Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
28th Sunday after Pentecost
20 December, 2009
Colossians 1:12-18 ; Luke 18:18-27

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

The words of our Saviour to this rich young man are important for us in our western cultures in particular, although human beings (no matter where we are) are always subject to the same temptations. Our Lord says : “‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’”. We often do not understand these particular words of our Saviour because we do not usually associate a camel with the eye of a needle. It is actually completely impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle as we usually understand the word. However, in this Gospel passage our Saviour is referring to a particular gate in Jerusalem through which camels were not supposed to enter. All baggage had to be unloaded. There was traffic control and customs control into the city of Jerusalem. It was a big process to get a camel into the city. Indeed, it was not advisable for camels to go into the city (or any city in particular) because they tend to be unruly. Regardless, it is an extremely difficult thing.

In order to enter the city, the camel (or camels) had to be completely unloaded of all baggage. For any rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it also means that that person has to be unloaded of all his or her baggage. We always have a tendency (and this is where our problem is) to want to be comfortable here in this world. We make ourselves cozy nests here, and we do everything we can to make ourselves very comfortable. We human beings are always the same. As soon as the possibility comes for establishing these cozy nests, not only do we establish cozy nests, but we also line them. We put in silk and all sorts of eiderdown cushioning against the rough parts of this nest. Then we establish all sorts of windbreaks and shelters for this nest. We “dodo birds” certainly make ourselves very comfortable. The problem with making ourselves comfortable under these circumstances is that we are doing this in the spirit of our imagined self-sufficiency, and forgetting who is Who. Who are we ? Who are we without the Lord ? With this nest business that I am speaking about, it seems that we are determined to think that we have constructed this nest all by ourselves. Since the provisions are so good for amplifying and beautifying and “comfy-fying” this nest, we take every opportunity to do so on our own initiative and our own strength, without bothering to think about anyone or anything else. We do not think about the nest next door where they merely have a few sticks while we are making ourselves comfortable. Perhaps we will think about the nest next door sometimes or maybe not. We may even condemn the bird in that nest next door living in such discomfort with only a few sticks for being lazy, uninspired or even irresponsible.

We tend to be self-preoccupied, forgetful of what is the purpose of our life here, and forgetful of who is Who. The Apostle Paul is saying to the Colossians very clearly who is Who. If we remember this every day of our life, I think we will be in far less danger of lining our nests because of an improper attitude. The correct attitude to which I am referring is a true understanding about where everything comes from. We Orthodox Christians confess Jesus Christ. What do we understand when we are confessing Jesus Christ ? Are we considering Him to be an historical person with no particular effectiveness today ? Is He merely some philosopher ? Is He merely some nice guy ? If we have ideas like this we are very confused.

The Apostle Paul lays it out very clearly that the Saviour is the Source of everything that exists. He is the Head of the Body, which is the Church. He is also the One who speaks everything into being. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the Source of all creation. It is important to remember that He is the Source of everything, and that you and I depend on Him for everything. He is our life. We have no life apart from Him. Therefore, when we are making our nests comfortable (which the Lord does not forbid), then we will be understanding that He is blessing us to make our nests comfortable. We will be giving thanks to Him every day of our lives because He is enabling us to have a certain amount of relief from the difficulties of life. He is giving us some sort of consolation (and the Lord does give consolation). He gives many consolations, far more than any of us ever deserve.

While we are giving thanks to the Lord for the fact that we are able to have a comfortable nest (and able to make the nest even more comfortable), we are not forgetting Him. We are also not forgetting our neighbour who has not enough for a decent nest. We can share some of our extra sticks, and some of our extra silks and satins for the making comfortable of that neighbour’s nest. We will be understanding that the Lord has given us more so that we can help our neighbour (who for whatever reason is not able to do so well). The majority of people here are married (or have been married), and if you recall the prayers of the Service of Crowning, the prayers ask that the Lord will give the couple an abundance of good things. This is so that, from this abundance of good things, they will be able to share the blessing that the Lord gives. This is the way that Orthodox Christians always have been living. That is why the hospitality that is characteristic of Orthodox Christians is super-abundant.

