This past Saturday evening (Apr. 9th) St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church hosted a Vespers service, and concert of spiritual music from various Orthodox choirs around the city.
The unity of our faith is vitally important to demonstrate during our Lenten journey. Although they were circumstances that canceled our annual Pan-Orthodox celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we were able to come together at St. Sava’s for Vespers and an evening of Spiritual music, as brothers and sisters to hear the theology of our Church, as expressed in the hymns from various traditions, and in various languages. Truly a blessing to share in such a witness. We were also blessed to celebrate the Slava for their choir (whose patron is St. Mary of Egypt). Truly a beautiful tradition I hope that we can incorporate at St. Nicholas in the years to come.
Following the service, St. Sava’s rector, Fr. Sinisa Milutinovic gave a beautiful and honest sermon about the unity of our faith, and our responsibility to live it. With thanksgiving to God, and Fr. Sinisa’s permission I have shared it below.
This evening is not only an opportunity to enjoy beautiful church hymns sung in different languages, and we didn’t gather just to see each other’s faces, although we have waited for a long time to do that, this evening is an opportunity to confirm our love and determination towards the unity of the Orthodox faith. St. Apostle Paul asks the faithful in Rome: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? With these words we are being reminded that love and unity in Christ have no other alternative. And that’s why our gathering brings a great joy, because today the words of the prophet David are fulfilled: Look what is good, or what is beautiful, but that the brothers live together.
Unfortunately, in the past few years, there have been few opportunities to confirm our love and our community as Orthodox Christians. Because of Covid and because of conflicts of our church hierarchy, we were separated and isolated in our small communities. Deprived of each other’s presence, we felt like cut branches of a fruitful tree longing to unite with a tree. It’s not my intention to talk about Church politics or the problem that Orthodox Church is facing today. Different opinions are a product of different life experiences. I’ll give you a small example of that: I had the blessing to begin my ministry in Serbia, where I was surrounded by Orthodox Christians, we all spoke the same language and we prayed to the same God.
In that time I did not think much about the words of the Apostle Paul from the Epistle to the Galatians. There are no more Jews or Greeks; there are no more slaves or freemen; there is no more male or female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Only when I came to Canada and met priests and believers from other local Orthodox Churches did I recognize the prophetic spirit of the Apostle Paul, who certainly saw our small divisions and quarrels ahead.
This wonderful evening is a moment to stop and think about the future of our communities. We could say that our communities are like ice cubes submerged in the ocean and the smaller the cube, the sooner it will melt, but if the ice cubes are collected in a iceberg, than the ice has some chance to survive and not melt and even maybe to last long enough for all the ocean to freeze and become ice. Dear brothers, we are called to spread the word of God, we are supposed to be the light of the world and salt to the earth.
The great Serbian saint Nikolaj Velimirović said in one place that the reason why other nations do not approach the Christian faith is that they do not want to become like us, so they do not see in us that we live the faith we preach. Is it that disturbing to think that I am the obstacle to someone’s salvation?
Of Course we all understand that things are happening in the world that are difficult to accept and explain. My wish and prayer to God is to silence the wars and the divisions, to stop diseases and suffering of the people; but I ask myself: is it realistic that something like that will happen? History is a witness that such a thing is not possible, the Lord Himself tells us that without tribulation there is no salvation for us. Our prayers for these things are necessary but more necessary is to realize that we have to forgive and to endure all the goods and bad that come towards us. I’ll remind you of Job who said to his wife when she criticized him: If we accept good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not endure evil things? It’s
important to remember that there will always be some kind of tribulation in our lives, our goal is to overcome them and preserve our faith.
Many times I have heard comments that our Serbian Church should break the unity with another Church due to some disagreements. Every time I heard something like that, my heart was torn. I asked myself: is it possible that we are so eager to divide, that we are ready to reject our brother because of his sin? When long suffering disappeared, what happened with forgiveness? Did we forget the words we recite daily in Our Father’s prayer: and forgive my transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us?
There is only one path in the Orthodox faith and that’s the path of love. I once talked to a monk about life in the parish and he gave me advice that no matter where I am in the parish, I should try to make the parish my little paradise. But I wonder why shouldn’t our Orthodox community in Winnipeg become a paradise?
Are we missing something in our mission, are we doing everything Christ told us to do? If we would just be able to open the doors of our hearts we would be able to do amazing things. I had the opportunity, or better to say a privilege, to be part of one amazing pan orthodox experience. I’m talking about Heavenly King Orthodox Academy (HKOA) the Orthodox School that we are going to open for all our kids. And all do we encounter numerous problems, some of them are in these moments too big to handle, the
whole experience is a blueprint for Orthodox community on how we can work together. And you know what, the best part is you don’t need us the priests to tell you what to do or to organize you. Know one needs a blessing to do good works for his brothers and sisters. So I encourage everyone, please keep working together.
If our clergy, for some reason, has a tied arms in the back you are the one to preserve the love and unity. Can you imagine an Orthodox school, a camp for all our children, can you imagine pan orthodox choir performing not only once a year for Sunday of Orthodoxy, a Bible study group for everyone, an Orthodox parade in downtown Winnipeg, I asked why not?
You will probably tell yourself this guy is a dreamer, but I don’t mind dreaming because I saw the fruits of unity and perseverance. My heart is full tonight and I’m really blessed for having the opportunity to be your host tonight. God bless you all.