|10 - A Biblical Feminism, Nov 8 2020|
This Sermon can be viewed on our public Facebook page and St Herman's YouTube.
Hebrews 2.2-10 (Angels)
Luke 10.16-21 (Angels)
There is a pathos in the image of the daughter of Jairus, and of the woman with the flow of blood that goes to the root of the tragedy of human existence. As there was with Lazarus in the tomb, so there must have been with the woman, a stench from her unstoppable menstruation. It would have been the stench of death, for it would have been the odor of a woman prevented from becoming a woman, a mother of life. That in her that receives the seed of life and brings it forth as a child was always being carried away by the flowing blood—a terrible irony, for blood, the very stuff of life, was taking her life, and her womanhood, away from her.
The pathos I speak of is no doubt experienced in the soul of all those who are awake to the deepest longings of the soul, longings which are betrayed by the grief of death. But, the tragic pathos of human existence is becoming more and more visible in our day in the untold suffering of soul and body of those who are victims of war, of poverty, hunger, injustice, the torments brought upon them by their own choices, and so many evils imaginable and unimaginable. Archimandrite Athanasios sees these as the evils falling down on us from the ‘smoke and the locusts’ that pour forth from the bottomless pit when Lucifer is given the key to open it. But, these locusts are given power like scorpions to harm only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They are allowed to torture them but not to kill them. In those days, men will seek death, but not find it; they will long to die, but death will fly from them. (Rev 9.3-6)
What a horrible, terrifying picture! These are the sufferings of the Fifth Plague prophesied in Revelation. We have witnessed them, have we not, in the World Wars at the beginning of the 20th century, the fall of Russia and the eastern bloc countries to atheistic communism. Yet, even with the Allied victory, and the fall of the iron curtain, they seem not to have decreased in number or intensity, nor to have slowed down!
The depth and comprehensiveness of the tragedy of human existence is given in the teaching of the holy fathers that the bottomless pit from which flows the darkening smoke and terrifying locusts of Rev 9.3 (imaged in the woman’s flow of blood?) is the human heart; for, as Jeremiah says in the Greek, the heart is deep, beyond all things (Jer 17.9 LXX). And, does not the LORD say: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt 15.19), which takes us back to Jeremiah, now in the Hebrew: “The heart is deceitful beyond all things and desperately corrupt.” We’ll return to this when we ponder the beautiful Gospel proclamation in the healing of the hemorrhaging woman. But, let’s look now at the 12 year old daughter of Jairus who was sick and finally dies.
Can we imagine the depth of Jairus’ grief? Surely, it is the grief of the human soul over the unspeakable suffering she must see and experience in the world. I’ve pondered if there is any significance to the fact that this particular story in St Luke deals with two women, one a 12-year-old daughter, the other a woman who has been menstruating for 12 years. I can’t make out the meaning of the 12 years. Even so, methinks I smell the fragrance of the Theotokos, and that we may be presented here with the biblical theology of ‘woman’, the true ‘feminism’.
The Blessed Virgin, you know, is the Woman who manifests and makes real, makes incarnate, the beauty of Man. For, as Theotokos, she reveals that it is in the Woman that Man possesses the capacity, by nature, to receive God and to knit the substance of his own blood with the Son of God’s Holy Spirit to form in the womb of his soul the mystery of Christ God incarnate. This is the spiritual principle of man, made in the image and likeness of God as male and female, that was made incarnate, it became a concrete reality, in the mystery of the Virgin conceiving God the WORD in her womb. It is in and through the woman that God becomes the Son of Man, and Man becomes a child, of God. But, more than that, he becomes, in and through the woman, Theotokos, the birthgiver of God in the flesh. He becomes bone of God’s bones, flesh of God’s flesh. He becomes spirit as God is Spirit. (Could this be how the Woman was brought forth from the rib of Adam to be Adam’s ‘helpmate’? That is, through her, man was made able, he was ‘helped’ to receive God into his soul and body; for this is how he could become one spirit with God as God became one flesh with him, and so fulfill, in and through the woman, the image and likeness of God in whom he was made, as male and female. For, if the capacity to receive God is what the image of God is in man (St Didymus the Blind of Alexandria, early 4th cent.), then, man could not exist in the image of God without the woman!)
Continuing, now, with the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus, it says, was ruler of the synagogue. The synagogue was the extension of the Temple of Jerusalem in the villages scattered throughout Israel. The synagogue is where the Law of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets were read; but, their words are centered on and point to the sacrifices that took place in the Temple and, deeper than that, they point to the mystery of the human heart’s devotion to God, given visible form in the temple sacrifices and the liturgical rites that accompanied them.
But, the Theotokos is the true Temple of the Old Testament, whom the LORD was building in all the generations of Israel all the way back to Enoch, the son of Seth. The Holy Virgin comes from the seed of Seth, not of Cain; and the son of Seth, Enoch, was the first man to “hope and to call on the Name of the LORD” (Gn 4.26 LXX). Our Beloved Lady is the Living Temple of God, of which the OT Temple is the shadow cast on the ground of space-time by the royal splendor of her garments, which is the uncreated Light of the Son of God who takes up His dwelling in her womb (Rev 12.1). She is the New Jerusalem, of whom the earthly city Jerusalem is the shadow. And so, she is the true Temple of Jerusalem, the true Mt Zion. Her Son is the LORD, the WORD of God, the Prince (Ez 44.1-3) who appeared and spoke to the fathers of Israel, to Moses, to the Psalmist and to the holy prophets, whose word was written down in the scrolls that were read in the synagogue as well as in the Temple of Jerusalem.
‘Jairus’ means, ‘him whom the LORD enlightens.’ Might he be an image of Adam, and the synagogue in some way an image of Eve? Jairus’ daughter who is sick and dies, then, would be Israel who, though raised and shaped by the reading of the Law and the prophets, is unable, because of the corruption of the serpent’s venomous toxin that has permeated our human nature, to attain to the purpose of her being built by God from the rib of Adam: viz., to become the ‘Mother of Life,’ Theotokos. The tragedy of Jairus’ daughter, then, goes far beyond the grief of a loving father and mother. It reveals that Man has no woman, no Eve, to help him attain to the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ. The Law and the prophets, by themselves, do not have the power to overcome death so as to help man fulfill the purpose for which God created him in His image and likeness, male and female: to become one with God and live in Him.
The name, Jairus, may be prophetic: for, in this morning’s Gospel, Jairus is the synagogue, he is the Law and the prophets that are illumined by the true Light who comes into the house of Jairus. The LORD comes in the Temple of His Body that He received from the Virgin. The LORD Jesus Christ is the Light that illumines all, of whom Jairus as ruler of the synagogue is the steward. He comes in the flesh; again, that means that He comes in the mystery of His Holy Temple, His Holy Mother, the Virgin Theotokos, to whom the synagogue with its Holy Scriptures points. The meaning of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, then, is that the fulfillment of the Law is found in the resurrection of Israel, the child, the daughter, of Adam and Eve, from the dead; and that fulfillment is in the LORD Jesus Christ, the New Adam, come in the flesh from the Holy Temple of the Woman, the New Eve, the Most-Holy Virgin Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Heavenly Zion, the New Jerusalem.
The unspeakable joy of the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter is the joy of Man being restored to his original beauty in the woman. The miracle shows that ‘Eve’ is raised from the dead. That means that man is restored to his natural capacity to receive the Seed of God into the womb of his soul, for the LORD Jesus, in the Temple of His Body received from the Virgin, has made the woman to become, truly, ‘Eve’, the ‘Mother of Life.’ Man can become one with God, not just in some spiritual, noetic manner, but concretely in the flesh, for in the woman, God has become one with man in the flesh. The inexpressible beauty of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, which fills the soul that ponders it with unspeakable joy, consolation, hope, and longing for the LORD Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother, this is what St Luke has used to frame the healing and the making fragrant of the woman with the unstoppable flow of blood, covered as she must have been in the stench of rags soiled by dried blood.
I see the hemorrhaging woman, in the constant loss of her blood, i.e., her life, as an image of the woman whose child the dragon of Rev 12 seeks to devour. The dragon, of course, is but the serpent whom we meet first in the Garden—i.e., in the heart, the bottomless well, of man. The bleeding, the inability even to conceive life, captures perfectly the tragedy especially of modern man, of man in the ‘last days’. In a brilliant, spirit-inspired critique of modern civilization, Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios writes that the secularization of western Christianity began with the fall of the papacy in the ninth century. This gave birth to the Renaissance that arose out of a spirit of rebellion against the corruption of the Roman church. The spirit of the Renaissance sought the liberation of people from the Church and a return to worldly politics and classical humanism. Progressively, western Christianity has taken steps towards the world and secularism, creating Christians of this age and not of the world to come. This in turn has brought forth ever-changing philosophies, new forms of social conduct, and numerous reforms with much unrest that has led in many cases to atheism. (III, p. 43) Atheism, in turn, has generated atheistic socialist systems which, in turn, have led to feelings of insecurity, psychological frailties, to fear and the threat of nuclear war. Modern man seeks to escape from his fears in worldly comforts and pleasures of the flesh or in eastern mysticism, because he finds himself in a vicious cycle of mental anguish, stress, psychosomatic illnesses, fear and depression; and these are accelerating at an alarming rate. That is, says the Archimandrite, people today are tormented by the very evils they themselves invented, for without the protection of the Church and of the Holy Cross, the well of the ‘subconscious’ is left open and unguarded and the mind becomes inundated and darkened by the fumes of evil, and every destructive and demonic element that surfaces in one’s life falls in. The heart has become deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt, for it has been altogether cut off from God and His Logos, His divine Meaning.
