28 - Entering the Bridal Chamber, Mar 15, 2020

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Hebrews 1.10 – 2.3

Mark 2.1 – 12

This morning, we commemorate what we call the “Second Triumph” of Orthodoxy. This was the triumph in the 14th century of the biblical doctrine of theiosis over against certain followers of the Aristotelian rationalism of Thomism who denied it. The biblical doctrine of theiosis was upheld by Church Councils in Constantinople in 1341 and again in Blachernae in 1351. Theiosis, God becoming one with man (the humanification of God) that man might become one with God (the deification of man), is the very essence of the Incarnation. Theiosis or deification is the true purpose and meaning of human life. Man becomes God not by nature but by grace, through participation in the uncreated energies of God that radiate from God like rays from the sun. These uncreated energies, in which God is participable and can be known, are fully God even as they are distinct from the divine essence, in which God is unknowable and imparticipable. This biblical doctrine of salvation has been the fundamental experience of the Church from the beginning; for example: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2.20).

We honor this morning St Gregory Palamas, Athonite monk and bishop of Thessalonica in the 14th century because it was he who led the Church’s defense of theiosis against the rationalist theology that denied it.

The uncreated energies of God were manifested visibly in the brilliant Light that suffused Christ on Mt Tabor. I contend that the uncreated energies of God are indicated in St Luke, in the verb, epiphosken: “It was the Day of Preparation [when the LORD’s Body was laid in the Tomb], and the Light was beginning [already] to dawn.” (Lk 23.54). The uncreated energies of God are fully God; they are God undiminished. They are God ad extra, outside of Himself. Following St Dionysius and St Maximus, these uncreated energies of God are the ek-static movement of His erotic love in which He comes out of Himself, He empties Himself, He descends to come to us on the other side of the ‘gap’ separating the uncreated from the created.

We set forth last Sunday the biblical icon of God coming outside of Himself in love for His Bride in the story of Jacob leaving his home to find his bride, Rachel, on the other side of the desert. (Gn 28) As Jacob returned with his beloved bride, Rachel, to his home in the Promised Land, so the Heavenly Bridegroom, having become one with us in the bridal chamber of His Body in the Tomb at the heart of creation, ascends with us to His Heavenly Home. The biblical doctrine of theiosis, then, reveals the Incarnation to be the spiritual marriage of God with His Bride, the human soul, in the bridal chamber of the human heart.

The icon, the theme of last Sunday’s “First Triumph of Orthodoxy,” is therefore the visible image of this spiritual marriage; for, icons of Christ show God in the flesh from His union with human nature in the bridal chamber of the Virgin’s womb. Icons of the Theotokos and the saints show them in their union with God through their union with Christ in the bridal chamber of their heart.

This “Second Triumph” of Orthodoxy, which we commemorate today, shows how we become partakers of this spiritual marriage; for central to the teaching of theiosis is how to go down into the bridal chamber of our heart to become one with the God who became one with us in His Holy Pascha.

I believe this is set before us in the image, the icon, of this morning’s Gospel. It says that the LORD had come again to Capernaum, where the LORD settled when He began His ‘public ministry.’ He was at home, in His house. Now, we are in Great Lent; we are in the Garden ‘at the Tomb’ of the Savior; we have ‘turned’ and ‘gone down’ with the myrrhbearers in the Sabbath Light beginning already to shine from the Savior’s Tomb. From these indications, we may penetrate the spiritual meaning of this morning’s Gospel: it is an ‘icon’ of the LORD in His Tomb, which is the Bridal Chamber; for, the Tomb is where He became absolutely one with us in our death; and so, He is in the tomb of our heart. That means that He is here mystically, truly, in this house of St Herman’s; and, here we are in the Bridal Chamber of His Tomb. That means that we are mystically, truly, before the bridal chamber of our heart. Our heart is where we are striving to enter in this sacred season of Great Lent. But, our soul is paralyzed. Lying on the bed of our sins in our spiritual paralysis, we are too weak, we are unable to enter the house of our heart where the LORD is.

But, the paralytic it says, was carried by four [men] who, seeing they could not get into the house because of the crowd, set to work to uncover the roof of the house so that they could let the paralytic down into the presence of the LORD in the house. Do not these four men uncovering the roof of the LORD’s House—His Tomb—look to you like an image, an icon, of the angels rolling away the stone for the myrrhbearers as they drew near the LORD’s Tomb—His House—so they could come into the resurrection and the paralytic into the LORD’s forgiveness?

It says, “When the LORD saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’” Might the iconographic correspondence we’ve drawn between these four men and the myrrhbearing women reveal what this faith was such that, when the LORD saw it, He immediately said, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’? Thinking about this, it comes to me that there is to faith both a masculine or active aspect and a feminine or receptive aspect. Both here and in the myrrhbearers, we see faith in its masculine aspect of ‘drawing near’ to the LORD with determined resolve, allowing nothing to stand in its way, to enter one’s heart in order to let one’s soul down into the presence of the LORD who is ‘in the house,’ the ‘tomb,’ of the heart to receive His healing.  

So, what are these four masculine aspects of faith by which we work to enter our heart? Would it not make sense to find them in the very ascetical disciplines of Lent in which this morning’s Gospel is assigned? So, let’s say that prayer and fasting are one ‘man’ of faith, the services and offices of the Church’s worship are a second, and the confession of our sins is a third. Where is the fourth?

I believe it is ‘hidden’ even as it is right in front of us. It is the created energy of our soul’s own erotic desire, perhaps the very essence of the image of God in which we are made, in which we exist ad extra and by which we come out of ourselves to give our hearts to our loved ones in a love which, when pure and unalloyed with greed or egotism, is by its very nature self-denying and very much ‘like God’. Though invisible, this fourth ‘hidden’ aspect of faith is expressed visibly in many ways: deeds of mercy and acts of kindness, for example. But, I believe it comes to visible expression most genuinely if it remains ‘hidden’ in the movement of our soul’s erotic love inward to seek the Bridegroom who comes to us in the bridal chamber of our heart at Midnight.

Where might we find this fourth ‘man’ of faith, this love that is natural to us, that is the very essence of the divine image within us—and, which is both male and female, both active and receptive? Might we find it right in front of us, in our love for our mother and father, our spouse, our children? Might loving our spouse, our parents, our children not just in words but in deeds be where we begin to uncover the roof of our soul to make our way down into the presence of the LORD in the house of our heart? Before we can do big things, we must do small things. For many, perhaps, this ‘small thing’ is a big enough place to start practicing that ‘faith’ that uncovers the roof of our heart and lets us down into the presence of the LORD to receive His forgiveness?

Our soul naturally longs to be loved and to love. We must first be loved so that we can grow in a healthy way and become strong enough to love as we have been loved. And, the LORD has first loved us. That love is made incarnate in loving families, and in faithful parishes living in the love of the LORD. As we grow in the incarnate love of the LORD, we become strong enough to love even those who hate us. So, if we are taking up the cross of prayer and fasting but are not growing in love, then, we are not taking up the cross of the LORD. For, to take up the Cross of the LORD is to take up the LORD’s love for us and our soul’s love for the LORD. By this cross, the love of the LORD becomes incarnate in us; it enlarges our heart until we are able to love even our enemies. Amen.