St Spyridon – the Exemplar of the True Shepherd

I think today’s Liturgy saw the smallest Sunday congregation we’ve ever had for a eucharistic celebration in Cardiff, with ten adults and three children. However, in no way did this detract from the joy of celebrating the feast of St Spyridon quietly and simply, with our faithful patiently waiting to use the church after mass, setting up with few to help. However, we got there and managed, despite the lack of choir and servers.

It was important to celebrate St Spyridon’s memory, as in him and in St Nicholas, whose feast was celebrated last week, we see the very epitome and ideal of true bishops, as archpastors of the Church and shepherds of souls, and at the end of Liturgy, I reflected of the qualities of St Spyridon that should be reflected in all of our bishops.

In St Spyridon, we see a spiritual-shepherd of simplicity of life, non-acquisitiveness, unstinting faithfulness to Orthodoxy and canonicity, compassion and concern for the lowly and powerless, of holiness and humility – qualities which today sometimes seem sadly less important than managerial talent, fundraising ability, influence in social and political circles, being an effective ethnic or cultural figurehead, or the ‘ability’ to connect with radicals and activists whilst desperately racing to prove the relevance of the Church to an ever darkening and ever perverse ‘society’ – a sure path to compromise and the erosion of Truth.

What would St Spyridon make of such ‘shepherds’ sparkling in their well-practised photo-poses, walking the streets to score social and media credits before news cameras with godless idealogues who deride Tradition and attack Faith and Christian values; fawning over political powers who persecute the faithful in much-suffering Ukraine; false-shepherds whose fork-tongued opportunism somehow recognises both the sanctity of human life but also the ‘right’ for children to be murdered in their mothers’ wombs.

How can we even compare such fakery to St Spyridon, a shepherd of souls not interested in worldly power or influence, and with no sense of entitlement or proud dignity, clad in his woven shepherd’s hat and seeking nothing other than serving God and tending the flock entrusted to him by the Heavenly Good Shepherd?

Let those of us who are wonderfully blessed with shepherds (who live in holiness, non-acquisitiveness and simplicity, tirelessly teaching the Faith, and continually serving their flocks in constant labours, travels and exhausting schedules) give thanks to God – praying for our shepherds, and entrusting them to the prayers of St Spyridon, and to St Nicholas.

The Gospel warns us of false-shepherds, who are nothing but hirelings, and across the Orthodox world we see such figures – sparkling, media-savvy and photogenic, or chameleons whose outlooks and principles change with the blowing of political winds coupled with pressure form Istanbul.

We would do better to look for the likes of St John of San Francisco – shunning comfort and luxury; seeking poverty and plainness; hungry for prayer, not power; ready to endure persecution for Christ’s sake; rich in grace rather than in sartorial luxury and glittering ornaments… bling to use the language of the 21st century.

Such bishops are true shepherds in the footsteps of St Spyridon – and we thank God for such men: our First Hierarchs of Blessed Memory; Archbishop Nikodem, Bishop Nikolai and Bishop Constantine who shepherded the flock in these lands; the departed spiritual giants of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, as well as the shining beacon of Orthodoxy, the saintly Patriarch Pavle of Serbia of Thrice-Blessed Memory.

We also thank God  for our Metropolitan Nicholas, our ruling hierarch Bishop Irenei, for Bishop Alexandre, for the inspirational podvig of  Metropolitan Onuphry and the suffering episcopate of the Ukrainian Church – all who RIGHTLY divide the word of Truth. Axios!

We must also pray for the poor endangered flocks, who have no real shepherds to guard and tend them, only hirelings, with the wolves eagerly circling the fold. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Fathers Spyridon and Nicholas, pray to God for them, and preserve them by your prayers!

Sessional Hymn, Tone VIII: Thou didst shine forth as a divinely appointed pastor, O Spyridon, raised from the tending of sheep by God, Who entrusted thee to preside over the Church of Christ. Thou didst drive away the wolves of false teaching by thy words, grazing thy flock on the pasture of piety. Wherefore, thou didst affirm the Faith by the wisdom of the Spirit in the midst of the God-bearing fathers, O blessed hierarch. Entreat Christ God, that He grant remission of sins unto those who celebrate thy holy memory with love.

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