02 - THE LORD'S VINEYARD, Sept 11, 2022

Galatians 6.11-18 [Cross]

1 Corinthians 16.13-24

John 3.13-17 [Cross]

Matthew 21.33-42

This morning, we are still in the Feast of the Theotokos’ Nativity. Coming to the Exaltation of the Cross, we are coming to the end of the ‘Summer Pascha,’ that 40 day period from Transfiguration to the Exaltation of the Cross. This morning, the Church sets before us this parable of the LORD’s Vineyard, a parable the LORD spoke to Israel centuries earlier through His prophet Isaiah.

When the bishop comes to his parishes and blesses the faithful with his dikhiri and trikhiri, he calls on the LORD to bless this vineyard, this parish, which He has planted. The prayer is drawn from this morning’s parable. The Vineyard, that is, is the Church, and each parish of the Church is the LORD’s Vineyard.

Now, in the parable, the LORD says that the Master, God the Father, planted a vineyard; and it says in Genesis that the Father planted a Garden in the East. The verb gives us to see the Vineyard as Eden, and so the Church is Eden. But, the Church is the Body of Christ which He received from His Holy Mother. And from the prayers of the Church—that is from Christ and His Holy Mother, we learn this theology of the Church:

“O Virgin, Thou wast a noetic Garden of Paradise who put forth the Tree of Life.” “Rejoice, O Mary, Virgin Mother, Holy Mountain, Garden of Eden, from whom was born Christ God, the seedless WORD, through whom Life has budded forth for the world.” “Thou, O Virgin, wast a noetic vine who brought forth the cluster of grapes, Christ our God, who gives life to the world.” “The ancestors of our race rejoice in Thee, O Pure Virgin, receiving through Thee the Eden they lost through transgression.”

Eden—the Vineyard, the Church—is the mystery of Christ and His Holy Virgin Mother. Hidden from the ages, the Church has been revealed in these last days to His saints, that is, to the faithful who love God. The saints are those in whom God rests; the saints, then, are the Sabbath Rest of God. The mystery of God is a ‘personal’ reality revealed inthe hearts of those who love God. The mystery of God, then, is not an intellective or scientific datum that one learns and accepts cognitively as true; it is the mystery of ‘Christ in you.’ The mystery of God is known through faith, which St Maximos describes as a supranatural relationship with the LORD who is in you ‘through which we are united with God in an unknowable and so indemonstrable manner which is beyond intellection.’

Hear what the Church is teaching us and become a true theologian! Eden is in you because Eden is the mystery of Christ in you. You have been united to Christ in Holy Baptism. You have received His Heavenly Spirit into your body and soul because you have eaten and drunk His Body and Blood, which is our own human nature deified, in which He was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day rose again. The mystery of Eden, the mystery of the Church, of Christ’s Body, is the personal mystery of love in which those who love God become one with God. They become temples of God in whom God dwells; they become vineyards filled with clusters of grapes ready for harvesting, they become new wineskins ready to be filled with the New Wine of Christ’s life-giving blood that makes glad the heart of man.

Here is why the Church’s New Year is a season of joy. The Wine we drink in our New Year is not the wine of the world that can kill us if we drink too much. Ours is the Wine of the LORD’s Vineyard, the life-giving Blood of His Body that He received from His Holy Virgin Mother. Her nativity means that the Heavenly Vineyard has been planted in the world, and that the season for harvesting its Fruit—the cluster of grapes that is the Virgin’s Son, Christ our God, Son of the Father—is drawing near! What would be the Tower rising up in her midst if not the Tree of Life, the Cross on which God united Himself to His Bride, the human soul, reaching up to the heavens from the Cornerstone of the LORD’s crucified Body buried in the midst of the earth, His life-giving Blood, the New Wine, soaking the earth and pouring into the tombs to wash the dead bodies buried there, and re-creating them as new wineskins that can now hold the New Wine, the Living Waters, of His Heavenly Spirit, to make them strong enough now to rise and walk into the Land of their Inheritance, the Land of the true Israel, the mystery of Christ in you, hidden from the ages because it is found not ‘out there’ but ‘in here,’ in one’s own heart?  

