|26 - In Thy Light We See Light: First Sunday of Great Lent, Feb 25, 2018|
Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2
In her lectionary, the Church set before us, in the two weeks before the beginning of Great Lent, the vision of Christ crucified and buried in the Tomb. Like Isaiah, the prophet, whose prophecy we began to read on the first Monday of Great Lent, we saw a vision (orasiV) of the LORD (Isa 1:1ff.), drawn by the Gospel in our mind as an icon of God crucified on the Cross and buried in the tomb. Under that vision, we have entered the “arena of repentance” (Lk 23:54f.), Great Lent.
But, who is this Jesus hanging on the Tree, in the curse of God (cf. Gal 3:13, Dt 21:22-23) in the darkness of the failing sun? Whose is this corpse placed in the darkness of the Tomb? This is the Son of God Who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment! Now, He clothes Himself in darkness, the outer darkness of the world and the inner darkness of the tomb. But, when they placed His Body in the Tomb, the Sabbath, St Luke says, was beginning to “shine” – epifwsken (Lk 23:54). Do you see? We have entered Lent in the vision of the Light shining in the darkness (Jn 1:4).
The women, it says, “turned [inward] and entered into their inner chamber [hsucasan], according to the commandment” (cf. Mt 6:6). They took up the prayer of the heart on the Sabbath, in the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, His death and burial in the Tomb” (Lk 23:56). The women “turning inward to pray in the stillness of the Sabbath,” this is the activity of Great Lent – what St Gregory Palamas calls the true activity: the inner prayer of the heart. But, do you see? Coming into Great Lent, we enter with the women into the darkness of the “tomb of our heart” wherein the Light of Christ illumines all (Jn 1:9).
On the outside, we continue to live in the world. We anoint our heads and we wash our faces so that no one knows we are fasting (Mt 6:17-18). Unknown to the world, we enter the darkness of our “secret heart”. There, we secretly take up our cross of prayer and fasting to put to death all that is earthly in us, described in vivid colors in our reading last week from Isaiah the prophet. We call on the LORD for help to lose our soul for His sake that we may find it in His love for us. And, through almsgiving, we strive to love our neighbor as ourselves, “according to the commandment” (Lk 23:56).
Do you see? Retreating from the world – let’s say, taking off the worldly clothes we normally wear – we clothe ourselves, secretly, in the outward forms of Lent: the fasting from meat and dairy, the many services and prayers of the Church, the bowings and prostrations, the readings from Holy Scripture. Thus clothed, we “turn” to enter the darkness within us and so we come into the Light shining in the darkness, revealing within us the “better and changeless Path” that leads deep beyond all things, beneath the surface of the world and all its business and activity, down into the closet of our heart, down into the arche, the Beginning of our having been created in the image and likeness of God!
What is this light shining in the darkness? It is the light of the New Creation beginning to shine in the mystery of the Blessed Sabbath, the mystery of the LORD’s death and burial in the Tomb. Over the weeks of Great Lent and Holy Week, in this mystical, Blessed Sabbath of the LORD, the Spirit of God is moving over the face of the deep, the face of our heart, warming our souls in the Love of the Savior who, in His self-emptying death and burial, has become one with us out of His great love for us. Dear faithful, the “Blessed Sabbath” is the mystery of God hidden from the ages that we enter into in Great Lent, the mystery of “Christ in you!” Christ in the “tomb of your heart”! In the stillness of the Church’s “true activity”, we wait, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast, for the Light of God to roll away the stone of our heart to unveil His image in us, restored to our original beauty.
Dear faithful: from within the darkness of the tomb of our heart the Light is shining; and, it is in the tomb of our heart, brothers and sisters, that our faces are unveiled – the masks we wear in this world are removed and we come to our true “selves” – and we behold as in a mirror the Glory of the LORD, and we are transformed in the Icon of God, which is Christ (II Cor 3:18 & Col 1:15).
Dear faithful, the liturgical prayers of the Church talk about entering the arena of the Fast. The work of Great Lent isn’t to sit back and think pious thoughts or generate pious feelings. “From the Tree of the Cross,” we sang at Wednesday Matins,” there grows for all the world the flower of abstinence. Let us then accept the Fast with love and take pleasure [not in the passions, but] in the fruit of Christ’s divine commandments” (LT 231). The ascetic disciplines of the Church are the Cross our Savior commands those who would follow Him to take up. They are called “flowers” growing from the Cross. That means that the wood of the Cross is the soil in which they are rooted, that they are full of life, and that the light in which they grow is the Light shining in the darkness. Doing the ascetic disciplines of Lent, the flower of abstinence growing from the Cross, the Tree of Life, this is how we enter not in theory but in deed into Great Lent, the “arena of repentance.”
But, we don’t know how to pray as we ought. So, our Mother Church teaches us how to pray. For example, on Monday last, the first day of Great Lent, the Church gave us this prayer: “Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in the raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection that shines on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life” (LT 190). “Clothing ourselves in the shining raiment of the Fast, let us cast off the dark and hateful garment of drunkenness; and illumined by the divine virtues, we shall gaze with faith upon the radiance of the Savior’s Passion” (LT 194).
“We shall gaze with faith upon the radiance of the Savior’s Passion.” “In Thy Light shall we see Light!” (Ps 35:9) Do you see? Having entered the Great Fast, we have entered, mystically – in a way worldly eyes cannot see or hear or understand – into the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, the mystery of His death and burial in the Tomb. If we simply do as our Mother Church says, we will find ourselves turning inward, into the tomb of our heart. In the prophecy of Isaiah, for example, and in the prayers of the Canon of St Andrew, the Church helped us to see the darkness of our shame and transgressions; but understand, we are given to see these in the Light shining in the darkness. The light is the visible form, if you will, of the invisible love of God, inexpressibly revealed on the Cross; but the love of God is felt palpably in the Light shining in the darkness, and it is that palpable feeling that engenders in the soul a visceral longing to be cleansed and healed. The prayers of the Church, in the Canon of St Andrew, for example, give voice to the prayer of our soul so that we can express our soul’s contrition and her desire to be cleansed and healed.
For, when we enter into the darkness of our soul in the Name of the LORD, we enter the mystery of the Light shining in the darkness. And so, the Fast of Great Lent, as the Church sings out: “shines upon all of us more brightly than the sun, bringing us the light of grace and proclaiming the good news of the Cross, of the precious Passion and the saving Resurrection” (LT 232).
The ascetic disciplines of the Fast, as flowers growing from the Tree of Life, are rays of light emanating from the Light shining in the darkness. When we take up the Fast, the Church sings, we receive the shining rays of abstinence. Our soul becomes as lightning as we flee from the obscurity of sin, in the hope, filled with joy, that through the divine Spirit the light of forgiveness may illuminate us as the rising sun (LT 249).
To become partakers of Christ, to experience the mystery of His Holy Pascha and its transfiguring effect on our soul, we need simply to take up the Fast according to our strength, and participate mindfully in the services of the Church, listening in our heart to the prayers of the Church. Dear faithful: if we center our daily life on the mystery of the Church, we will be illumined, we will be healed in soul and body, we will be raised up, transfigured, into the Light of Christ that shines in the darkness. In His Light we will see Light. We will become children of Light in the inscrutable mystery of His saving and all-holy Pascha! O LORD, glory to Thee! Amen!