|18 - Sunday After Christmas, Dec 27, 2009|
With the feast of Christmas, we have entered the season of Light. Three feasts of the Church celebrate the coming into the world of the Uncreated Light of God: the Nativity of Christ (Dec 25), the Baptism of Christ (Jan 6) and the Meeting of Christ in the temple (Feb 2). Christ the Word of God shines in the darkness of the world’s spiritual ignorance and illumines the better and changeless path that ascends to God and His Kingdom of Light. On this Sunday after Christmas, I would like to pastor you into this glorious season of the Church by reviewing the Gospel that these three feasts proclaim, and showing you how we walk the better and changeless path that is revealed to us in the uncreated light of these feasts.
The Gospel proclaims to us the one, true God who created the world and everything in it. He created us in His own Image, which is His Word in whom He created all things. He created us for the purpose of sharing with us all the riches of His divine nature, because He is love; and, impelled by His love He wants to belong to us. As the Fathers say, He longs to be longed for; He thirsts to be thirsted for; He loves to be loved.
He is our Creator. That means He is not what we are. He is higher than us. And, it means that we originate from beyond ourselves. In the principle of our being, beneath the surface of our worldly aspect, we open out beyond our nature and onto the eternal. We who are creatures open onto the uncreated God. This tells us that there is a way that leads from the surface of our worldly aspect to the unseen depths of the principle of our being as to gates that open onto the eternal as the Royal Doors open onto the sanctuary. It is a mystical way; an unseen way; a spiritual way. This is the changeless and better path that ascends to God, which is illumined by the coming into the world of the uncreated Light of God. In its earliest days, the Christian Faith wasn’t called the “Christian Faith”; it was called the Path, or the Way because it was the mystical, unseen way that led mystically into the heart of the human spirit and revealed the mystical doors that opened out onto the eternal Kingdom of the Uncreated Light of God.
This path was closed to us in the fall of Adam and Eve, when sin and death entered into the world and obscured that path from our spiritual sight. Moreover, the entrance opening onto that mystical path was blocked by the flaming sword of the Seraphim, preventing anyone from finding it. This tells us that knowledge of the divine way that opens beyond even the highest and deepest essence of man and out onto the Eternal into the Uncreated Kingdom of Light was lost to man. The world in its spiritual essence grew dark. Knowledge of the true God was lost; and man fell into the worship of idols, worshipping the forces of nature as gods. Not even the highest vision of worldly religious philosophy could see the true God and took the spiritual essence of man as God.
In the darkness, man fed on the fruit of the serpent’s tree, the fruit of self-love and the venom of the serpent spread through our human nature like a toxic poison, corrupting our nature and making us sick unto death in soul and body. From the seed of death, weeds and thorns and thistles of sin and evil sprang from the spiritual soil of the human soul and covered it in thick darkness, throwing the whole world into all forms of evil and suffering, sickness and disease.
The Gospel of the Church, then, comes to us as to people sick in soul and body. It sets death before us to wake us up to the fact that we are corruptible, subject to every kind of disease and malady of both soul and body, that there is no worldly sweetness that is not mixed with grief, that all things are vanity, deluding dreams, for in one moment death supplants them all; that for most all men, this worldly life is but one long, futile attempt to escape the pain of suffering because all of us are wedded unto death. Rich or poor, young or old, strong or weak, beautiful or plain, all of us are subject to corruption. In one moment, death will take us all and we will be no more. The Gospel is unyielding in its stern preaching to us of the fact of our death because it hopes to wake us up out of our laziness and indolence; but also to give us hope. For the Good News of the Gospel is that our subjection to disease, death and corruption is not natural to us. We were not made for death; we were made for life. We were not made in darkness but in light. We were brought from non-existence into being in the mercy, in the love and in the very Image of God; and this Image of God in whom we were created is Jesus Christ, born of a Virgin Mother who is Theotokos, the Mother of God. He is God the Son, the Word of the Father who raised all things into existence from out of nothing; and He has come in these last days as the Second Adam, Son of God and Son of Man, to save us, to heal us in soul and body, to deliver us from our bondage to death, and to shine on us the Light of His Countenance in order to reveal to us in the depths of our own nature the changeless and better path that ascends to God and to eternal life.
The Christian Faith is not our faith; it isn’t whatever we believe about God and man and Jesus. The Christian Faith is of the Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. It is the Faith of God that we receive. It is a teaching that opens us onto the better and changeless path that ascends to God. It is a spiritual manner of living by which we put on Christ in order to die to death by uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death that we might be united to Christ in the likeness of His holy resurrection. We receive the Faith of the Church as sinners who are sick in soul and body. We receive the Faith of the Church as the medicine of immortality. We study the holy Scriptures, we read the lives of the saints, we read the spiritual teaching of the fathers of the Church, we say the prayers of the Church, we observe the fasts of the Church, we partake in the worship of the Church not because we are righteous but because we are sinners who are sick in soul and body. We want to learn the Way of Christ, the spiritual manner of living that He teaches and that He imparts to us in the holy mysteries of the Church so that we may know how to walk the better and changeless path that leads to the royal doors of our heart in the principle of our being and that open out beyond the world, beyond our own human nature, beyond our bodies, beyond our souls, our psyches, beyond our minds, beyond our spirit and onto the Eternal God in His Kingdom of Uncreated Light.
We come to the Church to receive Christ in the teaching of the Church and in the holy mysteries of the Church. In these, we receive the Heavenly Spirit of Christ and He who is the True Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world shines on us to show us the path that we must walk today in order to follow Christ the true Shepherd, Our Lord and Savior out of the darkness and into the Light of His Heavenly Kingdom.
We understand, therefore, that the Way of the Christian Faith is an inner vigilance of mind and soul; a constant repentance, a ceaseless listening to the voice of God that we hear in the teaching and instructions of His Holy Church, a spiritual warfare to renounce the old man that is in us for the sake of the Seed of the New Man that was sown in our souls and bodies in the Mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church. This is to say that the Christian Faith is spiritual work of soul and body, the work of preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ’s Holy Spirit, so that when He comes, we will be ready to receive the outpouring of His divine grace that heals us in soul and body and raises us up and leads us to the royal doors and escorts us out of this world and into the Uncreated Light and eternal life of His Heavenly Kingdom.
The feasts of Light – Christmas, Theophany, the Meeting of Christ in the Temple – shine in the darkness of winter with the uncreated Light of Christ. They illumine the better and changeless path that leads from the cave of Bethlehem and through the waters of the Jordan into the tomb of Pascha and beyond, into the Holy Resurrection of Christ, his Ascension into Heaven, and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit in the mystery of Pentecost. In the joy that radiates from the spiritual light of these feasts of light, I urge you to turn your eyes away from the sweet things of the world that are mixed with grief and to set your eyes on the other worldly joy of Pascha. It was in the joy that was set before Him that Christ endured the agony of the cross. In the joy of Pascha that is set before us, let us be resolved to endure the agony of the cross and to be diligent students of the Christ who was born of the Virgin and who became flesh and now dwells among us in the mystery of His Holy Church; let us receive the Faith of His Church and learn from her how to walk the better and changeless path that is now set before us in the Light of Christ, and let us walk together to the Pascha of the Lord as brothers and sisters in Christ, praying for one another, exhorting one another, loving one another in the joy of the Feasts. Amen.
Christ is born!