12 - Leprosy of the Soul, Dec 9, 2018

For audio, click here

Colossians 1:12-18

Luke 17:12-19

St Paul writes to the Ephesians that, in our baptism, we were chosen in Christ by the Father “from the foundation of the world” to be holy and blameless before Him, in love. I.e., this is how and why He created us. St Paul writes that the “boundary” in which we came to be was marked out beforehand (proorizo). Christ Himself is that “boundary”, so that coming into existence within that “boundary” of Christ Himself, the Son of God, our existence is “defined” (orizo) as “sonship” in Christ. We exist for adoption by God as His own sons (and daughters) in the love of Christ.

This same doctrine is given by St Luke, as well. Tracing the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam, he identifies Adam as the “son of God” (Lk 3:38). We hear St John also teaching this same doctrine when he says: “To as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become ‘children of God.’” (Jn 1:12)

St Paul’s epistle to the Colossians this morning sets before us the magnificence of this Christian doctrine of human nature and destiny. Christ is the Icon of the invisible God, he says. The Icon—Christ, the Really Real (cf. Heb 10:1)—is the Source of all that is. Everything comes to be in Christ, the Icon of God. Going back to St John, “Apart from Him,” therefore, “nothing came to be.” Christ is the boundary of “being”, of what exists. Outside of Him, nothing exists.

Now, St John teaches in his first epistle: “God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him at all.” And, Jesus Christ, the WORD of God who was in the beginning with the Father, and through whom all things came to be, is the True Light who illumines everyone who comes into the world. And this Light of Christ, says St John, is Life.

So, this word of St Paul’s—“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the Kingdom of His Son, [the Kingdom] of love”—is creation language. He has brought us from outside the boundary of existence where everything is darkness and meaninglessness, inside the boundary of Christ and into the real existence of Life and Light, goodness and joy, and whose living substance is the love of God.

St John proclaims: “The Light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not comprehend it.” The Light went outside Himself, He “emptied Himself,” and went outside the boundary of Life and Light, of Himself, and descended into hell, and filled even the darkness outside the boundary with His Light and Life. The prophecy of the Psalmist is now fulfilled: “If I go even into hell, Thou art there!”

St Luke gives us the dramatic moment when this Light began to shine in the darkness of death and hell, outside the boundary of Life and Light that He had marked out before the foundation of the world. Joseph of Arimathea, he writes, took down the body of Jesus from the Cross and wrapped it in fine linen, and laid it in a Tomb. Now, this was on Friday evening. The sun, which earlier in the day had been darkened at the LORD’s crucifixion, had set. All was darkness when they laid Him in the Tomb. But, St Luke writes: “The Sabbath (i.e., Friday evening) was beginning to grow light.”

[For, the One they laid in the tomb was Himself the Resurrection and the Life, the True Light of the world, the “Icon” of which the sun, the light created by the WORD of God’s command on Day One of creation, was but the shadow of the Uncreated Light whom they laid in the Tomb. (Cf. Heb 10:1, and consider again the theological meaning of the sun darkening from the Sixth to the Ninth Hour when the LORD was crucified!)]

But, the LORD ascended the Cross voluntarily. He who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment has clothed Himself with darkness as with a garment, and thus the dark garment has become Light; hell has become the antechamber, the gateway, of life; the Tomb has become the Bridal Chamber in which God and His Bride, the human soul, were separated by enmity, are now made to become one in love.

Do you see? In our baptism, when we were united to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection, we were “delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the Kingdom of God’s Son in love.” We were created anew. We were conveyed from outside into the “boundary” of Christ, even as the boundary of Christ was extended into the darkness and nothingness of hell. Having been raised from the darkness into the light, we have been raised to life in Christ. In the Font, we come to exist in the uncreated Light, which is Christ. Existing in the Light of Christ, we live in the love of God. Living in the love of God, we live in the meaning of our existence: to be adopted as God’s own, to become one with His Son, the Icon who is the root from which we came to exist, to become His children, His sons and daughters.

Now, from the prayers of the Church, we are given to understand that our soul is all leprous and sinful. There is a spiritual leprosy that corresponds to the leprosy of the body, the leprosy of spiritual death. Like leprosy of the body, spiritual leprosy corrupts and disfigures the soul. At least in biblical times, leprosy of the body was incurable. Spiritual leprosy penetrates all the way to the heart, to the core of our being. According to the Hebrew text of Jer 17:9, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and altogether incurable.” The heart, that is to say, is “all leprous and sinful.”

As those afflicted with leprosy of the body are cast out of society, lest they contaminate others, we as spiritual lepers have been cast out of Eden, lest we contaminate it. Living in worldly society, we live as spiritual lepers in a colony of spiritual lepers, far away from Eden, alienated from God and His holy angels.

Leprosy turns the skin white. Spiritual leprosy turns the soul white with anger and black with despair. Spiritual leprosy, compared to leprosy of the body, is very, very difficult if not impossible to discern, because its symptoms are self-love, self-righteousness, entitlement, pride.

I liken my life to a storehouse, and the moments of my day as so many grains that are being poured into the storehouse of my life, or into my leprous soul. In the Light of this theological vision, I ask myself: what, then, as I go throughout each day, am I receiving into my leprous soul?

The lepers in this morning’s Gospel receive a word from the WORD of God incarnate, the True Light who shines in the darkness, whom the darkness could not extinguish, whom the chains of hell could not hold. Receiving His word, did they not receive a ray of uncreated, healing Light that is filled with light in the love of God? And, as they acted on that word in obedience, and turned to show themselves to the priest as the WORD of the LORD had commanded them not just here, but even way back in Leviticus, their leprosy was cleansed. They were illumined. They were restored to within the “boundary” of Life, of love and joy.

Dear faithful, what words are we receiving into our soul each day of our life? In our baptism, we received the same word these lepers received. A luminous seed of eternal, divine life was sown deep in our heart. Are we living in the light of that seed, or are we living in the darkness of the leper colony of this world? Are we living inside the boundary of life and light of Christ, or do we make our way through the days of our life in the darkness that is outside that boundary of Him who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life? In short, are we living in the waters of our baptism, or in the worldly waters of death?

I wonder if this is the difference between the Samaritan and the nine Israelite lepers? In whose company do I find myself? Am I going with the nine from my cleansing in the Font back to Egypt? Shall we challenge ourselves to turn around with the Samaritan toward the LORD who stands in our heart, knocking? This would be the way of repentance, the way of living every day, every hour, every moment in the presence of the Light of the Christ who is in you! Amen!