35 - PENTECOST, June 19, 2016 (with audio)

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Acts 2:1-11

John 7:37-52, 8:12

We read in the Wisdom of Solomon (1:12-16): “Do not seek death or draw destruction upon yourself in the works of your hands.” I think the chief work in which the worldly man employs his hands is to become a god through good looks and a cool personality when he is young, accolades, fame or wealth when he gets older. In this, he may succeed, but they will not save him from the suffering of infirmity and ugliness in his old age nor will they deliver him from the destruction of death and corruption. In the end, for all the work of his hands, he is a pile of dust and not a god.

Solomon goes on: “For, God did not make death, nor does He take pleasure in the destruction of the living. He created everything to be and the generations of the world to endure, to be healthy and free (soterioi). There was no poison of destruction in them, neither was the kingdom of death on the earth.”

As far as I know, it is only in Holy Scripture that we hear this doctrine: that death is not natural, and that the world and everything in it was not meant to pass away but to exist healthy and free to eternity. But then, what did we read in the lectionary this last week? The LORD Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven and said: “O righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee,… and I made known to these Thy Name…” (Jn 17:25) Only those who love Christ are given to know that the world was made for life and wholeness in God to eternity. I think this is what is meant that God saw that what He had made was very good or beautiful; for, the “breath of life” that made every living thing to be living is the Holy Spirit, the LORD and Giver of Life. This God who makes the world and everything in it by His own Word in His Holy Spirit – i.e., who tends to it in the tender affection of a mother (Gn 1:3) – and who nurtures and fusses over it to make it healthy and free forever, who has no pleasure in the destruction of anything, who pours out His own Spirit upon everything living so that heaven and earth are full of His Glory, this is the God of the Church, the God who is so great and does wonders, the God who is our LORD.

“For God created man for immortality and incorruption,” Solomon says. “He made him an icon of His own eternity” (Wisd of Sol 2:23). The Word of God teaches us that Man alone was created in the image and likeness of God. Worldly philosophy seeks to know the essence of man and gives different answers: air, fire, earth, water, carbon 14. Origen of Alexandria (3rd Century) gave beautiful expression to the biblical teaching, saying: “The principal substance of man is his having been created in the image of God.” St Didymus the Blind (early 4th Century) defined in the image as the inherent capacity for God; and, St Anthony the Great (3rd Century) said that through “likeness” to God, we attain union with Him (On the Virtuous Life §150): i.e., to be like God in the Image of God means to possess an inherent capacity for intimacy with God.

Again, what did we read in the Church’s lectionary this week: the LORD said, “O righteous Father, I made known to them Thy Name, and I will make it known that the love with which Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:25-26).

Holy Scripture teaches us that every living thing lives because it is given the “Breath of life”, which is the Holy Spirit. But, in man alone did God breathe this “Breath of life” into his nephesh, his mouth and nostrils; i.e., face to face.

Look closely at the picture or rather the icon drawn by Holy Scripture ofGod breathing the Breath of life into the face of man. Is it not the image of man raised to life in a divine kiss, i.e., in the love and affection of Our Father in Heaven (cf. Eze 16:1-6), who crowns us with steadfast love and mercy, who fills our deepest longing (epithumia) with good things and renews our youth like the eagle’s? (Ps 103:5-6)

Now look again, more closely, at how creation came to be. It says that the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. The verb in Hebrew, “to move”, is a soft, gentle movement of tender love. The verse is saying that, “The Spirit of God cherished or caressed the world.” Indeed, when the Savior weeps over Jerusalem and cries out: “How often I would have gathered your children together even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings – but you would not!” (Mat 23:37) do we not see Him still caressing the world with His Spirit as He did at the creation, but now in the tender movement of His life-creating death and burial?

The Spirit of God was moving tenderly over the face of the waters. The LORD breathed into Adam’s face. The LORD ascends the Cross, His Face toward our face. Do you not see the Bridegroom coming to His Bride at midnight in the tenderness of a divine kiss (Eze 16:7-14) so that we see the creation coming to be in the love the Father has for His Son and for which He gave His Son to the world so that the love of God, through the Spirit of God, would be in the world and the world in God (cf. Jn 3:16).

But, do we not see the same descending movement when the Holy Spirit comes to the Holy Virgin (Lk 1:35); or, when He descends on the disciples as tongues of fire – a divine, fiery kiss? – on Pentecost; or at our baptism, or in the Divine Liturgy and in every service and office of the Church when we invoke the Spirit to descend upon us and upon our gifts here offered? In all of these descents of the “Breath of Life” there is a new creation and a raising to life; and they are all rooted in the mystery of God the Word becoming flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, in His death and burial and in His Holy Resurrection.

This is the great mystery of God hidden from before the ages: “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” (Col 1:27). This is what the creation was pointing to even in that moment when it came to be. Is it not clear, then, as was articulated in St Maximus the Confessor (d. 662), that the Incarnation of the Son of God is the meaning – the logos – of creation? And, what is that meaning? We find the answer in the Savior’s own words, which we read last week: that the love with which the Father loved the Son may be in us, even Christ God in us (cf. Col 1:27!); that we may all be one, even as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father; and, that we may know that the Father has loved us even as He has loved the Son, that the love with which the Father has loved the Son may be in us, even as Christ our God is in us (Jn 17:21-26), that the joy of Christ may be fulfilled in us (Jn 17:13).

Beloved faithful: look deep into your soul. In the essence of your being is a very fine luminosity, a divine dignity, an inexpressible nobility and beauty that cannot be destroyed, though it can be betrayed and covered over by the coarse impurities of the crude and dark works of our hands, by our inner thoughts and words. This is the warm light radiating in love and joy from the image of God that is our primary substance.

Dear faithful, this is what the Spirit cleanses and raises up into the light of day when He descends in the tenderness of the divine Bridegroom who comes to us at midnight, at that point where we are dead, but also that point where, if we would, we could pass over from the old to the new, from death to life in the love the Father has for the Son and for those who love His Son. Is this not what we yearn for in all the works of our hands that we do in this world? This is what is given in the Holy Spirit when He descends on those who receive the Son and become members of His Body in His Holy Church. With the Son, in the love of God that abides forever, He raises them to life, a new creation as children of God, partakers of the divine nature. This is what it is for those who believe to live in the “Cloud” of the Church.

I think that’s why we fall on our knees in the prayers of this Great Feast. We kneel in repentance, praying in the love of God that by the descent of His All Holy, Good and life-creating Spirit, He would cleanse us and restore to us our original beauty and divine nobility in the Image of God, Christ our Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us and so make us worthy to be made one with Him in the love of God the Father, in the Grace of our LORD Jesus Christ, and in the joy of His Holy Spirit. Amen.