Freedom from Bondage to Fear

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Freedom from Bondage to Fear
(Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council)
7th Sunday of Pascha
31 May, 2009
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36 ; John 17:1-13

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

The words that we are hearing today from the Apostle Paul are hard words, in some respects. He is speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus, and to us as well, about people who are going to come amongst them and us like wolves, to try to separate people out by means of false teachings. These are hard words because this comparison to wolves is not a pleasant comparison. However, the fact is that people who fall into certain temptations end up being in harmony with the wolf-of-souls, the devil. That is why they are compared to wolves.

How does this happen ? It happens when human beings (as they have always been doing from the beginning) try to make themselves greater than God, or equal to God, somehow. They even try to understand things according to their own reason so as to become in charge, so as to manage God (or even worse, to make God do things, somehow). It is in this line that falls the person whose sad memory is kept today, Arius.

Arius was the person who taught that there was a time when the Son of God was not. In other words, Arius, because of his philosophical background and the way his thoughts worked, could not comprehend that the Only-begotten Son of God is eternally begotten of the Father, and that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. According to his logic, there had to be God the Father by Himself in the beginning, and then somehow God the Father would create the Son, and create the Holy Spirit. This is vaguely how his reasoning would have gone. According to his logic, there had to be some time or some point when the Son of God was not. Ultimately, the Fathers realised that this logic could not be applied to God.

This logic could not be applied to God because God is beyond our reason. The Holy Trinity has always been Three Persons. When we speak about Only-begotten regarding the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, these are terms which have been revealed to us. We use these terms, but we can never pretend that we understand precisely what they mean. God is beyond our reason. We can never by our own reason come to understand the inner relationship of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity unless God Himself shows this to us. Even then, we cannot fully and properly put this into words. We, as human beings, must finally come to the point of admitting that there are things we cannot understand. We have to accept these things as they are.

Nevertheless (following the same mentality as Arius), human beings have continually and repeatedly tried to get a grip on Who is God and how things work, and they have fallen into the same trap. When I was growing up (and as young as some of you are today), according to my memory, I think that amongst people that were trying to call themselves Christians, there were only Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses who fell into this Arius category. Both of these groups of people who call themselves Christians, are not Christians at all. They believe that there was a time when the Son of God was not. In other words, they believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was created and had a finite beginning. However, since the 1970s or 80s, all sorts of other people (who may call themselves Christians) have for some reason fallen into a similar trap, going even farther by trying to reduce Jesus Christ to some sort of simple “nice guy” or a “good philosopher” or a very nice social worker of some sort, instead of accepting Who He says that He is. This is always the difficulty for human beings. We want to be in control.

However, the Christian Way, in Christ the Way, cannot be that we could ever be in control of God. Instead, we accept the words that we find in Matins : The Lord is God, and He reveals Himself to us. He has revealed Himself to us, and He does reveal Himself to us. Our responsibility is to accept this revelation of God just as He says He is, and live in accordance with that revelation of Himself. It is not for us to dare to tell Him who He is. He knows very well Who He is. He reveals Himself to us, and He has always stably revealed Himself to us. From the very beginning, we can see the same revelation of Himself in the Old Testament. God reveals Himself to us as a Community of Three Persons whose fundamental nature is love. The Apostle John reminds us of that. I remember when I was about ten or eleven I had to memorise verses from his Epistle that say precisely that – “God is love” (1 John 4:16). God reveals Himself as love. He gives His Only-begotten Son (in a manner which we also cannot comprehend) to take flesh, to become a Human Being (Man) who is fully human and yet, fully God, never separated from God. At the same time, He voluntarily limited Himself so that He can be a Human Being with us, and save us from ourselves. He took on all our brokenness, lifting it up to the Father, and bringing our humanity into the Godhead with Him as members of His Body. We are all members of His Body through our baptism, our chrismation, and our receiving of Holy Communion. The Lord is God, and He reveals Himself to us. He is Love, and He loves us. We exist because of His love.

Today, in the Gospel passage, the prayer that our Saviour, Jesus Christ is offering to His Father contains words that express precisely this reality. It is important that we go home after this Divine Liturgy, read again the words that our Saviour has spoken today, and allow them to sink deeply into our hearts. Our Saviour wants us to live in imitation of the spirit of loving community and harmony which He has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is how we were created to be. We were created to be persons consisting of both mind and body (as distinct from the bodiless angels who have minds but not bodies). We were created in this fashion to live, nevertheless, as the angels. Like the angels, we are created to live in such a way that always, without having to stop and reason things out, we might know God’s will in our hearts because the Lord’s love is so active in our hearts and minds. We then are able to do His will instinctively, with a will that is in harmony with His will, enlivened by love, motivated by love. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, always did, always does, and always will do the will of the Father because of their mutual, selfless love. At the beginning of our creation, Adam and Eve did the will of the Father because of love until they were distracted and fell. Fear was paralysing them and poisoning them deeply.

In these days, it would be hard to find a person who is not a slave of fear. However, the Lord came to set us free from bondage to chains of fear and slavery to fear. He set us free from it all. It is up to us to accept this freedom. Do we accept this freedom or is the bondage that goes with fear so familiar and comfortable that we cannot take the risk to live in this love ? If we are choosing anything because we are still bound with this fear, we are really in a sad way because the Lord has set us free. He gave us, and is giving us every opportunity to live in this freedom, not bound by fear. If we choose fear, we are the most wretched of all creatures and the most to be pitied, because instead of life we are choosing death ; instead of light, we are choosing darkness.

Brothers and sisters, because He wants us to do this, let us ask the Lord in His merciful love to pour His Grace upon us. Let us ask Him to renew this love, this confidence and the willingness, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to be freed of this fear, and to live in the harmony of love in which we were created to live. Let us ask Him to give us the boldness to live in this manner. Most people seem to be living the game of “Let’s pretend” all the time. However, regardless of the game of “Let’s pretend”, human beings all around us are living miserable lives. They have no joy. They have no hope. They are living in illusions and delusions and self-deception because they have only this world and its imagined comforts to hold on to.

We, in contrast, have what is not shifting, not passing and not changing : God’s love, His joy, His peace, His strength and His hope by which to live. We are not subject to crashing stock markets, recessions, depressions, and other sorts of disasters such as war. In the Saviour, we are not subject in our hearts to all these things. Yes, they affect us, but in the midst of it all, we still have His peace, His love and the joy that is His life.

Therefore, let us ask the Lord to renew this joy and this love in us so that people around us will see this joy, this love and this hope, and might have, themselves, the inclination to come towards the Saviour by our example. May they be enabled to share with us the joy, and come into the heavenly Kingdom with as much joy and life as this little girl is revealing to us now during this Divine Liturgy. Her joy and her life have helped me, no matter how old I am getting to be. As this child is free to be just herself, full of joy and life in the presence of the Lord, let us be like that too, in the Lord, glorifying the All-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.