|28 - Expulsion of Adam From Paradise, March 17, 2013|
Finding the forgiveness of God and experiencing the joy of that forgiveness is the goal of our Lenten journey. This is clear because the forgiveness of God is found in the tomb of Christ’s Holy Pascha where our sins are washed away, and we are cleansed by the divine blood of Christ. Made holy and blameless, we find the joy of God’s forgiveness in Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
Through the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation, His death and Resurrection, earth has been united to heaven; the inner and the unseen have been united to the outer and the seen, time has been united to eternity. It is therefore a mystery of the Church that the tomb of Christ’s Holy Pascha opens onto our heart, which has become a spiritual tomb where our spirit, dead in our sins and trespasses, lies buried as a spiritual corpse.
By the same principle of Christ’s holy Incarnation, the Divine Liturgy we serve on earth opens onto and is united to the Divine Liturgy served in heaven. The “door” through which our earthly Liturgy opens onto the heavenly Liturgy and becomes “divine” is the tomb of Christ; that is to say, the tomb of the heart.
When Christ descended into hell, He descended also into the tomb of our heart. There, He touches our dead spirit and we are made alive, forgiven; and, in the joy of that forgiveness, we are raised to life with Christ in His Holy Resurrection.
So, it is a marvelous mystery of the Church that as we engage the visible and sensual rites of the Church’s sacred liturgical and sacramental worship, we engage the invisible realm of our soul. As we take up bodily the ascetic disciplines of the Church – prayer, fasting, the practice of charity – we take up spiritually our cross. As we live according to the commandments of Christ, we follow Christ to His Cross. So, as we engage the ascetic disciplines and the liturgical worship of the Church, we are led into our heart as into the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha to find the forgiveness of God in the joy of being made spiritually alive in His Holy Resurrection.
I’m describing an unseen, spiritual mystery that is even more real than the physical world that we see. It is known in the spirit of our soul because it is our spirit that is raised from death to life when Christ’s Holy Spirit anoints it and washes it in the tomb of our heart. This joy of finding the forgiveness of God must not be mistaken for a sentimental feeling. It is a spiritual event that cannot be known at all so long as our spirit is dead. But, when our spirit is raised to life in Christ’s Holy Spirit, we know this paschal reality of God’s forgiveness immediately: not dialectically but immediately, because it is the experience of our spirit coming to life in Christ’s Holy Resurrection. In the spiritual light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, our spirit sees and hears when before it could not, breathes and smells the sweet fragrance of Christ when before it had no breath; because before, it was spiritually dead, it was a spiritual corpse. But now, it has been raised to life in the Spirit of Christ in the joy of His Holy Resurrection. Our spirit knows this as real because it is the reality our spirit now lives.
When we begin Great Lent with the rite of forgiveness, which takes place at the conclusion of the Vespers service that begins the Great Fast, the Church is turning us in the direction of the Lord’s tomb. She is showing us the path by which we will find the Lord’s tomb as the living experience of our new life in Christ: it is by reconciling to one another through mutual forgiveness, forgiving each other as God forgives us.
In this rite, we have not yet entered the tomb of our heart. We have turned, repented, and started out on the path that takes us into the tomb of our heart. It may be that, even though we have been through many Paschas, we may yet still be outside the tomb of our heart. It may not be until we are on our deathbed that we finally make our way into the tomb of our heart. But we will have been led there precisely because we have been through many Paschas; for that is the destination of our Lenten journey and, indeed, of all the services, prayers, liturgical rites, and sacramental mysteries of the Church. As we go through the ascetic rigors of the Fast every year, we should be drawing closer each year to the tomb of our heart as to the tomb of Christ’s Holy Pascha so that our deathbed will be as the ambon before the “Beautiful Gates” that open onto the sanctuary, the tomb, of our heart and into the joy of Christ’s Holy resurrection.
