Talks on Unity 1988, Parts 1-4

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
1 : Unity with God
Great Lent, 1988
[revised 2017]

I must say that this particular topic, ever since I had to begin thinking about it, has caused me a great deal of difficulty. It is all very simple to talk about unity and to think about unity in the four aspects that we are considering over these two days or so. The fact is that we Orthodox Christians are always speaking about union with God, theosis. My having difficulty in actually speaking about this subject is reflected in the fact that every other Orthodox Christian seems somehow to have similar difficulties with this topic. When it comes down to it, where do we find unity with God ? Where do we find it ? Where do we find unity with each other ? Where are we going to see it ? Where are we going to find it ?

Ultimately, the difficulty boils down to the famous anecdote (I am not sure if it is an anecdote but it actually could be possible) about this certain Orthodox Christian who was cast away on a desert island. When he was finally retrieved ten years later, his savers found that he had built two churches on the island. When asked why there were two churches on the island, he said : “This one I go to and this one I don’t go to”. That is more or less where we are in this whole encounter with the subject of unity. The fact is that we have great difficulty with unity because we are such friends with sin. As long as we are such friends with sin, we are going to have difficulty with the subject of unity.

At this time (and perhaps even at all times), we have difficulty with unity because we have so much difficulty with sin. We live in a society that does not even recognise the existence of sin. Therefore, how are we going to address the subject of unity with God, with each other (or anything) when we are going to ignore the fundamental cause of its not being there, which is sin. We tend to pretend that sin does not exist. We turn it into objects of psychoanalysis. We turn it into “problems”. However, as a certain previous speaker at these sessions said (whose name does not need to be mentioned, but whose wisdom is always shared amongst us) : “People do not have problems : they have sins”. It is high time we faced the fact that we do not have problems in our lives. Rather, we have sins. For instance, I was beaten up by neighbouring children when I was very little. The result of this was not problems but rather a susceptibility to a sinful attitude which separates me from them. This attitude can produce in the heart an attitude of revenge, of anger and even of hatred. That is not a problem. That is a sin. I had to forgive them. I think that perhaps this is indeed what we need to be paying attention to from top to bottom of our lives. What is it that separates ? What is it that causes disunity ? It is sin.

Another difficulty of course, is the fact that we are speaking about unity with God. There is no need for me standing here talking about it, because the Orthodox Christian approach to things is not to blab about them forever, but to do something about it. I must say that I really “caught it” not long ago for referring to this particular illustration in a homily, but I am going to risk it again. That is the famous musical to which we all must have gone at one time in either its stage or its film version : My Fair Lady. In this musical, Eliza Doolittle gets fed up with the poetry of her young suitor and finally says as it were : “Stop talking about love. Show me that you love me – do something about it. Don’t quote poetry outside my window for hours on end. Don’t sing me songs. Show me that you love me”.

The fact is that action is what the Lord wants from us. We protest that we love Him. We say : “Well, I come to church every Sunday ; doesn’t that show something ?” Actually it doesn’t ; not by itself it doesn’t. We cannot talk about loving God. We have to do something about it. As long as there is disunity, we are showing that we really are not prepared to face this question of unity where it hurts. Once again, we are unwilling to face what is truly at the crux of unity –unity with God, unity in the Church, unity in ourselves, unity with each other, unity in the family or unity in the diocese. At present, it seems that we are not prepared to face what is at the root of it all. We seem not to be prepared to sacrifice our pride. We seem not to be prepared to admit to sin. We seem not to be prepared to step out bravely in faith and actually live this love. Therefore, in the meantime, we are left with a pretence which is mere window-dressing.

To live in unity with the Lord, and in visible unity with each other is, in fact, possible. However, the gateway to this unity is through repentance which the Lord has taught us about very clearly. In fact, there are many in the world today who are able to live like this. The fact that they can do it should give us courage to work harder in North America. Although I have not been on the Holy Mountain myself, I have heard many stories from those who have been there. They speak about monks and hermits whose lives are not filled with chatting, but rather with the praise of the Lord. In addition, there are in our day many holy people in Egypt. Egyptian monasteries have been repopulated, and new ones constructed. Many people are willingly and openly sharing and showing their love for Christ, despite the fact that almost every day at least one person is killed there because of being a Christian. These holy people are actually living this unity. They are doing what is necessary. The fact is that they are no different from you or from me. Each one of them is a human being. Each one of them is doing what we are supposed to do, too, because the Lord calls us to be holy as He is holy.

What the Lord wants from us is not a lot of talking. He wants us to know Him. I believe that the Lords wants us to be with Him like couples who have been married fifty or sixty years, who love each other and know each other. I am speaking rather idealistically now, although I have seen this practised enough times. Even couples who have been married for sixty years say that they still find out surprising things about each other. However, they know each other and love each other well enough so that they do not have to talk their heads off. They do not have to go about proving their love all the time because they have already done it. Just by sitting next to each other and being with each other, they are demonstrating their love for each other. They have deepened their love for each other already enough so that they can even think alike and anticipate each other. Who needs to talk ?

I think that is what the Lord wants from us. He wants us to enjoy being in His presence. He does not want a lot words from us. Our monastic holy Fathers have said precisely that. The Lord does not demand words from us. He asks us to sit in silence with Him and enjoy being in His presence and being filled with His love. He wants to give us His love and He wants us to be filled with this love. He does not ask us to meditate on it, to speculate on it, to philosophise on it. He just asks us to be in His love. At least that is how it seems to me that married couples are after many years.

I remember seeing one couple who had been married for 65 years. They were both in their nineties. They were sort of like teenagers. They used to sit on benches and hold hands and giggle. They did not talk very much. They sometimes argued, of course, but they did not talk a lot. They teased and they were rather like children. They had gotten past a lot of the junk of life, and they were just plainly enjoying each other’s company. I think that in the best of times for you and for me, our experience of the Lord is rather like that. It is the joy of being in His presence without having to explain it, to talk about it or to analyse it, just as we do not have to analyse our relationships with each other. We do not have to analyse why we feel so great sitting next to the one we love – we just do it.

This topic of unity is something that rests at the foundation of everything that we are. This unity which we find in the Holy Trinity, in Christ, in the Church, penetrates every aspect of our life. It binds everything together in the love which gives life to all. Some groups may call themselves “unity”, believe in certain principles of unity, consider in the framework of the global village the unity of humanity, meditate on the harmonious unity of the universe or ruminate on the philosophical idea of unity in one or another of its categories. Perhaps one might even go so far as to try to put a political face on unity. Orthodox Christians may even do a little of one or another of some of the above, but in the end what distinguishes us is that we live it. Even if we are fallen and building two churches on our desert island, even if we argue with each other ’til we are blue in the face, we still live unity if we are Orthodox Christians.

Our first consideration of this series is concerned with unity with God. This subject is raised annually for us on the second Sunday of Great Lent. Indeed, we could spend all our time in prayerful consideration of this one particular topic. We really could. Great Lent itself begins with the subject of unity. In the Old Testament readings, beginning with Genesis, we see God, because of His love creating everything that is, culminating in Man. God in His love sets Man in the garden in Paradise. God, who reveals already that He is a community of Persons with the words “We”, “Let us make” and “Our”, makes Man also a community of persons, complementary and mutually fulfilling, male and female. This human community is to be in unity and communion with God, who is very community.

God is a loving community of Persons united in complete, selfless agape, love, who created Man to be alive, living, and life-giving in the same way. Man is created to be one in selfless love with God, in community with God. We see that in being given authority to name all creatures, Man is to be the agent with the Lord God of harmony and unity with all that is created. See, you do not need me to stand here talking about this because everything is self-explanatory. In Genesis we are plainly told what is the result of the misuse and misappropriation of this love. When love becomes focussed on the self and self-interest as opposed to the other (the “other” including God, Man and creation), when love turns in on itself, it instantly ceases to be love. In fact, most of what we hear called “love” in society these days does not bear very much resemblance to what love truly is. Love, as we understand it in modern society, is just plain self-indulgence. It is simply “hedonism” (proving that the Greeks do have a word for everything). Life, living, and the giving of life and creating – all that – cease in this atmosphere. Death takes over. Separation becomes the norm : alienation from God, alienation from each other, alienation from creation.

In Genesis, this breakdown results immediately in the breaking of that face-to-face communion with God which was in the beginning. Self-interest became jealousy, and that became murder, just like that, step by step, very quickly. That is what my grandmother meant when she said : “The line between love and hatred is very fine”. The animals with whom Man lived in harmony while in perfect, loving communion with God, now became sacrificial, substitutes, a sin offering, as well as becoming Man’s food. Instead of giving names to the animals, instead of living in harmony with the animals, instead of the animals being sharers in the Kingdom and all that with us, taking their place in the over-all picture of creation, we broke it. We began to eat the animals. The Lord shows us in the Book of Acts that this is not a sin (see Acts 10:10-16). The Lord does not demand that we be vegetarians even now. However, it is nevertheless a tragedy that the animals had to become our substitute. We see the high priest putting his hand on the head of the scapegoat and the sins of the people being transferred to the scapegoat in that laying on of hands. The goat goes out into the wilderness. That is a far, far cry from a loving, life-giving relationship.

