Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord is serious about us in His Love
Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ
(Feast of Saint Herman)
13 December, 2009
Colossians 3:4-11 ; Luke 14:16-24

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

Today, when we are keeping the memory of the Forefathers of Christ, we are remembering all those who came before Him in faith. They were not necessarily His physical ancestors, although amongst those who were named last night, some were. The characteristic of all of them was their love for God, their faith in the Lord, their trust in the Lord’s promises, and their own faithfulness to the Promise and to this love.

We heard many names at Vespers last night. One could say that the Old Testament has many such persons, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. There were many who were not direct physical ancestors of the Lord who were preparers of the Way (including all the Prophets, for instance). There are many others, also, including great women such as Sarah, Rebecca, Ruth, Deborah, Esther, Judith and Susanna. There are very many who responded in love to God’s love and yet who had not seen the fulfilment of the Promise. However, they understood that God is faithful and true. Encountering Him in His love, they trusted that what was promised would be fulfilled.

Very often we hear people talking about the relationship between God and His people in the Old Testament as being different from that in the New Testament. However, that is philosophical silliness because God does not change. We are the ones who change. If some people mistakenly perceive God as an angry God in the Old Testament, that is their mistake (whether then or now). God was not revealing Himself in two different ways. In the beginning, when human beings fell away from obedience to God, they forgot all sorts of things about the Lord. When the first thing that the devil introduced into their lives and their hearts was fear, we can understand from our own experience how our ancestors could get confused and mixed-up. When we are driven by fear, we are truly in the dark. As we see in the Old Testament, it took the Lord a long time to reveal Himself to our ancestors, one by one, as Love, and as Saviour. Amongst them, for instance, there are Noah, Moses and all the other Forefathers. He showed Himself to them as being Love. The summary of the Ten Commandments is : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30 ; 5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5), and later on : “‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Mark 12:31 ; 3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:18). The Lord reveals Himself to us constantly as Love. It is our constant experience of Him. He has fully revealed Himself to us in Christ that He is Love. We are the ones who very often get mixed-up, lost and confused because we do not remember, and are paralysed by fear.

Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, patron of this holy Temple, is another example for us in this same stream, one could say, even though he comes to us long, long after the Incarnation of the Saviour. He is an ordinary person. He is not ordained to any service ; he is not even a reader. He is only a plain, ordinary monk. It was his obedience to be a teacher, and he did this well. Beginning with the children, he taught people about Christ. That he started with children shows that he was a very good teacher. How did he teach them ? Certainly he taught them some facts about Jesus Christ, but he taught them Who is Jesus Christ by showing Jesus Christ to them in his own life, and in his own behaviour. It is because of the personal example and witness of love of Jesus Christ, and the results of that love of Jesus Christ, that more than 200 years later there are people in Alaska (descended from those who were converted by Saint Herman) who have inherited the love of Jesus Christ through the living memory of people’s experience of the Lord in the person of Saint Herman. This inheritance is a combination of personal experience and accurate oral tradition. For the most part they remain faithful to Jesus Christ because Saint Herman showed love to those children and to those adults. In today’s Gospel reading, we saw our Saviour healing people. Saint Herman also brought healing, love and light to the people he encountered. They shared this with their families, their children, and their children’s children unto the present time.

This is very important for us to remember because we have a responsibility towards the Lord in the same love. He is always faithful to us. Why are we not always faithful in the same way to Him ? Today, He tells us this parable about the banquet to keep us on our toes. The Lord invites us to His banquet, and where do we fit amongst the invitees ? We are here today in this Temple about to participate in His banquet, the banquet of the heavenly Kingdom. We are accepting His invitation today. We have to be careful that we are accepting His invitation every day of our life. There are many other people ready and willing to participate in this banquet if we are so frivolous as to say the equivalent of : “‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them’”. In our time, that would be like saying : “I just bought a brand new Mercedes, and I have to try it out”. We have to be careful about that sort of frivolousness. People who rejected the invitation of the master were self-centred and frivolous.

