SERMON DELIVERED AT ST. VLADIMIR’S SEMINARY COMMENCEMENT
May 17, 1997 / Third Saturday after Pascha
Acts 9:20-31 / Jn 15:17-16:2
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
This morning's Gospel reading is indeed provocative for it compels us personally and corporately as the Church to maintain the ongoing tension between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the World. To further stress this point we need to understand that there is even something violent and unsettling about today's reading.
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (Jh 15:18-19).
The conflict of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world is one that cannot be mitigated. Based on what we have heard this morning and based on the entire corpus of the New Testament there is no way to reason away what Christ himself has established — "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you …" (Jn 15:20). Try as some have, there is no legitimate or honest way in which the kingdom and the world can be reconciled without compromising the Gospel and therefore the very mission of the Church in the world.
We live in a time when there is an ongoing surge to have the Orthodox Church reflect the power and glory of the world. Within the Church itself there are movements seeking to use the body of Christ as a support for political and philosophical ideologies that ultimately have no grounding in the crucified and resurrected Lord. Their origin and fruits are of the world. Literature claiming to be Orthodox often reads like a campaign speech for the political right while the political left resounds with its own passing self righteousness. Is it a wonder that as a reaction to harmonizing the Kingdom and the world there are groups of Orthodox which resemble sects and cults more than the living body of Christ?
To maintain the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world is the only way the world can be changed. Only when we know that in Christ we are no longer of the world will we be able to serve the world. Only when the Church perceives itself as the new Jerusalem descending from heaven will the world be able to ascend into the Kingdom of God.
The tension and conflict we are called to endure and maintain places a tremendous responsibility upon our shoulders. We would be very naive to presume that what Christ asks of us is easy and without pain. Yet, we would be just as naive to presume that what is asked of us is impossible and void of any light or joy. On the contrary, what we have heard today was proclaimed during the Matins for Great and Holy Friday. Thus, what we heard today is a prelude to the crucifixion — the ultimate act of humility which stands against the world. What we heard today also points to the Resurrection and Pentecost for "...when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me …" (Jn 15:26).
Though we have been called out of the world, we personally, and as the Church remain in its context. From within this context we are to continue the ministry of Christ. From within this context we are to live as people who have embraced the cross upon which the God-man has emptied Himself for the life of the world and its salvation. Against the world, and at the same time for the world, we must bring into its midst the "True Light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). For it is the True Light made known by the Spirit who draws us into the new and everlasting Kingdom of the Father. Amen!