16 The Feast of the Great King, Dec 16, 2007

Colossians 3:4-11

Luke 14:16-24

Like a sunbeam splitting the clouds to bathe the world in light and to unite heaven and earth, so the Lord himself[1] comes forth from the Virgin and illumines the darkness of ignorance to reveal the better and changeless path that ascends to the Father, the Author of Light.[2] Eden is opened again.[3] The middle wall of partition of the ancient enmity is now laid low and destroyed by Christ’s coming in the flesh; the flaming sword now gives way before all who approach, that we may partake in faith of the Tree of Life that grows in the Garden of Eden and become once more gardeners of immortal plants.[4] The Savior is wrapped in swaddling clothes and Adam is loosed from his bonds of corruption.[5] He who fills heaven and earth with his glory, whom human thought cannot comprehend, is held in a manger for dumb beasts, and human nature is filled from within with the light of divine Wisdom. The Word by whom all things were created, who clothes himself with uncreated light as with a garment, out of his great compassion[6] clothes himself in the whole of our human substance;[7] by the Holy Spirit he is conceived as a man in the Virgin’s womb, and by his birth from the Virgin he makes those born on earth new, granting them a divine rebirth,[8] and leads them back again to their first beauty.[9]

He leads them to the poverty and meanness of a cave. Perhaps that’s why so many miss him and the life-giving beauty, light and joy of the Winter Pascha he imparts in his Holy Church. People darkened by the wisdom of human opinion look for him in all the wrong places and instead of finding light, they find stress; instead of joy, depression; and, instead of finding themselves renewed by the spiritual beauty of the season, they find themselves hardly able to wait until it’s over when they can go back to their normal, worldly routine.

Beloved faithful, what do you see and hear when you come to the holy table of the Lord’s Holy Eucharist? Do you devote any time at all to meditation on what it means to be here, preparing to receive the living bread and consecrated cup of Christ’s Holy Church, or are you, too, caught up in the frenetic frenzy of tinsel-town Christmas? Let us for a few moments retreat behind the traffic that is so “terrific,” the canned music of the shopping malls, the glitzy images of the catalogues, the sappy TV shows. Let us find the opening to the cave of Bethlehem and descend into its refreshing coolness.

Beloved faithful, when you crossed the threshold and entered the temple, you entered the cave of Bethlehem. When you passed through the waters of your baptism, you were washed clean of the poison of the dark and unclean serpent[10] and you were raised up as a newborn child, yourselves Virgin-born of the Church, your holy Mother in the Lord. Your feet were set to walk on a new path that ascends in the love of the Holy Trinity to gladness of heart because it leads to the manger where Christ is laid as a holy child newly born of the blessed Panagia, the ever-Virgin Mary Theotokos. You were clothed in a robe of light – the garment of immortality, the robe of Christ’s holy resurrection[11] that was woven for you by God himself in the Garden. In your holy Chrismation, you were anointed with the fragrance of the Father’s Holy Spirit. Washed and made clean, you were brought to the great banquet, the banquet of the King, to become a partaker of the divine nature, a communicant of life eternal. Having confessed your sins like the thief who on his cross turned to the Savior in faith,[12] you were granted yourself to pass through the door of Paradise,[13] and with the wise thief, you entered Eden; and, you discovered the Cross of Christ, the Tree of Life, as a divine treasure hidden in the earth.[14] You drew near the ambon to receive Holy Eucharist; you drew near the Tree of Life and the Christ it carries like a cluster of grapes full of life;[15] the flaming sword gave way as you approached, and you partook of the divine nature.[16] You received into your body, your soul and your mind the boundless joy of the compassionate Savior, the only Lover of mankind.[17]

Beloved faithful, through the sacramental mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church, if you would but meditate on what they are teaching you, you would see that you are the darkness of the cave of Bethlehem that has been made light in the birth of the Savior in your soul. It is in your soul that Eden has been opened again. The manger in which the Christ who cannot be contained is laid is your own heart. The dumb beasts that gather in love and boundless joy round the Holy Child of the Virgin are the irrational passions that are tamed in the presence of this Holy Child who lies in the manger of your soul; for he is the Creator of all, the Son and the Light of the Father who is the Author of Light. Here in the cave of your own being is the originator and begetter of love and the erotic force that are in you; here is the Beautiful itself that is identical with the Good, in whom every being participates simply by existing, and whom all beings seek as the One who is truly worthy of love, truly desirable, pleasing and chosen.[18] He is the Icon of the invisible God[19] in whom you were made to exist as yourself an icon of the Icon.

Beloved faithful, do you see that the Father’s invitation to the great banquet in this morning’s Gospel is not an invitation to another activity like buying and selling properties and commodities, or like families getting together round the dinner table, or even like getting married. The Father’s invitation is to the One who is your very life, who has appeared in the flesh that we might appear with him in glory, that we might raise our minds on high and go in spirit to Bethlehem, leaving the darkness of our ignorance behind, and with the eyes of our soul look upon the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the Lord of all, to manifest to us the great mystery in the cave, the mystery of our own creation, of our true nature and destiny as images made to exist in Christ, the Image of the invisible God, and of our salvation in the re-creation of our flesh through the Savior’s Virgin birth in the material substance of our flesh.

Therefore, when St Paul exhorts us in this morning’s epistle to put to death all that is earthly in us: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk, he is sounding forth the Father’s invitation to come to the great banquet to celebrate the world’s renewal in the birth of his Son, born of the holy Virgin in the cave of Bethlehem and in the cave of the human heart. When the Church teaches us that the Christ is born of a Virgin who suffered no pangs of travail,[20] she is teaching us that to descend into the cave of our heart, to find Christ God lying in the manger, and to give birth in our own soul to the incorruptible and immortal virtues of Christ through the Spirit of Christ is a return to what is natural to us. To become like God, to become partakers of the divine nature and to receive the Heavenly Spirit, to put on the new nature of Christ God and to be renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator is painless because it is according to our nature. Therefore, when we take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church – praying without ceasing, fasting, study of holy Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers, partaking of the sacramental mysteries of the Church’s liturgical worship, practicing the commandments of Christ – we are leaving what is unnatural to us – the greed and conceit of the world that gives birth to corruption, to anxiety, loneliness, dissatisfaction, despair and finally death – and we are making our way to Bethlehem, to the cave of our heart and to him who is sweetness and desire itself, who has come in the flesh to become one with and to give to us his own divine life in his own Heavenly Spirit. To live the life of Christ, to receive his Heavenly Spirit, to be clothed in the divine attributes of God himself, to be alive in the boundless joy of the Father – this is what is most natural to us because this is that in which we were brought into being and in which we were made to exist from the beginning.

And so, let us open the letter of invitation that has been given to us from God the Father in his beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. It reads: “Celebrate, O faithful people, the Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ. [Look past the glitter of tinsel-town Christmas and] raise your minds on high and go in spirit to Bethlehem and look upon the great mystery in the cave. Eden is opened again! The flaming sword now gives way before all who approach. Come; partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden. Become again a gardener of immortal plants.”[21] 

O Lord, glory to Thee! Amen.

[1] FM 212

[2] FM 213

[3] FM 201

[4] FM 207

[5] FM 208

[6] FM 199

[7] FM 199 & 206

[8] FM 204

[9] FM 212

[10] FM 134

[11] Cf. FM 146

[12] FM 141 & 149

[13] FM 139

[14] FM 137

[15] FM 153

[16] II Peter 1:4

[17] Cf. FM 146

[18] Philokalia II, pp. 280 & 281, §§87 & 83

[19] Col 1:15

[20] FM 206

[21] FM 201 & 207