In the Footsteps of Saint Anthony

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
In the Footsteps of Saint Anthony
Saturday of the 12th Week after Pentecost
5 September, 2009

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

The monks who are living here are following in the footsteps of Saint Anthony the Great. What does this mean ? It means that they are living alone with one aim, which is to find the way in their lives to be pleasing to God. They are not trying to please themselves. Rather, they are trying to put the Lord first in their lives and to allow the Lord to look after them.

That is just what Saint Anthony was doing in the Egyptian desert. In this desert people came in due course and tried to live close to Saint Anthony. He tried to move away from them. They tried to move close to him again. This was because the love of God was radiating from him, and they wanted to be near this love of God. If God were to give us someone like Saint Anthony the Great now in Canada, instead of trying to crowd closer to him to take God’s blessing from being near him, we Canadians likely would treat him as a “kook”, and consider him socially deranged. Probably we would not benefit from him at all, because of our tendency to practice amateur psychoanalysis. We could, perhaps, eventually learn, but it could well be too late.

The nature of the life of our Church in Canada as a whole has very much changed (in a good direction) in the last twenty or thirty years. About thirty years ago, people were losing hope. Things were starting to fall apart because, I think, people got distracted. However, people’s sense of direction is getting better now. People are remembering the Lord better now. It does not hurt at all that in Canada there are a number of monastic communities standing in our midst, helping us to remember what is first. It is more to the point to remember Who is first.

Monks are not some sort of experts with Ph.D.s in spirituality. They are persons who have turned to the Lord. They have decided to follow Him, as the apostles did when the Lord said to them : “‘Follow Me’” (Matthew 9:9). They are doing this because the Lord, in His love, touched their hearts and they responded in their hearts. They decided to turn away from the way of the world. They decided to turn to the Lord and allow Him to guide them. Because of their work of love and repentance (that most favourite word of mine), the Lord is touching people’s hearts. Because the monks in this country are trying to follow the Lord, many other people are gaining courage to try to follow Him as well, to follow the same path of love, the path of selflessness. This path is not the “me-myself-and-I-way” but the “What do You bless, Lord” way.

All the monks that I have encountered in Canada (and we have many) have been a source of encouragement for me as a bishop, and these monks here (who are so close to us both geographically and personally) have been just such an encouragement. I know that they are an encouragement for you as well. It is not all that easy following the Lord. The life of Saint Anthony very definitely shows what happens when anyone decides to follow the Lord. You-know-who-down-below does not like it, and does everything he can to discourage and distract us from following the Lord. He puts every possible block and obstacle in our way. In the case of Saint Anthony, he suffered physical violence from “down-below”. Not every monk receives that sort of treatment, but it is definitely not unknown even to this day. Neither does anyone know why one person gets the treatment from Big-Red-down-below that Saint Anthony got, whereas other people persevere along rather a different course (at least without physical violence). However, the point is that whatever is happening to them, they have supreme trust in the love of the Lord. Through their personal experience in love, they have supreme confidence that what the Apostle says to the Hebrews (as he says to us) is absolutely true : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus Christ never changes. His love is always the same for us. He is always constant. He is always faithful. His love is life-giving. That is why we continue to persevere, just as these monks are continuing to persevere through every sort of difficulty. Our Saviour is with us. “God is with us” (as we sing in Great Compline so frequently and with such enthusiasm).

Brothers and sisters, we are gathered together today at the pilgrimage in honour of Saint Anthony on the anniversary of the founding of this hermitage. We are gathered together because of the love of Jesus Christ, and gathered here in the love of Jesus Christ. As we receive the holy Body and Blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, let us ask Him to multiply the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts so that our faithfulness will not falter, and that we will persevere in His love. May we be enabled to support the monks, as the monks support us all in love, that we will bring each other all together, in the love of Jesus Christ, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, into the Kingdom of Heaven where we will glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.