There is an essential connection between these Summer Pascha feasts of the Theotokos and of Christ’s Cross because there is an essential connection between the Theotokos and the Cross. Their essential connection is signified by the fact that both are imaged as a ladder. The Theotokos is the Ladder by which God the Son came down to earth and became man. The Cross is the Ladder by which He carried us back up to heaven. Both the Theotokos and the Cross as the Ladder are images of our human nature. The Theotokos as the Ladder manifests our human nature transfigured and deified as we open our hearts to receive Her Son and our God coming down from heaven to unite Himself to us through Her. The Cross as the Ladder is the image of our nature made victorious over death in union with Christ who transfigures our death into the Gate that opens onto Heaven. The image of the Ladder, then, as the Theotokos and the Cross, manifests our natural capacity to receive God and to become one with Him. As such, the Theotokos and the Cross are together an ‘epiphany’ of the image of God that is the essential principle, the ‘inner logos’, of our nature, defined by St Didymus the Blind (4th cent.) as ‘capax Dei’—the capacity for God. This is why St Isaac of Nineveh (7th cent.) can say: “The ladder of the Kingdom is within you, hidden in your soul [it is the inner logos, the essential principle of your human nature]. Plunge deeply within yourself [through prayer], away from sin, and there you will find steps by which you will be able to ascend.” (Hom 2, p. 11)

Perhaps we begin to catch a glimpse of the martyrs’ joy. Their joy was the fruit that sprang from their love for the Heavenly Bridegroom. Their love for Christ opened the eyes of their soul so that they could see that the Tomb to which they were drawing near was the LORD’s Tomb. The Stone was being rolled away, and it was empty of death, for the LORD’s Tomb opens onto the Garden of His resurrection. They saw into the invisible mystery of Baptism. In our physical death, the final consummation of our union with the Bridegroom in the Baptismal Font is at hand. Like St Ignatius of Antioch, like Polycarp of Smyrna, like St Nicholas of Athos, the martyrs ran to their death with joy and a divine courage that amazed and befuddled their persecutors.

The Summer Pascha, this 40 day season that begins with the LORD’s Transfiguration on Aug 6 and ends with the Exaltation of the Cross is an epiphany of the Church’s transfiguring love. In Her Falling Asleep, which brings the old year to a close, the Theotokos does not forsake us, for the New Year opens with Her Nativity. In the liturgical rhythm of the Church, the years of our life are thereby transfigured into a never-ending season of harvest, offering ourselves and one another to Christ our God in the love of His Holy Virgin Mother. Ending and beginning the year in the Summer Pascha, the Theotokos is never absent from us. Our whole life from our birth to our death is shown passing through the years in Her embrace. We are born in Her embrace. We live in Her embrace. We die in Her embrace.

She is the Mother of God! Enter the mystery of the Holy Virgin Theotokos’ embrace and come into the presence of Christ, Her Son and our God, who is risen from the dead. Christ is in you because Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. In the bridal chamber of His Virgin Mother’s womb, He clothed Himself in our flesh. In Her embrace, He clothed Himself in the garments of our birth and our death. Without the Virgin, there is no Vineyard, no Eden, no Cross, no Life, no union with God and no salvation because there is no God in the flesh, no ‘Christ in you’ destroying death by His death and giving life to us in our death.

We therefore take up our Cross in the embrace of the Holy Virgin. That means we take up our Cross in the joy of heaven and in the love of the Son for His Mother and of the Mother for Her Son. To take up our cross—the ascetical disciplines of prayer—means to climb onto the lap of the Church in the embrace of our Holy Virgin Mother and to orient ourselves to Eden, to the mystery of the incarnate God who is in Her embrace, the mystery of ‘Christ in us! In the Church, in commemorating the Holy Virgin, we are ‘commending ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God.’ This means that we live in the loving embrace of the Theotokos and our ‘inner man’ oriented to Eden. Our eyes are focused not on the lusts of the flesh or the pride of life but on the Christ who is found in the joy of His Resurrection in the tomb of our own death. This inner orientation to our own death as to Eden, as we practice it, becomes more and more the source of a joy the world cannot take away, because in this orientation, we are living in the love of the Virgin Mother for Her Son, and in the love of the Son of God for His Mother by which our death has been destroyed and we have been given life eternal in the love of faith. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ! Most Holy Theotokos, save us!