|36 - Fifth Sunday of Pascha, May 17, 2009|
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30
We have entered the heart of Pascha, this eight week period in which the Church makes to blossom before us the fullness of the flower of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. She is showing us in her imagery and teaching of these eight weeks the spiritual reality of Christ’s resurrection that has been sown in this world as a seed. It is the spiritual seed of divine life that has been sown in the field of the world as the Church, which is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all.
This seed of divine life is not some ethereal, wispy assertion that one can prove or disprove with logical arguments. For one thing, this seed of divine life comes from above. It is not of the intellect; it is not of the soul. It is of the Spirit that proceeds from the Father above, in whom all things were created, including the human mind and the human soul. In other words, the mind and the soul come from the Spirit of God; the Spirit of God does not come from our mind or our soul. The point to grasp here is that the mystery of the Church – which is Christ Himself, His incarnation, His death and resurrection – transcends human reasoning and human life; it is higher than the mind and the mind cannot wrap itself around it. The mystery of the Church is rooted in a completely different order than human intellection or human psychic life. That is why it cannot be proved or disproved through human reasoning whether scientific or philosophical. You can’t construct or generate a mathematical equation, or a philosophical syllogism that will lead you to the Spirit of the Church. One comes to know this spiritual reality of divine life planted in the world by Christ’s death and resurrection by means of an altogether different method that is not of the intellect or of the soul, but of the Spirit. This method requires uniting oneself to Christ in a distinctive kind of death in which human understanding is crucified with Christ, so that we may be raised up in the resurrection of Christ to think and to feel in a spiritual way.
Something of this divine method by which one comes to know the spiritual reality of the Church is given to us in the fact that this spiritual reality of Christ’s Passion is communicated to us not through logic or through emotion but through the sacraments, the mysteries, of the Church. In the oil, the water, the bread and wine, this spiritual mystery of the Church is made concrete in the elements of the world so that it is incarnate; it is in the world even as it is not of the world.
The worship of the Church is not in human wisdom and emotion. It is in “Spirit and in Truth.” That is to say, it is in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of God the Father. In the mystery of Christ, we pray to God the Father that He would send down His Holy Spirit upon the worldly elements of oil, water, bread and wine, and that He would sanctify them and make them holy; in other words, fill them with the Holy Spirit Himself so that they become spiritual, and in becoming spiritual, life-giving – imparting not the wisdom of the mind or the life of the human soul, but the Wisdom of God and the Life of God’s Holy Spirit, who makes us of one mind with Christ and alive in the divine Life of the Spirit. That means that Christ’s Holy Spirit is embodied in the waters of your baptism, in the myrrh of your Chrismation, so that when you are immersed in the waters, and when you are sealed by the myrrh, you are literally being immersed in Christ’s Holy Spirit; you are being touched by the Holy Spirit. And indeed, the Church herself indicates this to you when she tells you, in the hymn she has given us to pray immediately following Holy Eucharist: “We have received the Heavenly Spirit.” In partaking of the precious and all-holy body and blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Eucharist, you have literally eaten and drunk His Holy Spirit. The divine life of the Spirit is in you, the very Spirit who proceeds from the Father and who raised Jesus from the dead. The power of Christ’s holy resurrection is working in you, not through human reason and not through human sentiment, but by the grace of divine love.
So, how do we come to know this spiritual reality of the Church that has been planted in us through the mysteries, the sacraments of the Church if it is not known through human methods of reasoning or emotional feeling? The answer is given both in this morning’s Gospel and in the very character of the Church herself. We do not come to know the spiritual reality of the Church through human reasoning or emotional feeling because these are abstract and impersonal. We come to know the spiritual reality of the Church through love, which is personal.
The One we come to know in the Church is God who is not an impersonal force-field producing three manifestations of itself, but who is the personal mystery of the Father, from whom is begotten the Son and from whom proceeds the Holy Spirit. The ultimate reality that “stands underneath” all things, that is to say, is not an energy field or an impersonal One that can be delineated by mathematical formula or by a logical syllogism. The ultimate reality that stands underneath all things is the Person of the Father. That means that reality is personal, not impersonal; so that ultimate reality is known in a personal, not an impersonal way. That personal way is the way of love.
Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, Photini, as she is called, or “Enlightened One”: “God is Spirit.” I.e. He is personal; “and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth,” i.e., those who worship Him are themselves persons who worship God in the Persons of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, and the Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten of the Father. The personal source of the Son and the Spirit from the Father reveals the personal character of ultimate reality. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is of primary importance for an understanding of the world that is true.
In this regard, Photini’s spontaneous and immediate reception of Christ’s word to her: “I who am speaking to you am the Messiah,” is most revealing. If we had the time, we would show how this Gospel expresses the nuptial character of Christ and His Church. Christ is the Heavenly Bridegroom. He is the true Lover, the true Husband of the Samaritan woman. He is her true intimate, and it is a personal intimacy; for He knows everything about her. Even though she had never seen Him before, in her personal encounter with Him, Photini recognized Him immediately as her true Lover whom she had always known in the personal center of her heart, and she fell immediately in love with Him, so deeply and completely that according to Christian Tradition, she preferred to suffer terrible torments and tortures under Nero, before she was thrown down a well to die a martyr’s death, rather than to deny her beloved Lord, Jesus Christ whom she had met beside a well.
She fell in love with Him – and apparently, she fell in love with her neighbors, for immediately she runs off in what looks like the kind of joy St Peter describes in his epistle: an “unutterable and exalted joy”. “Come,” she cries, “behold the Man who told me everything I have ever done. Is this not the Messiah?” I.e. the Heavenly Bridegroom, i.e. the very Lord God Himself?” You see how she came to know Jesus in His true personal identity not by human reasoning but by human love. God is Spirit, Jesus says to her. God is love, writes St John. Love by its very nature is personal. If God is Spirit, He is love, and if He is love, He is personal; and we teach that He is personal because He is a mystical communion of Three Persons in one nature – i.e. in one love – and also because the root of the Holy Trinity is not an impersonal nature but the Person of the Father, so that even the nature of the Trinity exists as love in a personal, loving way; not in an impersonal way.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul writes: “that you may be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you may be clothed with the new man that is according to God.” Our mind, he is saying, is not itself the root of our being. It is our spirit, i.e., our personal identity whose primary nature is love. And deeper than the discursive, impersonal way of knowing that characterizes the mind is the immediate and personal way of knowing that is of our spirit, which knows and understands things immediately through love, in a love that is according to God, a love that is always faithful and true.
How, then, do we come to know the mystery of the Church that is in the world but not of it? Through that personal love that is according to God, in which we recognize immediately the Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ our God, who is in our midst and who has given Himself to us as our food and drink in the mysteries, the sacraments of the Church. And how will the world know that we are Christians? By our love for our neighbor and for one another that is according to God: personal and faithful and true.
Beloved faithful, you have received this love of God as your food and drink. In the glorious Pascha of the Church, you have seen it with your eyes and heard it with your ears. You are witnesses to this love that is really real, if indeed you have seen it and believed in it and have come to love it with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength. The world needs you. Your neighbors, your family, your friends, even your enemies need you. They need you to be who and what you have become in the mystery of your baptism: members of the crucified and risen body of Christ in the love of God, lights of divine love shining in the darkness of the world like the stars of heaven. May God grant that we, like the Samaritan woman, may fall in love with the Savior and become witnesses to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, so that in the “unutterable and exalted joy” of His holy resurrection, we might worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, in a spiritual love that is according to God. Amen.