|39 - Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 17, 2012|
The Orthodox Christian Faith is not a distinctive belief system alongside others; it is the power of the Holy Spirit to heal the soul and make it “radiant with life”. To embrace the Orthodox Christian Faith is to receive the life-giving power of God’s Holy Spirit that can heal us of all our psychological and physical maladies and deliver us from our enslavement to the passions that darken us and make us anxious, afraid, angry, and troubled.
This means that the Orthodox Christian Faith isn’t a set of religious ideas we think about every now and then to tickle our mind. It’s what the believer practices. To believe the Orthodox Faith means that it is the substance of our life; it is what shapes us within and without; it is the food that nourishes our soul, our mind, our body. It is the air we breathe.
The Orthodox Christian believes not simply by believing but by doing. He walks according to the commandments of Christ, not according to the advice of the experts and pundits of the world. He aspires to pray without ceasing, to fast according to his strength not only with his stomach but also with his eyes and ears and all his physical senses. He fasts with his mind, working to keep the impure images and thoughts from making a home in his heart, and striving to nourish his mind not with the images and fantasies offered as food for our eyes and ears by the world’s entertainment industry, but with the teachings and doctrines of the Church. His heroes are the saints and martyrs of the Church. The inspiration that fills him with the joi de vivre is the vision of God proclaimed in the prophets and revealed in the Gospel. While those of the world are plugged in to their i-pods, soaking their brains in the latest base lyrics that pass for poetry set to noise that passes for music, the believer waters his mind with the Psalms, the hymns and spiritual songs of the Church. In short, the believer strives every day, every hour, every moment to nourish his life both within and without with the vision of the Church with at least the same zeal as those who are of the world nourish their inner life by the TV and internet.
Is this portrait that I’ve drawn of someone who is off-the-charts crazy? We cannot live without giving the energy of our love to something; and our soul will be shaped by the image of whatever we love. Why is someone “not cool” who is working to shape his soul in Christ, the only Lover of mankind? How is he crazy who works to give the energy of the love of his soul to the Holy Spirit of God who is more real than the spirit to which those of the world are giving their inner life to as light is more luminous than darkness?
Because the Spirit of the Church is really real, as one begins to practice the ascetic disciplines of the Church in repentance, contrition and humility so that the life of the Church becomes the substance of one’s inner life, one begins to discover a power in these disciplines of the Church; it is the healing power of the Holy Spirit that is able to penetrate all the way to the corpse of our soul lying dead in the tomb of our heart, and to touch it, to brood over it, to breathe on it until our dead soul begins to stir and to become radiant with life in the glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
No other word, no other religion, no philosophy of man, no school of thought, no political philosophy, has this power to penetrate all the way into the tomb of our heart and to touch our dead soul and raise it up radiant with life. Only the word of Christ has this power, for only the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, destroying death by His death.
This healing and life-creating power of Christ’s Holy Spirit makes all the prayers of the Church, her Scriptures, her dogmas, disciplines, her icons, the hymns and rites of her liturgical worship, her sacramental mysteries soaking wet in its living waters; for, the Church is Christ’s Body from whose side those living waters flow. So that, as one receives in the fear of God, with faith and love what one sees and hears in the Church and begins to do and to conform one’s life within and without to what one sees and hears in the Church and no more to what one sees and hears in the world, one steps into the river of those living waters as into the baptismal font and becomes dripping wet in the healing power of Christ’s Holy Spirit.
This inner healing of the soul manifests itself both inwardly and outwardly: inwardly in the serene clarity that the mind wakes up into. This is the “intelligence” of the Holy Spirit. It is manifest in the joy and thanksgiving that begin to anoint the soul – this is the soul beginning to recover its original spiritual health as it begins to worship God without ceasing as the soul’s spontaneous response to the ineffably tender compassion of the God who has saved her. It manifests itself outwardly in the grace and nobility and even in the radiant glow that begins to shine invisibly from within in one’s face, one’s words and one’s actions. This is the Robe of Light, of the uncreated Light of the Glory of the Holy Spirit that is beginning to clothe the believer in the holy mystery of God that was hidden before the ages until it was revealed in these last days in the sacred mystery of the Savior’s Incarnation, the mystery of “Christ in you!” The Glory of God in you! The healing power of God’s Holy Spirit in you! The life of Christ’s Resurrection in you! The love of God in you!
In the 47th chapter of Ezekiel, we find this: “He (the Son of Man – i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ!) brought me back to the outer door of the temple and there was water flowing from under the open air of the chamber toward the east…Then He led me to the bank of the river... He said to me, ‘This is the water that flows into Galilee, which is to the east. Then it goes down and reaches as far as the sea, and it will heal the waters. So it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the river goes, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. Fishermen will stand by it, and they will be places for spreading their nets….Along the bank of the river, on both sides, will grow all kinds of trees used for food… Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Eze 47:1, 6-12)
We know from the liturgical vision of the Church that the temple Ezekiel saw in his vision is an icon of the Theotokos. The river of healing waters that flow from the temple into Galilee, then, would be the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit that flow from the side of the Virgin’s divine Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, when He is pierced on the Cross. In Ezekiel’s vision, these waters flow from the temple into Galilee. In the Gospel this morning, we see the Savior going forth In the power of the Holy Spirit from His birth of the Theotokos into Galilee, until we find Him in this morning’s Gospel walking along the banks of the Sea of Galilee, just as He walked on the banks of the river with the prophet Ezekiel and showed him the mystery of the temple and the river of living waters, i.e., the Theotokos, and the salvation, the healing, that would flow from her in the Living Waters of her Son, when He would be born of her and would become flesh and dwell among us.
According to Genesis, a river flows out from Eden that was to the east, to water Paradise. In Ezekiel’s prophetic vision, a river flows out of the temple into Galilee, which is to the east and on into the Great Sea. It heals the waters (as Jesus healed the waters of Jordan in His baptism by John), and wherever it goes, it brings healing to every living thing and makes them to live. In the prophetic tradition of Israel, and in the liturgical imagery of the Church, Eden is the Holy of Holies, i.e. the sanctuary of the temple. And, the Theotokos is called by the Church the Garden of Eden.
I point out this prophetic connection between the temple of Ezekiel’s vision, Eden, the Theotokos, and Galilee, only to give us some sense of the profound and sacred mystery that is before us here and now in the Church. The mysteries of Eden and of the Theotokos are not mere religious symbols in an Orthodox “belief system”. Nor is this morning’s Gospel just a story. With roots in Ezekiel’s prophetic vision, the historical event recorded by this morning’s Gospel reveals a spiritual reality that is eternally present to us invisibly but truly here and now, today, in the Church. Coming into the Church temple this morning and standing before the Holy Doors of the sanctuary, we stand before the Gates of Eden. We stand before the mystery of the Theotokos and her Son, Jesus Christ. We stand in the river of healing waters flowing over us from the altar of the Church in the hymns and prayers of the Church as from the Garden of Eden, as from the womb of the Virgin, as from the side of her crucified and risen Son. They are the waters of the Holy Spirit that make all the Church’s prayers, all her icons, her rites, her dogmas, her sacramental worship wet with the healing and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in the Glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. They are the net of the Holy Spirit that the fishermen of Ezekiel’s vision, Christ’s fishers of men, are flinging out today to draw you into the living waters of the Holy Spirit so that you can be healed, if you want to be healed. Simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the fear of God, with faith and love draw near. Put into practice your baptismal oath to unite yourself to Christ. Take up your cross, and begin to practice His holy commandments. Amen.