World Day of Prayer for Christian Unity (2007-01-21)

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
We have yet a long Row to hoe
World Day of Prayer for Christian Unity
Notre Dame Roman Catholic Cathedral, Ottawa
21 January, 2007

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

Aujourd'hui je vous demande pardon, parce que je ne parle pas très souvent en français ; je suis principalement un anglophone. Je ne m'exprime en français que seulement dans certaines circonstances, et je suis certain que mes mots en français vous donneront l'occasion de rire. Comme cette cérémonie est solennelle, j'espère que la tentation de rire ne sera pas trop grande. Pour cette raison, je vais continuer mon discours en anglais.

In offering these words today, here, in this historic Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa, I give thanks to God. I give thanks to God for His love for us, and I give thanks for the loving, Christian generosity and example of our friend, Archbishop Marcel Gervais, our host today.

The sort of hospitality and generosity demonstrated towards us Orthodox Christians today by Archbishop Gervais is something which I find akin to the hospitality for which Orthodox Christians are well-known throughout the world. It is a clear expression of what is deeply common and true, what is founded in Christ, who is, Himself, the Truth. Most characteristically, we encounter in Christ, love, because as the Word of God, He is, truly, Love itself. It is this Christ, who is Love, that we encounter in each other, who are as Christians, bearers of Christ.

Even bishops are under obedience, and I have had the obedience to be involved in bishop-level dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics for more than fifteen years now. This conversation has been progressing on various levels for several decades, at local levels, and internationally as well. The conversations have overcome many of the differences that have existed between us for many centuries. It is indeed important that these steps have been taken, and the Lord has helped these conversations to bear fruit. Yet more significant than the necessary details of the reconciliatory process, I believe, is the witness in the heart that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops sense. In our mutual conversations and presence, we recognise that we are close enough to feel like brothers. We are sadly still in a position (and will be for quite some time yet) which does not permit us to serve together, and to receive Holy Communion together. However, the love we can feel for, and demonstrate towards each other, can help us further the honest conversations, and bring us to the more immediate possibility of complete reconciliation. All of this rests in our ability to listen to the Lord, to offer Him our loving obedience, and mutually, radically, to repent. Our fallenness and our fear keep this process slow.

Although we Orthodox profess that from apostolic times we have maintained in fulness the whole truth about Christ, the Truth, and that the Apostolic Faith remains in us unchanged until now, we still have our own questions to answer solemnly before the Lord. We rejoice in being a family of local, self-governing Churches throughout the world, which in principle subsist always in the various local languages. However, for various reasons, we have a hard time co-operating amongst ourselves, even though we are in full communion, and even though we believe everything the same. Sin still insinuates itself. We have family squabbles, which outsiders often think are crazy. Probably they are right. This family somehow wants to, tries to, act only on consensus. Again, sin slows down decision-making. Sometimes this makes a scandal.

The Oriental Orthodox are a family of Christians that are even closer to us than the Roman Catholics. With them, dialogues some time ago announced that all the theological questions had been resolved. It was agreed that what differences existed were primarily based on misunderstandings. We believe everything the same, even with a slightly different word-usage. All official and obvious obstacles have been overcome for some time, but we remain as yet not in communion with each other. We are somehow unable to find the way to take the last steps. Very many of us are exasperated, somehow, about this dilemma, but we have not found the way to proceed. Why ?

We, as all fallen persons, have yet to find the way to exercise the humility, the love, and the generosity of Christ in a way that will overcome whatever minuscule obstacles remain. Pride, somehow, keeps us from moving. Fear keeps us from moving (and it is irrational fear). We will have to answer to the Lord for this.

With us, in our dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, we have some way still to go. God grant that with honesty, and with love, the remaining questions may be resolved in truth. Once we have come to the end of dialogue and have resolved all differences, I rather expect, sadly, that we will nevertheless find ourselves in the same predicament we are in with the Oriental Orthodox. I am afraid that it could take a long time for us to take the final steps.

Today, I have hope of the possibility that, when the Lord opens the door, the final steps really will come. Archbishop Gervais, in a typically Christian way, today takes the initiative to invite us to his home, here, in his cathedral. He invites us to be with him, and with his whole archdiocesan family, during this service of Solemn Vespers. He invites us to be together as we are both on the threshold of Great Lent. He invites us together in one of the years in which we will celebrate at the same time the Resurrection of our Saviour. He invites us to be together in anticipation of that future time when we will visibly be able truly to be one family. This one family would truly reflect the Holy Trinity, in that it would have to include Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox, all together. Yes, there is a long way for us all to go. Every step of this way must be in honest telling of the truth in love, in the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The love in Christ shown to us today by Archbishop Gervais is a sign for us all, an example for us.

By God’s mercy, and also through the generosity of Archbishop Gervais, it happens that this cathedral, and the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Canada, are both dedicated to the protection of the Mother of God. We, together, turn to her for her intercession, for her protection, for her direction, for her example. May we imitate her in her loving, complete obedience to her Son.

As I conclude, I want to say that I learned something yesterday. Perhaps I learned it before ; but I cannot remember, since I am getting older. However, I learned that one of our monks is the great-nephew of one of the predecessors of you, Monseigneur Gervais. This is Archbishop Alexandre Vachon, who rests in the crypt below us. I do not know exactly what this means, but I suppose that we can say that we are somehow related !

Let us ask the Lord to give us the love necessary to do His will, and the ability to imitate His humility, so that we may allow His light to shine in us, and to glorify the Holy Trinity in everything : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.