Observing the holy Sabbath Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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