05 - Become Christian, Oct 4, 2009

II Cor 6:16-7:1

Luke 6:31-36

Our Gospel reading this morning closes with these words of the Savior: “Become merciful even as your Father in heaven is merciful.” This tells us what the salvation God came to give to us is all about. He did not come into the world so that the Father would consider us righteous by looking at us through the “filter” of His only-begotten Son’s perfect righteousness. He came into the world to cleanse us of our many forms of spiritual illness, to restore us to full health so that we could rise up and walk on the better and changeless path that leads to the reason God created us in His Image in the first place: that we might attain to the likeness of God and become righteous, or that we might become merciful like our heavenly Father.

The Savior gives us the image of the vine and the branches to convey to us the mystical joy that comes from uniting ourselves to Him. Christ is the true vine, we are the branches. If we abide in Christ, we are not dead branches, dried up and withered that the Father nonetheless sees through the filter of His Son and pretends are fruitful. If we abide in Christ, we become fruitful. That means that we become living, robust, vigorous. We become healthy, whole, overflowing with a joie de vivre that is not of this world and that the world cannot take away. We become living, full of joy because it is Christ who is living in us establishing us in an intimacy of communion with the Father in whom we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit as the branch receives its life from the vine. The image comes to mind of a balloon into which God breathes His Holy Spirit; the balloon doesn’t just lie there deflated, but which God pretends is blown up. The balloon actually comes to life, swelling to immense size, filled with the Spirit of God, bouncing and floating over the ground in the joie de vivre of God’s own divine Life.

 The blessed season of Christmas is now beginning to dawn on the horizon of the Church’s liturgical year. At Christmas, we will hear the Church singing of the Blessed Virgin giving birth to Christ in ways past nature as to a most precious rose in the cave.[1] The image of the rose recalls the prophecy of Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall become glad, the desert shall blossom like the rose.”[2] 

Human nature, of course, is the desert; but when our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin, was born, our barren human nature brought forth the Blessed Virgin Panagia as fertile ground, renewing our nature, it says – i.e., not leaving it barren as it was before, but transforming it in the birth of the Theotokos – into fertile ground[3] that would bring forth the Christ as a most precious rose in a cave, illumining our nature that had become a dark tomb from our sin with the immaterial splendor of His heavenly Light, making our human nature to become like the bush on Mt Sinai that burned with the immaterial Fire, the Holy Spirit of God and was not consumed. That is to say, with the conception of Christ in the womb of the Theotokos our humanity became irradiated with the Light of Christ, burning with the immaterial glory of the Fire of Christ’s Holy Spirit; and it was not consumed, it was not destroyed. It was not left as it was before, dry, barren and lifeless. It was transfigured. It became living in the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

The seed of that precious rose brought forth by the Blessed Virgin in the cave was sown into our souls and bodies in our baptism. It is the fiery seed of the Holy Spirit. How can we be immersed in the waters of our Baptism and not become sopping wet. How can we be immersed in the Fire of the Holy Spirit and not become fiery. How can we eat and drink the Life-giving Fire of the Holy Spirit in Holy Eucharist and not become in our inner man illumined with the Fire of God. And if we nurture that seed through prayer and fasting and keeping Christ’s holy commandments – they are the light of God on the earth – how can we not grow in that fire to become in Christ like God, irradiating the immaterial splendor of Christ’s Holy Spirit and illumining the darkness of this world with the life-creating Light of mercy that radiates from our Heavenly Father in the face of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

Let me tell you why we do not become spiritual in our inner man, even though we receive into our souls and bodies the Fire of the Holy Spirit in the mysteries of the Church. Because we reject it. We go into the closet of our secret heart not to pray to our heavenly father and engage our souls in spiritual warfare but to indulge our imaginations in the passions and vanities of the flesh. These are fires that will consume us. In our secret heart, we eat and drink not from the Tree of Life but from the serpent’s tree and its fruits of which are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. These make us dry and barren, empty and painfully alone in our inner man. We become selfish, we do not become like God. And the harvest of our life is not the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy and peace, but the fruits of death and corruption: alienation, isolation, faithlessness, boredom, sadness, despair leading finally to the bitterness of separation in lonely hostility even from those we love the most.