Last week I was interested to hear Father Paul Lazor reflecting on this very thing. Father Paul has a new dog (because poor, old Pushok finally met her end at the age of fourteen). Now he has a dog, a sheltie called Laska. This little sweetheart of a dog was very much anxious to try to share my coffee. Father Paul was saying that he found it very interesting that these little animals live in the same house with us. They share our food. They share our love. Then when we become violent, aggressive and really perverse and nasty in our sinful behaviour, they do not say anything. They sit there and take it. It is interesting what sort of behaviour we can still have with animals. Don’t get me wrong. I am not in the animal rights business, and I am not an anthropomorphiser. I do not consider animals to be the same as human beings. Animals are animals. They do not have human souls. Animals are animals. Nevertheless, the Lord called us to be in a loving, life-giving, creative relationship with everything that is : animals, plants, the atmosphere, everything. We have to remember that this is the living-out of our love. That is what He wants from us.

The reversal of unity leads us directly or indirectly to cause the extinction instead of the giving of life to all sorts of these creatures. You do not need me here to tell you that ; we hear that in the news all the time. However, the extinction of all these creatures obviously comes from sin. We do not need to be ripping down all the rain forests ; we just need to use the land that we have sensibly and wisely as good stewards in the Lord. However, we don’t ; and even here in our own country where we have plenty of good land, we rape it. The Lord does not ask us to do that to the land. He wants us to be constructive, to know the land and to be in harmony with it so that it will bear fruit. However, the land cannot bear fruit because of what is wrong in here (in our hearts). What are we trying to get out of the land ? Maximum production and great profit. We do not care what happens to the land. Therefore, the south of Saskatchewan turns into a dust bowl and the south of Alberta does, too ; sometimes Manitoba does as well. Maybe Ontario will be a dust bowl one day, also. Who knows, perhaps even Québec ?

Our sin, our selfishness bring death not only to us, but to everything around us. They produce a terrible pessimism in some people, a pessimism which I encounter too often. It is a pessimism which leads to despair very quickly. It is a pessimism which in itself is terribly sinful. This pessimism does not see any possibility of repentance. Life and the giving of life are no more the norm in all this, and, as we hear every day, slaughter takes its place. There is slaughter not only of animals but also of each other. Of course, in our rebellion and in our separation, we take everything else down with us, broken. When we are saved, we help open the way to salvation to countless others. We can say this not only because Saint Seraphim of Sarov said words to that effect, but also because we see this relationship reflected everywhere in the Bible. Likewise, if we are damned, we open the way to damnation for countless others as well. Our unity with God, our salvation, our theosis, resulting from our experience of God’s love, is to be found only in Jesus Christ. Only in this unity in Jesus Christ can be found union with all the creatures of God.

I am going to give you some Scriptural passages which you might look at and think about : Genesis 1 and 2 ; 4:26 ; Psalm 8:3 ; Acts 17:28 ; Ephesians 1:10 ; and Colossians 1:20. Here also is another group : 1 Corinthians 6:5 ; 1 Corinthians 12 ; Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 5:30. This is another group : Isaiah 62:5 ; Matthew 9:15 ; 25:1 ; 25:6 ; John 3:29 ; 1 Corinthians 10:17 ; 2 Corinthians 11:12 ; Ephesians 1:22 ; 4:15 ; Colossians 1:18 ; 2:19. Last, there is this series : Deuteronomy 14:2 ; 32:10 ; Isaiah 63:16 ; Hosea 11:1 ; Zechariah 2:8 ; 9:16 ; Malachi 3:17 ; John 1:12 ; Romans 8:15 ; 2 Corinthians 6:18 ; Galatians 4:5 and 6.

The fact is that when it comes to finding unity with God, it does not have to take great physical struggles (although it takes enough struggles). It does not take systems ; it does not take philosophy and it does not require great intellectual power. If it did, all those who may be called mental defectives whom we treat as saints would be left out in the cold. What it does take is responding in kind. In His love for us, the Lord continues to reach out to us, and He asks us to reach out and take His hand. He asks of us a simple response.

Again, finally, you do not need me with a Masters degree in Theology to stand here and talk to you. In fact, it would be better if a Masters degree in Theology were not standing here talking to you. Indeed, it would be a lot better if one of the people from the desert in Egypt or from the Holy Mountain (but remember that monks do not have a monopoly here) or some really lovely babushka who has lived her whole life in the Lord were speaking to you about unity with God. We need one of those yayas in London, Ontario, who love to celebrate Pascha, in whom the light of Christ shines at Pascha while they are singing Christos anesti, waving their candles. Those are really the sort of persons we need to speak to us about these things – the yayas would not use as many words as I do.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
2 : Unity within the Self
Great Lent, 1988

Today I am expected to be speaking about unity within ourselves. I suppose that it is safe to say that unity within oneself is something that we all struggle with, and strive for somehow in our lives. Some people do not succeed very well at unity within themselves. Because of various circumstances in life, they become several of themselves. I am speaking about multiple personalities and that sort of thing. Life is very difficult for some people, and their way of coping with the difficulties of life, the pain and the horror of life, is to become quite a few of themselves. There are other ways also of becoming multiples of oneself, such as by being invaded. However, that is not necessarily what I want to speak about.

Essentially, yesterday I was saying that we find unity in our encounter with God. Unity with God, in fact, is what we all tend towards in our lives. We search for it one way or another. Some people search for it philosophically, which search I think ultimately leads to a dead end. I remember in my extreme youth, when I was at the university studying philosophy, I was very much discouraged because I discovered that there is not one philosophical system that does not have a loophole in it. Sooner or later someone will find the loophole and then that would be “it” for that philosophical system.

Then I began to wonder why I was studying philosophy at all. Finally, I discovered that philosophy helps a great deal in explaining many things. However, no one philosophical system by itself is sufficient to build any sort of foundation upon. We cannot build too many buildings on any one philosophy, because sooner or later someone is going to pull a brick out at the bottom and the whole thing falls down. However, it is still a useful tool for explaining our encounter. For believers, that is what philosophy helps us with. It helps to explain our encounter. Each age has its own philosophy, its own particular, favourite philosophy. However, I have discovered that most of these philosophies are somehow reworked versions of things that people have thought of before, often very long before. All the modern heresies that we are encountering nowadays are sort of reworked old heresies. It just goes to show that a favourite memory of mine from Father Alexander Schmemann’s lecturing (when he spoke about the uninventiveness of the devil and how boring the same old sins are) applies just the same to these heresies. These heresies are dressed-up reworkings of old junk which, in the end, are just as boring as the same, old boring sins which the devil keeps trying to manufacture to distract us.

If we are going to find unity in ourselves, the only place where we will find it is in the encounter with God. We are not going to find inner unity anywhere else. As Father n was explaining to us earlier about the philosophy of Plotinus, and the philosophies of many other people in fact, in these systems one finds oneself becoming less oneself the more one encounters another or the other. In Buddhism, too (which is in fact a philosophy), and other similar ways of thinking, one does not become oneself. In Buddhism, when one is becoming perfect, one becomes nothing ; one becomes no-one ; becoming is unbecoming. Plotinus was not even innovative in thinking that way. In Buddhism, in encountering the other, one becomes so absorbed into the other that one does not really have any more distinct existence. One does not have any sort of clear, distinct personhood ; one does not have any essence of oneself any more.

That is sort of what it is like to be an adolescent. It seems to me, as I recall, that that is what I went through. Being an adolescent is sort of being like that. During adolescence, we do not know ourselves very well ; we keep thinking of ourselves as being like this or that person and we try to emulate all sorts of other people. We get all tangled up and lost in the emulation of these various people, and in the end we do not know who we are at all. At least, that is how it happened to me. In the end, I had to learn that the way to find myself was not in trying to be like all these other people with clay feet. They all had clay feet because they are sinners just like me and you. They were very good at disillusioning me, too. Imitating them was of no real benefit because it just ended in the same dead-ends.

Then, what was I going to try to do ? Ultimately, the only place to try to find myself was to allow myself to encounter God. I cannot say that I have done a great job yet of becoming myself (besides, I am relatively young and I can make excuses). However, if I ever hope to be myself, I know this much : the only way I am going to do it is to find myself in God. In the end, I can only be my true self in Christ. I can be my fake self, my “front self”, but that is not really me. It is me with window-dressing on. That is the way of the world ; it is not the way of Christ. I cannot allow myself to go along with this too long, putting up window-dressing and all the “front-me”, “front-bishop”, “pretend-nice-man-bishop”. If there ever will be any good in this bishop or in this monk Seraphim, then this goodness has to be the Lord’s goodness. It has to be His love.

If you really want to understand what I am trying to say about self-awareness, then you have to listen to people other than me. I do not believe that I am very good at speaking about being one’s self in the real sense. I do not know if the people who truly are themselves know that they are themselves. I think that Archimandrite Simforian, whom I knew in Valamo, was truly himself. He really was. I think that probably Archimandrite Vasily in Saint Tikhon’s was truly himself, too. Both these men were taken up in the Lord and united with the Lord. And there are others. I may be completely wrong in my perception of it, but my sense of Father Alexander Schmemann is that he was such a person. He seemed to be truly integrated ; he knew himself and he was solid. I do not know whether he would have admitted it, but I believe that he was solid. I believe that he was one of these persons who are truly united to Christ. At least in my experience of hearing him speaking, what he was saying was the same thing as what he was doing. Such a man as he created community around him. People who went to Saint Vladimir’s during his time experienced the result of his inner unity with the Lord by the community that was produced. He became a father for everyone around. Everyone looked up to him as a sort of father. Many people disagreed with him, but that did not stop them loving him. Of course, we can have disagreements even with the holiest of people. We can have knock-down, drag-out arguments with even the holiest people. Differences of opinion have nothing to do with being holy. Not much. It is how we cope with these differences of opinion. In fact, in the record of our history, we can see how some very holy people argued very sharply with each other. Even the Apostles Paul and Barnabas argued heatedly with each other, and they are both holy people.

