|20 The Canaanite Woman, Feb 3 2019|
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I Timothy 1:15-17
We are in the Afterfeast of the Meeting of Our LORD in the Temple this morning. On this Feast, we bless candles. The lit candle is an image of the incarnate Christ, the True Light of the world, burning in the flesh He received from the Most Blessed Theotokos, the Bush who burns without being consumed. At the Feast, we read of the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the LORD in His Heavenly Temple, high and lifted up. In this, the Church reveals this Feast to us as the substance of Isaiah’s vision. Christ is the Burning Coal taken from the heavenly altar and placed, like Holy Eucharist given to us, on Isaiah’s lips—and thereby, in his heart.
But it is from the Burning Bush, the Theotokos, and not from a seraph, that the Elder Simeon receives Christ in his arms. From the vision of Isaiah, we are given to know that the Christ Simeon receives is the Burning Coal that Isaiah received on his lips. In this, we might say that this Feast of the Meeting, following on the heels of Theophany, brings into public view what is revealed more privately in the Feasts of Annunciation and Christmas: Christ is the True Light coming into the world, uncreated Light begotten from uncreated Light, uncreated Fire begotten from uncreated Fire who now dwells, or should we say, who now burns, in the uncreated Fire of His Holy Spirit, in the Temple of our flesh, purifying our bodies, enlivening our souls, sanctifying our minds, even deifying our hearts from within.
With this Feast, we leave the season of the “Winter Pascha”, the liturgical season when we cross over from the darkness of the mystical winter and begin making our way into the mystical Light of the Lenten Spring and to the rising of the Sun of Righteousness on Pascha Night. Christmas, Theophany and the Meeting of the LORD, the three feasts of the Winter Pascha, because they commemorate the uncreated Light of God entering into the world through the “Heavenly Gates” of the Theotokos and becoming flesh of her and the Holy Spirit, and dwelling among us, or pitching the Tabernacle of His Body among us, are together the true “Festival of Light”.
With the candles we blessed at the Feast, we leave this season of Light; but, let us not leave the Light! As imaged in the candles that we blessed at the Feast, let’s carry the uncreated Light of God with us. We carry it mystically inside our body and soul.
“LORD, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,” Simeon the Righteous prays to his LORD and Master he holds as a Babe in his arms; “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!” Where is Simeon leaving to? He is ready now to set out on a mystical Exodus to his tomb. But, he makes that Exodus to his tomb in Peace; he makes it in the Light of Christ that now shines on or rather in him. It shines in his dying; it shines in his tomb! That Light is the very Babe he holds in his arms, the Burning Coal that was placed on Isaiah’s lips.
But, what is incomprehensible: if Simeon is holding the Burning Coal of God in his arms, it’s because that Burning Coal has become man; and if He has become man, clothing Himself in our flesh, then the Burning Coal Himself, God Himself is also on an Exodus to the tomb, and it is there, in the Sabbath Rest of His Tomb, that He, the Son of God, becomes absolutely one with us (Heb 2:15) that we might become one with Him (2 Pt 1:4). The Light of God’s salvation that Simeon’s eyes see, then, is Christ Himself, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God With Us.
But, dear faithful: this is the very Light, the same Burning Coal that is placed on our lips in Holy Eucharist as we get ready ourselves to “depart in Peace” and to set out—in the uncreated Light we now hold in our souls and bodies as Simeon held Him in his arms—for our Lenten journey to the Tomb of God’s Sabbath Rest, the mystery of His Holy Pascha!
St Simeon says to the Beloved Panagia: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and as a Sign to be spoken against in order to uncover [to raise to the Light] the [secret] thoughts of many hearts.” (Lk 2:34-35). With this, I think the Church is illuming for us the substance and goal and purpose of her Lenten Exodus to Pascha for which she is now getting us ready.
Simeon’s word to the Beloved Theotokos takes us to Hebrews: “The WORD of God [Jesus Christ, the uncreated Fire and True Light who has come into the world] is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, to discern the inmost [secret] thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
The substance of this Lenten Exodus is mystical, unseen, spiritual, of the soul and heart. Its mystical goal is our spiritual heart. Its purpose is to lead us, in the Light of Christ’s Holy Spirit, into the wilderness of our soul and to illumine what is hidden in our spiritual heart, in order to bring us to that “critical” moment when we choose either to leave our idols behind and serve God, or to leave God behind, betray Him as did Judas, and serve our idols.
This last week, our Gospel reading on Thursday and Friday was of the rich young ruler who asks the LORD, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We were on this Gospel for two days: it must hold a very important lesson the Church wants us to learn!
You remember that the LORD says to the rich young ruler, “One thing do you lack. Sell all you have (i.e., deny yourself, lose your life for my sake) and come, follow Me, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Hearing these words, the rich young man goes away, grieving; for, it says, he was very rich.
See how the LORD’s WORD illumined what was hidden in the rich young ruler’s heart: his love for earthly riches. But, this was not the “critical” moment. The “critical” moment was when the rich young ruler, seeing the “one thing” he lacked in his heart, chose to leave Christ rather than to acknowledge that he lacked anything.
In contrast, we have the Gospel this morning of the Canaanite woman. Here, it is the LORD’s WORD first as silence, then as a sharp rebuke, even what sounds like an insult, that reveals what was hidden in this woman’s heart. But, even though she was rebuked, even insulted, she chose in her “critical” moment to stay, and how ineffably sweet, how life-giving must the WORD have been to her soul that she heard directly from the LORD Himself: “Dear woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish!” And, it says, her daughter was healed in that very hour.
Dear faithful! The LORD’s WORDs are true words. He does not speak falsehood. The rich young ruler really did lack one thing; the Canaanite woman really was no better than a dog. The WORD of the LORD pierced to the division of their soul and spirit and illumined what was hidden in their hearts. Beneath the righteousness of the rich young ruler was a vanity and self-righteousness that blinded him, and caused him to experience the penetrating WORD of the LORD as a sharp two-edged sword of pain he could not tolerate. He went away, grieved, it says. Might we believe he went away deeply offended and angered? The Canaanite woman, on the other hand, full of love for her daughter, showed an uncommon depth of meekness and humility, the substance of her “great faith”; and, she experienced the LORD’s WORD as the profound spiritual pleasure of a deep therapy, a purging fire, a healing and life-creating Light! If she was no better than a dog, she became a woman of heavenly beauty, and is now honored by the Church as a saint, a model of saving and godly humility.
This, then, is what lies before us if, in fact, we do in sincerity take the Light of Christ with us into Great Lent as we carry our lit candles. This Light, I think we can say, is the Cross Christ commands those to take up who would follow Him. It is given to us in the form of the Church’s Lenten ascetic disciplines. It is the living and active WORD who is Christ Himself, a luminous and fiery WORD that will illumine us down to our hearts! In that Light, we will be granted to see, as far as the LORD knows we can bear it, the one thing we lack, the “dog” that we really are. If we can come down from the high horse of the rich young ruler in us and humble ourselves like the Canaanite woman, we will receive that fiery WORD of Christ as the cleansing and healing of our souls; and, in hearts that have been purified, we will be granted to enter the “tomb of our heart” as into the “Bridal Chamber” of the LORD’s Empty Tomb, and to taste and see in the Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection how good is the salvation of the LORD. Amen!