of our forefathers and foremothers. Let us love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, putting Him first in our lives so that when we come to the end of our lives, the Lord will welcome us into His Kingdom and say : “Well done, good and faithful servants”. We will continue then, as we are now, glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of All Saints

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Holiness : a true Expression of Christian Family
Sunday of All Saints
14 June, 2009
Hebrews 11:33-12:2 ; Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38 ; 19:27-30

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

On this Sunday after Pentecost, we are keeping the memory of all the saints. I am quite certain that we are keeping this feast because there are many more saints than those written on the calendar whose names we keep. There are many, many unknown saints. For instance, amongst the 14,000 infants of Bethlehem, or the 20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia (and others in large quantities of martyrdom), we only know a few, if any, of the names of these holy persons, these martyrs. They are persons who are simply amongst tens of thousands of persons who have given their lives for the sake of Christ. These martyrs are people who have given their lives up unto death. They have given their lives up to the end in every way.

There are many other persons in the context of the Church’s life and in our history who have been saints whose names are not known at all. After all, the word “saint” simply means a holy person. However, the Lord knows who they are. Because they are all members of the Body of Christ, and we are all members of the Body of Christ, out of love we are remembering them all today. We do not know the names of most of them, but the Lord knows them.

For many years, I have been slowly working on a compilation of saints’ names. God willing, that will be made available in some form eventually. The reason that I have been doing this compilation is in order to help the faithful of the archdiocese know what are the saints’ names available. This is mainly in view of the naming of the child before baptism, but also for those being received into the Church later in life. You may ask what put me in the mood to do this, since there are many people doing such things, and we have all sorts of calendars being produced. Well, it seems to me that people have forgotten some basics. A long time ago (and it really feels like a life-time ago), at the time when I was not yet a bishop, I was visiting a babushka in Winnipeg who was lamenting, and who said : “When I was growing up, we all were given names of saints, and it was normal. However, now, my grandchildren are being given names of dogs”. It was truly distressing her. Well, we probably do not give the name “Fido” to children, but there are all sorts of names that are not part of our inherited tradition of holiness that we have tended to give to children. Very often we forget to give the names of saints. Even if we are going to give a child some sort of name for rocks or trees or rivers or brook, cedar, forest, rain, air, at the same time, we cannot forget to give as well the name of a saint.

Living in the Body of Christ involves communion with all sorts of people who must remember that Christ is their Head. We heard earlier in the Epistle reading about all the people who came before Christ, who suffered unto death in various nasty ways, in anticipation of Christ whom they had never met. Our Saviour says to us today that if we want to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Him. In other words, the Lord has to be first. If we are putting Him first, then we will certainly be given the joy of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Everything for us Christians has to be focussed on and lived out in the context of our Saviour, Jesus Christ : His love for us, and our love for Him, and nothing more. Our lives must come to the point where we are so filled with this love of Jesus Christ that we have our eyes only on Him, and we are seeking only to do His will. In every little thing of every day we are involving Him, instead of being typical Canadian, engineering “do-it-yourselfers”. We all know what do-it-yourself projects in renovation and construction usually mean. For the most part, after the do-it-yourself renovation has been completed, there is summoned to the house a professional repair-man with particular gifts to fill in or completely rebuild. I know, because I am one of those do-it-yourselfers.

In the development of missionary work in this diocese, we always have tension. We have had, have, and will have tension, because we are human beings, and that is how human beings are. We have different opinions, and sometimes we hold them very strongly. Whatever we are doing in mission work, whether it is developing plans and proposing this or that, or doing something actively, as I said before, keeping the Lord first in everything remains the first priority. It is crucially important that we be looking to Jesus Christ for His direction, and for the Grace and the ability to do what He is asking us to do. Everything, always, must be rooted in love for Him because He is our life. He is our hope. He is our joy.

Speaking of missionary work, this parish is not so different from other parishes, but it definitely has its own character. Many times I have heard people nostalgically regretting that we have become this numerous, because it was so nice years ago when everyone knew everyone else, and everything about everyone else. It felt much cozier and more intimate, somehow. It was easier, somehow. However, the Lord did not let us stay in that condition, because He calls us also to be yeast and salt. If we had stagnated in that cozy little condition, then there would have been dead yeast and tasteless salt. We would have become in the end (as such cozy, comfortable entities do) a club of crabby, unhappy people because we would have begun to step on each other’s toes and growl about it. Once we get into that sort of mentality, it goes around and around and around like that. We forget about everything. However, the Lord mercifully did not let us stay in such coziness.

This coziness was the first step of our development, enabling us to understand what it means to be a family in Christ, in the Church. This is very important because the Church, no matter what size it is, is still a family. If you think it is not a family when it is as numerous as this, perhaps you might like to experience some communities that are two or three or more times this size. Perhaps you have not yet had much experience of travelling around the world, and bumping into Orthodox Christians who know someone whom you know or who are part of your family even abroad. Living in the Orthodox Church is, itself, like living in a global village. As we travel around, we often find out that even though we think we are so small (and we are), at the same time there are spiritual and personal connexions that unite us all around the world. It is utterly amazing how the Lord has emphasised this family character to me over and over again. Our Church, in its totality, in its wholeness, and in all its component parts, is a family. Therefore, even though this parish has grown so much, it is necessary that we not lose sight of the fact that this is still our spiritual family. This is our spiritual home. There is still a father (or two) here to look after us.

No matter how numerous we are, we, ourselves, have a responsibility to remember primarily that we are brothers and sisters all together in Christ’s family. No matter what happens, Christ is the Head of this family. We are brothers and sisters together in this family. Maybe we are very numerous. Our modern society with its nuclear families is not used to such an extended family as this. However, in my own family history, my relatives used to tell me about reunions of one part of our family (which is apparently far more numerous than I thought) in which people would gather annually some place in southwestern Ontario. Every year there would be 200 or 300 members of this family. Everyone was a cousin, uncle or aunt to each other. I never had an opportunity to go to such a picnic, and I think it would be not a little unnerving having so many relatives, but at the same time, that is what we are here. This is not unnerving for me. Even if you are not flesh and blood relatives, you are all part of my family. I know you. I do not know all of you so well, but I know many of you. You know me certainly better than I know you, perhaps. We are a family in Christ.

Whenever one or another person behaves a little “off” sometimes, people will get the idea that the other person has something against them because of this ignoring distraction or coldness or whatever it is. Because we are subject to fear, we are often tempted to think that maybe so-and-so has a crooked nose with us about something. Because we are subject to fear and we might be shy, we are often reluctant to go and “beard the lion in the den”, and ask what is the matter. Therefore, the tendency is to bend our head, go away in a corner and say : “Poor me” (as we often do). Another thing that I have learned about this sort of family life is that when we see someone who is acting in an unusual manner towards us, more often than not that person does not have a crooked nose with us at all. That person may not be feeling well or was hurt by something else in life or maybe it is arthritis. It could be any sort of thing. It could also be (because I am now getting old and have more experience of these things) that there is an approaching low-pressure front which can make us feel listless, draw away all our energy, and make us feel that all we want to do is have a nice, long nap. There are many things that influence our behaviour.

It is truly necessary that we try, in the love of Jesus Christ, not to assume, ever, that a brother or sister is out-of-sorts with us until we find out for certain. If we ask the question, and find out for certain that maybe there is something, then that is the opportunity for us to say : “I am sorry” (those big, important words). I am sorry to drag out all these lessons on family life that you surely know already. However, on this day in particular, it seems important to rehearse them in case anyone is forgetting these ABCs of family life. The development of this community does not stop anywhere near here. This community has given birth to other communities already, and it will give birth to more in the future, because the Lord never stops calling you and me to be salt and yeast. He never stops sharing with us His joy and His love. We must never stop sharing with those around us this joy, this love, and our hope in Jesus Christ. Our lives must grow so that they shine (even with no words, probably) with this love of Jesus Christ.

In our communities in this archdiocese, there are holy people. They are not necessarily well recognised, but they are there. They have been there all along. This particular community has had the blessing to have had some that I have, myself, known. You probably remember some such holy persons amongst the older ones. May the Lord grant us all the ability to remember who we are and what we are doing in Christ : that we are a family, and that we are led by a father.

When one is a bishop, one gets to hear from people over and over again the one thing that they want in a priest, and it is precisely expressive of this family principle. What do people want in a priest ? They want a priest who will be a true father to them, and help them to experience more of the love of Jesus Christ. They want a priest who loves them and who helps them into the Kingdom. Sometimes priests get distracted (as bishops also do), and that is why I am always asking over and over that we pray for each other because we need mutual support. People say to me in Russian : “All we want is a batiushka – just a regular batiushka”. We do not have this word in English. We have to re-Christianise English, and find a word. A batiushka is a little higher than “daddy”, somehow. It is more than “papa”, too. In English we do not yet have this word, and I would be happy and very grateful to God for whoever it will be that would find the English way to say batiushka. The word still means “father” in Russian. People say : “We want a father who loves us, who shows us love, and who encourages us in our times of difficulties to persevere in Christ”. All that is wound up in this little word which is respectful, but extremely affectionate. The “ushka” ending in Russian (like “ouli” in Greek) brings the relationship very close. We might feel like hugging people when we use the “ushka” ending on their name. We want to give them a big kiss, because the relationship is so warm. That is what people want in their leadership in the Church. We have to have formalities, but through the formality must shine this loving, family relationship.

Brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us not to forget our family relationship, our mutual family responsibilities in Christ, and the fact that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, His family, His Body. Let us be truly alive in His love, living in His love, and glorifying Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

All Saints of North America

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Becoming Friends with Holy Persons
All Saints of North America
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
21 June, 2009
Romans 2:10-16 ; Matthew 4:18-23

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

Today when we are with our Lord, following Him, we see Him calling the disciples and apostles. When He calls them, we see that as soon as He says to them : “‘Follow Me’”, they simply do. They drop everything (whatever they are in the middle of doing) and follow Him. Why would anyone do such a thing ? If a man were to walk up to you one day, look at you and say : “Follow me”. What would make you just get up and follow Him ? There are fishermen giving up their whole living, just like that. There is a tax collector with a very lucrative, money-producing, comfortable life – leaving everything on the table, getting up and following Him, just like that. That is precisely what we see happening.

Why ? There is only one reason, and that is : Who is this Man who is saying : “‘Follow Me’”. Who is He ? These men had no idea at the time. However, we know. We know that He is the incarnate Son of God. He is the Word of God who has taken flesh. However, that seems, even to us, a little abstract. When our Saviour walks up to them today, what they encounter is the same sort of experience that we remember hearing not so long ago in the sermon of Saint John Chrysostom at Pascha when he is speaking about Hades. Saint John Chrysostom says that when Christ descended into Hades, Hades thought it took a man, but it encountered God face-to-face. Thus, these men are meeting God face-to-face in Jesus Christ today.

When anyone meets God face-to-face, what does that mean ? We have to remember that it means precisely what the Apostle John tells us that it means in more than one place, and that is, love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Everything that is, is the result of, and maintained by His love. When our Saviour walks up to these persons and looks them in the eye, He looks them not only in the eye. He looks them straight in the heart. He knows them, and they know that He knows them. It is instant. It is like lightning. Their hearts burn, and they know that this is the One whom they must follow, because they have already been filled with the light of love, and the light of life simply by being in His presence. His call to them : “‘Follow Me’”, is irresistible. They cannot explain it, but they do follow Him.

The whole of God’s creation is enlightened by His love. That is why the Apostle Paul is telling us today that not everyone is going to encounter the Lord personally in human history. Because of the presence of this love in every part of creation, people whose hearts are properly oriented will be able to recognise this love in a similar way, and respond to it, and live accordingly because somehow their hearts are able to accept and see the Lord’s love. The Apostle says that for people like this, there is a special relationship. Elsewhere, the Apostle says a great deal about the Law itself, and how the Law is so restrictive and binding (he has even stronger words than that). However, a person who is living in the context of the Saviour’s love is not only fulfilling every part of the Law, but also is going far beyond the Law in its fulfilment. When our Saviour begins to walk around Galilee with these men, they, drawn by His love, filled with His love, encouraged by His love, healed by His love, begin with Him to participate in His work : healing the people of their diseases and teaching them what is the right way. Wherever our Saviour is going, people are encountering His love. They are responding in the same way as these disciples are responding.

Why are you and I here today ? We, likewise, have heard our Saviour speak to us in our hearts and ask us to follow Him. We are here because He still asks us to follow Him. He looks us in the heart today (and every day), and He says to us : “‘Follow Me’”. His love speaks to us in our hearts. Because our hearts respond in love, we do follow Him. That is why we are here today. That is why we pass through every sort of imaginable and unimaginable difficulty in life, facing every sort of obstacle with hope, joy and confidence. We do this because we know that the Lord who asks us to follow Him is also with us at all times. He gives us the ability to pass through all these difficulties. He is with us, and His love motivates us. His love strengthens us. His love gives us the ability to be healed of our brokenness, our distractions, our darkness and our double-mindedness.

Today’s saints of North America, whose names we do know, are only the “tip of the iceberg”, as we say. They are the holy people who have been generally recognised, and whose memory we are officially keeping today. They are persons who responded as the disciples and apostles responded. Their lives reveal this in every way. However, not every one of the persons on this continent who has done so in the past, and not everyone who is doing so now, is going to end up necessarily on the calendar of the Church or represented in an icon. Why is this ? It is because the Lord does not reveal everything to us. He does not identify for us every holy person in Orthodox North America. He lets us see particular people because we have particular needs, and these holy persons are particular intercessors for us in our needs. When we will need to know someone else of the many saints in North America whose names are not at the present known to us, He is going to show them to us.

The nature of our relationship with the saints has to be that of friends. We North Americans (especially we who have converted from the parts of Christianity that reject images) frequently have a difficult time making friends with the saints. Nevertheless, the relationship between us and these saints can be, in the Lord, much the same as amongst us here. The saints are not a different species from us, even though they are holy and are in heaven. They are not angels (contrary to popular misunderstanding). The saints are not detached from us, and we are not detached from them. The relationship of friendship in love (which characterises human relationships in Christ) is expected to exist between us and the saints, also. I am quite certain that the Lord is giving us the opportunity to become friends with one or all of these saints, depending on who we are and how our lives are. Indeed, sometimes the saint chooses us, because God has blessed that choice. When we learn how to be friends with these known holy persons, then the Lord will show us the faces of some more saints. This is how I rather think it is going to be. We have to learn how to behave as Orthodox Christians in North America. It is a difficult environment. The Lord is not going to give us spiritual indigestion by giving us too many at once.

That is one of the reasons, I believe, that we are having such a difficult time, with so many obstacles and delays regarding the official recognition and glorification of Saint Arseny. We Canadians recognise him as a saint. Saint Arseny was called in his day the Canadian Chrysostom because he was such a fantastic preacher. He converted many people through his preaching. We see that the Lord is answering our prayers through him. However, many of us Canadians at the beginning of the 21st century still seem to be a little detached from him, somehow. It seems to me that this is so, and that is perhaps why the whole process of his glorification takes more time than many of us would like. Not enough of us have developed this sense of a real friendship with Saint Arseny.

The whole purpose of our being here, and living in this relationship of love was described to me recently by Bishop Basil of Amphipolis just yesterday morning. During a lecture, he was showing us maps of how the world looked to the classical world. He showed us that two centuries before Christ, Greek geometricians had already understood that the world was round and a sphere. He showed us how the world was imagined by them from a distance looking down from above. What he pointed out to us about these various sorts of Christian maps (that look very odd to us now) is that they are all focussed on the centre. Where is the centre ? The centre is Jerusalem. Then he showed us a modern map focussed on Jerusalem. You can see exactly how those ancient cartographers had the correct, general idea. It is amazing how the Lord inspired and the people understood even without modern techniques. He also showed how the ancient world was divided up amongst the various patriarchates. He said it was like cutting an orange across the axis of Jerusalem in four parts, as it were. He pointed out that with the focus on Jerusalem, if we try to find North America on a modern map, what do we see ? Over on the left, we see Greenland, Newfoundland, a little bit of Labrador, and that is all. All the rest of North America is invisible from that perspective. According to this schema, there is a great deal of debate about who has the territory of North and South America. To which of the patriarchates would that be extended ? Bishop Basil said : “It really does not matter how we might project the Chalcedonian perception of which territory is connected to what patriarchate because, in the end, it all belongs to Jesus Christ”. Jesus Christ has claimed the whole world. The whole world belongs to Jesus Christ, and it does not matter under which patriarchate in particular it comes, in terms of responsibility. It all belongs, in the end, to Jesus Christ, who claimed the whole world. The whole world exists as a product of His love.

Let us ask the Lord to renew this love in us as we hear Him say to us : “‘Follow Me’”. Little John here is obviously responding in the right manner as he is kissing this icon. Let us be like him, responding to the Saviour’s love openly, freely, with love. Like him, let us be ready to approach this icon with love, and to embrace the Lord and His saints in love, and glorify with the joy of John and his straightforward love : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

First Things first

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
First Things first
21st Sunday after Pentecost
1 November, 2009
Galatians 2:16-20 ; Luke 8:26-39

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

The Apostle Paul is talking about the fact that there is no salvation through the Law, as it were. Essentially, he is reminding us that the Law is not an end in itself. Anyone who develops such an attitude, thinking that the Law is an end in itself, is badly out of focus, and needs a thorough “tune-up”, one might say. The Law is an aid, a series of signposts.

Where the Lord is, there is always order. First things always come first. In the presence of the Lord, things come into the correct focus. Thus when it comes to the Law, “first things first” is precisely what is the summary of the Law : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). Loving God is what comes first. If we love God first and foremost in our lives, and if the Lord is the purpose of our lives, then, in this very context of love (which the Prophet Moses gave to us in the first place in his summary of the Law), the Law will be lived out as “second nature”. This is because the Law expresses how we are supposed to be living if we are people who do love God.

In the Gospel reading today, we are with our Lord in the territory of the Gadarenes, as He encounters a demoniac. This man is living in complete disorder. We hear that he has been taken over by a legion of demons. No-one can hold him. Even chains cannot hold him because his strength in this disorder is so great. When our Lord comes into his presence, He does not waste any time. We see that the demoniac is already throwing himself on the ground before the Lord, calling Him Who He is : “‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” While the demoniac is doing this, our Lord has already begun to tell the demons to come out. In His mercy and compassion, our Saviour sets people free from such disorder and such slavery. Always He is doing this. Always He is setting people free. Over and over again we encounter the Lord doing this as we go with Him through the Gospel.

The Lord is setting this demoniac free. The Lord is compassionate. What would you do with these demons if you were in that place ? I am quite sure that because of the electronic games which many Canadians play these days, they would try to “zap” the demons with some sort of “super-duper ray-gun”. However, the Lord does not do anything of the sort. The demons beg to go into the herd of pigs, and our Lord says, as it were : “All right, go there, but get out of this man”. Even with evil spirits, the Lord is not interested in somehow extinguishing them, at least not yet. He is giving them some sort of opportunity (but I do not know what). In this case, He is not ready to cast them into oblivion.

The demons come out, and enter the herd of swine. It is very important for us to understand about this herd of swine. There is not supposed to be a herd of swine in any Jewish community. Even the Muslims do not have pigs. However, in this particular Jewish community there were many swine. I suppose that people were thinking that they could manage to do business with pigs in this remote place, and no-one would see. They were probably selling these animals to the occupying Roman army or the Greeks who were living there, and so forth. However, even if they were not eating the swine-flesh, it does not make any difference to the Lord. If the Lord said that there was to be no association with pigs, then no-one should even be raising them. The result of this permission is that when the pigs are occupied by this legion of demons, the demons cannot help themselves. They immediately act according to their fallen nature. They drive the pigs crazy, and they immediately drown themselves. We do not know anything more about the demons, but certainly the pig problem in the area is solved. The economy is thrown into a certain amount of chaos as a result. This is, of course, one reason why the whole multitude of the Gadarenes ask Him to depart from there.

The Gadarenes, themselves, do not catch the drift. They are more interested in their economy than in what had happened to this man in their midst. This man is begging the Lord and saying, in effect : “Please let me come with You. I want to be with You, Lord”. However, because of the Gadarenes, our Saviour says to him, as it were : “You stay here with your people, and be a living testimony of how God has worked in your life. Do not go away somewhere, but stay with your people. Give thanks to God, and remind them by your presence of how God has worked in your life”.

This is our responsibility as Orthodox Christians. We, ourselves, are set free from our various disorders by the love of God. No-one can fool me about the disorder in our lives, because I hear confessions (and I also have to go to confession). We all have some sort of disorder in our lives. Nevertheless, the Lord sets us free from them. He enables us to live a life that is life-giving, a life that has a sense of direction, despite our weaknesses, despite our confusion. More and more in the course of our lives, the Lord enables us to be who we truly are. The Lord sets us free from fear. The Lord sets us free from disorder. He enables us to be a living testimony to people around us (just as this demoniac is) about what are the fruits of living in love with Jesus Christ. In love with Jesus Christ, living in this love, we are not slaves of anything or anyone. We are not bound by metal shackles as was the demoniac who was breaking them himself. However, if we are bound by metaphysical shackles, it is the Lord who releases us from them. Indeed, our Saviour released the demoniac from much greater slavery and stronger chains than metal or metaphysical shackles. Those ones were demonic shackles.

In our communities, our places of work, wherever we are, we can be signs of the Lord’s love. We can be signs that the Lord cares for us. He cares for the people around us, too. The Lord loves us. He is enabling us to be free. Therefore, let us ask this same Lord to help us keep our focus of first things first. Let us love the Lord first above all and then those around us. Let us ask the Lord to help us to glorify Him in the whole of our lives, in everything that we do and say. In Him may we glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Hope is a Who

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Hope is a Who
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
28 June, 2009
Romans 5:1-10 ; Matthew 6:22-33

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

In his second letter to the Apostle Timothy (see 2 Timothy 3:12), the Apostle Paul tells us that there is no human being who is trying to live the Christian life who does not face adversity of some sort or another. He clarifies for us that we Christians end up facing more difficulties, more trials, more obstacles than many others do. Fundamentally, this is because we are following Him who is the Light. We will recall at the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John that we are told that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

There are various ways in which we see that the darkness is attempting to overcome the light. This is the repeated experience of every last one of us who is following Christ. There are experiences day after day in our lives in which the Tempter comes to try to divide us from the Body of Christ, and to separate us away from the Body of the faithful. He inserts divisions between us one way or another, usually by insinuating suspicious thoughts in our minds or doubts or questions or anger or some other sort of passion. Our Saviour says that the Tempter is the great separator because he is the great father-of-lies.

The Apostle is making a major point when he says that all these difficulties produce the strengthening of a person, and finally through strengthening of character there comes hope. What is hope ? Again, the question is not right when we might say : “What is hope ?” This question is similar to the question that Pontius Pilate posed to our Lord : “‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38) Pontius Pilate was looking at the Truth. That is why there was no answer. If we are looking for the truth as a “what”, we are not going to find it because in this world there is not any. In the same way, if we look for justice in this world, we will not find it because there is not any in this world. If we look for hope as a “what”, again, we will not find it, because hope is a “Who”. Our hope is He who is the Truth, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is our Hope. That is why the Apostle says that hope is so important, so pivotal and so foundational in our lives because our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is our only Hope.

In today’s Gospel reading, our Saviour Jesus Christ reminds us once again about priorities. He says to us that we should not worry about clothes or anything at all because He says : “‘Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’” This example may have seemed to be extreme to His hearers (and also to us), but it is a fact. In the Old Testament many people depended on the Lord in this way and were not disappointed. This experience shows how much more important to Him we humans are than birds (or anything else in creation), because we are made in His image. We are the ones that are being fashioned directly as creatures of His love for the express purpose of working together with Him in the whole creation, looking after these birds, these grasses and these flowers. He says to you and to me that we must have our priorities straight.

What comes first in our life ? What must come first in our life is the One who is the Source of our life. Everything else stems from and follows from our relationship with the Lord, the Source of our life. The birds of the air do not worry about eating because the Lord provides for them. They trust Him to provide for them. Except for those cases where we human beings make a mess of that provision (which is quite frequently, and more frequently these days), the Lord looks after His creatures. He provides for their needs. He provides for your needs and my needs also, but most of the time we do not bother to ask Him because we consider ourselves to be self-sufficient. As true Canadians, we tend to be definitely self-sufficient engineers of our own destinies, our own life-styles and everything else. “We can do it ourselves.”

In our normal life, being a “do-it-yourselfer” has some interesting consequences. The average Canadian “do-it-yourselfer” often does not know so well how to do it him- or her-self. We read a book, do research on the internet, and get some very good ideas. Then we go out shopping, go home, and construct something that we want to change at home. Maybe it goes together (although sometimes not even self-assembled furniture goes together the way it is supposed to). Usually, the result of our “home plumbing”, “home electrical work”, “home window repairs”, “home floor repairs”, “home furniture-building” implies that some sort of professional repair-man (or woman) will be showing up soon because our attempt does not work quite right or it falls in on us or something happens. As a rule, our do-it-yourself things are not very successful, whereas this building where this mission is serving has been here for 100 or more years. It was not built by amateurs, and it is standing very well even to this day. From the look of it, as long as maintenance is carried on, this building should carry on for another 200 or 300 years. This is unusual for Canada (or at least for modern Canada anyway), and it is unusual for us do-it-yourselfers.

