In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, I think what I find the most edifying in the Gospels is when there is some insight that the Lord gives me, poor sinner, into my soul -- whether something good or bad, or encouraging or rebuking, or something that I'm doing or not doing. Those are precious times when I read the Scriptures and there is some insight.
I've told you before many times and it's true, there are two things you need to be saved. You need to know God, and you need to know yourself. A person who only knows about God will not know Him, and doesn't know himself, he doesn't feel the need for God. He might have intellectual knowledge, but he doesn't have a desire to know God.
This is evidenced in the ruler of the synagogue who says, "On any day you can heal but not on the Sabbath day." This is a person who knew rules; he knew things about God and probably had a lot of Psalms memorized, but he had no sense of need for God.
If you don't know yourself, you won't reach out to God. If you don't know what's wrong with you, you won't seek a physician. And of course, we must know God to be saved because God is truth, God is love, God created us in order to know Him. Salvation IS the knowledge of God.
So those two things we must know, and Scripture constantly is giving you these two things, especially in the Gospels.
Now, today is a simple story, a woman who is bowed down, and she's been in that condition for eighteen years. She couldn't lift herself up. She probably had to have people help her do things. She probably went hungry quite often. Certainly in that society she was considered to be a sinner, so probably she couldn't even go into the synagogue. It says He was teaching in the synagogue, but probably she was outside the synagogue because she was considered to be unclean.
Here is the human condition: We can't lift ourselves up.
Christ saw this woman and had compassion, and He loosed her from her infirmity. But some people saw this woman and they thought other things rather than "She should be healed" or "May God help her" or to feel any compassion or pity for her. They saw that the Lord had done something that they thought was forbidden on the Sabbath day. And the Lord shows how absolutely hypocritical this attitude is. We help people on the Sabbath day. We help our animals on the Sabbath day, so certainly we should help a woman who's had an infirmity for eighteen years.
Now, why would it be that someone would see a person healed ‑‑ who had obviously been suffering many, many years ‑‑ and would not be moved? It would not penetrate their hard heart. Why would that be? That's shocking, but it's common. It is common that human beings feel very little for their fellow human beings.
And let's be honest with ourselves; it's common for us to not feel very much for our fellow human beings. How many do we not even notice? Of course you can't tell, by definition; if you don't notice, you can't keep a tally of those people. How many times have there been angels that we could have entertained unawares, but our own fixation on ourselves kept us from seeing them?
This is what the Gospel is telling me today, so I wanted to share it with you. We must have hearts that are soft; they must be compassionate and see the suffering of others.
Do you know why we should have those hearts? Or how we should have those hearts? Because we're the suffering person. We are the woman who's bent over. We should recognize in the suffering of humanity our own problems, our own weaknesses.
This, the suffering of this woman, is either something we've suffered before or will suffer or could suffer. And perhaps God has not allowed that suffering because of His great mercy towards us.
You should see in
every person that is suffering,
every person that is mentally ill,
every person that is a blasphemer,
every person that's a non believer,
every person that's depressed,
every person that's a drug addict,
every person that is living a heedless life of fornication or acquisition;
in every one of those people you should see yourself because they're human and you're human and we share the human condition.
And I think this is what makes the truly compassionate different than you and me. They see the suffering of others because they see themselves when they see others. And they see Jesus Christ when they see others.
I've told you this before. It's made a big impression on me, so I'll say it again. You know how there's certain things that you hear throughout your life that you just remember? How many are there? For me there might be a dozen at the most, things that really made an impression on me and made me change the way I live. And this is one of them: Hieromonk Joachim was giving a talk, in our church years ago, when I was crazy enough to actually have conferences. I don't know if I'm that crazy anymore.
He was asked by someone or possible recounting a question he has heard before: "How do you see Christ in a person that is a thief or a prostitute or a drug addict?" This is because he was talking about his work with the homeless and thieves and prostitutes and drug addicts. And as only Father Joachim can, he looked down across his glasses with a kind of a withering look, and he said, "That is a foolish question. How can I see Christ? That person IS Christ." And why? Because he had the compassion to see the sufferings of others. He felt his own infirmity, and therefore his mind was opened, and his eyes were not closed, and there were no scales over them, and then he could see the suffering of others as his own suffering.
This is a great gift and one we should strive for. I'm convinced that this is the way that most people are going to make it into Heaven. In fact, I'll say this: Nobody will be saved without compassion for others. Not a person. Not anybody.
For most of us, this is the only way we can be saved. We can't do anything else. We can't pray with very much fervor. We can't have very much purity in our hearts. We can't stop sinning. But we can be compassionate about and towards others. We can see ourselves in the sufferings of others, even somebody that's doing something that we think is foolish and stupid and dishonest and craven. And we don't do those things. We think, perhaps, you give this person some money and they just blow it on cigarettes and beer. Okay. But that person is a suffering person because there is a woundedness, and incompleteness in their soul, and you should feel also to be wounded and to have an incompleteness in your soul.
