|22 - THE CANAANITE WOMAN. AT EDEN'S DOOR, Feb 7 2021|
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1 Timothy 1.15-17
For the Matins of last Sunday [Tone 1], we sang a Theotokion at the Sixth Ode, which began: “The ancestors of our race...” These would be Adam and Eve, but not only as our first parents millennia ago outside of us in time. We came from them; and so they are the root of our being inside of us, they are the root in the spirit of our being, in the deep, original stillness of our being beyond all words, all thoughts, all cognition and feelings.
In our epistle reading from St James on Wednesday this last week, St James draws from the Psalms and the prophets to remind us that we each one, rich or poor, are but as the flower of the field that passes away (James 1.10). Here, too, the root of our being is set before us. The root of our being in Adam and Eve, like the flower of the field, comes from the dust of the ground and returns to the dust of the ground. Is that all there is to say about us?
In the sermon from last year on this woman of Canaan (no. 21 for Jan 26, 2020), we discovered that the meaning of this event is given in Ezekiel. This story of the woman of Canaan is an image of the mystery of Eden and the healing and raising to life of Eve—i.e., of our soul in the root of our being. It is profoundly Paschal, a beautiful fulfillment of the whole biblical vision, a wonderful soul-saving proclamation of the Gospel of Our LORD Jesus Christ.
Let me offer a quick review: Tyre and Sidon are an image of Eden in Ezekiel 28, the King of Tyre and Sidon is an image of Adam (vv. 13&17). This woman of Canaan comes down from the hills opposite Tyre and Sidon; and so, in the spiritual mystery of the prophetic vision, she is coming out of the hills opposite Eden where Adam and Eve settled after they were expelled (Gen 3.25 LXX). She now comes into view as an image of Eve, the ‘woman’ (Gen 2.22-23).
With this, the veil is lifted and we see the deeper story unfolding here that was hidden even to the disciples; it’s the entire biblical story of God and man. We can hear that deeper story in the way the woman addresses Jesus. Each time she dares to speak to Him, she does not speak to Him without addressing Him as, “LORD!”
Only God is the LORD. And, there is only one Man who is the LORD: the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Mt 1.1), the Son of Adam (Lk 3.38)—brothers and sisters, the New Adam, the Son of God become flesh of the Virgin, the New Eve! (Jn 1.14, Gal 4.4) I think we see in her address to the Savior that this woman of Canaan recognizes this Jesus to be more than a mere wonderworker. Beneath His flesh, she knows Him intuitively as the Creator God. How would she know Him so? Through faith, through her soul’s innate love for God!
And so, the Church, I think, tells us what the woman knew intuitively about this Jesus in a verse from the Menaion last week for Feb 3, the day after the Feast: “The Creator, having become a Babe without undergoing change, has shown forth our nature, the product of the earth to which it returns, to be like unto divinity!”
That is, to say we are dust destined to return to the dust is not all there is to say about us. The prophetic vision of the Church cries out to us that there is something in our root, even there where we are like the flower of the field that passes away, that is much deeper and more real than our passing away: it’s our likeness ‘unto divinity.’ But, likeness, in biblical vocabulary, refers to the natural spiritual capacity of our nature to partake of the divine nature (2 Pt 1.4) to become ‘children of God’ (Jn 1.12). In these spiritual depths, the woman begging the LORD to heal her daughter is an appeal to this ‘likeness unto divinity’ that is embedded in our nature beneath the crippling wounds of our sins and transgressions.
So, now let’s return to that Theotokion from last Sunday’s Matins that introduced this morning’s sermon: “The ancestors of our race rejoice in thee, O pure Virgin, receiving through thee the Eden they lost through transgression.” (Octoechos, p. 15) What is the lost Eden we have received from the pure Virgin? It is the only-begotten God, ‘He Who Is’ in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18, Ex 3.14), the LORD Jesus Christ, who comes forth into the world in the flesh (Jn 1.14) from the womb of His Virgin Mother as the Mighty River coming forth from the New Temple Ezekiel saw in his vision (Eze 47.1-12; Ecclesiasticus 24.23-34 indicates the personal identity of this brook/river: Jesus ben Sirach, a prophetic image of Jesus Christ, Son of God). So, the mystery of Eden is the mystery of the LORD Jesus Christ and therefore also of the Virgin Theotokos (for without her, there is no LORD Jesus Christ!).