It is for me, then, of the highest significance that the hemorrhaging woman is, in effect, raised from death to life and restored to her true nature as woman, mother of life, from seeking the LORD with her whole heart; but also, we see that the LORD is ‘in our midst’. He is there for her to reach out to. This morning, where you see the hem of the LORD’s garment in this morning’s Gospel, see the Holy Chalice of the Church. For, as the hem of the LORD’s garment did to the hemorrhaging woman when it touched her, so also the Holy Chalice, when it touches your lips, removes all your iniquities, it heals all your diseases, it raises you to the uncreated life of God and restores your soul to her natural capacity to become a theotokos. As it does the LORD’s garment, so the Heavenly Spirit of Christ suffuses the Chalice both inside and out with its healing, life-giving, death-destroying power. In the Body and Blood of Christ that you receive into your mouth, like the woman receiving the seed of life into her womb, it begins to work in you to cleanse the bottomless pit of your heart of all its foul and fetid life-destroying impurities, and to make it fragrant with the LORD’s Spirit, so that it opens no longer onto hell but onto the Kingdom of Heaven. The Holy Chalice does so because it becomes, in the transformational mystery of the Divine Liturgy, the Garment of Christ and it is suffused, transfigured, inside and out, with the uncreated energies of His healing and life-giving uncreated Light and Meaning.
Now, St John in his vision sees a splendid, beautiful woman with her male child. She is the Theotokos and her Son. But St John also sees a terrible and powerful red dragon, seeking to devour the woman and her child. Yet, the dragon failed because the Child is Christ God who crushed the head of the dragon on the Cross and ascended to Heaven in Glory to sit at the Right Hand of God (Rev 12.1-6).
Little children: the red dragon is seeking to devour you, for you are the child of the Woman. You were born of her from above when you were raised from the Font of our Mother, the Church, and were united to Christ, her Holy Child. The dragon seeks to devour you in ways, for now, most subtle, hardly discernible if one is not working to acquire the mind of the Church in the Holy Spirit! The spirit of antichrist, the man of lawlessness, is already in the world because it is the law of sin that is imbedded in our own members; it is the old man in us, which we are commanded to crucify by putting to death our earthly members. These are not our hands or our feet but the passions of anger, malice, lust, covetousness, which is idolatry. These constitute the wall of enmity that separates us from God. Uniting ourselves to the Cross of the Savior in the fear of God, with faith and love is how we receive the seal of God that delivers us from the devil and his antichrist. It gives us the wisdom of the serpent in the innocence of the dove to discern the beguiling lies of his false prophet. This is how we receive the saving seal of God not just on our foreheads but in our hearts; for the seal of God is the seal of His Holy Cross. And, if we do not seek the LORD Jesus Christ with our whole heart, and work out our salvation in fear and trembling to emblazon His Cross on our heart and in our body, we will be devoured by the dragon, the serpent, from the outside even as he seeks now to devour us from the inside. We will be the hemorrhaging woman who remains unhealed, who remains effectively dead, always bleeding, unable to receive God in order to become one with Him and to be caught up to God and His Throne, where we are protected (Rev 12.5), because we did not seek Him with our whole heart.
I pray the LORD will do what I am not able to do: give us ears to hear and a mind to understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches! But, to receive those ears and that understanding, we must want it. We must lay down—no, we must learn to hate the wisdom of our own opinions, the wisdom that to us seems to have the form of godliness. But, it does not have its power for it is not of God. It is the wisdom of our own eyes. And so, it does not have the power to cleanse the bottomless pit of our heart of every defilement and impurity, and to raise us up to Heaven; and, we must seek with our whole heart, we must reach out to touch the hem of the garment of the true Wisdom of the Spirit! Amen!