Disagreements are one thing. However, unity with the Lord is another thing – that’s the fundamental of it all. When Father Alexander was no longer at Saint Vladimir’s, the integration of community was not nearly so profound. The seminary settled down into becoming much more an academic institution than it was a vital community. I think that says a lot about the integration of Father Alexander in the Lord. Allegorically speaking (and I say that I don’t like allegory, but it can sometimes be useful), one can look at the writing of C S Lewis in terms of understanding the difference between personality united and personality disunited. In the book The Great Divorce (which does not have to do with marriage but with the separation between good and evil, between union with God, and rebellion against God), Professor Lewis is saying that persons who are in rebellion against God are only at the very best shadows of their real selves. By contrast, those who are in union with God are ultra-real. The fallen world goes about self-discovery in its own fallen and distorted way. The way of the world with which we are surrounded in all its fake glory is to look at oneself, and seeing all the difficulties that one has in life, somehow to live with them and to accept them. These difficulties are frequently described as being “problems”, when they are in fact “passions”. Labelling an interior distorted desire (passion) as a “problem” is a tool of self-protection in denying that the passion exists as a passion. We tend to try to solve it by renaming it a problem and filing it away.

The traditional Christian attitude towards passions is to do something about them, to direct them correctly, and to straighten them out if they are out of control (which they usually are). We do something about our passions. We focus them ; we bring them into the correct stream through ascetic effort. However, the way of the world is to say : “You are lumbered with these passions (except the world does not want to call these things “passions”, but rather “fundamental drives”) ; just live with them, and accept them. That’s the way we are”. Therefore, we have people in society that are carried away by all sorts of passions and they do not do anything about it. They cause all sorts of havoc in society. They give the passions sway within themselves, and as a result they affect other people. These are not people who are at unity with themselves. These are people who are divided and broken.

The society in which we live does not encourage unity within the self. Any human society in which we live (it does not matter if it is Canadian, American, European or any human society) is about the same in the end. In ordinary society apart from unity with the Lord, we are caught up in all sorts of activity. We fill our time with doing things because we cannot stand to be alone with ourselves. We cannot stand to be alone with the Lord. We are afraid of it all because we are bound up with all sorts of fears and insecurities which come from fear. All this is the result of separation from the Lord. We live lives that are very scattered, disunited and disorganised. We do plenty of things. We become very “productive”. Our society particularly loves productivity. We allow ourselves to be convinced, along with our society, that we are no good unless we produce.

This means, of course, that in the contemporary world mindset Father Gregory (Papazian) sitting on Svinagora is useless because he does not produce anything much. He does not even produce candles any more. Yet Father Gregory, sitting on the top of Svinagora, is doing what he is supposed to be doing as a hermit. He is doing the work of the Lord. He is doing what is needful. He is doing the one thing which is necessary : he is being there praying. He is not making a show of being a hermit. He is not going around dressed up like a clown parading around all over the world and attracting all sorts of followers and saying : “What a great guru am I”. He is simply being there. He is offering himself to the Lord and doing what the Lord wants him to do there, now. It seems that the Lord does not bless him to make candles any more, or at least, it seems not. The Lord is waiting for someone else to take up the candle business for him. Father Gregory is trying to live as the Lord is calling him to live : to do the one thing needful, following the Lord. He is giving up everything else to do that.

Although the Lord is not calling each of us to be a hermit, sitting on Svinagora or any other hill anywhere. Perhaps He will call some of us, but most of us are called to do that one thing needful in the midst of a big city. How are we going to be our true selves, be at one with ourselves, and be at one with the Lord and still not do so many things that we can scarcely bear to get up in the morning ? That is the way most of us really are. Our lives are so full of activities, so full of doing things, that we can scarcely bear to face the day because there are so many things we have to do that day. When do we have any time for listening to the Lord ? When do we have any time for encountering ourselves ? We don’t, because we are afraid of ourselves ; we are afraid of the Lord ; we are afraid of grappling with our sins, and afraid of what the Lord might ask of us.

The separation between word and action which we experience in our society – words being one thing, and action being not necessarily the same thing – is a fundamental icon of the brokenness of the society in which we live. We all know that we live in a compartmentalised society. People feel free to have a religious part of their lives and they go to church on Sunday, maybe, and the rest of the time their lives often bear little resemblance to what they heard or should have heard in church on Sunday. Then they may go out and do whatever they feel like doing the rest of the time. Not only are their lives compartmentalised with “religious” here and “all the rest” there, but all the rest is also broken up into family time, office time, private time, TV time, and entertainment time. All these things are little boxes that are not connected or inter-related. The devil’s favourite tactic is always to divide and conquer. That is precisely what happens in a society that is not united to the Lord. Our society isn’t. It only manages to tolerate those who are trying to be united to the Lord. As much as we love Canada, the values of our society are not the values of the Gospel. They are not the values of the Kingdom of God.

We have to face that. We have to face the fact that we are being called to be icons, images, examples of what it is like to be at one with the Lord, and at one with ourselves. However, if we allow ourselves to be taken up in fear and allow ourselves to be broken down with all sorts of fears, then we find ourselves wondering who we really are. What about all these passions that afflict us ? They, too, make us ask ourselves : “Is this really me ?” As a result, there is not much of the true me really present or visible to anyone else. The most anyone else can see of me is some sort of shadow. The “me-ness” is really lacking. In my brokenness, in my scatteredness, in my self-centred concentration on how insecure I am, how fearful I am, how much I do not really know who I am, I do not really understand me and no-one else understands me either. As much as I am like that and in that condition, then I am like that guy in the book The Great Divorce who is in the grey town. After having gotten on the bus and finally arrived at this lovely, beautiful place at the top of an immense cliff, he discovers that when he walks on the grass, the grass goes through his feet. When he tries to pick up an apple, his hands slip through the apple. There is about that much realness about me. There is about that much of me that is really there, then.

However, when I become integrated in the Lord, when I seek the Lord, when I am united to the Lord, then I really begin to find myself. The fundamental of our awareness of things is that I only really become myself when I know the Lord and am known by Him. It is in this relationship with the Lord that all these fears and insecurities drop away. I really begin to discover who I am. I am not me in isolation from everyone else ; I am me in relationship with the Lord. I do not discover who I am based on the opinions of all sorts of people around me. One hopes that one gets past that adolescent insecurity. Ultimately, I do not look for who I am in the opinions of other people. If I did, I would not be doing what I am doing. Father Gregory would never be on Svinagora ; Father Alexander Schmemann would probably never have written anything or said anything ; The Orthodox Church in America would not be what it is now. Everyone would be behaving as chameleons. If The Orthodox Church in America depended totally on the opinions of all sorts of other people, we would certainly dissolve quickly and become I don’t know what (a branch of the Greek Orthodox diocese in Canada ?)

We find ourselves in relationship, in community with the Lord. That is what Archimandrite Simforian did. He became such a revered man. None of you know him and it is a great pity. If we went to Finland, we would discover all sorts of people who did know him and loved him profoundly. They loved him profoundly because he loved the Lord profoundly. If people love Father Alexander profoundly, it is because Father Alexander loved the Lord profoundly. There are also Archimandrite Vasileios, Father Matthew the Poor, Father Emilianos, Père Placide and all sorts of other persons to whom people look with love and respect. We do this not just to the monastic giants either, because there are lay people in our midst who are shining examples of this integration and this love. There are babushkas and dedushkas. We just have to look around and see people who are integrated, who love the Lord, and who are only interested in being found in the Lord. We respond to these people simply because they love the Lord, and the Lord loves them, and it shows.

There is a famous Tolstoy short story that I read not long ago about some monks on an island in the White Sea who were visited by a bishop. In the bishop’s opinion, these monks had forgotten all the essentials of prayer. They could not even remember the words to “Our Father”. Certainly the bishop was able to recognise that there was something good about these men, but he figured that they lacked so much in proper form. Even the prayer they did know was sort of weird. The bishop thought that they should at least know the fundamentals, so he taught them the fundamentals. At length, when he was sailing away, they came running over the water to ask him what the words exactly were because they had already gotten a little confused. They taught the bishop a very profound lesson. The lesson is that we are not all that much interested in demanding appearances of people, but rather we are interested in looking into the heart to see whether the person is really real, whether the person is really integrated, whether the person is at unity with himself or herself.

The fools for Christ (for which Russia has been so famous) are people who have been completely integrated, completely one, completely at unity with the Lord and themselves. However, their outward behaviour was completely bizarre, really bizarre – eating sausage on Good Friday in front of the church. This is not normal behaviour. If people behaved like this in our society, and walked around in army boots and rags and did all sorts of very outlandish things, they would not make it in Canadian society. In Alberta, we would say that they would go to Ponoka quickly. You don’t know the famous town of Ponoka, do you ? Its main industry is a mental hospital. I lived in that town for four years (not because I was in the hospital !) and I did learn a lot about personal integration there. I had to visit the hospital quite often.