What lasts is what is done in harmony with, in consultation with, in obedience to, and as a fruit of the love of Jesus Christ. If we want to be able to produce true beauty, true beauty can only reflect the beauty of the Source of beauty, who is Jesus Christ, who speaks everything into existence. If we want to live a life that is beautiful and as peaceful as possible, then, we can only begin to approach living by constant consultation with the will of Him who made us, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We have to learn not to turn to the Lord as the last resort, but as the first resort. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve first consulted the Lord about everything. Their communion of love with Him was such that they instinctively knew what was right to do. The beginning of a question mark already produced the answer in their hearts because their hearts were in unblocked communion of love with their Creator.

The communion with God which we have been given in our Saviour, Jesus Christ is much deeper, much greater than that of Adam and Eve. Our responsibility as members of the Body of Christ, as members of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is much greater even than that of Adam and Eve. We have been baptised into Christ. We have put on Christ. Our Saviour has promised that He will always be with us.

The Saviour is always with us. Let us ask Him to give us the strength unceasingly to remember this truth, this reality that He is with us. Let us ask Him to build in us that Hope, which is Himself, founded on that Love, which is Himself ; nourished by that Love, which is Himself. As we are passing through the days of our lives, with all the difficulties that we face because we are following Him, may our hearts first turn to Him. May our hearts first cry out to Him : “Help”. May our hearts first turn to Him for strength, guidance, direction, hope, and the renewal of the joy of His presence.

Let us ask Him to build a right heart within us, and fill us freshly with the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that as we come to Him today with our hearts open to Him, our hearts may truly be refreshed by the renewal of His love and His presence. Therefore, in our hearts and in our lives at all times, and in all things, may the all-holy Trinity be glorified : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Will I, shall I follow Christ ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Will I, shall I follow Christ ?
Saturday of the 3rd Week after Pentecost
4 July, 2009
Romans 6:11-17 ; Matthew 8:14-23

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

Despite all the greyness that exists in our life one way or another because of our way of life, our relationships with each other, and the multitude of uncertainties in which we live, nevertheless, in the Lord there is no such thing as “grey”. When it comes down to it, in the Lord things are very clear and clear-cut. He says to us, as He says to the scribes and to the others : “‘Follow Me’”. When He says : “‘Follow Me’”, He means precisely that. He means that He must be the priority in our lives.

When the Apostle is speaking to us today, he is clearly stating that every day is a day of decision, a day of discernment for each one of us. Every day, with an act of the will, we have to decide : To whom do we belong ? Are we slaves of the Lord of life ? Are we slaves of Love (and life-giving Love at that) or are we slaves of selfishness, sin, darkness and death ? These are the two choices before us every day. We try to make our way and meander in between these two choices (which is why things are very grey for us). We make a sort of fog, as it were, between ourselves and the Lord by our indecision, our uncertainty, asking : “Which way is the right way ?” We tend to be indecisive and uncertain because by and large we have forgotten how to listen to our heart. That is, we have forgotten how to listen to the Lord in our heart. The Lord speaks to us constantly in our heart, and it is in our heart that we find Him.

People who practice the Jesus Prayer are always correctly saying that it is the Prayer of the Heart because they focus on the heart, and there they find the Saviour. The Saviour is in the heart because He is in the centre of our being. We do not find the Lord somewhere “out there” or even “somewhere over the rainbow”. We find Him right here, where I am pointing : in the heart. As the Psalmist says : “There is no place that I can run away and hide from You. It does not matter where I go : You are always there, and You are there even before me” (see Psalm 138).

The Lord is with us. He is the Creator. We cannot exist without Him. However, because of our brokenness, our self-deception, we seem to forget that He is with us always, and therefore we think that we, ourselves, are the centre of the universe, distinct from Him. There is no such thing as being distinct from Him. If we were distinct from Him, we would be extinct : we would cease to exist altogether. Therefore, as the Apostle says to us, we have to make a decision every day : “Do I will to follow Christ ? Will I follow Christ ?” When I say “I will” in English, properly speaking I am saying that I have made an act of the will to follow Christ. Thus, if I say : “I will follow Christ”, this does not mean that I shall do this in the future sometime. I am saying that it is my will to follow Christ (whether I can live up to this decision of my will is another thing). Nevertheless, it is my will that I shall make every attempt to follow Christ.

That is why it is important every day, every morning when we are getting up, to focus on the Lord first thing, make the sign of the Cross, and ask the Lord’s blessing on the day in one way or another. We are always asking Him to be with us. However, He is always with us. Rather than try to go it alone, it is better for us to ask the Lord to help us to remember that He is with us at all times, and to remember to consult Him in everything during the course of the coming day. It is better for us to ask Him not to let us forget, rather than simply trying by ourselves not to forget. Forgetfulness is from below, and it is very insidious.

What does our Lord do when He is in our midst ? Today, He is with the mother-in-law of the Apostle Peter. She has a seriously high fever and is sick in bed and cannot do a thing. Our Saviour touches her, and immediately she is well. Immediately, she gets up and does what is in her heart – as a loving, God-fearing, God-serving person, she serves them. It is not simply because she is a woman, not simply because she is a mother-in-law that she does that (although that somehow goes with the role of mothers, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers, and so forth). However, it is not only they who do this serving. It is grandfathers, fathers-in-law and husbands who do serving, also, because it is the way of all Christians to serve. We could just as easily say that if our Lord had come into this house and He had healed Peter’s father, or someone else from sickness, that person would have gotten up and done the same sort of thing : serve in one way or another. The Christian way is always the way of service.

The Lord is delivering people from bondage to the devil, bondage to sin, bondage to death. The Lord, in His love, wants us all always to be free, free in Him. Even though there are those who say to Him : “I will follow You”, our Lord replies : “The Son of Man has nowhere to put His head”. That means that we have to be prepared to have no earthly home, as it were, except in the Kingdom. It is the Kingdom that matters ; earthly homes come second. In effect, He is saying the same thing to the person in the Gospel reading today, who says to Him : “Lord, let me first go and bury my father”. Our Lord says to him what seems to be very harsh : “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead”. However, it is not so harsh as all that. Essentially, He is saying in effect : “Put first things first”. He means (as it has been interpreted) : Let those who are spiritually dead look after everything that is dead. You, follow Life. That essentially is what He is saying to this man.

Let us ask the Lord to renew today in our hearts this love for Him that allows us to put Him first always in our lives. Let us accept this freedom, His radical freedom, His radical life-giving, life-creating life. May we glorify Him every day in everything that we do, with joy, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

To Whom do we belong ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
To Whom do we belong ?
4th Sunday after Pentecost
5 July, 2009
Romans 6:18-23 ; Matthew 8:5-13

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

In the Epistle reading today, the Apostle is saying to us again just about the same things He was saying to us yesterday. He is emphasising the need for us to remember to whom we belong. To whom do we belong ? Do we belong to sin and death ? Are we slaves of sin and death ? Or do we belong to the Lord, and therefore to life and love ? It is important for us every day to keep this in mind, and to be making this choice because the devil is never going to leave us alone. No matter what day of our lives, the devil will not leave us alone. We are forced to make that choice every day of our lives. Do I serve life ? Do I serve death ? Do I serve the Lord of life ? Do I serve the lord of death ? Do I serve Him, who is the Truth ? Do I serve the father-of-lies ? Whom do I serve ?

Do I live for myself, or do I live for the Lord ? If I live for myself, I have chosen the way of darkness. If I live for the Lord, I have chosen the way of light. The devil never does leave us alone in this regard, and I suppose, actually, that it is just as well for us. If everyone is anything like me, it is easy to forget, slip along sometimes, and simply take it easy. However, every time I have ever “taken it easy”, I have found myself having unwittingly made a choice, and it is a negative choice. If we are going to serve the Lord, we have to make that choice regularly, steadily, every day.

Who is this Lord whom we are serving ? It is the same Lord whom we see encountering the centurion, and healing his very much distressed, tormented and paralysed servant without ever going to see him personally. Our Lord is the Lord of compassion. He reveals His love on every occasion that we encounter Him. There is not one occasion when our Lord is not expressing this life-giving, light-bearing love. Almost every time we see Him in the Gospels, He is changing people from paralysed to free-moving, from blind to seeing, from sickness to health, from death to life. He is showing us that the Christian way is simply the way of repentance. All the time, our Lord is saying to us : “‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28). He is saying this to us all the time. He is inviting you and me all the time, every day, to take His strength for living this difficult life.

Which is better, then ? Is it better to serve the lord of darkness, who is always paralysing us with fear, and taking us down into death and eternal darkness, or is it better to serve the Lord, who loves us, who sets us free, who fills us with love and life every day ? In my estimation, this is not a hard choice to make. However, we usually do not behave so logically. Because of how we are held by fear in one way or another (there are so many little hooks of fear here and there that we are not aware of in our lives), we slip, get distracted and fall down from time to time. However, the Lord is constantly there with us. He is not outside us. He is inside us. He is constantly with us. He is there with us, waiting for us to take His strength.

On this day on which we are celebrating the two great monastic founders, Saint Athanasius of Mount Athos and Saint Sergius of Radonezh, let us ask the Lord to give us the same strength and love for Him that they demonstrated in their lives. These men were men who simply wanted to love and serve the Lord. They did it with all their heart, and all their being. That is not to say by any means that we are all called to be monks. Nevertheless, being a Christian at any level still means to serve the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength. However, we can take their example of perpetual repentance as an encouragement, their example of being filled with love for the Lord as an encouragement. We can do as our Saviour has been saying to us day after day, and week after week to, along with those whom He has encountered : “‘Follow Me’” (Matthew 4:19). We can do it. We can do it because He is with us, and He will help us.

Let us ask Him to renew the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts today. In this way we will have the strength to follow Him with joy yet one more day, yet one more week, yet one more month, yet one more year, following the exhortation of Saint Herman of Alaska, who says to us perpetually : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Firmly established on the Apostolic Faith
Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)
Centennial Celebration
12 July, 2009
2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9 ; Matthew 16:13-19

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

Today we are celebrating the centennial anniversary of this Temple that is named for the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This dedication to the Apostles Peter and Paul is a very significant dedication because these two apostles are expressing precisely the purpose of churches such as this one here in Alberta, Canada, at this time, and also for the past 100 years (and the future). In fact, I should say for all time.

We have just heard the Apostle Peter make his confession of faith, proclaiming Who is Christ. Our Saviour is asking : “‘Who do you say that I am?’” The Apostle Peter says directly : “‘You are the Christ’”. We can see, then, that He understands Who is this Man who is healing people, teaching everywhere. This apostle knows Whom he is following. He understands that He is the Anointed One of God who has come into the world to save the world. He does not understand everything that that means, but he does understand Who it is that he is encountering, hearing and seeing every day. For certain, the Apostle Peter recognises that He is the Promised One of God.

What sort of man is Peter, this great apostle ? We know that he was probably an older man. At the time of his being called by the Lord, he was probably middle-aged, but I do not know for sure. I am not certain if the Fathers tell us precisely how old he was. However, he was old enough to be married, and have a family, and perhaps even grandchildren. He was an ordinary man, too, who had doubts, fears, and who second-guessed himself many times. On some occasions the Apostle Peter was full of bravado, very brave and strong-minded. At other times he was “chicken”. This is precisely what the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are showing us about him. He was a normal human being who could be strong sometimes, and who could be weak other times. The Apostle Peter shows us by both this strength and weakness what our life can be like, too.

As we can see in the incident of the Apostle Peter walking on the water towards our Saviour, his whole life was focussed on trusting that Jesus is the Christ and that He is able to save him. When he volunteered to walk on the water towards the Lord, and the Lord said : “‘Come’” (Matthew 14:28), he did walk on the water. As long as he looked at the Lord, he was in fine condition. However, it was a windy day, there were waves, and the Apostle Peter became distracted. As soon as he became distracted by the wind and the waves, he began to sink. As soon as he saw that he was sinking in the water, he immediately called out for help and said : “‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30). The Lord took his hand and lifted him up. He stood again on the water as long as his attention was focussed on our Saviour (see Matthew 14:22-33).

You and I, in passing through our life, have to remember this incident. It is the Saviour who is always ready to save you and me. He is always there for us as long as we reach out, take His hand and keep our eyes on Him. As long as we focus upon ourselves, we become subject to fear. Fear always takes us down. It is fear that makes us quail. It is fear that sometimes made the Apostle Peter to be “chicken”. However, this apostle always repented, and turned away from the fear that sneaked up on him from time-to-time. He turned to our Lord again and said : “‘Lord, save me’”. The Lord always rescued and forgave, right up until the Apostle Peter’s last day when he was crucified upside down, confessing his love for Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Peter is also known for his missionary work (mostly amongst the Jewish people in whose midst he grew up). Many of them became Christians because of his example, because of the wonders of God that were wrought through him, and because of his teaching. We see the wonders of God wrought through the Apostle Peter in the Acts of the Apostles after Pentecost. Even his shadow passing on people would bring the healing of the Lord to them. I think that I understand people well enough to dare to say that people would respond first to the sort of person that he is, second to how the Lord works through him, and third, through what he says. I would say this because people are not any different now. People know that talk is cheap. It is cheaper now than it has ever been. It was already cheap in the apostle’s time. People dare only to follow what is clearly an example of a person who is living in the Truth, and witnessing to the Truth. There is only one Truth, and that is Jesus Christ. Therefore, I would dare to say that it is probably the person, the witness of the wonders of Christ, and this apostle’s teaching that would give confidence in the hearts of his hearers.

It is the same with the Apostle Paul. He grew up as a Jew, and was taught by the great rabbinic teacher, Gamaliel. The Apostle Paul was a very strict enforcer of the Law. He only came to see the truth about the Truth in every way when he encountered our Saviour on the road to Damascus. Our Lord said to him : “‘Why are you persecuting Me?’” (Acts 9:4) What our Lord said to him on the road to Damascus is important for us to keep in mind because Saul of Tarsus (as he was known then) had no idea that he was persecuting Christ. He thought that he was straightening out these unruly people (that is, the Christians).

When our Saviour was asking him : “‘Why are you persecuting Me’”, He was saying, in effect : “You are persecuting My Church”. What is the Church ? It is the Body of Christ. You and I are members of that Body of Christ. When Saul was putting in jail and torturing people who had decided to follow Christ, he did not know that he was, therefore, directly persecuting Christ Himself. However, Saul’s heart (even if it was misdirected at first) was filled with the love of God. He did love God, and that was why he was so zealous to do things right, and to make things right. However, he was distracted by the details of the Law itself. He was an enforcer of the Law itself. I could almost dare to say (just as some people sometimes do) that he neglected to recall Who is the Author of this Law, and what the Law consists of. He was unable to see in these Christians the fact that, by their lives, they were really fulfilling the Law.

The Law itself is founded not on fear, but on love. If we read the Ten Commandments which are the foundation of this Law, they are all concerned with loving God first, loving other people second, and conforming our lives to the love of God. This is the substance of the Ten Commandments. In fact, this nature of divine love and human response to it is the undercurrent of the whole Old Testament. However, we sometimes get lost amidst details.

Saul encountered our Lord on the road to Damascus. After this personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the future Apostle very quickly understood in a few days that He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Promised One. His life changed completely. This is the meaning of repentance. Repentance is a 180 degree turn. We turn away from darkness, and we turn to light. We turn away from death, and we turn to life. We turn away from sin, and we turn to righteousness. We turn away from fear, and we turn to love. That is what repentance means. The Apostle Paul is a prime example of this sort of repentance, and a dramatic repentance his was. He immediately began to bear fruit in one way or another. Being rooted in love for the Saviour, his first inclination was simply to go and be with Him. This is why he went into the desert. He had encountered Love, and he wanted only to be in the presence of that Love, and to be undistracted by anything but being in the presence of that Love, and glorifying that Love, who is Jesus Christ.

However, his work was not done. Even though he tells us today that at some time, he had an experience of the love of the Lord such that he was caught up into Heaven, and heard wonders that are not possible to talk about (because humans do not have sufficient words for it), he, nevertheless, had to go out into the world. He had to share with the rest of the world this truth about Him who is the Truth, and who speaks everything into being in His wisdom and His truth, our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God.

He went away and began to preach the Gospel not only to the Jewish people (although he always went first in every city to a synagogue). Afterwards, he went to the Gentiles, who had no idea at first what he was talking about. He showed them the love of Jesus Christ. That is why we are here today : because of that preaching of the Apostle Paul in the area that is now called Turkey, then in the area that is now called Greece, and in the area that is now called Italy. He probably also went to Spain. We are the product of that preaching, that loving, self-sacrificing labour. He sailed all over the Mediterranean. He was shipwrecked many times. He was beaten many times because of what he was saying and doing, and he almost died a number of times. He was thrown into jail many times, also, just as he said today to us in the Epistle reading.

Some of you may have seen the recent movie, The Passion of Christ, and will recall the scene where Christ is being whipped. What the Apostle Paul received was forty of those lashes, on more than one occasion. He received forty lashes with a cat-of-nine tails. A cat-of-nine tails is made of leather straps having little lead bits in them, which rip the skin right off the person. Now you understand what the Apostle endured for the sake of Christ more than one time. He received more than one time forty lashes like this, from which a person scarcely survives. The Apostle endured all this because of the love of Jesus Christ. He preached in Turkey (it is also called Asia Minor), and all over that area.

The Apostle Andrew went north to Romania, to Georgia, and to what is now Ukraine. He even spent some time in Scotland (according to some people) because he was such a traveller. He shared the Gospel of Christ everywhere he went. We are the product of these missionary journeys because the apostles sowed the seeds, and the Gospel continued to be spread abroad more and more. We, ourselves, in particular, are the result of the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that came finally into Ukraine (Kyiv in particular), and then into all the surrounding parts of what was then Rus’.

Now the same faith of those same apostles is being, has been being, and will be lived here, on the top of this hill, from which we can almost see Edmonton. It is the same faith in the same Saviour, Jesus Christ, whom we embrace with all our heart. It is the same faith in the same Jesus Christ which encompasses the whole of our life, and embraces every part of our life. The Lord blesses the lives, and every part of the lives of all who follow Him. The Lord inspired the man who built this Temple a long time ago here on this site which is the joy of all who see it and come into it. He built this big Temple all by himself. This Temple is not constructed by all sorts of people. It is the work of one believer who was uneducated (he never went to school) but who certainly knew how to build things correctly. This is a solid building built with logs, and that is another reason why it is so comfortable. This man did this by himself, not to make a name for himself, or to be famous, but because he loved (and does love in the Kingdom to this day) our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He built a Temple by himself for our benefit. This labour of love is truly a worthy reason for us to be giving thanks here and now to the Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, our faith in Jesus Christ is not given to us genetically. Our Faith is handed down to us from grandparents to parents to children to grandchildren, and so forth, in the context of a life that is lived in the love of Jesus Christ. We encounter the love of Jesus Christ by seeing the love of Jesus Christ active in our parents, in our relatives, in our friends, in a babushka or a dedushka or in some other person whom we see all the time worshipping in the Temple. It is caught rather than taught. It is caught through personal introduction. I know that this is the case because when I was young (and still a Lutheran), and did not know about the fulness of the Faith in Orthodoxy, I knew a number of truly God-loving persons much older than I. The memories about which I am speaking are from when I was four or five years old up until I was fifteen or so. These same persons, men and women, were always in the Temple praying, praising the Lord and giving thanks. Their witness of love showed me how to love the Saviour.

What loving the Saviour does for a person ! What hope it gives ! It sowed the seeds of love in me. Even if I did not begin my life as an Orthodox Christian, I still understand from my childhood how this works. I have heard from some babushki (who were about seventy years old) stories about how their parents would take them to the Temple all the time. They remembered with joy and love how they would sit on the floor, or sometimes lie half-asleep behind their parents’ legs while the service was going on (as at Pascha, for instance). They remembered the love for the Lord that their parents demonstrated while they were worshipping the Lord. They remembered the beauty of the singing, and they grew up to inherit this same love, this same joy, this same focus and dedication for the Saviour. They lived their lives in the same way as their parents did. Because the Orthodox Church is what it is, this experience of dedicated, Christ-loving persons can be stronger by far than the experience I had as a Lutheran in my childhood.

This love is passed on by example. The example of the Apostle Peter bore fruit thousands of times over. The same thing is true of the example of the Apostle Paul. We are very dependent on the Apostle Paul’s writings. However, the Apostle Paul did not write everything he could have written. What he gave us was only an outline of what we basically need to remember as Christians. It is upon his example that we are founded. That is why it is important for us to turn to him, and ask him to continue his prayerful, loving support for us especially in these days, because there are so many temptations to fall away from Christ in these days. It will do us good to approach these two apostles frequently, asking them for their prayers, so that we will not lose our way, but rather that we will follow their example of faithfulness to Jesus Christ. God forbid that we lose our way. However, should that happen, we would be able through their prayers to repent and to continue in the example of their faithfulness.

How were they faithful ? The Apostles Peter and Paul did different sorts of work, and sometimes they held strongly differing opinions between them. However, they overcame their differences of opinion in the love of Jesus Christ. Even if they disagreed, they still forgave each other and carried on. (We Canadians have to learn about this, because when we have a disagreement, we Canadians have a tendency to think that someone is throwing us away, and we are slow to get around to forgiving). We have lessons to learn from those apostles who forgave each other. Their witness unto death is such that their deaths occurred on the same day in Rome. On the same day, they were put to death by the Emperor Nero by different methods, but with the same result. They lived together in different ways, offering their witness and service to the Lord. They died together on the same day in different ways, but still witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ, His hope, and our life in the Kingdom.

Let us ask the Apostles Peter and Paul to pray for us and support us as we continue to try to follow in their footsteps, being obedient to the love of Jesus Christ, putting the praise and service of Him above everything else in our lives. May we glorify that same Jesus Christ whom they, to this day glorify, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Imitating Saint Seraphim

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Imitating Saint Seraphim
Altar Feast of the Uncovering of the Relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov
1 August, 2009

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

We are celebrating the Feast of Saint Seraphim, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Sarov, patron of this holy Temple, and the protector of this cemetery and of this whole community. At all times, it is important that we remember him and his example. His life was a living out of the Gospel readings and the Epistle readings that we have heard today. This is just how Saint Seraphim lived out his life. Everything is centred around the primacy of the Lord, the firstness of the Lord in one’s life. He put Jesus Christ first in his life, and everything else worked out well for him even though he was beaten by robbers, and maligned by some people who did not understand him. Still, he kept putting his trust in the Saviour, and the Saviour blessed him over and over again, and through him, blessed very many people. While he was alive, Saint Seraphim blessed many people because he spoke God’s words of love and truth to them. He asked the Lord what he should say to His people, and the Lord gave him the words to say.

Things are not different to this day. There are still amongst us people who have been touched by the prayers and intercessions of Saint Seraphim. Out of his love for Jesus Christ, and his love for the children of Jesus Christ, he continues to pray for us, and to support us by his prayers. Saint Seraphim became an example of God’s love and His healing. Just as the Lord Himself showed love and healing in His service (as we saw in the Gospel reading today), so Saint Seraphim in his life shared the love and healing of the Lord with all those around him.

Thus must you and I, in the love of our Saviour, put Jesus Christ and His service first, above everything. Then, everything after that will follow in the right order. The Lord will bring a word of truth to us that pray to Him. The Lord will bring healing through our prayers.

Saint Seraphim was a rare sort of person, but not so rare that we lack the example of others who have imitated his life. Saint Seraphim was an example of how we all should be. He is not an exception. When we look at Saint Seraphim, we see what a Christian should be like. If we want to be Christians, and say that we are Christians and have life in Christ, then we should imitate Saint Seraphim, and allow the love of the Lord to work in us in the same way.

Saint Seraphim is very much in harmony with the very first saint in North America, Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska. They were both influenced by similar monks who loved the Lord. Towards the end of his life, Saint Herman said exactly the sort of thing that Saint Seraphim would say himself : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. This is the way of a Christian – loving God first. Since we love God first, we can know what the Lord wants us to do, and how He wants us to be. Therefore, through the prayers of Saint Seraphim, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Sarov, and through the prayers of Saint Herman of Alaska, let us follow in the way of Christ. Let us put our Saviour first in our lives, and allow Him to be glorified in our lives in everything, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Prophet Elias (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Trust in Christ
(Feast of the Prophet Elias Old-Style)
8th Sunday after Pentecost
2 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 ; Matthew 14:14-22

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

Human beings have a strong tendency to lose their sense of direction. This is mostly because we are so pre-occupied with ourselves, and also because in the course of our lives we suffer pain one way or another at the hands of each other. When this happens, we try to do things to protect ourselves. This definitely does not work in our relationship with the Lord.

We cannot protect ourselves against anything. Only the Lord can protect us. It is important that we all remember this. Today, the Apostle Paul is speaking to the members of the church in Corinth, and saying to them that they had made a very big mistake. People amongst them were saying that they belonged to the Apostle Paul or that they belonged to Apollos or some other apostle who happened to baptise them. Out of their gratitude, I suppose, they thought that they were attached emotionally to one apostle or another. However, as a result of their paying too much attention to a particular apostle, and giving their love to this apostle by himself, they took their focus off Jesus Christ. They let their sense of belonging slip away from Jesus Christ to a human being. Instead of living in the unity that is the Orthodox Christian way, they made parties by saying, in effect : “I belong to this apostle or that apostle”. Their love became distorted. It became reduced to possessiveness. The focus was taken off Christ and placed on human beings. That is why it stopped being love, in fact, and became a form of fear.

