12 - Of Barns and Temples, Nov 22, 2009

Ephesians 2:14-22

Lk 12:16-21

In this morning’s parable the Lord shows the foolishness of the worldly man for whom life is measured by his wealth, the size of his portfolio, his “barns”. His sight goes no further than the horizon of this life. He thinks his inner life is simply what’s going on beneath his skin. I think we all know such people. May God save us from being one of them.

The worldly man in this morning’s parable is set in sharp contrast to the faithful whom St Paul addresses in his letter to the Ephesians from which we read this morning. The rich men of the world build barns to contain their earthly riches. The Christian faithful become themselves part of a living temple that is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, its cornerstone being Christ God Himself.

But these words of St Paul are only the outer face of the Christian mystery. It is in the feasts of the Theotokos that we enter the inner mysteries of the Gospel. In the Entrance of the Theotokos that we celebrated yesterday, we learn that the Theotokos is the living temple of God, and that the riches she contains are the riches of the eternal God Himself that are poured out abundantly on those who love Him through Christ Our Lord and Savior. In our baptism when we are united to Christ, we become children of the Theotokos; she becomes our Mother; and if we become part of the living temple built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, whose cornerstone is Christ, it’s because we have the Theotokos as our Mother and her Son, Christ as our God. Let the rich men of this world have their barns. We have become one with our Mother, the Theotokos, the Queen of Heaven, the living temple of God, and with her, our souls and body are made to contain the riches of God, even God Himself.

The riches of the Theotokos, the living temple of God, are of the Spirit. They are eternal and they are held in the human heart. The rich man of the world finds his joy in the size of his earthly barns. They give him a good earthly life, but they leave his soul untouched and cold. The faithful children of the Theotokos find their joy in the eternal riches of Christ. They are riches of the Spirit that carry the Word of God sharper than any two-edged sword who penetrates to the division of soul and spirit and to the secret thoughts and intentions of the heart. Their power is the love of God that makes the soul to be a living soul. There is to be sure eating and drinking that takes place in this living temple of the Church. It is the eating and drinking of the Living Bread that comes down from Heaven, the Living Cup, the medicine of immortality in the unutterable gladness of those who behold the face of Christ God, the Heavenly Bridegroom at the marriage banquet of Christ and His Church.

The joy of the Church penetrates to the inner man and roots us in the love of the eternal God. Death cannot take it away; for, Christ our God has destroyed death by His death and our Mother, the Theotokos, was the first of His creatures whom He raised up from death into His Holy Resurrection. Those who unite themselves to this joy of Christ enter into the loving embrace of His Mother; and they can discover the power of divine compassion to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from every impurity and heal us of the soul-destroying effects of our transgressions. This power of God held in the living temple of the Church can transform the trials and tribulations of this life into a martyrdom, a “witness”, to the love and joy of Christ our God who conquered hell in the victory of His Cross and whose joy and peace the world cannot take away.

When we engage the turbulence of this life not from a couch in a rich man’s barn but from our place in the living temple of the Church, from our place on the lap of our Mother, the Blessed Theotokos Panagia, we can discover that the trials and tribulations of this life themselves become the means by which our faith is made stronger, our love for God and our neighbor is made deeper, and our confidence in the eternal inheritance of Christ’s Holy Spirit that is ours in Christ Jesus becomes unshakeable conviction. This is the testimony we have from the apostles and prophets and saints themselves. They give us this testimony in the midst of their own sufferings, many of them to the point of suffering imprisonment, torture and even death for the sake of Christ. Their suffering, and ours, becomes by the Cross of Christ Our Savior the means of our victory over the world and the opening of our inner man onto the riches of God’s eternal glory because, rooted in Christ, our suffering is rooted in the victory of Christ’s Cross over hell. Can the riches of the barn make such a claim?

The key to transforming our suffering into the victory of Christ’s Cross over hell is to stay firmly rooted in Christ in order to redeem the time of our worldly life as the opportunity for us to cultivate the life of our soul in the ascetic works of repentance commanded us of the Lord.

You have heard me say many times how the ascetic life of the Church is the means by which we keep ourselves rooted in Christ. In the Church’s ascetic disciplines, we climb onto the lap of Our Blessed Mother the Theotokos and we place ourselves in the sunlight of God’s grace. In the warm compassion of her embrace our inner man can be made soft in the warmth of God’s Spirit so that Christ can reshape us and irradiate us with the uncreated Light and Life of His Holy Spirit, and increasingly we find that we are less and less of the world even though we are in it. We have emphasized the importance of daily prayer and praying the Psalms centered on the sacrament of confession to purify and reshape our souls and to prepare our hearts for the gift of unceasing prayer. We have urged attentive reading of the Scriptures to reshape our minds, fasting with all our senses to reshape our desire for the eternal things of God, and making ourselves students of the words, the teachings and the commandments of the Savior, so that we go out into the field of our daily life with our minds firmly fixed in the Mind of the Church and no longer from the perspective of worldly values and philosophy, so that our daily life becomes the field on which we put into practice the commandments of Christ.

We have emphasized these ascetic disciplines as the means by which we keep ourselves rooted in Christ. Now, let us emphasize that when we do these ascetic disciplines, we are not alone; for, we join ourselves to the company of the apostles and the prophets and all the saints and above all Christ and His Holy Mother. We enter into the communion of the Church. We become an icon of this inner life of the Church when we come together in worship and stand with our faithful brothers and sisters who are also walking with us on the inner, unseen path of purification, illumination and glorification in the communion of Christ with His Holy Mother and all the saints.

Let us note here how different the life of the Church is from the life of the world. In the world, you can be at a party with lots of other people, many of whom may have built great barns for themselves. But, when the good things of the barn are all there is to your life, does not the soul beneath the laughter and merriment feel alone and empty?

The life of the Church, on the other hand, is precisely this inner life beneath the surface. Through the Cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, we descend beneath the surface and undertake the work of emptying our inner barn of its empty riches: our self-will, our greed and our vanity. We are preparing ourselves to receive the spiritual riches of God’s love in the Eucharistic communion of the Church. Christ and His Holy Mother are in our midst, helping us through the prayers of all the saints to become fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household, the family, of God, that we may become with them a dwelling place of God in the Spirit and hold the riches of God in the love of Christ and His Holy Mother. Amen.