In this context, my mind instantly goes back to 1994 when I made my first visit to Ukraine on a pilgrimage. This visit came in the middle of a famine. Ukraine and Russia, too, were both in deep hunger. It was after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and none of the participating countries of that former union had yet established a proper interior infrastructure. Everything was broken. Even if there might have been some food, there was no proper distribution. At the same time, the crops were failing. I remember vividly visiting a certain village on our pilgrimage itinerary. This village was receiving us foreigners in the typical Orthodox Christian way. This poor village (which was suffering from lack in the same way as everyone else) pooled all their food, and piled it on the tables for us North Americans (who were overweight). The Ukrainians were not at all overweight. We were faced with a dilemma because we had to eat in order to satisfy their hospitality. At the same time, we did not dare to eat too much so that they would still have something to eat after we locusts had left.

It was during a pilgrimage to Ukraine a few years later that I visited a women’s monastery in Kremenets. The abbess was telling us about her spiritual father (I think he was one of the martyrs of the Communist days). In speaking about hospitality, he had told her that the good guest has to taste a little of everything but not eat everything that is on the table. The host has to offer everything possible. The guest has to exercise restraint and responsibility in honouring this hospitality, but yet not eat the host “out of house and home”. There is always this sense of balance and mutual responsibility in our lives, and in our paying attention to each other. We remember that the Lord is the Source of all things. Ukraine survived that famine and became much more prosperous, although it is still not “out of the woods”. However, it is considerably better than it was.

However, even in Ukraine, we can still see the same phenomenon as here. People who have much, amass more and more. They forget about helping the people who have no possibility to acquire anything because of the circumstances of life. It is not because many people do not want to work, earn, and be responsible for themselves. It is because the circumstances of people whose hands are tightly closed into a fist deny them the opportunity. The tight-fisted are not prepared to share. When this tight-fisted attitude of not-sharing is prevalent, then everything falls down. The tight fist is capable only of gripping what little it can contain, but it is not capable of receiving anything more. The Orthodox Christian attitude according to the Gospel is the open hand, which expresses the open heart. This open hand is capable of holding much. It is also capable of sharing much. It is also capable of receiving much more. In other words, this open hand is a re-cycling, processing junction of the Lord in our midst. We allow this open hand to give to those in need. The open hand remains open, and the Lord refills it. This is the experience of our lives.

One of our archdiocesan counsellors, a bookstore owner, and a big supporter of the archdiocese over the years has always said : “Give, and you will have more”. That is his personal experience. I have seen this in his life, and in the lives of many. In such giving in the spirit of the Lord’s love, we open our heart to be blessed yet more. The more we give, the more the Lord gives us to give. This is precisely how love itself works. Love must be given and shared more and more. The more we give, the more the Lord gives us to give. In fact, our capacity for love increases. This is true for giving or sharing anything. The more we share, the more our capacity increases.

Throughout our whole life, our attitude has to be one of gratitude to the Lord for His tender care for us. How many blessings He gives us even though we are so forgetful. He gives us these blessings. He nurtures us despite our betrayals of Him. He loves us. It is important for us to express this gratitude not only once a day but many times every day. It would be the greatest blessing if our hearts could come into such harmony with the Lord that our whole lives will be an action of expressing gratitude to God for all His love, for all His gifts to us.

Brothers and sisters, as we are starting to approach the Nativity season, let us remember that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the Source of everything. He is the Source of our life. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the One who spoke everything into being in the first place. Then He emptied Himself because of His love for us. He emptied Himself, and became a human being. Our Lord became a human being in every way like us, except in sin, so He understands us completely. He understood us anyway, but He did this to convince us. He understands us. Because we are so bound by fear otherwise, Jesus Christ took flesh and became visible to us so that we would have more confidence to approach Him. He emptied Himself completely so that we would dare to approach Him. (There is so much more to it than that, but this is only a simplification.) He enabled us to understand that love can be a concrete thing. It is not exactly created, but it still can have material aspects.

In the same way that our Lord emptied, and empties Himself for us (because this care and love for us has never stopped), let us ask Him that we also will be able to empty ourselves in His love. This self-emptying can express itself in sharing His love, sharing His life, sharing His joy with everyone around us, sharing everything, and giving thanks to Him for everything. Let us ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to us afresh today so that we will be able to do this better and better, and all together in our whole lives glorify our Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.