02 - ROAD TRIP TO EDEN, Sept 10, 2023

Galatians 6.11 – 18

2 Corinthians 1.21 – 2.4

John 3.13 – 17

Matthew 22.1 – 14

We have enjoyed a good rest over the last two months like travelers setting up camp in the evening to rest for a spell before continuing their journey. But now, like Israel breaking camp to continue her Exodus to the Land of Promise, having come to a New Church Year, it’s time for us to break camp and continue our Exodus to the Land of Promise.

Bur ours is an inner Exodus. We are not traveling to a distant land such as Canaan. Ours is a mystical journey to a destination that is within us. For the Land of Promise is the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us (Lk 17.21); Christ the King, the mystery of God hidden from the ages, is in us (Col 1.27). And, as it says in one liturgical hymn (echoed in countless others), He is the Paradise our ancestors lost through transgression. The destination of our inner Exodus, then, is Paradise, the Garden of Eden, and it is within us.

In countless liturgical hymns and prayers, we are given to understand that the Virgin Herself is the Garden of Eden. She is the Mother of the whole Christian race (Akathist for Joy of All Who Sorrow); She is our mother, says St Paul (Gal 4.26). She is not distant or separated from us by time or space. In falling asleep, it says, She did not forsake the world. Our inner Exodus, then, takes place in Her maternal embrace. Both the inner Exodus and its destination, the Garden of Eden, are therefore not a mystical abstraction. They are a communion in the embrace of our Mother, the Holy Virgin Theotokos, the Garden of Eden, and Her Son, Jesus Christ, the Paradise that was lost but now is found within us. He is found within us because He was incarnate and was clothed in the garment of our human nature that He spun from the pure blood of our Holy Mother, the Virgin Theotokos.

‘Thy nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe,’ so the Troparion for Her Nativity goes. Why has it proclaimed joy to the whole universe? Because, it says, ‘the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shone forth from Thee.’ See how the Theotokos’ Nativity anticipates Christmas; see how it is directly linked to Christmas – for if there is no nativity of the Virgin, there is no Christmas!

And, where is this joy proclaimed by the Virgin’s nativity found? The answer is given at Christmas: ‘Bethlehem has opened Eden,’ it says. ‘We have found joy in secret.’ (FM 278) The joy proclaimed to the whole universe at the Nativity of the Theotokos is the joy of Christmas Day when Christ is born in our flesh, clothed in our human nature, of the Virgin in the cave. The cave, says St Maximos (d. 662), is the visible image of our heart (Phil II, 156). We therefore find that joy in our own nature, in the cave that is our own heart.

‘Come,’ the Christmas hymn says. I.e., wake up! It’s time to break camp, to take up our Cross and ‘go in spirit to Bethlehem.’ That is, this is a spiritual journey, a mystical Exodus. ‘Raising our minds on high, let us look with the eyes of our soul upon the Virgin as She hastens to the Cave to give birth to our God’ (FM 201).

How do we make this spiritual, mystical journey? The LORD tells us: we descend with our mind into the closet of our heart and shut the door and pray to our Heavenly Father in secret (Mt 6.6). This is the Path of prayer in the way of the Church, in the way of Christ, by which we ‘take possession of the Paradise that is within the Cave.’ (FM 278) We take possession of the joy of Christmas in the communion of our Mother, the Holy Virgin Theotokos, and of Her Son, Christ our God, in the secret depths of our heart.

And, our Gospel this morning reveals to us that this joy we find in secret in the Cave of our heart is the wedding feast of the Father’s Son. Who is the Bride?

We are! And the Holy Virgin Theotokos is the Bridal Chamber, for it is in Her most sacred womb that the eternal God has become one flesh with us. He became bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh. And when on the Cross He destroyed our death by His death, and was ‘placed’ in the Tomb as in the tomb of our heart, He transfigured the tomb into a bridal chamber, and in His Holy Resurrection, He clothed us with the wedding garment of His own divine Glory so that we can become one Spirit with Him who has become one flesh with us.

The Nativity of the Holy Virgin, then, means that the Bridal Chamber of the Light is here. All is now ready for us to consummate our marriage to the Heavenly Bridegroom in the secret chamber of our heart. The wedding feast is prepared. And so the Father is calling us this morning to rise and break camp, and make our way to the wedding feast of His Son to celebrate the union of God with us that was consummated on the Night of the LORD’s Holy Pascha in the Tomb of the human heart, now transfigured into the Bridal Chamber of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

And if the Bridal Chamber is the Tomb of the LORD crucified and buried for us, then the wedding feast is the Holy Eucharist that proclaims the LORD’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26). And the wedding garment in this morning’s parable is the Robe of Light, the Robe of the LORD’s Holy Resurrection, that clothed you when you were raised from the Holy Font. But behold the mystery! You were clothed in the wedding garment of Christ’s Holy Resurrection only as you united yourself to Him in His death in Holy Baptism.

For, the death that clothed you in the Font is the death of the LORD Jesus Christ that destroys death. Clothe yourself in the death of this world and you die to life; clothe yourself in the death of Christ and you clothe yourself with the death that destroys death, and you put on the Garment of Resurrection and Life.

How, then, do we clothe ourselves with the ‘wedding garment’ of Christ’s death so that our journey through this life is an inner Exodus to the wedding feast inside the cave that opens onto the Garden of Eden in our heart, and not to the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? We clothe ourselves with this wedding garment in Holy Baptism. The Church clothed us when we received Her Faith that now shapes our vision of God, of the world, and of our nature and destiny.

The question is framed better if we ask, how do we keep the wedding garment on? How do we not let ourselves be stripped of it?

The LORD Himself tells us: deny yourself, He says, and take up your cross and follow Him. The Cross we will elevate this Wednesday and Thursday on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, dear faithful, is our own human nature. For in the liturgical hymns for the Feast, the ‘wood of the Cross’ is in parallel to our nature that has been poisoned by the deadly toxin of the serpent. We take up our Cross, we lay hold of our own nature, in the ascetical disciplines given to us by the Church. This the Church teaches us in the hymns of Great Lent. The ascetical disciplines of prayer and fasting, of keeping vigil, and observing Christ’s commandments – in each one of which, St Maximos tells us, Christ Himself, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, are mystically present (Phil II 154-155) – these are the ‘flower of abstinence’ that grows from the tree of the Cross’ and brings joy to the whole universe. (LT 290).

By these ascetical disciplines, then, we deny ourselves. They are the mystical form of the very Cross of the LORD by which we are given power to put to death all that’s earthly in us – fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk (Col 3:5, 8); that is, what’s earthly in us is all that separates us from the death and resurrection of Christ, all that strips us of the wedding garment we received in Holy Baptism. All of these, says St Paul, are idolatry. They are therefore the garment of the idols. We cannot wear the garments of the idols and the wedding garment of Christ; for the garment of the idols stinks with death and corruption, darkness and misery, and the wedding garment of Christ is fragrant with Light and Life and Joy, and it destroys the garment of the idols.

  By the Church’s ascetical disciplines, then, we take up our Cross and follow Christ into the Bridal Chamber. By putting to death what’s earthly in us, we begin to live in the joy the world cannot take away, for we are becoming one Spirit with the Heavenly Bridegroom who became bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh; and in that divine joy, we gladly lose our life in Christ because as we unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death, we are finding our life in His Holy Resurrection.

So, in the joy of the Theotokos’ Nativity, let us break camp and take up our cross, and make our way to the wedding feast of Christmas and the ­LORD’s Holy Pascha. Amen!