|38 - All Saints, June 10, 2012|
I hope this morning to convey something of how great a treasure is the gift of the Holy Spirit given to those who receive Christ in His Holy Church. Our prayer is that we not allow ourselves to slip into that casual indifference toward the divine beauty and mercy of the Christian Faith that, sadly, may be all too common among those who call themselves Orthodox Christians. Even we Orthodox Christians living in America today sacrifice much to gain worldly comfort and security; we sacrifice little if anything to gain the Holy Spirit because we do not know the gift of the Holy Spirit. We do not know it because we do not seek it, nor do we really listen to the proclamation of the Church that is telling us what a great treasure the Holy Spirit is given to those who receive Christ in His Holy Church.
The Holy Spirit is God, of one essence with the Father and the Son. He always has been and always will be. He is Life and He creates life. He is Light, and He gives Light. He is the very essence of goodness and the font, the source of goodness. Through Him, the incomprehensible Father is known. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Wisdom and understanding, a good and upright and intelligent Spirit. He presides over all things in the life-creating power of His divine nature. He is the Living Water that flows from the side of Christ that cleanses the Church and purifies us of our sins, our shame and our guilt that follow from our sins.
So, if Christ gives His Holy Spirit to those who receive Him, they receive much more than just the forgiveness of sins. They receive God Himself. They receive His own divine Life, His own power, His own glory and virtue. They become partakers of God’s own divine nature. They become radiant with life. They become glorious and powerful with the life-creating power of God’s own glory. They become by the grace of the Holy Spirit everything that God is by nature; so much so, that they become one with God and He with them. They become radiant, fiery temples aflame in body and soul with the glory of God, the glory of the Holy Spirit.
How could one who truly believes this be casual or indifferent about the Christian Faith he received in his holy baptism? In our baptism, we did not receive a set of religious assertions that demand of us only that we subscribe to them while we continue to live our life in the world like we used to. We were translated from darkness to light, from death to life. We who are mere mortals, fashioned from the dust of the ground, received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the power and virtue of God’s own nature. We were raised up in our baptism and became children of God, children of light, born from above of the Holy Spirit, called to ascend to God’s Heavenly Kingdom of Light, and to become the temple of God, the place where the Holy Spirit, the Glory of God, dwells bodily, our heart the altar on which Christ offers Himself to us and breathes on us His Holy Spirit to make us partakers of His own divine nature, immortal, glorious, and aflame in the fiery glory of His Holy Spirit.
Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, He suffered and died on the Cross, He was buried in the tomb, He descended into hell, He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory because He wants to give us His Holy Spirit and to abide in us. He wants to abide in us and we in Him because He loves us. For, His Spirit is a Spirit of Wisdom who loves mankind. So says the prophet in the Wisdom of Solomon (1:6). God wants us to live. He did not create death, and He does not desire our destruction. He created everything for existence, not for death. He made the generations of the world so that they would remain forever, not so that they would pass away to become nothing more than a nostalgic memory. He created the world in His righteousness, in His Holy Spirit; and righteousness is deathless, immortal. There was no poison of destruction at all in any of the things He made. There was no Kingdom of Hades/Hell on the earth. For, God created man for immortality. He made him in the image, the icon, of His own eternity (Wisd Sol 2:13-14 & 23).
So, when Christ destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs and poured out His Holy Spirit on all flesh, He saved the creation He had made. He healed it and made it well, restoring it to its original meaning and purpose. And, so it truly exists in His Holy Church. The path of life that ascends to Christ’s Kingdom of Light and Immortality has been revealed in His Holy Church, where we hear in the Church’s evangelical proclamation and see in the vision drawn by the Church’s holy confession and doctrines of faith that Christ has opened the path of life that ascends to heaven by His death and Resurrection and Glorious Ascension. We came upon the point where that path begins in the waters at the bottom of the baptismal font. There, at the bottom of the font, we came to where the human heart originates. We were lifted out of the darkness of our death and our feet were made like hinds’ feet and set securely on that path that originates in the tomb of our heart, made radiant with life in Christ’s Holy Resurrection, and ascends from there through the wilderness of our earthly life, through the Jordan River of our physical death, all the way up Mt Zion and to the Garden of Eden at its summit.
With His injunctions to us in this morning’s Gospel, I hear the Lord addressing our self-centeredness that lies at the heart of our casual indifference toward the gift of the Spirit that saves us: that delivers us from our enslavement to death and corruption, and heals us of our separation from God, restoring us to communion with God as partakers of the glory and virtue of His own divine nature. If you deny Me before men, He says, I will deny you before My Father in Heaven. I feel this word poking me in my self-centered sense of entitlement, my presumptuous arrogance in which I expect God to give me salvation and the gift of His Holy Spirit on my terms. In other words, I expect God to give me the gift of His Holy Spirit, but I do not submit to His authority or seek to know and do His will. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it, in the way and under the terms that I want to do it. Christ is giving me fair warning. In this, I deny Christ, and He will deny Me before His Father because I showed that in my heart I do not love Him; I love myself. If I want Christ to confess me before His Father, I must deny myself in the spirit of humility and meekness and submit to Christ in obedience to His holy commandments.
When we become children of God, we become members of a new family: the mighty and holy family of the Church, where God is our Father, the Church our Mother, and holy men and women like those set before us this morning by St Paul in his letter to the Hebrews become our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, our grandpas and grandmas. What a family to be part of! It is a family ruled and vivified by the Spirit of God.
I have observed that our earthly families are, all of them, enmeshed in psychological issues of different kinds and to different degrees. We love our earthly family more than we love Christ and the family of His Holy Church when we live for our family. And, when we live for our family, for the nostalgia of family memories, those psychological issues that entangle the relationships in our family stifle us, smother us, and choke our soul off from the fresh air of the Holy Spirit of God. We are commanded to honor our parents; husbands are commanded to love their wives, wives to respect their husbands; but our families remain “psychological”, they cannot become “spiritual”, until we devote ourselves to the mystery of our baptism into Christ and live not for the comfort and security of our family but for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit that Christ wants to give to us.
This means a life of ascetic discipline; and the Church gives to us ascetic disciplines that we take up as our cross, to crucify our self-centeredness, and to transcend the “psychological” issues of our family so that we can ascend Mt Zion as children of God, radiant with life in the glory, the joy, the fellowship of Christ’s Holy Spirit. Amen.