We are all Servants

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We are all Servants
Saturday of the 32nd Week after Pentecost
31 January, 2009
1 Thessalonians 5:14-23 ; Luke 17:3-10

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

It is interesting how our Lord responds to the request of the apostles : “‘Increase our faith’”. Our Saviour says to them : “‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea”, and it would obey you’”. He said that, not expecting that anyone would actually do such a thing, and expect it to happen.

The point is that as Christians we absolutely do not do magic. Rather, we do God’s will as Christians. Our Lord is saying that if a sycamine tree were to move into the sea, this would be done when we asked because we already knew in our hearts that it was the Lord’s will that this would happen. However, the Lord does not usually plant sycamine trees in the middle of the sea. If He had really wanted to do that, we would have seen them there a long time ago. Some of them might exist in certain parts of the sea, but the Lord would already have put islands there on which they might grow. It is certain that they would not simply and strangely be growing there, standing in the water.

The Lord is asking us to listen with our hearts. He wants us to listen to Him with our hearts, in love, so that we will come to understand more and more what is His will, and do it. Our Lord gives us an example of a slave. Of course, there are officially no slaves in Canada, and we therefore officially do not know about this. A slave-owner, after having had his slave work in the fields all day, as our Saviour says, does not immediately say to the slave : “All right, let us eat”. The slave-owner and the slave did not eat together. They ate separately. It was the task of the slave who had been working in the fields all day to prepare the meal for the master. After the master had eaten, then the slave could eat. That is how it was, and it certainly is just like that in many parts of the world today. Our Lord is saying to us that we have to be not so much like that slave-owner, but like the slave, himself. We Canadians are so spoiled, because every time we turn around to do anything for anyone, we expect to be thanked. If anyone does anything for us, most people expect us to thank them. If we do not say thank you, we are considered to be rude, uncultured, uncivilised and barbaric. People then would look down their noses at us very quickly.

If we are truly living a life in Christ, our lives are to be full of gratitude, it is true, but to whom ? To the Lord. The Apostle says that in his words to the Thessalonians (and to us) this morning. Our lives are to be filled with thanksgiving and gratitude to the Lord. In fact, giving thanks is the characteristic of the Christian way : love combined with gratitude. If our lives do not have gratitude, but we say we have love, we do not truly have love. Love and gratitude go hand in glove. Our lives have to be characterised by giving thanks. That is why it is such a characteristic of people in Orthodox countries who have grown up in these Orthodox cultures to be giving thanks to God in everything. I always remember the very sharp lesson I learned about this, myself, a long time ago, when, being green as grass, I went to visit a monastery. I experienced the hospitality of an abbess and her nuns who were wonderfully Christian and generous. On my departure, on thanking the abbess, she said : “The Lord”. I said : “Yes, but thank you, too”. She answered : “No – thank the Lord”. I learned my lesson quickly.

All thanks has to be given to the Lord. This abbess knew exactly what her place was. What is her place ? What is my place or your place ? Our place is to offer loving hospitality because we live in Christ. Christ lives in us. If we are offering anything good, or doing anything good, it is because the Lord is working in us (as we understand in reading the Scriptures). It is He who is working this good. That is what the Lord is speaking about when He says that we should be saying, thinking and understanding that we are unworthy servants. We have only done our duty. We have only done what is natural and right for a Christian to do. If I am a Christian and I bear Christ, then because of His love I must be good, and do good for other people. It has to be in my bones and in my nature to do good, and to be good to other people. Why should I get any thanks for it ? It is, in fact, my nature to do this as a Christian. I have to do it because I love people. I have to do it primarily because I love Christ, and He loves me. This is the product of His love. Everything is referred to Christ in our lives.

Today, by God’s mercy, we are ordaining a deacon in the Church. This deacon, by what he is being ordained to today, is showing us an example of what is the meaning of service. A deacon is a servant, as all Christians are servants. Even if one is a bishop, one does not ever stop being what these deacons are. We never stop being servants if we are in Christ. Christ, Himself, has never stopped being a servant towards us. He who speaks everything into existence, the Word of God, the Lord of all, is always serving us as He washes the feet of the disciples, as He heals the diseases of those who are sick, as He raises the dead, and as He still continues every day to meet our needs. He, in His self-emptying love, continues to serve us. We, the servants, are not greater than our Master. We Orthodox Christians must always keep this mentality in our hearts that we are servants.

When we have deacons serving amongst us, they are a constant reminder to themselves, of course, and to us all (including bishops), that we are all servants. We are servants of Christ, servants like Christ as much as possible, servants in Christ in our way as Orthodox Christians. That is why we “kill” each other with hospitality. This is an expression of this servanthood. It is an expression of how we love each other by serving and caring for each other, and nurturing each other. This is the way of a deacon. Some people are asking why more than one deacon in a parish is needed. From the bishop’s point of view, one deacon is never enough, because there is so much that needs to be done in parish life, and in the life of the faithful. Deacons are the extension of all our ministries. They help to feed, nurture and teach the flock. Each deacon has particular, unique gifts. Each deacon helps the Lord to enable His Church to grow up by ministering according to his personal gifts.

Now this parish will, at least for a time, have two deacons. They will serve together at the Divine Liturgy. They will serve together in the parish in different ways. They are different men. They have different gifts and different ministries. They will do different things in our life together. However, it will all be in harmony, and all in accordance with God’s will. I hope that I will be able to see in this parish (and in other parishes, too), three, four, five, seven deacons because there is so much to do. The priest (who is always a jack-of-all-trades, like a bishop) cannot do everything, and cannot be everywhere. The priest’s responsibility is generally to feed and to teach. The deacons do all sorts of other things that the priest cannot possibly do by himself. However, all together, the flock is fed ; the people become strong in Christ, and they grow up shining with the light of Christ. The Kingdom of God is increased as people are added to its numbers.

Brothers and sisters, please pray for our new deacon because you-know-who-down-below, wolf of souls that he is, will come after him right away to try to attack him and separate him from the flock. Sometimes the tempter will arrive in the appearance of a sheep. By your prayers, and by your love, you will protect the new deacon and keep him on the right path. He will help your priest to lead you into the Kingdom. In so doing, all together, let us now continue to glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.