Therefore, the Apostle says to them : “I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptised in my own name” (1 Corinthians 1:14-16). He did not remember for certain, but he thought that He did not baptise more than these in all of Corinth (lest people would pay more attention to him rather than to Jesus Christ). The Apostle repeated over again that it is Jesus Christ Himself who is the Beginning and the End of everything for us all. If He is not first in our lives (but someone else is first in our lives), then we are idol-worshippers. The Apostle does not say this so explicitly, but it does boil down to that. Anything or anyone that comes between us and Jesus Christ becomes a substitute for Jesus Christ. Anything that is a substitute for Jesus Christ is, in the first place, a lie ; in the second place, an idol ; and in the third place, evil. The Apostle reminds us once again how important it is for us to keep our sense of direction and balance as Orthodox Christians. Jesus Christ must come first for us above everything else in our lives. Everything else follows afterwards. Everything else is life-giving when it is in this order – Jesus Christ first, and everything else afterwards.

Who is this Jesus Christ whom we are expected to trust ? He is the One whom we were with just now in the Gospel reading. He is healing the diseases of everyone who came to Him. He loves us so much that He is healing our diseases. This healing of diseases is not limited to 2,000 years ago when our Saviour was walking amongst us. That healing from diseases in His love is with us and for us today. We have to remember to turn to Him and accept healing from him. To underline Who He is, and what His love is for us, we see our Lord having compassion on the multitudes who had come to Him. They did not think about buying or bringing any food, so much was their total focus upon Him, so much His word their food. They did not notice how the day had slipped away. Time flew. Our Lord knew how hungry they were. Even the Sisterhood would not be able quickly to feed so many people. The Sisterhood here can do many wonderful things, but even as competent as they are, they cannot feed such a multitude.

There are 5,000 men today that our Saviour feeds with five loaves and two fish. They take up twelve baskets full of the fragments that are left over from the five loaves and the two fish. The Evangelist Matthew makes sure that we understand that there were 5,000 men there, but this does not count all the women and children. If we are going to use just basic arithmetic, then we could generously say that for every man there is a woman (his wife, or maybe his mother). There are children, and in those days families were not small families. Let us assume that there are only two children per family. Therefore, there is one man and one woman in equal number, which makes 10,000 men and women. If we add only two children for every couple (which is very much underestimating the number), we can easily come up to 20,000 people. There are very many people fed with five loaves of bread and two fish.

So many people came to the Lord because they had heard about His love. They experienced His love in His healing of their diseases and in His feeding of them. We see His love today. It is important for us to remember that His love for all those people in the Gospel reading today is the same love that He has for you and for me now, here, today. His love and His care for you and for me are no different from His care and His love for all that multitude of people. Five thousand does not sound so difficult to our modern ears (even though it is a huge number), but it is still far beyond the ability of the Sisterhood of this parish (even amplified by the Brotherhood). However, if we were to count the whole number that the Evangelist is suggesting to us (remembering the complete families present there), it is beyond anyone’s imagination to be able to feed so many people on no notice and no preparation. However, our Saviour does it.

In this context, I am grateful to God that we are also celebrating today the Feast of the great Prophet Elias. The Prophet Elias is for us an extremely strong example of how to be faithful to the Lord when, just as with him, all the circumstances around are saying that it is not sensible to be faithful. He ultimately felt that things were so difficult that there was no-one left in all Israel that was faithful. That is why after his successful confrontation with the false prophets of Baal, and after having been threatened with death by Queen Jezebel, he ran away to Mount Horeb, and there encountered the Lord. He had lost any confidence in the people of Israel but he did not lose confidence in God Himself. When the Lord met him on Mount Horeb, He said to the Prophet, as it were : “There are still 7,000 people left. You do not see them, but I know who they are. There are still 7,000 people left in Israel who have not betrayed Me, and who have not gone to the false gods. Go back to them” (see 3 Kingdoms 19:9-18). Therefore, Elias did go back to them.

The Prophet Elias is remembered amongst us not only because of the rain that he brought after the drought (although we certainly are grateful to God for what he did then), but also for his prayers now when it comes to the weather. He is remembered for raising people from the dead in the love of God. He is remembered because even hundreds of years before the Birth of our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Elias knew God’s love, knew the Promise of the Saviour, and was faithful to the Lord in the Promise of the Saviour no matter what opposition, what difficulty, what threats of death he had to face.

Let us take the Prophet Elias, his faithfulness and his love as a strong example and encouragement for ourselves when we are facing so many difficulties, pain, torments, betrayals, and opposition in life. Let us ask his intercession before the Lord to support us in our attempt to be faithful to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us remember the words and exhortation of our own Saint Herman of Alaska, who said : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing glorify with all our lives the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Our Lord’s Love always Provides

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Lord’s Love always Provides
Saturday of the 8th Week after Pentecost
8 August, 2009
Romans 14:6-9 ; Matthew 15:32-39

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

During last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we were with our Lord at the time of the feeding of the 5,000 (see Matthew 14:14-21). In today’s Gospel reading, we see that He is feeding a slightly smaller multitude after having been with this particular throng for three days. Before, the wonder was wrought after only one day in the wilderness. This time, the wonder is wrought after three days, during which time He was feeding them with His words, and healing their spiritual, bodily, mental, and other illnesses. Then they become hungry, and our Lord feeds them once again. The last time, it was five loaves and two fish. This time, it is seven loaves and a few little fish, as the apostles tell Him.

The Evangelist tells us today that there are 4,000 men. We can expect that each man would likely be accompanied perhaps by his mother and/or wife, or his sisters. Then there are the children. Even if we count two children per man (which is a small family in those days), it is evident that the multitude is many times more than 4,000. This immense multitude is to be fed from seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. They take up seven full baskets afterwards (and the Evangelist says that they are big baskets). There are very many leftovers. I am certain that these baskets are even bigger than a bushel basket.

This is one more sign for you and for me of Who He is that we are serving. Who is our compassionate Lord ? We have just heard from the Apostle how everything from Him is rooted in love. His love is life-giving. His life and His love are protecting us. It is important that we remember this. Even though we know that the Lord is so close to us, we are nevertheless often falling into the formation of North American mentality which is that the Lord is “out there somewhere”, and that He is an Old Man with a white beard. This is not at all our Lord and our God. Our Lord is not at all far away. He is not separated from us, and He certainly does not look like an Old Man with a white beard. He is Love. If we want to know what God looks like, we already have the icon of our Saviour to look at, because our Saviour is the love of God taken flesh. He Himself says : “‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’” (John 14:9).

What do we see in our Saviour ? We see love. It is not that God looks like us : it is we who look like Him. That is more to the point because He made us in His image. He made us to be like Him. He is close to us, and He is so loving as to be feeding and healing people all the time. Therefore, if we are going to be like Him, then how are we supposed to change ? We have to ask ourselves, then : “How am I measuring up to this love ?” “Do I show this love of Him who created me ?” “Whom do I look like ?” “Do I show this love in my relationships with other people, with my family, with my friends, with my neighbours in how I am living my life ?” “Is my life feeding other people with joy and hope ?” If we can share joy and hope with people around us, we are already doing something that is very important for broken, hopeless, lost people. If we share with them joy and hope, and if they can even get a taste of love from us, it gives them a reason to carry on in their lives. They might even find Christ Himself in, and through us.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in us this love, this confidence in Him, and this hope in Him. May He especially renew in us this joy so that we may be enabled in everything we do to reveal Him, to show Him to our friends, our family, and help them to understand that we are not to be afraid of Him. He is to be trusted because He is totally reliable and faithful, whereas even the best-intentioned human being will usually fail sometimes. He is to be our Source of hope and our sense of direction in life. In His love, He is always with us, and not far away from us. He is always with us, and not merely near us.

Let us ask the Lord to keep this mindfulness in our hearts always, so that in everything we may glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Holy Matushka Olga

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Holy Matushka Olga,
and other Signs of our Lord’s Love
9th Sunday after Pentecost
9 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 3:9-17 ; Matthew 14:22-34

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

Today, we are with our Lord as He is coming, walking on the water towards His apostles. We have seen how He has dismissed the crowds after He had been feeding them and teaching them. Now His disciples are afraid. Of course, we do not regularly (or even ever) see someone walking on the water. In His characteristic way, our Lord says : “‘It is I; do not be afraid’”. The Apostle Peter then says : “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’”. Our Saviour says : “’Come’”. The Apostle Peter does walk on the water. However, he notices that the waves around him are rough and choppy, and it is because he takes his attention away from the Saviour that he begins to sink. He says immediately : “‘Lord, save me’”. The Saviour reaches out His hand and lifts him up.

This is such an important lesson for each one of us. Very often as we are passing through our lives, we encounter all sorts of difficulties, and sometimes very painful events. Very often we are saying : “O Lord, why did You do this to us ?” We are like this : we immediately blame God for everything that goes wrong. However, if we are going to grow up and be mature Christians, our attitude has to be different. We have to understand that if we are in this world with Christ, there will be opposition to us because darkness opposes the Light. If we understand that we are in such a position, that is the time to cry out to the Lord : “Help me. Save me, O Saviour”. At other times, negative spiritual pressures are arriving, not because we are so good ourselves in our lives, but because we sometimes invite this by deliberately turning our eyes away from the Lord (either because we are lazy or because we are afraid). Then it is most important to call out to the Saviour, and, in this case we have to say more than just : “Save me, O Saviour”. I think we have to say as well : “I am sorry. Save me, O Saviour”. However it is, our lives must be focussed on Jesus Christ, and Him only. This is because the Lord is love, and He loves you and me. He is the Giver of life, and the Giver of light to you and to me.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of two persons whose lives were consumed with love for Jesus Christ. These are two persons who in their lives give the example of having received freely, and of giving freely. The first is the Great Martyr and Unmercenary Physician, Panteleimon. Through his prayers, people are to this day being healed by the Saviour. I know one person who is here today who one time was called by Saint Panteleimon from his icon so that Saint Panteleimon could bring the Lord’s healing.

The other memory that we are keeping today is that of Saint Herman of Alaska. On this day is celebrated his glorification. In a few hours (because of the time difference), Metropolitan Jonah will be serving the Feast on Spruce Island, in Alaska. Earlier this week, Metropolitan Jonah was in a part of Alaska that is quite far north. In the course of this past week in the e-mail reports, I saw that His Beatitude was serving a Panikhida for Matushka Olga Michael in the village of Kwethluk, an Aboriginal village. Matushka Olga was a midwife when she was alive. As she was living as a widow (and even when her husband was living), she was caring for needy children. She was making clothes for needy children, and she was also making food for children. Particularly with the food, she was very sensitive about the dignity of the children. She was making the food, and leaving it where the children could take it and not feel that it was being given to them, somehow. She was a very compassionate woman, a spiritual descendant of Saint Herman. Since her death, many people are finding that the Lord is healing them through her prayers. This is happening not only in Alaska, but also in the United States where she has become very well known. She is helping many women who have trouble with childbirth, with children, and with their husbands, also. Matushka Olga has been very helpful with her prayers since she has gone to the Lord.

There were many hundreds of people participating in the Panikhida last week. It was written that after “Memory Eternal”, the people spontaneously began to sing many different hymns of Pascha. It was also written that during the Panihkida (which happened in the Temple), there were only three candles lit in the Altar beyond the Metropolitan, but during the Panikhida the actual light there was very, very much stronger than would be provided by only three candles. I am saying all this because I have been speaking about how the Lord loves us. In these days when we are having so many difficulties in our lives as Orthodox Christians, the Lord is showing signs such as this through simple persons like Matushka Olga so that we will remember that He does indeed love us. The Lord truly is with us. He cares about us. This is why He is healing people through the prayers of Matushka Olga. This is why he is healing people through the prayers of Saint Herman of Alaska. This is why He is healing people through the prayers of Saint Panteleimon.

With the Apostle Peter, let us reach out our hand to our Saviour, accept His love, and allow Him to heal our hearts and give us strength to stand on the stormy seas of our life. May our Saviour enable us to stand with peace and joy, and with our whole lives 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.

Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Last shall be first : true Christian Service
Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God
[Given outside of the Archdiocese]
15 August, 2009
Philippians 2:5-11 ; Luke 10:38-42 ; 11:27-28

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

On this day we are celebrating the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God which is the Patron Feast of this parish. When we are celebrating the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, it shows that we do not doubt that she died. We can truly say that she is the first fruits of the Resurrection, also. After she died, the apostles came to her tomb. What happened ? Her tomb was empty.

In her life, the Mother of God was always obedient in every way to the will of God. From the very beginning of her life, her life consisted of saying “Yes” to the will of God. She was always trying to know the will of God and to do the will of God. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and by the mercy of God, she was able to do precisely this in her life. For the most part, her life was hidden. In fact, in the Gospels, there is not all that much written about her except for the most important details. Yet, even though her life was so hidden, she became, and is, the most influential of all the persons in human history and in Church life, apart from our Saviour.

Because of her humility, she has been exalted into Heaven. She is the victorious Champion and General of the angelic host. She is a protector of the faithful, and a protector of the Church. Because of her humility, she is in herself a sign of what the Church is supposed to be. Our Saviour said : “‘Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant’” (Matthew 20:26). This is precisely what happened with the Mother of God. She served God by giving birth to the Only-begotten Son of God. She serves us, and continues with her Son to serve us by praying for us, and protecting us by her prayers.

This is perhaps the most important lesson we all need to learn as we are trying to live a Christian life. The Orthodox way is not the way of the world. Our way is not to be (or try to be) greatly exalted. Our way is to serve, and do the will of God, whatever that may be. It is up to the Lord to put us in a higher position if He wants to, so that we can serve Him effectively according to His perfect knowledge of us.

Let us ask the Mother of God to give us the strength to be able to live lives that are pleasing to her Son, as her life is pleasing still to her Son. May our lives be filled with love for Jesus Christ. Thus, may we be able to shine with this love as the Mother of God shines with this love. May our lives be filled with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. May our lives, through the prayers of the Mother of God, be a proclamation of Who is Jesus Christ, and 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.

Focus on the Lord

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Focus on the Lord
10th Sunday after Pentecost
16 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 4:9-17 ; Matthew 17:14-23

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

The healing that we see today takes place just after our Lord came down from Mount Tabor at the time of the Transfiguration. We see that people are very concerned about this boy who was in such trouble. It is necessary for us to understand clearly that not by any means does every case of epilepsy involve demonic possession – not by any means. Almost all cases of epilepsy are simply short-circuiting in the brain that can be helped by medication or by the Lord’s intervention and healing.

However, what was happening to this boy was not what we understand to be ordinary epilepsy. Demonic possession manifests itself sometimes in ways that look like epilepsy. We can tell just by what is said by the father about what is going on that this is not simply a usual case of epilepsy. When did these attacks occur ? What is happening with these attacks ? The father says to our Saviour that many times his son was thrown into the water (that is, to attempt to drown him) or thrown into the fire (that is, to attempt to burn him alive). Those are primary characteristics (there are others) by which it is clear that this is not a medically understood case of epilepsy (from which many people suffer), but this is, in fact, an attack of the devil. The attacks of the devil are geared towards getting rid of us, putting out the light of Christ in us, and (as it were) putting us to death – maybe not always physically, but certainly spiritually.

Our Saviour, knowing what is necessary, delivers the boy from the chains of the devil. The boy is restored immediately. Let us recall how the apostles ask our Saviour : “‘Why could we not cast it out?’” He replies (in effect) : “You are out of focus. If you had faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed, you could move mountains”. Then He says : “‘This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’”. It is not prayer and fasting necessarily that expels the devil, but it is the life of prayer and fasting that enables a person to discern where the devil is at work (and where the devil is not particularly at work). This prayer and fasting enables a person to discern right from wrong, and good from evil, and produces, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the ability to comprehend how things really are in our lives and in the lives of others. I think that our Lord is saying essentially to the apostles that if our heart were properly attuned to the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we would understand instantly what is the will of God, and we would be able to do His will.

One of our big problems in living our Christian lives is our attempt to do things by ourselves, much as children insist to begin on doing at about the age of three. We do not very often remember to consult the Lord first to ask Him what He wants done in this or that case. In fact, our lives really need to be focussed on the Lord all the time, and not only in particular cases. All the time, every day we need to be focussed on the Lord and asking Him : “What is Your will in this or that situation ?” This is why it was difficult for the apostles to cast out the demon that was afflicting this boy, because they were not in tune in this way with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Their hearts were not yet formed so that they would be able to know the will of God well enough, so that they would be able to act as the Saviour acts. The Saviour acts always in love, and always in accordance with the will of the Father.

If we, too, are going to be living in accordance with the will of the Father, our lives need to be more and more united in love for the Lord, more and more focussed on the Lord so that we can accomplish His will. We need to be rooted more and more deeply in the love of Jesus Christ. Accomplishing His will in our days and in our society does not seem so often to include the expulsion of evil spirits. I wonder what that means. The acts of the devil are everywhere, and his activities against the light of Christ are everywhere. Why are we not encountering exorcisms very often in our society ? I rather think that in our society people who are so afflicted are usually medicated so thoroughly that they do not manifest the symptomatology of this, and we do not recognise it. Regardless of this sort of concern with symptomatology, my main concern is not about how frequently we are exorcising.

My main concern as a bishop is how are we loving the Lord. That is our main concern. How are we loving our Saviour ? How are we conforming our lives in love to the love of our Saviour ? How are we identifying ourselves with Him in our way of life ? If we are living lives of prayer and fasting ; if we are living lives that are cultivating the love of the Lord in our hearts, and awareness of Him at all times in our hearts, we also with the apostles, in obedience to the love of the Saviour, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, will be able to do these things that the Lord says that we should be able to do. Let us not forget that our Lord said : “‘He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do’” (John 14:12). He said that not only to the apostles. He says that to you and to me. By our prayers, by our faithfulness to our Saviour, the Lord can accomplish wonders amongst us, around us, and through this community. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, by our faithfulness, the love of the Lord, His peace and His joy can be felt in this city through our witness of love and joy.

We see how the Lord loves us, how He delivers us from the chains of sin and evil, as He delivers this boy today. We see how the Lord is faithful in His promise of love and His presence with us. Let us ask Him to refresh our confidence in Him. Taking the example of the Mother of God, according to the exhortation of Saint Herman of Alaska, let us “from this day, from this hour, from this minute love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Marriage is a serious Business

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Marriage is a serious Business
Saturday of the 11th Week after Pentecost
22 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 ; Matthew 19:3-12

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

Today our Lord is giving us some very direct and hard words to hear. At the same time, in the middle of the hard words to hear, He is showing His compassion to us. This compassion has been with us all along. The hard words come in the context of marriage. Our Lord is saying very clearly that marriage is a serious business.

The man and the woman become one flesh (see 1 Moses [Genesis] 2:24). They become one body (as it were), one unit together. This oneness implies the intercommunion of their hearts and spirits. This is an extremely important detail for us to remember. It is not that something magical is happening in that when the couple marries this unity comes into being instantly. It is a process of becoming one. Even more, it is the fruit of the commitment made one to another in love. When people get married to each other, obviously they do this because they love each other. There are also arranged marriages. I have been told that in arranged marriages, although the two persons may not love each other at the beginning, after time passes they do come to love each other. In this context I always remember the famous exchange in Fiddler on the Roof between Tevye and his wife. They had never discussed love in all the 25 years they were married. After 25 years, they finally began to talk about it. They have an exchange, analysing their behaviour for the past 25 years in sacrificing for each other and in raising children. They come to the conclusion that they must love each other.

The fact is that love does grow. People make a commitment at the beginning, and the love grows. In this love (and especially when we are talking about love in Christ), this love brings unity. Not only does it bring unity, but it also brings union, as our Saviour is saying to us today. It is a sacred union which ought not to be broken for any trivial reason. It probably ought not to be broken at all if possible. However, if it is inevitable that it must be broken, it should not be broken for a trivial reason.

That is why our Saviour is answering in the way that He does in the Gospel reading today, because the adjustment in the Law of Moses had become such that a man could put away his wife on a whim. As we just heard in the reading today, the Pharisees are asking : “‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” We could also put it the other way, too, nowadays : “Can a woman divorce her husband for just any reason ?” Be that as it may, there is nothing trivial about marriage at all. The Lord emphasises the significance of marriage not only because of this union between a husband and wife (which is so important), but also because the union in Christ, in God is so important. Marriage, itself, is a reflection of the Trinity. There are not only two persons in a marriage. God is in this marriage, too. Christ is standing in the middle of this marriage. There are three persons involved here. The unity is made truly strong in the love of Jesus Christ. The family in itself in its interior life is demonstrating the nature and the love of the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity is always life-giving, life-creating, generous, and full of hospitality. So is the Christian marriage. Let us recall the words from the marriage service which say that it is expected that God’s blessings on this family are going to be shared with those round about, and with people who are in need. We are asking for abundance for the couple who are married so that they will be able to be generous in sharing this abundance, and will help other people to share their abundance likewise. I have known many families that have had an open-door policy precisely in this spirit so that if anyone drops in at an appropriate time (and there are very many humorous stories about this), he or she would be invited to share dinner. I am referring to the fact that there are certain people who so much enjoy this hospitality that they always happen to show up at the right time frequently (and then maybe even regularly).

This openness, this hospitality in the love of God, is what is important. It is not that someone might take advantage of us that is the main concern. If someone tries to take advantage, that is between that person and God. Our responsibility is to share, and to embrace people in love. Who knows if the person who begins taking advantage might not be healed by the encounter with selfless giving and caring ? A person could wake up from the deception of grasping and greediness, and learn open-armed hospitality, open-hearted hospitality.

In giving the rules for divorce (which are very few, and restricted), our Lord is also saying that even this was not always so. He emphasises again to us that when God created us, He created us to live in this unbroken and unbreakable harmony and community of love which gives life, always focussed on the Lord. He says to us that some people cannot receive this word, but for those who can receive this word, let them receive it. Our Lord is saying to us that He understands that it could be too difficult for some people. The Church has been living out this word ever since because of the weaknesses of human beings, and the need for compassion for human beings in weakness. The Church has lived out this compassionate flexibility. However, this has always been in the context of what the Lord’s saying implies, which is that love between a man and a woman in the context of marriage is sacred, and should not be broken as far as is humanly possible. Everything must be done in order to reconcile before a fracture might occur. Mutual forgiveness is far more important than waging who is right and who is wrong on each other. Mutual forgiveness (which is not at all a one-way street) is far more important than anything.

In our family, our mother spoke to us very many times about how our parents lived. (For this I have always been grateful.) They were living according to the very short saying of the Apostle Paul : “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). My mother said that during all the 25 years that God gave them before our father died, they always solved any disagreement they had before they went to bed to sleep. Right at the beginning, they apparently found that if they did not resolve the disagreement at the time, and they went to bed with growliness in their heart, it was still there when they woke up in the morning (and it had become worse because it had been festering). They said that it was better to clear it up immediately even though it meant a night short of sleep. That is why I keep saying (in the context of what our Lord is saying to us) that this mutual forgiveness is more important than anything.

The apostles are saying to the Lord that these words are very difficult, and that maybe one should not get married at all. The Apostle says that there are some people who do not marry because of their love for the Lord. Single-mindedly and single-heartedly they are going to serve Him without any distraction. However, in a family, it can be so as well. What matters is the service of the Lord. If the husband and wife together are serving the Lord as one, this becomes a very, very strong community and witness which could be much stronger than the witness of the single person dedicated to the Lord. It is important for us to remember that.

Let us give thanks to the Lord for His compassionate mercy. He is showing us that, regardless of everything difficult, His maximally abundant compassion is not lacking. Glory to God for His love for us. Glory to the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Forgiveness is not an Option

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Forgiveness is not an Option
11th Sunday after Pentecost
23 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 9:2-12 ; Matthew 18:23-35

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

This parable on forgiveness that our Lord addresses to us today came after the question of the Apostle Peter : “‘How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21) Then our Lord tells this parable about the king who is owed an enormous amount of money. At first, the debtor is going to be sold, with his wife and his children and all that he had, and thus payment be made. However, when the debtor does not forgive a person who owes him a paltry sum of money, the king takes back his forgiveness and sends him to the prison keepers this time, until the debt should be paid. Our Lord says to us : “‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses’”.

It is very important for us to remember this warning that the Lord gives us about forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that we all find quite difficult to do, and yet our Saviour is saying to us that this is not an option. It is the fundamental way of life for a Christian. So much is it so, that this forgiveness is mentioned in the Our Father in precisely the same sort of terms that we heard in the parable today. The prayer says that we are asking our heavenly Father to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. (“As we have forgiven” is the exact translation.) We are asking God to forgive us as much as we forgive everyone else. When we are praying this prayer, we are acknowledging that if we do not forgive other people, we cannot expect God to forgive us. Everything is exactly in proportion.

What about this forgiveness ? Yesterday, the Lord was speaking to us about the necessity to maintain a loving relationship in marriage. He was speaking about how essential this relationship of love in marriage is, and how important it is to avoid, if at all possible, breaking this relationship of marriage. People who are married have to have experience, then, of this forgiveness on a daily basis. When people commit themselves to each other in the relationship of marriage and they become one (as our Saviour says), they are expressing in their love, and in their union, the love of God. Christ is in the middle of that marriage. They are expressing this love. As we all know, there is a Mr-down-below whom I nickname (at the instigation of an old friend) “Big Red”, who specialises in dividing. I have not yet encountered a marriage in which the couple was not tempted in many ways by the Divider.

