St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA hosts the 52nd Antiochian Archdiocese Convention in Boston July 19 - 26, 2015. Ancient Faith Radio, in partnership with the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, is happy to bring you recordings of the convention to help keep you informed about this important meeting of the Church.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. [Amen.] Dear beloved ones, Christ is in our midst! [He is and shall be.]
The Gospel of St. Matthew: “Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many, but he who endures to the end will be saved.” How ominous, yet how hopeful. During the apostolic times, there were false prophets. One hundred years ago, during St. Raphael’s ministry, there were certainly false prophets, and today, in Boston and everywhere else, in 2015, there are absolutely false prophets—millions of them. Of course, important for us, there are countless souls constantly choosing, every single minute of every single day, between truth and falsehood, between life and death, really. And just like Christ, just like our holy Father Raphael, we are called to address this enormous need, all of the time, with everyone, because, as we say in the holy Liturgy, we have seen the true light; we have found the true faith.
But how? How? How to do this thing? I heard the count recently of the people at this convention, like 1400 or 1500 or 1600 or more, even. You know, that’s an army. That’s an army. But it feels… Sometimes it seems like an army in reserve, just waiting to do something, just waiting. So yesterday—I wasn’t going to put this in, but it happened just yesterday—I had a providential encounter with a woman in the lobby of this very hotel. She was a Christian Scientist—you know there’s some kind of a big shrine next door or a big temple of something Christian Science—and she engaged me. She came up to me, asking, “Who are you people? Who are you people with the big black robes on?” Something like that. We must make quite an impression.
So we spoke for a long time, and, in retrospect, here’s what I came away with from her, and comparing it with St. Raphael and false prophets. I cam away with some realizations. There are two sides of two ingredients to this question then that I see in St. Raphael, and, in fact, in all the saints. They use these two ingredients with incredible power from God, and here they are. The first is willingness to just tell the truth and, of course, to live the truth. Unlike Christ or unlike St. Raphael, I forgot to ask this woman yesterday, “How are you living?” Isn’t that the question that Jesus always asked? Or to tell her how I am living. We talked about issues, about teachings. “How are you living these days?” I forgot that. Isn’t it true? Didn’t Jesus, every time he spoke to somebody: “How are you living?” The Samaritan woman at the well: “How are you living? How are all those husbands of yours?” and all of that.
So what a mistake I made! I make those kind of mistakes every day, but the other side of sharing the truth is the humility that it takes to hear the truth from others and to see the truth in others. Why has that become almost super-human today, almost as if it were reserved for prophets or fools-for-Christ or something like this? So the willingness to speak the truth and to hear the truth, no matter how painful.
Secondly, the willingness to actually love people, no matter what. And maybe the hardest of all, the flip side of that, the humility and the sacrificial love it takes to allow myself to be loved: to allow them to love me, to make my heart vulnerable so they can come in.
I want to focus on this last aspect—we don’t have time for all of them—that accessibility, that vulnerability that we Orthodox Christians must have. To begin with, in the life of St. Raphael, how he made himself accessible, his willingness to let people love him and to open themselves to him. I was refreshing myself with his Life on the airplane. It’s a long way from Idaho. You have to take, like, ten planes to get here. [Laughter] And I get stuck on page 62. Three or four times I tried to read past it. It’s near the end of his life, actually. St. Raphael was very sick at the end of his life, and he didn’t stop. Well, he stopped—they forced him to stop—but then he got up again and just started over. It says:
He resumed his normal activities and continued his ministry to the faithful. But soon he was again afflicted with illness and advised by his doctors to rest. So, invited to recuperate at the home of Fr. Alexi Hanna of St. George Church, Glens Falls, New York, St. Raphael, accompanied by his aide and kinsman, departed Brooklyn June 4, 1913.
Rest was supposed to be the reason for the trip, right?
But St. Raphael stopped at several small towns and villages along the way in order to visit his flock and minister to them. When he arrived in Glens Falls, he found the entire congregation waiting for him.
Now listen to this:
His pastoral heart was filled with love, and he began (first thing) immediately to (what?) hear their confessions.
First thing. On a rest trip. To hear their confessions! I’m speaking to a roomful of priests here who know how intense, how delicate, how exhausting hearing even one confession can be. It is some of the deepest work we do, brothers. But it is the absolute mark of a true prophet and shepherd to allow himself to be loved and trusted enough to hear the inner, sometimes secret, places of the human heart; to open his pastoral soul and let one of God’s children through.