This last Thursday, we read from St Luke’s Gospel: “And they rested according to the commandment.” (23:56) “They rested,” is from hesychia, a very important word that refers to a very specific form of prayer. This word in the text makes me wonder if a deeper meaning is meant than that they simply went home and rested on the Sabbath, according to the commandment. It so happens that this is the word in the LXX of Gn 4:7 of the Lord’s command to Cain after Cain’s offering was not accepted by the Lord: “Sin is crouching at the door!” the Lord says to Cain. And then, He commands him: “Be still (rest). Sin’s desire is for you. You must master it!” That is, master it through rest, through hesychia; i.e. through prayer and fasting in accordance with the Lord’s word given elsewhere to His disciples: “This kind [of sin/demon] does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”
In this last week’s daily assigned scripture reading, we read of the Savior’s death on the cross and His burial in the tomb in our preparation for the Great Fast. It is at this point in the daily lectionary – of Christ’s burial in the tomb, and the myrrh-bearing women returning home to prepare myrrh and spices, and resting on the Sabbath according to the commandment – that the daily lectionary leaves the Gospel and, not unlike the myrrhbearinour heart and into the tomb of our heart and the joy of xt'g women returning home to prepare spices and ointments, it “returns home” to the OT prophets. From now until Great and Holy Week, we will be reading in the daily lectionary from the OT prophets and from the Gospel only on Saturday and Sunday, the days of Christ’s Sabbath Rest and Resurrection. And, I believe we pick up the Gospel reading where we left off this last Thursday on Great and Holy Thursday. In the meantime, in between last Thursday and Holy Thursday, the lectionary has us “returning home” as though our preparation of spices and ointments is our “resting” in the discipline of hesychia – prayer and fasting and almsgiving – according to the commandment.
The daily lectionary is part of the Church’s daily worship cycle. It forms part of the “office” that each pious lay person observes when he “returns” to the “closet” of his own “home”. If it is part of the Church’s worship cycle, then that means that its environment is the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha, or of the human heart. Through the daily lectionary assigned at this Lenten season, we enter into this Lenten “milieu” of the Lord’s tomb and so into the “milieu” of the tomb of our heart.
And so, we enter Great Lent as onto the Sabbath rest of the Lord. From His Sabbath rest in the tomb, He calls out to us to come, to follow Him into the tomb of His Holy Pascha by taking up the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent as our Cross and “losing our life” for His sake, to die with Him in a death like His and so to be buried in the tomb of our heart as in the tomb of His Holy Pascha in a burial like His.
We enter this Sabbath “rest”, this Sabbath heyschia,with the myrrhbearing women as we take up the fast in the stillness, the hesychia of prayer according to the Lord’s command: “Be still! Rest! Watch and pray in the stillness of hesychia, of prayer and fasting! Make your soul fragrant with the spices and ointments of the Church’s worship, her prayers, her hymns, her preaching, her teaching, and prepare yourself to receive the crucified Christ into the tomb of your heart at the Matins of Great and Holy Friday (sung on Great and Holy Thursday evening) and to be buried with Him in the tomb of your heart at the Vespers of Great and Holy Friday (sung on the afternoon of Great and Holy Friday).
Then, Great and Holy Saturday may by the grace of God be for us the inner experience of the mystical reality of the Glory of Christ’s Sabbath rest when, from the tomb, Christ fills hell with His Light, when He illumines the darkness of our heart with His Radiance, and washes our soul and anoints our spirit with the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of our sins, so that we come to the Church on Pascha Night as to the tomb of our heart already in the sacred fear of a holy joy, having heard that afternoon at the Vesperal Liturgy of Great and Holy Saturday the angel’s glorious rebuke: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen as He said!” We come liturgically to the Lord’s tomb on Pascha night, spiritually to the tomb of our heart not just to hear but to enter spiritually into the joy of the reality of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, following Christ who comes forth from the tomb of our heart as from a bridal chamber, as a Bridegroom in procession; and in the joy of His Resurrection, lo! by the grace of God, we find ourselves able to call brother even those that hate us, and to forgive all in the joy of the Glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. For, if we have united ourselves to Christ in a death like His, we will be united with Him in a Resurrection like His, ready to follow Him into Eden that has been opened to all, and to ascend with Him from glory to glory and to become in Him all light, all fire, all love, the spices and ointments that we prepared for Him having been mingled with the sweet fragrance of His Holy Spirit who has anointed us in the beauty and glory of His Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.