The commitment in love is tested over and over again. As a result of this, I have heard from experienced married couples (including my own parents), that it is very important to follow the exhortation of the Apostle Paul, and to end every day forgiving one another (see Ephesians 4:26). If there is any sort of misunderstanding, disagreement, suspicion between the husband and the wife at the end of the day, it is essential to talk it through, pray it through, and find the way to mutual forgiveness and harmony. This is more important than sleep. If anyone does not forgive before going to sleep, the bitterness of whatever it is will be there upon rising in the morning, and it will already have festered and even swollen overnight. It will poison the next day, and it will continue to fester and swell. It is crucial, says our Saviour, that we live in this state of constant forgiveness with each other, married or not.

There is more yet to be said about forgiveness. When we hear people in Canadian society generally talking about forgiveness, it seems that they may well be implying that forgiveness means merely by determination and an act of will to put aside the pain, the grudge, the resentment. (C S Lewis reports that his mentor, George MacDonald, said that it is possible even to become a grudge.) Thus, they suppose that just by sheer will power the pain and the anger and the resentment are put in a closet, hidden away, covered up, denied and forgotten. However, things that are painfully said or done are not so easily put away, forgotten or let go. Pain from very sharp and untrue things that are said lasts a long time. What do we do ? How do we cope with this ? The Lord, Himself, has given us the sense of the way, which I keep repeating over and over again, as it is the only way I know. Saint Silouan and Archimandrite Sophrony both point out that in the words of our Saviour in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:44), the attitude of what to do is given to us. We have to bless and pray for those who hurt us and persecute us. How do we do that ? They both say that the simple way, and in fact, the effective way is to say repeatedly : “Lord, have mercy” for the person who has hurt us.

Whatever is the language of our heart is the language in which we have to say this prayer. In French it has to be : “Seigneur sois miséricordieux” (and not the shortcut “Prends pitié” or “Aie pitié”) ; in Greek : “Kyrie eleison” ; in Slavonic : “Gospodi pomilui”, and in Romanian : “Doamne milueste”. Sad to say, English does not have a very good way of saying this prayer. “Lord have mercy” in the way that we understand it popularly is not so good. We have to translate the meaning of “Lord have mercy” before we can even start praying this prayer. “Lord have mercy” does not mean that we are asking God to spare us from punishment, and to hold back on His wrath against us. Sadly, that is how most people understand this prayer.

This prayer really means that we are asking the Lord to be present in His loving-kindness to us, and to whomever we are praying for. We are asking Him to be present in His love. When we are asking Him to be present in His love, we are not asking Him to do anything in particular. We are not telling Him what to do. We are simply asking Him to be amongst, between, and in us. When I am praying for people who have hurt me, asking the Lord to address it, to be there, to be with us, and in us, the Lord’s healing does come to my irritated heart. Peace can come to my disturbed and perturbed heart. The more I feel tempted to be irritated or upset about something someone else did or said, the more I should say this prayer, asking the Lord to be present, and allowing His peace to come into my heart. When this is occurring, and the peace is arriving in my heart, the Lord is also changing the relationship between me and the person who has hurt me. This is possible for each and every one of us. This is the way the Lord has given us to achieve this forgiveness. We cannot simply forget something. However, the Lord can heal it. The Lord can change the character of the memory, and the Lord can actually bring a change to the other person, too.

I still love to repeat the example of Saint Juvenaly, the priest-martyr of Alaska, and the effects of his forgiveness of the people who were killing him. The people who were shooting arrows at him thought that he was crazy because it looked to them as though he were waving his hands as if to brush away mosquitoes. In fact, he was blessing the people with his hand. He was blessing the people who were killing him. However, the fruit of that blessing in his death is that there are people in that part of Alaska who have an oral tradition alive to this day of how their families came to Christ after the death of Saint Juvenaly. There are still Orthodox Christians there to this day (about 200 years later) because their families embraced the forgiveness that was extended by Saint Juvenaly, the priest-martyr, to them and their ancestors. This forgiveness has many fruits in the deaths of other martyrs, but this example is “close to home”, and that is why I like to talk about it so frequently.

For us, forgiveness is not an option. Forgiveness is a way of life. It is our way of life, because our way is Christ. He, Himself, forgave everyone from the Cross. He forgave His killers. He forgave those who were mocking Him. He forgave His betrayers. He forgave everyone from the Cross. It is our way as Christians to find the way to live every day in the way of forgiveness in Christ. Let us follow the example of our Saviour, involving Him in every minute in every relationship in which we are engaged, in every action, and reaction. In so doing, 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 Beheading of Saint John the Forerunner

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We decrease ; the Lord increases
The Beheading of Saint John the Forerunner
29 August, 2009
Acts 13:25-32 ; Mark 6:14-30
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ; Matthew 20:29-34

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

On this day, we are remembering the Beheading of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. This martyrdom occurred partly because the Forerunner was pointing out the corruption of King Herod’s personal life in a public way, and the king felt embarrassed. Nevertheless, he respected the Prophet. However, King Herod was immorally and illegally married to his brother’s wife. This incestuous wife, Herodias, bore the Prophet a bitter grudge. A time came when King Herod was “in his cups” (as the saying goes), and he promised Salome to give her anything that she asked. However, she did not know what to ask, and asked her mother. Her mother said : “‘Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter’” (Matthew 14:8). Therefore, King Herod was asked by Salome to provide this. We are told in the Gospel that he was very sorry that he had to do this (he was obviously a conflicted man), but at the same time, a promise is a promise from a king, and therefore he had to order that it be so.

It seems that we do not remember the Forerunner nearly enough, even though in this country, with the arrival of the French, he has always been considered as a sort of Canadian patron saint of this country. It seems to me that many people do not remember him except for the fact that he existed, in much the same way as people who live in a town in Québec called Sainte-Jean-Chrysostome, consider it to be merely some arbitrary name. However, they have no idea who Saint John Chrysostom is. Therefore, people tend not to pay attention to the importance of the Forerunner : what he said, what he did, how he was, what is his example to us. Above all, he reveals to us the love of God. The fact that he was a cousin of our Saviour is a significant factor. His love for God is clearly manifest. Why else would one withdraw into the desert, and live on honey and beans (or insects, depending on how one chooses to interpret the word). I rather think the word is more likely to be “beans” rather than “insects” because locusts only come sometimes.

The Forerunner’s example is for us like that of Saint Mary of Egypt – living in the desert, and depending completely on God for his sustenance. He lived in the desert out of love for the Lord, and he depended on the Lord completely for everything. He told everyone around him to repent. What does this “repenting” mean of which the Prophet is telling us ? It does not mean that we are expected to be going around and beating our breast, bashing ourselves for our sins, and always being self-condemning (as many people seem to think). It means rather that we should turn about. We should make a 180 degree turn. We should turn away from our selfishness to selflessness. We should turn from self-love to selfless love. We should turn from darkness to light. We should turn from death to life. This is what the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John is talking about. He is telling us clearly that God is calling us.

We see the example of our Saviour today, when He heals the two blind men at the side of the road, even when the crowd was pushing them away. He asks them : “‘What do you want Me to do for you?’” They ask to receive their sight. Out of compassion, He gives them their sight. What do they do ? They follow Him, having received their sight. They receive not only their physical sight, but sight in their hearts. They recognise clearly Who He is. They knew already that He is the Son of David. Now this title “Son of David” more clearly makes sense because of this sign of their healing. They understand that He is the One who is sent to redeem the world. They understand that He is the Christ. They understand that He is indeed the Saviour.

In today’s Epistle reading, the Apostle says that the Lord chooses the insignificant ones of the earth in order to confound the wise. Why does He do this ? The Forerunner is an insignificant person in terms of the world. It is understood that we cannot get anywhere in society by living in the desert, living on beans and honey, wearing some skins or old rags, walking around with a stick, and telling people to turn about. We cannot get anywhere in the world with that sort of behaviour. We cannot get anywhere in the world by living in the desert as Saint Mary of Egypt did either, because the way of the world is completely obsessed with power. It is focussed on grasping and struggling to get to the top of the pile of something.

When I was in Norway again this year, as always we go to the Frogener Park, which is a big sculpture park with all sorts of controversial (for Norwegians) sculptures by Vigeland. The sculptures are about 100 years old, but because Norwegians are who they are, they are still controversial. However, in the middle of this park there is a very significant pillar. It is a very tall granite pillar which is made up of human bodies all intertwined with each other, going to the top of this thing. We can see people struggling to get to the top, and my cousins (who are artists) pointed out to me : “What happens at the top ?” What happens at the top is that as soon as a person gets to the top, there is someone else dragging him or her down. That is what it is to get to the top, and to be on the top. There is a continual circulation on this pillar of people pulling their way to the top, and others pulling them down, and their having to go back up again. All this struggle is for nothing – this pillar does not go anywhere. It is merely a pillar standing by itself in the middle of a park. Vigeland says that this pillar stands for how our life is without the Lord : struggling to get to “the top”, pretending to be someone special and powerful. In this situation of tangled struggle, a person could ask : “Who am I ? I am simply one person who is pulled down instantly by someone who is trying to throw me out of the way. Then I have to struggle to get back up again”.

This is not the way of the Christian at all. We call ourselves “wise”, but we are not wise if we are struggling to be “somebody” or “something”, or achieve this or that without the Lord. If we really want to be who God created us to be, then it is important for us to give up ideas of grandeur, and to remember instead that our Saviour came as the Servant of all. He, as the Servant of all, does such things as heal these blind men today. He touches your heart and my heart, broken, and in pain. He comes to us in our need and He meets our need. He heals our diseases. He unites us to Himself. He gives us Life.

It is necessary for us to remember this, because if we do not make ourself into something, then the Lord will make us into the person He created us to be in the context of His love. Greatness is found in lowliness. Who is the greatest among women ? It is the Mother of God. What did she sing ? She sang : For He has looked attentively upon the humility of His bond-maiden (Luke 1:48). It is essential that we Christians remember this important lesson : I do not need to be anyone particularly significant. I need to be a servant of the Lord, and do His will. This is what greatness is, anyway – doing His will. There is life in doing His will. There is life in serving Him. There is life in helping people around us. This life is much more significant than having some sort of power, a big name in society, and so forth. Being a real human being who loves other human beings, who serves other human beings in the love of Jesus Christ – that is what is important.

That is why the Prophet and Forerunner is so great and so central for us. That is why (even if we seem to be constantly forgetting about him or neglecting his memory) he is always prominent in our iconography, always put before us by the Tradition of the Church, so that we will remember. Even if we are so forgetful, we will be prodded to remember, because the Prophet is always before us. The Lord makes him great because of his humility. He continues to intercede for people as the other saints continue to intercede for people and to bring to us the Lord’s healing power. To the all-holy Trinity be glory : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Love for Jesus Christ is all that matters

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Love for Jesus Christ is all that matters
12th Sunday after Pentecost
30 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ; Matthew 19:16-26

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

This morning, the Apostle is saying to us in the Epistle to the Corinthians that he passed on to us what he, himself, received about the Resurrection of Christ. This handing on is not merely some sort of philosophical principle about Who is Jesus Christ. It is not some sort of intellectual proposition. What he is handing on to us is his personal encounter and experience of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead. This is essential for us to remember. The personal encounter with the Risen Christ is of paramount importance.

The Apostle is speaking to us about all the personal difficulties that he faced in the course of his following Christ, his obeying Christ, his serving Christ, his loving relationship with Christ. Earlier this week, in this context, I was reminded (by a priest who was talking to me about something completely different) that the elder in the Wisdom of Sirach says to his son : “My son, if you draw near to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation” (Wisdom of Sirach 2:1). We can see, therefore, that a long time ago it was understood what is the consequence of following the Lord. The Apostle Paul had his own personal experience of the temptations that come when a person is determined and desiring to serve the Lord because of love. It is this response of love that nurtures the desire to serve the Lord. This temptation is often expressed in adversities. The adversity does not come from the Lord. It comes from the forces of darkness : from the Opponent and his cohorts who wish to take away the blessing from us in order to impose darkness upon us, and maintain the reign of fear by which the world is enslaved until this very day. The Apostle understood that it is our relationship of love with the Lord that sets us free. It sets us free from all fear. It sets us free from all death. It sets us free from any sort of enslavement, and it gives us strength in the Lord. If we recall at the end of the Epistle reading today, the Apostle says, in effect : “It was not I that did anything anyway ; it was the Grace of God acting in me that did everything”.

It is important for you and for me to remember this, because in our North American culture, we are formed from the womb to be “do-it-yourselfers”, and very much prepared to be responsible for everything ourselves. In this context, we are formed in this mentality to such an extent that we generally turn to God for help only when we are desperate. Too much are we following a distortion of that old saying : “God helps those who help themselves”. Coming from Scottish ancestry, I heard that many times when I was growing up. However, this saying is not just as it appears at face value. God definitely helps us. He expects us to do our part, but it is not that we have to start something, and then bring God into it if we have some sort of problem. In the Orthodox way, our responsibility is to start everything with a blessing. That is why The Book of Needs has blessings for almost everything under the sun. Father Schmemann, of blessed memory, used to make a little joke about this. In his lectures, he would invent things, saying that he hoped that perhaps one day The Book of Needs would have a prayer to cover different events such as, for example, when your cow fell into a well, or something like this. The point is not that there actually is such a prayer in The Book of Needs for such an occasion, but that it should be there. There is no aspect of our life that is not covered by the Lord, and that does not interest the Lord. There is no aspect of our lives about which He does not care. He cares about everything. The Orthodox response, therefore, has always been (since the time of Christ, and of the apostles) to ask the Lord to bless everything as soon as we start it. From Orthodox cultures, there are countless examples of such things as the blessing of every ingredient before we start cooking ; blessing the food before it goes into the oven, and when it comes out ; blessing bread with the sign of the Cross before we cut it (and often cutting the bread in the sign of the Cross when we cut it) ; blessing a car when we get one (whether it is new or new to us) ; blessing the journey every time we get into the car and when we get out, and thanking God for our safe arrival. Bringing the blessing of God to absolutely everything is the way the Orthodox live out this saying : “God helps those who help themselves”.

The Lord must be first in everything, and not merely an afterthought. God is not on some shelf somewhere. He is not reading the newspaper while the clock is ticking on the shelf. He is involved in our lives intimately. That is why we have our Lord, Himself, reiterating today the continuity of all our experience of God from the beginning by His repeating the foundations of the Commandments to this rich young man. The young man asks : “‘What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’” Everything in the Ten Commandments is based on the response of love to God. It is not the imposition of rules. The Ten Commandments are the expression of how a person lives who loves God. The Ten Commandments begin with the love of God. The summary is : “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, from your whole soul, and from your whole power” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5). When our Lord says that “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:18), He is extending the application of all those specific things said in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, expressing how a person lives who loves God, are expressing the experience of God by human beings all the way back to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden experienced God as love. God has never shown us anything about Himself apart from this love. It is the Deceiver who introduced fear to us at the very beginning. It is the Deceiver who continues to put doubts in our mind which darken the heart and which then draw us away from the Lord. Then we forget, and we get hurt. Then we wake up, and remember that the Lord loves us. Then we turn to Him, and say : “I am sorry”. The Lord, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, embraces us because He has been waiting for us all this time. In fact, it is He who helps us to say : “I am sorry”.

All this is the context of the Orthodox Christian life which is a life lived in the environment of love for the Lord. Because of such love, it is possible for us, even after we have fallen away and forgotten, to come to our senses. Then we are able, because of this divine love, to turn about (turning 180 degrees), turning away from darkness and back to the light. We turn back to life, and away from death. This is our way. This is the way of repentance, and the way of living in the love of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is constantly giving us much hope and much encouragement. Through the words of the Apostle, He continues to strengthen us. Myriads of saints have been and are being our examples. We have to say “10,000” in English, but the Greeks have a word for it (as the saying goes) : “myriad” is the word, which I like so much better. Myriads and myriads of saints have been and are being our examples of how to live in the love of Jesus Christ. Frankly, that is one reason why I am grateful to God that He lets me go on pilgrimages from time to time. When I am on a pilgrimage, I encounter not only the relics of many saints, but I encounter the life in Christ that is existing and going on in the Churches elsewhere in the world. I see people just like our people, living their lives through all the temptations, the struggles and adversities that Big Red throws up against us. They, like us, still are putting their trust in the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Let us remember, brothers and sisters, that love for Jesus Christ is all that matters. Living our lives in the love of Jesus Christ is the essence of our Orthodox tradition. We are here today because of the love of Jesus Christ. We are worshipping our God, who is love, because of the love of Jesus Christ. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, and through the prayers of the holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John, whose death we have just celebrated, let us ask the Lord to strengthen us in this love. May He enable us to persevere in this love, and in every aspect of our lives to glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

In the Footsteps of Saint Anthony

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
In the Footsteps of Saint Anthony
Saturday of the 12th Week after Pentecost
5 September, 2009

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

The monks who are living here are following in the footsteps of Saint Anthony the Great. What does this mean ? It means that they are living alone with one aim, which is to find the way in their lives to be pleasing to God. They are not trying to please themselves. Rather, they are trying to put the Lord first in their lives and to allow the Lord to look after them.

That is just what Saint Anthony was doing in the Egyptian desert. In this desert people came in due course and tried to live close to Saint Anthony. He tried to move away from them. They tried to move close to him again. This was because the love of God was radiating from him, and they wanted to be near this love of God. If God were to give us someone like Saint Anthony the Great now in Canada, instead of trying to crowd closer to him to take God’s blessing from being near him, we Canadians likely would treat him as a “kook”, and consider him socially deranged. Probably we would not benefit from him at all, because of our tendency to practice amateur psychoanalysis. We could, perhaps, eventually learn, but it could well be too late.

The nature of the life of our Church in Canada as a whole has very much changed (in a good direction) in the last twenty or thirty years. About thirty years ago, people were losing hope. Things were starting to fall apart because, I think, people got distracted. However, people’s sense of direction is getting better now. People are remembering the Lord better now. It does not hurt at all that in Canada there are a number of monastic communities standing in our midst, helping us to remember what is first. It is more to the point to remember Who is first.

Monks are not some sort of experts with Ph.D.s in spirituality. They are persons who have turned to the Lord. They have decided to follow Him, as the apostles did when the Lord said to them : “‘Follow Me’” (Matthew 9:9). They are doing this because the Lord, in His love, touched their hearts and they responded in their hearts. They decided to turn away from the way of the world. They decided to turn to the Lord and allow Him to guide them. Because of their work of love and repentance (that most favourite word of mine), the Lord is touching people’s hearts. Because the monks in this country are trying to follow the Lord, many other people are gaining courage to try to follow Him as well, to follow the same path of love, the path of selflessness. This path is not the “me-myself-and-I-way” but the “What do You bless, Lord” way.

All the monks that I have encountered in Canada (and we have many) have been a source of encouragement for me as a bishop, and these monks here (who are so close to us both geographically and personally) have been just such an encouragement. I know that they are an encouragement for you as well. It is not all that easy following the Lord. The life of Saint Anthony very definitely shows what happens when anyone decides to follow the Lord. You-know-who-down-below does not like it, and does everything he can to discourage and distract us from following the Lord. He puts every possible block and obstacle in our way. In the case of Saint Anthony, he suffered physical violence from “down-below”. Not every monk receives that sort of treatment, but it is definitely not unknown even to this day. Neither does anyone know why one person gets the treatment from Big-Red-down-below that Saint Anthony got, whereas other people persevere along rather a different course (at least without physical violence). However, the point is that whatever is happening to them, they have supreme trust in the love of the Lord. Through their personal experience in love, they have supreme confidence that what the Apostle says to the Hebrews (as he says to us) is absolutely true : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus Christ never changes. His love is always the same for us. He is always constant. He is always faithful. His love is life-giving. That is why we continue to persevere, just as these monks are continuing to persevere through every sort of difficulty. Our Saviour is with us. “God is with us” (as we sing in Great Compline so frequently and with such enthusiasm).

Brothers and sisters, we are gathered together today at the pilgrimage in honour of Saint Anthony on the anniversary of the founding of this hermitage. We are gathered together because of the love of Jesus Christ, and gathered here in the love of Jesus Christ. As we receive the holy Body and Blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, let us ask Him to multiply the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts so that our faithfulness will not falter, and that we will persevere in His love. May we be enabled to support the monks, as the monks support us all in love, that we will bring each other all together, in the love of Jesus Christ, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, into the Kingdom of Heaven where we will glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Taking care of the Lord's Vineyard

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Taking care of the Lord’s Vineyard
13th Sunday after Pentecost
6 September, 2009
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 ; Matthew 21:33-42

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

When the Lord is giving this parable about the vinedressers, He is speaking to you and to me, also. When we are hearing words such as these, we have to ask ourselves : “How am I fulfilling my responsibilities in Christ’s vineyard ?” “How am I living up to Christ’s call to me according to the gifts that He gave to me to work in this vineyard ?”

In this parable today, we see that the vinedressers are deciding to take over everything, themselves. The result of their attempt to take over everything was the death of many people, and, and ultimately their own expulsion. We have to be asking ourselves what sort of stewards we are of the gifts that God has given us to work in His Kingdom, because in fact, we can behave just as those vinedressers. The Lord has given us the responsibility to tend the vines. What are these vines ? The vines are not only the Lord’s property, but they are also His living, human beings, together with all the rest of creation.

What are vinedressers supposed to be doing ? Their responsibility is to be trimming the vines and looking after the vines in order to enable them to produce the greatest amount possible of the best quality of grapes. In that way, the best eating grapes are produced as well as the best wine possible. How we behave in our lives can sometimes actually be like the vinedressers of the vineyard that we are hearing about today because they took over without asking anything of the master (who owned everything, and on whom their livelihood depended). They decided that they knew best, and that they would take over everything. In our own stewardship of the gifts that the Lord has given to us, we all have to be asking ourselves (starting with the bishops) : “How am I looking after the Lord’s vineyard ?” “Am I doing it in harmony with His will or am I usurping it, thinking that I can do better ?” “Am I doing it my way instead of doing it the Lord’s way ?” If I am doing it my way, and trying to convince the Lord to let me do it my way, then there might be still some redeeming feature there (because I am asking the Lord to bless the doing of it my way).

However, my way is usually the wrong way because I do not know enough about everything to be able to make fully informed and correct decisions about things. I need to have my heart in communion with the Lord, in harmony with the Lord, to be able to make the right decision about things, and to determine what is the right direction of things. Am I being a good steward of the responsibilities that the Lord has placed on me in the context of these particular gifts that He has given me ? I can only even partially know and understand this when I am first asking the Lord to show me. It is He, the Lord of the vineyard and the Lord of my life, who will show me whether I am on the right track or whether I need to straighten myself out. Of course, I cannot actually straighten myself out without asking Him to help me to straighten out.

It is extremely important for us to be constantly mindful of this vineyard (the Church, and our life in the Church). The whole Church and even our lives are not our own property. They are the Lord’s gifts to us, and we are the stewards of everything. Are we stewards that are going to try to take over as the stewards of this vineyard did today ? If we try to take over for ourselves, and deceive ourselves that we know better than the Lord what is supposed to be done in our lives, then the same thing will happen to us as happened to those vinedressers. In other words, the Lord will simply remove us and replace us with faithful vinedressers. We, here, have been given a responsibility towards the vine which is the life in the Church, the lives of the believers in the Church, and the lives of people who are coming into the Church. Many of us have not been born in the Church, but have been grafted into the Church in the course of our lives. How are we nurturing the vine as vinedressers ? How are we behaving according to the responsibilities that the Lord has given us ? He calls us to tend His vine. He calls us to nurture the vine – not only the bishops, the priests, and the deacons – but He has called us all to do this.

How are we taking care of these vines ? How are we bringing the best fruit from these vines ? The Lord of the vineyard is going to be asking us about how we are serving Him and about how we are bringing life as we care for the vineyard. What is to be understood is that the vines are everyone’s lives. (However, we have to remember also that our Lord, Himself, said : “‘I am the Vine, you are the branches’” (John 15:5). We are branches of the one Vine. The Lord in His love for us wants us to bear much fruit (see John 15:8). Not only are we doing what is necessary to enable the vine to bear the best and the most fruit possible, but we, ourselves, being part of that same vine, are also getting trimmed and cleaned up.

It is crucial for us to remember that we are not in control of everything, ourselves. Everything about our lives is the result of God’s gift to us. We are stewards of that gift. Everything in our lives belongs first to the Lord. How do we, then, in our lives allow the Lord to bring the best and the most fruit from us all ? How do we help each other to bring forth this fruit for the Lord’s glory ? This is an essential question for us all to be asking all the time. How am I co-operating with the Lord so that not only in my own life, but in the lives of those around me, and those who depend on me, we will be able to bear the best and the most fruit for the Lord for His glory ?

The most important thing for us to be conscious of in our lives is the danger of falling into the trap that those vinedressers in the parable today deliberately jumped into – to usurp from the Lord what is rightfully His. It is necessary therefore for us Orthodox Christians to remember that no matter what we are doing in our lives, no matter what our gifts are, no matter what our abilities are, everything in our lives comes from the Lord. It is His gift, and it is His working in us that enables us to bear fruit, and to live truly productive lives. However, we must always be giving the glory to the Lord, not to ourselves.

As we are beginning this new ecclesiastical year (according to the sanctoral commemoration), let us ask the Lord to help us to be faithful and good stewards of what He has given us to care for, whatever that is, and however much or little that may be. Let us ask Him to help us to be the best stewards possible of what He has given to us. Let us ask Him to guard our hearts from falling into the temptation to usurp what is His and take it over, and attribute it to ourselves. Instead, in everything, let us give glory to Him. Let us give thanks to Him for everything. Giving glory to God and giving thanks to God must be the constant characteristic of all Christians. We were created to be like this. If we are falling down in our giving thanks to God for everything and glorifying Him for everything, we can already smell in our hearts the stink of those vinedressers who were trying to take over the vineyard for themselves. It is only when we are caring about the Master, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and when we are doing everything for His glory in the context of His will, and offering everything to Him, that everything will be well, grow well, and have life.

