|30 - PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE BY TAKING UP OUR CROSS, Mar 26, 2023|
Today is the Leavetaking of the Annunciation. The Virgin is afraid of the Archangel; but, in fact, He is afraid—of Her! ‘O Undefiled,’ he says to Her, ‘Why art thou afraid of me who rather am afraid of Thee? Why, O Lady, dost Thou stand in awe of me who stand in reverent awe of Thee?’ (FM 450)
Ponder what this reveals about the nature and dignity of man that the most holy Archangel Gabriel is fearful and in reverent awe of the Virgin! Ponder what it reveals about our human nature that the woman can receive the uncreated Son of God and become God’s Mother; that He can become, through Her, Son of Man, and that we, through Her, can become children of God!
So, who do you think you are? How would it change what you think of yourself and what you would live for, what you would want to devote your ‘empty’ moments to, what you would let your mind think on, what you would give your erotic desire to, if you knew that you in your human essence are able to receive God and become a child of light; that you in your true self are an image of God’s own eternity, such that angels would stand in fear and reverent awe of you if you were truly yourself?
What does it say about our salvation in God that it comes to us not as a message we must ‘believe in’ but as a flesh and blood child born of a woman whom we receive in the sacramental mysteries of the Church? What does this reveal about the sanctity of marriage, the sacredness of virginity, of gender and sexuality, if it is through these concrete ‘facts of life’ that God’s salvation comes to us, and that the salvation of the biblical God is Theosis, becoming a god by grace! That is, salvation is not ‘believing in’ God as an idea, or worshipping Him here below as servants cowering in fear of an arbitrary tyrant or adoring some almighty despot; it is rather to realize one’s full ‘kinship’ with God, to become a partaker of God, a partaker of His own glory and virtue, His uncreated Light, a communicant of life eternal, of Christ Himself for He is the Resurrection and the Life. The salvation God gives to us concretely, through the flesh and blood Son of the Virgin, is nothing less than to be restored to our ‘original’ beauty as images of God’s own eternity, our flesh and blood bodies deified like burning bushes that are not consumed from the Glory of God that enlivens and illumines our spirit.
The angel stood before the Virgin in fear and trembling because, as human, we are by nature ‘kin’ to God. No other creature, not even the angel, is so high, so ‘like’ God that it can ‘receive’ God in His fullness so that He dwells in us bodily as in His Holy Temple and we become vessels of Light!
‘Today,’ the troparion of the Feast sings, ‘is the beginning of our salvation.’ For today, God becomes man through the Virgin so that we can become, through the Virgin ‘gods’ not by nature, for then we would be gods alongside God, outside of God; there would be no participation in God, no communion with the WORD of Life from the beginning. We become gods by Grace, in intimate union with God without being dissolved into God, for instead, we become partakers in faith and in love of God’s very own glory and virtue (2 Pt 1.4), so that we live and move and have our being in God.
Dear ones! This biblical vision of your true nature and destiny is not foreign to you! This is who you truly are! You are not a child of darkness. Do not let the world deceive you! You are not made to be thrown sometimes into the fire of, say, lust, greed, anger, hatred, envy, and sometimes in the water of, say, despondency, despair, self-loathing, guilt, shame!
How, then, do we attain our true nature and destiny? I believe our Gospel this morning answers that question in a surprising, wonderful way!
‘I believe, LORD! Help my unbelief!’ Can we hear the father giving voice to his soul’s desire? This is what he wants. Should we therefore understand the LORD’s word to the father to mean: ‘Everything (that is, the fullness of salvation, of becoming gods by grace, for what more could there be than this that is truly desirable?) is possible to the one who wants it!’ For our will, the power of self-determination, is an essential property of our having been made in the Image and likeness of God. We are not robots dependent on the whimsy of an arbitrary God deciding in His ‘inscrutable’ (i.e., whimsical) counsel whether or not He will predestine us to salvation! The LORD desires the death of no one. He desires that the sinner will turn from his wickedness and live. That is, it’s a question of what I want.
Now, the father wanted salvation for his boy, as did the disciples, but neither the father nor the disciples had the power to ‘save’ him. And with this, I think we may come to the mystery of our salvation in the Church.
None of us, not even the bishops or the priests, have the power to save anyone, even though we all desire the salvation, both ours and everyone else’s! And so we call the LORD down from heaven – as He came in this morning’s Gospel down from Mt Tabor where He had been transfigured before His disciples, revealing to Him His Glory and His divine identity. We call Him down in His Holy Spirit into the Font, into the Holy Chrism, and onto the altar to consecrate the Bread and Wine and they become His own Body and Blood. And through the sacramental mysteries of His Church, Christ Himself scatters the dark lords in our soul and illumines us, making us children of light.
And now comes, so it seems to me, the full beauty of the Church’s sacramental mysteries! (How many see it!) Dear ones: when the LORD says, this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting, He is referring to the Cross and to the ascetical disciplines of the Church. For these ‘grow from the wood of the Cross.’ (LT 230) That is, they are the form of the Cross that the Church gives to us, that Christ gives to us, if we wish to follow the LORD Jesus Christ into the Kingdom of Heaven. And, by taking up these ascetical disciplines, we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the mystery of His Cross. We are actively becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature!’ For why would we think that we partake of the divine nature in the Glory and Virtue of Christ if we choose not to partake of the divine nature by partaking in the sufferings of Christ that come when we voluntarily choose to deny ourselves and to lose our life for the sake of Christ – that is, when we voluntarily choose to unite ourselves to Christ and put to death all that is earthly in us: impurity, greed, lust, anger and all the rest?
Everything, all things for our salvation, are possible to us if we want it. But we must want it, for we are not mindless beasts. We are men and women, made in the image and likeness of God. We are beloveds, created to become lovers of God. All things are possible, the fullness of salvation is possible, becoming gods by grace is possible to us if we want to unite ourselves to God, if we want to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind – for this is what is most natural to us, and this, to become gods by grace through partaking of the divine nature, this is our true nature and destiny.
We take up the cross of the Church’s ascetical disciplines as the concrete expression of our will to follow Christ. Through the concrete forms of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, we come down from wishful thinking. Our desire to follow Christ is made incarnate in the bodily disciplines of the Fast, and lo! When we do, the new creation that was conceived in us in the Font begins to grow and mature, because we are exercising our will consciously to give our love no more to the world that is passing away but to Christ. We are beginning even now, through taking up the ascetical disciples of prayer and fasting, to become partakers of the divine nature. This desire to become a lover of the God who loved us and gave Himself for us, this desire is within you – it is not foreign to you. It is in your heart. You don’t have to go looking for it or conjuring it up. It is simply there for it is the most essential principle of your nature. You need only to decide be resolved that this is the desire you will give yourself to so that to you, all things are possible, even to the point of become a child of light, a son, a daughter of God, a partaker of the divine nature, a god by grace! Amen!