Sermon for the Feast of St. Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov (2018)

August 01, 2018

Sermon for the Feast of St. Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov (2018)

Sermon for the Feast of St. Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov

+ Through the prayers of Our Holy Father Seraphim, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us!

For all Orthodox Christians, and in a special way for us monastics, the goal of our life here on this earth is of course salvation. That is also the goal of all Protestants, Catholics and other serious traditional Christians. But our Orthodox understanding of what salvation means is radically different from other Christians. We believe that the full meaning of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be found in living a sincere life of repentance which leads to union with Jesus Christ (theosis) starting in this life—starting in this life!—and finding its full completion in the life to come. In fact, if we take our spiritual life seriously, then that is what is going on in all of our lives right now, to varying degrees.

Are you repenting? Are you at least trying to repent? Are you trying to follow Jesus Christ, to be His disciple? Are you praying or at least trying to pray? Then you are somewhere on that narrow path that leads to union with Christ.

But what does it mean to follow Jesus Christ, to be His disciple? How do we even know if we are indeed following Him? How do we know that we are not just following our own personal idea of who He is, just following what is convenient for us? Or even worse, perhaps we are not actually following Him at all but merely our own pride and vanity, seeking to project an image of being “spiritual” and feeling self-satisfied, justified, seeing ourselves as being spiritually better than our brothers and the people around us.

How do we really know which way we are going? Underneath all the layers of façade, what is really happening in our heart? To help us understand, Our Saviour gives us three simple commands, and these are repeated in all three synoptic Gospels. Our Saviour says, “you cannot be my disciple unless you:”

        “Deny yourself

        Take up your cross

        And follow Me!”

How do we respond to these three commands?  This seems to be the definitive test for discipleship. Within these three commands are found the answer to our most penetrating question: Am I really a follower of Jesus Christ, am I really His disciple? Or am I just playing a game with myself, pretending to be something that I really am not? Am I living an authentic Christian life? Am I fulfilling what I was created to be—a human being made in the image and likeness of God? Nothing less than that, my dear brothers and sisters, nothing less!

When I give myself over to pursuing power or vanity, wealth, carnal pleasure, or anger, then I am less than what I was created for, I am truly less than human! We can only be truly human when we are becoming what we were created to be. We can only have peace, real peace, the peace that the world cannot take away, when we are in harmony with what we were created for; when we are on the narrow path, denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Christ.

We see all of this in the life of the saint that we celebrate today: St. Seraphim, a truly authentic human being, a man who is indeed everything that he appears to be. And this is what made him so attractive when he was alive and just as attractive after his death.  A man, a true human, filled with the love of God. Transformed and yet totally fulfilled by the presence of Christ dwelling within him.

St. Seraphim did indeed faithfully fulfill all the commandments, becoming a disciple of Christ. He lived as a monk in a large monastery in Russia called Sarov. His early life in the monastery was characterized by absolute humility before his brothers and obedience to his Abbot. He accepted whatever obedience he was given and did it to the very best of his ability. He lived an intense life of prayer. Eventually, with the blessing of his Abbot, he went to live as a hermit in the wilderness. It was during this time that he accomplished the great ascetical feat of spending a thousand days and night on a large rock in the wilderness with his hands raised in prayer.

He remained a hermit in the wilderness for about twenty years until the Abbot commanded him to return to the Monastery. Without even so much as a question, as soon as he heard the command, he immediately returned to his old cell in the monastery. He remained in that cell until one day the Mother of God appeared to him and told him to open the door of his cell and receive everyone. And when he opened that door, his brothers in the Monastery were amazed at his transformation. The humble, bent over old man was radiant with love for everyone that came to his cell. When news of this began to trickle outside the Monastery, lay people began to come and see this remarkable man of love and compassion, this man who truly had Christ living within his heart. He loved, not with the self-serving love that men were so familiar with, but with the true love of Christ—that total love and compassion for the good and the bad, the saint and the sinner. Everyone who came to see him and seek his wisdom were changed by him.

My dear brothers and sisters, this saint, this truly authentic human being that we celebrate today, shines like a beacon to modern man, pointing to us the way by his quiet, prayerful life. Here is the example we need, here is the model we long for. In his own lifetime people flocked to him by the thousands just to look at him, just to look at a real human being. They were in awe of him, for he seemed so much more than any of them and yet he was just a humble, old monk. People longed to speak to him, to tell him all their woes, to ask him the questions that they feared to ask. But many came just to look at his face and see what man could become.

What hope he gave them, what incredible, unbelievable hope he gave them. In the midst of darkness and confusion, one of their own had managed to find the Way.  And so they waited simply to see him. Imagine! Waiting in line all day long just to see this humble, little monk, just to catch a glimpse of his face, the face of a real, true authentic human being, who was filled with true love and compassion because Christ dwelt within him.

Today we celebrate one of our own who went down the narrow path and became a true disciple of Jesus Christ. A man who had so died to himself, to all that is selfish, that Christ could come and make His home within him. Our Saviour says in St. John’s Gospel, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him!” —John 14:23

The question for us today is this: Am I on the narrow path? What am I doing with my life? Where am I on this feast of St. Seraphim? When I venerate his icon, does it challenge me to question my life? Am I really living an authentic Christian life? Am I really a disciple of Jesus Christ?

 + Through the prayers of Our Holy Father Seraphim, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us!




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