The events of this pass week, and even the pass four years, have profoundly revealed how helpless and powerless we are when confronted with issues beyond our control. Regardless if it is a strike against the Church, the situation surrounding Vladika Seraphim or any other situation that smacks of unfairness and abuse, these circumstances become the breeding ground for grave temptations.
These temptations although varied and at times mixed, express themselves as anger, violence and hate, fear and shame, and more deadly apathy and despair. Although understandable whether it is a reaction to cancer, or injustice, these temptations aim to skew the perspective of God’s love and mercy.
As much as our weaknesses are the breeding ground for temptation, it also provides an opportunity to clarify Christ working in our lives. The reaction of anger and hate can become the outpouring of forgiveness and love, fear and shame can become a proclamation and witness, and apathy and despair can become thanksgiving and rejoicing.
We see this in the Gospel. Peter’s sword (Jn. 18:10) changes to become source of healing and revelation (Acts. 3:6), the fear of the disciples becomes the proclamation that has gone out to the ends of the universe (Ps. 19:4), and Thomas’s despair is transformed to offering of Glory to Jesus “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28).
We also see this in the life of the Church. As we remembered the Fathers of the first six ecumenical councils this past Sunday. We are asked to consider that their defence of the faith was achieved through prayer and words, not wars and violence. It was neither silenced, nor shamed but proclaimed and celebrated, because no other action would have been consistant with the Truth these Fathers were contending for.
The question we are now asked by the Lord, is how do we respond to the circumstances surrounding Vladika Seraphim, who has being apart of our lives for some thirty years.
After Vladika was sentenced this past week, he was asked to surrender his personal belonging (wallet, watch etc.) but also had to take off his shirt right there in the court room, to remove his cross and Paraman (a cloth patch worn on the back of a monastic embroidered with the instruments of the passion). It was a disrespectful scene that no one should ever have to go through regardless of what he/she had done, all this with three sheriffs present as if to remove a violent man. He did this without drama or grief, although certainly aware of what was happening. I relate this moment that I was present for, not to scandalize or outrage anyone at the handling of Vladika, or to canonize him, but rather to galvanize our certainty that the Lord works through these events for our salvation. This now becomes about us.
It would be very easy for those of us who have grown up around him, served with him, and lived life with him, to be angry, and hateful, towards the judge, the crown, the accusers, even our own bishops. It would be so easy for us to shrink away from this pain, and to despair of any hope and meaning in this, for either Vladika or ourselves. To do so is to allow Satan an even greater victory, not simply victory over the Church, but also over each of us.
Vladika’s situation is far from being cut and dry, or even over. What ever happens to him, or even to the Church, we must hold fast to the consistent witness of the Church, of its Saints and Fathers, its Bishops, Priests, and faithful. That unless we can offer peace and love, unless we can proclaim the Lord’s mercy from the rooftops, and unless we can offer thanksgiving, we will be swallowed up by the world’s brokeness, never able to accept the Lord who forgives and heals, proclaims liberation, and offers thanksgiving on “behalf of all and for all”.