God created us in His Image and Likeness for the purpose of dwelling in us as in a living temple. How can light dwell in darkness without making the darkness light? How can the Spirit of God dwell in us richly without making us zealous for, on fire with the mercy of our Heavenly Father?

Let us not be deceived: we were made for God; we were made to become partakers of the divine nature, not to become yoked to the darkness of unfaithfulness and impurity. We were not made for ourselves but for God. Our sense of entitlement, our self-willfulness, none of this is natural to us. It is a spiritual leprosy that has afflicted our souls. We were made to partake of righteousness, to dwell in the light of Christ, to live the Life of God and to become like God, overflowing with love, joy and peace.

Behold the high calling that is ours in Christ Jesus, the Image of God in whom we were made.[4] We are called to “come out from their midst and separate ourselves from them” for the purpose of becoming partakers of God, living temples of God in holiness, in light, in purity, in wisdom, in mercy. The call of God through His prophets and his apostle, St Paul, is nothing less than to become who and what we really are: children of God created in His Image with the innate capacity to become like God.

To become who and what we really are is the substance that lies underneath the call of Our Lord to take up our cross and follow Him. We take up our cross and unite ourselves to Christ through the ascetic disciplines of the Church in order to put to death the spiritual leprosy of our inner man, that we might be restored to full health, living no longer the life of this world but living the Life of Christ in His Holy Spirit, feeding our souls and bodies not on the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh or the pride of life but on the Living Bread and Living Cup of Christ our God. It is the call to become yoked no more to the darkness of unfaithfulness but to become yoked instead to the Cross of Christ so that, united to Christ in His death, our death is transformed to become death in Christ; a death that destroys not the soul but the spiritual leprosy that clings to the soul through our sin and opens the east gate of our heart onto that better and changeless path that ascends to God.

Salvation in Christ is not simply to be considered righteous. It is to become like God through participation in Christ as we take up our cross and submit ourselves to the ascetic disciplines of the Church. Salvation in Christ is to be made whole, to be healed and to be delivered from the spiritual leprosy of sin and death. Christ’s salvation – his healing and deliverance – is like the seed that grows into the precious rose shining in the cave. The lover of Christ desires much, much more than to be considered righteous; he desires to be made whole, to be restored to his true self, to become righteous, to become a living temple of God, a vessel of purity and holiness in whom God can dwell and abide in the intimacy of holy communion that he might become a witness to the ineffable goodness and glory of God.

If we are to become like Christ, we must become like the seed of that most precious rose in a cave born of the Virgin, which does not bring forth fruit until it falls into the ground and dies. This means that we must die in Christ to ourselves, to our attitude of entitlement, our lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We die in Christ when we give ourselves to prayer and fasting; when we choose to follow His commandments and not act out the impulses or desires of our passions, when we choose to go into our closet and feed on the Gospel, and to abide in our secret heart in the Word of God. We die in Christ when through the ascetic disciplines of the Church and through faithful participation in the joy of the Church’s worship we cultivate a broken and contrite heart in humility and repentance. We “come out from their midst and separate ourselves from them” by descending with the mind into the depths of our soul to uncover and to confess our deceitfulness, our pride, our greed, our vanity, our stubborn self-willfulness, our anger and when we consciously strive to follow no longer the wisdom of our own opinion but the Wisdom of God freely given to us in the sacraments and in the doctrines of His Holy Church.

Hear the call! Now, answer it and take up your cross that we might become like God, that Christ might be born in us and transform us to become in Him a precious rose illumining the cave of this world with the glorious Light of His life-creating death and His Holy Resurrection. Amen.

[1] Festal Menaion 218

[2] Isa 35:1

[3] Festal Menaion, pp. 99 - 100

[4] Cf. Col 1:15