On 17 July 2022, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch and Administrator of the Metropolitanate of Zagreb–Ljubljana kyr Porfirije served the Holy Hierarchical Liturgy in the chapel of Saint Sava in the Kantakuzina Katarina Branković Serbian Orthodox General Gymnasium in Zagreb.
Their Graces Bishops Justin of Hvosno – elected Bishop of Western Europe, and Sava of Marča, the clerics of the city of Zagreb, as well as presbyter Andriy Ivanenko from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Moscow (who has been given the blessing of His Holiness to reside in Zagreb and spiritually care for refugees from Ukraine), concelebrated with His Holiness. While offering a sermon, His Holiness said:
– Brothers and sisters, when we think about our faith, we sometimes have the impression that faith is being given to us, and that we start to believe only when we have certain knowledge about God. In this sense, we perceive faith as something that is externally produced by some convincing, rational, logical arguments. However, from today’s story that we heard from the Gospel according to Matthew, we receive information from the Lord Himself that faith is much deeper than our attitude which is the fruit and result of our logical rational thinking and arguments. Namely, faith is an essential and profound life attitude. In this sense, faith is inextricably linked with freedom, the freedom of each of us individually and so on. Faith is also permeated and inextricably linked with love. We believe, therefore, because we want to, because we deeply feel the need for God, because we feel with our whole being the need for eternal existence, the need for salvation. We believe because in the end we love God and through love in relation to Him we try to love all those with whom we come into contact, i.e. we try to love people. Today’s story shows that this is so with a very simple argument.
Namely, we saw that the Lord came to the land of Gadarenes, that He worked a miracle and healed two ill men possessed by demonic powers. Therefore, He healed not only physically but also two spiritually ill people. When the neighbors, the relatives of these two healed men, who were previously ill, saw this, they rebelled against Christ. Namely, they told him to leave their lands. Why? Because when the Lord healed two men possessed by demonic powers, He drove them away into a herd of swine, and the herd of swine possessed by demonic powers plunged into the lake water. The inhabitants of the Gadarene land did not want or could not accept Christ for a simple reason, because they were breeding swine in their lands, and according to the law of the Old Testament, it was not allowed for the chosen people to eat swine, to consume pork meat. With His presence, Christ spoiled their work, their way of life, their way of understanding God’s commandments. In this sense, Christ bothered them. Therefore, they opted for a different value system than the one represented by the Lord. They opted for rules and principles that are not in accordance with what the Lord asks of them, with what the Gospel asks of them, with what the holy books and the tradition of their people ask of them.
This simple story simply tells us that the more we want to live in accordance with the word of God, with His Gospel, that the more we measure our words and our thoughts and our actions with the word of the Gospel, the more we will at least be comprehensible to those with whom we come into contact, to those with whom we often live, and sometimes even under the same roof. At the very least, it will be difficult for us to be understood, and often we will annoy those with whom we live, and often they will reject us. There is nothing peculiar in that, for the Lord Himself says that they rejected Him first. If they rejected Him, and as we heard these from the Gadarene land rejected Him, what should we expect?! Regardless of all that, the only possible way is to deepen our faith – and by deepening faith we deepen and actualize our freedom and love – to try as much as possible, with our whole being, and despite all our weaknesses, fully aware that we are sinful and weak and sometimes worse than others, to live according to the Gospel of Christ and be aware that we will also encounter misunderstandings, and often rejections. That is in a word – a cross.
It is wrong if we want to please the spirit of this world at all costs, and that means to be nice to people on all possible issues. After all, we will see for ourselves. As long as we go in accordance with their perceptions of the world, with their perception of Christ, with their perception of the Gospel and the Church, they will deem us nice and acceptable, polite and good. The moment we are called and when we find ourselves in a situation to testify to the word of the Gospel, at that moment we come across the sentence that the Lord heard from those who lived in the land of Gadarenes: You are not needed, because you do not comply with the perception of the world that has little in common with the Gospel! That is the cross and that is Christian martyrdom, not the martyrdom of shedding blood for the sake of Christ, but the internal martyrdom, the martyrdom of conscience. On the one hand, it is a call to adhere to the Gospel, to bear witness to it, to live it, and on the other hand, readiness to make that very determination for Christ something that creates complications in our everyday life. However, where there is a crucifixion, where there is a cross which is always the power of resurrection, the power of victory, there is the power of Christ’s love, and where Christ is and where there is love in relation to Him and to His love, there always comes the deepest inner realization that we are on the right path, and therefore the consolation and strength that we can go on and that we can go precisely on the path of the cross and the resurrection of Christ.
May the Lord grant that we never only say but also think whenever Christ our Savior approaches – that we never think, let alone speak! – on the contrary, let us always say with our mind and heart: Come, O Lord! May you be blessed, and glory to our Lord forever and to the ages of ages. Amen!