14 - Saints & Their Proclamation, Dec 5, 2010

Col 1:12-18

Luke 17:12-19

Today, Dec 5, the Church celebrates the feast of St Sava the Sanctified, a monk from Palestine. He died at the age of 94 in the year 532. Together with St Theodosius the Great, St Sava is considered to be one of  the greatest lights and pillars of Orthodoxy in the East, according to the Prologue of Ohrid.

Tomorrow, Dec 6, the Church celebrates the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was bishop of Myra in Lycia. He entered into his rest in the Lord on December 6, 343. St Nicholas, as you well know, is the real Santa Claus. The rest of the world, in its spiritual ignorance, treats Santa Claus as a right jolly old elf, with a broad face and a little round belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly. The world has created its own image of Santa Claus, and made up all kinds of charming fairy-tale stories about him, so that children grow up believing that Christmas is all about Santa Claus coming down the chimney to give them lots of toys and goodies from his sleigh. At some point, they learn the disappointing truth that he is but a fairy tale, and that someone else fills their stockings at midnight; so they grow up into psychologically disturbed adults who not only have come to believe that Santa Claus is nothing more than an imaginary fairy tale, but they also begin to wonder about Christmas.

At this time each year, the faithful make their way to the Church as to the cave of Bethlehem to celebrate one of the many great secrets of the Christian mysteries. Santa Claus is not a fairy tale. He’s real. The faithful disappear from the world as they step inside the temple of the Church and enter a spiritual reality where past and future are one with the present, and where those who are alive on earth in the flesh today mingle in the Spirit with men and women of old who are still alive in the crucified and risen body of Christ today. In this company of the saints, the faithful are directed on this day to the icon of him whom the world calls Santa Claus, and they are granted to see what this “Santa Claus” really looks like. They learn his real name, “St Nicholas”; they learn the real story of his life; he was a beloved bishop of Myra in Lycia in the fourth century, regarded even in his own lifetime on earth as a saint, whom people invoked for help in difficulties and in distress.

And, upon learning the real story of the real Santa Claus – St Nicholas – they also come to know the real meaning of Christmas and the unspeakably joyous Good News it proclaims to the world.

In the life of St Nicholas and in the life of St Sava, in the lives of all the saints, heaven proclaims the glory of God to the world. Heaven reveals to the world the real meaning not only of Christmas but also of the world and of every human life. The world is not an impersonal cosmos of energy and chemical reactions come together by chance to produce itself. The world proceeds from the goodness of God. Its principle is not of this world; its principle is a natural capacity to receive the uncreated and eternal God who Himself has joined Himself to the world by becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that we could become partakers of the divine nature. Christmas proclaims to the world the light of heaven that is not the light of the sun but the uncreated light of Christ who dwells in light unapproachable, who clothes Himself with light as with a garment – the light of fellowship and communion. It proclaims to the world a life that is not the sexual life of biology, not the life of this world that rises from the dust of the ground and returns to the dust of the ground. It is the spiritual life of the Holy Trinity that proceeds from God the Father and returns to God the Father in God the Son through God the Holy Spirit in a never ending “circle” of faith, hope and love.

The saints of the Church, such as St Sava and St Nicholas, proclaim this Good News to us not just in words but in their very life. They reveal to us the heavenly reality that this world was made for and that man was made to live, to move and to have his being in. They show to us the beauty of man as he was created in the beginning in the Image of God, i.e., in Christ. They show us the natural end of man: to exist in God as a communicant of life eternal – a communicant of the Holy Spirit, and to be a partaker of the divine nature, eating and drinking and breathing the life-giving body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ so that the foundation of their life, their being, their thoughts, their consciousness, their subconscious, their body and their soul, is the Lord Jesus Christ in the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. By their many healing miracles and by the many ways in which they show themselves to be masters of nature, of space and time, the saints proclaim to us something of the extent to which God created man for the purpose of making him a partaker of His own divine nature – His divine, uncreated energies that emanate from His incommunicable essence as the light emanates from the sun. God made us to rule over the earth, to have dominion over all the beasts of the field and the birds of the earth and over every creeping thing – not to tyrannize them for man’s own selfish ends, but to “tame” them in the love of God, so that the world, too, in Adam and Eve, could become a communicant of life eternal and a partaker of the divine nature.

