* * *
Your Eminence Archbishop Leo of Helsinki and All Finland,
Most Reverend Brother Hierarchs,
Beloved children in the Lord,
Today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reminds us of when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. God had led his people out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, towards the promised land; And to sustain them God miraculously sent manna from heaven to nourish them on their journey, but the people grew impatient. (Num 21:4) Impatience. Everyone is tempted by impatience, and it might even seem trivial. In our daily trials we are tempted to become impatient. The simplest inconveniences can lead to impatience: a traffic jam, a long wait in line, a misplaced pair of glasses or set of keys. And of course, more serious trials can lead to impatience as we wonder how long, and how much we will have to endure. The temptation to impatience is particularly strong whenever God’s people are called to great works of faith.
Today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the granting of autonomy to the Orthodox Church of Finland by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We honor and give thanks to God for all the faithful Orthodox Christians who labored in faith for ecclesiastical independence, and who made great sacrifices to grow the Church of Finland in those early years. And, surely, there were times when your blessed forebears felt the temptation to impatience. They must have wondered; how long shall we endure until God answers our prayers? Questions like this are understandable, but the temptation of impatience can lead to anger and resentment.
When the people of Israel grew impatient in the wilderness, they became angry with God, and spoke against Him, saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Num 21:5) The people dared to say that they detest the food that God gave them to sustain them on their journey to the promised land.
Impatience is dangerous, because it can lead to speaking and acting carelessly. Hurtful, unkind words spoken impatiently, can damage relationships between friends and neighbors; they can strain the bonds of love between family and friends; they can even lead to anger and violence. We see this in our families, our churches, our villages and cities. The Church of Finland, like every Church, has felt the pain of unkind words spoken in anger and impatience. But anger and impatience not only damage our relationships here on earth, they damage our relationship with God. Anger and impatience tempt us to reject God and seek our own will.
When the people of Israel sinned and spoke against the Lord, fiery serpents came among the people and many were bitten and many died. (Num 21:6) In our time, we may not be bitten by fiery serpents, but impatience and anger continue to poison human hearts with the deadly venom of sin, which causes profound suffering in the world.
Today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reminds us that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) When God’s people in the wilderness recognized their sin, they cried out to God for mercy, and the Lord commanded that Moses make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Then, those who had been bitten by the sting of sin, could look at the bronze serpent and they would be healed.
This is why our Lord says to us, “the Son of man [must] be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14) Jesus is speaking here of the Mystery of His Crucifixion, and how we can find healing and everlasting life through His perfect self-offering. When we are suffering from the venom of sin; the poison of impatience and anger, we look upon the Crucified Messiah, and in Him we find salvation. Because in Christ’s Crucifixion, we see perfect, divine patience.
And it is fitting today that St. Paul reminds us: our glory is the Cross of Christ (Gal 6:14), for the Cross is the source of God’s patience and love. Christ did not demand his own way, he did not force people to do his will, rather he loved with perfect love, and He bore the sin of humanity with perfect patience. And in bearing our sin, God offers us forgiveness, reconciliation, and everlasting life. For as we sing in the Psalms “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…” (Ps 103:8) Receiving God’s patient, loving forgiveness, we are inspired and strengthened to love and forgive others with God’s mercy and patience. In patience we allow God to work his mighty acts in and through us, according to His time, and according to His will.
Think for a moment of the story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob. Remember how Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, and how in their anger, they betrayed him, stripped him of his clothes, cast him into a pit and left him to perish. Then Joseph was captured by traders and sold into slavery in Egypt. Yet, by God’s providence, Joseph found himself serving in the house of Pharoah. As God worked great wonders through Joseph, Pharoah appointed him to be caretaker over all Egypt, managing all of its affairs. Then, when a famine arose in the land, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to ask for help. In that moment Joseph had every excuse to be impatient and angry, he also had the perfect opportunity to exact revenge, and make his brothers pay for the evil they had done. But with divine patience and love and mercy, in tears of love, Joseph forgave them, and welcomed them, granting them safety and security. This is the patient love that God calls us to share with the world.
Today we celebrate with exceeding joy the 100th anniversary of the granting of autonomy to the Orthodox Church of Finland by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. One of the greatest joys of a parent is to witness God working in and through their child as they grow and mature. Today, the Mother Church rejoices and gives thanks to God who has poured such grace on the Church of Finland. We glorify God who has bestowed “this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7)
We give thanks to God for all of the faithful who have come before us; all who have ministered, and prayed and labored in patience and love, to build up the Body of Christ, and we pray with steadfast confidence that God would continue to strengthen, guide and bless the Church of Finland and all her faithful. In the same way that God unites a mother to her children in abounding love, in ceaseless prayer and in selfless sacrifice, may God ever strengthen and deepen the bonds of unity between the Mother Church of Constantinople and her beloved daughter Church of Finland.
One hundred years from now, may God grant that our children’s children will stand on this holy ground, steadfast in their Orthodox Christian faith, lifting up their voices in song with the saints and the angels, praising and glorifying God our Heavenly Father, His Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the All Holy Good and Life Creating Spirit. Amen!