Our Response in Love to Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear brothers and sisters, let us keep our hearts and minds always open to the Lord and listening to His direction in everything. Let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.