That's why the ruler of the synagogue said those foolish and judgmental and hateful words. He had no feeling for others. He had not cultivated love in his heart for others.
Since God is love, if you do not love your fellow man, you are far from God. We are called to be gods, so the Scripture says, and we become gods by loving as God loves. In order to be able to do that, you must know yourself, you must see yourself in other people's foibles and sins and weaknesses.
Now, perhaps you've never stolen or used drugs or been a prostitute, but if you do not understand that there are weaknesses in your character that are just like the weaknesses in that person who's stolen and done drugs and been a prostitute, then you really don't understand the first thing about love and the first thing about the human condition and the first thing about how the Incarnation heals the human condition. If you don't feel that in your own heart, you can't love others.
This Gospel is an indictment against our indifference, against our self‑satisfaction, against our lack of self‑knowledge, our abysmal ignorance about ourselves.
Now, those of us that have in a small way noticed the sufferings of the world, to that extent our heart is enlarged, and God fills an enlarged heart and He makes eyes to see and ears to hear.
This is a very critical thing. You can't be saved if you do not care for God's creatures, your brothers and your sisters, whatever their condition is, whether they've got themselves into their mess or not. And usually they got themselves into their mess. Most of the stuff that we go through that causes us pain, we did it. It's the same thing with other people too. But that's because we're weak, that's because we're bent over, we can't raise ourselves. We need someone to raise us up. We need The Great Physician to help us, and we must remember that.
There's lots of things in the Scripture that talk about this idea that we should remember our condition. What about the man who looks in a mirror? And he goes away and he's forgotten what he looks like. What about the debtor who has forgiven a gigantic debt and then he throws a fellow debtor with a small debt into prison? That's because he didn't know himself. He didn't see in others his weaknesses.
This is what you must do. If you see yourself in others, then you will act with compassion because certainly, if you are cold, you're going to find some way to get warm. If you're hungry, you're going to find some way to eat. If you consider the person who is cold to be you, now what are you going to do?
This is a critical skill and an absolute necessity for salvation. See yourself in others. See yourself as the woman who is bent over. I do not mean in a metaphorical way. I'm not talking about a mind game. I'm not talking about some sort of trick. I'm talking about reality. We're bent over and can't raise ourselves up. To the extent that we stand upright is the extent to which has God raised us up. We didn't do it.
Now, it's a mystery why some people are still not raised up. That I have to give to you; it's hard to understand. But those are things that we don't know, and we shouldn't spend any time thinking about them. Instead, think about your brother who is bent down and cannot raise himself up; and see in your brother yourself, and then you will be filled with compassion for him.
Indifference to our own condition and therefore indifference to the condition of others will kill most souls. That is broad path which leads to hell, on that path are people which do not think of others. They might pray to God; many of them do. But they have not learned to be compassionate. We must learn to be compassionate.
And in my experience, the small amount of compassion that I have has come from knowing myself and in some way seeing myself in others. Like I said, not as some sort of mind trick but as reality because it's true, we are all of the human family. We are all the same. God loves us all the same. We all have the same condition. Sinner or saint, believer or unbeliever, we are all the same. And if we see ourselves in that way, then we will have compassion for others. And with compassion for others, comes the great prize: God fills the heart and you know Him. God will not fill a heart that is not compassionate. It will not happen. So cultivate compassion in your hearts.
Now, there are practical things you can do. This is not the forum to speak about those things, although we've spoken about them many times, and we will continue to speak about them. But practical things don't make any difference at all to the soul unless the soul has this deep feeling ‑‑ this deep knowledge of its own weakness and the gratitude that God has helped it ‑‑ and then eyes that are open to see the sufferings of others.
As your pastor, I beg of you, learn to see the sufferings of others as your own suffering. Do whatever you can. Whether you sin or not, I'll tell you, it's not so important. What's important is: Do you love? If you love, then you will struggle. If you struggle, then God will help you with all of your sins. But if you don't love, God will be far from you.
So may God help us to see the sufferings of others as our own sufferings. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2013
Transcribed by the hand of the handmaiden Helen: may God save her and her loved ones.
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 Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
 "I said: Ye are gods, and all of you the sons of the Most High." Psalm 81:6 (Septuagint, Boston Psalter)
 James 1:23-24 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: (24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
 Mat 18:23-24 "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. (24) And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents..."
See Matthew 18:23-35, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.
Homilies on this Gospel here: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/index.html#11th_Sunday_of_Pentecost