We won’t be able to find ourselves, nor will we be able to be at one with ourselves unless we are in love with the Lord. Until we learn how to fall in love with the Lord, we will not be able to love ourselves. We cannot love ourselves as we are properly supposed to love ourselves until we have begun to develop this relationship with the Lord. We will not be able to discover proper self-love in human society as we find it in Canada, the United States, the Soviet Union or anywhere, because human society apart from the Lord is founded on self-service, not true self-love. This is not love at all. It is “fake” love ; indeed, it is pride. As much as I look at myself in pride, I get what I deserve. I get a mirage. I get a very nice picture, but it is not real – it’s abstract. The “me” that is self-indulgent, self-centred, self-serving, is abstract. As much as I show that “me” to you, you do not see the real “me” at all. If there is any real “me” at all, it is only the “me” that is in communion with the Lord. All the rest is window-dressing ; it is something to protect you from the fallen “me”.

If I become the real “me”, I become like that lady whom the man in The Great Divorce encountered : the lady whose footstep shook the earth on which she walked ; the lady who, walking along was perceived by this man to be so real that he had never before in his life seen such reality. This reality exuded light and joy. That is what we are supposed to be looking for in terms of realness. I have a theory which is likely contrary to the ideas of some people. However, I believe that I am on rather sound ground. When human beings get married to each other and live together for many years, they may begin to look a lot like each other, as some people say, and behave similarly and often will begin to think similarly sometimes. As much as they know each other so well that a lot of things are not necessary to be said, on the other hand, they will discover that they, in their proper loving of each other, enable each other to become more and more unique, more and more truly themselves. The proper way of being married is to affirm the other. It does not mean the dissolving of oneself. It means finding oneself in and together with the other person with whom one is living a complementary life. In giving oneself to the other, one finds oneself. One does not become empty and void ; one becomes more full of this selfless love.

That is how our lives are to be lived. We find ourselves in giving ourselves. As much as we are closed in on ourselves, protecting ourselves in fear and sheltering ourselves from outside, we shrivel. The love of God is intended to circulate. It is like Social Credit money. The fundamental of the Social Credit Party’s “funny money” was that the money had no value unless it was in circulation. That is how it is with God’s love. If this money was not circulated over and over again, it lost its value. It had to circulate in order to increase in value. So it is with love. Our attitude in life has to be open so that we can give. Love is not taking, it is giving. The more we give, the more we can receive to give. The more that this giving-so-that-we-can-receive attitude exists in us, the more we truly become ourselves. The more we do this, the more we are found in God and the more He is active in us. Love is not a static thing. It cannot be. If love were static, then people could not manage to live together even as long as a year I think. Love is something that has to continue to be exercised. It has to continue to grow. It has to continue to suffer, too, because love is vulnerable indeed. If there is no vulnerability, then there cannot be true love. With this openness to give and to receive in replenishment of love, one is also vulnerable to receive all sorts of negative behaviour. This negative testing behaviour is certainly not life-threatening (at least not in our understanding of life).

We can only find ourselves in this circulating love which continues to affirm others, which continues to do good to others (see 1 Corinthians 13 to discover what love is like). Love is profoundly active in a passive way (we speak in paradox all the time). It is active because it is constantly giving, but it is passive because it also is able to receive constantly. This is the sort of love that God gives life with. Anything else is a fake. Anything else is not life-giving ; it is life-taking and killing. Self-love, separated from God in a self-serving way is not even a reasonable facsimile. Loving our enemies is the test of this love, the test of true self-integration and true interior unity. This love is the ability to love those people whom we are not already conditioned to love by being a mama or a papa, or some sort of relative, or some sort of club member (although club members are not required to love each other). They only have to go to whatever rituals there are of birdwatching or whatever else one has to do in clubs. We are called to be so much at one with the Lord that we love even those who are profoundly against us. We do not hate those who are profoundly against us – we love them. God, Himself, is not prepared to be against the devil because of His love for the devil. The devil does not love God but God does love the devil. If God did not love the devil, the devil would cease to exist. The Lord does not unmake the devil because the door remains open for repentance even for him, somehow. It is the devil who insists on torturing himself with his hate and jealousy.

The Lord in His love wishes to unite all His creatures to Himself. His love brings unity ; His love brings life. That is what He wants to work in and through us as well : unity, life, strength. The Lord has been speaking to us ever since the beginning, ever since we first rebelled. He has been reaching out to us as we hear week after week in Great Lent in the Liturgy of Saint Basil. I wish we heard it week after week outside of Great Lent. I wish we were like we were about 1800 years ago when the normal Divine Liturgy was the Liturgy of Saint Basil and not that of Saint John Chrysostom on Sunday. Then we could hear over and over and over again how God has been reaching out to us from the beginning in His love for us, to reunite us to Himself, sending prophets, teachers, saints and holy ones of all sorts. He did this to bring us back to Himself, to reunite us to Himself and to pull us out of the dirt into which we have gotten ourselves.

God has been reaching out to us ever since we fell. He continues to reach out to us. As He does so, He asks us to take His hand and to be united with Himself. If we do take His hand, then we can truly be ourselves, instead of wandering around broken and hunting for some meaning in life in all this grey darkness and brokenness and senselessness. The Lord does not want us to have to go around searching for this meaning, reality and purpose in being, because He gives it to us freely. He does not want us to have to look and look and look and concoct something out of our own minds. He does not want us to go to the trouble of finding some scheme. He just wants us to accept what He has to give us.

I would like to share with you some Scriptural references which pertain to all that I have just said. I hope they will help : 2 Chronicles 7:14 ; Psalms 34:18, 51:17 and 95:8 ; Proverbs 28:14, & 29:1 ; Isaiah 22:12, 55:7, & 66:2 ; Ezekiel 18:21 & 31 ; Hosea 14:2 ; Joel 2:13 ; Matthew 3:2 ; Luke 13:3 ; Acts 3:19, 8:22 and 17:30 ; Romans 2:5 ; 2 Corinthians 7:10, & Hebrews 3:13.

The true finding of ourselves consists in living a life of repentance. The life of repentance simply means the life of turning to the Lord and turning away from anything that is against the Lord, and living a life that is towards Him. Here are some examples of people who repented : 1 Kings 21:27 ; 2 Kings 22:19 ; Ezra 10:1 ; Job 42:1 & 6 ; Jonah 3:6-9 ; Mark 14:72 ; Acts 8:1-3 & 9:1-22. If we do not repent, this is what happens : Genesis 19:1-29 ; 1 Samuel 2:12-4:17 ; 1 Samuel 13-31. All this is a big lesson in what happens if we do not repent. Here God is reaching out and Saul is saying “no”. Saul was very stubborn : 2 Kings 1:16, 17. Then we have the grizzly one about Jezebel in 2 Kings 9 ; and 2 Kings 17.

Our favourite examples of repentance (at least in my Orthodox experience) are Luke 15:21 ; Luke 18:13 and Luke 23:40-43 every Holy Week. Unity with God is reflected in the repentance of these three examples : the prodigal son (this parable is not about the prodigal son nearly so much as it is about the loving Father who was waiting for the prodigal son), the tax collector and the wise thief. The question is of course : Are we like those examples that we so much love ? Are we ourselves in our lives imitating these examples of repentance ? Perhaps we do not have to go into the pigpens of the world before we turn to our loving heavenly Father, but the question is : Do we turn to the loving Father ? Do we turn away from darkness and turn to the light ? Do we live Pascha ? We have to ask ourselves that every day : Am I turning to the Lord or am I turning to myself and away from the Lord ? If we do not ask ourselves that every day, we are in big danger.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
3 : Unity with Nation and Race
Great Lent, 1988

This topic of “Unity with Nation and Race” is a very dangerous subject to talk about, extremely dangerous, because when we speak about unity with nation and race, we touch on people’s insecurities in terms of knowing who they truly are. Today, we live in a time when all sorts of adopted people are very busy looking for their biological parents. They think that the parents who have loved them are okay but they want to know about their blood ancestry. I suppose that this is not bad in itself. We have also in our time a certain group of people who are very fascinated with who people are by where they come from. They have the most complete genealogical record on earth of almost everyone, anywhere. If we want to know to whom we are related, we simply have to pay a friendly visit to this group. By perusing baptismal and other sorts of civil records, we can find out where we come from and who our ancestors really were (and that one actually might have had horse thieves and pirates in the ancestry ; or worse – Vikings !)

If one is looking for a sense of who one is and a sense of solidarity with one’s roots, and one is looking only for it in terms of one’s physical origin, what is one going to find ? When a person looks at his or her genealogy, quite an assortment of people is uncovered in the family history. In my family ancestry, they were mostly farmers in Norway and some sort of tradespeople and ship captains in Scotland. That does not mean that they were anything like perfect. If you go far enough back in my family, you uncover these very Vikings. They are there. The farm where my family lives has been where it is now for over 1,000 years. There have been people living in that fjord for over 1,000 years. Some of those people used to go and do naughty things to the English, Irish and the Scots, not to forget the French. It did not actually save them, either, that their relatives became part of the Varangian Guard in Constantinople. It did not do that much good in terms of redeeming. In fact, I was not so pleased to discover (when I was told in Norway) that one of my ancestors was a troll.

