|27 - THE INCARNATION, Mar 24, 2019|
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We are given much to contemplate this morning. We commemorate this morning St Gregory Palamas, bishop of Thessalonica in the 14th Cent. He articulated the biblical doctrine of God existing, as it were, outside of His essence in His uncreated energies. The Light that shone from the LORD Jesus on Mt Tabor was the uncreated divine energy or Grace of God’s divine essence. In His essence, God is altogether unknowable. But, He exists also outside of Himself, as it were, in His uncreated energies or Grace, in which He is knowable, as the Scripture proclaims: “God is the LORD and has revealed Himself to us!” We know God not in His divine essence but in His uncreated energies. In His energies or Grace, He is fully present to us. We therefore can know what is Orthodox or biblical doctrine, the worship of God that is in Spirit and in Truth, and what is heretical doctrine that leads away from God, and therefore from salvation or our true nature and destiny.
Like the victory over iconoclasm, the doctrine of God in His uncreated energies proclaims the Incarnation of God the WORD. God became man, and so He can be depicted in icons. But, if the Incarnation did not consume man but perfected man’s natural integrity, it’s because it is natural for man to receive God and become one with Him. This means that the Transfiguration of Our LORD on Mt Tabor manifested not only Jesus’ divinity but also the natural state of man: deification, becoming light shining in uncreated Light, fire burning, without being consumed, with the uncreated Fire of God’s divine energies. The Orthodox doctrine of the icon and of the uncreated energies of God reveal the true nature and destiny of man. Man is kin to God. Created in the divine Image of God, man is created with the innate capacity to receive God, to become one with God such that he lives the uncreated life of God as a child of God, holy, pure, humble, and luminous.
The Incarnation is the mystery commemorated in the Feast of Annunciation, which we celebrate this evening and tomorrow. The doctrine in the prayers of the liturgical texts affirms that it is beyond nature and beyond human comprehension for a virgin to give birth. The doctrine of God becoming flesh of the Virgin in a manner that is beyond nature and dwelling among us in our human nature as in His Holy Temple teaches us that both our origin and our destiny are realized not here in this world, but beyond nature, in God Himself. In the Matins for Annunciation, we hear how the Archangel Gabriel is as afraid of the Virgin, if not more so, than she is of him. For, he knows her as the Mother of God, the Holy Temple of God not made with hands. She is the Living Temple of which the OT Temple was the copy. She is the Holy of Holies of whom our epistle reading from Hebrews this morning speaks. The High Priest who enters the sanctuary of her womb is the LORD God Himself, the one who made heaven and earth. Note, then, that it is in the living Temple of the Theotokos, in the unspeakable mystery of the union of the divine Person of God the WORD with the human person of the Most Beloved Panagia, the ever-Virgin Theotokos—the woman—and not in some abstract, impersonal energy field that human nature and destiny are fully manifested and made perfect, such that God becomes man, making it possible for man now to become what he truly is: a god, a child of the Most High (Ps 81:6 LXX).
I believe our second epistle reading, also from Hebrews, and which quotes Psalm 101 LXX) is teaching us the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb. It is the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest in which He “finishes” His creation (Gn 2:4 LXX) and makes it new. How is it that John believed when he entered the LORD’s Tomb and saw (Jn 19:8) that it was empty—i.e., it had been emptied of death (Lk 24:5)? It says he believed when he saw the linen cloths neatly folded and placed to the side, and the turban lying in its own place. The Tomb of the LORD is the Sanctuary of the Temple of Creation. As such, it is the root and principle of creation. Was it this Psalm quoted in Hebrews that came immediately to John’s mind as he stood there in the Sanctuary of creation, the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest? It says that he saw the linen cloths. They had been wrapped around the Temple of the LORD’s Body, now “destroyed” (Jn 2:19) as a cloak of the LORD’s. But, now, in the Tomb, they were folded up. Clearly, the LORD remained—for the Tomb was empty! He was not there among the dead! The garment of His dead Body was changed for the Robe of the Light of His Resurrection. And so, creation has been changed. Death is not the root of creation anymore; the death of God is the root, and in the death of God are His uncreated energies, His uncreated Light that illumines those sitting in darkness, in the region and shadow of death. That means that inside death as in the house of this morning’s Gospel is a deeper Root or Arche (Beginning): the LORD Jesus Christ clothed in our human nature transfigured, deified now and raised immortal (Wisd 1:15) in the uncreated Light and Life of the risen and triumphant God.
I am the Door, the LORD says in our other Gospel reading this morning. I am the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep to green pastures. Keeping close to the lectionary, from where is He speaking? From within the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest. Does it strike you how our Gospel from St Mark shows the same shape as the death and resurrection of Lazarus, the immediate destination of our Lenten exodus? Contemplated in the liturgical setting of the lectionary, the LORD in the house now appears as an image of the LORD in His Tomb, where He is working His salvation in the “midst of the earth” (Ps 73:12 LXX), out of which we were taken and to which we shall return (Gn 3:19).
In this, too, we are given to see that neither our origin nor our destination are here. They are beyond this life, in the tomb. And, we are like this morning’s paralytic: living corpses. Soon, we will be corpses in body as well, following St John Climacus. When we are let down into the tomb—of our heart and in the earth—see in whose presence our Gospels tell us we will find ourselves: the LORD Jesus Christ, the Door, the Shepherd who would lead us to the green pastures of our true home in the LORD’s Heavenly Kingdom beyond the grave.
St John believing when he enters the LORD’s empty Tomb; this morning’s paralytic finding forgiveness of his sins, a resurrection, when he is let down into the house as into his tomb: the living reality of the Gospel is not found out here in the world on this side of the grave. It’s not found in books written in the worldly wisdom of learned men that cannot penetrate the tomb to see what’s inside of it, let alone what’s beyond it. The living reality of the Gospel is found in the incarnate God in His Sabbath Rest in the tomb of our heart, in the “house” of our death where we come into the presence of the Door, the Chief Shepherd, the LORD Jesus Christ.
The Lenten disciplines of fasting and prayer together form the beams of the Cross the LORD gives us as a ladder by which the four Gospels of His Holy Church let us down into the house of our soul as into the tomb of Lazarus, to come before the Door, the Chief Shepherd who alone can forgive us our sins and lead us up into the green pastures of Heaven. Apart from the Fast, prayer is cerebral, caught in the ivory tower. Without prayer, fasting is but a religious diet that skates along the surface. But through prayer and fasting, with the mind oriented toward the LORD in the house of our soul, in the tomb of our heart, we are let down into the presence of the LORD to come into the uncreated light shining already from His Tomb and illumining the darkness of our soul. Taking up the Fast as our Cross is the work of faith by which we lose our life for His sake so that we are let down into the tomb of our heart with Lazarus to hear the LORD saying to us as in this morning’s Gospel: your sins are forgiven you; and as we hear Him calling out to us on Lazarus Saturday: Come forth! Then our old garments of death are changed and we follow the Shepherd through the Door, into the green pastures of the new heaven and the new earth in the mystery of His holy Pascha! Amen!