|02 - Sunday Before The Cross, September 12, 2010|
This time of year is exceedingly rich in liturgical symbolism. With the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, we bring to a close that forty day period that began with the Feast of Transfiguration on Aug 6. Within this period of forty days, a kind of hidden Lenten season, we celebrate a kind of pascha of the Theotokos. From her Dormition on Aug 15, we pass over from the old liturgical Church year to the New liturgical Church Year to the Feast of her Nativity. In the liturgical symbolism of all the festive moments that are contained within this liturgical season that falls between the Feast of the Transfiguration on Aug 6 and the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross on Sept 14, the passing over from the old to the new Church year, and from the Dormition of the Theotokos to her Nativity a heavenly vision radiant with heavenly joy shines forth revealing a cosmos that has been secretly transfigured in the mystery of Christ’s Pascha – secret because it can be seen and heard only by eyes and ears that have been opened in the healing of faith to the Heavenly Spirit of Christ that is everywhere present and filling all things.
The heart of this heavenly vision radiant with joy is given to us in the epistle reading from Ephesians, which was assigned for our daily reading last Thursday: in Christ, the Father has “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, that in the economy of the fullness of the ages, He might gather together in one all things in Christ both which are in heaven and which are on earth.”
The mystery of the Father’s will refers to the definitive plan He had in creating the world, i.e., the purpose for which He created the world and the plan He “mapped out” as it were to bring that purpose about. The mystery of the Father’s will that was hidden in God from the ages has to do with the meaning of life. That is to say, it refers to the reason that you and I and everything in the world exist. It is the answer to the ancient philosophers’ “great riddle” of the “one and the many”; it is the hidden answer to the riddle of physics modern day science has been trying to find in the creation of a grand unified theory. And it has been revealed in the Church to the saints. That is to say, it cannot be seen except to the eyes of those who are dying to the world in order to live for God. And, it is this mystery of the Father’s will, the meaning of the world, the reason you and I exist, that the feasts of this liturgical season are proclaiming to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
What is this mystery of the Father’s will that the Church proclaims here at the beginning of a new Church year in the joy of the feasts? It is this: “That He, the Father, might gather together in one all things in Christ both which are in heaven and which are on earth.” What does this mean? How is it proclaimed in the joy of these paschal feasts of the Theotokos’ Dormition and her Nativity as we pass over from the old to the new Church Year?
That all things might be gathered together in one in Christ refers to the mystery of God the Word becoming flesh, the Incarnation so that we could become one with God; so that we could become like God; so that we could become partakers of the divine nature; so that we could become communicants of life eternal as children of God born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This does not mean that the world was made for us. It was made for Christ; that means we were made not for ourselves. We were made for Christ, so that all things could be gathered together in one in Christ, both in heaven and on earth, so that He would be all in all, so that He would fill all things, so that He would be our life so that it would not be we who live but Christ who lives in us, so that we would be the temple in whom Christ dwells, so that we would be overshadowed and illumined and permeated by His glory, so that we would be members of His body; and, as such, that we would live and move and have our being in Christ, partaking of the divine nature, partaking of all the riches of God, the riches of love, joy and peace, creatures granted to exist and to live and to move by the grace of God in the uncreated life of God’s Holy Spirit that is mightier than death, able to raise the dead in the power of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
This vision of the world proclaimed by the Church tells us that the world we live in now does not exist according to its nature. God did not make a world in which good is mingled with evil, sweetness with bitterness, pleasure with suffering, life with death. Sickness, sorrow and sighing; worries, frustrations and anxieties; uncertainties, trials and tribulations; injustice, murder, thievery, premature death – this is not the world God made. It is the world man has made because he has rejected God. The world God made was good, not good and evil. The world God made was a beautiful complex of diversities – but it was the diversity of good things, not the diversity of good and evil, morality and immorality, a diversity the modern world requires its citizens to tolerate and even to promote as the standard of political correctness, even here in the United States that is quickly becoming the modern day equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah.
This vision of the world proclaimed by the Church tells us that there is another world. It is the world described in the first chapter of Genesis, a world that had at its eastern corner – i.e., a world that was oriented towards the Resurrection and so towards the uncreated life of God that destroys death – a garden. We call it Eden, or Paradise. This is the world oriented to divine life and to the destruction of death in Christ’s Holy Resurrection, the world that is good and beautiful, verdant and brimming with a divine joie de vivre, this other world proclaimed in the radiant joy of the feasts of this liturgical season is this the world as it is according to its natural principle; it is this world as it was meant to be in its nature and in its natural destiny. This is the world that was made by Christ, the Word of God, and in Christ, the world that was made for the purpose of being the temple of Christ, the Kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ, and so the world that was made for the purpose of being filled with Christ, a world of rich diversity of good and beautiful things, all alive in the Spirit of Christ, made for the purpose of being gathered together in one in Christ and so to be, in that union with Christ, partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal, living and moving and having its being in the riches of the glory of God, radiant in the uncreated light of God as in a wedding garment.
But, it is self-evident, is it not, that the world and everything in it could not be gathered together in one in Christ until Christ should become one with the world. And He could not become one with the world until He became flesh and dwelt among us even to the point of making Himself one with us in our death that we had fallen into because of sin. But He could not become flesh and dwell among us without a human mother; that is to say, without the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And so, the birth of the Blessed Virgin proclaims to the world that the Theotokos, the Birthgiver of God has appeared in the world. She it is whom God had chosen to be His Mother in the mystery of His plan for the world that was hidden in Him from the ages. She is the One by whom God would become flesh and so realize the plan He had in making the world from the beginning. And so, she is the one by whom God is able to gather together all things in one in Christ, both things which are in heaven and which are on earth. The birth of the Theotokos, therefore, proclaims that the day of the fallen world’s transfiguration, of its being raised from death to life in the Holy Resurrection of Christ, the Word of God incarnate, has dawned. The Church extols the Theotokos as the “mystical Paradise” and the “East Gate” because as the Mother of God, she is the Gate that opens onto the other world, the world that God made in the beginning, the world that is oriented towards God and towards the life of His Holy Spirit that comes to us in the Holy Resurrection, and if she has now appeared on earth, it means that he Gate that opens onto Paradise and onto that world that exists according to its nature, as good and beautiful and brimming with life, has appeared. And that means that the path, the “way” that leads back to the Tree of Life and to our healing, our being delivered from the sickness and death of this fallen world that is so unnatural to us and causes us so much suffering, that way is about to be revealed as soon as those gates open and the Lord of Glory comes forth in the glorious Feast of Christmas. For what is that way that leads back to the Tree of Life? It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God and the Son of Man born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross that we celebrate this Monday evening reveals to us and makes accessible to us the means by which we step onto that way that is Christ that leads back to the Tree of Life and to the healing of our soul and body. It is the cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church. By taking up our cross, by elevating the Cross, by taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church to follow Christ, we begin now at the beginning of this new Church year to make our way to the Cave of Bethlehem that opens onto Eden in this other world that is now here, like leaven in a lump of bread, like a divine seed sown in the field of this world, and to Holy Pascha to partake of the Tree of Life as partakers of the divine nature in the joy of the Feast. The joy of the Feast be with you! Amen.