What difference does it make, anyway, if I am Chinese or Liechtensteinian ? Ultimately, it does not make any difference. In fact, it does not amount to a hill of beans. However, I will wave the Norwegian flag here and say : “Well, you know, the Norwegians do have some saving Grace (apart from Vikingness) because of Saint Olaf”. When Saint Olaf was first Christianised in England, and he tried to bring Christianity to Norway, he was evicted by the pagans. Then he ran away to Rus’. Not only did he go to Rus’, but he came back and succeeded at last in Christianising Norway. He followed in the footsteps of Saint Vladimir (it was less than one hundred years later). He brought Christianity successfully to Norway, and brought with him Rus’ priests. Some people will ask : “What good does it do Norway now that it is a Lutheran nation ?” What good does it do the Norwegian state, except that it has Saint Olaf buried at Prondheim, and miracles happen at his grave. In fact, the conversion of Norway with Saint Olaf left an indelible character on the people which not very many seem to be able to recognise. Norwegians are notorious for sitting on their mountains and criticising the behaviour of other people, but they are not all that great themselves. In my own fjord where people are very straight-laced and very Lutheran, they are notorious drinkers, and notorious in their behaviour when they do drink. Norwegians can be alright people and have some decent reputation in some respects, but to be a Norwegian is not a saving Grace. Grieg is wonderful ; I love his compositions. However, Grieg does not save Norway. Norway has nice scenery, but one can see similar things in British Columbia. The only thing we don’t get is trolls, but at least we get sasquatches instead in British Columbia.

What good does it do for us to wave our national and racial flags ? National and racial flag-waving only serves to separate us. We do not find unity in emphasising our national and racial differences. And yet, the political attempts to overcome these deficiencies do not work. In the United States, as much as they emphasise a melting-pot culture (the Americanisation of everyone who comes), people still argue with each other about who is best. We, in this country, argue a lot about who is best : what language we speak, what colour our skin is, whether we have blue eyes and blond hair or whether we have black hair and brown eyes. Arguing about trivial things like that is extremely divisive and does not serve any purpose. What it does tell us is that we have not learned any lessons over the years.

For instance, it is easy for us to point our fingers at the Jewish people. We look in the Old Testament, and we see how God called the Jewish people and chose them in order to have a personal relationship with this people. For what end ? It was not to save the Jewish race. It was to make the Jewish race a priestly, prophetic people which would be able, willing and ready to speak to the other nations about this loving relationship with the one God who loves His children. Did they do it ? No, they did not. Instead of having judges, they insisted on having kings. They insisted emphatically that they wanted to be just like everyone else. They were tired of being different because being different brings some persecution. We all know that being different brings some persecution. Even Norwegians sometimes “get it” in this country. Thus, they insisted on being a nation with a king just like everyone else. Instead of taking the separation that God called them to as meaning being pure from the pagan practices and idolatrous behaviour of the nations around them so that they could give a lesson in the right way to live, they said : “We are better than you. Our God is all-powerful. Our God can do anything and He will beat up your gods anytime”.

Did they learn the lessons that were taught in the Old Testament time after time when the Lord refused to go with them to battle because they were unfaithful ? No. They kept expecting over and over and over again that God would act in an automatic way. They expected to be able to turn Him on and drag Him out just as the pagans did with their gods whenever they needed them. Ultimately, they became so exclusive that we find these rather harsh encounters between the most exclusive types, the Pharisees, and our Lord when He accused them of being “concrete” of heart. Yet in the Prophets we hear time after time after time the Lord saying, as it were : “I want to give you a heart of flesh. I want to live in you. I want to put My Spirit in you”. Did they accept it ? No, they didn’t.

How are we any different now ? The Lord has called us not to be citizens of Canada or any other nation on the earth. He has called us to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. If we are not citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, before anything else, our citizenship in any country on earth is of little meaning. The fact is that being a citizen of many of the earthly nations is of little lasting value anyway because our borders shift. For instance, we might as well say that Greece did not exist for about 400 years while the Turks occupied it. However, it wasn’t even Greece before that because then it was the Byzantine Empire. Norway did not exist for the most part of the past 1,000 years. It had mostly been part of Denmark and then Sweden until the Danes made such a mess of things in the War of 1812. That finally opened the way for Norway to have some sort of self-government, at first under Sweden and then alone. What is the big deal ? Does it matter where the border of Poland is at the present time ? Does it really matter to us ? Should it matter where the border is ? The border of Poland is one of the most shifting borders on earth. It is not their fault ; it is what people do to the Poles. They have very greedy neighbours, just now anyway. However, there was a time when the Poles, too, had shifted their borders out on their own behalf. It is always like this in earthly politics. Our borders change. The borders of China change ; the borders of Russia expand and shrink. The borders of all our countries are shifting.

The Lord is calling us the way He called the Jewish people. He is calling us not to have a national identity that supersedes our citizenship in Heaven. He is not calling us to be proud of being Montréalers, Ottawans, or “Saskatoonians”. He is calling us to be residents of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city which is the city of the Mother of God, the city which does not have shifting borders, the city which is permanent. He is calling us to be members of His Body : sons, daughters and heirs in His Kingdom. He is calling us to live in our earthly countries as members of the Kingdom of Heaven, and as pilgrims. If we live in our nations (wherever we happen to live) with the attitude of being a pilgrim, we have a much better hope of being some use to that nation in which we live. We can contribute much more positively to that nation in which we live because we are not bound up by fear as all our nations are bound up. We are free. We are living in love. If the United States should take over Canada tomorrow (as it has been trying to do for 200 years now and perhaps it will succeed), it will be upsetting, but it does not finally mean that much. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whether it is Trudeau or Mulroney who is prime minister of our own country, it does not make so much difference. (That is part of the mystery of Canadian politics.)

It is a very touchy subject to speak about unity in the context of nation and race because our unity with our ancestors, relatives and friends (wherever we are) can only be real, positive and fruitful and have lasting effect when we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first. The twinkling of the eye with which the world ends that Father n was just speaking about, we have already experienced today at the Divine Liturgy. We were living in the midst of that twinkling of the eye. We were living right in the midst of that split second. While we were standing in the Kingdom together today, everything did change. Everything was made new. The Lord is asking us to take that newness with us and to bless the world with that newness, with that eternal newness of His Kingdom. It is our responsibility to do what the Jewish people did not do. We ourselves are the new Israel. We in the Church are the new Israel. It is our call (as it was their call) to bless the earth with the love of God, to bring healing to the nations, and by our prayers to heal the strife that tears people apart in national and racial struggles.

I would go so far as to say that it is probably largely because we seem not very seriously to do our job in prayer that the world is in such chaos now. We apparently would rather fight and argue with ourselves than take up the weapons of the Gospel and do something about it. When the Lord gave us prayers asking for peaceful times, freedom from civil war and strife, it was not formalities and empty words that He gave us. If we remember, our tradition properly equates word and action. The Lord expects us to pray seriously these prayers. When we are praying for the healing of the nation, for the healing of the weather, for the healing of the moral condition of humanity, for the healing of all the destruction that we are wreaking on the earth, He is asking us to undertake this prayer seriously and enable Him to act. The Lord has been trying to teach us for four or five thousand years or more that He does not want to act unilaterally. However, there are all sorts of television evangelists who seem to think that they can manipulate the coming of the Kingdom of God (the Second Coming) by stirring up trouble in the Middle East. They are sadly mistaken. We cannot manipulate God. We cannot make God come and settle all our problems. This is childish. The very people who proclaim that they are faithful to the Bible seem not to understand what is right in front of their faces. It seems that they are being impatient.

If there is anything that we have to learn about this relationship with the Lord, it is that this relationship requires patience. It requires patience because the Lord Himself is patient. In love, He waits and waits and waits for us, to open our eyes and say “Yes” to Him. He waits for us, and as soon as we say “Yes”, we have to have our running shoes on because He is off and running with us. He waits. He does not come with a club and split us down the middle (although sometimes we do get a swift kick in the pants in order to catch our attention). The Lord does not wish to intervene unilaterally. What He wants us to do is to live and act His love with Him. When we together with one voice, one heart, one mind pray for the healing of strife, for the healing of the weather, for the healing of the nations, for the healing of the whole earth, the Lord will act.

Ultimately, I cannot say too much about unity in race because unity in being Chinese can only be actually found in Christ. Unity in being Tibetan can only be actually found in being united to Christ. Unity in being Peruvian can only be achieved in being united in Christ. Unity in being Canadian is in the same way. One cannot say that there is unity because of colour of skin. Black people fight with black, white and yellow people ; yellow people fight amongst themselves and fight with people of every other colour, also. The colour of skin does not save. It does not bring love. Sin is in every one of us and in every nation and race. The only hope that we can have for unity at all is to find our own unity with Christ, and our unity with each other in Christ, in the Kingdom, in the Church. When we have found that, we can begin to bless our nations and races. We can begin to bless poor old Norway with its trolls and its Vikings. We can begin to bless Canada with its bilingual and polylingual problems, and its multiracial problems. We can begin to bring healing to all those Aboriginal people who have been destroyed by our culture until now. We can bless this earth, our countries, our nations, our races, our ancestors, our relatives and friends, and bring that healing and true self-identity that the Lord has prepared for us all. However, nothing will happen until we have found that true, lasting and perpetual unity which is in Christ.

So, as Ernest C Manning used to say on the radio (perhaps he still does) : “It is our job to bring Christ to the nations”. We do not have to have the “Back to the Bible Hour”, but we do have to bring Christ to the nations. We can only do it by being firmly united to Christ.

