15 - Ten Lepers, Dec 6, 2009

Ephesians 5:9-19

Luke 17:12-19

In prayers of the Church and in liturgical texts especially of Great Lent, our souls are described as leprous. They are so because of the passions that have disfigured our souls like a spiritual leprosy and made us sick unto death in both soul and body. We need to be cleansed not just outwardly but inwardly as well because whether or not our bodies are leprous, our souls are leprous.

This should help us to see that the Orthodox Christian Faith is about healing us in soul and body. This healing begins in repentance, when we open the ears of our soul to hear what the Lord is commanding us to do so that we can be cleansed of our leprosy and made ready to receive the salvation of the Lord.

The salvation of the Lord is union with God in the love of God. This is when we are fully healed in soul and body; for then we are restored to our natural condition in the image and likeness of God. This may explain why only the one leper was saved in this morning’s Gospel, even though all ten were cleansed. God can cleanse us, but He can’t save us if we don’t draw near to Him in the fear of God, in faith and in love. He can’t save us if we don’t draw near to Him because salvation is to be united with God in love; and love is not love unless it is freely given and freely received.

This means that we are mistaken if we think that we are “saved” simply because we have been received into the Orthodox Church through confession, baptism, chrismation and Holy Eucharist. We believe we are cleansed through the sacraments of the Church. We believe that we receive the Heavenly Spirit in the sacraments of the Church. We receive the love of God in the sacraments of the Church. But our salvation, our healing of soul and body, is not complete until we return that love.

We begin returning to God in love by taking up the work of rooting out self-love from our souls. This is the root of the passions and of our spiritual leprosy that makes us sick unto death, the fathers of the Church tell us. Like any garden, if the ground of our heart is cleansed of the weeds of our passions, but the root of self-love is still there, the weeds of the passions will keep coming back. The passions are just different expressions of self-love. Let me share with you some of the passions listed in a work attributed to St John of Damascus in the second volume of the Philokalia: anger, lust, bitterness, irritability, rancor, back-biting, quarrelsomeness, dejection, jealousy, envy, unbelief, greed, love of material things, attachment to worldly concerns, ingratitude, grumbling, pomposity, love of power, love of popularity, shamelessness, gluttony, and more.[1] 

You can see how all of these passions, as so many different expressions of self-love, are the marks of one who is not happy. He is not at peace. He is not healthy in his soul even if he may be healthy in his body. We would recognize a person as healthy in soul and spirit who shows humility, gentleness, kindness, cheerfulness, simplicity, calmness, sincerity, compassion, mercifulness, generosity, longing for God.[2] From the fact that enslavement to self-love and to the passions makes us unhappy and at odds with ourselves and the world, we can see for ourselves that self-love and the passions that grow from it are not natural to us; whereas the virtues that grow from the longing for God and that make us happy and at peace with ourselves and the world are natural to us.

(In this regard, I want to repeat what I have said before: the opposite of self-love is not self-hate; for, there is no hatred in a healthy soul, and there is no hatred in the Kingdom of God. The opposite of self-love is the love of God and love of one’s neighbor as oneself.)

The work of crucifying the passions in us that grow from self-love is how we draw near in the fear of God, with faith and in love to the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Thanksgiving of the Lord Jesus Christ so that He can save us; i.e., unite us to Himself in the love of God. This ascetic work of crucifying the passions in our souls that grow from self-love, then, is our work that we must do, for it is our work of love that answers the work of the Cross that God did for us in His love for us. It is our work of love by which we choose to love God so that we may be united with Him in love.

This work of rooting out self-love that we may return the love of God in order to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind is the work we take up when we take up our cross in the form of the Church’s ascetic disciplines: prayer both private and together in the worship of the Church; fasting both at home and at Church, fasting not just from food but fasting with all of our senses in order to cultivate inward stillness and self-control; spiritual reading in order to shape our mind by the Gospel and not by the world; and sincere confession so that we are not deceived by our self-love and project our own sins and transgressions on others. That is when we fall into self-righteousness. We take it as our work to point out the speck in our brother’s eye, but we do not look in the mirror to see the beam in our own eye. When we fall into that deceptive trap of self-love, we remain un-cleansed and unsaved, even as we are receiving the love of God in the sacraments of the Church. I submit that these ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, spiritual reading and confession are how we “go and show ourselves to the priest,” as the Lord commanded the ten lepers to do. And, I submit that these ascetic disciplines are how we do as the Lord commanded the one leper who drew near to Him in Holy Thanksgiving, in Holy Eucharist. He commanded the one leper to “rise and go.” That is to say, rise up in the love of God’s Heavenly Spirit that you have received in Holy Eucharist; rise up in the power of Christ’s resurrection, and take up the cross and set out to follow Christ in repentance on the path of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, for the purpose of turning your self-love into the love of God and the love of your neighbor as yourself.

This is the spiritual context in which we welcome this morning a dear brother, Fr Nick Kasemeotes. He will be sharing with us the work of FOCUS NA. It may well be that this is a gift to us from God, even an answer to our prayers that God would teach us to love Him as He commands. For, we have in the opportunity FOCUS offers us a way for us to redeem the time, as St Paul exhorts us this morning in his letter to the Ephesians. We have an opportunity to rise up and go, as the Lord commands the leper this morning; to go together on the path of the Church’s ascetic disciplines to help each other in this spiritual work of our Christian Faith to root out self-love from our heart so that our hearts will become healthy again, ready to receive the Heavenly Spirit and to become one with God in the love of God, the salvation of God. Then, when in the salvation of God, we rise up and go, it will be to rise up and go into the Life of the Holy Trinity in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the love of God the Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Philokalia II, p. 335

[2] Ibid, p. 334