35 - Holy Fathers and Ascension, May 28, 2017

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Acts 20:16-18, 28-36

John 17:1-13

On this Sunday following the Savior’s Ascension, we honor the holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325 A.D. This is when the Nicene Creed was produced in response specifically to the heresy of Arius.

Arius taught that the Father alone is God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was made, not begotten. He was the first creature the Father created before all worlds and ages. But, He was not Light from Light, true God of true God, of one essence with the Father. His essence, what He was,was created, not uncreated.

That we honor the holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council on this Sunday following Ascension teaches us, I believe, that the true doctrine of the Church, expressed definitively in the Nicene Creed under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, makes manifest the theological meaning of Christ’s Ascension.

When we were received into the Church in the mysteries of Holy Baptism and Chrismation, the first “act” or “work” we were given to do immediately after we renounced Satan, was to confess theNicene Creed as our own Faith. I.e., we were given the Faith of the Church and commanded to confess the Nicene Creed of the Church as our Faith. In this, we implicitly renounced our own “beliefs” or our own interpretations of Jesus Christ. We were given the Faith we are to confess – not whatever we wanted to say or came from our own head.

When we receive and make our own the word of the Christian Faith, then it is the Spirit of the Church and not the spirit of the world that shapes our mind. By the Spirit of the Church’s word, we are illumined. In the confession of the Nicene Creed we are givento see what St JnBapt saw at the Jordan when the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon the LORD Jesus; what the centurion saw at the moment the LORD “sent forth” the Spirit (or, breathed His last) on the Cross and the curtain of the temple was “opened”, and the graves were “opened”, and the saints who were “asleep” arose and entered into the “Holy City” (not Jerusalem in Palestine, but the Heavenly Jerusalem! Mat 27:51-54). We see what St John the beloved disciple saw when he entered the empty tomb and saw the linen shroud neatly folded and the turban off to the side (Jn 20:8).

As the word of the Church’s Faith begins to shape us, it works to illumine our inner eye, the lamp of our body, so that we begin to see the True Light who illumines everyone coming into the world. Illumined in the Light of the Spirit, we begin to see why it is the Gospel, Good News, that God is Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Gospel guides us, teaching us how we should walk in this life. Let me share briefly the word, the doctrine, of this Gospel of the Holy Trinity and how it illumines the theology of Christ’s Holy Ascension.

God is Three Persons in one essence, one essence in Three Persons. The Father is fully God but He is not the Son. The Son is fully God but He is not the Father. The Holy Spirit is fully God, but He is not the Father or the Son. Three Persons, not one Person, who are yet one essence, not one God in Three essences. The Son is begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Note, the Cause of the Son and the Holy Spirit is the Father, not the essence. This dogma is revealed to us to produce in those who receive it true philosophy, love of the Father’s Wisdom, who is Christ.

It seems to me that the many schools of philosophical thought are but different forms of “monism” because they follow the mind’s inexorable tendency to dissolve everything intellectually into whatever it is that makes each and every thing to be what it is beneath its outward particularity, such as air or fire or earth or water or the circle or carbon-14 or energy. The world of the philosopher is beautiful and fascinating, but it is cold and sterile and impersonal. Whether Plato or Aristotle, the person, you and who you are, is finally an illusion. (There are indications that Socrates and others, possibly Plotinus, caught a vision of a “substantive who” hiding in the “what”, but philosophy did not give them the means to lay hold of it.) A person, “per-sona”, a sounding through, is but a “phenomenal” mask of the “what” that makes it “what it is”, its essence, underneath its distinctive, idiomatic individuality.

The WORD of the Church is not philosophical, not a form of human intellectualizing. It is theological. By this, I don’t mean it is religious or philosophical talk about God. Following the holy fathers, such as St Diadochus of Photiki, St Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory Palamas, I mean it is the illumined doctrine (word – logos) of the world “seen” from within the Mind of God (Theos) who is Christ. And in the light of the True Light, we see that the One God is Three Persons in one Essence, one Essence in Three Persons, each Person uncreated, eternal, never dissolving into the other or into an underlying essence.

God is love (I Jn 4:16) because He is Holy Trinity. The Father who loves the Son and the Son who loves the Father in the Holy Spirit never dissolve into each other. Lover and Beloved are forever, and so love abides forever.

We are given to know that the Son is True God from True God, Light from Light, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Son and the Holy Spirit “originate” eternally not from within an essence, a “what”, but from within the Person, the “Who” of the Father. God is Personal; and so, the really real is love, and love is personal. It cannot be known except in personal love. When we become “what” we are, we become persons, lovers of God who first loved us. This mystery our mind cannot define or understand except in the heart, in our true self that is deep, beyond all things (Jer 17:5/9 LXX). In our heart that loves God who first loved us, we know this mystery even as we cannot comprehend it.

The LORD says of His disciples that they are no more of the world (Jn 17:14). You are no more of the world, for at your baptism you were born “of God” from above (Jn 1:12-13). You were raised up out of the world that is passing away, constantly dissolving back into the emptiness it came from and where “who” we are is forever being lost to “what” we are. You were raised up into the Kingdom of God, who is love.

You received the Body of Christ, you tasted the Fountain of Immortality, and you were made a member of Christ’s Body. But, if Christ is the Son of God, begotten not made, Light from Light, true God of true God, you received the uncreated God, the True Light, the Resurrection and the eternal Life, into your mortal body. If you were united to Christ, you were set on the Way, the Path who ascends to the Father.

This Way who ascends to the Father is in the Church, for she is the Body of Christ in which He was crucified, dead and buried under Pontius Pilate, and rose again on the Third Day. The Church is the Temple in whom Christ the Way to the Father dwells, so that we make our ascent to Heaven in Light as we live in the prayers and follow the ascetic disciplines of the Church according to our strength. But the Way, Christ, is narrow and hard to find, says Our LORD; and we do not know how to pray as we ought (Rom 8:26). The rubrics of the Church guide us to pray as we ought and they guide us onto the narrow Way, the better and changeless Path found in the deeps of the Jordan that ascends to heaven. In the prayers of the Church, we clothe ourselves with the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs words cannot express (Rom 8:26). For, the Father loves us and in His Church, in the Body of His Son, He raises us out of the world and keeps us in His Name that in the love of God, we may be one as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the joy of God the Son fills us abundantly. Amen!