40 - Lamp of the Body, June 29, 2014 (with audio)

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Romans 5:1-10

Matthew 6:22-33

“The eye is the lamp of the body,” says the LORD. What is this eye? It is our inner, spiritual eye. It can shine with either of two kinds of inner, spiritual light: a spiritual light that is light and a spiritual light that is darkness. If this eye is “single” (aplouV), says the LORD, then it shines with a spiritual light that illumines the whole body. If this eye is not single, then it is “evil”, and it shines with a spiritual light that is in fact darkness. What precisely is this inner eye? And what are these two kinds of spiritual light?

Our inner eye is the image of God in which we were made. It is our personal center. The holy fathers identify it as the “intellect” that is made to dwell in the sanctuary of the heart, as Adam was made to live in the Garden of Eden. It is that in us which receives the light of Christ, the True Light, to become all light in the likeness of God. But, as the image of God, it is that point in us where our free will originates; and in our freedom, we can, if we so choose, turn our inner eye away from Christ to receive the light of Lucifer, angel of that light which is darkness, whose spirit is the power of the air that rules in the children of disobedience. (Eph 2:2, Heb 2:14)

The light of Christ is the light of God’s eternal life that has overcome the light of the evil one that is the darkness of death. If the eye of our body shines with the light of Christ, it makes the whole body to be alive even if we die (Jn 11:25) because it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). If it shines with the light of the evil one that is darkness, it makes the whole body to be dead even if we live (Eph 2:1).

Let us note that the LORD does not contrast a single eye with a complex eye, but rather a single eye with an evil eye. The heart that is not single is an evil heart. What does all this mean?

What comes immediately to mind is the first and greatest commandment: thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind. After teaching us of the single eye and the evil eye in this morning’s Gospel, the LORD goes on immediately to say as though to explain His teaching on the inner eye: “No one can serve two lords; for, he will hate the one and love the other.”

Should we note that the LORD does not say: No one may serve two lords? He says, no one is able to serve two lords. The LORD we serve is the LORD we obey; the LORD we obey is the LORD we love. Ultimately, there are only two lords: the serpent who is lord of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Christ, LORD of the Tree of Life. St Maximus (d. 662) observed that if the one is the Tree of Life, then the other could just as well be called the tree of death, for so it is. The LORD means, then, that we cannot be obedient to the serpent who is lord (arcwn) of death (Eph 2:2; Heb 2:14), at the same time that we are obedient to Christ, who is the LORD of life. Either our inner eye is turned toward the tree of death; or, it is turned toward the Tree of Life. Either it is looking at what we shall eat, what we shall drink, what we shall wear, or at the Kingdom of Heaven. It can’t be looking at both at the same time.

So, we are deceived if we believe that we are seeking first the Kingdom of God simply because we believe in God or because we go to Church and say our prayers and even “draw near” the Holy Chalice. Let’s put this in a way perhaps easier to understand. In my mind and in my heart, do I give even as much energy to seeking after the Kingdom of God as I give to fussing over what I shall eat, what I shall drink, what I shall wear? Am I as anxious to learn unceasing prayer and the way of the Cross, of putting to death what is earthly in me, as I am to planning my daily wardrobe and what restaurants I’ll try this week?

If what is uppermost in my mind is not, what must I do to inherit eternal life, then my heart is not single. It is evil because it is looking not at Christ on the Cross, but at the ruler of this age in the spirit of disobedience, concerned first with what I shall eat, what I shall drink and what shall I wear. The light that shines in my heart is the spirit of the evil one who is active in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of the life. I am then no different from the Israelites. They thought they were religious because they “went to Church” and said prayers, and even “drew near”; but, of them the LORD complained: “This people draws near to me with their mouth, they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” (Isa 29:13). With their “outer eye” they look at me; but with their “inner eye” they are looking at: what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear? The outer eye looks pious; but the inner eye is “evil” because its love is the light of this worldly life. It is not occupied first and wholly with the work of the Cross: to put to death what is earthly in us so that we may be delivered from darkness and made well in soul and body – that we may be saved – loving the LORD with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul, and our whole strength, so that it is Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20) and our whole body, mind and soul are illumined in the light of God’s eternal life that abides in love forever. (cf. Wisd 1:16)

