33 - Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Church is a magical place. It is magical because in the Church children of men become children of God. It is in the Church that one comes upon the narrow gate that opens onto life eternal.

We read in the OT of the Glory of God descending and settling on the tent of meeting. An image that comes to mind is that of a luminous fog settling over a mountain lake. That same Glory settles invisibly as a luminous cloud on the temples of Christ’s Holy Church. It becomes increasingly luminous these 15 weeks that stretch from the beginning of Great Lent to the Feast of Pentecost. And, on Pascha Night, the heavenly joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection settles like a brilliant cloud of Glory on the hearts of the faithful as they pass over into the temple aglow with the light of scores of candles as into the Holy Resurrection of Christ and into His marvelous Kingdom of Light where the crucified and risen Christ shines in His saints with a glory brighter than any sun.

The Holy Spirit of Christ is the luminous cloud of glory that rests on the temples of Christ’s Holy Church. In that luminous cloud, the mysteries of Christ’s Holy Pascha descend and rest on the faithful in the Glory of Pentecost; and they stream forth from the doors of the Church’s temples as so many lamps of the Holy Spirit. In the faithful, the Holy Spirit spreads out over the earth like an overflowing river. Wherever those waters spread, the dust of the earth is made wet again. It becomes again Adam, red clay, as it was in the beginning, ready to be reshaped into the image and likeness of God in the Glory of Christ’s Holy Pascha.

In the cloud of Glory that covers Christ’s Holy Church, earth is united to heaven. Heaven becomes the garment of the earth and the earth is made radiant in the uncreated light of God. Men and women are washed clean of the filth and perversions of their sins and trespasses; and they are clothed in the Holy Spirit as in a Robe of Light. Their bodies are anointed with the sweet-smelling Chrism and their souls become fragrant with the Holy Spirit. They are united to Christ body and soul, and their face becomes a soft, shining mirror reflecting an invisible heavenly joy and peace that radiates from their soul within; for, in the cloud of Glory that covers Christ’s Holy Church, they have tasted how good the Lord is.

All of this is what happens to men and women who enter into this luminous cloud of Glory that rests invisibly on Christ’s Holy Church. Enter the Church and you enter this luminous cloud of Glory. Enter this cloud of Glory and you enter into the heavenly reality of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Do what the Church instructs you to do in this cloud of Glory, and you will find out first-hand how it is that children of flesh and blood are made to become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal; how they are magically transformed into children of light. It takes place as they unite themselves to Christ in the mystery of His death and Resurrection. They are united to Christ as they take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church, the “flower of abstinence that grows from the wood of Christ’s Cross”[1] and as they draw near the mystery of His Holy Pascha in the fear of God, with faith and love.

Adjust the sight of your inner vision and you should be able to see from your own experience that this “magical” cloud of Glory that rests on the Church is not a metaphor.

Counting from Friday last, over the next 11 days, we will come to the Church for 19 services – and none of them are short. We will practically be living in the Church over the next week. This marathon of services comes on top of whatever office of prayer and sacred reading you have been observing privately at home, the fasting with the stomach from meat and dairy, the fasting with the eyes and ears, the tongue, the hands and feet that you have done for the last six even seven weeks, counting the week of Cheesefare. This life of the Church, as you can see, and as you have experienced it to the degree that you have practiced it, is all-encompassing. It engages our body – our stomach and all our senses so that by the fast, the Gospel is no longer abstract. It is concrete in the physical demands its ascetic discipline makes of our body. The ascetic life of the Church engages our mind in the doctrines of the Church. It engages our soul by teaching us how to fight our love for the lustful desires of the flesh, of the eyes and of the soul that draw us away from the spiritual Life of God and into spiritual death. It even engages us in how we make use of our time for the simple reason that if we take up the ascetic discipline of the Church, and especially so during these 11 days leading to Holy Pascha, we are spending almost our whole day praying or attending worship services of the Church. We have little time to do anything else!

To the degree that you practice these ascetic disciplines of the Church “in the fear of God, with faith and love”, you should experience yourself entering bodily, emotionally and spiritually into a different frame of mind; you should feel the climate of your soul changing in which your inner, intuitive sense is made more acutely aware of some eternal realm of the Spirit beneath the world of appearances, which sharpens the vision of your inner eyes so that you begin to see with your own inner eyes the Truth of the Church. You may very likely begin catching snatches of a glimpse of a kind of immaterial light that seems to radiate from within the sacramental and liturgical mysteries of the Church. What is happening to you is that the fast is washing away the dross that covers your spirit so that you are beginning to perceive in an imperceptible way the Glory that rests on the Church like a luminous cloud. Through the fast, observed in the fear of God, with faith and love, the Church is leading you on the hard way to the narrow gate that opens out beyond the world and into the cloud of Glory that rests on the Church.

What we have heard in the Church, and what we have read from Holy Scripture at home in the daily assigned readings about how the world began, how it was made by God, how man and woman were made, how they were expelled from Paradise, how God visited the holy patriarchs and taught them by His Word, and led them to a land He promised them by His Spirit, how He delivered them from bondage and took care of them in the wilderness – all of this is describing the cloud of Glory that rests on the Church not just today, but throughout all the generations of Israel all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden, so that when you enter the cloud of Glory that rests on the Church, you enter into the Holy Spirit of the Bible, and its story, the story of God and His salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, becomes your story.

Beloved faithful, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, all of these are of the world; and the world is passing away. The Church is of the Spirit of Heaven in the death and Resurrection of Christ, and the Spirit is eternal. Beloved faithful, do you want your souls and bodies to be wedded to the life of this world that ends in the corruption and rotting stench of death? That you are here means that on some level, you want rather to be wedded to the death of Christ that passes over onto the brilliance and the sweet fragrance of the Spirit in the uncreated, eternal life of God. Beloved faithful: lay hold this desire that is in you for life; and, for the sake of the love of Christ, turn your back on the world this week as much as you possibly can and turn your face to the Great and Holy Mystery of the Church that opens beyond the grave onto eternal life in the Holy Resurrection of Christ. Come to all the services of the Church this week if you possibly can. Don’t miss even one of them; for, we enter the invisible cloud of Glory that rests on the Church. Come into that cloud this week as often as you possibly can; make this the priority of your life this week. Come into the cloud of Glory and let the dew of Heaven, the living waters of the Holy Spirit fall on you and make you wet with the love of God in the unconquerable brilliance of the Cross of Christ and in the sweet fragrance of Christ’s Glorious Resurrection. Amen.

[1] Lenten Triodion, p. 230