05 - Become Merciful, Oct 1, 2017


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Hebrews 9:1-7

II Corinthians 6:16 – 7:1

Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28

Luke 6:31-36

This morning, we celebrate the Feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos. The epistle to the Hebrews, the reading assigned for the Feast, speaks of the First Covenant or the OT. It says that it consisted of, or rather its substance was the worship of the temple, centered on what St Paul calls the “cosmic” altar. I believe he means that this altar was the center, the point at which the creation “came to be”.

This altar was made from earthy materials: stone, clay, wood, etc. It was therefore an image of Adam, also made from the earth. The altar was in the Holy of Holies of the “Tabernacle”, the skene or tent, which refers in several NT texts to the body. Fashioned as a moving “mound” (choun, Gn 2:7) of earth, man, too, was a “moving temple”. He was the “Tabernacle” in the image and likeness of God. That means, theologically, that the very essence of his nature is the capacity to receive God so that God dwells in him as in His son or in His Holy Temple, walking or moving in him as his Heavenly Father, as the Scriptures say that St Paul sets before us this morning in II Corinthians (Lev, II Sam, Eze & Isa).

We see in this biblical anthropology the prophets speaking in the Holy Spirit (I Pt 1:10-12) of the Incarnation: God the WORD becoming flesh and pitching His Tent (His Holy Temple) among us (Jn 1:14), of God dwelling in us and walking among us (II Cor 6:16f.), Christ in our midst! In the Incarnation, Adam receives God in the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos and God becomes one with us even to the point of sharing on the Cross in our death. This death of God is the Blessed Sabbath (Gen 2:3) in which He raises us on the “earthy” altar of Christ’s Body to make us sons of God. Our Father is His Father, our Mother is His Mother, the Most Holy and Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos.

This reading from II Cor, it seems to me, sets before us the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation. Our reading from Hebrews sets before us how that mystery takes place. In the light of Christ, we see that the OT Temple, with its cosmic worship and altar, is the mystery of the Theotokos. She is the spiritual mystery behind the curtain of the first Covenant. She is the spiritual mystery of the altar, the ark of the Covenant girded with gold, the vessel holding the manna, the Rod of Aaron that blossomed, the stone tablets on which were written the Law. Giving birth to the Son of God in the flesh, she became the Mother of God, Theotokos. In this, she became perfect Man, Man as he was created to be: the Holy Temple in whom God dwells.

Receiving the God who is Himself the Life and the Resurrection into her womb as the Holy of Holies received the High Priest, she is revealed to be the True Eve, the Mother of All Living. If I may dare to speak so boldly, in the inmost chamber of her body, at that physiological and spiritual point where she, as woman, generates her child as a living soul, she receives the Seed not of man but of God the Holy Spirit, who breathes into her as He breathed into Adam, and she conceives and brings forth a New Creation: the uncreated God incarnate. The Creator of all, who is without beginning, through her and in her, begins to be in the flesh and so the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, the New Adam.

She is the earth, the cosmic temple, with its altar and sacred appointments in whom and through whom God her Son, the Great High Priest enters not once a year but once and for all, on behalf of all. In the earthy Temple of His Body that He receives from her, He finishes the works of creation He began to do (Gn 2:3 LXX). He re-creates the world, raising it from death as He raised it from the formless deep, illumining it with the uncreated Light of His Divinity shining now in the created light of the Holy Virgin, the daughter of Joachim and Anna, the “authors of creation” (Matins for the New Year).

In the Sabbath Rest or in the Death of God, the earthy substance of the cosmic altar of the OT, having been fashioned into the Body of God, is made to become the cornerstone of the Heavenly Temple, not of this world, not made with hands (Heb 9:11) – because the earthy substance of this cornerstone, the Body of Christ, is made from the Seed of God, not man.

Dear faithful, this cosmic temple that becomes the Heavenly Temple not of this world, not made with hands, is our own body transfigured and deified when it is raised from the baptismal font. The life of our body is the Blood of God, sacrificed on the Cross, given to us as our food and drin in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, His Most Holy Body.

In the waters of the font, which have been infused, you’ll remember, with the Holy Spirit (the flaming candles dipped in the water), we are cleansed, made pure from all defilement of flesh and spirit – i.e., from the darkness of human wisdom and reasoning, and from the corruption of greed and self-love – we are made to become virgin, we are made to become single (St Ephrem of Syria). How can we not: for God becomes our Father and the Holy Virgin our Mother!

To be virgin means to exist in the capacity to receive God, the definition given by the holy fathers (e.g., St Didymus the Blind), by the way, of our having been made in the Image and Likeness of God. But, even having been raised to life in the waters of the font that pour out from the side of Christ on the Cross, as Adam was raised to life from the earth and Eve from the rib of Adam, it is ours to choose if we will become the mother of the serpent’s word of disobedience or of the incarnate God’s WORD of obedience, whether we will become a pagan temple filled with idols or a holy temple in whom the Icon of God, Jesus Christ, dwells (Col 1:15), whether we will become merciful as our Father in Heaven, or full of self-love and envy of the one who is the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning.

To receive the WORD of God in obedience to His commandments, as we read in our first Gospel this morning, is to become a New Creation, a son or daughter of God, made and fashioned anew from the Cornerstone, the Body of God in the mystery of His Blessed Sabbath. The essential distinguishing mark of this Life of God, the evidence that it is the life of Christ that is in us, is the grace that enables us to show mercy on those who hate us. I would translate this Gospel this morning as: “If you love those who love you, where is the Grace of God in that? Even sinners – those without God’s Grace – do that!”

For, we know from our experience on Pascha Night, after weeks of taking up our cross and working to deny ourselves, to lose our life for the sake of Christ, that when it is Christ who lives in us and not we ourselves, when it is God our Heavenly Father who dwells in us and walks among us in the Resurrection of Christ our God, it is then that we are able to call brother even those who hate us, and in the Resurrection, by which all that is earthly in us has been put to death, to forgive all things.

May Christ our LORD and our God, through the prayers of His Most Holy Mother, our Beloved Virgin Theotokos, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!