Brothers and sisters; I do not want to be like Eve and receive the serpent’s fruit of death. I want to be like the Theotokos and receive the Heavenly Spirit, Christ’s fruit of eternal life in love that abides forever. What then, must I do? How do I go about turning my inner eye toward Christ and healing my heart so that I love Christ and seek Him first and above all else?

The word of Isaiah the prophet to the LORD comes immediately to mind: “Early in the morning, my soul desires Thee (epiqumia - the same word used elsewhere in Holy Scripture for “carnal desire”), for Thy commandments are a light upon the earth!” (Isa 26:9 LXX)

Beloved faithful: the LORD Jesus Christ is the True Light who has come into the world. The commandments of the LORD Jesus Christ are a light upon the earth. Words of the Word, they are lights of the Light. What is the commandment of the LORD? Repent, take up your cross and follow Me. Repent: turn your inner eye around. At the point where your will originates, at the point where your sin originates, turn your inner eye around so that it is looking away from the world and towards Heaven. Take up your cross and follow Me.

You know well by now the form in which the Church gives the cross to those who want to follow Christ. From the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, we learn that the wood of the Cross is our own humanity. We take up our cross in obedience to the LORD’s command when we confront ourselves in the sincere confession of our sins. By this, we go step by step down into the deeps of our heart to that point where our inner eye has turned away from the Light of Christ to the light of the serpent. But, how do we fight to get down beneath our love for what we shall eat, what we shall drink, what we shall wear to the love of God that is the first love in which and for which our heart was made?  In the first week of Great Lent, we hear that the ascetic disciplines of the Fast – praying, fasting, deeds of mercy – are the flowers that grow from the wood of the Cross. We take up our cross and put to death our love for the world so that we can become well and whole in the love of God by taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church, following the guidance of the Church.

And, we learn from Isaiah that when we do this, when we take up our cross in obedience to the commandment of Christ, we are taking up the light of Christ. When we anchor our inner life, starting early in the morning, from when we first wake up to when we fall asleep, on prayer and fasting, when we subject our outer life to the daily and weekly and monthly rhythm of the Church’s liturgical worship – i.e., when we practice both the personal and communal worship of the Church as fully as our circumstances allow – we are beginning to walk in the light that shines in this command of Christ to “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness – its eternal life (Wisd 1:16), and so we are beginning to walk in Christ Himself, the True Light who has come into the world.

These ascetic ways of the Church, as the shape of the cross, are the ways by which our soul and body become light; i.e., it’s how we begin to receive the healing and life-creating fruit of Christ’s Holy Spirit. When, in obedience, to Christ’s command, we begin to take up our cross by doing these ascetic disciplines, our inner eye begins to turn. As it turns, it begins to desire to turn even more, because the light of Christ begins to fall on it. The heart is quickened for there is in that light of Christ more than just light. There is the eternal life of God’s inexpressibly tender love that abides forever. (Jn 1:4) Wherever the Light of this love of God, falls, there the heart softens and begins to shine in that light. Drawn by the Beauty of that Light, the inner eye turns to gaze more and more fully on that Light; and as it turns, it begins to become single. Indeed, it begins to desire ardently to seek, to desire, not just first but even only that Light! In the tender love of that Light, the outer eyes become fonts of living waters as the inner eye desires inexpressibly to become that Light.

Beloved faithful, it is this light of His tender love that abides forever in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that the Savior calls us to seek first. It alone heals wholly in soul and body because it alone raises up the image of God in us and makes us like God: light in the love of God that abides forever. Amen!