20 - Sunday After Theophany, Jan 10, 2010

Ephesians 4:7-13

Matthew 4:12-17

God made us, writes St Maximus the Confessor, so that we might become partakers of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4) and sharers in His eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him (cf. I Jn 3:12).

This God, however, of whom we were made to be partakers is not of this world. In his essence He always remains a mystery. God is beyond being. He transcends even “beyond-beingness”.[2]

Contemplating the wonder of the world, the mind of man can deduce that there is a power mightier than the world, which it calls God. The soul also has a strong sense of the presence of the Spirit that can be developed and cultivated by means of ascetic disciplines, so that one perceives the Spirit with an immediacy that looks on the blind arrogance of scientism or any form of atheism with derision or pity, that transcends reason, that exposes prose as altogether inadequate to the soul’s immediate experience of the Spirit, and the most sublime poetry a worthy but feeble effort to express the exalted goodness and numinous beauty of the Spirit.  It is clear to anyone who honors the soul’s intuitive apperception of the Spirit and who thinks soberly and deeply on the awesome complexity of the world that the world does not exist by chance; consciousness and reason, man’s strong religious sense of morality and faithfulness, truth and purpose are not the random concatenation of atoms in the human brain, itself but a particular arrangement of atoms that are scattered back into oblivion when we die. They are rather silent witnesses to man’s spiritual destiny and his potential for a substantive eternity.

We are not surprised that there are so many doctrines of God or no-God in the world or even that some choose in laziness to believe that there is no God. The Church proclaims a God who brought the world from nothing into being. That means that He is not of the world. He is not the principle or essence of the world. He is not the principle or essence of the world. He is not the essence of the human mind or soul. The true God is uncreated and therefore altogether inaccessible to creatures; He eludes every intellection of intellective beings and infinitely transcends the summit of all spiritual knowledge; so much so, as I said a moment ago, that He is beyond being and transcends even beyond-beingness; so that, if we were to say that God exists, we would be obliged to say that the world does not exist. Or, if we were to say that the world exists, we would be obliged to say that God does not exist – not meaning that there is no God but that the true God is not of the world; the world is not an emanation of Him. The world does not dissolve back into this God when it passes away. He alone truly is. And so, while the human mind can deduce that there is a God, knowledge of the true God as He is cannot be arrived at by logic or philosophical reasoning or scientific experiment because the true God is not of the human mind or the world. And so He cannot be known unless He reveals Himself. Outside of that revelation, whatever we say about God, so St Gregory of Nyssa writes, reveals nothing about God but only what we think of God.

How, then, is it possible for man to become a partaker of the divine nature, to become a sharer in God’s and to become like Him if he utterly transcends us?

It is possible because we were made in the Image of God. The “Image” of God in whom we were made is not a projected reflection of God; it is not a mere resemblance of God. It is the very Person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Col 1:15), the Word of God in whom and by whom all things were made. This is a doctrine of the Gospel that teaches us that even our own being is beyond our ken because we originate from beyond ourselves. There is a spiritual depth to our own being that neither science nor philosophy can fathom because our origin transcends the world. We originate beyond ourselves; the world originates beyond itself in the Person of the Image of God who is begotten eternally of the Father before all worlds and all ages.

We originate in the Person of God the Word, Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. This tells us that the spiritual depth of our being is a personal mystery of communion, of participation in the divine nature, of sharing in the eternity of God. This spiritual depth of our being is our true self, and it is personal. It transcends even our nature and it exists in a capacity to participate in God, to share in His eternity. It is deeper than the body, deeper than the soul, deeper than the mind, deeper even than our consciousness and our sense of self. Our present sense of self we call the ego. The ego is but the organ of consciousness that emerges out of our unconscious depths and develops as we grow. The personal mystery of our being, our true self, is deeper than all of these. It is centered, so the fathers of the Church teach us, not in the region of the brain but in the region of the heart. There, we open out beyond ourselves and beyond the world and into the Image of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God in whom we were made.

Therefore, when the Church cries out on the Feast of Theophany: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!” it is proclaiming the entrance into this world of the Image of God in whom we were made who is not of this world. He enters the world through the womb of the blessed Virgin and is manifest in the cave of Bethlehem as a little child. Believers in Christ come to the Church as to the Cave of Bethlehem to worship Him. Here in the Church we are in the Cave of Bethlehem, which is illumined with the radiance of the uncreated light of God that streams from Christ’s holy face. The Church, the cave of Bethlehem, are like projections of the heart; so that when in the Church we stand before the Royal Doors, we stand as before the doors of our heart that open out beyond the world, beyond our own being and into the sanctuary of God’s Heavenly Kingdom for which we were destined. The priest intones: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He is announcing to us that the worship of the Church in its spiritual essence directs us onto the better and changeless path found in the waters of the Jordan that ascends to the Kingdom of God. If we come into the Church in the fear of God, with faith and love, we enter onto that mystical, spiritual path. It leads to the tomb of Pascha and to our death in union with Christ, to the farthest limit of the world and created being. In the power of the Cross, the tomb opens like the Royal Gates beyond created being onto the Kingdom of Heaven beyond the world. United to Christ in a death like His, we pass over the threshold of created being and rise up in the Light of His Holy Resurrection to follow Him into His Kingdom of Light. We are bathed in His Light and become partakers of His divine nature. We are clothed in a Robe of Light and we become sharers of His eternity. We put on Christ and we become like Him. It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.

Great Lent already draws near. (Next Sunday already is Zaccheus Sunday!) Great Lent is a blessed season of such spiritual beauty and richness because it opens onto the better and changeless path that ascends to God. it is a time of healing of soul and body because it shines in our darkness the Light of Christ and reveals to us our true spiritual destiny as persons created in the Image of God. by these words, I am calling on you to begin now to make yourself ready to take up the ascetic effort of Great Lent. It is about renunciation. We must renounce the pleasures of food; we must broaden our fast to include as well the fast with our eyes, our ears, our hands and our feet. But we take up the fast in its broadest application for the sake of something infinitely higher. We are preparing our souls and our bodies to receive not just the gifts of the Spirit but the Spirit Himself in whom we are granted nothing less than the grace to become like Christ, partakers of the divine nature, sharers of God’s eternity. We take up our cross to put off the old man in order to make ourselves ready to put on the new man, Jesus Christ. We are preparing ourselves for that moment of Pascha when the Bridegroom comes at Midnight and the doors of the Church are opened as onto the Kingdom of Heaven, and we pass over from the darkness of the night into the Church illumined by the light of scores of candles as into God’s Kingdom of Light, to partake in the joy of Pascha of Christ’s own divinity and to become sharers of His own eternity in fulfillment of our spiritual destiny in the love of God the Father, and in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Philokalia I, p. 173

[2] Ibid., p. 166 & 167