|32-Third Sunday of Pascha, Myrrhbearing Women, May 15, 2016 (with audio)|
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It says that the myrrhbearing women were seized with ekstasis. The English translations of this word fail to convey the profound theological meaning it carries. Let’s let it take us outside our worldly understanding and into the Gospel proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection.
The word literally means: “to stand away from or out of oneself.” It takes us back to Genesis (2:21) when God “threw upon Adam an ekstasis” as though it were a garment. From inside that “garment of ekstasis”, as it were, the LORD drew Adam outside of himself when He fashioned from his rib the woman as an “other” whom, when he saw her, he loved as his inmost self: “This is bone of my bones,” he said, “flesh of my flesh.” There is a personal, spiritual intimacy realized between man and woman in marriage when they are consciously and intentionally stamped in the image of Christ and His Church, a spiritual intimacy that is warm and vibrant, good and beautiful(kalos), healing and life-creating, which the world in the angry lust for power of its “chauvinisms” and “feminisms” destroys.
But, the nuptial intimacy of marriage, says St Paul, is an image of the “Great Mystery” of Christ and His Church (Eph 5:32). In that mystery, the LORD “empties Himself” – He “comes out of Himself” in a divine “ekstasis” – and, without ceasing to be God, He becomes man; and, the soul, as the bride of Christ, is drawn out of herself and is changed, without ceasing to be human, to become a god, a child of the Most High (Ps 81:6).
The place in which this union of ekstasis takes place is in the Image, the Icon of God, which is Christ (Col 1:15). More deeply yet, it takes place in Christ in the tomb where Christ crucified was buried and became perfectly one with us even in our death.
The LORD, it says, threw an ekstasis upon Adam. It says that the myrrhbearing women were “seized” or “laid hold of” by ekstasis, which is very much the same as saying that an ekstasis was thrown upon them. The picture is of the LORD throwing Adam and then the women into a place that was outside themselves; or, shall we say, beyond themselves and, with that, make note of where the myrrhbearing women are when an ekstasis is thrown on them as a garment?
Again, we call on St Makarios: “When you hear of tombs and sepulchers,” he says, “do not think of visible ones. Your own heart is a sepulcher and a tomb.” And, again, the prophet Jeremiah: “The heart,” he says, “is deep beyond all things, and it is the man” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX). The heart of man, which is our true and, outside of Christ, unknown self is, by its very essence, an ekstasis: for, in our heart we are deep beyond all things. In our true self, we exist in ekstasis, outside of ourselves. If we were created in the Image of God, i.e., in Christ (Col 1:15), we exist as who we truly are only as we exist in our heart outside of ourselves in Christ, the Icon of God who is the Logos, the principle, the meaning of who and what we are. In its theological, spiritual depths, the tomb is our heart where Christ crucified consummates His union with us and becomes perfectly one with us. It is, then, the “place” of our “ekstasis” where we are truly who we are outside of ourselves in Christ. So, if in the tomb,radiant now, as it says in the Matins for this morning, with the brilliance of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, the myrrhbearing women were “laid hold of” by an ekstasis as though it were a garment thrown upon them by someone, does it mean that Christ risen from the dead was thrown upon them as a garment, or shall we say as their wedding garment in the place of their ekstasis, the tomb of their heart changed now in her union with Christ into a bridal chamber, the font of our resurrection?
They came out of the tomb, it says, and fled, for they had been laid hold of by fear and ekstasis, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. We assume when we read this that they came out of the tomb and fled to their homes, shut the doors and drew the curtains, speechless in their fear. But, listen more closely: the text doesn’t say where they fled to. Might we be reading into the text our own assumptions and missing completely the theological meaning St Mark is setting before us, if we have eyes to see? Might St Mark mean to say that they came out not out into the world but into the ekstasis that had seized them in their heart; i.e., into the mystery of the risen Christ who was now perfectly one with them in the mystery of His Cross and Burial?
They said nothing to anyone. In the place of ekstasis, in the heart deep beyond all things, all mortal flesh keeps silent; for there, we are with Isaiah at the Heavenly Throne of Him who is now the Firstborn of the dead. We are beyond all words. For, we are in the Word of God who was in the beginning, which now means: in you where you begin and end. We’ve been led beyond ourselves and into the stillness of the LORD’s Sabbath rest.
I believe this ekstasis of the LORD is here Today, in our midst. Have we not come here this morning with the Myrrhbearers as to the tomb? The Church is the Body of Christ, not as the building but in the doctrines, the prayers, the liturgical movements of her sacramental worship. The church building is like the tomb. But then, our own body is like the church building that is like the tomb. It holds the Body of Christ who was crucified and who is not here as a corpse or as a memory. He is risen and He is in our midst, embodied in the worship of the Church, embodied finally in those who have received Him into their mind, their soul, their heart, their body, and put Him on as a Robe of Light. Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, beloved faithful, where now do we go when we “come out” of the building as the Myrrhbearers “came out” of the tomb? Do we go back into the world; or, in fear and trembling, do we take up our cross and flee inward, away from the world and into our heart to unite ourselves to Christ in the Bridal Chamber of His Resurrection?
I said that Christian marriage is an icon of Christ and the Church. What, then, are we to make of the Great Mystery of Christ and His Church when we hear Adam say, “She is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh? Let’s answer in the words of St Maximos the Confessor: “The most perfect work of love is to effect an exchange between those it joins together…Love makes man god, and it reveals and manifests God as man.” (1st Cent. Var. Txts, §27) Those who receive Christ in the blood and water that flowed from His side on the Cross are formed to become children of God, born not of the flesh or the blood or desire of man, but of God. (Jn 1:13) “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (Jn 6:56). They become, shall we say, bone of Christ’s bones, blood of Christ’s blood, for it is no longer they who live but Christ who lives in them? (Gal 2:20).
Says St Makarios of Egypt, “The world of the Christian is a different world, with different garments, different food, and a different form of enjoyment” (§63, Phil III, p. 312). Is not the world of the Christian the death of Christ, in our heart, in the place of ekstasis where we exist beyond all things in Christ? Is not our garment the wedding garment of Christ’s resurrection that lays hold of us when we deny ourselves and take up our cross for the love of Christ to unite ourselves to Christ in a death like His? Is not our food the Body and Blood of Christ, i.e., Christ the Resurrection and the Life, sown in our mortal bodies as the Seed of God buried in the ground of our mortal flesh? Is not our enjoyment the fullness of the apostles’ joy in the Holy Spirit who raised Our LORD Jesus Christ from the dead and abides in us as our hope of becoming perfectly one with Christ in the glory of His Father?
But, the “Great Mystery of God” that is Christ in you is where we exist outside ourselves in Christ, in our heart. How can the Bridegroom throw the ekstasis, the wedding garment of His Resurrection on us if we do not get up and come out of the world that is dead and passing away and flee to Christ in our heart? In the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near! Deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life for the sake of Christ and be changed to become who you really are in the ekstasis of Christ’s Holy Resurrection in the Bridal Chamber of your heart. Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen!