|18 - In the Light of Christ, January 20, 2019|
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“When Christ who is our life appears,” says St Paul to us this morning, “then you also will appear with Him in glory.” We heard in last Sunday’s Gospel that Christ is the Great Light shining on those sitting in darkness and in the region and shadow of death. What, then, should we expect to see when the Light of Christ shines on us? Would we not begin to see what is hidden in our soul and in our heart? Would we not begin to see the “old man” in us, that we are naked, sitting in darkness, bereft of life, lying half-dead by the side of the road in the region and shadow of death? In short, would we not begin to see that we are the blind man of Jericho?
This is a critical moment in the life of the soul. So we are given to understand by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra on Mt Athos (The Way of the Spirit). First, when the light of Christ shines on us, can we even acknowledge that we are naked, ugly, dark and unsightly, and that our nakedness is manifested in pain; for, our nakedness “presents” to us as pain: the pain of fear, dread, a terrifying loneliness. Can we even be that honest with ourselves; or, are we careful to stay far away from the tombs of the Gadarene, the mirror, the picture of our soul, as St Macarius of Egypt would tell us?
When we see and to feel our nakedness, do we set out at once, maybe instinctively, without thinking, to clothe ourselves in fancy “fig leaves” to cover the ugliness and ameliorate the pain of our nakedness and so present ourselves to ourselves, to others, and even to God as someone we’re not?
Or, will we acknowledge, “confess” our nakedness and, sit down with the blind man this morning and begin crying out with him from the depth of our soul to the LORD to have mercy on us? I see St Paul in this morning’s Gospel naming the clothes we may clothe ourselves with if our choice is to hide our nakedness and the ugliness of our soul. He calls them our “earthly members”. They are like undergarments of the soul, because they are the first layer we put on very, very deep, down to the “bare skin” of our soul. Or as St Paul says, they are “on the earth.” In other words, these are what we clothe our inner man with down to the bare earth where we came from. St Paul lists, porneia, which one could translate as an obsession with pornography. But, the word also denotes fornication, or sex outside of marriage. Can you see how the pleasure of porneia and fornication is but an effort to cover our inner ugliness? It’s like a narcotic to numb the pain of a terrifying loneliness and disgust we feel for ourselves? Uncleanness, depraved desire, St Paul goes on: evil lust, greed or covetousness, which is idolatry, and after a brief interlude, he points out more clothes in our soul’s clothes-closet. These it seems to me are closer to the pain our anger presents: anger, wrath, wickedness, blasphemy, vulgar and filthy language. Can you see how these are all but different forms of a deep anger, and that the anger is the expression of a deep pain in the soul? That these “earthly members” are like clothing that we wear is given in that St Paul says, “we used to walk in these when we lived in them,” just like we walk around in our underwear and our clothing to hide our nakedness.
When Christ our life appears, says St Paul, so you will appear with Him in His Glory. You will appear in all your nakedness and darkness, because all your darkness will be illumined by His Light shining on you sitting in your darkness and in the region and shadow of death. In the Light of His Glory, you will see yourself as you really are. This is the critical moment!
Dear faithful, this is the Light that shines invisibly in Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. Those who receive that Light know it is not a figment of their religious imagination, because they feel it. It is real, it is palpable. And those who receive it see it in an unseeing way, they know it in an unknowing way, that they are naked, they are blind, and they feel in a profound way beyond feeling the intense pain of that nakedness, and they begin to cry from the depths of their soul: “LORD Jesus, Son of David!” LORD Jesus my King! “Have mercy on me!”
Here, sitting with the blind man on the road to Jericho, not observing him as though he is someone else, but identifying myself as he, this is where the Church this morning wants to lead us, because until we see our blindness, until we feel the pain of our nakedness, our separation from God—not because He turned away from us but because we have chosen to turn away from Him—we will never begin to ascend into the heavens opened at Christ’s Baptism in the Light of Christ that shines on us in our darkness, our nakedness, our ugliness, our spiritual dead-ness. We will never begin the Exodus of the Gospel that leads us through the wilderness of our soul, into the tomb of our heart, and out onto the other side, raised to life, made whole, restored to our original beauty in the fragrance of Christ’s Holy Spirit as images of the Image of God. We will never begin the Exodus of the Gospel because we will be presenting to God not our real self but our fancy clothes, not our ugly, dark, naked souls but our fig-leaves. We will be stiff-arming God to keep Him away from us.
This is why, says Archimandrite Aimilianos, this is the critical point in the life of our soul. The Church is preparing us to be led into the wilderness of our soul this morning by holding up this morning’s Gospel of the blind man of Jericho like a mirror, so that we can see ourselves as we really are, and begin to feel the pain of our nakedness; and, in the loving embrace of our Mother, the Church, instead of putting on more clothes, to start taking them off, that the LORD may begin to clothe us in Himself, the New Man, the Man who is being renewed, being restored to his original beauty in the Image of God, Christ, in whom He was made.
The Archimandrite sternly warns us: when you see your nakedness, you must not do anything to fix yourself, or to clothe yourself with “fig leaves”, such as those given us this morning by St Paul. For, when we set out to fix ourselves, or to present ourselves to God, clothed and fixed, we succeed only in hiding ourselves from Him as well as from ourselves; and, we become false, even schizophrenic because we identify with what is not us, and we in our soul remain ugly and deformed.
So, what does this blind man do this morning when he hears that the LORD is drawing near? He is an image of repentance, a model we can emulate. He doesn’t “fix” himself; he doesn’t put on nicer clothes. He remains, blind, just as he was sitting at the side of the road, and calls out all the more, “LORD Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This is what attracts the LORD to him. Christ “appears to him” and in the Glory of the Light of Christ shining on the blind man appears as he really is: a blind beggar. He makes no effort to appear as anything else except as what he really is. This is what attracts the LORD to him.
“What do you want me to do for you?” the LORD asks. Dear faithful, what if the LORD were to ask that question of you? Would you want to squander the opportunity of becoming all Light, all Fire, of being clothed in the New Man that is made new in the intimate knowledge of the Icon of God, Jesus Christ, who made you, by pretending to be something you’re not? This is the critical question, the critical moment. What do you want the LORD to do for you?
This is where our Mother, the Church, wants to bring us this morning: to this moment, to this question; and so, she holds up the mirror of the blind man of Jericho, longing that we would wake up and stop playing games and come to our senses and present ourselves to her LORD and our God as we really are: naked, stinking, blind beggars.
What does the blind man answer? Not simply, that I may receive my sight: but that I may look up into the heavens opened at the LORD’s Baptism, the destination of the LORD’s Exodus. “Your faith has saved you,” says the LORD. Your faith here clearly means your desire, your absolute honesty, your being what you really are so that I can deal not with clothes but with you. And immediately, it says, the blind man looked up, and followed the LORD, glorifying God.
Where did he follow the LORD to? Where is He going? Is He not going to His Tomb, which opens onto our heart, and in our heart we open onto the Heavens in the Glory of His Resurrection? To follow the LORD, then, means to follow Him onto the Exodus of Great Lent, to the Promised Land of His Heavenly Kingdom. That means to take off the clothes, even the undergarments of our old man, even to put our old man to death, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Christ, to lose our life for His sake that we may find it in His empty Tomb, the fountain of our resurrection, the Gate that opens onto the better and changeless path that ascends to God.
None of this is imaginary. It is made concrete, physical through the Great Fast, when we join our soul and our body in the common work of denying ourselves, taking up our cross that we may follow Christ into the Glory of His Holy Pascha. Amen!