Since we have been given the responsibilities of our life in Christ and the lives of those around us, and the responsibility of testifying for Christ in our lives, let us ask the Lord to give us the ability to remember to whom the vines belong. Let us ask the Lord to give us the heart and the love to care for the vines so that they will bear the most fruit. Let us ask the Lord to renew our hearts, also, so that, usurping nothing for ourselves, our hearts may give glory to the Lord of the vineyard in everything. Let us give glory and thanksgiving for everything to the Lord only. Our Lord says : “‘I am the Vine, you are the branches’” (John 15:5). Let us ask our Saviour, who is the Vine, to enable us, the branches, to bear good fruit to His glory. Let us remember that it is only for Him that we live, and in Him that we can live. Let us give glory to the Lord of the vineyard, our heavenly Father, who loves us, cares for us, nurtures us, feeds us, and prunes us so that we will be able to bear fruit many times over, to the glory of the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Living fruit-bearing Lives in Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Living fruit-bearing Lives in Christ
15th Sunday after Pentecost
20 September, 2009
2 Corinthians 4:6-15 ; Matthew 22:35-46

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

The main difficulty that we human beings have faced in the course of our own history is ourselves. This is one of the main reasons that we always want to be in control of every situation. We actually put ourselves very often in the place of God. This is a very dangerous thing to do. However, we do it because we are afraid. We do not know why we are afraid, but we are afraid.

Very often we behave towards the Scriptures with a similar disposition. For instance, we have an example of this today when our Lord is showing to the Pharisees that they are doing such things. They had decided what the Scriptures say without actually reading them clearly. They were insisting that our Saviour must be the Son of David. This is half true. Our Saviour then says : “‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right-hand’” (Psalm 109:1). In saying this our Saviour is making it patently clear Who He is. He, Himself, is the Lord who is sitting at the right-hand of the Lord, the Father.

Very often even until this day, we, in our wilfulness, try to make Jesus Christ into something or Someone other than Who He is. How many times are we reading in English (and I am sure it is the same case in Russian) that Jesus Christ is some nice “Philosopher-Person”. This is the most common way to treat Him, but some people treat Him as some sort of magician. Even nowadays people avoid facing Who is Jesus Christ. They want to try (if they could) to tame God. However, God cannot be controlled by us, and He cannot be tamed by us. God is our Creator ; we are not His creators. We are the product of His love. God created us to be in His own image, and that image is love. This love is selfless love.

Our Saviour has shown us by His words and by His actions how this love works in our lives. Wherever He is going, He is putting things in good and right order. He is healing people from diseases. He is raising people from the dead. He is releasing people from slavery to devils. He is correcting their misunderstanding, as we see in the Gospel reading today. The Lord, in fact, is enacting His love by serving us. Therefore, when He said to His apostles at the Last Supper that we should wash each other’s feet (and in fact, the feet of everyone) if we want to follow Him, He is showing us concretely that the servant is not greater than the master (see John 15:20).

We must serve as He serves. His love is self-emptying love which empties itself for our sake. This is the true expression of humility. Those who live in this way understand that the more one gives love like this, the more God renews this love and increases this love. It is because Saint Seraphim of Sarov, and people like him, were filled to overflowing with such love that they would receive visitors hour after hour after hour. Saint Seraphim gave good words from God to hungry people. There are many true Elders alive today (in fact, I have seen them in Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and other places) who are doing the same thing. Less than 100 years ago, there was the famous Saint Silouan of Mount Athos. He was so full of God’s love that he spent all his days praying for the whole world. When people are praying in such a way, they are also suffering greatly because of love, and because the world is suffering so greatly.

Brothers and sisters, it is important that we remember what the Lord is calling us to do and to be when He says to you and to me : “‘Follow Me’” (Matthew 4:19). The Lord speaks His love to you and to me. He enacts this love for you and for me. It is our place to respond to this love, and to learn how to live in this same love. It is not for us to say to God : “I know what I want to be, and what I must be in life”. Instead, it is for us to say to the Lord : “How do You want me to walk in this life ?” “How do You want me to serve You in this life ?” The Lord will and He does show us what He wants us to do. Accomplishing His will is always done in the context of selfless love. It is life-giving. This means that if I am a plumber, and the Lord is asking me to do plumbing, this is a very good and life-giving service. To be a plumber is a very difficult and unpleasant job, but it is absolutely necessary for our life as we are living it nowadays. It is certainly an honourable trade. The same thing could be said of most trades or professions. If we are living in harmony with God’s will, and exercising the gifts that God has given us, our lives will have a clear direction. Our lives will be fruit-bearing.

Let us ask the Lord to renew our hearts today by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Then we will be able to ask : “Lord, what do You want me to do ?” Let us ask the Lord to put our lives into the correct order, in harmony with His love, so that we will grow into being our true selves. In so doing, in every way, our lives will glorify our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Pochaiv Icon of the Mother of God

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Radical Christian Love
Visit of the Pochaiv Icon of the Mother of God
17th Sunday after Pentecost
4 October, 2009
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 ; Luke 6:31-36

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

In the Gospel reading today, the Lord is once again telling us what our life is to be like, and what is its character. The primary character of our life is to love other people, and even to love unlovable people ; blessing people who hurt us, and being kind to nasty people, crabby people, argumentative people. Why ? Because this is how the Lord is to us. We are so often ungrateful, crabby, and blaming Him for everything that goes wrong. Nevertheless, He is kind to us. We seem to have such a tendency to be lazy, and we are quick to make excuses for ourselves to do less rather than more in His Kingdom. We make excuses over and over again. I have heard plenty. I, myself, have made many excuses. Even so, the Lord is kind, generous, patient, loving and nurturing towards us at all times. We do not deserve a thing, and yet, He gives us everything.

This week our diocese, and our whole Orthodox Church in Canada has been given a gift beyond comprehension : the Visit, and the Progress across the country of the Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv. We could never earn this gift, and we certainly did not earn it, because Canadian Orthodox Christians seem so very often to be taking everything for granted and, in general, not working hard in the Kingdom. That does not apply to everyone, but that is how we generally are across the country. We are comfortable, and that is dangerous. The Apostle Paul is asking about what God and His way have to do with the world. He says that we should not be unequally yoked ; we should live a life that is righteous, that is characteristic of Christ, His love, His way, instead of allowing ourselves to be pulled down into the quicksand of the world. In this country with all its selfish ways and all its darkness, and sometimes (actually too often these days) its outright evil ways, it is easy to get trapped in the quicksand. Our ways, as members of Christ, have to be the ways of love, light, liberty and freedom in Christ with joy and all peace, unlike the way of our country which is so absorbed with the material and with power.

Our Orthodox Christian way has to be the way of radical love, radical forgiveness, radical kindness and radical generosity, instead of locking ourselves up and protecting ourselves. Now that we understand better that the Mother of God does love us, and that she does care for us enough to come to us in such a way as this, it is important that we follow up and do our part, too, taking the assurance of her love, the assurance of her protection, and of her Son’s protection. It is essential that we live accordingly : open-armedly, open-heartedly, open-handedly and “open-doorsedly” (if one can say that). Our way has to be this radical way of love, and this radical way of kindness.

When the Mother of God came to us, she came unexpectedly. All we did was to ask if it could be possible that this icon might be able to come to us. I almost fainted when the answer came back : “yes”. Thank God that we have such good organisers in our diocesan population so that this icon could make its Progress across the country in a dignified and appropriate manner. We almost did not get the icon several times. Air Canada and Westjet (in contrast to Ukrainian Airlines) absolutely refused to allow the icon with the metal riza on it to travel in the passenger compartment. (The riza is the decorated metallic protective covering.) They also insisted that the whole thing would have to go in the baggage compartment, and we know what that implies. The brotherhood, with the archbishop who is the abbot of the monastery, said : “No way”. Then they must have prayed about it some more, and eventually it was decided that the icon would come, as it did, on Ukrainian Airlines, all intact. Then, from Ottawa to Vancouver the icon itself was to be removed from its riza, and placed in a specially constructed cloth carrying-bag. The icon was to be carried on the chest of the Hieromonk Gabriel across the country to Vancouver. The metal riza, itself, in its carrying case went in the baggage department. This Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God could certainly not go into any baggage compartment or out of the hands or out of the sight of these monks. No-one knows, it seems, when that icon was last taken out of the riza. That riza is a few hundred years old. This copy (it is not the original) is also a few hundred years old.

We have all experienced the extraordinary presence of the love of God in this icon. Through this icon, already more than one person in this country has been healed. Probably there are more that we do not know about, because Canadians tend not to be very talkative about such things. They often and characteristically merely say : “Oh !” In addition to my being disappointed with this minimal response, it really bothers me as a bishop that Canadians very often try to analyse scientifically how this healing might have happened. Being trained mistakenly to separate science from God and His creation, we Canadians tend to try to find reasons apart from God and His intervention why an unexpected healing would occur. We sometimes even blasphemously dare to say : “Oh, what a coincidence this is”. They do this instead of giving thanks to God for these expressions of His love. However, in the cases of healing that I do know of for certain, these persons did give thanks to God directly and immediately. However, I know how these temptations work. I know how our minds work because I have seen it happen too many times. We tend not to be able to accept that the Lord loves us this much, and that He could, and would really do something so significant. Therefore, we tend to think that there must be a scientific explanation for healings. This is why it is hard to live in this society, and hard to be an Orthodox Christian in this country. We do not have the sort of underpinning that Orthodox cultures do have, so that many things which for Orthodox Christians elsewhere are instinctive are a big struggle for us.

The Mother of God is making her Progress across the country. Why am I using this word “Progress” ? It is because that is the word that is used always when royalty (kings and queens) are making their progress from place to place in the country. There are all sorts of stories, for instance, about Queen Elizabeth I or King Henry VIII (or about any other king or queen of England), and how they would make their progress from manor to manor, from dukedom to earldom and so forth, paying their visits. We have to use regal language for the Mother of God – there is no alternative. In fact, regal language is not even good enough, but it is the best we have. The Mother of God is making her Progress across this country, and she is giving us consolation and encouragement, to be sure. Mostly, she is calling us to repentance : to turn away from our selfish ways, and to turn towards her Son, to whom she always refers. She is asking us to turn towards her Son, to follow Him, and to be like Him in the way that we have just encountered in today’s Gospel reading, and in the exhortations of the Apostle Paul in the Epistle reading.

Once again I will say (and I will continue to say it many times, God willing) that in the Hierarchical Liturgy, nothing of what we are doing (in terms of dressing bishops, and all sorts of other things on which the attention is focussed on the bishop) has to do with the person, himself. It has everything to do with Christ. It reveals how we would treat Christ, Himself, if He were present. However, in the real presence of Christ, we bishops would not get this far in beginning to be vested, because we all would already be flat on the floor on our faces. Nevertheless, we try to express our love for the Lord in our liturgical worship. None of it is directed to the bishop, himself. It is all directed to Christ. This Divine Liturgy has all to do with Christ : our worship of Him ; our thanksgiving to Him for everything that we are, and for everything that we do, and everything that is in us. Everything is referred to Christ. Everything in our lives must come to be referring to Him. This is what it means to repent, to put on Christ seriously, and to allow our lives in everything to refer to Christ seriously so that other people can see His love, His joy and His peace in us.

In the context of these events of this past week, which are beyond expression, how can it be explained that, without planning, we were serving in the Temple of the Annunciation dedicated to the Mother of God, on the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, the consecration of another bishop for Canada in the presence of a Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God ? That cannot be organised. It was not organised to be like that, but it came to be like that. We, who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to perceive, let us understand the love of the Lord for us, and the extent of the Mother of God’s tender compassion and care for us. We are continuing now to serve the Divine Liturgy, and to offer all this to the Lord out of deep, profound thanksgiving. Let us ask Him to enable our hearts to be willing to follow Him, and to imitate Him in every way, every day, all the days of our lives. Let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Follow Me

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Follow Me
Saturday of the 17th Week after Pentecost
10 October, 2009
1 Corinthians 15:39-45 ; Luke 5:27-32

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

In the Gospel reading, our Lord gives us today a very direct example and experience of repentance in the conversion and sudden, complete change of heart of Levi, the tax collector (who is actually the Apostle Matthew). According to the actual words of the Gospel, we see our Saviour come today to the tax office of Levi. He looks at him, and says : “‘Follow Me’”. Immediately Levi gets up and follows Him. Not only does he follow Him, but he makes a big dinner for all his friends who are likewise tax collectors. In Jewish society, such people were the worst of the worst, because in their environment they were traitors (one could say). They were Jewish people working for the Roman government. They were taking taxes (and excess taxes) because the situation then was certainly not like that of our dear old Revenue Canada where things are somehow regulated and controlled. In those days, tax collectors had to raise a certain amount of money for the Roman emperor, and whatever they wanted to collect for themselves, they could take. These tax collectors were not only working for an occupying government, and conquerors, but they were also taking from their own people. This is why they are called sinners, and why such strong language is used against them very often.

This is why we also see the scribes and the Pharisees asking our Saviour today : “‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” The important word that the Lord has for them and for us is : “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’”. He came to look after those who are sick : these publicans, and people who are lost. The Pharisees knew the Law very well, and they were paying attention very carefully to the Law in their own lives. They were obeying the Law, even to an excess, sometimes. Regardless, the Lord says that if someone is on the right path, it is not a big deal. More precisely, what is His concern is these people who are completely lost. In one of the notes that I saw regarding the person of Levi, it is suggested that it is possible that Levi had already been baptised by Saint John the Forerunner. It is possible that he had been prepared for this meeting with the Lord by his previous encounters with the Forerunner. This may very well be. There might have been such preparation. For instance, just before this calling of Levi, there is the conversion of four fishermen who themselves had at least met the Forerunner. On the one hand, I think it is possible that the Forerunner had prepared Levi. On the other hand, it does not matter whether he did, or did not. What matters is that our Lord comes to him, and He looks him in the heart, not only in the eye. He looks him in the heart, and He says : “‘Follow Me’”. Immediately Levi’s heart responds to our Saviour’s words : “‘Follow Me’”. He responds to the intensity of His love.

Those of us who have been encountering and venerating the Pochaiv icon of the Mother of God as she is passing through Canada, have perhaps a taste of what this encounter is like. Encountering this icon is not like encountering anything else. When we are encountering this icon, we are definitely encountering the Mother of God. From this experience come love, healing, and change of life for many people. This is why it is no surprise for me that it could happen that Levi, sitting in his office collecting his taxes, could suddenly leave everything and follow our Saviour when He says : “‘Follow Me’”.

There is a tendency for us human beings to get confused about orders of beings, creatures, and so forth. We tend to blur everything together. For instance, there is a very old tendency amongst human beings to attribute to cats, dogs, trees, frogs, water, stones, mountains, and so forth, attributes of human beings. The Apostle is pointing out in his words to the Corinthians today that the Lord is not so limited as to have to blur everything like this. The Lord is the Lord of life. He is the Lord of all creation. From His love comes the whole of creation. It is He who clearly distinguishes amongst all the kinds of creation. “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory”. Every order has its own nature and its own relationship with the Lord. As much as we love our cats, dogs and other animals (I know of many stories about horses, and cows, and their relationships with human beings), the cows, the horses, the cats, the dogs, the canaries and the parrots are not human beings. They are other orders of creatures that the Lord has created because of His love, with their own character and their own nature. This makes it possible, and gives us the opportunity in Christ to love not only ourselves and our kind as human beings, but God’s creation in its totality. We can be very content and thankful for all these cats, dogs, various sorts of trees, flowers, even rocks, mountains and oceans. There is so much beauty in what God created. How can it be anything except beautiful ? After all, He created it through His love. He created us to be co-workers with Him in the midst of this creation.

Let us open our hearts to the Lord more and more. Let us ask Him to enable us to love even these geese (who are honking away out there), to love each other ; to love Him and His creation. Let us ask Him to enable us to be ourselves more and more, as He created us to be. Let us open our hearts so that when the Lord speaks to us (as He spoke to Levi this morning), we will respond in the same way, and our hearts will open to Him (as Levi’s heart did). May our hearts respond : “Yes, I am coming, Lord. I am following You”. In this following, let us glorify our Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Radiating and sharing our Saviour’s Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Radiating and sharing our Saviour’s Love
18th Sunday after Pentecost
11 October, 2009
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 ; Luke 7:11-16

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

There is no doubting the generosity of the Lord and His kindness towards us. A profound example of this generosity and kindness towards us is given to us today in the Gospel reading as we see our Saviour resurrecting the only son of the widow in Nain. Nain is a small village near the base of Mount Tabor. His compassion is visible, and almost touchable (one could say) for us today because we can understand the position of this poor woman who did not have the benefit of Canadian widows’ supplements, and welfare systems. In that society, that widow, burying her only son, would, after his death, be doomed to living on the streets and begging. That is how the society generally worked, and that is how it is even today in places like China.

That is why there was such grieving after the earthquake in Szechuan, because the older people are depending on their children to look after them in their old age and to protect them, as they have protected their children while they were growing up. Those older people (actually, people only in their fifties) in Szechuan, were deprived of their one-and-only child in most cases. Therefore, they had no-one to look after them in their old age. It means for them a terrible situation.

It is precisely the same case for this poor woman in Nain. With her son dead, she has nothing, and no resources for the future. This is why our Lord, in His compassion coming to meet her today, brings her son back to life in order to look after her. This poor woman is overcome with grief not only at the loss of her son, but also at the wretchedness of her situation.

The Lord is extending His compassion to us all over and over and over again. It is important for us to understand, we Orthodox Christians in particular, that the first priority in our life is to be putting ourselves in such a position that the Lord can speak to us, and that we can encounter Him in our hearts. We are very busy. We satisfy ourselves with coming to serve Him at the Divine Liturgy (and in many cases, it is only sometimes). We satisfy ourselves with coming to serve Him at the Divine Liturgy, hearing words about His love, hearing words about Him, and saying all sorts of things about Him. However, we do not necessarily stop and let Him speak to us. Too often, we do not let Him tell us in our hearts about His love for us specifically. He loves each one of us specifically, personally and uniquely. He created each one of us personally and uniquely. He loves each one of us personally, as well as all of us generally. He cares about each one of us particularly. It is important for us to stop sometimes in our lives, to be quiet with Him, to look at Him, and to allow Him to speak to us.

The example of this loving-kindness and mercy was shown to us here in Canada, in the recent Progress through Canada of the icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv, which is a Wonder-working icon. As far as I know, there is not anyone who came close to this icon, who did not realise that the Mother of God, herself, was present amongst us. There are many people across the country who have been healed of physical diseases, relational diseases and wreckage, also. In other words, the Mother of God, herself came in and through this icon to us, in order to encourage us, to help us to “pull up our socks”, to help us to come to her, and to her Son in particular. This little mission which has been sitting here in n, witnessing for the Lord for all these years, was blessed by the Mother of God (even though everyone was not able to be present). This came about because this mission became the first stop after her arrival in Toronto. She came here first, and there were a few people who were available right at that moment. She came and she blessed here, first. Even though all of us here today were not able to be present at that time in order to come and venerate her icon (and because of the circumstances of life many did not have the chance to venerate this icon at all), it is important for you all to understand that the Lord sent His Mother here, in particular, to bless this little mission. This mission has been working so hard and so faithfully for so long in this difficult city. She showed her love, and the love of her Son for you, here. Even if you were not able to be there, she is reassuring you all that she cares about you, and that her Son cares about you. The Lord cares about you. This blessing of the icon’s presence here is for you all. It is not only for the people who managed to venerate it on that day. This is the way that the Lord works in His love for us.

Who are we Canadians that we deserve anything ? We tend to be very quick to forget the Lord, and be busy about everything else. We often neglect the Lord, and look after ourselves first. This is our nature in Canada, it seems. However, the Lord sees some potential in us, obviously. He sent this icon to us to give us a “shot in the arm” (as we say), and to help us to have courage to persevere, to continue living for Him, and to try to deepen our relationship with Him.

The Lord is generous. The Lord cares about us. We are called to be the same as He : generous, open-hearted, open-handed, open-armed. Just as He is showing His care and His love for us, we are likewise to be caring for those around us. That is what the Apostle Paul means when he says that “‘God loves a cheerful giver’”. Very often we do not give, and are holding back. We can even be “tight-fisted” (as the saying goes) because we are afraid of what might happen. We are afraid that the Lord will not look after us, even though He said He would. We are afraid, somehow, and so we hold on. We do not truly open our hands and our hearts fully.

I know very well about these fears myself : I am not simply talking about theories. To help us to overcome these fears, I will give the example of a pilgrimage of Canadians to Ukraine. I think it was in 1994, the first time I went on a pilgrimage to Ukraine, and it was a time of famine in Ukraine. People did not have very much to eat, but everywhere we went, villagers knew that we had come from so far away, and that we were coming to visit them, their monasteries, and to venerate their icons and the relics of their saints. They received us with this sort of open-handedness and open-heartedness about which the Apostle Paul is speaking to us today. They shared all the nothing that they had so that we would have enough to eat. It was a very difficult position for this busload of “fat-cat” Canadians to be in, because on the one hand we had to eat enough to honour their generosity, and at the same time to eat little enough so that they would still have something left to eat. It is a very difficult balance we have to keep when we are trying to live as Christians and to be sensitive to the situation of people around us. The temptation for us Canadians is, of course, to say : “They are filling up that table, and they expect us to eat it, so we eat it”. We can be like locusts, sometimes.

The Lord, in His mercy, did look after those people who looked after us. It is very important for us to remember this. It is necessary that we remember that the Lord loves us. He cares about us. It does not matter what happens to us in our lives – the pains that we receive as the result of the fallenness of human beings, and all the other difficulties that we face. The Lord loves us. He cares about us. He is with us. He is in us.

Where do we look to find the Lord when we are saying the Prayer of Jesus ? We do not look for the Lord outside. Rather, we look inside, in our heart. The Lord, who created us and who is sustaining us, is at the centre of our very being. If we are saying the Prayer of Jesus in order to have the possibility of encountering the love of the Lord so that we understand it, we have to look in the centre of our being, not outside someplace. The Lord is not near or around us. Rather, He is here, in the heart. We have a strange way of speaking when we are talking about inviting the Lord in, or asking Him to come to us, somehow. We keep speaking like this, asking Him to come to us when He is there already in the heart of everyone of us. Our challenge is to open that space in our heart where the Lord already is so that He will be able to shine His love in our lives, and help us to become the true human beings that He created us to be.

Because we are so often living in fear and forgetful of His presence here, thinking that He is far away, we are often living lives that make us caricatures of ourselves. We are big distortions of ourselves instead of being our true selves that the Lord created us to be. Let us ask the Lord to renew our willingness to be co-workers with Him, co-lovers with Him of His creatures, co-nurturers with Him of His creation. Let us ask Him to help us to accept His presence in our hearts. Then, with heart-felt confidence we can sing (as we often do) that God is with us, and in us. Let us allow His love to radiate in our hearts and in our lives, so that His mercy will be shared freely and openly with everyone we encounter.

The Lord may not call us to raise a person from the dead (that does not happen so often, although it does happen), but He will ask us to care for those in need. He will ask us to speak a word of encouragement or hope to someone even if we have no idea that we are doing so. He will move our hearts to do what is right always. Let us ask the Lord to help us, through the prayers of His most pure Mother, the prayers of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the prayers of Saint Herman of Alaska, to glorify Him in all our life : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

God's Grace flows through us

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
God’s Grace flows through us
19th Sunday after Pentecost
18 October, 2009
2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9 ; Luke 6:31-36

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

In the Gospel reading, our Lord is speaking to us today about being merciful to others in the same way that He is merciful to us. Many times we have seen already in our experience with our Saviour, in His telling of parables, that He is merciful. Likewise, in our experience with human beings, we find that the Lord is merciful. However, we ourselves in response are too often not so merciful. In fact, not only can we not be merciful, but we can also be ungrateful. When the Lord is pouring out His Grace upon us after we have been asking for help, very often we find ourselves somehow paralysed by fear, and prevented from being the same way towards other people. Sometimes, like the unjust steward (see Matthew 18:28), after we have been forgiven, ourselves, we punish other people who owe us. We ask God to have mercy on us, but we do not necessarily have mercy on other people. It seems to me that we do not have enough trust in God that He will continue His mercy through us towards other people. How can we, nevertheless, do anything except to be compassionate, merciful and patient with people around us ?

We Canadians are living our lives mostly for ourselves, and mostly we are trying to be comfortable in the world. We come to church sometimes, but not every Sunday. We make excuses for ourselves not to be at feast-days. According to the Gospel, perhaps the worst is that we can run away from helping people who are in need. In this context in which we are living, the Lord recently showed His great mercy to us. We only asked : “Would it be possible for the icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv to come to Canada ?” It was a natural question for us to be asking because the foundation of our Orthodox Church in Canada is from Ukraine. There was no strong expectation that the answer would be “yes”. I know from what I have been told that there were many questions asked in Ukraine about whether to bless or not to bless sending the icon to Canada. The answer could easily have been “no”, because it is understood in Ukraine that our Orthodox life in North America is very sick. Therefore, there were some difficulties.

