All Saints of North America

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Becoming Friends with Holy Persons
All Saints of North America
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
21 June, 2009
Romans 2:10-16 ; Matthew 4:18-23

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

Today when we are with our Lord, following Him, we see Him calling the disciples and apostles. When He calls them, we see that as soon as He says to them : “‘Follow Me’”, they simply do. They drop everything (whatever they are in the middle of doing) and follow Him. Why would anyone do such a thing ? If a man were to walk up to you one day, look at you and say : “Follow me”. What would make you just get up and follow Him ? There are fishermen giving up their whole living, just like that. There is a tax collector with a very lucrative, money-producing, comfortable life – leaving everything on the table, getting up and following Him, just like that. That is precisely what we see happening.

Why ? There is only one reason, and that is : Who is this Man who is saying : “‘Follow Me’”. Who is He ? These men had no idea at the time. However, we know. We know that He is the incarnate Son of God. He is the Word of God who has taken flesh. However, that seems, even to us, a little abstract. When our Saviour walks up to them today, what they encounter is the same sort of experience that we remember hearing not so long ago in the sermon of Saint John Chrysostom at Pascha when he is speaking about Hades. Saint John Chrysostom says that when Christ descended into Hades, Hades thought it took a man, but it encountered God face-to-face. Thus, these men are meeting God face-to-face in Jesus Christ today.

When anyone meets God face-to-face, what does that mean ? We have to remember that it means precisely what the Apostle John tells us that it means in more than one place, and that is, love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Everything that is, is the result of, and maintained by His love. When our Saviour walks up to these persons and looks them in the eye, He looks them not only in the eye. He looks them straight in the heart. He knows them, and they know that He knows them. It is instant. It is like lightning. Their hearts burn, and they know that this is the One whom they must follow, because they have already been filled with the light of love, and the light of life simply by being in His presence. His call to them : “‘Follow Me’”, is irresistible. They cannot explain it, but they do follow Him.

The whole of God’s creation is enlightened by His love. That is why the Apostle Paul is telling us today that not everyone is going to encounter the Lord personally in human history. Because of the presence of this love in every part of creation, people whose hearts are properly oriented will be able to recognise this love in a similar way, and respond to it, and live accordingly because somehow their hearts are able to accept and see the Lord’s love. The Apostle says that for people like this, there is a special relationship. Elsewhere, the Apostle says a great deal about the Law itself, and how the Law is so restrictive and binding (he has even stronger words than that). However, a person who is living in the context of the Saviour’s love is not only fulfilling every part of the Law, but also is going far beyond the Law in its fulfilment. When our Saviour begins to walk around Galilee with these men, they, drawn by His love, filled with His love, encouraged by His love, healed by His love, begin with Him to participate in His work : healing the people of their diseases and teaching them what is the right way. Wherever our Saviour is going, people are encountering His love. They are responding in the same way as these disciples are responding.

Why are you and I here today ? We, likewise, have heard our Saviour speak to us in our hearts and ask us to follow Him. We are here because He still asks us to follow Him. He looks us in the heart today (and every day), and He says to us : “‘Follow Me’”. His love speaks to us in our hearts. Because our hearts respond in love, we do follow Him. That is why we are here today. That is why we pass through every sort of imaginable and unimaginable difficulty in life, facing every sort of obstacle with hope, joy and confidence. We do this because we know that the Lord who asks us to follow Him is also with us at all times. He gives us the ability to pass through all these difficulties. He is with us, and His love motivates us. His love strengthens us. His love gives us the ability to be healed of our brokenness, our distractions, our darkness and our double-mindedness.

