|16 - Sunday After Theophany|
Christmas is the first epiphany to the world of Christ, the King of All. It marks the birth of the King of Heaven in the flesh. Yet, He is shown forth in the secrecy of the Cave. To see Him, the shepherds and wise men must follow a path that leads to Bethlehem, where they must enter the cave. I believe that means more than what the eye can see.
Christmas is the birth of the King. Theophany is the coronation of the King. In the Jordan, He is anointed by the Spirit for all to see, except that the Spirit is manifest in the form of a dove. Even as the Spirit is manifest, He is hidden in the form of a dove. Should we also note that even as the King is manifested in the flesh (I Tim 3:16) for all to see as He stands in the waters of the Jordan, He is at the same time hidden in His flesh and in the waters of the Jordan? Just like the shepherds and wise men must follow the path into the Cave to see the King of Heaven, so also to see the King of Heaven crowned as the King of creation, one must follow the path into the Jordan, even, I would say, into the flesh of the King: a most perplexing riddle, even nonsensical, is it not?
So, Christmas marks the birth of the King, Theophany the coronation of the King. Holy Pascha, then, marks the victory of the King. Is this not another most perplexing riddle, since the final epiphany to the worldof the King of All victorious is the King of All “publicly portrayed
Behold the riddle of the Christian Faith! Even as Christ makes Himself visible He remains hidden. To see Him, one must enter the Cave of Bethlehem; one must descend into the Jordan; one must enter into His flesh and into His Tomb to see that it is empty!
Beloved faithful, the Church is the Cave; the Church is the Jordan; the Church is Christ’s Body, even His Tomb. We must enter the Church to see Christ; but even here, He remains hidden even as He is makes Himself visible for all to see.
So, come with me, if you will. Let’s “incline our ear” to the “Proverb”, the Wisdom of the Church that we find in the music of her lyre (Ps 49:4); i.e., in her Holy Scriptures, her liturgical texts, her holy fathers. I believe it is here alone in the Wisdom of the Church that we solve the riddle of the Christian Faith.
Do you see how the image of Christ in the Cave and of Christ in the Jordan are the same image as given in, e.g.: “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21); “The mystery of God hidden from the ages but now made manifest to His saints…Christ in you”? (Col 1:26-27) From this, can you see that the Cave of Bethlehem and the Jordan open onto you?
“That which is outward and visible is earthly,” the Church sings on the music of her lyre at Theophany. (FM 382) “That which is inwardly understood is higher than heaven….By descending into the water (our soul), we ascend to God.” The Cave and the Jordan, the Tomb, even the flesh of Christ are outward, earthly coverings of Christ that make Him visible for all to see as He hides in you, in your inner man. In His outward visible covering, Christ is a riddle for we see Him there in an earthly way; but,in the inner man the riddle of Christ is dissolved for we see Him in a heavenly way.
Christ descends to the bottom of the Jordan. If the Jordan is the outward form of the inner man, would not the bottom of the Jordan mean the heart? “The heart is deep beyond all things, says the prophet, and it is the man.” (Jer 17:5 LXX)
The King “bears the creation down into the stream,” the Church sings to the music of her lyre on Theophany. (FM 377) He bears it past the “evil spoiler hidden in its depths who calls men to follow the path that leads to destruction.” (FM 376) His descent into the waters is the outward, earthly covering of His inner, hidden descent into the “waters” of His human soul down into the heart, even the tomb of the heart where the soul lies buried, “dead in her sins and trespasses.” (Eph 2:1) There, in the depths of the Jordan where He is hidden in the waters – i.e., in the depths of the heart that is the man, and so – there hidden in you, He brings all of creation, He brings our inner man to “a better and changeless path by which we ascend to God.” (FM 377 & 383)
We hear the Church at Christmas singing to the music of her lyre about this same path that ascends to God. It is the path taken by the Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea. “Of old the Master that works wonders saved His people, making the watery wave of the sea into dry land; now, of His own will has He been born from a Maiden, and so He establishes a path for us whereby we may mount to heaven.” (FM 270) I take from this that the path established by the Master so that we might ascend to heaven is His flesh; i.e., the human substance possessed not only of “flesh” but also of soul and mind, i.e., the heart that He received from the Blessed Virgin so that He could Himself become man. His flesh is the “better and changeless path that ascends to God”; for, it is the flesh of the New Adam born of the Virgin and the Spirit. To find the new humanity of the LORD, the better and changeless path that ascends to God, we must descend, as we hear the Church directing us at Theophany, into the water, specifically, the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Church’s baptismal font. Those waters are the outward, earthly form of our hidden, inner soul. In these waters, we come upon Christ, the King of All. We come upon the mystery of “Christ in you!” At the bottom of those waters, in the heart of the inner man, we come upon the Cave of Bethlehem, we come upon the Tomb of the LORD. It is in the heart of the inner man that we find this better and changeless path, Christ Himself, that ascends to God, which the Church sings of to the music of her lyre.
“Those who sat in darkness have seen a great light,” we read in this morning’s Gospel. I wonder, does this mean that only those who sat in darkness see Christ, the great Light? I believe so. It points to the “true activity” of prayer, of standing with attention before God in the heart. And, that requires us to deny ourselves, to take up our Cross to follow Christ from the Cave of Bethlehem into the Tomb of our heart, to see…that it is empty! For, the Kingdom of Heaven is “within you”; “Christ is in you!” and in the Tomb of our heart, we come upon the Resurrection of Christ, the Better and Changeless Path that ascends to God into the heavens that were opened, even rent asunder as were the curtains of the temple at the moment of Christ’s final victory on the Cross when He “gave up His Spirit” to God. In God is where we will find Him; and, it is where we find our inner man if we have united ourselves to Christ and have been crucified and buried with Him, so that we are now hidden with Him in God.
Beloved faithful, this Better and Changeless Path, Christ Himself, hidden in the depths of the Jordan, is the Royal Path of Great Lent. That means that Great Lent is but the outward, visible form of this inner path hidden in our inner man, which descends into the waters of the soul down to the tomb of our heart. The tomb of our heart is the destination of the Lenten path. But we are able to break through the hardness of our heart only by uniting ourselves to Christ. Taking up the cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines is how we step onto the path that leads us into the Cave of Bethlehem, into the waters of Jordan, even into the flesh of Christ in which He has accomplished His final victory over the devil and death in the Tomb of our heart. Then, we become those sitting in darkness who have seen a Great Light, the Light of God shining in our darkness in the glorious victory of His death and Resurrection and leading us up with Him into the Kingdom of Heaven that has been opened to all who would but deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. May the LORD give us strength and have mercy on us. Amen!