28 - Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, Mar 25, 2012

Hebrews 6:13-20

Mark 9:17-31

On this fourth Sunday of Great Lent, as we commemorate St John of the Ladder and his important book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” together with the Feast of the Annunciation, when Christ was conceived of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Spirit, we read this Gospel from St Mark of the Savior healing a young boy tormented by a dark spirit. This Gospel takes place immediately after Jesus was transfigured on Mt Tabor. The trouble caused by this unfortunate young boy, a stark contrast to the experience on Mt Tabor, is what greeted Jesus as soon as He came down from the mountain.

Let’s consider this morning’s Gospel, then, in light both of the Transfiguration that precedes it, and of today’s liturgical commemorations.

What strikes me is the contrast between the body of Christ as it is revealed, transfigured, on Mt Tabor, and the body of the young boy, disfigured and darkened by the evil spirit. We need to understand that the body of Christ that was transfigured is the body of our own human nature. In the mystery of the Annunciation, He who is Light from Light, true God of true God, who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment, is received into the womb of the Blessed Virgin through the Holy Spirit. In her womb, He clothes Himself with our humanity that is darkened and subject to disease, maladies and misfortunes of every kind, and finally to death and corruption. He who is holy and without sin, takes upon Himself our fallen nature that He might restore us to our original beauty as we were created in Him at the beginning. We need to understand that the body of Christ that we see in His holy  Transfiguration, glorified and radiant from the presence of Christ who dwells in it as in a holy temple, is our humanity in its natural state. Christ’s Transfiguration anticipates the risen body of Christ when it will be no longer subject to disease or to death and corruption.

In the body of the young boy, on the other hand, tormented by a dark spirit, we see our humanity in its unnatural state. It has become darkened and subject to sickness, death and corruption because of sin and transgression. Christ does not dwell in it, illumining it with His uncreated light. Death and corruption, even evil dwell within it, rendering it darkened and troubled, fated for the grave.

We see, then, the stark contrast between our human nature as it was meant to exist naturally in Christ’s radiant glory, and the way it exists now unnaturally in darkness, death and corruption. It is the difference between light and dark, life and death. But through the Gospel of the Annunciation and the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation, God the Word shines in the darkness of our fallen humanity. The glorified and risen body of Christ is the body of our humanity that has been healed and restored to its natural state in Christ. It has been raised to life in the glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, not the biological life of the world that is always returning to the grave, but the divine life of the Holy Spirit that is eternal, always raising our humanity in a never ending ascent from glory to glory. And, this is the light that shines in the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent, illuming the Fast from within with the joy of the Resurrection; for through the Fast, we are dying to the unnatural state of our darkened nature. For the sake of Christ, i.e., in love for Christ, we offer our dying to Christ, and by His goodness and grace, He accepts our offering and raises us up, unworthy as we are, and unites us to His crucified and risen body, restoring us to the state that is natural to us: living and moving and having our being in Christ, our bodies, souls and minds transfigured, illumined with the glory of Christ’s own uncreated divinity.

In this morning’s Gospel, the disciples were not able to heal the young boy. The Savior says: “Bring him here to Me,” and He heals him.

Here, I see the sacrament of confession; for we bring ourselves directly to Christ in the sacrament of confession, and it is where our healing in Christ begins. The priest, like Christ’s disciples, is not the one who heals us. Christ who heals us through the grace of the sacrament. The sacraments of the Church are the incarnation Christ’s crucified and risen body on earth. That’s why they are saving and life-creating; they transfigure us from within, sanctifying and deifying us by the grace of the same Holy Spirit by which He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin and which raised Him bodily from the dead in His Holy Resurrection.

The salvation of Christ is the transfiguration of our souls and bodies in His Holy Resurrection. This shows that the Orthodox Christian Faith is not a set of religious propositions or ideas that we believe or not. It is not a school of thought, nor is it one of the religions of the world, a variation on certain fundamental religious themes. It is the very life of the crucified and risen Christ, the divine life of the Holy Spirit that heals us and illumines us body and soul with the same uncreated light of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt Tabor .

Because Christ’s salvation is not a religious ideology but the concrete, real life of the Holy Spirit, the Christian Faith is action, something we do, fasting and praying and loving one another, centered on the spiritual and physical work of faith: uniting ourselves to the crucified and risen body of Christ by taking up the Cross of the Fast, beginning with the sincere confession of our sins in the sacrament of confession.

The liturgical march through Great Lent, then, and the schedule of services that takes us into the death and resurrection of Christ is this physical and spiritual work by which we aspire to become members of Christ’s crucified and risen body. And this is why it is undergirded with a joy that is palpable. It is why we look forward to Pascha night not as to liturgical theater but to the transfiguring experience of Christ who is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, giving life to those in the tombs. Amen.