28 - Lazarus Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hebrews 12:28 – 13:8

John 11:1-45

Through the last six weeks, we have taken up our cross in the ascetic work of the Fast to put to death what is earthly in us, our self-love that expresses itself in gluttony, vanity, envy, jealousy, covetousness. Self-love is the origin of our idolatry. It begins in our heart and so it is very deep. 

I think self-love expresses itself in our fear of death, so when St Paul says in Hebrews that the devil holds us in his power through the fear of death (Heb 2:15), I hear that we are made captive to the devil through self-love. The power of death by which the devil holds us captive, then, is self-love. If we could break our self-love, we would break the devil’s power over us.

But, I have begun to think that it is impossible for us to break our self-love if we are denying ourselves for the sake of anyone other than Christ. If we are not denying ourselves for the sake of Christ, yet think we have broken our self-love, we are deceived. May we reflect on this briefly?

Sacred Scripture explicitly states that we were not created for “nothingness.” Those who say that are not of God nor do they know the mysteries of God. (cf. Wisd Sol 2:1-4 & 22) We were made from nothing; but we were not made in or as nothing. We were made in the image and likeness of God. The Image of God is not nothing; it is the Person of Christ (Col 1:15). It is, if you will, a “Self”. Made in the Image of God, we were made as “selves” or persons in the “Self” or Person of Christ, who is one in nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We were therefore created for personal communion with God, (Jn 17:21), even to become partakers of the divine nature in our communion with the Person of Christ. (II Pet 1:4)  

Sacred Scripture explicitly states that we were not made for death, nor were we made for nirvana. (Nirvana is literally a “blowing out.”) We were not made to be blown out or extinguished or dissolved. “God created all things for existence,” it says. “He created the generations of the world [not to be extinguished but] that they would continue (soterioi).” (Wisd Sol 1:14-15). We were made for immortality. “There was no poison of death in them [when God made them], nor did Hades [death] reign on the earth…But, God created man for immortality. He made him an image of His own eternity. Death entered the world (i.e., it was a foreign element) through the envy of the devil. Those who are of the devil’s portion (and not of God’s) are those who tempt it.” (Wisd Sol 1:14 & 2:23-24)

The soul, therefore, cannot deny herself for the sake of nothing. She can deny herself only for Christ, the true “Self”. She is a “person” created not to dissolve but to “continue” in the true Person that is Christ. Christ alone is her life and her joie de vivre. Her true repentance, then, is turning away from herself to the true Self, Christ the Icon of the invisible God, in whom and for whom she was created. She cannot lose her life for nirvana. That is not bliss; for to dissolve away into some unmanifest ultimate is against the personal (hypostatic) principle of her nature created in the Image of the Person of Christ. She can lose her life only for the sake of Christ, only for the sake of attaining to the personal (hypostatic) communion of the Holy Trinity. Only then does she let go of herself, her self-love, not to dissolve away but to descend as into the baptismal font into the living waters of the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever where she is immersed in the eternal love of God in which and for which she was made.

The power of self-love that makes us slaves of the devil can only destroy, extinguish, dissolve. Whatever it raises up, it generates from the seed of death and so whatever it brings forth is corrupted by death even at its conception. (Reincarnation is not a circle of life but a circle of death, always a coming from and a returning to death.) Our life in this world, then, is rooted in death. We are enslaved to death through the fear of death; and, in our self-love, we feed continually on death, the fruit of self-love.

By taking up the cross of the Great Fast, then, we have laid hold of the LORD’s Holy Sword, great and strong. (Isa 27:1) Applying its sharp edge outwardly to our gluttony, we apply it to our self-love and so inwardly to our pride. Thus, we put to death what is earthly in us in a real and tangible way. The fast flushes out our self-love from its inner hiding place and confronts us with it. We learn where the treasure of our heart really is, and we begin to experience the agony of the Cross in the physical suffering of holding to our resolve to keep the fast. If we hold to the fast, we die inwardly to our self-love. We become like Lazarus, the friend of Christ. As friends of Christ, we have placed our hope no more in the serpent’s tree but in the Tree of Life, Our LORD Jesus Christ, for we confess Him to be alone our Resurrection and our Life.

It is not by happenstance, then, that the last week of Great Lent brings us to the death and resurrection of Lazarus. This last week, he has been in the grave, in the repose of the “true Sabbath” (St Isaac of Nineveh, Homily 29). It is not happenstance because the grave of the “true Sabbath” is the destination of the Fast. Now, we understand that when the myrrh-bearing women returned after beholding the tomb of the LORD and rested (hesychousan) on the Sabbath, (Lk 23:55) they returned inwardly into the tomb of the heart and took up the prayer of the heart according to the commandment. Which commandment? Might it be, “From the dust you were taken and to the dust you shall return!” Is not the dust, if it is the grave, the “true Sabbath” the LORD commands us to keep? In losing our life for the sake of Christ, then, we return inwardly to the true Sabbath in the tomb of our heart as we return outwardly to the dust of the ground. That is where we find Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

“And Jesus wept! See how He loved him!” they said. When we have lost our life (our self-love) for the sake of Christ and come to rest in the tomb of our heart, that is when the idolatry of our self-love dies so that the ears of our heart open to hear Christ calling to us in His inexpressibly tender love for us!

For, is it not in that love that He calls out: “Lazarus! My friend! You who have lost your life for my sake! Come forth!”

Where might we be going when we are raised from the tomb of our heart and come forth as friends of Christ? I think Ezekiel tells us at the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday: “Thus says the LORD God, ‘Behold, I will lead you up from your graves and I will lead you into the land of Israel. ... And, I will give My Spirit to you [as I did Adam], and you will live and I will establish you on your land and you will know that I the LORD have spoken and have acted!” (Eze 37:12-14)

What is that land He is leading us into? “Bearing life, more fruitful than Paradise, Thy tomb, O Christ, has become the font of our resurrection!” “Guard your heart”, the true Sabbath of the tomb, “with all vigilance, for the springs of life go forth (exodus Prov 4:23 LXX) from it.”

Now, perhaps, we begin to understand: the myrrh-bearing women were looking at its entrance when they beheld His tomb. But we cannot see the inner meaning of the LORD’s tomb until, taking up our cross, we have “returned to the true Sabbath of the tomb of our heart” and heard the call of the Savior: “My friend! Come forth!” Then, I think, we come forth – no, we undertake the true Exodus (Prov 4:23), having passed through the Red Sea of our death, our baptism, inwardly (in our hearts, Prov 4:23), in the fulfilling of our baptismal oath of putting to death what is earthly in us and uniting ourselves to Christ by means of the Great Fast to become His friends – we come forth with the myrrh-bearing women on Pascha morning to the LORD’s Tomb as to the Jordan where the heavens have been opened and the curtain of the temple has been torn in two from top to bottom (meaning, what, from heaven all the way down into the lowest Hades?), to the Jordan as to the innermost chamber of our heart, the Holy of Holies, that point where we burst into being from within the Image of God, Christ Our Savior, to discover there in the incomprehensible and most sacred deeps of our heat the entrance to the “the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you.” (Lk 17:21)  And now we see that the Garden where His tomb was outwardly is inwardly the Garden of Eden, the Garden of His Resurrection.

Great and Holy Week, then, is a liturgical icon of the LORD leading us into the land of Israel’s inheritance, the Garden of Eden. An icon: that means it is a participation in the heavenly reality, so that we enter it inwardly as we lose our life to return to the true Sabbath of our heart for the sake of Christ and His Holy Gospel. Amen! Let us be attentive!