And that’s what this exhausted, gravely ill bishop decided to do near the end of his life instead of resting. I want to be like him. He was not afraid of the truth, and he was never afraid of loving and of being loved, from what I can see in his life. So let’s take that. Confession, in one form or another, even if it’s just opening up to people in love, is a mark of truth overcoming falsehood.
I’ll tell you a story about when I first came into this thrice-blessed archdiocese 20 years ago or so. I was at my first Parish Life Conference, and I was nervous, you know, scared. I didn’t know anybody. And a venerable older priest came to me. He saw me standing there like a scared rabbit or something. You know what he said to me? He came up to me, looked me right in the eye, and said, “I want to know you.” Like that. You know how incredible that felt? I was overwhelmed! “I want to know you.” So we sat down and he got to know me. We really talked.
Maybe, beloved, we can make that more of a priority when we get together. “I want to know you.” Maybe we can make that more of a priority in our parishes, even in our families. “I want to know you, deeply.” That’s St. Raphael’s legacy. Think of how many stories St. Raphael heard from every corner of this continent from people that he didn’t know! But what he came to know was their deepest hearts, sometimes very quickly. Once that happened, he was not going to let any one of them fall into the hands of false teachings and false prophets, because now he was really their father, in an intimate, incredible way.
Several weeks ago, I had the incredible blessing of doing some teaching for about 150 young people and adults for several days down at Project Mexico. At the end of my time there, one night they asked if I would do some confessions before I left. I started after dinner and I was not done until after 12:30 a.m., 12:30 midnight. And how many in that group that came were going to confession for the first time in their life. First time! And they’re Orthodox their whole life. So I particularly want to remember, because I can’t get it out of my mind. My son just got married on Sunday, and even all through that incredible experience, I’m still thinking of a 16-year-old girl whom I met who confessed for the first time. She was starving, never confessed in her life before. She was trembling, she was crying, she was hurt so badly by the false prophets of the secular world, with messages of fun and pleasure and being cool and whatever. It was an unbelievable experience, for her and for me. She was weeping, I was weeping, and she went away, by the grace of God, having been healed by the love of Christ, with the real medicine of the Church.
And something else happened. I’m getting tired, you know. It’s going deep into the night. And a guy comes, middle-aged man, and he starts confessing and telling things like what he wants to do with the rest of his life and he wants to be a missionary and he wants to… And then I asked him where he was from, and we finally got to the point: he said, “Oh, yeah, that’s my daughter over there.” That 16-year-old. “That’s my daughter. She already went to you for confession.” I said, “What? That’s your daughter?” I said, “You know what? That’s your mission. That’s your missionary work right there. You have a couple more years with her at home. Pour yourself into her. Give her your heart. Give her everything. She’s very broken.”
So then I started—as you can tell, I like to talk too much—I started to tell him what to do, and he put his hand up like this. He said, “No, no, Father. That’s enough. I got it.” And he was weeping and I was weeping. Gosh! There’s so much love that we have to share from this Church of ours, and I’m afraid sometimes we’re not doing it. I’m not doing it.
We come here to these conventions from everywhere, and we gather together, and now it’s time to find each other, from the heart, or in the heart, let’s say. Not just to do business. If St. Raphael were here, how would he greet each of you, each of us? How would our own Master, Jesus Christ, greet us as he passed us by in the hall? I wonder. Well, he does pass us by in the hall, you know, every time we pass each other: that is Christ.
So what will we do now? What made the holy bishop Raphael an effective pastor was his willingness to open his soul to Christ and to his people, and to receive their love. That’s how he could joyfully persevere to the end with a difficult sickness in his body. That’s how we want to live. We are, after all, Orthodox Christians.
It begins even here, in this big hotel, in this big city, so far away from little Bonners Ferry, Idaho. That might as well be the moon for me. Like Jesus, like St. Raphael, we must always say, “Beloved, I want to know you. How are you living these days?” Through the intercessions of our holy Father and Bishop St. Raphael, may we come to find and love each other deeply as faithful Orthodox Christians. Then we will have something perfect, something worthy with which to inspire and teach this broken and battered land of ours. That is our legacy, and living it, like this saintly bishop who came before us, we can and we will persevere in the love of Christ, right to the very end. Amen.