Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
8 November, 2009
Galatians 6:11-18 ; Luke 8:41-56

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

In our days, and in our society, we are very much pre-occupied with ourselves. Because we are so pre-occupied with ourselves, we have mostly lost the mentality of the Gospel, and we have mostly lost the mentality of our ancestors. When it comes to the Scriptures, when it comes to our relationship with the Lord, when it comes to our liturgical worship, all of these things are all together in one reality. However, because of our self-preoccupation in North America and the West in general (which we are sharing with everyone else now), all these elements become broken up and separated.

When we speak about broken-up and separated elements, we are already straying very far from the mentality of the Gospel and from the mentality of the Church. Compartmentalisation, division, and sharp distinctions like this are not for us Orthodox Christians. Sharp distinctions and anything having to do with division come from below, not from above. From the Lord come unity and harmony, not division. The aim of the powers of darkness is to strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep (see Zechariah 13:7 ; Matthew 26:31). This is the old technique of Big Red : scatter ; divide. “Divide and conquer”, “divide and rule” as the old sayings go : this is the technique of the powers of darkness.

The way of Christ is in unity and in harmony. It is for this reason that I am always grateful to hear the words that the Apostle Paul is speaking to us today : “God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. For the Apostle Paul, everything in His life is focussed on Christ. Everything that he is doing is in, and for Christ. It is not focussed on the Apostle Paul. Rather, it is focussed on Christ. The Apostle’s life is focussed on Christ. We can say that the Apostle Paul is living out the words of that psalm (which we can read quite easily and regularly, if we are obedient enough to read the Psalter : “As the eyes of bond-servants are unto the hands of their masters, as the eyes of a maid-servant are unto the hands of her mistress, so our eyes are towards the Lord our God” (Psalm 122:2). This is the way of the Apostle Paul, and this is the way of the Orthodox Christian.

Everything is focussed on Christ. In the Gospel reading this morning, we see Christ healing a woman of a flow of blood that had lasted a long time, and who was in an incurable condition. Our Lord is also raising from the dead the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. The Lord is in the midst of His people. The Lord is not separated from His people. Rather, in the midst of His people, He touches them and heals them.

The Saviour is in our midst. He is not far away. He is not “out there” somewhere. He is here, with us. That is why at the beginning of a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy the bishop is sitting right in the middle. Why should the bishop sit and stand right in the middle ? It is because the bishop has the responsibility of re-presenting Christ to the faithful. We have to understand that the term “Hierarchical Divine Liturgy” tells us that it is served and led by a hierarch, but it is not directed to the bishop. It has everything to do with Christ. The bishop (with his warts, or anything else that might be faulty about him), standing in the midst of the faithful, is responsible for revealing Christ. The Divine Liturgy is not served for the sake of the bishop or the priest or the deacons, but rather is directed to the all-holy Trinity. With Christ in our midst, we are all loving Him and responding to Him in love, in unity, in harmony, with one heart, with one voice. We are all glorifying our Saviour, who is here in our midst. He is here in our midst, despite our weaknesses, despite our betrayals, despite our falls, despite our selfishness. He is here for us personally. He is here for the woman with the flow of blood. He is here present for Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, as He is for the wife of the ruler of the synagogue (whose name we do not know), and as He is for the daughter of Jairus (whose name we also do not know).

Everything is directed to Christ. Why then does the bishop sit down in the middle of the Temple a few times ? It is very simple. Do you remember the Beatitudes ? It is written in the introduction to the Beatitudes, before the Lord began to speak to the multitudes, that He sat down to teach (see Matthew 5:1). If the bishop is sitting down, it is because our Saviour sat down, and this is supposed to remind us of what the Gospel says that our Saviour did. Where do the Beatitudes come from ? They come from His mouth to us. He is teaching us. The bishop cannot always be just like Christ in this respect. Therefore, when the Gospel Book comes out, the bishop stands up. He is done with reminding ; he is also a person who must worship and respect our Saviour, who is in the Gospel Book. The bishop is leading a double or triple life one could say : a bishop is a regular Orthodox human being ; he is a person with a responsibility before Christ for the flock, and it is for the bishop to re-present Christ to the flock. It is a huge responsibility. However, it is crucial that the bishop and everyone else remember that all this worship that we are offering to the Lord today is not about any one of us. Our daily lives are not about us, but about our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who loves us, who is in the midst of us, who is with us.

