Sunday of All Saints

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Holiness : a true Expression of Christian Family
Sunday of All Saints
14 June, 2009
Hebrews 11:33-12:2 ; Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38 ; 19:27-30

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

On this Sunday after Pentecost, we are keeping the memory of all the saints. I am quite certain that we are keeping this feast because there are many more saints than those written on the calendar whose names we keep. There are many, many unknown saints. For instance, amongst the 14,000 infants of Bethlehem, or the 20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia (and others in large quantities of martyrdom), we only know a few, if any, of the names of these holy persons, these martyrs. They are persons who are simply amongst tens of thousands of persons who have given their lives for the sake of Christ. These martyrs are people who have given their lives up unto death. They have given their lives up to the end in every way.

There are many other persons in the context of the Church’s life and in our history who have been saints whose names are not known at all. After all, the word “saint” simply means a holy person. However, the Lord knows who they are. Because they are all members of the Body of Christ, and we are all members of the Body of Christ, out of love we are remembering them all today. We do not know the names of most of them, but the Lord knows them.

For many years, I have been slowly working on a compilation of saints’ names. God willing, that will be made available in some form eventually. The reason that I have been doing this compilation is in order to help the faithful of the archdiocese know what are the saints’ names available. This is mainly in view of the naming of the child before baptism, but also for those being received into the Church later in life. You may ask what put me in the mood to do this, since there are many people doing such things, and we have all sorts of calendars being produced. Well, it seems to me that people have forgotten some basics. A long time ago (and it really feels like a life-time ago), at the time when I was not yet a bishop, I was visiting a babushka in Winnipeg who was lamenting, and who said : “When I was growing up, we all were given names of saints, and it was normal. However, now, my grandchildren are being given names of dogs”. It was truly distressing her. Well, we probably do not give the name “Fido” to children, but there are all sorts of names that are not part of our inherited tradition of holiness that we have tended to give to children. Very often we forget to give the names of saints. Even if we are going to give a child some sort of name for rocks or trees or rivers or brook, cedar, forest, rain, air, at the same time, we cannot forget to give as well the name of a saint.

Living in the Body of Christ involves communion with all sorts of people who must remember that Christ is their Head. We heard earlier in the Epistle reading about all the people who came before Christ, who suffered unto death in various nasty ways, in anticipation of Christ whom they had never met. Our Saviour says to us today that if we want to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Him. In other words, the Lord has to be first. If we are putting Him first, then we will certainly be given the joy of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Everything for us Christians has to be focussed on and lived out in the context of our Saviour, Jesus Christ : His love for us, and our love for Him, and nothing more. Our lives must come to the point where we are so filled with this love of Jesus Christ that we have our eyes only on Him, and we are seeking only to do His will. In every little thing of every day we are involving Him, instead of being typical Canadian, engineering “do-it-yourselfers”. We all know what do-it-yourself projects in renovation and construction usually mean. For the most part, after the do-it-yourself renovation has been completed, there is summoned to the house a professional repair-man with particular gifts to fill in or completely rebuild. I know, because I am one of those do-it-yourselfers.

In the development of missionary work in this diocese, we always have tension. We have had, have, and will have tension, because we are human beings, and that is how human beings are. We have different opinions, and sometimes we hold them very strongly. Whatever we are doing in mission work, whether it is developing plans and proposing this or that, or doing something actively, as I said before, keeping the Lord first in everything remains the first priority. It is crucially important that we be looking to Jesus Christ for His direction, and for the Grace and the ability to do what He is asking us to do. Everything, always, must be rooted in love for Him because He is our life. He is our hope. He is our joy.

Speaking of missionary work, this parish is not so different from other parishes, but it definitely has its own character. Many times I have heard people nostalgically regretting that we have become this numerous, because it was so nice years ago when everyone knew everyone else, and everything about everyone else. It felt much cozier and more intimate, somehow. It was easier, somehow. However, the Lord did not let us stay in that condition, because He calls us also to be yeast and salt. If we had stagnated in that cozy little condition, then there would have been dead yeast and tasteless salt. We would have become in the end (as such cozy, comfortable entities do) a club of crabby, unhappy people because we would have begun to step on each other’s toes and growl about it. Once we get into that sort of mentality, it goes around and around and around like that. We forget about everything. However, the Lord mercifully did not let us stay in such coziness.

