Following the Centurion’s rock-solid Faith

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Following the Centurion’s rock-solid Faith
Saturday of the 19th Week after Pentecost
24 October, 2009
2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ; Luke 7:2-10

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

As we see and hear today, the humility of the centurion is extraordinary. A centurion in the Roman army is head over a hundred soldiers. This is not “small potatoes” in the Roman army. The Roman army had a reputation for its strictness, its order and obedience.

The centurion, himself, expresses this today : “‘I say to one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes’”. He, himself, is under authority because he is not by any means at the top of the ladder in the command of the Roman army. He knows how to obey. He also knows how to give orders, and to expect to be obeyed. He understands this principle of obedience in both directions. He has the humility which allows him to trust that our Lord can do something for his ailing servant who is about to die. Yet, at the same time he knows his own unworthiness. As a result of his knowledge of his unworthiness, and his confidence in God, he sends his own servant to the Saviour to ask for the healing. We notice that when the Saviour is coming to the man’s house, the man, himself, still does not come out of his house. He knows that our Lord is coming and he sends friends to our Saviour and through them he says : “‘Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed’”. Our Saviour does heal his servant. This sort of confidence in God is something that a person would expect of a nation such as Israel that has had centuries of personal contact with the Lord. The Lord had over and over again saved His people from one disaster after another. He had led them constantly. He had assured them of His love over and over again. On Mount Sinai He gave the people very personal encounters with Himself. Even so, people had their doubts.

From a certain perspective, it appears that we Orthodox Christians can have a similarly abysmal track record in terms of our own faith, obedience and response to the Lord even though our own encounter with the Lord is, and has been much more intimate than what was given to the people of Israel. Yet, we behave in just the same way. That is, we take the Lord for granted. We do not bother ourselves. We do not do too much, saying : “Well, He is always there”. In these circumstances, the Lord is like a piece of furniture for us, sometimes, which is very dangerous. When the Jewish people considered the Lord to be merely a piece of furniture, or simply part of their way of life, we see what happened to them. This can, and does happen to us, too, from time to time. When we are like this (and not like the centurion having confidence in the Lord), we are taking the Lord for granted. We think we can do everything ourselves, instead. We only come crying to the Lord when we are in trouble, instead of giving thanks to Him every day for every little thing in which He touches our hearts and our lives.

This centurion is an extraordinary person. We hear the words of the Jewish people who are pleading with the Lord to do something for him and his servant. They say : “‘He loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue’”. In encountering the Israelite people, he encountered God. That is why he does such things as building a synagogue. He is one of those persons who are not able openly to convert to Judaism because, no doubt, that would mean the end of his military career in the Roman army, and likely even the end of his life. Nevertheless, he encountered God, and he did all these things for the believers. He considered himself to be nothing, as it were. He was responding to God’s love in the right way.

There have been many cases such as this centurion when the Church was so violently persecuted in eastern Europe and the Balkans. There have been secret Christians in various places, and various levels of government and society, who could not openly show that they were believers, but who nevertheless supported the Church by secret means. They kept things alive in a time when there could have been complete extinction. Even in Albania where the persecution was the absolute worst, and the extinction was almost complete, it was nevertheless not complete. There is a story about certain Albanian women who secretly listened on radios to the services coming from Greece. In a hidden sort of way they kept their faith. They also kept their icons secretly in their homes. They were very faithful. They ended up being confessors for Christ because of their suffering. They, themselves, finished their life by seeing the restoration of the Church in Albania, and the renewal of everything, and the returning of everything to the way it was. Their love for the Lord produced good fruit. We have no way of knowing what that sort of faithfulness supported and enabled in the renewal and the restoration of the Church’s life. That sort of rock-solid faithfulness to the Lord, trust and confidence in Him brings all sorts of good fruit one way or another.

We ourselves, in our own faithfulness, in our own serving the Lord, will never truly know what is the result of our faithfulness except that there is fruit from our faithfulness. It is the Lord who accomplishes all this. It is the Lord who knows all about this. That is His business. It is not my business to know anything. Let us give thanks to the Lord first for His love and His mercy towards us, and His patience with us. Second, let us give thanks for this centurion, and for his witness of faithfulness to the Lord, for his readiness to be considered as nothing even when he was a great man in the world’s eyes, and also for his readiness to trust God.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in our hearts this sort of trust in Him that the centurion had. Let us trust that the Lord is with us, that He loves us, that He cares for us, and that He can and will look after every detail of our lives. Let us glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.