Here are a few more Scriptural references : Isaiah 5:2 ; 24:11 ; Jeremiah 2:21 ; 7:34 ; 16:19 ; 25:10 ; Ezekiel 15:6 ; 17:6 ; 26:13 ; Hosea 2:11 ; 10:11 ; Amos 8:10 ; Psalm 80:8 ; Luke 3:7-14 ; John 8:31-50 ; 15:19 ; Acts 2:40 ; 10:1-43.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
4 : Unity within the Family
Great Lent, 1988

Speaking about family unity is, for someone like me, asking for trouble. Just as when I speak about marriage, I open myself up to all sorts of correction in my perception of married life. When I speak about family, I open myself up to all sorts of correction as well. Of course, I grew up in a family : I have a brother and two sisters. However, that does not mean that I have children. Well, I’ll still make a stab at it.

I am not going to speak about the family as a fundamental sociological unit, or anything like that. I am going to speak about the family in its Eucharistic connexions. The fact is that as individuals or as families, our whole life works itself out in the Eucharist. The Eucharist itself is reflected in our family life by what we are doing even when we sit down at table and eat together. We all ought to know that the family is the small church. The papa is supposed to be like the priest, somehow. When we are gathered around the table, our partaking of physical food and also our fellowship around that table in a mysterious way is supposed to be understood by us as an extension of what happens in the church. What happens in the church is extended into the family, and what happens in our own families is also related to what happens in the church. It is circular.

When we are at the Divine Liturgy, we find ourselves in unity with the Lord ; we find ourselves in unity with our bishop and we find ourselves in unity with each other. When we hear about giving the kiss of peace and being reconciled in the church, it is that same sort of giving the kiss of peace and being reconciled that is supposed to be happening in the family. The sort of selfless love that we are learning in church with each other, we also learn and practice in the family (or at least, we are supposed to). It is not possible in family life to survive without forgiveness, for instance. If we live in a family and hold grudges and do not forgive, the family is not going to last long. If we do not give nurturing love in the family, the family is not going to last long. We will grow up warped and twisted if this sort of selfless, nurturing love is not given. According to our tradition, there should not be any sort of conflict or significant difference between life in the whole assembly of the faithful and life in the family. It is all together. We sing the tropars and we learn the fundamental prayers at home ; we learn all sorts of things about what we believe at home. The nurturing in the family is directly connected with what happens in the church.

Because I am taking the place of a certain bishop, I am going to quote him for a while :

What is the distinctive and unique function of the Church – that which the Church does and which nobody and nothing else can do ? What function does the local parish fulfill which cannot be fulfilled by a voluntary community centre, a youth association or an old people’s club ? What human needs does the priest meet which cannot be met, perhaps with greater professional expertise, by the social worker, the marriage counsellor, the child care officer or the psychiatrist ?

We reply: The Church is here to preach the Gospel of Christ, to announce the good news of the Son of God, crucified and risen. Such an answer is true but incomplete. Our task as Christians is more than to preach and to announce. We are not here merely to say but to do. To do what ? ‘The tradition which I handed on to you came to me from the Lord Himself: that the Lord Jesus, on the night of His arrest, took bread and, after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: “’This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’“’(1 Cor. 11:23-4, NEB). Not ‘say this’ but ‘do this’. The tradition which St Paul and the other Apostles received from Christ, and which they in their turn have handed on to the Church, consists not in words but in an action, the action of the Eucharist – and what Charles Williams used to term the operation of the Mass. Primarily and fundamentally, Holy Tradition is the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that all the various expressions of Tradition find their source and their ‘Sitz im Leben’. Here is the lifegiving fountain from which everything else springs. [‘Church and Eucharist, Communion and Intercommunion’ in "Sobernost", series 7, issue 7 (Summer 1978), pp. 550-567.]

The Tradition, by the way, is the action of the Eucharist, because the Tradition is Jesus Christ. We are not speaking about “tradition” in terms of quaint customs that we, strange Oriental types, have developed over the years in the eastern half of the Roman Empire under the influence of certain Semitic trends and customs –and not to neglect Byzantine (East Roman) history. We are speaking about Jesus Christ, and it is that Tradition that we have and maintain. It is not how many poklons we can do ; it is not how many times we make the sign of the Cross during the Divine Liturgy and it is not how many times we kiss all the icons in the church. Rather, it is the Tradition of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Kallistos goes on to say :

This, then, is what the Church is here for; this is its distinctive and unique function – to eat the bread of the Eucharist and to drink from the common cup ‘until the Lord comes again’ (1 Cor. 11:26). The Church is, in its essence, Eucharistic. It is a society founded upon the action of the Eucharist, an organism that lives and breathes the Liturgy, that fulfils itself visibly in time and space through the continuing celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the Eucharist that holds the Church in unity. When the Church offers the Eucharist, then and only then does it become truly what it is. In Iulia de Beausobre’s words, the Church is a Eucharistic place of meeting around ‘the rock of the Altar’.

Fixed vividly in my memory is a conversation that I had with a Russian priest in the centre of Moscow during August, 1976. ‘Our sufferings’, he said to me, ‘have brought us back to the essentials. Now as never before, we understand that the Church exists in and for the Eucharist. So much else has been taken away from us, but the celebration of the Liturgy remains; and in this one thing we have everything’. [Ibid.]

His words make me think of the story of the origins of Christianity in Rus’ when the envoys of Prince Vladimir arrived at Constantinople to inquire about the Christian Faith. The Greeks did not offer them a verbal explanation, but took them to the Church of the Holy Wisdom to witness the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It was the action of the Eucharist that converted them.

The Eucharistic essence of the Church is indicated by the fact that the other sacraments such as Baptism or Marriage, were originally performed as part of the celebration of the Eucharist. As a reminder of this ancient practice, even now the Orthodox services of Baptism and Marriage begin with the initial blessing specifically associated with the Eucharist: ‘Blessed is the Kingdom …’. In the Orthodox Marriage Office today, the couple drink from a cup of wine; in earlier times, before drinking from this common cup, they would first have received Communion together. Fortunately it is now becoming more frequent in the Orthodox Church to celebrate Marriage as part of the Liturgy, according to the ancient pattern.

Fortunately also, the sacrament of ordination to the episcopate, priesthood and diaconate has never ceased to be performed invariably as part of the Eucharist. This is of fundamental importance for any right understanding of, for example, the episcopal office itself. The bishop is a Eucharistic person. His primary ministry is to preside at the Divine Liturgy, and all his other functions as teacher or administrator are to be interpreted in terms of his role as celebrant at the Eucharist. The bishop’s ‘cathedra’ is not to be regarded as the throne of a ruler or judge, or as a professor’s chair; all such models are misleading. His ‘cathedra’ is the seat that he uses as Eucharistic president. By the same token, an ‘ex cathedra’ pronouncement is not an arbitrary or arrogant statement, based on appeal to authority, but the kind of thing that a bishop says when talking pastorally to his flock during the Eucharist. Trouble starts as soon as the bishop himself, or others around him, cease to view him in a Eucharistic context and start to think of him as a prelate, prince or bureaucrat. [Ibid.]

The same thing pertains to the family. What we see in the church is what should be reflected in the family. If our experience of clergy is of those who behave as autocrats, tyrants, prelates and princes (or sometimes they might even think of themselves as God), that is going to pass on to family life, somehow, because the example that is given to the families of the spiritual family at the Holy Table is distorted. We are taught that the whole community of the faithful is to function on the basis of loving service. That is what our Tradition (as reflected in what Vladyka has written) teaches us. The whole community of the faithful is to function as a function of loving service.

Thus, fathers and mothers lovingly serve their children. The children lovingly serve the parents. Well, there are defects in the plan, but nevertheless that is the example that we are supposed to be following. There are defects (because of sin) in our relationships with each other in the Eucharistic community, and it sometimes malfunctions. We know what the example is and we know what we are supposed to do. We know that we are supposed to love and serve each other. It would work all right if it were not for sin. Since apostolic times, we have been encouraged in the Church to care for and nurture each other – fathers lovingly nurturing the mothers, and vice versa : the mamas lovingly nurturing the papas, and then on to the children. Parents are being exhorted not to despise their children no matter how rebellious they might be. The children are encouraged to respect their parents no matter how intolerant they may seem to be sometimes. That is the plan that we are supposed to be trying to follow and what we are supposed to be repenting towards, also. However, we are sinners, and we mess it up royally sometimes.

The Eucharist is bigger than we think. As I said earlier, we think in our Western, compartmentalised way that the Eucharist is something we do occasionally when we have to, and we bring comfortable shoes for the purpose. What is the effect of that standing in the church and standing in the Kingdom, and all those wonderful things that Father Alexander Schmemann talks about when he speaks about the Eucharist ? If you do not have his book The Eucharist yet, it would be a good idea to acquire it. It is grand. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that book. All the great things that he says about the Eucharist and what it is, we frequently mess up because we are sinners. He recognised that, as any serious believer must. However, that does not mean that we give up just because there are wrinkles. Because we sin does not mean that it is all destroyed and it can never succeed. The Eucharistic community does succeed. It does have its effect, even though it includes sinners. Even from the earliest times, our Fathers have been saying that life in the Church is not merely for the saints, the ones who are perfect, just and righteous already. It is for us who are sinners – it is the hospital for us sinners. This is where we get better (little by little) sometimes rather painfully. As we turn to the Lord in this hospital, we do get healed of our diseases, little by little.

Bishop Kallistos continues :

The all important link between the Church and the Eucharist is plainly indicated in the culminating moment of the Byzantine Liturgy, the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit. There is a double invocation: the celebrant prays to God: ‘Send down thy Holy Spirit “on us” and “on these gifts” here set forth’. The people standing round the holy table and the gifts lying upon it are both consecrated together. [Ibid.]