Where are we, ourselves, in our relationship with the Lord ? Are we taking Him for granted ? Do we think that it does not matter what we do because we assume that the Lord will nevertheless say : “That is all right. Never mind”. It is not quite so simple with the Lord. The Lord is serious about us in His love. He brings us healing. He brings us love. He brings us everything. He wants love from us, too.

Let us pay attention to what the Lord has done for us in Canada just this year. The Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv came to Canada. Why the Mother of God should come to Canada like this is still beyond me. All that I did was write a letter and ask. It was not easy for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to come to a decision, and say “yes”. This icon of the Mother of God had never been away for so long, and there were so many complications involved. We had, after all, Air Canada to deal with. For a passenger plane of Air Canada, the icon was outside the weight limits of everything ; it was outside the size limits of everything. Everything came to Canada in the passenger cabin of Ukrainian Airlines with no problem. In Canada it was too big, and it was too heavy to go in the passenger compartment. What were we going to do ? They had to solve these problems ahead of time in Ukraine. It was agreed finally that on this rare occasion the riza (the metal covering) could go in the baggage compartment. There was a special cloth bag sewn in which to carry the icon (which is quite small) on the breast of one of the monks while the two monks were flying with the icon in Canada. That was the only way it could be done.

In Canada, there was one occasion when the authorities, who were strict observers of small points of rules, wanted to send the riza by cargo because it was too heavy. It was only after the local priest intervened, and called some sort of higher authority (the priest is from the old country and knew what to do). Once the matter was explained, the official said : “All right, go ahead. No problem”. The lower-level authorities were too “chicken” to bend the rules.

I am certain that you know people that have been touched by the Mother of God through this icon. Why would this icon come to little old Canada (considered to be “a drop in the bucket” compared to the United States) ? What are we ? Less than “a drop in the bucket” : half a drop, one could say. Still, the Mother of God came to us. She brought healing to many people in this country. She also brought repentance, and a renewal of love for her Son in this country. Just in this event this year, the Lord shows to us that He cares for us. Even if we are struggling here, and think that we are no-one in particular, the Lord at least says to us : “It does not matter if you are no-one in particular. I love you. That is what matters. It does not matter about numbers, importance, significance, or anything else. As we see over and over again in the Gospels, our Lord came to minister to the sick, to the poor, to the needy, to those who are alone, who are insignificant, who are outcasts, even.

We Canadians can consider ourselves as amongst those that the Lord was merciful to, came to, and met. The Lord is giving to us in Canada “a shot in the arm” in order to give us strength to live more and more faithfully, and ultimately to be able to fulfil our responsibility. Our responsibility is to do what Saint Herman did : to pass on to everyone possible around us (especially to our families) this love of the Lord.

There are many people in this country who have been, and are being faithful in this way, in a hidden way. Earlier in my life, one of the most influential persons I ever met was a retired schoolteacher whose life was always connected with the church. (While she was teaching, she found time to be in church, but when she retired, she had more time.) She exhibited 100 per-cent typical, generous, ever-ready Orthodox hospitality. It did not matter when anyone came to her house, no-one could escape without eating, and eating more than might be comfortable. This is our 100 per-cent typical Orthodox hospitality. This person’s life was characterised by serious love for the Lord. I will never forget my amazement when I found out that her evening relaxation reading after washing the dishes, and after everything was finished was to read Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great in Slavonic. That is a faithful, God-loving person. It is probably obvious why she had such a big influence on me, and she still does. Every time I remember her it gives me new courage to persevere.

The Lord wants us all to be like this for each other, and to be examples of the good and positive results of living in love in Him, examples of the fact that He is faithful to us. He is Love. His love never changes. Through the prayers of Saint Herman of Alaska, let us ask the Lord to renew and refresh our love, so that we will never slow down in our desire to follow Him. In everything may we be enabled to live that which Saint Herman continues to exhort us to do : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all and do His holy will”. Thus, let us glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.