|35 - PENTECOST, June 16, 2019|
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John 7:37-52, 8:12
I learned from one of my Greek brothers this last week that the Greek verb in the baptismal service translated, “to unite,” is suntasso, which means to join in the sense of enlisting in the army. And so, our baptismal vow to unite ourselves to Christ means to enlist in the ranks of the LORD’s army. From the font, then, we follow Christ into battle.
What is the battle? What are we fighting? Where is the field of battle? What are we fighting for?
Remember, we read from Ezekiel at the Matins for Holy Saturday—after we processed outside around the Church three times and came back into the Church, passing under the shroud, to stand inside the LORD’s Tomb, in front of the image of His “corpse” resting on the stone—“Thus saith the LORD, ‘Behold, I will open your tombs, and I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land’” (37:12). We follow Christ into battle in order to gain our own land.
But, note that the field of battle is in the tomb. How does a corpse fight? Clearly, by the Spirit of God who raises the corpse to life. Is this not the mystery of your baptism, when you joined yourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and were immersed in the baptismal Font? You were immersed in the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit. Your old man, enslaved to death and to him who held the power of death, was put to death, and you were raised a new man into the eternal life from above of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. And now, in the power of the Holy Spirit, you follow Christ into battle to gain your own land.
So, how are we to understand our own land? Enlisted now in the ranks of the LORD’s army, we follow Him in His Resurrection and Ascension up to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven. Our own land, then, is Heaven. But, we have not even yet caught the force of this mystery veiled in the prophecy of Ezekiel.
Today on the Feast of Pentecost, we hear the LORD crying out to us in St John’s Gospel: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, even as the Scripture says, from his belly will flow rivers of Living Water.” The Scripture is in Isaiah: “[If you do as the LORD commands,] then your light will rise in the darkness and your darkness will be bright as the noonday, and your God will be with you always.” But, now we need to pay close attention to the Greek. English translations flatten it out considerably and lose the kick in Isaiah’s prophecy. “The epithumia of your soul,” it says. I.e., the erotic desire of your soul “will be fully satisfied; your bones will be made fat, and you will be as a well-watered garden, and as an ever-flowing fountain of water” (Isa 58:10-11).
Do you see how “your own land,” the destination of our being raised by the Spirit of the LORD from the life-giving tomb of the Font, corresponds to the LORD Jesus Christ as the “destination” who gives our thirsty soul to drink from the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit? “Come to Me and drink,” He says. But, I don’t see this to be saying that the LORD is our own land. Rather, I believe it is to say that the LORD is found in our own land.
So, our question remains: what is our own land? But it is intensified, and especially so by bringing into it Isaiah’s epithumia or the erotic desire of our soul that will be fully satisfied in that Day of which the LORD and His prophets speak. That Day is Today, the Feast of Pentecost, that mystical Day in the Church, in the risen and glorified Body of the LORD Jesus Christ, that opens onto the deep beyond all things, the eternal mystery of God in which we came to be and in which our soul finds her logos, her meaning, her rest in the joy and peace she so longs for.
The point where this prophetic vision begins is the tomb, our tomb. Let’s again listen to St Macarius: “When you hear of sepulchers, do not think only of visible ones. Your own heart is a sepulcher. When the prince of wickedness and his angels burrow there, and make paths and thoroughfares there, on which the powers of Satan walk into your mind and thoughts, are you not a hell, a tomb, a sepulcher, a dead man towards God?” (Hom 11.11)
Our own land is our heart. Our heart is the field of battle. Enlisted in the LORD’s army, we follow the LORD into the tomb of our heart to do battle there and to regain our own land, our own heart.
Our heart is the Palace of Christ, says St Macarius. Here is where Christ with all His angels and holy spirits would come to rest and to dwell and to walk in it and set up His Kingdom (Hom 15.33). But, from the time that Adam transgressed the commandment, the serpent entered in and made himself master of the house and became like a second soul beside the soul (15.35). And so, our heart has become a tomb where our epithumia, our erotic desire is always thirsty, for the serpent is not our true Bridegroom.
This last week, I followed St Maximus the Confessor to the Song of Solomon. There, we learn—perhaps to our astonishment—that the LORD God is the “Kinsman” of our soul, her adelphidos. That means that He comes from the same womb as does our soul! Ah, but of course! He is the Image of God in whom we came to be. And, He, our “Kinsman”, is the true Bridegroom of our soul, the Beloved “whom my soul loves.”
But, “I am black,” says the bride in the Song of Solomon, “having been looked on unfavorably by the sun” (1:5-6). And yet, there is apparently a beauty beneath our blackened bodies destined to become naked bones, food for the worms and stench, a beauty that—what may be even more astonishing— “ravishes His heart”! (Song 4:9) Ah, but of course! We have been made in His Image and Likeness! He is Beautiful and Good; We, beneath the corruption of our bodies, in our true essence, are beautiful and good!
He whom my soul loves sees beneath appearances into the heart. He sees the Likeness of His own Beauty and Goodness buried deep down beyond all things in the “sanctuary” of the human heart, in that “depth” where only God can see. Shall we say that He sees beauty of His Beauty, goodness of His Goodness? I shall call her after My Name, for she was taken from My side that was pierced. When He saw His beloved, the human soul, lying by the side of the road, half dead, covered with sores, He could not bear it. In the power of His ineffable tenderness and humility, He emptied Himself and clothed Himself in the garment of His beloved bride. Through the humility and love of His Holy Mother, the Most Blessed Panagia, He descended into our soul. On the marriage bed of His Cross, He became absolutely one with us and descended into the tomb, into the deep of our heart. He found the precious Pearl, His own Image in the sanctuary, the bridal chamber of our heart. He poured out His Spirit on the soul in the deep of her soul. In His Living Waters, He washed her dirty garments. They became radiant and glorious, so that when He showed Himself to her in the garden, robed in her own garments now transfigured and brilliant, she did not recognize Him…until He called her name (Jn 20:16), even as He called you by your true name when you ascended from the Holy Font.
Dear faithful, we have joined ourselves to Christ in battle array in order to follow Him into the bridal chamber of our heart, to claim it for our “beloved Kinsman whom my soul loves,” the Bridegroom who came to us at Midnight. We have been clothed, gloriously, in the armor of the Holy Spirit. We have been given the Holy Cross as our invincible weapon of peace. All that remains is to follow the Savior into the desert of our soul and into our heart, that was a tomb but which the LORD restored to a bridal chamber, to battle the idols that have invaded our “own land”. Our goal is to drive them out so that the Spirit of our “Kinsman” may find rest in our heart (cf. Wisd 1:1-3) and, in that sacred, nuptial union of loving desire that surpasses all unions, we may become so infused with the fragrance of His Beauty that we begin to smell like Him, fragrant as the “apple among the trees of the wood” (Song 2:3). Who would not be drawn to the fragrant Beauty of our “Kinsman”? Is this why thousands are saved around those who acquire the Holy Spirit? Is it because they begin to smell like Him? May it be so in us! Amen!