|18 - THEOPHANY OF BEAUTY: BEGINNING OF HEALING, Jan 10, 2021|
This sermon was recorded live and should be uploaded onto our public Facebook page and our St Herman's YouTube Channel
I received last week the copy I ordered of T.Patitsas’ (Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary, Boston) Ethics of Beauty. “The way of Orthodoxy,” he writes, “is to give glory to God’s Theophany (revelation of the Beautiful) and then to practice the Good glimpsed within that Theophany (that vision of the Beautiful). Through this eros, which unfolds into agape, we participate in the True, and thus we become true [we become beautiful, for we are conformed to the Image of God, the Beautiful, in whom we are made].” (p. 192)
“The healthy soul,” he writes in another place, “again and again traces that moment when the world came to be ex nihilo through falling in love with the primordial Theophany of the victorious self-emptying of the Son of God. The healthy soul is, in this process of returning to Theophany, continually born again, becoming ever and again as pure as a child.” (p. 186)
Dr Patitsas articulates the biblical and patristic vision of the Church. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” means: In the beginning, Beauty created the heavens and the earth in beauty. Beauty saw what He had made and it was good or beautiful: kalos in Greek, tōv in Hebrew. Creation comes into being from out of the erotic movement of God, of divine Beauty, coming out of Himself into the creation, and creation moves in its own erotic desire seeking to come out of itself into God, desiring in every part of its being to become one with Divine Beauty and Goodness and so live forever in God. This is the primordial, unseen Truth of creation that gives to it its substance and shape, and governs how it moves by nature. This, then, is the standard by which we measure health and wholeness.
We hear in the Matins for Theophany, “Descending into the water, we ascend to God,” (FM 383) for in the Jordan, the incarnate LORD bears all of creation down to a better and changeless Path. (FM 377) King David prays to the LORD: “Make me to know Thy ways, teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy Truth and teach me; for, intimacy (sowd: Hebrew) with the LORD is given to those who fear Him. His Covenant is to reveal Himself to them.” (Ps 24/25.4&14)
The LORD Jesus Himself—i.e. the very Radiance of the Father (Heb 1.3), and so, divine Beauty from divine Beauty—is the Way, the Path (Jn 14.6) that ascends to God. His Covenant is to reveal Himself to those who fear Him because His Covenant is the Holy Eucharist of the Church, which is His very Body and Blood; it is intimacy with the LORD Himself, a partaking of divine Beauty. From what I have read in Patitsas’ book, the LORD reveals Himself, the Path that ascends to God is seen, the spiritual joy of Holy Eucharist is experienced when we find Him in the “lowest part of our soul,” in the appetitive or desiring or erotic part of the soul. “Descending into the water,” the liturgical hymn says, “we ascend to God…The LORD bears all of creation down into the stream to a better and changeless Path.” “It is in the lowest part of the soul,” writes Dr Patitsas, “in the appetitive (erotic, desiring) powers, where the battle [for healing the soul] will be won or lost. Sensuality, which in the context of the Jesus prayer means chasing after images, sensations, failing to keep the basic fasts of the Church, is the gateway to all sin. Such self-love is the mother of the passions; pride, merely her most developed and insidious child.” (p. 8)
Cries the Psalmist: “O God, my God! My soul and my flesh completely [posaplōs] thirst for Thee like a desertous, trackless and waterless land!” (Ps 62/63.1) That is, my whole being, every part of me, all my faculties, my powers and longings hunger and thirst for God, for Goodness and Beauty, for “Righteousness.” Therefore, writes Dr Patitsas, what does not stir the soul in dynamic movement [from her root] toward her telos, the purpose for which she was created, cannot heal her. (p. 192)
In the Hebrew, it says that “Man became a living throat (nephesh)” when God breathed the breath of life into him. For man to live, he needs to eat, to drink and to breathe; and he was made to eat, drink and breathe God, divine Beauty. Erotic desire (the substance of faith) has such power over us because if we do not eat, drink and breathe, we die. But, if we were made to eat, drink and breathe God, divine Beauty, then if we do not ‘believe in’ or ‘desire’ God, we will eat, drink and breathe a ‘god’ that cannot satisfy our erotic desire for beauty and life and therefore cannot heal us.
