|27 - THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT. LET US PURIFY OUR SENSES, March 27, 2022|
Hebrews 4.14 – 5.6
Mark 8.34 – 9.1
This year, the date of Pascha places the mystery of Annunciation back to back with the veneration of the Savior’s Cross. I make bold to assert that on this Sunday, the Ark of the Church has sailed into the deepest part of the Church’s ocean of theology, because these two feasts take us to the beginning and the end of human life, which is to say that they take us into the heart of our sexuality.
We draw only a drop from the deep ocean of theology beneath us this morning. Yet, the radiance of the ‘eternal mystery of God’ shines forth even in that drop. We can see even in that drop how ‘completely different,’ how beautifully radiant and clean is the mystery of our sexuality compared to the understandings oozing like mire from the blinded eyes of the world; it’s no less than the difference between the fragrance of the rose and the stench of a sewer, or shall we say, between life and death?
Even from this drop drawn from the Church’s ocean of theology, it’s easy to see that, our sexuality and our gender as male or female is not rooted in the dust of the ground, not in our flesh, most certainly not in our idiosyncratic whimsy, and not even in the deepest part of us: our heart or in our spirit. It is rooted in the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us. For drawing from the Liber Graduum: ‘All that is good takes its beginning from the Church in Heaven. From there, Light has shone out in all directions.’ Male and female come into view as the visible form, ‘incarnations’ of this heavenly ‘Light’ shining out into the creation in all directions.
The text continues: ‘After its Likeness, the Church on earth came to be.’ As we read in Genesis: ‘And God made man, male and female He made them, in His own Image and Likeness.’ Here, we could draw from the 2nd Homily of St Clement, first bishop of Rome, and understand this ‘Church on earth’ that is in the likeness of the Church in Heaven to be Man as male and female, the King and Queen of creation, gathered in communion with the angels of Heaven round the Throne of God.’
But more than this: we are given to understand from the Troparion of Annunciation that the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin is the ‘beginning of our salvation.’ Our salvation, our being raised from death to life, is rooted in the Son of God becoming the Son of the Virgin through human sexuality, in the mystery of gender. In the flesh, He ascends the Cross and He is placed as a corpse in the Tomb. From inside our death, He makes the ‘tomb of our heart’ to be the Bridal Chamber of His Bride, the Church, who gives birth to Him as the First-born of the dead. Our salvation is found not outside but within us, in our own sexuality, in our gender as male and female, in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God who becomes the Son of the Virgin.
But our holy fathers lead us deeper yet into the waters of the Church’s ocean of theology.
This Son of God sown in the virginal womb of the most holy Virgin Theotokos like a divine seed sown in the soil of good earth, is the Son of the Father, the Beautiful and the Good. ‘Theologians,’ St Maximos (7th cent) writes, ‘sometimes call Him an erotic force, sometimes love, sometimes He Who Is intensely longed for and loved.’ Ponder now the wonder of the Annunciation in this theological light: ‘The Source of all things who produces an inward state of intense longing and love (eros) in those receptive to Him….through the beauty, goodness and profusion of His intense love for everything, goes out of Himself….and spell-bound as it were by goodness, love and longing, He relinquishes His utter transcendence (He empties Himself, Phil 2.7) in order to dwell in all things while yet remaining in Himself (And the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us, Jn 1.14, ‘He was found in human form and was obedient to the Father to the point of death on the Cross,’ Phil 2.8; for, because the children share in flesh and blood, He likewise partook of the same, that through death He might destroy the devil who has the power of death [Heb 2:14])...
That is, in the mystery of the Annunciation, the God Who Is intensely longed for and loved is now sown like a divine seed in the soil of our own nature, right there in the root, at that point where we begin and end.
St Maximos continues: ‘He does this in order to bring about in us an erotic union in the Spirit,’ that He may raise us from our graves, and breathe His Spirit into us so that we may live, and Shepherd us into the Land of the Living (Eze 37.12-14).
You see that our erotic desire does not originate in us, nor does it come from the devil. It originates in God; it is divine. I think we could say that this erotic desire is what was breathed into Adam when God breathed into him His Holy Spirit, and in this erotic longing for the God Who alone is the Beautiful and the Good, Adam became a ‘living’ soul.
In the light pouring even from this small drop of theology, we begin to see why our heart is so ‘desperately corrupt.’ (Jer 17.9) We have sold our erotic desire—this most precious pearl in which we became living souls—to the serpent who has become the master of our inmost bedchamber. This also explains why we are thieves: we have claimed this erotic love breathed into us by God as our own, and we have sold it to the devil in the lustful desire to become as though we are God by nature.
What the world calls ‘erotica,’ the theology of the Church reveals to be the perversion and the corruption of eros into soul-destroying lust; for eros is our soul’s natural movement of longing that impels us toward God; lust seizes our eros to drive us back to the dust of death. (Ps 22.15)
This may explain why lust is so fiercely intense. The eros it feeds on is of God, and this is what gives to our lust a divine intensity. Lust is driven by our erotic desire that by its very nature cannot be sated except in God; and so, lust is eros always cheated, forever frustrated until finally lust corrupts eros altogether and turns it into anger, bitterness, hatred and despair because it never finds the Beauty and the Good it longs for. Now we have become like Lucifer, and our own perverted eros now drives us in a blind, narcissistic rush to the dust in the mad delusion that we are rising out of the dust because we have become ‘as though we are gods’ (Gen 3.23).
It seems to me that we have been tricked into separating erotic desire from Christian Faith. Our erotic desire, therefore, becomes impious, and our Christian Faith becomes lifeless, dry as dust. We become Jekylls and Hydes. Outwardly, we present ourselves as Christian, but in our souls, where we really live, we are more like devils, infested with all manner of sexual impurities and carnal desires.
Originating in God, erotic desire is spiritual and, like God, it becomes incarnate, for it dwells in all of our senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Therefore, when the Church calls out to us: ‘Let us purify our senses that we may see Christ shining forth in the unapproachable Light of His Resurrection,’ what she is saying is, let us purify our erotic desire by purifying all our senses that we may behold with all our senses the Heavenly Bridegroom dwelling in our heart, transfigured by His coming to dwell in it through His conception of the Virgin, His Cross and three-day burial in the Tomb, into a bridal chamber. Let us purify our outer man and our inner man that our whole being, body and soul, may come alive in the erotic love of God.
The Cross is the sensual emblem of the Son of God coming out of Himself, relinquishing His utter transcendence in His longing for us, in order to bring about an erotic union in the Spirit so that He may be desired and loved by His creatures, and so that His creatures may live in Him. So, if the Fast is the flower of abstinence (and, if it is a flower, it is fragrant with the Spirit) growing from the wood of the Cross, then it is by prayer and fasting, i.e., by the Cross, that we will drive the serpent of lust out of our heart; but the Fast must be for us not the lifeless boast of spiritual pride, but the sensual expression of the contrite longing of our soul’s erotic love to be purified of all carnal desire that we may become truly spiritual; that is, that we may become lovers of the LORD’s Beauty (Wisd 8.2) and that our soul’s erotic longing for the Heavenly Bridegroom may be fully consummated in the Bridal Chamber of our heart; that we may become bone of the LORD’s bones, flesh of the LORD’s flesh, children of God born again of the Spirit from above, partakers of His own divine nature. Amen!