The saints proclaim to us the glory of the Christian Faith that has been revealed to the world in the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word. The Christian Faith is not a religion of the world; it is not an ethical code of behavior; it is not a belief system among other belief systems. It is not this worldly life made religious. It is not a cerebral, intellectual vision of the world. It is not a sentimental journey to cope with the vagaries of this life. The Christian Faith is the mystery of the uncreated God uniting Himself to His creation by Himself becoming flesh and dwelling among us, receiving in Himself all that we are even to the point of sharing in our death, so that He could fill our human nature with all that He is. The Christian Faith is God made man that man might become God. The Orthodox Christian Faith therefore has this distinctive quality: it is not of this world. It is of God who in His Spirit is everywhere present, filling all things, cleansing us from every leprous defilement, deifying us body and soul, making everything worldly holy, uniting all things in Christ to the uncreated God so that death is destroyed, corruption is stayed, made fresh and clean, and the world and man become truly living, holy, godly, light and not dark, rooted no more in the dust of the ground but in God through the death and resurrection of His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, Our Lord and Savior.

The Church of Christ is this body of Christ that was crucified and laid in the tomb as a corpse and that was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. The life that pulses through the body of the Church is not the life of the world; it is not the sexual biological life of the flesh. It is the risen life of Christ, the spiritual, heavenly life of the Holy Spirit who, in the mystery of the Church, the body of Christ, is in the world but not of it.

Step into the Church of Christ – the holy Orthodox Church – and you step into the mystery of Christ’s crucified and risen body. Everything in the Church and everything of the Church, every word, every doctrine, every gesture and movement, every sacrament, every blessing, every garment is holy, sacred, divinized, brimming with the divine, uncreated energies of God’s grace, illumined in the uncreated light of God. And we, created in the Image of God, in Christ, are by nature able to receive this grace and to become godly. We are of the dust, but we are able by nature to receive the Spirit of God and to become spiritual. We are dark, but we are able to be illumined by the uncreated light that emanates from God so that we become light as He is light. In ourselves, we are dead, but we are able to partake of the body and blood of God and to become alive not according to the sexual life of biology, but according to the divine life of the Spirit.

We are gardeners; and our body and our soul and our mind are the garden. We can plant our thoughts and our desires and our bodily deeds like seeds in the soil of the Church, so that the rains that water us are the Holy Spirit, the sun that shines on us and makes us warm and living is the Word of God, the commandments of Christ. As we attend regularly and faithfully and frequently the divine services of the Church, as we absorb her prayers, her air or her ethos, as we discipline ourselves daily, hourly, and every moment, to plant our thoughts, our desires and our deeds in the soil of the Church through unceasing remembrance of Christ, so that we are constantly repenting, constantly turning our desire away from the world that perishes and toward our salvation that is guarded in heaven by the power of God, as we cultivate the garden of our souls and bodies like faithful gardeners, we are not absorbing religious ideas. We are absorbing God in His uncreated “energies” or grace. We are growing into the salvation of the Lord (I Pt 2:2) like a seed into a great tree. We, too, are becoming saints. We are becoming that silent word spoken of by the Psalmist that stretches from end to end of the universe proclaiming the handiwork of God, which is God made man and man become God – not by nature but by participation in God Himself, in faith, in fear and in love – in the mystery of Jesus Christ. Salvation, then, is a process that does not happen simply by believing. It happens as we keep ourselves in the garden of the Church, as we keep ourselves nailed to the Cross with Christ. Then, it is God Himself who raises us up into the heavenly life of His Holy Resurrection and even though we are in the world, we are no longer of it; for we are of God, born from above living the life not of the world but of heaven in Christ Jesus Our Savior. Amen.

[1] Prologue II, p. 624