28 - Third Sunday, Veneration of the Cross, March 23, 2014

Hebrews 4:14-5:6

Mark 8:34-9:1

In the Garden, Eve listened to the voice of the serpent. She then looked on the tree with her eyes and was caught by its visual beauty. She then took of its fruit and she ate.

“Sin” means in Greek: “to miss the mark”; in effect, “to turn away” from the mark. The “mark” is the LORD. We see Eve’s sin beginning, then, when she listened to the serpent. It meant she had turned her ears away from the Word of God. Immediately, we can see the venom of the serpent’s word beginning to close her eyes, i.e., to turn them away from the LORD because it says that she looked at the tree. Because she was no longer looking at the LORD to see Him in the beauty of His Holiness (Psa 27:4, 29:2) she became an easy prey for the wolf of souls, and was immediately caught by the tree’s beauty and she began to desire it. (Gn 3:6) Here I think we discern the conception in Eve’s heart of carnal desire (epithumia in Greek).

One notes how the ears and the eyes, like doors, opened onto Eve’s heart so that the word of the serpent was able to come into the erotic desire of her heart. Now, God is the author and begetter of the erotic force within us, says St Dionysios. Our erotic desire is therefore divine in origin and quality. It would therefore be an essential property of the image of God in which we were created. It proceeds outward from the heart, from the center of our being, in search of a beloved to love and to become one with. But, when Eve received the word of the serpent into her heart, it united with her erotic desire, and from that union there was conceived in her heart, as it were, the bastard fruit of carnal desire. “She took and she ate” the fruit of the tree, it says. She made it her own. She conceived carnal desire and she ate its fruit. She became one with it as in married to it. It so happens that the word translated, “she took”, can mean all of these things in both the Greek and the Hebrew.

I see set before us here in this story the terrible irony of our existence. In the corruption of our erotic desire at the very root of our being, in our heart, we have been perverted to love and serve the death that we hate and fear. By the desire of our own heart, we are “wedded unto death” at the root of our being. Enslaved to death and corruption through the perverted desire of our heart, we look and we are caught by the beauty of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. By our own desire, we “take and we eat” the fruit of hell that we fear and hate. We think we are rich, but we are poor. We think we are wise, but we are fools. We think we live, but we are dead in our sins and trespasses. We think we are free, but we are the playthings of the dark spirits of this age that are active in the children of disobedience.

Here is the point I am trying to set before us as clearly and as forcefully as I can: by our own desire, the devil has enslaved us to the terror of hell at that invisible and immeasurable point in our heart where we originate. If we are to be “saved” – if we are to be delivered and healed – it will not happen at the surface of our being. It will not happen in the theoretical stratosphere of our heads by exchanging one set of beliefs for a different set of beliefs. It will not happen in the swirling mists of our moods through an emotional experience or sentimental feeling. It must happen at the root of our being, in our heart where there was conceived in us this bastard fruit of “carnal desire.”

We were made in the Image of God. God is love. We can see the image of God in us, then, in our capacity to love. Now, even though our erotic desire has been corrupted by sin so that we love the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, we still love, even if it is a corrupted love. And in that love, we still are free, for freedom is an essential property of love. It is a limited freedom. Who of us, because of the carnal desire that has corrupted our erotic love, is really able to love as we want to? Is it not our inability to love as we wish we could that is the cause of all our disorders? Yet, even in the limited freedom of our corrupted love, we are still free to turn our ears and eyes toward the LORD, if we want to.

If we turn our ears toward the Word of God, what do we hear? “You are earth and to the earth you shall return.” And, “The LORD has worked salvation in the midst of the earth!” (Psa 74:12)

If we turn our eyes to the Word of God what do we see? We see the Cross by which He destroyed the devil who held us captive to the power of death. (Heb 2:14) We see Him laid in the tomb, and as we look on in the Faith of the Church, our mental sight is illumined so that we now hear the prophet saying: “He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth of Adam’s heart,” delivering “us who through carnal desire were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:14) at the point where we originate, in the tomb of our heart.

What we see is the Cross of Christ as the revelation of God’s love for us.

If we turn our ears toward the Word of God, we hear: “Repent, turn around, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That is to say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” That is to say, the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found in the tomb of your heart. (Prov 4:23) “Deny yourself,” He says. “Lose your life if you wish to find it. Whoever would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow Me.”

I have pointed out many times how the liturgical texts of the Church give us clearly to understand that the Cross Christ calls us to take up is given to us in the form of the Church’s ascetic disciplines: prayer and fasting, the confession of sins, deeds of mercy. Turn again to look with your eyes at the mystery of Christ’s Holy Church. Do you begin to see that these ascetic disciplines of the Church are given to us as the way that we reveal our love for God?

The Fast of Great Lent is the call of Love to love; the Love of God calling out to the love of Adam and Eve, calling us in the freedom that is ours in our capacity to love, to turn away from the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that betray us, and turn to the Only Lover of Mankind who loved us and gave Himself for us (Eph 5:2. In His love for us, He voluntarily ascends the Cross. From the Cross, from His love, He calls us voluntarily to take up our cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, in love for Him, to follow Him out of the stratosphere of religious ideas, out of the swamp of sentimentality and emotional feeling, and into the tomb of our heart; and there, at the point where we originate, to unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death (Rom 6:3), to crucify our old man with Him so that the body of sin that destroys us might be destroyed (Rom 6:6) and this carnal desire put to death (Col 3:5), so that we should no longer serve sin – i.e., death and corruption – but be made alive with Him (Eph 2:5-6) as a new creation (II Cor 5:17), united to Him in the likeness of His Resurrection serving in love, in the erotic desire of our heart made whole and free, the God who loved us and gave Himself for us with all our heart (Dt 11:13).

I have told you that the icon is called by the holy fathers a mirror. It reflects what is in your heart. The Cross before which we fall down and worship the LORD today is an icon. It reflects the Cross of Christ, the love of the LORD, that has been planted in the midst of the earth, in the tomb of your heart. Brothers and sisters in Christ, take up your cross, take up the fast, and in the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near to the tomb of your heart and discover the LORD’s love for you. In that love, let the old man in you be put to death, and let your heart be “enlarged” to become the bridal chamber of your regeneration as a child of God, and enter the joy of Pascha, the joy of the LORD healing you and delivering you in His love for you, so that made alive and whole in the love of the LORD, you are able to love as your soul yearns to love, even to forgive all things and to call “brother” even those who hate you. Amen!