Today’s saints of North America, whose names we do know, are only the “tip of the iceberg”, as we say. They are the holy people who have been generally recognised, and whose memory we are officially keeping today. They are persons who responded as the disciples and apostles responded. Their lives reveal this in every way. However, not every one of the persons on this continent who has done so in the past, and not everyone who is doing so now, is going to end up necessarily on the calendar of the Church or represented in an icon. Why is this ? It is because the Lord does not reveal everything to us. He does not identify for us every holy person in Orthodox North America. He lets us see particular people because we have particular needs, and these holy persons are particular intercessors for us in our needs. When we will need to know someone else of the many saints in North America whose names are not at the present known to us, He is going to show them to us.

The nature of our relationship with the saints has to be that of friends. We North Americans (especially we who have converted from the parts of Christianity that reject images) frequently have a difficult time making friends with the saints. Nevertheless, the relationship between us and these saints can be, in the Lord, much the same as amongst us here. The saints are not a different species from us, even though they are holy and are in heaven. They are not angels (contrary to popular misunderstanding). The saints are not detached from us, and we are not detached from them. The relationship of friendship in love (which characterises human relationships in Christ) is expected to exist between us and the saints, also. I am quite certain that the Lord is giving us the opportunity to become friends with one or all of these saints, depending on who we are and how our lives are. Indeed, sometimes the saint chooses us, because God has blessed that choice. When we learn how to be friends with these known holy persons, then the Lord will show us the faces of some more saints. This is how I rather think it is going to be. We have to learn how to behave as Orthodox Christians in North America. It is a difficult environment. The Lord is not going to give us spiritual indigestion by giving us too many at once.

That is one of the reasons, I believe, that we are having such a difficult time, with so many obstacles and delays regarding the official recognition and glorification of Saint Arseny. We Canadians recognise him as a saint. Saint Arseny was called in his day the Canadian Chrysostom because he was such a fantastic preacher. He converted many people through his preaching. We see that the Lord is answering our prayers through him. However, many of us Canadians at the beginning of the 21st century still seem to be a little detached from him, somehow. It seems to me that this is so, and that is perhaps why the whole process of his glorification takes more time than many of us would like. Not enough of us have developed this sense of a real friendship with Saint Arseny.

The whole purpose of our being here, and living in this relationship of love was described to me recently by Bishop Basil of Amphipolis just yesterday morning. During a lecture, he was showing us maps of how the world looked to the classical world. He showed us that two centuries before Christ, Greek geometricians had already understood that the world was round and a sphere. He showed us how the world was imagined by them from a distance looking down from above. What he pointed out to us about these various sorts of Christian maps (that look very odd to us now) is that they are all focussed on the centre. Where is the centre ? The centre is Jerusalem. Then he showed us a modern map focussed on Jerusalem. You can see exactly how those ancient cartographers had the correct, general idea. It is amazing how the Lord inspired and the people understood even without modern techniques. He also showed how the ancient world was divided up amongst the various patriarchates. He said it was like cutting an orange across the axis of Jerusalem in four parts, as it were. He pointed out that with the focus on Jerusalem, if we try to find North America on a modern map, what do we see ? Over on the left, we see Greenland, Newfoundland, a little bit of Labrador, and that is all. All the rest of North America is invisible from that perspective. According to this schema, there is a great deal of debate about who has the territory of North and South America. To which of the patriarchates would that be extended ? Bishop Basil said : “It really does not matter how we might project the Chalcedonian perception of which territory is connected to what patriarchate because, in the end, it all belongs to Jesus Christ”. Jesus Christ has claimed the whole world. The whole world belongs to Jesus Christ, and it does not matter under which patriarchate in particular it comes, in terms of responsibility. It all belongs, in the end, to Jesus Christ, who claimed the whole world. The whole world exists as a product of His love.

Let us ask the Lord to renew this love in us as we hear Him say to us : “‘Follow Me’”. Little John here is obviously responding in the right manner as he is kissing this icon. Let us be like him, responding to the Saviour’s love openly, freely, with love. Like him, let us be ready to approach this icon with love, and to embrace the Lord and His saints in love, and glorify with the joy of John and his straightforward love : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.