|38 - All Saints, June 15, 2014|
Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2
Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30
Having celebrated Pentecost, we have entered a new liturgical season. Over the next few weeks we celebrate different classes of saints. If our theme during Pascha season was how do we go to Galilee that we who have not seen Christ may believe in Him, the theme of this season might be, having celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, how do we go about receiving or acquiring (to echo St Seraphim of Sarov) the Heavenly Spirit to become like the saints whom we commemorate?
In answer, we hear on this first Sunday of this new liturgical season what sounds like another evangelical riddle or koan. But, this morning, it’s the LORD, not an angel, who is giving us the riddle: “He who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My name’s sake shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” And, perhaps it is the LORD Himself because the Holy Spirit has descended on the Church to lead her into all truth, and in His Holy Spirit the LORD teaches us plainly the answer to the riddle. It is the same answer given to the riddle of the angel: Go to Galilee. The LORD says at the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading: “He who does not take his cross and follow Me, is not worthy of Me.” To confess Christ without shame in a world that denies Him, and to love Christ more than family, property and home is how we go to Galilee to see Christ; it’s how we go about taking up our cross to follow Christ.
But, what does it mean to leave houses, brothers and sisters, father and mother, even wife and children and lands for the sake of Christ’s Name, so that one can have eternal life? This is a hard saying. Yet, our salvation is at stake. It is critically important that we have a right understanding of what this means.
Consider the family. It is through our family that we are here, living and existing in the world. More precisely, it is through the sexual, biological life of the family that we are here. The family is our life. Through the sexual energy of biology, we came into existence. The life of the world is carried in the family. The family is the embodiment of the life of the world.
It’s called the “circle of life”; but it is more properly the “circle of death” because as soon as life comes from the womb of the mother it immediately begins circling back to the tomb. At the heart of this “circle of life”, then, is the tomb.
And, the world can do nothing about the marriage of life and death in this "circle of life". Indeed, in the presumptuous ignorance of its own wisdom, it deifies death; and in the various religious forms born out of this deification, man is taught by various religious stratagems to accept the dissolution of the individual in death as natural, as the fundamental principle of being; in the religious doctrines, for example, of “no self” and “no thing”, or of reincarnation, the “circle of life” that ends finally in the blissful dissolution of the many into the One, or of constant change (the I Ching), which is fundamentally the many constantly dissolving into other forms. And this dissolution into the One is the substance of what the worldly religious mind understands as love. We are all one because, ultimately, we as ourselves are not; we are but the One in its many emanations.
The world can do nothing about this, except to tremble in awe before its numinous dread and worship it as the religion of the One given different forms in the world’s religions.
Listen to the Wisdom of Solomon: “God did not make death. Neither does He have pleasure over the destruction of the living. For, He created all things that they might exist, and the generations of the world so they might be preserved (not dissolved).” (Wisd 1:13-14) “God created man for immortality, and made him an image of His own eternity. But death entered the world by the envy of the devil, and those of his portion tempt it.” (Wisd 2:23-24) It follows that the religions of the world are not from the God of the bible; they are from man in his effort to make sense of death.
At the Great Vespers of Pascha and Pentecost, the Church proclaims the Great Prokeimenon: “Who is so great a God as our God, who does wonders!” No other god has been born of a Virgin and become flesh in history and died in the flesh in history, and entered an actual tomb in history (many gods have done this in the myth but none in history). Only Christ our God has done this. And the wonders He has performed? He descended into the unseen realm of death and trampled down death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs – not in religious mythology but in the Soul and the Body that He took, historically, from the Virgin in the historical mystery of His Holy Incarnation.
But, on what basis does the Church maintain that her Gospel – inasmuch as Christ’s victory over death cannot be seen by the eyes of the world nor comprehended by the mind of the world and even seems contradicted by the fact that even the faithful who live according to the Gospel die – is not just another religion of the world giving its own form to the myth of the circle of life at the heart of the world’s religions?
Brothers and sisters: the world can do nothing about the “circle of life” because the world, and most certainly the spirits that rule this age and which are active in the children of disobedience, cannot create in us a clean heart; it cannot put in us a new and right spirit. When the faithful practice the precepts of the LORD and take up their cross as He directs, they experience in themselves the creation of a new heart. They find themselves living more and more not in the lust of the flesh born of the sexual energy of the world but in the holy love of God born of the eternal life that comes from the Holy Spirit, the LORD, the Giver of Life. In their secret and inmost heart they find themselves being raised up and set on a path that leads away from the tomb onto an ascent from glory to glory in the joy and the love of God which abides forever.
In the Garden, Eve was fashioned by God from the rib of Adam, a prophetic prefigurement of the Church coming from the side of Christ in the blood and water, the sacramental life of the Church that flowed from His side when He was pierced by the spear. When Adam saw Eve, he loved her and said: “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” At that time the LORD pronounced the marriage formula: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mover and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Adam and Eve were “married” in the Garden before they came together sexually, which did not take place until after the Fall, when they were outside the Garden. In the Garden, they were brought into existence and joined together in the Holy Spirit by the Word of God, not by themselves in the sexual, biological way of the world.
That is to say, there is another life, higher than the sexual life of the world. (Man and woman, by the way, become partakers of this higher life when, for the sake of Christ, they deny themselves and in obedience to Him, abstain from sexual relations until they are joined together by the Spirit in the Church, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Moreover, I would say that observing sexual purity in this way, and so keeping the marriage bed undefiled, is one way that a man and a woman go about leaving father, mother, brother and sister for the sake of Christ.)
To leave family, home and property is to orient one’s life toward this higher life of the Garden in the Spirit, not the sexual life of the world according to the spirit of the world. It is to do as Adam did in the Garden; but the wife the follower of Christ is leaving father and mother for is the Bride of Christ, which is the Church.
Therefore, to take up our cross by leaving our family for the sake of Christ is to renounce the world and its ways in order to return with Adam and Eve in the mystery of Christ and His Holy Church to the Garden of Eden and to the life of the heart created anew in the Spirit. In the new and right Spirit that is put within us, our heart, created anew in the Spirit, is enlarged. In the Garden, i.e., in the sacraments of the Church, we “receive the Heavenly Spirit,” and, so long as we are taking up our cross, so long as we are leaving father, mother, brother and sister for the sake of Christ, so long as are “going into Galilee,” we are being made into saints.
Our hearts are enlarged in the Spirit that we received from the holy family of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and we are made able to contain more and more in the body and soul that we received from our biological family the fullness of God’s love, because in the mystery of the Church, Christ is in you making your earthly body into a spiritual temple of God, in which your death is made to be the death of death, and the tomb of your heart a bridal chamber that opens onto Heaven.
The Holy Spirit is poured out into our koilia – the inmost part of our soul – and we knowin faith, which is the knowledge of the Spirit and so higher than the knowledge of the world, that Christ has destroyed death because we begin to smell in our soul the heavenly fragrance of God’s love that is so tender our heart could scarcely contain it if He did not continue to enlarge it in the mystery of His Goodness and Love manifested on the Cross.
O LORD who art glorious in Thy saints, Glory to Thee! Amen!