|30 - Faith Now Revealed, April 14, 2019|
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Galatians 3:23-29 (Saint Mary of Egypt)
Luke 7:36-50 (St Mary of Egypt)
It says in our Gospel that they were on the Way going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was going before them, and they were “terrified, amazed.” So were the myrrh-bearing women when they came into the Savior’s Tomb on Sunday morning and found it empty, except for the Angel clothed in brilliant white (Mk 16:5-6). St Mark goes on: “And, following Him, they were afraid.” So were the myrrh-bearers when they fled the Tomb in ek-stasis (Mk 16:8). This morning, we are following the LORD Jesus up to Jerusalem with a certain inner tremulous excitement because we have taken up the Fast as our cross. Or rather, having put Him on in our baptism, following the deeper teaching given in the lectionary of the Triodion (the whole of Lent we have been in the mystery of His Tomb, as we are given to understand from the readings of Cheesefare week), it may be truer to say that we are following Him up to the heavenly Jerusalem (Eze 37:12ff.) on the better and changeless Path, which is Christ Himself, in the dread mystery of His Cross. For, the Way of the Cross is the hidden ladder of divine ascent up to the Heavenly Jerusalem.
St Paul writes this morning: “Before Faith came, we were guarded by the Law, enclosed [in it– like Noah in the Ark (Gn 12:16), sailing to the] Faith [as Noah’s ark sailed to Mt Ararat] that was going to be revealed.” Here is yet another description of Faith—a mystery too deep to contain in one definition. Here, Faith clearly is the event of the LORD’s Incarnation that culminates in the Tomb of His Holy Pascha. Faith here, then, is the final flowering of the Law in the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest, the most brilliant shining of the Light of Torah (Gn 1:4) in which God creates the heavens and the earth. That is, the Law that guarded this Faith is the Ark of Noah, and the Ark is revealed in Christ’s Holy Pascha to be the mystery of the Tomb, the Sabbath Rest of God. Its Mt Ararat is the New Creation that finally “begins to dawn” (epifosken, Lk 23:54) from the LORD’s Tomb. In the Tomb of God’s Sabbath Rest, as in the Ark of the Law, the Seed of Abraham, Christ, the Second Noah, together with those who have put on Christ in Holy Baptism are led into this Faith that is now revealed. It is the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest, of His Tomb, and of the New Creation that comes forth from His Tomb, the Font of Resurrection. Here, in the New Creation of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, the Law of Moses opens onto its perfect fulfillment. Here the ark of Noah attains the summit of Mt Ararat. Through faith, through putting on Christ, we are led into the Faith that is at the top of the mountain, not of Ararat but of Eden. It is the Tree of Life at the mountain’s summit, which is Christ in the mystery of the Theotokos, the “uncut mountain”, and into the sanctuary of creation, our own heart, where we and all of creation open onto God, the “deep Who is beyond all things.” (Jer 17:9 LXX)
In faith and in love, we come like Mary Magdalene into the House where the Source of Beauty and Goodness is found, in the Church. Here, at the foot of His Cross in the LORD’s House, we can let down our hair. Weeping the tears of repentance, we can present ourselves to Him as we really are beneath our outer finery: prostitutes, idolaters, longing like St Mary of Egypt to be cleansed and restored to our original beauty and goodness in the inexpressibly tender intimacy of the loving communion we so desire.
