|05 - Test of True Christian Faith, Oct 2, 2016|
II Corinthians 4:6-15
Where do all the teachings and schools of thought that people follow and believe in come from? Every doctrine or school of thought proceeds from an a priori supposition, does it not? Where does that supposition come from? How is it arrived at by those who embrace it since it itself cannot be proved?
The roots of our life go down into the unseen world of spirits. This world, says St Paul, is ruled by the “prince of the power of the air, a spirit of disobedience who is even now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:1). Before our baptism, says St Paul, we were among these children of disobedience, living or literally “turning this way and that” (anastrepho) to satisfy the carnal desires of the flesh and to tickle the lust of our mind or the greed of our soul. Our face in the unseen depth of our heart was turned to the west or the darkness. Our back was to the East so that our face was turned away from the Light of God who created us in His own Image and Likeness.
The holy fathers tell us how as a result we are sick with what we today would call existential fear and anxiety from the profound loneliness of our soul; or, to use biblical imagery, turned away from God, our soul hungers and thirsts as in a waterless desert. “Waterless” means that we are without the Holy Spirit; “desert” means that our soul is “dead in her sins and trespasses.” Moreover, I think our soul knows, in spite of all the stratagems we devise to convince ourselves otherwise, that we are spiritually sick with guilt and shame. Whenever the loving light of God draws near to us, we begin to feel it in our gut, a vague awareness of having betrayed a loved one, the Deeply Compassionate God who made us in His own image and likeness. Shame prevents us from turning our face to the Light of God. Dark voices whisper in our ear to keep us in our shame: “the LORD is angry at you and wants nothing to do with you.”
So, we turn to the west, looking to find something in the darkness that would comfort us. The prince of the power of the air, with all his hosts, and all his pride, rushes in to make his lair in our heart and, from the spiritual depths of our soul, inaudibly whispers into our inner ear beguiling religious secrets, esoteric philosophies and theosophies, magical spells and charms clothed with a false light of self-justification to entice our mind’s thirst for knowledge of the unknown, empty promises of consolation to induce us to offer our erotic desire to the sensual pleasures of the flesh in the expectation – always disappointed – to satisfy our soul’s longing for beauty and loving intimacy. But their religious and philosophical secrets have no divine substance, and the flesh passes away; so, when we chase after them we are led willy-nilly only deeper into the nihilism that fills our lonely soul with fear.
This is to say that there is no teaching or belief or action that is not rooted in the world of spirits. So St John the Theologian gives us to understand. “Beloved, test the spirits,” he says, “to discern if they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,” and every spirit which does not confess this is of the antichrist (I Jn 4:1-3).
This test of doctrinal truth is, in fact, inseparably one with the commandment of Our LORD this morning: “Become merciful”, He says, “as the Father is merciful.” The test that a teaching or doctrine is of God and not of the “prince of the power of air” is that the spirit that inspires it transforms our heart when we confess it, i.e., when we take it up as our cross and do it, so that we are made able to love our enemy. For, the mystery of the Incarnation is the ineffable mercy of God who, while we were yet sinners, His enemies, He died for us in His great love for us that we might have life in Him if we want it (Rom 5:7-10).
This is a commandment: “Become merciful.” The command, “Become,” is the same commandment that brought creation into existence: “Let there be light.” It is therefore a commandment that creates life: become merciful and you become light, a new creation. But, listen! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The command to become merciful unites us to the mystery of the Incarnation: God Himself becoming flesh that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21), i.e. immortal (Wisd Sol. 1:15), children of God (Ps 81:6), restored to the image of God’s own eternity in which we were made (Wisd of Sol 2:23).
I said that this commandment to become merciful is the hidden mystery of the Incarnation, for “The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us.” But, listen! This Jesus Christ, though He exists in the form or very essence of God, did not hold on to His equality with God. He emptied Himself and received, from the Holy Virgin Theotokos, the form or essence of a servant, and He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death on the Cross (Phil 2:5-8). I wish you to see how God the Word who was with the Father in the Beginning and Who Is Himself God, in becoming flesh has filled “becoming” with Himself, so that He is present in the commandment, Become merciful as your Father is merciful. More than that, He is present in our coming to be even to the point of our coming to be a spiritual and bodily corpse, dead in our sins and trespasses. So, when in our hearts we turn to face the East the face of our heart is suddenly bathed in light. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ pierces our soul all the way down to the division of our soul and spirit to discern even the thoughts and intentions of our heart. Our bodies are washed with the baptismal waters made living by the descent and the operation of the Holy Spirit as all of our darkness is washed away, all the way down into our conscience – i.e., the tomb of our heart becomes a bridal chamber – and we begin to become children of God, children of light, born from above.
Dear faithful, if Christ God, the Greatly Compassionate One, has filled “becoming” with Himself, can you see how He is fully present in the commandment, so that the power of His Grace and Light are imbedded in the commandment, so that when we take up the cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines in order to deny ourselves for the sake of Christ and to become merciful as Our Heavenly Father is merciful, we receive the power of God’s grace to do the commandment. For, we have this treasure in the earthen vessels of our soul and body, Christ Himself, Who has become what we are that we might meet Him in our “becoming” in order to become what He is, children of God, born from above, a new creation.
We simply cannot face the East in our heart and not be bathed in the light of the Glory of Christ. We cannot walk toward the East and not work to become merciful as Our Father in Heaven is merciful. But, if we are walking toward or living in the light of the East, turning this way and that to deny ourselves and to become merciful, the light of the East, the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is shining on our hearts, making us to be light and so making us to become merciful as God is merciful. The manifestation that proves we are becoming children of God, born from above, is that we are becoming merciful as our Father is merciful, even to the point of loving our enemies, doing good and practicing kindness even to those who hate us.
In taking up the cross of self-denial to order to do this commandment, we are becoming participants in the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation; we are uniting ourselves to Christ. Christ Himself is living in us as our food and drink. Fear is transformed into the thanksgiving of love, the loneliness of our soul into the joy of loving intimacy with God Himself. This inner transformation that obedience to the LORD’s commandment effects in us proclaims the mystery of God becoming flesh not as a doctrine or school of thought but as a mighty act of God that raises from death to life, heals and cleans, and transforms soul and body with an inexpressible, overflowing joy the world cannot take away, for it flows eternally from the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever. Amen. Let it come to be! (Rev 21:6). Amen.