I cannot resist talking about the current Pope, who wrote a book about the Divine Liturgy which has very many good things said in it. However, the title is a “bust” from the Orthodox point of view. He chose to entitle this book Christ is near us. That is why it is a bust. The Divine Liturgy is not conveying that Christ is near us. Rather, our worship reveals and proclaims that God is with us. The Lord is here in our midst today. It is the Lord who is about to ordain for us a deacon who will help to nurture and build up the flock of Christ. He will help the priest in administering sacramentally to this community. It is not that this community lacks any deacons, but we can always use more. This community is always sharing its clergy with other parishes as well. In having another deacon, you also have more to share, and this is to your credit in this community. This has always been your disposition in Christ : to be caring about the other, to share with the other, and to nurture the other. In this you are very much on the right path in this community. It is my prayer that you will never lose the heart to be like this. In being like this, with the disposition of Christ-centredness, you are being like the Apostle Paul. With him, you have Christ at the heart of everything and Christ in the centre of your lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is because of this Christ-centredness that our Orthodox tradition has the custom of referring everything to Christ. For example : being thanked for something. The polite Canadian way is to say thank-you for everything. It is drilled into us (I think it still is, but it certainly was drilled into me when I was a child) that we must say thank-you for everything. When people give us something, we must say thank-you. This part is correct. However, if someone thanks an Orthodox Christian for doing something, that Orthodox Christian customarily and habitually refers that gratitude to the Lord, and does not accept it for himself or herself. The gratitude is referred to the Lord. We will say : “To the glory of God”, or “Glory be to God”, or “Thanks be to God” or something like that.

This makes me recall an incident of my youth about thirty years ago. As green as grass as I was, and as new in the Church as I was, I went to visit a Greek women’s monastery. The women at this monastery were very hospitable, loving and Christ-like, as is the characteristic of Orthodox communities when they are healthy. This one was a healthy community. They were so nice to us who were visiting that when we were coming to the departure, I said (in my customary Canadian way) to the abbess who was at the door saying good-bye to us : “Thank-you for your hospitality”. She said : “The Lord”. I said : “Yes, but I thank you, too”. She said : “THE LORD”. I learned my lesson.

It is for us, dear brothers and sisters, to remember that everything about our life and our worship is in, and of the Lord. The Lord is not far from us. He is with us. Our lives must be continually turned about, turned 180 degrees to Him. They must be turned away from ourselves, and turned to Him ; turned away from darkness, and turned to light ; turned away from fear, and turned to love ; turned away from death, and turned to life. The Saviour is always with us, always embracing us, always supporting us, always desiring our healing.

The Lord in His merciful, loving care for us, is always wanting to remind us of these things so that we will not be afraid of Him, but be bold to come to Him. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, the Lord sent the Wonder-working icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv to us. He sent this icon to us : insignificant Canada, miniscule Orthodoxy in Canada. He sent this icon to us. The Mother of God, through her prayers, her love, her compassion, her intercession, touched the lives of hundreds of people. As far as I can tell at the present time from the things that I have heard, we are into the vicinity of ten reported healings from diseases. One person had been afflicted by severe allergies and extremely painful asthma so that she could not go to church for more than about ten minutes. It had been like this for more than seven years. She kissed the icon, and now she sings in the choir of the church with no difficulty. Instantly it was like this. Another woman had been diagnosed in August with an incurable cancer, and was expecting to die within a year. She is a very believing person (and some of you might actually know her). She venerated the icon, and when she was scanned later there was no cancer left.

The Lord, in His mercy, sent to us this concrete testimony of His love for us : the Mother of God’s compassionate concern and presence with us. Not only healings of the body occurred. People’s lives also were changed. People came to repentance through their contact with the Mother of God. All sorts of unexpected encounters came about while the Mother of God progressed across Canada. We were not able to make a proper reception for her because we were not prepared. We were not able to make a proper notice and a proper agenda for her crossing the country. Many places were missed that would have benefitted by her presence. We had little preparation time, but we made the best we could of it. The Lord, and the Mother of God multiplied the offering, and made much more of what we were able to offer to the glory of God, and to the nurturing and encouragement of the children of God, the flock of Christ.

This is what I mean by the Lord’s compassionate concern for us. He is with us. He loves us. He is hearing us. As we are celebrating the life, the service and the activity of the holy angels today, it is good for us to remember them, too, for encouragement because they are not very different from us. They are rational beings as we are. However, they do not have bodies as we do. That is the difference. Therefore, they are called “bodiless” powers, and we are “embodied” powers (one could say). However, the angels, as it says in the Psalms, are always looking “to the hand of the Master” (see Psalm 122:2). By their support, by their protection, and by the intercession of the Mother of God, let us also be constantly looking to the hand of our Master. Let us look for life from Him. Let us look to serve Him in every way, every day, and to glorify Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.