Saint Gregory the Theologian

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christ’s Love embraces All
32nd Sunday after Pentecost
(Memory of Saint Gregory the Theologian)
25 January, 2009
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ; John 10:9-16

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

The Lord’s encounter with the Canaanite woman today gives us the first sign that the Lenten Spring is coming. The renewal of everything is coming.

It is fundamental for you and for me in the course of our lives to remember this important meeting of our Lord with the Canaanite woman. This encounter underlines that the Lord is the Lord of everyone. Even though the Lord says to the Canaanite woman that He was only sent to the people of Israel, He is testing her in a sort of way. In fact, the Lord is sent to everyone. When our Lord delivers the daughter of the Canaanite woman from her slavery to evil, He is emphasising, in fact, that He loves everyone and everything that is created. The fulness of the time had not yet come for it to be understood what this ultimately means. His love is all-embracing. His love embraces every human being, every creature on this earth, and the whole universe. The Lord embraces everything and everyone in His love.

If we are in Christ, if we are Christians living our lives the way the Lord wants us to live our lives in harmony with Him, we, too, have to demonstrate the same all-embracing, all-inclusive, no-distinction-making love. We have to treat all human beings the same, no matter where they come from, no matter what they look like (and very often, no matter how they behave). We have to behave as much like Christ as possible towards them, embracing them in love, being an example of Christ’s embracing, forgiving love, and welcoming them with hospitality as the Saviour does to you and me. The Saviour welcomes us. We must welcome everyone else. The Lord embraces you and me in His love. We must embrace everyone else in His love. This is our way.

In order to help us do this, the Lord gives each of us the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He gives each of us particular gifts – gifts that are able to help other people, gifts that are good for other people (besides ourselves) to help to bring them into the Kingdom. He gives us the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can use these gifts. Not only does He give us the gifts, but He gives us the Grace to use the gifts, and to make them grow. Sometimes, in the course of our lives, He might even change these gifts according to the needs of the people around us. Sometimes, we might be able to say something prophetically from the Lord – for the Lord – to someone : the right word, the perfect word for that person at a particular time. We may never have that gift again, but the Lord gives it to us at this particular moment because of the need of the person. We may not become a prophet like the Prophet Isaiah, for instance, or Jeremiah, but we might be a “particular-moment” sort of prophet.

Through their prayers, some people have the ability to heal other people. Through their prayers, the Lord brings health to other people. This is a very good gift, a very useful gift, and a very appreciated gift. However, in every case of these gifts that the Lord gives us, they are not things that we can simply do as if it were magic. Yes, the Lord gives us a gift, and it is a gift that is activated by Him through us, through prayer, through love. However, it is the Lord who is in charge. It is not I, by myself, who can suddenly say : “Be healed”, and the person gets better just like that. That is not at all how it works.

Every person who has the gift of healing is a person who, of course, is asking the Lord : “Please heal this one who is in need”. The person who is asking already knows, because of love, something of what is the Lord’s will in this case. So the request is already in harmony with the Lord’s direction. This is how these gifts are from the Lord. This is the case with any gift – whether it be teaching, healing, a prophetic utterance, or any other sort of gift that the Lord gives us to use. They are more numerous than we can even imagine. They are always His work through us in the context of His love, and our prayer. All these gifts are given so that people may become healthy, especially in the heart, and grow nearer in love to the Lord.

On this day that we are remembering Saint Gregory the Theologian, it is a good opportunity to speak about his particular gifts. This theologian is perhaps the greatest of Orthodox teachers, ever. In this context, I remember extremely well when I was in seminary how Professor Verhovskoy, of blessed memory, used to say to us : “Well, my dears, not all the Fathers were 100 per-cent Orthodox. Some of them, like Saint Gregory of Nyssa, were maybe only fifty or sixty per-cent Orthodox in their teaching” (according to his assessment). However, for him, Saint Gregory the Theologian alone is to be considered as being 100 per-cent Orthodox. How vividly I remember that, thirty years later. Professor Verhovskoy was an excellent teacher. However, what does this mean, though, that Saint Gregory the Theologian is 100 per-cent Orthodox ? I think Professor Verhovskoy could very well be right, although I do believe that one of our recent scholars has detected one error. Maybe it is only 99.9 per-cent, which is actually in harmony with our way, because who is perfect, ultimately, except the Lord ?

What does it mean to be a theologian ? How did Gregory, the Patriarch of Constantinople, manage to be like this ? It is not simply because of the sort of education he had. His education certainly was classical ; it was full, and it was great. However, that is not why he is a theologian. In the Orthodox Church we have only a very few theologians. To be a theologian in the Orthodox way has not so much to do with your education (although it helps). It has to do with your heart. To be a theologian means to know God, and to be able to speak about this encounter with God well, clearly, and accurately, so that people will have a better understanding, themselves, and be able to walk on the right path.

Because Saint Gregory the Theologian was such a person, a person whose heart was full of the Holy Spirit, the Grace and the love of God, he was able from this encounter to share this love accurately and clearly with others. He is a solace, comfort and strength for you and for me today, 1500 years or so later. Because of this love, and despite the difficulties of his time, he was able to live out the actual words which our Saviour says to us today : He, Himself, is the good Shepherd, that He cares about the sheep and loves His sheep. Saint Gregory fulfilled those words in himself and in his life by how he cared for his people – not only by teaching and by writing, but by doing as well.

The good shepherd should love his people with the love of Christ. Bishops, priests and deacons have to walk in this way, caring for and loving the sheep of the Lord. These are not our sheep, they are the Lord’s sheep. Because we are fallen, we have to be behaving as much as possible like the Lord in caring for His sheep, and leading them in the right way. Notice the word “leading” – not pushing, driving or shoving – but leading them in the right way, and helping them to find their way to the Kingdom. In this flock, we are all together, the shepherds and the sheep. The shepherds in this case are still sheep. The sheep who are in the lead have the responsibility to know the Lord as well as possible, and to know the Orthodox Faith as well as possible. In this way they will be able to help bring the faithful, by example as much as possible, to the Lord in the right way. In this relationship of love and mutual care, it is important that the flock pray for, and support in love those who are in the lead, so that they do not get lost and take the flock in the wrong direction. It is for the flock to pray for the leaders, so that the whole flock will always be led in the right direction all together into the Kingdom of the Saviour. Our way is a way of mutual support : mutual working together and mutual love in Christ.

Let us remember that everything in the Orthodox life is involved with our relationship with our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Everything. Everything that we are doing here today is concerned with Jesus Christ, and Him alone. This is what we were created to do and to be : to live for Him, to worship Him, to live in Him. Let us ask the Lord to renew us in the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we will be able more and more fully to follow Him in righteousness, on the right path to Him and in Him who is the Truth, our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let us glorify Him in everything, always, everywhere, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.