|26 - Second Sunday of Great Lent, March 27, 2016|
Hebrews 1:10-2:3 (Sunday)
Hebrews 7:26-8:2 (St Gregory)
Mark 2:1-12 (Sunday)
Commemorating the Restoration of Icons last Sunday, the Church proclaimed the Mystery of the Incarnation – God becoming man (Jn 1:14). This morning, commemorating St Gregory Palamas and his vindication at the Council of Blachernae in 1351, the Church proclaims the purpose of the Incarnation: that man might become God, theosis. The Incarnation of God reveals the majesty and dignity of Man: God becomes Man that Man might become God (cf. Ps 81:6 LXX) – not by nature (as in pagan philosophy or Far Eastern religion) but by grace, or participation. “From His fullness have we all received, even grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16), “that you might become partakers of the divine nature.” (II Pt 1:4). One therefore should not be surprised to discern in the Triodic structure of the Church’s lectionary and liturgical worship the Path leading to our deification.
The Triodic lectionary brought us into the Fast with the myrrhbearing women at the tomb of the Savior (Lk 23:54-56). We will end the Fast on Pascha Night with the myrrhbearing women at the tomb of the Savior. Forty-seven days will have passed by the calendar; but, by the Church’s lectionary, only one day will have passed: the Sabbath Day – the last day of the week by the calendar, but in biblical time, the Last Day – and, we will enter the Church on Pascha morning and into the Bridal Chamber of Christ’s empty tomb washed in the Light of His Holy Resurrection on the First Day of the New Creation. The work of the Fast – descending into the tomb (the Sabbath) of our heart in order to rest according to the commandment (to take refuge in the Cross and not in the sweet things of the world) – takes place mystically at the tomb of the Savior on the Last Day in biblical time not in calendar time.
Now, the Greek of St Luke’s Gospel that we read coming into Great Lent reads: “The Sabbath was beginning to grow light (epifosken – very literally: the light rested upon the Sabbath)” (Lk 23:54). But, the Hebrew day begins in the evening when the sun sets. It was Friday evening by our calendar. It was growing dark; and so it is striking to read in the Greek: “The Sabbath was beginning to grow light.”
The One whose Body was laid in the tomb is the Light of the World. The Light of the Sabbath that was beginning to dawn, then, was emanating from The LORD’s Body in the tomb, working salvation in the midst of the earth – in our souls. The cleansing tears of the Fast, then, fall at the Savior’s Tomb in the Light of Christ that is beginning to dawn on the Sabbath in regions dark and deep (Ps 87:6 LXX), in the tomb of our heart that is deep beyond all things (Jer 17:5/9 LXX).
But, the Church’s lectionary and worship are surely the LORD’s Tomb embodied. They hold Christ as did the Tomb. The Light of the Lenten Sabbath, then, rises from the Church, the Body of Christ, on us Today from within the “Tomb” of her Holy Scriptures and her worship. So, we do the work of the Fast by approaching the Scriptures and pondering them within the Church’s worship. When we read the Church’s Scriptures we are “seeing the Tomb and how the LORD’s Body was laid.” And, when we ponder them within the worship of the Church, we are seeing the Light of Christ in the Sabbath Light that rises from His Body in the Tomb, made now by His burial into a Bridal Chamber, the Fountain of Life (Ps 35:6 LXX).
During Great Lent, we read as one of the Biblical Odes for Matins the Song of Moses from Deuteronomy. There, we hear: “The LORD will judge His people. He will be sent to His servants; for, He saw them paralyzed and abandoned and passed by in the attack” Dt 32:36 LXX, my translation). One remembers the parable of the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by thieves – i.e., the passions – and left for dead or paralyzed at the side of the road (a theme of the fourth Sunday of Lent).
This last Thursday, we read from Isaiah: “I saw the LORD sitting on a throne lifted up and exalted, and the House was full of His Glory” (6:1). But, it says that Isaiah’s vision was “In the year that King Ozias died.” King Ozias was a grandfather of the LORD (Mt 1:8-9). In the light of the Lenten Sabbath shining from the “Tomb” of the Church’s lectionary, we see the high and exalted throne of Isaiah’s vision as the Cross on which the LORD is “lifted up” (from the same word, Jn 8:28). We see the house that is full of His Glory as the Tomb where the LORD’s Body was laid, and the Glory we see as the Light that was beginning to dawn from the Sabbath of the LORD’s Tomb when they saw how His Body was laid – for the Tomb is the true Sabbath that is not a similitude (St Isaac, Hom 29).
And, in the light of this Lenten Sabbath, we now see the house in this morning’s Gospel as the House of Isaiah’s vision. So, if we see that the LORD is in the house, we see, in the light of this Lenten Sabbath, the LORD in His Tomb as in His Holy Temple (Hab 2:20); and, if we see Him forgiving and healing a paralytic in the House, the Temple of His Tomb, we see Him in the Body that He took from the Holy Virgin that, sharing in our flesh and blood, He might become one with us even in death and by His death destroy our death (Heb 2:14), that He might be in us, the Father in Him, and all of us perfectly one in the Glory He had with Father from the beginning (Jn 17:22&23); i.e., that we might be deified. And, now we see that this is the Glory that filled the House, and this Glory is the Light of the Sabbath, the light of our deification that was beginning to dawn from His Body laid dead in the tomb, where He was working our salvation, our deification in the midst of the earth (Ps 74:12); i.e., releasing us from our paralysis and our death in the tomb of our heart, i.e., raising us from our graves that we might go to our [own] house to live in our own land (Eze 37:12-14) as gods, sons of the Most High in the city of the living God (Heb 12:22), the city of the LORD Jesus, the first-born of the dead.
The prophet, Ezekiel, says: “On the Sabbath Day, the Gate of the inner court that faces east shall be opened; and, the Prince will enter…and offer whole burnt offerings…on the Sabbath Day” (Eze 46:1-10). The Prince who enters the Gate facing east is Christ. The Gate that is opened so that the Prince can enter: this is the mystery of the Annunciation, and also of the Tomb.
For, in the Virgin’s womb, God becomes flesh and blood (Jn 1:14) like us (Heb 2:14) – and, in the Temple of His Body (Jn 2:19), this is how we see Him in the house this morning, forgiving sins and raising the dead. But, this does not satisfy His purpose. He desires our deification. And so, He must needs “come forth” from the inner Gate of the Virgin’s womb, so that in the flesh He can enter the inner Gate of our death, the tomb of our heart, where He can be not just like us but truly one with us in all things, so that by His death He might destroy our death (Heb 2:14), and make us partakers of His divine nature, sharers of His divineGlory.
Here, then, is the Path of our deification. “The LORD whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal 3:1). In the house this morning, we see the LORD in His Holy Temple, we see Christ, our Hope of Glory in you. In the tomb of your heart is where you who seek Him will find Him. In you Christ the Door is found who raises us and leads us out into the pasture of life eternal.
In the obedience of listening, we receive the Word of God into our souls as the Theotokos received Him in her womb; and, in Holy Eucharist we become members of His Body that He received from the Virgin. Taking up our cross, we follow Him. We carry our paralyzed soul on the Cross of the Fast, and let it down into the tomb of our heart where Christ has worked our salvation in the midst of the earth, i.e., in our death. We experience the joy of forgiveness, but the hope of Christ in you is much more than this: it is the hope of being clothed in His Glory and becoming one with Him in the Father through the Holy Spirit in the love of God and His Holy Mother that abides forever. Amen.