35 - Fourth Sunday of Pascha, May 15, 2011

“The abyss of the passions is opened before me in the storm of hostile currents.”[1] Here, the Church gives voice to the terror felt by the soul whenever the veil of this earthly life is drawn and we see into the root that this worldly life grows from. The biological life of this world is rooted in death. In the world, death is forever swallowing up life. This death has dark fingers that reach out invisibly from the ground like vines from the dark empty abyss. Through disobedience, the human race has been caught firmly by those dark fingers of death. We know these dark fingers of death from our own experience. We know them in the “passions”, the “sins” that hold us in their steely, merciless grip. The Church identifies nine passions, nine fingers that extend from the dark palm of death: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy, vanity, pride, despair and sloth.

The Psalmist says: in sins – in passions, in death – did our mothers conceive us. Born into this worldly life, we live in these passions. Willfully or not, we give our life-energy, our libido, over to any one or all of these passions, and they wrap around us body and soul. In pleasure and in pain, we curl up in the hand of death so that we live in the firm grip of death. However hard we try, we cannot free ourselves from death’s grip.

And so, we are the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel. We live but not in God. His life is not our life. Our life is the biological life of the world, not the life of God; and so we are paralyzed. We cannot walk in the Life of God. The Life of God is not in us and we are not in it. Even if we succeed in living a “good” and “moral” life, the “good” and “moral” life we are living is still the life of the world. It is not the Life of God. And the world is passing away with all its lusts and desires. And so, we move and have our being in death, held firmly in death’s grip by the passions and by our love for those passions.

Into the dark terror that defines this worldly life the Light of the Gospel shines, and this Light of the Gospel is the true Life of the world. God has sown this Life in the field of the world through the obedience of His beloved Son who, in His great love for us, became flesh and dwelt among us, so that through His voluntary death on the Cross He might destroy him who held the power of death, the devil, and deliver all of us who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage, enslaved to death in the steely, merciless grip of the passions, the fingers of death.

Christ is the Light of God who has come into the world. More than just coming into the world, Christ the Light of God has united in Himself His own divine nature to our human nature, His own divine Life to our death, and so He has flooded the darkness of Hell with the uncreated Light of Heaven; and in that Light is the Life of God. It raises up into the Life of God all those who receive it so that they are no more children of the earth living in death but children of God living the Life of God that has destroyed death by the death of Christ on the Cross.

The divine Light of Christ’s Holy Spirit radiates out into the darkness of the world from His holy Church, which is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. In the Church, whenever the veil of this earthly life is drawn so that the eyes of the soul see into the root that this worldly life now grows from, one sees no longer the dark terror of the abyss but the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary of the Panagia, the All-Holy Theotokos who holds in her bosom the infinite and luminescent depths of the love of God, the very Person of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, Himself the very Love of God and the very Wisdom of God.

The Light of Christ is the Life of His Holy Resurrection. It seems clear to me that the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is of the same order as the light that God brought into being in the beginning before the sun and the moon (Gn 1:4). In that light, creation was raised up into existence from nothing and was “good”, brimming with life and vitality. It did not die and go back into the dust of the ground. It lived in a natural destiny to ascend unceasingly from glory to glory in the Light of God that is the Life of men. Christ’s Holy Resurrection, it may be, is the Light which that first light of creation prefigured – so that the world from the beginning was founded in a divine prophecy of the Resurrection. For, Christ’s Holy Resurrection is the Light in which the world has been raised up out of death into the Life of God.

In the Church, there is a Sheep’s Pool of Bethesda. It is the font of Holy Baptism. And, it is not an angel but the Holy Spirit Himself who descends into those waters to make them healing and life-giving not just to one but to all who descend into those waters. The Light of Christ’s Resurrection shines in those waters and illumines all those who are raised up from them; so now we see that when the world was raised up from the abyss of darkness in the beginning, and when Adam was fashioned from the dust of the ground and made a living soul when God breathed into him the breath of life, the Holy Spirit, and when Eve was taken from the side of Adam to form with him a fellowship of intimate love, now we see that all of this may have been a prophetic prefigurement of the final work of God which He completed and made perfect[2] in the death and resurrection of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. The Light of the Resurrection shines in the Church and gives the Life of God to everything that it touches, making the things of the world – oil, water, bread and wine – heavenly; making them to become sacraments, earth made sacred from having been united to Christ and soaked in the living waters of the Holy Spirit that flowed from the side of Christ on the Cross. In the Church, the earth is illumined in the Life of God, and the earth in turn raises up into the Life of God by the hands of God – Christ and the Holy Spirit – all those whom it touches and who receive in the fear of God, with faith and love the Life of God that is in the earth of the Church’s sacraments.

You, this morning, then, are the paralytic of this morning’s Gospel who have heard, as he heard, Christ’s command to you: “Rise, take up your bed and walk!” For, you were carried by the Church into the Church’s Sheep’s Pool of Bethesda, the font of her Holy Baptism. And, by the Word of God, you who were paralyzed, unable to walk in the Life of God because you were dead in your sins and trespasses, you were made alive. You were raised up out of death and into the very Life of God, into the Light and Life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. There has been sown in your body and soul a divine vitality, an uncreated energy, a sacred power of the Holy Spirit by which you can now walk in the paths of the Heavenly Life of God if you will but lay aside all disobedience and in the spirit of obedience do as He commands: “Take up your bed, take up your cross, and walk.” If you take up your cross and walk as He commands, you will be walking in His Holy Resurrection and into the Garden of Eden in His Heavenly Kingdom.

I believe that our obedience to Christ and our taking up of our cross begins very practically by taking up the fasts prescribed by the Church, under the direction of the Church. There are two fasts: the outer fast of the stomach and the inner fast of the eyes, the ears, our tongue, our hands and our feet. By taking up the outer fast as the Church prescribes – at Great Lent and at other times of the year and on Wednesdays and Fridays of the week – we engage directly in the power of Christ’s Cross our enslavement to the passion of gluttony. By taking up the inner fast we engage directly in the power of Christ’s Cross our enslavement to the passions of lust and greed. This establishes us on a firm ascetical foundation for discerning and engaging directly our enslavement to the more subtle passions of anger, envy, vanity, pride, sloth and despair.

Through prayer and fasting, we put into action our obedience to the command of Christ to take up our bed, our cross, and walk.  And as we do this, we discover that we are not walking to the light so much as we are walking in the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection; for in the work of the fast, we are uniting ourselves to Christ as we said we would do in our baptism. Our soul begins to grow in the love of God; and, our heart is anointed with the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection; and what the Church promises begins to happen: “Let us rise at break of dawn. Let us bring our hymns of praise to the Master instead of ointments.” I.e., let us fast and pray. “And, we shall see Christ, the Sun of Righteousness who causes Life to dawn for all.” We are delivered from our lifelong bondage to death and made alive in the Holy Spirit. We who sat in darkness are illumined and we see the Light of Christ that is the true Life of the world. Amen.

[1] Ode 6, Orthros for the Sunday of the Paralytic

[2] Cf. Jn 5:36 – “…the works which the Father has given me to perfect (or make complete) [teleiwsw].”