|37 - HOLY PENTECOST, June 8, 2014|
John 7:37-52, 8:12
In the chronology of this morning’s Gospel , the “Last Day of the Feast” is the last day of that year’s feast of Pentecost; but, read in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, the Last Day of the Feast is the Eschaton, the Last Day of the world. This is what we believe: that the world is now in its last “day” or “age”. We are in the Sabbath Day (the Saturday) of the world “week”. On Great and Holy Friday, i.e. on the Sixth Day of the World Week, the LORD God “finished” the work of creating the world by re-creating it in Himself and re-fashioning Adam in His own Person (Hypostasis) by raising him from the dust of the ground in the sacred mystery of His Holy Resurrection. And, in the LORD’s Glorious Ascension, earth is united to heaven and the original destiny for which Adam was created is completed. In the mystery of Christ – in the mysteries of His Nativity, His Epiphany, His Holy Passion and Glorious Ascension – our human nature becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Suffused with the divine Glory of God the Word, it has been made victorious over death and immortal, and sits at the Right Hand of the Father. Suffused throughout with the Light of the Holy Spirit, it is the Robe that He who is the Light of the world and who clothes Himself with Light wears as His garment of Light.
This crucified, risen and ascended Body of Christ that has been glorified, deified, in the mystery of Christ is the Church. (Eph 1:21) Here, in the sacramental life and liturgical movements of the Church, our human nature has been renewed and vivified, illumined and perfected and glorified, for it has been united to Christ.
As the crucified, risen and ascended and Glorified Body of Christ, the Church, in her deified and glorified human nature, is “unseen” therefore; for she is the Body of the risen and ascended Christ who is unseen. The Church is not visible in the sins and peccadillos of the bishops, priests and laity. This is not the “visible Church”; nor is it the “earthly” Church. I utterly repudiate such a notion as blasphemy. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Body born of the Virgin without sin. She is the human nature that belongs to Christ, the Son of God, who is without sin. The Church, therefore, in every aspect of her being, in her humanity just as much as in her divinity, in her “earthiness” just as much as in her “heavenly-ness”, is without sin; for, her earthy human-ness is the Body of Christ, who is the Son of God incarnate, who, in the human nature He took from the Virgin without sin, was crucified, dead and buried, and ascended in glory.
Therefore, it is not at all true to say that the Church is visible in the sins and peccadillos of the bishops, priests and laity. This is not the visible Church. Rather, the Church is made visible, I would argue, in the Icon: the icon of her doctrine and her worship – in the liturgical movements and gestures and cycles of her worship, the preaching, teaching, and hymnography of her worship. The icon of her crucified character is in the ascetic disciplines of the Church, for these are the “flowers”, the “icons”, that grow from the wood of the Cross as from the humanity of Christ. As for the icon of the Church in her risen character, I would look to find it in her sacraments. And, for the icon of her glorified character, I would look to the saints whom the LORD has glorified on earth.
Please understand: the Church is the Body of Christ, the crucified, risen and ascended Body of Christ. She is our own human nature that has been restored to its original beauty and wholeness in the Beauty of the Mystery of Christ and His Holy Mother. She is not a worldly organization or social institution. She is not a political party or movement. She is not a fraternity or sorority. She is not a belief system, distinguished from other belief systems by her own set of propositions or ideas. She is the sacred mystery of God that was hidden from before the ages and is now revealed to the world in the beauty of her doctrines, her mysteries, her saints. She is the mystery, as St Paul says to the Colossians, of “Christ in you!” In other words, she is the mystery of God the Word in our human nature which He has made His own to “become” the God-Man.
This Body of Christ from the instant of its conception in the womb of the Most Blessed Virgin was suffused with the Holy Spirit of God. For Christ in the flesh was conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, uniting heaven to earth. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the King of Israel at His Baptism in the Jordan – not Israel as a political kingdom of the earth, but Israel as the mystical Kingdom of Heaven that is in the world but not of the world. By the Holy Spirit He was led into the wilderness to triumph over the devil. By the Holy Spirit, He went throughout Galilee preaching and teaching healing all who were sick of every kind of infirmity of soul and body. By the Holy Spirit, He was raised from the dead; and, in the Holy Spirit He ascended in Glory. In Christ, the movement of our human nature was directed to its natural end; it became God’s own human nature, and in Christ, it attained to God’s own virtue and glory and became a partaker of the divine nature. (II Pt 1:4) And, in this, our human nature was not destroyed or made sick; it was made whole, it was made living, it was glorified, sanctified, deified, suffused with the Spirit as God’s own flesh.
This – the crucified, risen and ascended Body of Christ, the deified, sanctified and glorified Body of Christ, our own human nature suffused in Christ with the Holy Spirit like a sponge soaked in water, like a bar of iron glowing with fire, our own mind, soul and body made living, made light, made in God to be God – this is the Church.
So that when in Holy Confession, Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation and Holy Eucharist we receive Christ, we receive into our own bodies the crucified, risen and ascended Body of Christ and we are taken up into the movement of the Church, the descending and ascending movement of Christ’s Body, from His self-emptying descent into the Virgin’s womb, to His ascent on the Cross, from His descent into Hades to His Ascension into Heaven. The holy fathers give us to see that these sacred moments in the mystery of Christ are icons,if you will, that make seen in both space and time the inner unseen mystery of our heart. The heart is the Garden of Eden, it is the tomb that Christ makes into a bridal chamber, it is the Garden that the tomb of Christ opened onto. The descending and ascending movement of the Church, of Christ’s Body, that we receive into our mind, soul and body, therefore, is centered in our heart. In the mystery of the Cross, of self-denial for the sake of Christ, the movement of the Church, of Christ’s Body, leads us to our heart as to the tomb of Lazarus, that we may be united to Christ in the likeness of His death. In the mystery of the LORD’s Holy Pascha and Ascension the movement of the Church leads us from our heart as from the LORD’s tomb and into the Garden onto which the tomb of the risen Christ opens, that we may be united to Christ in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection. In the spiritual reality of the Church, we have been raised from spiritual death to life. And on this, the Feast of Pentecost, the Spirit of the risen Christ descends on us and makes us “living souls”, raised up into newness of life in the joy of Christ. We have been placed by God, as was Adam, in the Garden of Eden. We have been led into the interior realm of our soul, into the koilia of our soul – the innermost part of our soul, the womb or the heart, where our will originates; and there, in the midst of our heart as in the center of the Garden, we find the two trees.
Brothers and sisters, the Church has answered the prayer of the Psalmist: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and put a new and right Spirit within me. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.”
Brothers and sisters, until this day, the proclamation of Christ’s Holy Resurrection has come from outside of us, calling us to go back to Galilee, to go back to our baptism and take up our Cross to follow Christ…into the “Upper Room” of our heart. But today, the Word of Christ’s call pours out from the tomb of Christ like Living Water from a heavenly Font. It is the Holy Spirit of the crucified, risen and ascended Christ, and it pours into the koilia, the innermost soul and heart of those who receive Christ and who, in repentance, are taking up their Cross to follow Christ back to the dust of the ground. It is the Holy Spirit creating in us a clean heart, purging us with the blood of Christ as with hyssop, putting a new and right spirit within us, healing us at that point where our will originates so that, in gratitude, love and in joy, we will freely choose to eat and drink, i.e. to live, to move and to have our very being, from the Body and Blood of Christ as from the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ by which death has been put to death and we who were dead in the tomb of our hearts have been made alive. O LORD, glory to Thee! Amen.