Youth Retreat (2005-08-03)

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Why be Orthodox ?
3 August, 2005
Youth Retreat


We, who are Orthodox, have received something very precious which has to do with our knowledge of Who is Jesus Christ. Throughout the past 2,000 years, we have inherited from our parents, our friends, our ancestors, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth about Who is Jesus Christ. People have lived and died in order to make sure that we have been able to receive this purity of Truth. Even in the previous century, Orthodox Christians died because people wanted them to deny Christ, and they did not ; people wanted them to deny the Truth, and they did not. For instance, it is estimated nowadays, that something like 110-115,000,000 people have been killed in Russia and Ukraine since the Bolshevik Revolution began. The greatest majority of people died because they were Orthodox, and they would not give up Christ. In the former Soviet Union, they would say : “If you do not deny Christ, if you do not give up that silly Orthodoxy, then you will go to a concentration camp, and you will die”. A great many people did.

In North America, we have a very difficult time because the pressure not to be Orthodox is very subtle. In North America, people will say all sorts of things, such as : “Orthodoxy is nice and old-fashioned, and it is like a museum. However, it does not connect with modern life, and so why do you bother with that ?” They might also say : “Orthodoxy has nothing to do with what North America is all about (which is making money, and making great piles of money), so why bother with that ?” The fact is, however, that Orthodoxy is for everyone, everywhere, always. It does not matter what culture we happen to live in. Jesus Christ is the One who created us all. Jesus Christ is the One who loves us. It is for the sake of Jesus Christ that we are here. It is because of Jesus Christ that we have any sense of meaning and direction in our life.

People talk about how horrible communism was, and how good capitalism is. Mother Dorofea, who reposed in Christ last year, said it very well, I think. She was quoting someone else, I forget who, but I think this is a very good way of expressing it. The question is posed : “What is the difference between communism and capitalism ?” The answer is : “In communism man oppresses man ; in capitalism, it is just the opposite”. Of course, this answer tells us that both are only different faces of the same thing. When we look at how we, westerners, behave towards the whole world, are we behaving differently from communists ? We think we are the best, but the communists thought they were the best, too.


Comment : We do not kill 115,000,000 people.

Bishop Seraphim : Maybe we do not kill 115,000,000 — yet ; but it seems that we are not doing that bad a job. How are we killing people, for instance ? How are we, in the west, killing people ?

Comment : Cutting off their assets ; allowing them live in poverty, die of illness, and other natural causes.

Bishop Seraphim : One hundred per cent : A+. Exactly. It is because we, in North America, are so greedy. Indeed, we in North America are especially greedy. Western Europe is not far behind. We, in North America, use up almost the whole world’s resources on ourselves, and we throw stuff away, as though there is a never-ending supply of everything. Because we are living like this, all sorts of people in the rest of the world are dying. They do not have anything to eat. They do not have medicine. We have all these medicines that will heal diseases. Do we give them for free to the people in the third world ? No. We make them pay for it. We have all sorts of extra food. Do we give it to the people in the third world who are starving to death ? No. We make them pay for it. They cannot pay for it, so they starve to death. Thus, the old saying is true : “We have plenty for everyone’s need, but not at all enough for everyone’s greed”. Therefore, how we are killing people is perhaps even worse than what the Soviets were doing, I would say. We pretend that we are not responsible for it at all. Then, of course, we are exporting wars around the world, too, which kill a great deal of people. We do not talk about that. Especially when we go to the United States, we never seem to hear about that on the news. Instead, we hear about how people are attacking the United States. People are afraid.

In North America, people seem to have no sense of real purpose in their lives. You will see this in every part of your lives as you continue your life’s pilgrimage. People just make money. They try to be comfortable. They try to protect themselves from everyone else. Father Schmemann of blessed memory aptly described this way of life with these words : “Dodo, métro, boulot” (sleep, subway, work). What is the big point about living like this ? That is why I, myself, have been grateful to God that early in my life, people who were believers helped me to know Who is Jesus Christ. They, because of their prayers, because of their example, because of their love, because of their care for me, taught me Who is Jesus Christ. It was not only by teaching me lessons about Who is Jesus Christ (although we have to understand something about what we believe about Who is Jesus Christ) ; it was by their very lives that they introduced me personally to Jesus Christ, and gave me experience of His love.

They introduced me to Jesus Christ as a Person because they showed me His love. They showed me how deep is His love for me. By how they lived and behaved, they showed me how Jesus Christ cares for me, and how He is concerned about every part of my life. They helped me to understand how everything in my life is connected with Him – not just going to church on Sundays. They helped me to understand that everything that I am, and everything that I do is involved with Him, and that He cares about what is happening in my life. I have been very stupid very many times in my life, and often very ignorant up until now. This is because I have so often forgotten to listen to the Lord instead of paying attention to stray and straying thoughts. Nevertheless, I have found that whereas people are very unreliable, Jesus Christ is the only One who is completely reliable in His love for me, in His patience with me, and in His involvement in keeping me on some sort of level path in my life.

It is because of the love of other people, and their faithfulness to Jesus Christ that I came to understand really what Saint Paul means when he talks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Those are the real characteristics of how a Christian lives life. You show love to everyone, and everything – not just to people, but to everything. Joy ! Your life is full of joy because of the love of Jesus Christ. You have a sense of purpose, and a sense of direction. The Lord is warming your heart towards other people. You have peace and patience, because the Lord shows you how you can survive all sorts of difficult things in your life. Even though people are betraying you, as they always do (even people who love you will betray you by accident), Jesus Christ never does. He teaches us how to be patient with other people who make mistakes. He shows us what is good in other people (even with all their mistakes, with all their fallenness), and He shows us how we can, ourselves, encourage what is good in other people, and help them to discover our joy, to participate in our joy.

We can have hope because we know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His love never changes. He is always the same Person. He is not a philosophical idea. He is a real Person who loves us, and who cares about us, and who never changes. Because of this I can have hope that my life has a purpose ; that it has meaning for someone else ; that I am not a duplication of anyone else. The Lord in His love made you and me completely unique. There is no-one else exactly like you or like me, even in the midst of our billions of persons. There might be people who look like us. People have said that I look like Farley Mowat ; but I am not Farley Mowat, and he is not me. We are very different people, although I think perhaps I have a cracked sense of humour like he does. Maybe that is why, apart from other things, we might be similar.

Why be Orthodox ? It is truly the only living way to live. It is difficult ; but it is whole, integrated, balanced. The real Orthodox Christian is not one-sided. The real Orthodox Christian is holistic. The real Orthodox Christian is not simply a linear thinker. The real Orthodox Christian can perceive very much more than merely the straight line. He/she can perceive the whole situation of the environment surrounding the straight line and where it is going. We have balance in life. We have understanding of people. We have understanding of God’s creation, and how we fit into God’s creation. We can understand the real purpose behind re-cycling, and re-using things. We can understand how to treat God’s creation well. Actually, it is appropriate to be here on this particular farm when I say this particular thing. Here we are on a farm where animals are treated in a respectful way, where there really is re-cycling, and where there is harmony with creation in the Orthodox way. It is a sort of concrete experience of traditional Orthodox life in a way that we have a hard time experiencing in the city.

Our responsibility is to know Him, and to grow in love for Him. Everything in our life is connected with that, and everything is concerned with that. Everything is Jesus Christ.