14th Sunday after Pentecost – Afterfeast of Dormition
Today we continue to celebrate the Afterfeast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. As was mentioned on the feast day last Tuesday, the icon which we see before us depicts the Most Pure Virgin in repose, surrounded by the Apostles, and we see Christ our Lord, her beloved Son, cradling the pure white soul of His beloved mother.
This scene of the peaceful repose of Mother of God – her expired body lying in tranquility, unresponsive to the Apostles all around her – while her radiant soul is cradled in the arms of her Son and our Lord Jesus Christ… this is an instructive image for us of the spiritual life.
Just as we see in this icon, so too should we strive to be at peace and somehow dead to our passionate reactiveness to the world, while our soul is cradled in the arms of our Savior where we find our strength and comfort and hope.
This image was in so many ways embodied by a man who reposed on this day 36 years ago… Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. Fr Seraphim was an integral part of the foundation, inspiration, and guidance of the early days of this parish. And, just as he taught us to do, we would be wise to remember our instructors.
I think many of you are probably familiar with who Fr Seraphim is: he was an American convert to the Russian Orthodox faith, having suffered through the aimlessness of the nihilism of the 20th century. Seeking something deeper, he first encountered Buddhism and Taoism, where he recognized a rich tradition of asceticism, wisdom, and reverence. When he encountered the Russian Orthodox Church, entering the Old Cathedral on Fulton St. in San Francisco, his soul sensed strongly that this was his spiritual home, that here he would find what he was looking for. And indeed, it was through the experience of standing before God in the divine services, meeting and observing the lives of some very holy people he encountered at that time – foremost among them being St John of San Francisco – and participating in the life of the Church… through these things Fr Seraphim’s soul was ignited by the Divine Spark. He dedicated the rest of his short life to immersing himself in the life of the Orthodox faith: becoming a monk and a priest, living a life of worldly poverty yet heavenly abundance in the woods of northern California.
His life and writings continue to inspire us, and it is precisely this image of the Dormition icon which so beautifully illustrates the lesson of the life of Fr Seraphim… dead to the negative things of this world, and alive and illumined by the grace and wonders of Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
This is Christ’s call to each one of us. He calls us to His heavenly banquet.
God calls out to us… but do we hear Him? Do we respond as we should?
The parable of the wedding feast which we heard in today’s Gospel emphasizes to us that God will not force His Kingdom upon us… If we are negligent, if we prefer our selfish interests above the things of Heaven, we shall be passed by.
This is the beauty and the tragedy of the gift of true freedom, which God in His love bestows upon us.
True love cannot be coerced, it cannot be forced upon another. In order for real love to occur and blossom, there must be freedom. And this is one of the hardest and most heart-wrenching things about love. If we hope to love another person, we must allow them the freedom to respond from their own heart. And that means we run the risk of not being loved in return.
Like the king in today’s Gospel, God opens His doors and His arms to us, calling us to dine and to be with Him. God’s love shines upon us and yet He will not compel us to respond in turn. He grants us this freedom so that, should we reach out to Him with our love in return, it may indeed be a true and real love… coming from the abundance of our gratitude and admiration and reverence for Him.
And therein lies all the beauty and tragedy of this world! For, as we read in the opening passages of the Gospel of St John: ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.’
God shines the light of His love upon mankind, and we prefer the darkness.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… let us open our hearts and our minds to understand, even if only in the smallest possible way, the heartbreaking reality of the love of God. A love which is offered to us freely and unceasingly. A love which we are invited to reciprocate and participate in… which grants unto us all the richness of the Kingdom of Heaven. A love which, so sadly, is ignored by too many… and is ignored by us in too many moments of our lives.
On this day wherein we recall the blessings and pray for the repose of the ever-memorable Hieromonk Seraphim, and wherein we gaze upon the icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God… let us hearken to the words of the Apostle Paul who writes: ‘Let us reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
God’s love is offered to us freely and unceasingly… let us respond in kind, by offering our love to Him both freely and unceasingly.