Let’s review the story of Eden. After God fashioned man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him His Holy Spirit, raising man up as a living soul, He planted a Garden eastward. (Here is the mystery of the Virgin Theotokos who, by her “Be it done to me according to Thy WORD,” faced eastward, the rising sun, the mystery of the God who was to be born of her). The LORD then placed the man whom He had fashioned there (Gen 2.8)—a prophetic image of the LORD Jesus, the New Adam, being placed (same verb!) in the Tomb. Here we see the outlines of the spiritual substance of Eden: to live in that eternal life that is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3.3).
Seeing, with Ezekiel’s help, that Tyre and Sidon are an image of Eden, perhaps we now can explain why this story of the Canaanite woman is assigned on these Sundays leading up to the beginning of Great Lent (when Pascha is late, and we have enough ‘extra’ Sundays to fit it in). We shall see in the assigned Gospels over the next several weeks, that the Church is leading us “up to Jerusalem” and into Great Lent by way of the LORD’s Tomb. She is leading us to the LORD, the New Adam in the flesh He received from His Virgin Mother, the New Eve. As the New Adam, He is leading those who would follow Him (Mk 8.31-34; our reading from a week ago last Wednesday) “up to Jerusalem” back to Eden by way of the dust of the ground, by way of the root of our being where we are but flowers of the field that pass away. The root of our being is where we are striving to unite ourselves to Christ so we can lose our life in His death by which He has destroyed death, and find our life in His Holy Resurrection to be placed, once again, in the Garden on the other side of the tomb in the root of our being where we are beyond the dust and like unto divinity, where we are truly who we are, images of God existing in the likeness of God, existing in the natural capacity to partake of the divine nature (2 Pt 1.4).
The LORD answered the woman not a word! At what other time does the LORD answer ‘the woman’ not a word? Is it not when He is buried as a corpse in the ‘Tomb’ and answers His Mother pierced by grief ‘not a word’? Can we therefore say that when He answers the Canaanite woman not a word, He is answering her in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest and calling her down into the absolute stillness of her soul, into her root where she is beyond thoughts, beyond words, where she would be united to His Virgin Mother, the New Eve?
When she answers as she does, is she not saying, in effect: “Yes, LORD, you are justified in your sentence: I know my sin; it is ever before me. I am not worthy to eat the crumbs of the Master’s table; I am a dog! For I have given my heart not to you, my Creator, the only Lover of Mankind, but to idols”? Can you feel in her prayer to the LORD the brokenness of a contrite heart, the cry of a repentance that has taken root in the root of her soul to conceive a longing to lose her life for the sake of, out of love for this Jesus, the LORD, the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes at Midnight, who comes to us in the root of our soul where we are like the flower that passes away? She has lost all desire to prance around as though she were a god (Gn 3.23) worthy to eat at the Master’s Table. Her natural maternal love for her daughter is saving her; it is bringing her out of herself, out of her idolatry, to seek the LORD, her Creator; it is bringing her down from out of the hills opposite Eden, down to the root of her soul to worship God at the feet of the LORD, the New Adam, here at the very entrance of Eden in the root of her soul, here in the narthex of His Tomb in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest.
With this morning’s Gospel, then, the Church, I believe, is turning our inner eyes eastward to the LORD’s Tomb in the root of our being, to get us ready to enter Great Lent in the Way of the LORD, the way of prayer and fasting and almsgiving, by means of which we descend beneath all thoughts and all words to our root where we are dust, flowers of the field that pass away, there to pray in soberness of mind, in contrition and brokenness of heart: “LORD, help me! LORD, save me! LORD, have mercy on me, on my family, all my loved ones, even the world!” Who of us would now come alongside this woman of Canaan in the root of our soul to follow the LORD to His Tomb, that we may lose our life there in order to find it in Him in the Garden of His Resurrection on the other side? Amen!