Thus, our erotic desire is in itself an epiphany; it reveals that we are children of Beauty, made to become beautiful. The spiritual substance of the Jordan now comes into view as man’s erotic desire in which the LORD’s Theophany happens. In revealing the Son of God immersed in the Jordan, wearing it as His own garment, Theophany reveals that our own nature and destiny have been accomplished; they have been beautified. For the Son of God, divine Beauty from divine Beauty, has become flesh. Through the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Beauty, “He Who Is” the Beauty our soul desires, has been wedded to our desire in the “lowest part” of our soul, in our erotic root. The Theophany of the LORD, the revelation of divine Beauty now incarnate, now dwelling within us in the sanctuary of our soul as in His Holy Temple (Jn 1.14), calls out to us to come out of the city to the Jordan and descend into the LORD’s Covenant wherein He has revealed Himself to us, to descend into intimacy with Him in our soul’s erotic yearning for Truth, Goodness and Beauty.
This is the way of the LORD John the Baptist calls us to prepare; these are the paths he calls us to make straight. They are of the “inner Exodus of the Gospel.” They are not geographical but spiritual paths. The way of the LORD, says the Psalmist, is found in the sea (in the depths of the soul); the paths of the LORD are found in many waters, yet their footsteps are not known” (Ps 77.19)—because they are the footsteps of the LORD who is not of this world. I believe these are the “ways the LORD made known to Moses and that were revealed to the sons of Israel in His mighty acts” (Ps 103.7), the mighty acts of the Exodus. These are the paths the Psalmist wants the LORD to teach him, for they cannot be known if the LORD does not reveal them. This “inner Exodus of the Gospel” is a “divine Exodus” in the hymns for Theophany. For it is the Way of the LORD—Jesus Christ—coming out of Himself to descend into the root of our soul to wed Himself to us; and when we take up our cross to make that inner Exodus, we are resolving to “come out of the city” in order to find God, our Life, in the root, the bridal chamber, of our soul, and to become intimate with Him in His Covenant.
How does one do such a spiritual journey whose way and paths are unseen and unknown? One must learn a different way of walking, a different way of seeing, a different way of thinking and understanding. Our first goal is to catch a glimpse of God’s Theophany, the revelation of the Beauty our soul thirsts for; and so, we must consciously re-orient our interior vision to seek that Beauty that is true and good. Here is another way to describe repentance, so that we now understand repentance as the stirring of the soul in dynamic movement, in faith, in erotic desire seeking the LORD, the divine Beauty whom she loves.
Dr Patitsas’ insight into the Greek tragedy of Oedipus is relevant here: “In the living tradition of the Greek language,” he writes, “hubris seems to signify not pride but rather a failure of the aesthetic sense (the sense of beauty). The hubristic man is the man who cannot see that his life, his talents, and his virtue are mostly gifts. He cannot see that these goods are a kind of theophany, evidence of divine good favor. Rather, the hubristic man takes his life and virtue as a given upon which his mind and efforts then go to work, charting out a ‘secular’ and self-reliant path. According to this reading, Oedipus’ primary sin is more like ingratitude than pride; he lacks an erotic connection to the world (he becomes insensitive, blind, to beauty that is true and good), and thus he returns to the chaos out of which he was born (the tree of learning good and evil), even re-entering his mother’s womb! His eros reaches no true ‘other’!...Our human condition without Christ,” Dr Patitsas goes on to say, “is that we can neither discern nor do what we must do if we would have life [if we would be beautified in divine Beauty]. This is exactly why we need a Savior. Without Christ’s Light, we would never see the world as it really is (we would never see the beauty, kalos, of creation), and without His Blood and Body inside of us, we could not act according to pure vision, anyway.” (p. 56)
In all the Evangelical accounts of Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist “sees” the heavens opened—in all except St Luke. The heavens opened, says St Luke simply, while Jesus was praying (Lk 3.21). Can we take this to mean that we see the Theophany of divine Beauty in prayer—but prayer that is of the heart turning her eyes to seek the Beauty, the Light, the divine, the uncreated Radiance of God (Heb 1.3) that shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome (Jn 1.4)? Is it not in the unseen vision of the LORD’s divine beauty that the heart begins to find in such prayer true and deep healing from the traumas of her anger and fear, for there begins to take root in her again her original gratitude and longing for God? Now is conceived deep in her womb, in the bridal chamber of the soul, the beginnings of joy; and in that joy, a yearning to take up her cross, an erotic longing to come out of herself, to lose her life so that she can become a partaker of the Good by striving to do the good (2 Pt 1.4), and so find her life in intimacy with divine Beauty by losing her life to hubristic ingratitude. What does the LORD say? “I love those who love Me. Whoever diligently seeks Me will find Me!” (Prov 8.28) Now, we are learning how to do this “inner, divine Exodus of the Gospel!” Now, we are on the better and changeless path, the Way of the LORD that ascends to God, and the LORD Himself teaches us in the many, many theophanies of His Beauty that He reveals to our spiritual eyes now beginning to open as we learn how to see the Beauty of the unseen! Amen!