Source: Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Your Eminences and Graces – dear brothers in Christ,
Beloved in the Lord,
Standing in this magnificent Cathedral – dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God – I would like to thank all of you for making the effort to be here this evening with your fellow brethren hierarchs of the Assembly.
We have served the Great Vespers for the Sunday of the Canaanite Woman, which prepares us for the Holy Season of Triodion. And as all of us know, there is an intensity in this story; for this woman will not be deterred from finding the healing that her daughter so desperately needs.
The Canaanite Woman is called “Syrophoenician” in the other version of the story – found in the Gospel of Mark – and is identified as ̔Ελληνίς, a Greek-speaker. As such, she is an utter foreigner, more distant to the Jewish roots of the Lord than even the Samaritans. But if the Lord did not wish to encounter such a person, why then did He travel to the regions of Tyre and Sidon?
And why did He hide, as it says in the Gospel of Mark, “entering a house, trying to avoid being recognized” by the people in these regions?[*]
As in every action, word and movement of the Lord in His earthly ministry, there is intention and purpose to everything. We know how the Savior goads the woman with His hard reply to her appeal, as she struggled to make her way past His Disciples, who dismissed her need and implored Him to help her. He said:
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”[†]
If this sounds harsh to you, you would be correct. But it is not harshness for its own sake. Somehow the Lord knew that this Woman was capable of great faith. For she replied:
“Yes, Lord, but even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.” [‡]
Here is the crux of the matter, upon which everything turns. The Lord had traveled far, well beyond the edges of His own culture to find this woman. He gave her the chance to travel as far within her own soul, in order to find the faith to fulfill her purpose.
And therein lies the moral for us all – hierarchs, clergy and laity alike. How far are we willing to go beyond the circle of our own comfort to seek out those in need? It is easy to preach the Gospel within the walls of our Churches, like in this beautiful Cathedral, to those who come willingly to hear. But what of the stranger, the foreigner, the other? How far are we willing to go to find those who need the Gospel, and challenge them to embrace it?
As hierarchs of the Assembly, we have just as much a responsibility to each other as we do to the stranger. We all must reach beyond our comfort zone and seek out those who need our help.
Sometimes, this will mean that we must go that extra mile to fully appreciate another’s point of view. Sometimes, it means that we must feign harshness, as did the Lord, in order to spur our brother or sister to dig down deep and find the faith to which Christ has called them.
There will always be those in the Church who prefer to avoid controversy. They are like the Disciples telling the Woman to be quiet, and trying to get the Lord to dismiss her without a hearing. [§]
But persistence, like patience, is rewarded in the end.
And we must be persistent and patient with one another, seeking each other out, even when we have to travel well beyond what we consider proper and normal.
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters,
Let us never give up on one another.
Let us always seek out those who are different from us, and capture their hearts with persistent and consistent love, patience and hope.
In this way, healing will abound in the Church, and in the lives of all those who aspire to live as Christians. Amen.
[*] Mark 7:24.
[†] Matthew: 15:26.
[‡] Matthew: 15:27.
[§] Matthew: 15:23.