|40 - Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 6, 2010|
Today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost. From now until the Lenten Triodion, the Church measures each Sunday from Pentecost so that Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ to incorporate them into his crucified, risen and deified humanity, is the central reference point of the liturgical events of the Church.
This tells us quite clearly that the Lord’s Pascha is of such magnitude because, by destroying death by His death, the Lord Jesus Christ has destroyed what separates us from God. The Scriptures call it the “wall of enmity.” By His death and Resurrection, Christ has opened the gates to the Garden Eden. And by sending down upon the disciples His Holy Spirit, He takes those who believe in Him, who fear Him and love Him, all the way back to that moment when Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and made a “living soul” by the breath, the Holy Spirit, of God.
With the death and Resurrection of Christ, and with His Ascension, He has deified our human nature, making it victorious over death so that we can now live in the strength and power of the divine life of God’s Holy Spirit and attain to existence in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Love of God the Father.
The connection of Pentecost with the creation of Adam when he was made a living soul by the breath, the Holy Spirit, of God, tells us that the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is all about raising us from death as Adam was raised from the dust of the ground. In the Church, which is the very body of Christ that was crucified and risen from the dead and that lives by the power, the energy of the Holy Spirit, men and women are re-created, born from above, raised up from the death of their sins and trespasses to be made “living souls”; i.e. “souls” that live not by their own power but by the power of the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Love of God the Father in the Communion of the Holy Spirit. More than that, the connection of Pentecost to the creation of Adam proclaims the Good News that the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on all who believe restores them to their natural human condition. And this implies most explicitly that we live and move and have our being in the life of this worldly flesh unnaturally; we live and exist in a way that is against our nature. The Gospel proclaims what we would not otherwise know: to be ignorant of God is unnatural to us; and since Jesus is the Son of God, to reject Jesus and to live by the principles and commandments of some other deity is unnatural to us. For, Christ is the Image of God in whom we were made. To exist in Christ, this is the fundamental principle of our nature. For the soul to live by its own energy, apart from God, is unnatural to the soul. To live in separation from God and in ignorance of God is unnatural to us; and since this is how we live, that means that we are sick in soul and body.
Therefore, when Christ, the Son of God, came down from Heaven and clothed Himself in our human nature and became flesh and dwelt among us; when He ascended the Cross out of His love for the world and destroyed death from within; when He ascended into Heaven and made our human nature divine in union with God; and, when He sent down upon His holy disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they were made alive in God, He was not doing anything that was against our nature. He was doing nothing “extraordinary”. Rather, He was healing our nature of its unnatural condition and restoring it to its natural state in God. When we see Christ the God-Man risen from the dead and ascended in glory, sitting at the right hand of the Father, we see man in his true natural condition: in communion with God.
This is the glory of the Gospel proclamation. It’s what distinguishes the Gospel from the vision of human nature and destiny given in the philosophies of human wisdom. You who are graduates, understand that holding to this vision of the Gospel and living by it is what makes you something of an “odd duck” in the academic and business world; for the world does not share this vision of man, at all.
Only in the theological vision of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ do you see and hear the proclamation of what it means to be truly human and what is the true origin and the true destiny of man. You see and hear that proclamation only in the Church because it is not a proclamation that man can see or hear in the wisdom of his own mind. This is a vision far beyond the mind. It can be seen only in Christ Jesus who is Himself the Wisdom of God. To be sure, man sees the handprint of God in all of creation. He can dimly make out the delineations of the Gospel vision when he contemplates closely the subtle mysteries of human life; but he cannot penetrate the veil of the Gospel by his own wisdom to make out the principle of the world and the true nature and destiny of man in his ignorance of God and in his rejection of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; for Christ is Himself the Word of God by whom the world was created. He is the Image of God in whom we were made. He is the God in whom we have our origin and in whom we attain our perfection. And man in the presumption of his science and philosophy dares to pontificate on what the world really is, and what life is really all about, he invariably distorts the truth of the handprint of God that his eyes can see. He makes himself the victim of his own delusion. His wisdom becomes his idol, and following after his own wisdom, he falls back into the abyss of the darkness whence he came. He learns to love the darkness more than the light, and he becomes ensnared to the conceit of his own reasoning.
Only in the Light of Christ do we see the glorious vision of man as a creature made in the Image of God, made for the purpose of becoming a communicant of life eternal as a partaker of the divine nature, in a personal communion of love. The communion with God for which man was made is of such intimacy that the “energy” that powers that communion and vitalizes it is the very life of God, the Life of His Holy Spirit. By the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Love of God the Father, the life that God lives is not one thing and the life by which He makes the Christian to live another. The life that the Christian lives when he or she embraces the Christian Faith is the very life of God, the Life of His Holy Spirit, so that when we are in fact united to Christ, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. We live in Him in the same Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, who is Himself the very Life of the Father, and who raised Jesus in His humanity from the dead.
The life of the Church, therefore, is “from above”. It is not of the flesh or of the will or of the desire of man. It is not biological but spiritual. It is the divine life of God Himself. You cannot grasp or comprehend the Church according to human standards; for the Church, even in her humanity, is of God. Her life is God’s Holy Spirit. Her Mind is the Mind of Christ God. Her Wisdom is Christ, the Son of God.
When we are raised from the baptismal font and clothed in the Robe of Light and sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the Seed of God’s divine life is sown in our hearts. When we partake of Holy Eucharist, the Seed of God’s divine life is sown in our bodies, in our bones, our muscles, our sinews, our tissues. There is within the souls and bodies of those who have united themselves to Christ in the sacramental mysteries of the Church the treasure of divine life, such that when the faithful repent and begin to take up their cross and to follow Christ on the better and changeless path that leads from the font to the ambon in the heart of the Church, i.e. from the belly or the mind of man to the heart of man, the “bridal chamber” where the Heavenly Bridegroom unites with us, that seed of divine Life begins to sprout and to grow as a Tree of Life bearing the immortal fruit that is Christ.
On these Sundays following the Feast of Pentecost, the Church sets before us different classes of saints. Last Sunday, we commemorated all the saints, especially those known only to God. This Sunday, we honor the saints of North America and Russia. The saints are not on the periphery of the Christian Faith. They are at its center; and that tells us that this Life of God that the Christian is given to live is not an abstract energy but a personal communion. It is centered on Christ who gave Himself for us out of His great love for us. And so what powers the Life of God and qualifies it as eternal, if you will, is the love of God in Christ.
When one really sees Christ, one sees the Love of God, which the heart of man desires with his whole being. When the vision of Christ finally penetrates us and illumines us, there is no hesitation. One immediately leaves everything to follow Christ, the only Lover of mankind. To embrace the Christian Faith as did the saints is to embrace Christ who loved us in love. And to embrace Christ is to be healed and made alive in the depths of our being, raised up into the communion of the saints in whom God rests. It is to become one of the saints born from above, living in Christ and in one another by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the love of God the Father and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.