This coziness was the first step of our development, enabling us to understand what it means to be a family in Christ, in the Church. This is very important because the Church, no matter what size it is, is still a family. If you think it is not a family when it is as numerous as this, perhaps you might like to experience some communities that are two or three or more times this size. Perhaps you have not yet had much experience of travelling around the world, and bumping into Orthodox Christians who know someone whom you know or who are part of your family even abroad. Living in the Orthodox Church is, itself, like living in a global village. As we travel around, we often find out that even though we think we are so small (and we are), at the same time there are spiritual and personal connexions that unite us all around the world. It is utterly amazing how the Lord has emphasised this family character to me over and over again. Our Church, in its totality, in its wholeness, and in all its component parts, is a family. Therefore, even though this parish has grown so much, it is necessary that we not lose sight of the fact that this is still our spiritual family. This is our spiritual home. There is still a father (or two) here to look after us.

No matter how numerous we are, we, ourselves, have a responsibility to remember primarily that we are brothers and sisters all together in Christ’s family. No matter what happens, Christ is the Head of this family. We are brothers and sisters together in this family. Maybe we are very numerous. Our modern society with its nuclear families is not used to such an extended family as this. However, in my own family history, my relatives used to tell me about reunions of one part of our family (which is apparently far more numerous than I thought) in which people would gather annually some place in southwestern Ontario. Every year there would be 200 or 300 members of this family. Everyone was a cousin, uncle or aunt to each other. I never had an opportunity to go to such a picnic, and I think it would be not a little unnerving having so many relatives, but at the same time, that is what we are here. This is not unnerving for me. Even if you are not flesh and blood relatives, you are all part of my family. I know you. I do not know all of you so well, but I know many of you. You know me certainly better than I know you, perhaps. We are a family in Christ.

Whenever one or another person behaves a little “off” sometimes, people will get the idea that the other person has something against them because of this ignoring distraction or coldness or whatever it is. Because we are subject to fear, we are often tempted to think that maybe so-and-so has a crooked nose with us about something. Because we are subject to fear and we might be shy, we are often reluctant to go and “beard the lion in the den”, and ask what is the matter. Therefore, the tendency is to bend our head, go away in a corner and say : “Poor me” (as we often do). Another thing that I have learned about this sort of family life is that when we see someone who is acting in an unusual manner towards us, more often than not that person does not have a crooked nose with us at all. That person may not be feeling well or was hurt by something else in life or maybe it is arthritis. It could be any sort of thing. It could also be (because I am now getting old and have more experience of these things) that there is an approaching low-pressure front which can make us feel listless, draw away all our energy, and make us feel that all we want to do is have a nice, long nap. There are many things that influence our behaviour.

It is truly necessary that we try, in the love of Jesus Christ, not to assume, ever, that a brother or sister is out-of-sorts with us until we find out for certain. If we ask the question, and find out for certain that maybe there is something, then that is the opportunity for us to say : “I am sorry” (those big, important words). I am sorry to drag out all these lessons on family life that you surely know already. However, on this day in particular, it seems important to rehearse them in case anyone is forgetting these ABCs of family life. The development of this community does not stop anywhere near here. This community has given birth to other communities already, and it will give birth to more in the future, because the Lord never stops calling you and me to be salt and yeast. He never stops sharing with us His joy and His love. We must never stop sharing with those around us this joy, this love, and our hope in Jesus Christ. Our lives must grow so that they shine (even with no words, probably) with this love of Jesus Christ.

In our communities in this archdiocese, there are holy people. They are not necessarily well recognised, but they are there. They have been there all along. This particular community has had the blessing to have had some that I have, myself, known. You probably remember some such holy persons amongst the older ones. May the Lord grant us all the ability to remember who we are and what we are doing in Christ : that we are a family, and that we are led by a father.

When one is a bishop, one gets to hear from people over and over again the one thing that they want in a priest, and it is precisely expressive of this family principle. What do people want in a priest ? They want a priest who will be a true father to them, and help them to experience more of the love of Jesus Christ. They want a priest who loves them and who helps them into the Kingdom. Sometimes priests get distracted (as bishops also do), and that is why I am always asking over and over that we pray for each other because we need mutual support. People say to me in Russian : “All we want is a batiushka – just a regular batiushka”. We do not have this word in English. We have to re-Christianise English, and find a word. A batiushka is a little higher than “daddy”, somehow. It is more than “papa”, too. In English we do not yet have this word, and I would be happy and very grateful to God for whoever it will be that would find the English way to say batiushka. The word still means “father” in Russian. People say : “We want a father who loves us, who shows us love, and who encourages us in our times of difficulties to persevere in Christ”. All that is wound up in this little word which is respectful, but extremely affectionate. The “ushka” ending in Russian (like “ouli” in Greek) brings the relationship very close. We might feel like hugging people when we use the “ushka” ending on their name. We want to give them a big kiss, because the relationship is so warm. That is what people want in their leadership in the Church. We have to have formalities, but through the formality must shine this loving, family relationship.

Brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us not to forget our family relationship, our mutual family responsibilities in Christ, and the fact that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, His family, His Body. Let us be truly alive in His love, living in His love, and glorifying Him together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.