However, the Mother of God blessed. The Mother of God was determined to come to us, and to bring healing to us, and repentance to us from her Son. Here in this city through this icon, she brought healing to some people. I have heard of some of the healing, myself. However, not everyone (because we are Canadians) will say anything about what the Lord did for them. If this encounter with the Mother of God has brought a change in your life – whether this change in your life is by physical healing or by spiritual renewal or by repentance (or by whatever means) – it is very important that you express your gratitude to God, and to the Mother of God for what she has done by her love and her prayers. If we do not at least say thank-you to her, we could lose the blessing. This is not because the Mother of God or our Saviour would take away the blessing. Instead it is because we would be letting it go or even throwing it away by our ungratefulness.

It is extremely important in our Orthodox Christian life to express our gratitude to God. Here in this Divine Liturgy we are expressing our gratitude in a general way. We are giving thanks to God for everything. How much more necessary is it then, when specific things happen as a result of God’s love, that we say thank-you to Him for those specific things, too.

As she passed through Canada, the Mother of God, in this icon from Pochaiv, brought healing in almost every place. There are many reports of how people have been healed of illnesses. One woman had been given one year to live because of cancer. After she venerated the icon, and went for a scan, there was no cancer left. In n, there was a woman who had very, very bad asthma and life-threatening allergies. For at least the past seven years, it was not possible for her to be in the Temple for more than ten minutes at any time. If it would not be flowers, it was incense that would cause her extreme pain in her lungs. She came with her mother to venerate the icon. The next day, I saw her in the Divine Liturgy, throughout the whole Liturgy, and she came to Holy Communion. Last Sunday she was singing in the choir where she used to love to sing. The Mother of God has been bringing healing to us here in Canada. She is reminding us of our responsibility as Orthodox Christians.

We, Orthodox Christians, have the responsibility to be faithful to her Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We have the responsibility in our own lives to keep our love for Him alive in the way her love for Him is alive. We have the responsibility not to be ashamed of the fact that our way of life is different from the average Canadian way of living. The Lord put us here so that we can be different like this. Most Canadians who do not know the Orthodox way, in fact, are looking for what we have. People are hungry for the love of Jesus Christ which we know and experience.

Let us ask the Mother of God to continue to support us by her love and prayers, so that we can be faithful to her Son, and 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.

Following the Centurion’s rock-solid Faith

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Following the Centurion’s rock-solid Faith
Saturday of the 19th Week after Pentecost
24 October, 2009
2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ; Luke 7:2-10

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

As we see and hear today, the humility of the centurion is extraordinary. A centurion in the Roman army is head over a hundred soldiers. This is not “small potatoes” in the Roman army. The Roman army had a reputation for its strictness, its order and obedience.

The centurion, himself, expresses this today : “‘I say to one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes’”. He, himself, is under authority because he is not by any means at the top of the ladder in the command of the Roman army. He knows how to obey. He also knows how to give orders, and to expect to be obeyed. He understands this principle of obedience in both directions. He has the humility which allows him to trust that our Lord can do something for his ailing servant who is about to die. Yet, at the same time he knows his own unworthiness. As a result of his knowledge of his unworthiness, and his confidence in God, he sends his own servant to the Saviour to ask for the healing. We notice that when the Saviour is coming to the man’s house, the man, himself, still does not come out of his house. He knows that our Lord is coming and he sends friends to our Saviour and through them he says : “‘Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed’”. Our Saviour does heal his servant. This sort of confidence in God is something that a person would expect of a nation such as Israel that has had centuries of personal contact with the Lord. The Lord had over and over again saved His people from one disaster after another. He had led them constantly. He had assured them of His love over and over again. On Mount Sinai He gave the people very personal encounters with Himself. Even so, people had their doubts.

From a certain perspective, it appears that we Orthodox Christians can have a similarly abysmal track record in terms of our own faith, obedience and response to the Lord even though our own encounter with the Lord is, and has been much more intimate than what was given to the people of Israel. Yet, we behave in just the same way. That is, we take the Lord for granted. We do not bother ourselves. We do not do too much, saying : “Well, He is always there”. In these circumstances, the Lord is like a piece of furniture for us, sometimes, which is very dangerous. When the Jewish people considered the Lord to be merely a piece of furniture, or simply part of their way of life, we see what happened to them. This can, and does happen to us, too, from time to time. When we are like this (and not like the centurion having confidence in the Lord), we are taking the Lord for granted. We think we can do everything ourselves, instead. We only come crying to the Lord when we are in trouble, instead of giving thanks to Him every day for every little thing in which He touches our hearts and our lives.

This centurion is an extraordinary person. We hear the words of the Jewish people who are pleading with the Lord to do something for him and his servant. They say : “‘He loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue’”. In encountering the Israelite people, he encountered God. That is why he does such things as building a synagogue. He is one of those persons who are not able openly to convert to Judaism because, no doubt, that would mean the end of his military career in the Roman army, and likely even the end of his life. Nevertheless, he encountered God, and he did all these things for the believers. He considered himself to be nothing, as it were. He was responding to God’s love in the right way.

There have been many cases such as this centurion when the Church was so violently persecuted in eastern Europe and the Balkans. There have been secret Christians in various places, and various levels of government and society, who could not openly show that they were believers, but who nevertheless supported the Church by secret means. They kept things alive in a time when there could have been complete extinction. Even in Albania where the persecution was the absolute worst, and the extinction was almost complete, it was nevertheless not complete. There is a story about certain Albanian women who secretly listened on radios to the services coming from Greece. In a hidden sort of way they kept their faith. They also kept their icons secretly in their homes. They were very faithful. They ended up being confessors for Christ because of their suffering. They, themselves, finished their life by seeing the restoration of the Church in Albania, and the renewal of everything, and the returning of everything to the way it was. Their love for the Lord produced good fruit. We have no way of knowing what that sort of faithfulness supported and enabled in the renewal and the restoration of the Church’s life. That sort of rock-solid faithfulness to the Lord, trust and confidence in Him brings all sorts of good fruit one way or another.

We ourselves, in our own faithfulness, in our own serving the Lord, will never truly know what is the result of our faithfulness except that there is fruit from our faithfulness. It is the Lord who accomplishes all this. It is the Lord who knows all about this. That is His business. It is not my business to know anything. Let us give thanks to the Lord first for His love and His mercy towards us, and His patience with us. Second, let us give thanks for this centurion, and for his witness of faithfulness to the Lord, for his readiness to be considered as nothing even when he was a great man in the world’s eyes, and also for his readiness to trust God.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in our hearts this sort of trust in Him that the centurion had. Let us trust that the Lord is with us, that He loves us, that He cares for us, and that He can and will look after every detail of our lives. Let us glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

It is High-time for us to live more seriously

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
It is High-time for us to live more seriously
(Memory of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council)
25 October, 2009
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Luke 7:11-16

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

Today, when our Saviour is raising the dead son of the widow of the village of Nain, people obviously will be asking questions. The question that people will be asking is : “Who is this that has such a gift and such authority to raise the dead ?” These people would have remembered, of course, that such things happened in the times of the Prophets Elias and Elisha. However, they had not seen such a thing in their days. In fact, even in our days, to see someone raised from the dead is very rare. I do not say that it never happens in our days, because God is who He is. However, it happens seldom.

Who is this that has the ability, the gift, the authority, to raise someone from the dead ? The answer, as we now know, is simple. This is the Only-begotten Son of God. God, who reveals Himself to us always as love, is shown to us today in His Son as the enacting of love. He knows the needs of this poor widow who has lost her only son. Without her son, this woman would have to become a beggar on the streets. In those days, there was no social safety-net such as we have in Canada. Even here in Canada nowadays many people are living on the streets. Perhaps it is possible even in Canada now for a widow to come to the same desperate condition. I have to say (as I have said before in other places) that the situation of this woman was repeated just recently in China. In the country of China, it is the policy of the government that in every family there may be only one child. In China there is still not the safety-net socially that we think there is. Therefore, when the catastrophic earthquake happened in the Szechuan province, very many parents lost their only child. It was reported on the news that these people were in a desperate condition because they were depending upon their child to look after them when they would become old. Understanding this, we can very well understand the situation of this widow in Nain. He who has raised her son from the dead is the compassionate Lord, Himself. This is the same Lord who was encountered by the Apostle Paul as we heard in the Epistle reading this morning.

While he was on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul (who was then known as Saul of Tarsus) encountered the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who is love in the flesh. After he had encountered God who is love, the Apostle tells us that he did not go immediately to Jerusalem, but instead he went away for a long time into the desert. Why would he go to the desert ? He went to the desert in order to spend time with the Lord whom he had now encountered face-to-face. The Saul whom we see persecuting the Church in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, is very different from the Paul that we see at the end of the Acts, who is building the Church very quickly. God, who is love, completely changed the life of this man. Thus, the Apostle went to the desert to be with the Lord, and to allow the change to take place in his whole understanding of the world. What the Apostle had to understand is that God Himself took flesh and became a human being. The proof of this is precisely shown to us today in the raising of the dead son of the widow.

Today, we are also remembering the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. It is these Fathers who defended the existence of, and the use of icons in the Church. They understood and they taught that it is precisely because God took flesh and lived amongst us that we can make these images. These Fathers did not invent a new teaching. They only stated more clearly what the Orthodox Church believed from the beginning. Always, there have been people who are afraid of the possibility that God could empty Himself, as He did, and take flesh, as He did, and become a human being, as He did. Because there were many such people, there was a period of several hundred years when these people were destroying the icons. In my opinion, the main reason that they were resisting this fact of the Incarnation is because it did not fit their philosophy, their reason and their logic.

Living in Canada, we Orthodox Christians today encounter many such people who have this sort of opinion. However, God is not subject to our logic and our philosophies. It is not for God to obey our intellect. Instead, it is for us to accept that even if we cannot understand how or why God did it, He did empty Himself, and take flesh as a human being. Thus He has given us these beautiful icons through which to approach Him. The Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council say, and also Saint John of Damascus says that when we come to this icon of Christ, here, and we kiss this icon, we are not simply kissing this piece of wood on which Christ is presented. Our veneration goes to Christ Himself. His blessing comes to us from Him through this icon.

We had the blessing very recently of another demonstration of the love of God for us. The icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv was sent by the Lord to us. The Mother of God, together with her Son, brought Grace to believers all across this country. In the same way that the Lord had compassion on the woman of Nain, and that the young man was raised from the dead, so our Saviour healed people through this icon in Canada and gave consolation to very many people, besides. The Mother of God came to us in this icon, and she is pointing us, as she always does, to her Son. She is reminding us of His love for us, particularly. He does not only love us generally. He loves us particularly, and personally.

By coming to us in this way, the Mother of God is asking us, and even telling us, as it were : “It is time for us to live more seriously as Orthodox Christians”. It is high-time for us to unite ourselves to the love of her Son. It is for us not to hide the Orthodox way, but to show it openly. People in this country are starving to death spiritually because they need the love of Jesus Christ, which we carry. This country needs from us what the widow of Nain needed from our Saviour.

Let us ask the Lord to give us, through the prayers and the protection of His Mother, the strength to do this, so that we will be able with trust to submit our lives to His love. May He be able to work freely through us without any interruption so that our whole life may glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.


Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
8 November, 2009
Galatians 6:11-18 ; Luke 8:41-56

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

In our days, and in our society, we are very much pre-occupied with ourselves. Because we are so pre-occupied with ourselves, we have mostly lost the mentality of the Gospel, and we have mostly lost the mentality of our ancestors. When it comes to the Scriptures, when it comes to our relationship with the Lord, when it comes to our liturgical worship, all of these things are all together in one reality. However, because of our self-preoccupation in North America and the West in general (which we are sharing with everyone else now), all these elements become broken up and separated.

When we speak about broken-up and separated elements, we are already straying very far from the mentality of the Gospel and from the mentality of the Church. Compartmentalisation, division, and sharp distinctions like this are not for us Orthodox Christians. Sharp distinctions and anything having to do with division come from below, not from above. From the Lord come unity and harmony, not division. The aim of the powers of darkness is to strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep (see Zechariah 13:7 ; Matthew 26:31). This is the old technique of Big Red : scatter ; divide. “Divide and conquer”, “divide and rule” as the old sayings go : this is the technique of the powers of darkness.

The way of Christ is in unity and in harmony. It is for this reason that I am always grateful to hear the words that the Apostle Paul is speaking to us today : “God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. For the Apostle Paul, everything in His life is focussed on Christ. Everything that he is doing is in, and for Christ. It is not focussed on the Apostle Paul. Rather, it is focussed on Christ. The Apostle’s life is focussed on Christ. We can say that the Apostle Paul is living out the words of that psalm (which we can read quite easily and regularly, if we are obedient enough to read the Psalter : “As the eyes of bond-servants are unto the hands of their masters, as the eyes of a maid-servant are unto the hands of her mistress, so our eyes are towards the Lord our God” (Psalm 122:2). This is the way of the Apostle Paul, and this is the way of the Orthodox Christian.

Everything is focussed on Christ. In the Gospel reading this morning, we see Christ healing a woman of a flow of blood that had lasted a long time, and who was in an incurable condition. Our Lord is also raising from the dead the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. The Lord is in the midst of His people. The Lord is not separated from His people. Rather, in the midst of His people, He touches them and heals them.

The Saviour is in our midst. He is not far away. He is not “out there” somewhere. He is here, with us. That is why at the beginning of a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy the bishop is sitting right in the middle. Why should the bishop sit and stand right in the middle ? It is because the bishop has the responsibility of re-presenting Christ to the faithful. We have to understand that the term “Hierarchical Divine Liturgy” tells us that it is served and led by a hierarch, but it is not directed to the bishop. It has everything to do with Christ. The bishop (with his warts, or anything else that might be faulty about him), standing in the midst of the faithful, is responsible for revealing Christ. The Divine Liturgy is not served for the sake of the bishop or the priest or the deacons, but rather is directed to the all-holy Trinity. With Christ in our midst, we are all loving Him and responding to Him in love, in unity, in harmony, with one heart, with one voice. We are all glorifying our Saviour, who is here in our midst. He is here in our midst, despite our weaknesses, despite our betrayals, despite our falls, despite our selfishness. He is here for us personally. He is here for the woman with the flow of blood. He is here present for Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, as He is for the wife of the ruler of the synagogue (whose name we do not know), and as He is for the daughter of Jairus (whose name we also do not know).

Everything is directed to Christ. Why then does the bishop sit down in the middle of the Temple a few times ? It is very simple. Do you remember the Beatitudes ? It is written in the introduction to the Beatitudes, before the Lord began to speak to the multitudes, that He sat down to teach (see Matthew 5:1). If the bishop is sitting down, it is because our Saviour sat down, and this is supposed to remind us of what the Gospel says that our Saviour did. Where do the Beatitudes come from ? They come from His mouth to us. He is teaching us. The bishop cannot always be just like Christ in this respect. Therefore, when the Gospel Book comes out, the bishop stands up. He is done with reminding ; he is also a person who must worship and respect our Saviour, who is in the Gospel Book. The bishop is leading a double or triple life one could say : a bishop is a regular Orthodox human being ; he is a person with a responsibility before Christ for the flock, and it is for the bishop to re-present Christ to the flock. It is a huge responsibility. However, it is crucial that the bishop and everyone else remember that all this worship that we are offering to the Lord today is not about any one of us. Our daily lives are not about us, but about our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who loves us, who is in the midst of us, who is with us.

I cannot resist talking about the current Pope, who wrote a book about the Divine Liturgy which has very many good things said in it. However, the title is a “bust” from the Orthodox point of view. He chose to entitle this book Christ is near us. That is why it is a bust. The Divine Liturgy is not conveying that Christ is near us. Rather, our worship reveals and proclaims that God is with us. The Lord is here in our midst today. It is the Lord who is about to ordain for us a deacon who will help to nurture and build up the flock of Christ. He will help the priest in administering sacramentally to this community. It is not that this community lacks any deacons, but we can always use more. This community is always sharing its clergy with other parishes as well. In having another deacon, you also have more to share, and this is to your credit in this community. This has always been your disposition in Christ : to be caring about the other, to share with the other, and to nurture the other. In this you are very much on the right path in this community. It is my prayer that you will never lose the heart to be like this. In being like this, with the disposition of Christ-centredness, you are being like the Apostle Paul. With him, you have Christ at the heart of everything and Christ in the centre of your lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is because of this Christ-centredness that our Orthodox tradition has the custom of referring everything to Christ. For example : being thanked for something. The polite Canadian way is to say thank-you for everything. It is drilled into us (I think it still is, but it certainly was drilled into me when I was a child) that we must say thank-you for everything. When people give us something, we must say thank-you. This part is correct. However, if someone thanks an Orthodox Christian for doing something, that Orthodox Christian customarily and habitually refers that gratitude to the Lord, and does not accept it for himself or herself. The gratitude is referred to the Lord. We will say : “To the glory of God”, or “Glory be to God”, or “Thanks be to God” or something like that.

This makes me recall an incident of my youth about thirty years ago. As green as grass as I was, and as new in the Church as I was, I went to visit a Greek women’s monastery. The women at this monastery were very hospitable, loving and Christ-like, as is the characteristic of Orthodox communities when they are healthy. This one was a healthy community. They were so nice to us who were visiting that when we were coming to the departure, I said (in my customary Canadian way) to the abbess who was at the door saying good-bye to us : “Thank-you for your hospitality”. She said : “The Lord”. I said : “Yes, but I thank you, too”. She said : “THE LORD”. I learned my lesson.

It is for us, dear brothers and sisters, to remember that everything about our life and our worship is in, and of the Lord. The Lord is not far from us. He is with us. Our lives must be continually turned about, turned 180 degrees to Him. They must be turned away from ourselves, and turned to Him ; turned away from darkness, and turned to light ; turned away from fear, and turned to love ; turned away from death, and turned to life. The Saviour is always with us, always embracing us, always supporting us, always desiring our healing.

The Lord in His merciful, loving care for us, is always wanting to remind us of these things so that we will not be afraid of Him, but be bold to come to Him. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, the Lord sent the Wonder-working icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv to us. He sent this icon to us : insignificant Canada, miniscule Orthodoxy in Canada. He sent this icon to us. The Mother of God, through her prayers, her love, her compassion, her intercession, touched the lives of hundreds of people. As far as I can tell at the present time from the things that I have heard, we are into the vicinity of ten reported healings from diseases. One person had been afflicted by severe allergies and extremely painful asthma so that she could not go to church for more than about ten minutes. It had been like this for more than seven years. She kissed the icon, and now she sings in the choir of the church with no difficulty. Instantly it was like this. Another woman had been diagnosed in August with an incurable cancer, and was expecting to die within a year. She is a very believing person (and some of you might actually know her). She venerated the icon, and when she was scanned later there was no cancer left.

The Lord, in His mercy, sent to us this concrete testimony of His love for us : the Mother of God’s compassionate concern and presence with us. Not only healings of the body occurred. People’s lives also were changed. People came to repentance through their contact with the Mother of God. All sorts of unexpected encounters came about while the Mother of God progressed across Canada. We were not able to make a proper reception for her because we were not prepared. We were not able to make a proper notice and a proper agenda for her crossing the country. Many places were missed that would have benefitted by her presence. We had little preparation time, but we made the best we could of it. The Lord, and the Mother of God multiplied the offering, and made much more of what we were able to offer to the glory of God, and to the nurturing and encouragement of the children of God, the flock of Christ.

This is what I mean by the Lord’s compassionate concern for us. He is with us. He loves us. He is hearing us. As we are celebrating the life, the service and the activity of the holy angels today, it is good for us to remember them, too, for encouragement because they are not very different from us. They are rational beings as we are. However, they do not have bodies as we do. That is the difference. Therefore, they are called “bodiless” powers, and we are “embodied” powers (one could say). However, the angels, as it says in the Psalms, are always looking “to the hand of the Master” (see Psalm 122:2). By their support, by their protection, and by the intercession of the Mother of God, let us also be constantly looking to the hand of our Master. Let us look for life from Him. Let us look to serve Him in every way, every day, and to glorify Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Armour of Love

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Armour of Love
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
15 November, 2009
Ephesians 2:4-10 ; Luke 8:26-39
Ephesians 6:10-17 ; Matthew 10:16-22

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

The Apostle is saying to us this morning in the Epistle reading that we are created by God to do everything that is good in co-operation and in harmony with Him. We are created to be co-workers with Him in His Kingdom. We human beings, created in God’s image and growing into His likeness, have a very great responsibility. We are to be, indeed, co-workers with the Lord.

Being co-workers with the Lord requires that we pay attention to Him at all times, that we live our lives in carefully protected communion of love with Him, and that we continue in every way to use the armour of God about which the Apostle is speaking to us in the second Epistle today – especially the Word of God. We have to put on the whole armour of God, especially the Word. This is important because we can only do what God has created us to do. We can only fulfil our responsibilities (that have been outlined for us by the Apostle) if we make sure that we continually are in harmony with the Lord, living in the communion of love with God. This is because, in the first place, God is love ; in the second place, God creates us because of love ; in the third place, God shows His love for us by giving us His Only-begotten Son ; in the fourth place, we respond in love to His love, supported by His love. It is this response in love which fulfils this circle of responsibility. Right from the beginning of our creation, the Lord calls us into communion of love in harmony with Him. He created all things, everything that is, because of this love.

People wonder where everything came from in the first place. It comes from the love of God. Everything that is, anywhere in the whole universe, exists and has being because God produces it from His love. As the Psalms are saying (and other writers in the Scriptures are saying), everything that exists, by its existence, is praising God and is glorifying God (see Psalm 150:6). When we are responding to the Lord in this harmony of love, we are in harmony with the whole of creation, which was created precisely to live in this harmony of love. Thus we are glorifying God who created us, and we are rejoicing in the fact that we exist and are able to glorify God.

In this context, encountering this demon-possessed man today is a stark contrast. We see that this man is uncontrollable. He could not wear clothes, and he could not live in any place. He lived in the tombs in a graveyard. It was a horrible place. The graveyards in the Middle East are not like graveyards here. Everyone is not buried under the ground there. Very often they are buried in little houses that are specially built because the ground is so rocky. (If we went to Italy and Greece, we would see many such buildings where people are buried in chambers in special little masonry buildings constructed often out of stone.) This man was living in such a place. If we went to Cairo, Egypt we would see all sorts of people today living in such tombs because they have no place else to live. Most of the people occupying these Cairo tombs are Christians, sad to say. They are an oppressed people in Egypt. The poorest of them have no place to stay. Living in these tombs, they at least have some shelter from the hot sun, the blowing winds, the rain, and sometimes, the snow. This man is living in the graveyard because there was no place else that could hold him, and generally people are not going to graveyards all the time. Somehow he felt comforted in his torment there, and people knew where he was so that they could keep away from him. We see that he is a very violent person. If he were put in chains he would break any sort of chain, even the strongest chain restraining him. Such were the means by which the demons were controlling this man. We hear that they are legion. There are very, very many demons possessing this man.

When our Saviour comes into his presence, there is not a moment of hesitation : two things happen at once. Immediately, our Lord sees this man in his terrible condition, and He begins to tell the demons to come out of him. Immediately, at the same time the man possessed by the demons, recognises and proclaims who is Jesus Christ by saying : “‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” He recognises Him as the Saviour. The Saviour was not going to let the demons stay in the man, and the demons understood this. Therefore, the demons beg Him to allow them to enter the herd of pigs. The Saviour does not send the demons into Hades or into the abyss (which is actually worse than Hades) ; He allows them to go into the pigs. I always used to feel sorry for the pigs because the demons immediately drive the pigs into insanity, and they violently run down a steep hill into the Sea of Galilee where they all drown.

This is the work of demons. Their job is to separate us from God. If they could have done it to the man, they would have done it to him. There was some remnant of life and hope left in this man possessed by all these demons that he was not able to be killed by them. The poor little pigs have no ability to discern any difference, and when they are inhabited by the demons, immediately the demons do to the pigs what they try to do to everyone. They drive the pigs mad. They make them violent. The pigs violently run down the hill and die in the water. The man is released from slavery to those demons. He is restored to his right mind. We see him become peaceful, sitting with the Saviour.

There is an interesting reaction from the whole neighbourhood. The people of that region knew who this man was. They come and see that he is healed. He is himself. It is possible that in his whole life he had had little experience of being himself because of the way demons work in people’s lives. What do these people do ? They ask the Saviour to go away because they are afraid of Him. There are many layers here. For the Jewish people, pigs are absolutely forbidden. Therefore, what are they doing with pigs there ? These Gadarenes are probably doing business because the Roman army is occupying their land. The Romans do not mind that there are pigs in that region, because they very much like to eat them. The Gadarenes are growing the pigs illegally and against the Law of Moses in order to feed the Roman army and to make money. It seems like they are making business a priority over obedience to the Lord, who had said, in effect : “Not only must you not eat pigs, but you also must not be near them”. Raising pigs means being quite near them. Apparently the Gadarenes are more interested in the business and the financial results of raising pigs than they are in the fruit of obedience to the Lord in love.

When the Gadarenes ask our Saviour to go away (because they are afraid), two things are happening, as I understand it. One is that their hearts are very much pricked because they know that what they are doing is wrong, and they know that the Lord is displeased with their behaviour. Yet, at the same time that they are pricked in their hearts, they still are determined to go on doing the same thing. It is evident that they are determined to go and get more pigs to continue the business. The second thing is that the man, himself, liberated from the demons, wants to be with the Saviour. He behaves the way all people do when they have been freed by Him. When they have been healed by the Saviour, they want to be with Him and close to Him at all times because His love is liberating. His love is life-giving. His love is full of joy. This man is experiencing all these things, and he wants to be with the Saviour. He asks the Lord, in effect : “Please, let me go with You and be with You”. Our Saviour says : “‘Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you’”. The man immediately goes into the city, and not only lives his life quietly in the midst of the people, but also he does not stop speaking about what the Lord had done for him.

