Radio 4 Sunday Worship 27 October 2002
The Cathedral Church of the Dormition and All Saints
67 Ennismore Gardens, London SW7 1NH
Preacher: Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
Leader: Father Michael Fortounatto
Direcotr of Music: Valentina Kopylova
Address by Metropolitan Anthony.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These are awesome, terrifying words with which a priest always begins a sermon. Who can say that it is in God's own Name that he is speaking?
Each of us has a knowledge of God which is limited. Limited by our experience. Limited by our lack of communion with the living God Himself. And yet, each of us has got to pronounce these words, and then to call others to an understanding of the Gospel.
St. Paul could speak of it differently. He had been a persecutor of Christ. He had seen him as an imposter. One who had destroyed the faith of his fathers, until all of a sudden he was confronted by him face to face. And this experience, this confrontation transformed him to the very core of his being. From being a persecutor he became THE apostle who preached the Gospel with the greatest passion to the greatest multitudes. How could it happen?
It happened because he met Christ face to face, and this meeting was for ever. This happens to us also. At times we meet a person who for us is a beginning of life. A person whom either we love beyond every other person or a person who is so great that we see in him or in her an image of the living God.
I have met – twice – people of that kind. The first time I was a child. A boy in my early teens. I met a priest who surprised not only me but all of us by a quality which we had not met in anyone else. He knew how to love each of us without distinction. When we were good his love for us we were rejoicing, when we were bad it was a searing pain, but it never diminished. This was something I could not understand then, but later I discovered that this was an image of Love Divine, and this man was like an icon in our midst.
The second time I met a similar experience was on the occasion of meeting a man who became my spiritual father later. I arrived too late for the service. The service had taken place in a basement church of extreme poverty, and I saw a man coming up the stairs. And in him I perceived such depth of silence, such total recollection, such inwardness, such communion with a depth of which I had no idea then – or even now. I came up to him and said «I don't know who you are, but please become my spiritual guide.» And he became it until he died.
What I have said now were images of what happened to Paul and all those who met him. When they met him they met someone who had met face to face with the truth. With life. With God Himself. Who had met not simply as an outsider sees someone, but in an act of communion.
The best image that I can give is that taken from the Old Testament of the burning bush. A bush in the desert that was aflame, not burnt – but it was aflame. So was also Paul. The spirit of God penetrated him. The presence of Christ through this encounter fuelled him in such a way that he became himself a burning bush. And when people saw him they perceived Christ – they perceived God. And they communed through his words the knowledge of God.
We all are called to be messengers of God. We are called to be his witnesses on earth . To do that we must, as deeply as we can, learn to commune with Him, understand His words, live by Him, follow His example – or we will not become at once a burning bush or an image of St. Paul. But gradually something of the light within us will grow like depositing in fruitful earth a seed. To begin with the earth engulfs the seed, then it feeds it, and the seed feeds the earth, and by their co-operation a little growth appears, which increases, becoming greater and greater – and one day becomes a vast tree that can cover many, many acres.
That is how St. Paul met Christ. He receives him in the depth of his being. Having met him nothing counted as that encounter mattered him. And he conveys it by being the burning bush in whom everyone could recognise both the bush and the divine flame.
Shall we try and learn something from it and grow into such knowledge of God that people meeting us should say «Dimly we have seen the presence of Christ through this person»?