|38 - Lamp of the Body, June 21, 2015|
“You cannot serve two masters, God and mammon; for, you will hate one and love the other.” “Seek first the Kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This is saying the same thing the Gospels of the last two Sundays have been saying: if we want to gain all that our heart desires, we must forsake everything for the sake of Christ.
Perhaps it’s because of our idolatry – our love for the flesh and all that money and reputation can give to our flesh – that our ears are deaf and we neither hear nor do we feel the visceral joy in the LORD’s call to forsake everything to follow Him. Incarnate of the Blessed Virgin, He is the spiritual embodiment of the love of God that abides forever. In His compassion for us, He became flesh and dwelt among us, even to the point of sharing in our death so that He could raise us up to the bosom of the Father. So, to forsake everything for Christ is to forsake what in fact is nothing for Him who in fact is everything, for He is the Son of God in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily.
I see in the Gospels of these Sundays following Pentecost – in the LORD’s command to leave family and money in order to follow Him and to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven – the command He gave to Adam in the Garden not to eat from the serpent’s tree. (Gn 2:16ff.) I.e., forsake it for the Tree of Life! St Anthony the Great confirms what contemplation reveals: the Tree of Life is Christ. The Tree was a “type” of His humanity, as is also the “wood of the Cross”. The “Life” that Tree was, that is His divine nature. It is the very Person (hypostasis) of Christ; He says to Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” The LORD’s command of the last two Sundays to leave family and mammon – money and the love of money – behind to follow Him, and to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven is therefore the command to seek first the Tree of Life, to follow Him Who Is the Life of that Tree, the Life of our human nature. As He says: “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood” – unless you eat from the Tree of Life! – “you have no life in you!” To eat from the Tree of Life and not from the serpent’s tree means to love God, not the serpent, as your master, and to live in Christ who is the Life of that Tree, not in the life of the serpent’s tree. In the words of St Paul, it is the command to turn away from the disobedience of this world that exchanges the truth of God for a lie and “worships the creature rather than the Creator;” (Rom 1:25) i.e., turn away from the serpent’s tree, which is the world and the love of mammon, and seek the Tree of Life in the love of God that abides forever.
All of this has opened my eyes to see, if you will, what may be the spiritual meaning of the LORD’s words: “The eye,” He says, is the lamp of the body.” What might this eye be? It’s singular, not plural, so it isn’t one of our physical eyes. The eye of our body is a lamp, He says. A lamp itself is not the light; it’s what holds the light, and it becomes light only when it is illumined by light burning within it.
He says, “If the light that is in you;” so, this eye that is the lamp of our body is an inner something in us that is able to receive light and be illumined by the light it holds. He goes on to say, however: “If the light that is in you is darkness…” Clearly, there are two lights, one that is light and one that is dark.
This riddle finds its solution in the Most Blessed Theotokos. For, she is the lamp that holds God. She is the Burning Bush that was not consumed: for, she is aflame with the radiant fire of her Son’s Holy Spirit.
As Theotokos, Mother of God, she is the real Eve; for, she is in truth the “Mother of Life”, Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life. She is what Eve was called to become. As is the Theotokos, Eve, too, was a “lamp” meant to be illumined by light; but she gave herself to the light of Lucifer who presented himself to her as the serpent of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; i.e., as the principal god worshipped by the Canaanites. That serpentine god, too, is a god of light and fire. So, in appearing to Eve as a serpent, Lucifer appeared to her as an “angel of light” and deceived her. (cf. II Cor 11:14) You see, then, that the light that was in Eve was the Luciferian light of death, just as God had warned. It was darkness because Christ, the true Light, was not in it. When she and Adam ate of the serpent’s tree, their eyes were opened and they saw – not the heavens opening as did the New Adam, not the angel rolling the stone away from the tomb in the Light of the Resurrection as did the New Eve (St Gregory Palamas) – but they saw that they were naked, stripped of the Robe of Glory.
I have wondered: does it mean something theologically that Lucifer tempted Eve and not Adam? Well, when she ate from his tree, the seed of his murderous, lying words was conceived in her and was embodied in the pride of their disobedience.
But I think it goes much deeper than this. In the canon of St Andrew, we hear, “I have an Eve within me,” where Eve is an image of some spiritual faculty or principle of the soul. When Adam awakens from his sleep and sees Eve who had been taken from his side for the first time, he says: “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” The man (ish, in Hebrew) says: “She shall be called woman (ishshah – feminine of ish) for she was taken from out of man,” i.e., from within man. This biblical formula is strikingly similar to the formulas of certain ancient philosophers seeking a way to speak of the soul’s inmost irreducible identity, the self that is deeper even than the soul. They called it, for example, “soul of the soul.”
From this, I’m led to wonder if the theological significance of Eve is that she is an image of the true self, what is called elsewhere in Holy Scripture the “heart”. (cf. Jer 17:9 LXX) If so, then we should see that Eve and the Theotokos are embodied manifestations of the “image of God” at its deepest point in the heart, where man exists fundamentally in the capacity to receive God (this, by the way, is precisely the definition of the image given, e.g., by St Didymus the Blind) or, shall we say, he exists as a “lamp” that by its nature is meant to be illumined, i.e., to live, in Light.
The “eye” that is the lamp of the body, then, embodied in Eve and the Virgin Mary, is our true self. It is the image of God where, as we see in Eve and the Theotokos, our will originates and whence it comes forth into manifestation as word or deed.
Like Eve, with the ears of our soul we have listened to the words of the serpent that come to us from the memes of the world – the presuppositions and presumptions that “shine” in the darkened wisdom of human opinions. We receive them into our soul and there are conceived in us impure thoughts, darkened understandings and we give birth to them, they become incarnate and take flesh in our words and deeds. To forsake family for the sake of Christ, to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, to love God and not mammon is to follow the Theotokos who listened to the angel and received the Word of God in the Holy Spirit; and like her, Christ is formed in us and our whole body, i.e., our whole being becomes light because the light that is in usis “Christ in you.” (Col 1:27)
“Don’t you know that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit?” cries St Paul. (I Cor 6:19) Don’t you know that your soul is a lamp meant to hold Christ who is the Light of the world so that your whole being is illumined in the love of God that abides forever? When in our hearts we turn to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, when we seek to know and to do the will of God, the light of Christ begins to shine in us at once. We can feel it in our souls, for there is conceived in us the holy seed of the joy of “Christ in you” that the world cannot take away, and which the dark light of confusion, bitterness, and anxiety cannot comprehend or put out. In this joy, let us encourage one another to forsake the serpent’s tree and to listen to the apostolic words of the Church that our whole being may be filled with the light of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom “that is within you!” Amen.