Is it clear why the Saviour would send this man, all by himself, back into the city to do this in this hostile environment which I have just described – an environment of fear ? This man had lived, paralysed with fear, driven by fear, crazy with fear for years and years. We have no idea how long, but it was a very long time. This man had been driven by fear, and he knew this fear. However, he also knows what freedom there is, and what joy there is to be released from it. He instantly understands it. The Saviour sends the Grace of God to him to sustain him in his solitude in this city. The Lord sends him to the city to help convince the people to change their ways. Even though these people had encountered the Saviour face-to-face, and had seen the results of His love at work (which they could not deny), they are nevertheless determined to go their own way. However, the Lord does not throw them away. Instead, He leaves the man to be in the city so that he could be like yeast to the rest of them (see Matthew 13:33). Whoever amongst the people could respond to this yeast, they would because this man’s love is so infectious. Using our Saviour’s own words again, we could say that this man remains in the city as salt (see Matthew 5:13), so that any person who would respond to his testimony of the love of God would be able to catch the same flavour, the same life, the same vitality that salt brings to food.

The Lord is merciful to us. He is following us everywhere, no matter how stubborn we are in our selfish ways, or how often we turn our backs on Him because we are, ourselves, bound by fear. The Lord is merciful. He is always with us. He is always sending persons, like this freed man, to remind us of His love and His hope. He is always reminding us that He is waiting with His outstretched, embracing arms to give us renewed life, renewed vitality, renewed joy and renewed remembering of our freedom in Him.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us follow the exhortation of the Apostle. As we are coming to receive from the Lord who is present here in our midst, ready to feed us with His own life, ready to sustain us, let us allow Him to put His arms around us. Let us live in the protection of this armour of love. Living in the shelter and protection of His armour and in the shelter and protection of His life-giving love, let us, in every part of our life, glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Christianity is caught, not taught

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christianity is caught, not taught
4 December, 2009
1 Timothy 4:4-8, 16 ; Luke 20:19-26

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

Behind the question that was posed to our Saviour today about paying taxes to Caesar or not, was the understanding (in the context of occupied Israel) that the people of Israel should keep themselves separate, unique, and clearly apart from the Roman army, apart from the Gentile people. They attempted to keep their society completely distinct and perhaps sealed off (one could say). They were not able to do that, but there was an attempt in principle to manage to do this. Paying taxes to Caesar was considered by people in general to be some sort of traitorous act. Therefore they were asking our Saviour : “‘Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”

We are not living in Utopia or some sort of insulated environment. Our Lord has told us in many places that we have to live in this world as yeast and as salt (see Matthew 5:13; 13:33). We have to interact with the world. In fact, the words of the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy this morning were saying quite rightly that everything that God created is good. We have to live in this world, and foster the goodness of God in this world, and bring His life, His love and His healing to this world. We cannot set ourselves off from the world. We have to exert a positive influence on the world. As much as we can, we have to bring to bear God’s love upon this world so that its proper order can be restored as much as possible by the Lord (not by us).

Our Lord says today to the questioners who were trying to trap Him : “‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’”. This is because the image of Caesar was on the coinage that belonged to him. Our Lord is telling us that we have to render what is due to the civil governing authorities whoever they happen to be, whether they be Christian or not. Wherever we happen to live as Orthodox Christians, the state is the state ; the world is the world (in its own context), and we have to give the world its due as far as things that are required for living in the world (such as taxes). However, we still have to remember that being in the world we are not of the world. We can be in the Roman Empire (as our Lord is saying to the questioners) but not be of the spirit of the Roman Empire. The fruit of that is demonstrated in the eventual Christianising of the Roman Empire. Fencing ourselves off from the world in which we live does not produce anything except our own death. We have to live actively and positively in the environment in which the Lord has placed us. We have to be true to the Lord. We have to be true to the Gospel. At the same time, the world in which we live is starving for the truth, starving for this love that the Saviour gives to you and to me, starving for the joy that we have in His love. They can only receive it by being in contact with us.

Christianity is caught, not taught. We can speak about it, but we cannot bring a person to be a Christian simply by speaking and teaching. The person who might become a Christian usually encounters God’s love, encounters Him in His love, and encounters Him primarily in, and through us. This is how they encounter Him : by our bearing of Him wherever we are, whatever we are doing. It is the love of God that is alive in us that gives us the hope and the joy that others catch from us. In other words, it is not something that we can draw them into merely by teaching. Other people have to encounter the Lord personally, as we all have to encounter the Lord, and live in and with the Lord personally. I say “personally” because He is a Person, and we are persons in His image. The relationship that is amongst us is a relationship of love.

We do not refer to this relationship as some people do in our society when they talk about Jesus Christ as being their “personal Saviour”. That sounds like ownership to my ears when people say : “Jesus Christ is my personal Saviour”. Already, when I say “my” that sounds as though He belongs to me and that He is my property, somehow. It is bizarre that I could have any ownership of the Word of God. Certainly, I have to confess Jesus Christ to be the Saviour. I personally confess Him to be the Saviour. However, He certainly does not belong to me. I belong to Him. The English language is odd in this regard. If we are not careful how we speak, we can convey something that we are not exactly trying to say.

What is important is understanding who is Who. He is the Lord of the whole universe. He is the Lord of those who do not even accept Him. He is the Creator of those who do not acknowledge Him. That is why rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s is not a catastrophe at all. The Lord permits Caesar to have his authority, or He blesses it in some way. The Lord acts through these civil authorities also, as the Apostle Paul reminds us (see Titus 3:1).

Therefore, all this is simply to say that we should keep our hearts and minds focussed on the Lord, on our responsibility as Christians in our society and there where we have been planted. By the Lord’s mercy, by His Grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, let us be living examples of Christ’s love. May we be able in everything to glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

The Master is serving the Servants

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Master is serving the Servants
Saturday of the 25th Week after Pentecost
5 December, 2009
Galatians 3:8-12 ; Luke 12:32-40

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

The Lord has given us much to pay attention to today, both in His words to us in the Gospel, and in what He is saying to us through the words of the Apostle Paul. In both cases, the Lord is pointing out to us very clearly that our relationship with Him has to be one of love. It is endlessly repeated in the Scriptures that our relationship with Him is one of love. However, we constantly need this reminder because we have such a tendency to perceive our relationship with Him as being one of fear. This is not at all correct. If our relationship with Him is one of fear, then there is something very much the matter with us (not with the Lord).

We are not to be afraid of God. We are to respect Him, and be in awe of Him, like the servants that our Saviour spoke of in this parable (or illustration). Our Lord is saying that we have to be like servants who are waiting for their master to come home from a wedding. We do not live like this, so it is hard for us to comprehend what this means. However, there are still places in the world where this is the case, and the owner of the household has a large staff of servants. He expects them to be lovingly attentive to him at all times. In contrast to loving obedience, the world knows fearful obedience and obedience in terror. In the world, servants and slaves are fearfully obedient.

The servants are waiting for the master to come home at who knows what hour of the night from the wedding (and we know that weddings can go on for a very long time). It might be close to dawn before the master of the house thinks about coming home. Nevertheless, the servants, knowing that they are the servants of a loving master, and because of their love for him (not because of their fear) should be ready and waiting so that as soon as the master knocks on the door, the door will be instantly opened to him. He does not have to pound on the door and wake up the servants who have fallen asleep or are lounging around somewhere or chatting in the kitchen. They should be waiting for him close to the door so that they even hear him coming. The best servants are the ones who hear him coming so that he does not even have to knock on the door. They hear him coming and open the door before he has a chance to knock. Such servants who love their master are always waiting to do his will, and looking to do his will.

Let us notice what our Saviour says that the master will do with these servants. He is going to take them to the dining-room, and then he will serve the servants. That is exactly how the Lord behaves with us. That is what He is saying about our relationship with Him. Out of love, we are attentive to Him, but He is even more attentive to us. Our Saviour, in love, is serving us all the time. We keep asking Him for this and for that, and He keeps giving us this and that in one way or the other. He gives us life. He gives us what we need to eat. He gives us everything (although most of the time we keep deceiving ourselves and telling ourselves that we are doing everything, ourselves). In reality, we do not do anything without the Lord’s blessing. We have everything because of the Lord’s blessing. Indeed, it is He who gives it to us. We have what we need to buy things because He gives us the possibility. Everything is under His blessing.

We also have the words of the Apostle Paul to remember. All the Law and the Prophets found their roots in the faith of Abraham. The Law is a problem in that as a “stand-alone entity” it carries a curse upon it. That curse is : “‘Cursed is every man who does not abide in all the words of this Law to do them’” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 27:26). However, the Law can be kept in the right spirit in the faith of Abraham. What do we mean by the faith of Abraham ? Abraham encountered the Lord personally. The Lord met him in His love. The Lord convinced Abraham of this love so that Abraham went wherever the Lord directed him, and did whatever the Lord directed him to do (even though the Lord tested him to be very certain that this love was engrained in him). And it was engrained in Abraham. The faith of Abraham is what makes the Law liveable. The Law simply expresses the way a person who loves God lives. When it is in the context of faith, there is no such thing as a curse.

There are other important words today from our Saviour for us to remember in our times in particular, because there are so many people on radio and television who are scaring us about the end of the world. Our Saviour says very clearly that no-one knows when the Lord will return, “‘for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’”. This very important for us to understand. All sorts of people are sifting through the writings of the Prophets, and the Apocalypse ; they are sifting through the words of our Saviour trying to calculate according to some sort of formula exactly when the Lord is going to come, and when the end of the world is going to be. Some people say it will be in 2012. Why ? Because the Mayan calendar runs out in 2012. What does the Mayan calendar have to do with anything except that they were quite good calculators of a calendar, and they had to stop it somewhere. (They ran out of rock on which to carve it, I suppose.) The year 2012 has nothing to do with anything. Some people say : “Perhaps 2011 will be the end of the world because we have Pascha two years in a row (2010 and 2011) with the western Christians. That must be a sign”. None of this makes any difference. There are all sorts of jokes about people who are prepared for the end of the world. Such people gather together and wait. They wait in one place or another for a specified time, and they will be disappointed when the time passes. Then they shamefacedly have to go back home, and back to work. There is no way to know when the Lord is coming.

We Orthodox Christians are living in the Kingdom, anyway. Here we are, in the Divine Liturgy, standing in the Kingdom all together here, today. In our prayers we are going to be addressing the Lord, and speaking as though the Kingdom had already come, and the Second Coming had already been accomplished. We are living in this timelessness in the Divine Liturgy. We are participating in the Kingdom which is to come today, now, here. This is one of the reasons why we like to be here, together. It is joy to be here together in the Kingdom of the Lord, standing together in the Lord’s heavenly Temple.

Let us do our best to live in accordance with the Lord’s love. Let us ask the Lord to renew this love over and over again, daily, so that we never forget that He loves us, that we love Him, and that this is the context of everything that we are doing every day. God loves us, and we love Him. He gives us everything, and we offer Him everything. We live in joy, and glorify Him every day of our lives, as Saint Herman of Alaska exhorts us to do : loving God above all, and glorifying Him : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Saint Nicholas

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Our Lord intervenes in our Lives with Love
(Feast of Saint Nicholas)
26th Sunday after Pentecost
6 December, 2009
Ephesians 5:9-19 ; Luke 17:12-19
Hebrews 13:17-21 ; Luke 6:17-23

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

In North America, when it comes to the relationship which we have with our Saviour, we seem always to be living in some sort of tension. This is especially so in North America, it seems to me, although it is certainly not exclusive to this continent. The tension that I am speaking about is that between Christ as a Person, and Christ as an idea or a proposition or a principle.

In these days, the tendency amongst the majority of North Americans is, in our thinking and writing, to try to keep Christ confined in some way. Through so-called logic, we try to limit Him to being merely a historical person ; or some clever philosopher, but certainly no more than a human being. Over the last several centuries in North American thought and attitudes, we can find changes in how Christ is regarded. In this environment, He becomes more and more disconnected from daily human life. This is exactly the opposite of Who Christ really is. Christ is the Son of God. Christ is above us, not we above Him. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is never changing ; He is always loving us.

Today, we see our Saviour healing ten lepers. We also see our Saviour giving the Beatitudes ; and in the context of giving the Beatitudes, He is healing people of their diseases. The Lord loves us. He is Love. We cannot change Who He is, but we can change ourselves. Perhaps it would be better to say that we can let Him change us so that we can finally become the persons that He created us to be, and not the distortions that we turn ourselves into in our independent pride and arrogance. The Lord comes to us and intervenes in our lives with love. He heals us from our brokenness. He helps us up from our darkness into light. He helps us onto the right way – His way, in Him who is the Way.

As demonstrations of His love for us here in this community, for many years we have had this Wonder-working icon of Saint Nicholas, which is right in the middle of our Temple on his feast-day. Because of our “North-Americanness” and our forgetfulness, not so many people are paying attention to the fact that this is such a Wonder-working icon. This icon came to this community more than thirty years ago (before I ever came here), in the time of Father Oleg Boldireff. The icon came by taxi to the church with a note attached saying that people, venerating this icon have been being released from addictions through the intercessions of Saint Nicholas. In those days, alcoholic addictions were specifically mentioned, but other addictions apply. Since then, there have been other people who have been released from these addictions through the intercession of Saint Nicholas through this icon which has been with us all this time. It is important for us to remember this.

Last September and October, the icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv came to visit us. The Mother of God brought to us healing, love, and repentance in the lives of people in our midst. She brought this to people all across the country. A little more than a week ago, I had to go to Ukraine unofficially (that is, it was not an official visit in obedience to the Metropolitan). It was, nevertheless, official in that it was necessary that I personally thank Metropolitan Volodymyr, the Monastery of the Dormition at Pochaiv, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for blessing this icon to come to Canada. I tried to get away with only sending letters, but it did not work because this is the Orthodox world. For something that is very big, a letter is not good enough : one has to go oneself, personally. Even at my advancing age, I still learn these lessons slowly. Each time, one has to go oneself to say thank-you. Thus I went to Ukraine with Protodeacon Nazari, and Father Oleg Kirillov from Toronto went also. Many blessings came from that visit. We have in our midst a continuation of that visit of the icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv because when we were in Pochaiv saying thank-you, we were able to acquire this icon, which is another copy of the original icon. This one has been blessed on the original in the same way that the Wonder-working copy or replica, which brought such Grace to Canada, was blessed over 450 years ago. This type of icon in Russian is called a spisok (English does not have the right word for this sort of copy). When we say spisok, we know that this icon has been touched to the original, blessed on the original. In many cases that blessing, that connexion, extends Grace from the original, as was the case with that spisok that came to us two months ago. This icon, which has been blessed in this way, is going to stay in the middle of the Temple until we establish its permanent place.

It is important for us on this feast-day of Saint Nicholas to remember (in the context of the life of Saint Nicholas) God’s immediate love for us as His love was shown all throughout the life of Saint Nicholas, himself. He extended the ministry of love of Jesus Christ, and he still does extend through his intercession the ministry of the love of Jesus Christ. This love is being extended to us again and again here in this community. It is essential that we be like the Samaritan leper (not like the other lepers), and say thank-you to the Lord. Openly and freely let us express our gratitude to the Lord who keeps intervening in our lives again and again, assuring us of His love, His presence with us, and His healing care for us. As the Apostle exhorted us this morning, let us live lives that are full of thanksgiving to God for His love for us, for His care for us, for His nearness to us, for His being with us, in fact, for His protection of us, and for His saving of us. With Saint Nicholas and with the Mother of God, let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord is serious about us in His Love
Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ
(Feast of Saint Herman)
13 December, 2009
Colossians 3:4-11 ; Luke 14:16-24

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

Today, when we are keeping the memory of the Forefathers of Christ, we are remembering all those who came before Him in faith. They were not necessarily His physical ancestors, although amongst those who were named last night, some were. The characteristic of all of them was their love for God, their faith in the Lord, their trust in the Lord’s promises, and their own faithfulness to the Promise and to this love.

We heard many names at Vespers last night. One could say that the Old Testament has many such persons, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. There were many who were not direct physical ancestors of the Lord who were preparers of the Way (including all the Prophets, for instance). There are many others, also, including great women such as Sarah, Rebecca, Ruth, Deborah, Esther, Judith and Susanna. There are very many who responded in love to God’s love and yet who had not seen the fulfilment of the Promise. However, they understood that God is faithful and true. Encountering Him in His love, they trusted that what was promised would be fulfilled.

Very often we hear people talking about the relationship between God and His people in the Old Testament as being different from that in the New Testament. However, that is philosophical silliness because God does not change. We are the ones who change. If some people mistakenly perceive God as an angry God in the Old Testament, that is their mistake (whether then or now). God was not revealing Himself in two different ways. In the beginning, when human beings fell away from obedience to God, they forgot all sorts of things about the Lord. When the first thing that the devil introduced into their lives and their hearts was fear, we can understand from our own experience how our ancestors could get confused and mixed-up. When we are driven by fear, we are truly in the dark. As we see in the Old Testament, it took the Lord a long time to reveal Himself to our ancestors, one by one, as Love, and as Saviour. Amongst them, for instance, there are Noah, Moses and all the other Forefathers. He showed Himself to them as being Love. The summary of the Ten Commandments is : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30 ; 5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5), and later on : “‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Mark 12:31 ; 3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:18). The Lord reveals Himself to us constantly as Love. It is our constant experience of Him. He has fully revealed Himself to us in Christ that He is Love. We are the ones who very often get mixed-up, lost and confused because we do not remember, and are paralysed by fear.

Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, patron of this holy Temple, is another example for us in this same stream, one could say, even though he comes to us long, long after the Incarnation of the Saviour. He is an ordinary person. He is not ordained to any service ; he is not even a reader. He is only a plain, ordinary monk. It was his obedience to be a teacher, and he did this well. Beginning with the children, he taught people about Christ. That he started with children shows that he was a very good teacher. How did he teach them ? Certainly he taught them some facts about Jesus Christ, but he taught them Who is Jesus Christ by showing Jesus Christ to them in his own life, and in his own behaviour. It is because of the personal example and witness of love of Jesus Christ, and the results of that love of Jesus Christ, that more than 200 years later there are people in Alaska (descended from those who were converted by Saint Herman) who have inherited the love of Jesus Christ through the living memory of people’s experience of the Lord in the person of Saint Herman. This inheritance is a combination of personal experience and accurate oral tradition. For the most part they remain faithful to Jesus Christ because Saint Herman showed love to those children and to those adults. In today’s Gospel reading, we saw our Saviour healing people. Saint Herman also brought healing, love and light to the people he encountered. They shared this with their families, their children, and their children’s children unto the present time.

This is very important for us to remember because we have a responsibility towards the Lord in the same love. He is always faithful to us. Why are we not always faithful in the same way to Him ? Today, He tells us this parable about the banquet to keep us on our toes. The Lord invites us to His banquet, and where do we fit amongst the invitees ? We are here today in this Temple about to participate in His banquet, the banquet of the heavenly Kingdom. We are accepting His invitation today. We have to be careful that we are accepting His invitation every day of our life. There are many other people ready and willing to participate in this banquet if we are so frivolous as to say the equivalent of : “‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them’”. In our time, that would be like saying : “I just bought a brand new Mercedes, and I have to try it out”. We have to be careful about that sort of frivolousness. People who rejected the invitation of the master were self-centred and frivolous.

Where are we, ourselves, in our relationship with the Lord ? Are we taking Him for granted ? Do we think that it does not matter what we do because we assume that the Lord will nevertheless say : “That is all right. Never mind”. It is not quite so simple with the Lord. The Lord is serious about us in His love. He brings us healing. He brings us love. He brings us everything. He wants love from us, too.

Let us pay attention to what the Lord has done for us in Canada just this year. The Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv came to Canada. Why the Mother of God should come to Canada like this is still beyond me. All that I did was write a letter and ask. It was not easy for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to come to a decision, and say “yes”. This icon of the Mother of God had never been away for so long, and there were so many complications involved. We had, after all, Air Canada to deal with. For a passenger plane of Air Canada, the icon was outside the weight limits of everything ; it was outside the size limits of everything. Everything came to Canada in the passenger cabin of Ukrainian Airlines with no problem. In Canada it was too big, and it was too heavy to go in the passenger compartment. What were we going to do ? They had to solve these problems ahead of time in Ukraine. It was agreed finally that on this rare occasion the riza (the metal covering) could go in the baggage compartment. There was a special cloth bag sewn in which to carry the icon (which is quite small) on the breast of one of the monks while the two monks were flying with the icon in Canada. That was the only way it could be done.

In Canada, there was one occasion when the authorities, who were strict observers of small points of rules, wanted to send the riza by cargo because it was too heavy. It was only after the local priest intervened, and called some sort of higher authority (the priest is from the old country and knew what to do). Once the matter was explained, the official said : “All right, go ahead. No problem”. The lower-level authorities were too “chicken” to bend the rules.

I am certain that you know people that have been touched by the Mother of God through this icon. Why would this icon come to little old Canada (considered to be “a drop in the bucket” compared to the United States) ? What are we ? Less than “a drop in the bucket” : half a drop, one could say. Still, the Mother of God came to us. She brought healing to many people in this country. She also brought repentance, and a renewal of love for her Son in this country. Just in this event this year, the Lord shows to us that He cares for us. Even if we are struggling here, and think that we are no-one in particular, the Lord at least says to us : “It does not matter if you are no-one in particular. I love you. That is what matters. It does not matter about numbers, importance, significance, or anything else. As we see over and over again in the Gospels, our Lord came to minister to the sick, to the poor, to the needy, to those who are alone, who are insignificant, who are outcasts, even.

We Canadians can consider ourselves as amongst those that the Lord was merciful to, came to, and met. The Lord is giving to us in Canada “a shot in the arm” in order to give us strength to live more and more faithfully, and ultimately to be able to fulfil our responsibility. Our responsibility is to do what Saint Herman did : to pass on to everyone possible around us (especially to our families) this love of the Lord.

There are many people in this country who have been, and are being faithful in this way, in a hidden way. Earlier in my life, one of the most influential persons I ever met was a retired schoolteacher whose life was always connected with the church. (While she was teaching, she found time to be in church, but when she retired, she had more time.) She exhibited 100 per-cent typical, generous, ever-ready Orthodox hospitality. It did not matter when anyone came to her house, no-one could escape without eating, and eating more than might be comfortable. This is our 100 per-cent typical Orthodox hospitality. This person’s life was characterised by serious love for the Lord. I will never forget my amazement when I found out that her evening relaxation reading after washing the dishes, and after everything was finished was to read Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great in Slavonic. That is a faithful, God-loving person. It is probably obvious why she had such a big influence on me, and she still does. Every time I remember her it gives me new courage to persevere.

The Lord wants us all to be like this for each other, and to be examples of the good and positive results of living in love in Him, examples of the fact that He is faithful to us. He is Love. His love never changes. Through the prayers of Saint Herman of Alaska, let us ask the Lord to renew and refresh our love, so that we will never slow down in our desire to follow Him. In everything may we be enabled to live that which Saint Herman continues to exhort us to do : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”. Thus, let us glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
With Saint Nicholas, shining for Christ
Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)
19 December, 2009
Hebrews 13:17-21 ; Luke 6:17-23

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

Today, we are celebrating the memory of our beloved Father in God, Saint Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, the Wonder-worker and patron of this holy Temple. We also know that this Temple has been here in this part of n, a witness for the truth of Jesus Christ for 109 years. It is not something insignificant that a community can serve the Lord and be faithful even when the environment is not exactly friendly. Even when the general population is declining, nevertheless people remain faithful to the Lord. They remain faithful Orthodox Christians, steadfast in their witness for the love of Jesus Christ. That is a great thing, and I pray that you will never change your disposition, and that you all here in these rural parts will continue to shine as living examples of the love of Jesus Christ.

It is true that we have icons on our iconostas. It is true that we have icons in our homes. It is true that we have icons in our cars, and other places. However, we ourselves are also called to be icons of Christ for other people to see. Our lives are to be examples of Who is Jesus Christ to us, and Who is Jesus Christ to people who are hungry and thirsty. In the Gospel reading today, we just saw in the presence of our Saviour a great multitude gathered together to hear what He had to say and to allow Him to heal all their diseases. They had come in order to let our Saviour turn their lives about. Instead of living in darkness, they would live in light ; instead of being selfish, they would become selfless ; instead of being bound by fear, they would be liberated in love.

This is the way of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is the example that we are called to give. Wherever we go as Orthodox Christians, the light of His love should be shining, so that people around who are hungry and thirsty (such as those who met our Saviour today) will find Him in us. They will find solace, consolation, healing and even repentance because they encounter in us the love of Jesus Christ. The Saviour, Himself, touches them through us. It does not give us any sort of credit. It is our faithfulness that allows the Saviour to touch the people who need Him. We are His vessels. Ever since we have been baptised, we have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit with the responsibility to live like this in the world.