For, in the Tomb of the LORD’s Holy Pascha is the cleansing of our sins, the healing of our soul and body. Here is where the tomb of our heart—the tomb of Lazarus—is transfigured into the Bridal Chamber. Losing our life for the sake of Christ, putting to death through the ascetical disciplines of the Church our idolatry and all that’s earthly in us, we become as Lazarus. That is, we are not Lenten spectators. It is we who descend into the tomb of our heart as into the tomb of Lazarus. We descend in the hope of the Church that does not disappoint, the hope of hearing the LORD calling out to us as He cried out to Lazarus; and, as all the Synoptic Evangelists say that He cried out from the Cross: with a great voice (Jn 11:43; see Mt 27:50, Mk 15:37, Lk 23:47): “Come forth!” “It is finished!” What’s finished? The prophecy of Ezekiel: “I will open your tombs and I will lead you up from your tombs and I will lead you into the Land of Israel”—the Tomb of the Savior, the Gate that opens onto the Heavenly Jerusalem (37:12). How is it finished? The LORD says through Ezekiel: “I will bring upon you the breath of life, and I will give/put My Spirit into you, and you will live!” (37:5-6) All the Evangelists say that when the LORD dies on the Cross, He gives or sends forth His Spirit.
Because of our idolatry, we are blind. Therefore, the Church must describe to us her spiritual mysteries, and so we, as Israel, are commanded, “You dry bones, hear the WORD of the LORD!” (Eze 37:4) I see the LORD, when on the Cross He “breathes His Spirit out,” as it says in Mark and Luke, sending His Spirit out on all the earth like Noah sending forth the dove, so that it is no longer the destructive flood waters but the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit that give Life, which now cover the earth. So, when we take up the Fast as our cross and set out to lose our life for the sake of Christ that we may find it in His Tomb, we are stepping into the living waters of the Savior’s Holy Spirit. We are “amazed”; we are “afraid” because this mystery is not of this world. It leads us out of this world. And so, we are in ek-stasis because we are “outside of ourselves” in the Spirit of God, the LORD, the Giver of Life.
So, we are not coming into Holy Week as spectators. Hidden in the Spirit of God, we are stepping onto the better and changeless Path of Christ Himself Who ascends to God, the Path we came upon in the waters of our baptism. There, we put on the crucified, dead and buried and risen Christ. There, He put in us the breath of life. And now, He is leading us out of our tombs and up to the Heavenly Jerusalem. At our baptism, we entered the real Ark of Noah, the Church, whose Law is Christ. In the Ark of the Church, we are carried, mystically, up to Golgotha as to the top of Mt Ararat and into the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb, God’s Sabbath Rest. We have set our feet on the ladder of divine ascent that is the Cross, which James and John this morning, as most all of us, show they have no knowledge of.
For this ladder of the Cross is the hierarchy of the Church. Hierarchy can be translated as “sacred root”. The Church is hierarchical, because her root is the LORD’s Pascha. Her structure is the Cross, the Ladder of divine ascent. Now, the Theotokos is the Ladder because through her, the LORD comes down to us on earth. But, the Cross, too, is the Ladder because by the Cross, the LORD ascends back to where He was before, up to the Heavenly Jerusalem, carrying us, the lost sheep, on His shoulders.
We call the Theotokos the “Root of our Life”, for she is the Mother of the Root Who is our Life, the LORD Jesus Christ. The sacred root or hierarchy of the Church, then, is the Theotokos and her Son. Or, the sacred root of the Church is the inexpressibly tender love of the Mother for her Son and of the Son for His Mother. The hierarchy of the Church, that is to say, is not the movement of power that only moves downward in the tyranny of oppression. It is, rather, the descending and ascending movement of humility and love: the humility and love of the Son for His Mother, and the humility and love of the Mother for her Son.
This Faith that is about to be revealed then, is the true Hierarchy, the humility and love of the Cross. It is from this hierarchy that the world is created and then re-created in the hierarchical death and resurrection of Our LORD God and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we take up the cross of the fast in the fear of God, with faith and love, we are stepping onto this hierarchical Ladder and descending to the root of our life in the humility and love of the Mother for her Son and of the Son for His Mother. In the hierarchy of the Church, then, we take up our Cross to put to death our idolatry, our lust for power, that we may come to life in the love and humility of Christ and His Holy Mother. Now do we begin to break through the pageantry and into the Faith now revealed, the Tomb of the LORD’s Pascha that opens onto Eden, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Amen!