Has this reality occurred to you lately ? The Gifts on the Holy Table and the people are both consecrated together so that each may become the Body of Christ. When did that last hit you ? It hits me once in a while, but for the most part I am as broken and as compartmentalised as anyone else because I am certainly a child of this society.

What happens in the Eucharist is very profound and stunning. Not only do the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, but we all together also become the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we are truly ourselves. We become ourselves standing in the Kingdom at the Lord’s Table. The reason why the Divine Liturgy may seem to take so long, and why we should be much more patient with it than we are (and why I would prefer that Saint Basil’s Liturgy be served all the time), is because we are standing in the Kingdom. We are standing at the Lord’s Table. We are standing out of time. We come and we begin to worship the Lord ; we begin to be united with Him and we begin to be our true selves. This action takes as long as required, but in our very Western, back-and-foot-achey tradition, we like to put time limits on the Divine Liturgy. We like to push it through and deform it a bit so that it fits our “roast-in-the-oven timer”. We reap the benefits of that pushiness because we often forget how to enjoy being with each other in the Lord.

We allow ourselves to think that in Canada, the United Church’s one hour time limit for any divine service is the right way, because, we erroneously think that of course, this so-called Canadian way must be right. However, that is not right at all. We Orthodox are right, and it is high time that we woke up. People who love each other do not pay too much attention to the clock when they are in each other’s presence. (I think that I am on fairly good ground here.) People who love each other are prepared to enjoy each other’s presence. Enjoying each other’s company, enjoying being with each other is part of what loving is about. If we really love the Lord, we will enjoy being in His presence. If we really love each other in the Lord, we will learn how to enjoy being in each other’s presence, too. Being with each other, like brothers and sisters which we are in the Lord, gathered around His Table, we are waiting for Him to feed us. He feeds us not only with Himself, but with each other, in a manner of speaking. We are nourished, also, with His love through each other.

The Church can only find its unity in the Eucharist. The family can only find its unity in the Eucharist. The family is one of those fundamental images that come to us in the Gospel. The Lord, Himself, uses the image of the family to describe what the Church is like. We are the family of God. We are sons and daughters of the Lord. We are heirs of the Kingdom. These are profound realities, profound statements about who we are and what we are about. We usually fail miserably about taking these statements seriously, partly because we cannot believe that it could actually be true, and partly because we are afraid of what might come next as the result of being a son and heir of the Kingdom. We know that we want to be ; we know that we truly belong there, but we frequently are “chicken” because of what the Lord might ask of us. He might ask us to be a bishop. That is scary. He might ask us to do all sorts of things. He might ask us to be one of the fools for Christ, although I do not think that the Lord very often asks people in North America to be fools for Christ because He knows that they will probably be locked up and sedated.

As a Eucharistic organism the Church realises [makes real] and maintains its unity through the act of Holy Communion. It is the Eucharist that creates the oneness of the Church. Unity is to be understood not in juridical, but in Eucharistic terms. [Ibid.]

These are scary words. All our lovely systems go out the window. This is radical, living in relationship with the Lord. The Holy Spirit goes where He wills (see John 3:8), and our God does whatever He wants (see Psalm 113:11). He does it with us, too. Am I prepared to say “Yes” to whatever He will ask of me ? To forgive unforgiveable people ? To love people who are disease-ridden ? Perhaps He will ask me to go to an AIDS hospital and minister to people who are dying of that dreaded disease. He does ask some people to do that. That is a nitty-gritty business in this country. It is like Mother Theresa in the black hole of Calcutta looking after dead and dying people there. Perhaps what she is dealing with is more contagious, but she manages to survive and plenty of other people who are doing the same thing also survive. Perhaps the Lord would ask us to go and minister to refugee camps in Lebanon and risk being kidnapped by one of the Moslem terrorist gangs, and be in prison for Him. Most of it He would not ask us (although He could) because He has much more at-home and fundamental work for us to do.

Bishop Kallistos continues :

Unity is to be understood […] in Eucharistic terms. Unity is not imposed from above by some hierarch or administrative centre endowed with supreme power of jurisdiction; but it is ‘created from within’ by the celebration of the Liturgy. [Ibid.]

What can I say that Bishop Kallistos is not saying ? I elaborate and give all sorts of parentheses but he is really hot stuff. He further states :

This is precisely what St Paul affirms: ‘The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all share in this one loaf’ (1 Cor. 10:16-17, Jerusalem Bible). [Ibid.]

For ecclesiology, there is no biblical text more decisive than this. Between communion in the one Eucharistic loaf and membership in the one Body of Christ, Saint Paul is asserting not just an analogy, but a causal connexion. Because we eat from the one loaf, therefore we are made one body in Christ. Expounding this text, Professor George Galitis of the University of Thessalonica remarks :

Communion […] makes us, according to Paul, one body, the Body of Christ. And this Body of Christ […] is the Church. Consequently, participating in the Body of Christ, that is in the Church, and partaking of […] the Body of Christ through the Eucharist are two ways of saying the same thing […]. Thus the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of the Church itself’. It is through this Sacrament that the Church realises itself, that the Body of Christ is built and held together. [Ibid.]

To be its true self, the family has to be finding its life in the Eucharistic assembly. Papas can only be priest-like papas in any meaningful way if the family is participating in the Divine Liturgy, and if the family together is receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. In this way, the family at home can be the Body of Christ as a part of the greater Body of Christ, assembled in the church. If we are standing in church and we are not receiving Holy Communion, if we are not participating in the Body and Blood of Christ, then we are in fact not in the family and we are not in the Church and we are not part of that life-giving community. This is what we have inherited, and what we have ignored a lot until more recent years. It is a terrible, horrible thing. For us voluntarily to stand in the church and not to participate is a horrific, horrendous thing, so much so that one of our early Canons says that if anyone dares to stand in the church at the Eucharistic assembly and then not receive Holy Communion, that person is turning his or her back on Christ (see Canons 8 & 9). Therefore, that person is anathema. These are very potent words.

Our ancestors were convinced of the seriousness of participating in the Body and Blood of Christ. Just how profound that participation is, and what its effects are, what it truly means, are seen in the fact that you and I are icons of Christ. However, we cannot be icons of Christ if we are not participating in Christ. We cannot participate in Christ just by standing in the Divine Liturgy and watching the priest put on a show. If that is all participating in the Divine Liturgy is about, then the Divine Liturgy had better not be served. It is not any sort of theatre. It is life. If someone is out of communion with this life, it has to be for disastrous and really critical reasons, very serious reasons, and not because I am feeling grumpy today. If I am feeling grumpy today, participating in the Lord’s Table, participating in the Lord, Himself, is going to cure the grumpiness. However, if I am out of sorts and standing in the Divine Liturgy and allow myself to be excommunicated from the Body and Blood of Christ for such a trivial reason (and it does happen sometimes that people are led down such a garden path), I starve my soul. I turn my back on the very medicine which would correct what is wrong in my heart.

This belief that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church, which makes real the Church, this belief that there is no difference at all between the Eucharistic assembly and the Church is the standpoint of the second and third century generations of Christians. This can be seen for example in a passage from what is perhaps the most ancient liturgical text that we possess : the Eucharistic prayer found in Section 9 of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (often referred to as the Didache). The prayer perhaps has in mind the Syrian uplands with wheat growing on the hillsides (instead of forests) : “As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains and was then brought together and became one, so may Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your Kingdom”. Precisely the same link between the oneness of the Eucharistic loaf and the oneness of the Church is affirmed here as in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.

The interdependence of Eucharist and Church is a dominant theme throughout the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. In his “Letter to the Philadelphians” 4, he says : “Be careful to have only one Eucharist for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one Cup for union with His Blood ; one Altar, just as there is one bishop with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants”. The repetition of the word “one” shows very clearly how Saint Ignatius envisages Church unity : one Eucharist, one Flesh, one Cup, one Altar, one bishop (see also the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:4-5). We preserve this ideal to this day. Nothing has changed, except for the increase of sin. The unity of the Church is manifest as a specific and objective reality at each local celebration of the Eucharist when the Faithful, gathered around the bishop, receive Holy Communion in the one Christ from the one Loaf and from the one Chalice. “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] be : even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic [that is universal, of the whole, and therefore Orthodox] Church (Letter to the Smyrnæans 8). There is an integral connexion in Saint Ignatius’ mind between the shared communion in Christ’s Body and Blood, and the unity of the local Church gathered around the bishop. The family, somehow, is supposed to be an image, an icon, a continuation, a participation in this unity.

Therefore, as the Eucharistic community reaches out in love to the world and ministers to the needs of the world, it preaches Christ and brings Christ. It does not simply preach in terms of so many words dropping out of the mouths of preachers, but the preachers themselves are actually living icons, preaching by action as much as by anything else. The family also opens its arms in love.