We often say : “It is so difficult, and there are so many temptations”. However, it is not as difficult as we let ourselves think. If we think it is too difficult, then how did Saint Nicolas do it ? How did the thousands and thousands and thousands of saints on our calendar do it ? It is not too hard. If we think it is too hard, then we have let the devil play with our minds and convince us that it is too hard. However, he is a liar. Our Saviour says : “He is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). The devil absolutely never tells the truth. If we know what is good for us, we will remember that fact. Therefore, we cannot ever have a conversation with him because it is life-threatening. We can only have a conversation with the Saviour, who is the Truth, Himself. There is nothing false in the Saviour. About the devil, everything is false. It is essential for us not to let the devil play with our minds and convince us of his lies. Such a lie is that following our Saviour is too difficult. To follow the Lord is painful, but it is not too difficult.

It is painful because love that is like the love of Jesus Christ is open and vulnerable. It does not control and protect itself. It is trusting in the Saviour. Therefore, there is pain involved. However, I am quite certain that most of you here are parents or grandparents. I have never met a parent yet who has not encountered pain in the raising of children. This is because children do not necessarily do what they are supposed to do, and they do not necessarily express gratitude for anything. There are various other reasons why there is pain involved in raising children, but the reason you continue to forge on with these children despite the pain, despite the disappointment, is because you simply love them. You let them hurt you because you love them. The pain heals, because the Saviour’s love heals such pains. This sort of pain does not have to endure forever.

The Lord in His love does heal this pain. He also does heal what is wrong with the disposition of children. He does also heal what is wrong with our disposition, because His love wants us to be healthy, balanced, sane, stable human beings. He wants us to live purely in peace. Peace can only come in His love. He wants us to live in peace. He wants us to live in joy. Joy and peace only come from His love. It is when our lives are characterised by this peace and joy (no matter how much difficulty we face in life, no matter how much pain we face in life) that other people are encouraged, because they see that it is possible to face all these things. Then they might even dare to ask us why, and we could tell them. Even then they might not be prepared to accept Christ. However, if they ask, we can tell them. It is up to them whether they want to follow Christ in the same way or not. We do not bash people over the head with the truth.

Our Saviour says that we are yeast and salt (see Matthew 5:13; 13:3). We live amongst people, and we bring our Saviour with us wherever we go, whatever we do. We allow Him to meet the people who are in need of Him. We also pray for those people that we encounter. Sometimes there are people who are going to present themselves in a particular way that shows us their need. We can start to pray for them : “Lord have mercy”. Ultimately, we do not have to say much more than simply “Lord have mercy” for them. A very holy archimandrite that I used to know said that this prayer : “Lord have mercy”, “Gospodi pomilui”, “Doamne milueste”, “Kyrie eleison” (or whatever language) has the whole Gospel contained in it. When we are saying this prayer, we are simply asking the Lord to be present to that person in His love, in His joy, in His peace. I know from experience (I have seen it happen many times) that because people are praying for other persons who are in need, those other persons who are in need very often do, in fact, come to the Saviour, and come to the Orthodox Church. This is our way of life : being honest, following the Saviour, living in love, living in peace and joy, being faithful to Him and His way because He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). In doing this, the Lord will act.

Saint Nicholas was such a person. He was a God-loving man who was obedient to the Lord in the right spirit. What is that spirit ? It is living motivated by love, not being driven by fear. It is all love. The Apostle said today that we should obey our superiors. However, this obedience is not the same as obeying a stop sign in case the Mounties catch us. It is similarly not driving only at 80 km an hour because I am afraid the Mounties will catch me driving at my preferred speed of 120 km. That is not the spirit. The spirit of obedience is the spirit of love. Children obey their parents because the parents love them, and they love their parents, and want to be pleasing to them. Husbands and wives obey each other because they love each other, and they want to be pleasing to each other. In a monastic community, the normal way of obedience is because of love, not because of fear. Monks come and live with an elder, and follow this elder, because they see the love of Jesus Christ in this person. They want to follow this person, and be like this person in their love for Jesus Christ. That is the sort of obedience in the Orthodox way that we are talking about : obedience in love.

Saint Nicholas understood this sort of obedience, and he was obedient to the Saviour because of love. He endured being imprisoned and persecuted because of love for Jesus Christ. He testified against false teaching about Who is Jesus Christ. He said plainly what is the truth (meaning Who is the Truth) at the first Council of Nicaea, because of his love for Jesus Christ, and his determination to be obedient and not to get distracted by silly philosophies. He knew in his heart Who is the Truth. The Truth is not a “what” ; it is a “Who” : our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Saint Nicholas knew, and knows to this day the Truth. He rescued people, fed people, and helped them in all sorts of ways, and mostly anonymously. He did not get a government tax credit for the good things that he did ; he just did them. He was known for this love in his life, and he is known for the same love to this day. Saint Nicholas is a protector of people who travel. There are all sorts of stories about people today who can attest (about 1700 years later) to the intercessions of Saint Nicholas on their behalf as being effective. They have been saved at sea, from car accidents, and from all sorts of difficulties because of his intercessions. Saint Nicholas is a strong conveyer of the love of Jesus Christ.

We can be the same. If Saint Nicholas can love the Saviour, and bring Grace to people in loving and obeying the Saviour, we can, too. We just have to say “Yes” to the Saviour as Saint Nicholas did and does. Who else do we know who says “Yes” to the Saviour perpetually and always ? The Mother of God. The whole life of the Mother of God is a “Yes” to the Saviour. Her whole witness is a “Yes” to the Saviour. By her prayers, we can do the same. Because of her love and her care for us in Him, she recently brought repentance, healing, strengthening, and renewal of love for her Son to our Church through the Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv. Let us ask the Mother of God, and Saint Nicholas to pray for us, to intercede for us so that we will be able to do more and more in our lives in harmony and love with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. May our lives be enabled to reveal more and more this love, this peace, and this joy. When our time comes to an end, may we be able to enter into the Kingdom with the Mother of God, Saint Nicholas, and many, many thousands of other saints and other God-loving, believing Christians, and, together with them, sing forever the thrice-holy hymn : “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the life-giving Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.


Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
28th Sunday after Pentecost
20 December, 2009
Colossians 1:12-18 ; Luke 18:18-27

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

The words of our Saviour to this rich young man are important for us in our western cultures in particular, although human beings (no matter where we are) are always subject to the same temptations. Our Lord says : “‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’”. We often do not understand these particular words of our Saviour because we do not usually associate a camel with the eye of a needle. It is actually completely impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle as we usually understand the word. However, in this Gospel passage our Saviour is referring to a particular gate in Jerusalem through which camels were not supposed to enter. All baggage had to be unloaded. There was traffic control and customs control into the city of Jerusalem. It was a big process to get a camel into the city. Indeed, it was not advisable for camels to go into the city (or any city in particular) because they tend to be unruly. Regardless, it is an extremely difficult thing.

In order to enter the city, the camel (or camels) had to be completely unloaded of all baggage. For any rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it also means that that person has to be unloaded of all his or her baggage. We always have a tendency (and this is where our problem is) to want to be comfortable here in this world. We make ourselves cozy nests here, and we do everything we can to make ourselves very comfortable. We human beings are always the same. As soon as the possibility comes for establishing these cozy nests, not only do we establish cozy nests, but we also line them. We put in silk and all sorts of eiderdown cushioning against the rough parts of this nest. Then we establish all sorts of windbreaks and shelters for this nest. We “dodo birds” certainly make ourselves very comfortable. The problem with making ourselves comfortable under these circumstances is that we are doing this in the spirit of our imagined self-sufficiency, and forgetting who is Who. Who are we ? Who are we without the Lord ? With this nest business that I am speaking about, it seems that we are determined to think that we have constructed this nest all by ourselves. Since the provisions are so good for amplifying and beautifying and “comfy-fying” this nest, we take every opportunity to do so on our own initiative and our own strength, without bothering to think about anyone or anything else. We do not think about the nest next door where they merely have a few sticks while we are making ourselves comfortable. Perhaps we will think about the nest next door sometimes or maybe not. We may even condemn the bird in that nest next door living in such discomfort with only a few sticks for being lazy, uninspired or even irresponsible.

We tend to be self-preoccupied, forgetful of what is the purpose of our life here, and forgetful of who is Who. The Apostle Paul is saying to the Colossians very clearly who is Who. If we remember this every day of our life, I think we will be in far less danger of lining our nests because of an improper attitude. The correct attitude to which I am referring is a true understanding about where everything comes from. We Orthodox Christians confess Jesus Christ. What do we understand when we are confessing Jesus Christ ? Are we considering Him to be an historical person with no particular effectiveness today ? Is He merely some philosopher ? Is He merely some nice guy ? If we have ideas like this we are very confused.

The Apostle Paul lays it out very clearly that the Saviour is the Source of everything that exists. He is the Head of the Body, which is the Church. He is also the One who speaks everything into being. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the Source of all creation. It is important to remember that He is the Source of everything, and that you and I depend on Him for everything. He is our life. We have no life apart from Him. Therefore, when we are making our nests comfortable (which the Lord does not forbid), then we will be understanding that He is blessing us to make our nests comfortable. We will be giving thanks to Him every day of our lives because He is enabling us to have a certain amount of relief from the difficulties of life. He is giving us some sort of consolation (and the Lord does give consolation). He gives many consolations, far more than any of us ever deserve.

While we are giving thanks to the Lord for the fact that we are able to have a comfortable nest (and able to make the nest even more comfortable), we are not forgetting Him. We are also not forgetting our neighbour who has not enough for a decent nest. We can share some of our extra sticks, and some of our extra silks and satins for the making comfortable of that neighbour’s nest. We will be understanding that the Lord has given us more so that we can help our neighbour (who for whatever reason is not able to do so well). The majority of people here are married (or have been married), and if you recall the prayers of the Service of Crowning, the prayers ask that the Lord will give the couple an abundance of good things. This is so that, from this abundance of good things, they will be able to share the blessing that the Lord gives. This is the way that Orthodox Christians always have been living. That is why the hospitality that is characteristic of Orthodox Christians is super-abundant.

In this context, my mind instantly goes back to 1994 when I made my first visit to Ukraine on a pilgrimage. This visit came in the middle of a famine. Ukraine and Russia, too, were both in deep hunger. It was after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and none of the participating countries of that former union had yet established a proper interior infrastructure. Everything was broken. Even if there might have been some food, there was no proper distribution. At the same time, the crops were failing. I remember vividly visiting a certain village on our pilgrimage itinerary. This village was receiving us foreigners in the typical Orthodox Christian way. This poor village (which was suffering from lack in the same way as everyone else) pooled all their food, and piled it on the tables for us North Americans (who were overweight). The Ukrainians were not at all overweight. We were faced with a dilemma because we had to eat in order to satisfy their hospitality. At the same time, we did not dare to eat too much so that they would still have something to eat after we locusts had left.

It was during a pilgrimage to Ukraine a few years later that I visited a women’s monastery in Kremenets. The abbess was telling us about her spiritual father (I think he was one of the martyrs of the Communist days). In speaking about hospitality, he had told her that the good guest has to taste a little of everything but not eat everything that is on the table. The host has to offer everything possible. The guest has to exercise restraint and responsibility in honouring this hospitality, but yet not eat the host “out of house and home”. There is always this sense of balance and mutual responsibility in our lives, and in our paying attention to each other. We remember that the Lord is the Source of all things. Ukraine survived that famine and became much more prosperous, although it is still not “out of the woods”. However, it is considerably better than it was.

However, even in Ukraine, we can still see the same phenomenon as here. People who have much, amass more and more. They forget about helping the people who have no possibility to acquire anything because of the circumstances of life. It is not because many people do not want to work, earn, and be responsible for themselves. It is because the circumstances of people whose hands are tightly closed into a fist deny them the opportunity. The tight-fisted are not prepared to share. When this tight-fisted attitude of not-sharing is prevalent, then everything falls down. The tight fist is capable only of gripping what little it can contain, but it is not capable of receiving anything more. The Orthodox Christian attitude according to the Gospel is the open hand, which expresses the open heart. This open hand is capable of holding much. It is also capable of sharing much. It is also capable of receiving much more. In other words, this open hand is a re-cycling, processing junction of the Lord in our midst. We allow this open hand to give to those in need. The open hand remains open, and the Lord refills it. This is the experience of our lives.

One of our archdiocesan counsellors, a bookstore owner, and a big supporter of the archdiocese over the years has always said : “Give, and you will have more”. That is his personal experience. I have seen this in his life, and in the lives of many. In such giving in the spirit of the Lord’s love, we open our heart to be blessed yet more. The more we give, the more the Lord gives us to give. This is precisely how love itself works. Love must be given and shared more and more. The more we give, the more the Lord gives us to give. In fact, our capacity for love increases. This is true for giving or sharing anything. The more we share, the more our capacity increases.

Throughout our whole life, our attitude has to be one of gratitude to the Lord for His tender care for us. How many blessings He gives us even though we are so forgetful. He gives us these blessings. He nurtures us despite our betrayals of Him. He loves us. It is important for us to express this gratitude not only once a day but many times every day. It would be the greatest blessing if our hearts could come into such harmony with the Lord that our whole lives will be an action of expressing gratitude to God for all His love, for all His gifts to us.

Brothers and sisters, as we are starting to approach the Nativity season, let us remember that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the Source of everything. He is the Source of our life. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the One who spoke everything into being in the first place. Then He emptied Himself because of His love for us. He emptied Himself, and became a human being. Our Lord became a human being in every way like us, except in sin, so He understands us completely. He understood us anyway, but He did this to convince us. He understands us. Because we are so bound by fear otherwise, Jesus Christ took flesh and became visible to us so that we would have more confidence to approach Him. He emptied Himself completely so that we would dare to approach Him. (There is so much more to it than that, but this is only a simplification.) He enabled us to understand that love can be a concrete thing. It is not exactly created, but it still can have material aspects.

In the same way that our Lord emptied, and empties Himself for us (because this care and love for us has never stopped), let us ask Him that we also will be able to empty ourselves in His love. This self-emptying can express itself in sharing His love, sharing His life, sharing His joy with everyone around us, sharing everything, and giving thanks to Him for everything. Let us ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to us afresh today so that we will be able to do this better and better, and all together in our whole lives glorify our Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Feast of the Nativity of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Participating in Abundant Life
Nativity of Christ
25 December, 2009
Galatians 4:4-7 ; Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is born.

In the Gospel reading, the Wise Men whom we have just met, have been searching for the newly-born King for a very long time. It took them many months to travel from Persia. They are philosophers and at the same time astrologers (this word had a better implication and meaning in those days than it does now). They are perhaps more like astronomers (one might say). The Wise Men are certainly people who studied the stars, and tried to understand some meaning in them and their movement. On the basis of the signs in the heavens, they had begun to search for the King whose star had appeared in the heavens. They understood that the appearance of the star was the indication of the birth of someone great. Even to this day, there are people amongst astronomers who can suggest (as I have seen written from time to time) that in fact there could have been some big, cosmic event about the time (give or take a few years) when the Saviour was born. It does not hurt when science can confirm the details of Scripture. Science does, in fact, confirm the details of Scripture on many, many more occasions than only this account.

These philosophers have been looking for the Saviour, and now they find Him. They find Him in an unlikely and unexpected place – in poverty. When the Wise Men come, the Saviour is no longer in the cave. It is the shepherds who find Him in the cave. When the wise men come, He is already in a house in Bethlehem (because there are relatives in the area). The Saviour is visited by these philosophers who understand Who He is. They offer to Him, through His Mother, the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Unlike most other philosophers who get us into trouble, these particular philosophers recognise Jesus Christ for Who He is. A philosopher who knows the Lord can know the truth, and therefore can be a true lover of wisdom because everything is focussed on Christ, Himself. Philosophers without the Lord get onto the wrong track because they are limited to their own minds and reasoning.

What is the meaning of the word “philosopher” ? It means “lover of wisdom”. What is true wisdom and where are we going to find it ? The answer to that question is about the same as the answer to Pontius Pilate’s question : “‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38) Truth is not a “what”. It is a “Who”. True wisdom is not a “what”. It is a “Who”. Who is this “Who” ? It is Jesus Christ, our Saviour. This is where philosophers get into trouble because they live in their heads, in their minds. Systems, logic, and this “head business” go on and on and on, following their own trains of logic and whatever, and sometimes phantasy. This goes on without reference necessarily to anything concrete, except some ideas, some principles. In the history of Christianity, this is where we have always gotten into trouble. Why did Arius get into trouble ? Why did Nestorius get into trouble ? It is because they followed ideas without reference to the Source of all ideas, thought, and wisdom who is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ says to you and to me : “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life, and the Light. And He is certainly Wisdom. The cathedral-church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia (that is now a museum) in Istanbul is dedicated to Christ, our Saviour Himself, because it is He who is the Wisdom of God.

This Saviour is always inviting you and me to a personal relationship with Him, which will govern and guide our lives, our thoughts and our logic. This relationship with Him, who is the Truth, will keep us always on the right path, because in Him we cannot go astray. As long as we have our hearts, our minds and our eyes focussed on Jesus Christ, our Saviour, we cannot go astray. It is only when we take our minds, our eyes, our focus off Him that we get lost, and go into fog. We get into quicksand, sometimes, because we do not look to our Saviour. Everything about this feast of the Incarnation of the Word of God is about God’s self-emptying love, His emptying of Himself, His taking on human flesh, being tempted in every way as we are except for falling into sin. He took on everything that is broken about us, everything that is dark about us, everything that is fallen about us. He brings it to His Father, in light, and in healing. He brings it into union with His Father in love. He brings us into this intimate union of love in the Holy Trinity. This is an unimaginable invitation in Him : to be taken into the Holy Trinity. There are actually some human beings who have truly experienced such a union and communion of love. Saint Alexander of Svir is one of them, and there are others in the course of human history who have had this great blessing to encounter the Holy Trinity, and live to tell the tale.

Our Saviour today is inviting you and me, all of us together in communion of love, to participate with Him in healthy, powerful, and abundant life in Him : a life which shines with the radiance of the light of His love. Let us renew our acceptance of that invitation today, and allow Him to open our hearts from within more and more. The Saviour is not outside us, although we keep using language like this, asking Him to come in. We cannot ask Him to come in. He already is in us. We exist because He is in us. It is for us to allow Him to grow in us, and allow His love to multiply and blossom from within, through our hearts. May our whole lives bear witness to the truth of His love for us, and the fact of His Incarnation. May our whole lives bear witness to the fact that in each one of us He lives, and through each one of us He ministers to others (and even to those who do not recognise His presence).

Let us ask the Lord to give us the strength to allow Him to move freely in our hearts so that we can be transformed into our true selves, the persons that He has created each of us to be : persons who reflect Him, and who shine Him to others, and to the world. In so doing, may we fulfil what Saint Herman of Alaska has been exhorting us for 200 years to do : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In doing so we will be glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Sunday after the Feast of Nativity

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
First Priorities
Sunday after the Feast of Nativity
27 December, 2009
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Matthew 2:13-23
Acts 6:8-7:5, 47-60 ; Matthew 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is born.

We Canadians have some difficulties, I think, with keeping things in perspective because the way of Canada is all about “me, myself and I”. Our refrains are constant : “Satisfy my every desire”. “Make me comfortable in the context of everything soft”. “I deserve everything I want”. A long time ago my mother would refer to certain persons with a significant ego, saying : “Okh”, he is a lettered man : he wears a big “I” on his sweater”. Sadly, this is the mentality in our whole country. It is not that this is something new for human beings. Human beings have always been like this since the Fall. However, in these days we are becoming specialists in this.

That is our problem. We are becoming specialists in this egocentricity. For an Orthodox Christian, this is a particularly difficult situation to be in because this disposition is the opposite of the Christian way. We Christians do not pretend that we do not exist. We do not pretend that we are bad. However, for the Christian, there are priorities greater than self-satisfaction. These priorities have to do with putting first things first. Who is first except the Lord ? The Lord is first for us. The Lord is first for us as He is for the holy Archdeacon and First-martyr Stephen whose death we witness today in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Lord is first not because He is some sort of philosophical principle or because He is a cultural tradition. The Lord is first because He loves us, and He created us because of love. We, likewise, love Him. The Orthodox way is to recognise this loving relationship : He, first of all, loves us, and we love Him in return (see 1 John 4:19). Everything about our lives is lived out in that context : the Lord first, and everything else afterwards in order.

At the time of the Incarnation, this is where the Jewish people got into trouble regarding their response to the Incarnation. They had other priorities at the time. Just as Saul of Tarsus thought he was doing God a service by persecuting Christians when he was a young man and had not yet encountered Christ fully, the chosen people thought that they were doing God a service. The parable that our Saviour tells us today is precisely about the consequences of this denial.

A certain king invites people to the marriage feast of his son. These people do not take the invitation seriously. They have other priorities than the banquet : someone just got married ; someone just bought a cow ; someone just bought some land. All these things are other priorities. The prevailing attitude of these people was that there was always some dinner taking place somewhere anyway, so why bother. We, ourselves, have to be careful about this because we are invited to the heavenly banquet. How are we regarding the Master ? Are we regarding Him with love, and as a first priority in love ? Does love for Him count for everything in our lives ? Or do we have the attitude that says : “The Church is always there. The Divine Liturgy is always there. I have other things I have to do right now”. Do I excuse myself like this ? Are there other things that are somehow more important in my life than the Lord ? It is a dangerous environment that we live in because it is so easy to forget who is who, and what is what.

The holy Archdeacon and First-martyr Stephen does not come to his death today because of loyalty to some principles. He comes to his death, and his entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven today precisely and only because of his love for Jesus Christ. That is why it was possible for the Archdeacon to be able to say : “‘Look! I see the Heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” These words immediately brought about his death. However, he did not have the Heavens opened because he was following some sort of discipline or exercise in order to bring himself to some sort of philosophical enlightenment. He received this gift from God, this vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to encourage and strengthen him. It was because he was a lover of God, and because his heart was attuned to the Lord that he was able to see this vision that the Lord gave him in order to strengthen him. It was because of his love for the Lord. The holy Archdeacon Stephen is not by any means the only Christian who has seen such things. In fact, there is a young man standing outside Jerusalem today, at whose feet were laid the clothes of those who are stoning the holy Archdeacon Stephen to death. That young man (who became the Apostle Paul) was also given such blessings from the Lord in order to encourage him to persevere.

It is important to remember in our perseverance that everything is in the context of the Incarnation of the Son of God whose Nativity we are celebrating right now. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14). The Word of God, who speaks everything into existence, took flesh. The Word of God is the visible, touchable expression of God’s love for us. Everything takes place in that context. We, all of us, are called together here to worship the Lord, all of us with our own brokennesses. Our Church, somehow, is not the society of the enlightened and the perfect in some philosophical sense. If that were the case, we would not be feeling the strong need to have to go to confession week after week, as we do. We are, all of us together, broken persons with our own pain in life, all suffering from one thing or another. Yet at the same time, in our sorrows, in our weaknesses, and in our fallenness, we all are united together by our response of love to Jesus Christ who is stretching out His hands to us and inviting us to this banquet today.

The Church is often called a “hospital for sinners”. We are the Church. Thus, here we are in the hospital. The great Physician Himself, our Saviour, is stretching out His hands to us, inviting us to His bosom of love. He, Himself, is going to feed us with His own hand. The Lord uses the bishop and the priests (who are His extensions), but it is He, Himself, who is feeding us all. The prayers recognise that. He, Himself, is feeding us all with His Body and Blood in which are life, consolation and healing. From the parable that our Lord told us in today’s Gospel reading, we can understand that we are like those who were pulled into the banquet from various highways in order to take the place of the invitees who, for various reasons, refused to come. Of course, we do not have appropriate wedding apparel. However, it is the Lord, the Master of the banquet, who gives the correct garment to wear. The man who still was not wearing a proper wedding garment and who was cast out, is a person who accepted the last-minute invitation but who would not for some reason accept to put on the proper apparel from the hand of the Master. What, then, is that apparel ? It is the garment of baptism. The Lord gives us the renewal of our life in baptism. He brings us to life eternal in baptism. He, Himself, dresses us in the banquet apparel for the occasion. He gives us everything.

The Apostle Paul learned in his life how this love works itself out in the environment of people who are broken as we are. There are all sorts of people who did not understand what he was trying to say about the love of Jesus Christ. Many people rejected what he had to say. They called him names, and sometimes they beat him up. The Apostle Paul was not deterred by these broken responses from broken people because these were not responses sent by the Lord. They were responses from below, from darkness, and from people who were suffering because the light of the love of Jesus Christ was shining on them and into their hearts. They were uncomfortable about what that light was exposing in their hearts. Rather than allow the Lord to clean the darkness and to clear the junk, they closed the door and hid from the light.

Brothers and sisters, it is crucial that we do not let ourselves fall into that temptation. When we suffer from certain persons who are in that dark condition and who treat us similarly, it is important that we not fall into a sulk, and say in so many words : “I am not going to play in your yard anymore. I am going home to my own toy”. We cannot be like that. The Apostle Paul did not descend into that despite all the difficulties he faced. He continued to do what had to be done : to reveal in his life, in his words and in his writings, the love of Jesus Christ. He laboured, preaching and writing so that people around him would be able to have hope, and so that those who could respond to the invitation to the banquet by the Master would be able to respond. They would be able to see in the example of the Apostle that the Master is a loving Master, and that He will receive them with love.

As we are celebrating this great Feast of the Nativity of Christ, in this cycle of feasts that we also call the “Winter Pascha”, let us allow the Lord to renew our hearts. Brothers and sisters, let us allow the Lord to open our hearts, to strengthen our hearts and to multiply the light that He has already planted in our hearts. Together with the Apostle Paul and the holy First-martyr and Archdeacon Stephen, may we come at the end of our days to the Kingdom, and enter into the permanent banquet of the Master, ever glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.