Another one of the stories by Tolstoy comes to mind. I was reading it not long ago. It is about two pilgrims : one is a wealthy fellow, and the other is a poor peasant. After many postponements and discussion about when they could actually leave for the Holy Land, they set out on a pilgrimage. On the way they got separated. The wealthy man went on to the Holy Land, and the poor peasant stayed behind in a poor little village. It was entirely by accident. This village was in a part of Ukraine which at that time had been decimated by a famine. The reason he stopped in the first place was because he was very thirsty and was looking for water to fill his canteen. He stopped in a little hovel which was falling in. There was a man lying on the ground outside who was moaning and groaning, not doing anything. He went into the house where the people were lying around and ready to die in the same way. What did he do then ? He did for them ; he did whatever was necessary for them. With what food he had, he nursed them back to health. With what money he had, he bought them provisions and restored the family to itself. He treated this starving family in the same way that he had been treating his own family, as Tolstoy shows us at the beginning of the story. He treated them like his own. Of course, he had run out of all his money because he had spent it all on this family by getting them a horse, a cart, a scythe, and planting crops for them. Once he had nursed them back to health, there was nothing left for him to go to the Holy Land with, so he went home to his own family.

While the wealthy man was in the Holy Land, at all the holy places he kept seeing his chum, his poor friend, in the first place. In the Holy Sepulchre, his companion was there when the Holy Fire came. He was in the front everywhere – in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, and everywhere. He was always in the front, but the wealthy fellow could never catch him. He could never find him afterwards. On his way home, the wealthy man was passing through the village where they had been separated, and he stopped in where he had lost his friend in the first place. He thought he would start to try to pick up his trail because he had so far been unsuccessful in tracing him at all. When he was walking past a particular house, which was now in good repair, a little girl (who had been on the verge of dying when the old man had been there before) came out and said to him : “Grandfather, come in, come in and spend the night with us”. (We do not experience this sort of thing in this country anymore, that is for sure.) She persuaded him to spend the night with them. When he went in to spend the night with this family, he heard what his friend had done for them. They explained that he had so much healed them and had done so much for them out of loving service that they were now doing exactly the same thing for any pilgrim that came by. They went out of their way to look after and serve any pilgrim that was walking by.

To make it short, the wealthy man went back to his family which was in ruins because he was an autocrat in his own family. His son was lazy because he had sort of indulged him. His father had expected him as a matter of course to take care of everything when he went away. However, his premonitions were correct and things were a shambles. On the other hand, the old peasant who was poor had so lovingly served his own family that when he came back everything was even better than it was when he left. Everything was prospering. This old man was gathered to his fathers in joy and love. I like those short stories of Tolstoy. I wish I had known them when I was younger. This story is from the same collection that has the three monks running on the water.

Our families are supposed to be lovingly ministering to people round about. Mothers and fathers are supposed to be lovingly serving each other and serving their children, and the children are to be lovingly serving their parents as far as they are able. The family as a whole is to share this love in concrete ways with neighbours, with strangers, with friends, and with enemies. It is to express in concrete ways the Christian Faith. The family itself is an icon of the large Eucharistic assembly, and all together we are icons of Christ. We all are expected to bring Christ to each other. In our concrete working out of this love, acting this love, living this love in our everyday life, we draw people, searching souls, hungry souls, people who are damaged, broken, ruined by life and the sin of society. We are to draw them to the Lord by our love. It is not only in Tolstoy’s stories that we see this occurring. I have seen in many families already the living out, the practicing of this loving, serving and Christ-delivering service.

We can all do it. We can all do it because in the family we first of all learn how to love and to forgive. We have to live every day with each other with all our warts, with all our grunts, with all our snoring and with all our squeezing the toothpaste the wrong way, with all our leaving the lights on and leaving the doors open or shutting the doors too loud, with all our not making our beds, with all our little (and sometimes big) sins. We have to live with each other day-by-day and cope with it in Christ. We have to learn how to forgive in this real testing-ground. However, learning how to live with each other is a concrete practice of this sort of selfless love because sometimes we could really hate each other in the family. We really could. In some families where there is no understanding of love, hate and intolerance and bitterness do come to the front. However, we are called not to behave in this way, sin or no sin. We are called to forgive each other. We have to. My mother and my father both agreed that whatever disagreements existed between them, they should resolve them somehow before going to bed at night. This worked very well for them. If they went to bed angry, they were going to wake up angry. If they went to bed in the middle of a fight, the fight would not be gone when they woke up in the morning. It was better to get rid of it before retiring, and then start the next day fresh.

The resolution of differences comes because fundamentally we learn how to love each other. We learn that forgiveness is an essential part of loving. Letting people blow off steam and not taking it too seriously is part of this loving. This is one of the reasons why Orthodox Christians are so incomprehensible to people outside, because we can argue and scream at each other something fierce but still be good friends at the end of the argument. This is because the arguing is a heated debate ; it is not hatred. If we disagree heatedly it does not mean that we break communion with each other. It only means that we have a strong difference of opinion. Even in the Church we can have some hot debates, too. For instance, in a church that has chairs, let anyone try taking them out, or even moving one thing in the church. Even though it is in the way, if the Cross has stood in the same place for forty years, let anyone try moving it out of the way. What happens in the parish community when you want to move the Cross from here to there ? There are six weeks of arguments at least, if not a year. Communities get along wonderfully as long as you do not move the furniture.

It is mostly small things that cause these heated debates. About the big things, we are in agreement 100 percent. However, move the furniture, change the brand of incense, not use 100 percent beeswax candles one time, or let some lady come into the Temple wearing slacks (because she doesn’t have anything else at a particular time) and see what happens. We have a parish in this country where ladies’ not wearing something on their head still is a major catastrophe. We have quite a few parishes in this country where women and men stand on opposite sides of the Temple still. It certainly is not because they were having such big fights before they got to church. We agree about all the fundamentals, but moving the furniture, wearing lipstick and kissing icons, whether we have pews or whether we have electric lights can be a big issue. We can argue heatedly about these things, but in the end we still forgive each other, and we still talk to each other. It does not excommunicate us from each other, although it can certainly spoil the atmosphere. That is why we have the kiss of peace to straighten things out.

I would like to tell you something about sensitivity. It seems that Aboriginal Canadians have a better sense of these things than we do. We forget a lot of things. When I was in Winnipeg, there were many Aboriginals in that neighbourhood. There were Aboriginal grannies coming to the door on a fairly regular basis asking for Holy Water. I was quite impressed. My own people generally would not ask for Holy Water. They kept it in the fridge and they were happy that they had six bottles that they had kept for six years : “I have Jordan Water since 1975 sitting in my fridge”. It is nice to look at. However, the Aboriginal grannies use it. When they have a fight in the family, they splash it around and get rid of the nasty atmosphere. They do something with the Holy Water. They do not keep it and look at it. Holy Water is not an icon. What is the point of being proud that your Holy Water keeps fresh in the fridge for 15 years ? That does not prove a lot. (Perhaps it proves that we have the best quality Holy Water around.) Holy Water is meant to be used. That is why we have it and that is why we bless it a lot. The books call for blessing Holy Water on all sorts of occasions because we are supposed to use it. Therefore, let us do something with that Holy Water, and not admire it in the fridge.

The unity that we are speaking about, we experience in the Eucharist and we experience in our family. I would like to go on record right now as being in favour of the restoration in a proper, orderly way of all the Faithful (not just the clergy) giving each other the kiss of peace before Holy Communion. It would go a long way to help make certain that we are, in fact, reconciled with each other. I love it in Finland, by the way. I get homesick for that place from time to time. When I think about the kiss of peace is one of the times that I get homesick for that country. In Finland, the Faithful have the custom of gathering in a large group after having received Holy Communion and the antidoron, and they stand and kiss each other. They give each other the kiss of peace right there and then. I think that is a really good custom. It is a hint of what Saint John Chrysostom has told us. He said that after we have received Holy Communion, Christ is so profoundly and truly present in us that we ought to make prostrations in front of each other in order to venerate the presence of Christ in each other. The least we could do is to give each other the kiss of peace.

In the Church we have to have concrete ways to remind us that we need to be reconciled, and the kiss of peace is one of them. It is sometimes easy to come to the Chalice and to pretend that I am making “my own” Communion, and I am communing with “my” Lord, and this is between “the Lord and me”. However, if we have to kiss each other before doing it, it helps to put the brakes on that heresy because it is not “my” Communion, and it is not “my business” between “my” Lord and myself. It is all of us together, eating and drinking in the Lord, feeding on His love, being reconciled with Him and with each other, being made one with each other. The kiss of peace is fundamental. As my Mother suggested, I think that in our families, just as in all monastic communities that are properly functioning, we should reconcile before going to bed. Monks do this. In properly functioning monasteries, monks have to do that, too. At the end of Compline, monks make prostrations to each other. It is Forgiveness Sunday for monks every night, before they go to bed. They come to take a blessing from the abbot at the end of the day. Then they can go to bed after they have reconciled with each other. That sort of behaviour at home would help a lot.

We should be much quicker to make a prostration in front of each other. I remember having had some fairly heated disagreements with some people sometimes, and more than once I was non-plussed by someone making a prostration. I nearly fell off my feet when it happened. Thank God I realised what it meant and I was prepared to do the same. That is not so easy to do, actually – to be so quick to ask for forgiveness and to be reconciled by even making a prostration. Our pride usually gets in the way. We work at forgiveness in our families by living out love and by practicing it in concrete ways. We do it here in the believing community. We kiss each other ; we hug each other and it means something. It is not just formalities (it had better not be). We embrace each other in Paschal style and we call each other brothers and sisters because we are brothers and sisters in our church family. We love and forgive each other as brothers and sisters. By doing this, we form just that sort of soil that will nurture all these sick and broken plants, the human lives around us. As we ourselves are being healed in Christ, we open the door for others to be healed also.