Romans 10.1 – 10

Matthew 8.28 – 9.1

The Orthodox Christian Faith, to the degree we dedicate ourselves to understanding it and weaving it into the fabric of our daily life, will bring to light what’s in our heart. In the waters of our baptism, confessing the Orthodox Faith will bring us sooner or later to the footstool of God’s judgment seat and we will find ourselves at a crossroads.

Do we accept the judgment that we are lovers of self more than lovers of God, and that beneath the façade of our cultured life, we are disfigured, crippled, blind, deaf, enslaved to love for the pleasures of the flesh? Or do we turn away from the road that brings us to God’s divine judgment of us to follow the road that takes us to live in the cultured façade of the city away from the judgment of God?

When we draw near that crossroads, the testing begins. What do we do when the light of God’s judgment begins to illumine our inner darkness? Do we seek to justify ourselves; are we like the swineherds in this morning’s Gospel who flee the LORD’s judgment, or are we like the villagers who chase God away, hoping to chase away His judgment against us? Or do we accept and even embrace God’s judgment against us, knowing that it is not the judgment of condemnation; it is the Physician’s diagnosis of our soul’s brokenness. And so we run with these two demoniacs from the tombs that imprison us to meet Jesus because we long to receive His judgment of us. For He is judging us from the footstool of His Cross—this is the shore in this morning’s Gospel—and the purpose of His judgment is to draw all men to Himself and to the Fountain of cleansing, resurrection and healing in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest?

Do you see how this means that we do not become Orthodox by exchanging one set of ideas for another? It means that learning what the Orthodox Church believes is far more than learning new ideas; it is to learn how to become a new creation in a new and right spirit, how to be transformed in one’s heart to become a worshipper, a lover of God in Spirit and in Truth.

Clearly, then, to become Orthodox does not happen, it cannot happen, without a spiritual dying to ourselves, which begins when we acknowledge that we are blind, crippled, darkened and ignorant because we are lovers of the dust and not of the Heavenly Spirit. And then, in the vision of God and of our true nature that begins to open to us in that acknowledgment, we begin to become Orthodox when we begin to mourn our disfigurement and ugliness, and when we begin to hunger and thirst for the Heavenly Bridegroom who would clothe not just our body but our heart with the Robe of Light so that we become altogether a new creation.

The first thing we must do, then, to become Orthodox is to turn our back to that road that leads away from the LORD on the shore, on the footstool of His Cross, the road either of self-righteousness and self-justification or of the lie that we are ‘unredeemable.’ And then we must turn our face to run with these Gadarene demoniacs to meet Jesus, that we may begin to prepare our soul to become a vessel of repentance in which the LORD may refashion us into a temple of God, filled with the fragrance and radiant Glory of the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

To become an Orthodox Christian, then, is no easy task; and if we were not united to Christ through our baptism, if our body and soul were not being nourished by the Body and Blood of the God-Man as our food and drink, such a task would be impossible for us.

For as I said, to become Orthodox is not simply to exchange one set of ideas for another. To become Orthodox is nothing less than to destroy death, to conquer our mortality, to become altogether dead to the life of the dust and its insatiable thirst for the pleasures of the flesh, and to become altogether alive in the Spirit of Christ, to be made a new creation, to be formed into a new creature, to be born again not as a child of the earth but of the Spirit of God, so that the desire that consumes us is the uncreated fire of God and not the fire of carnal lusts. For the fire of God, in consuming us, turns us into fire that cannot be consumed, whereas the fire of the flesh, in consuming us, turns us into dust and ashes.

So, to become Orthodox, we must learn the basic tools for becoming worshippers, lovers of God in Spirit and in Truth. We must learn how to pray because it is in the classroom of prayer that we learn the vision of the Church. Understand again, the Church is not a human institution; She is not a school of thought. She is the Body of Christ incarnate on the shore of this earth even to the end of time. The vision of the Church, therefore—which is articulated comprehensively in the Creed and in the Definitions of Faith of the first Six Ecumenical Councils, and finally in images, in icons, according to the teaching of the holy fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council—is not the fabrication of human opinion in a ‘zeal for God that is without knowledge’ (Rm 10.2), as we read in our epistle this morning. The vision of the Church—the Creed, the Ecumenical Definitions of Faith—is the revelation of the really real, which is the Icon of God, Jesus Christ (Heb 10.1; Col 1.15). It is a vision that is revealed to us from above through the Spirit of God speaking to us in the prophets and apostles, and Who explains the WORD of God to us in the teachings of the holy fathers—for example, and in the living examples of the saints, those lovers of God who have become the Sabbath Rest of God, for the saints are those in whom God rests.

These basic tools of prayer, and of the biblical vision that reveals God to us and our true nature and destiny, these are the tools of repentance. Therefore, whoever takes up these tools sincerely, sooner or later the Spirit of repentance that is carried in these tools will begin to work on him. For in these tools, God’s Holy Spirit is building in one’s soul a desire to repent, a longing to find the living God, a mourning over one’s disfigurement and ugliness, and a hunger and thirst for healing, for being restored to one’s original beauty in the image and likeness of God who created man as an image of the LORD’s own eternity. (Prov 2.23)

But this longing will provoke our desire for the dust of our mortality; it will arouse to fury, like angry hornets, the demons who want to dwell in us as in tombs or in a herd of swine. And so, they will seek to keep us from running to meet Christ. They will seek to arouse our desire for the dust with carnal images or with an ignorant zeal of self-righteousness. They will assail us with thoughts and more thoughts to discourage us so that we turn away from the LORD on the shore and back onto the road that leads to hopelessness and despair, so that we remain in the tombs or take refuge in swine—the emblem of the passions—they can live in.

But for all this, the demons cannot steal from us these basic tools of prayer and the Church’s biblical vision. And these tools are the means by which we run to meet Jesus who has come to us on the ’shore’ of this life. That is, He has come to us in the tombs at that point where our earthly life meets death like the land meeting the sea of the mystery. Here, then, at the shore, in the tomb of our heart, here is where our spirit comes into the immediate presence of the LORD’s Holy Spirit.

These basic tools of the Church, of Christ’s risen and glorified Body that has conquered the devil and destroyed death, these tools cannot be taken from us. They become useless to us only if we choose to lay them aside. Yet, if the demons should persuade us to drop them, even so, they cannot stop us from picking them up again! And with these basic tools in our hand, the devil, even with all his hosts and all his pride, is powerless to stop us from running to meet Jesus on the shore; that is, in the baptismal font, at the Chalice, where our spirit comes under the cloud of the Holy Spirit and receives the power to become bone of the Bridegroom’s bones, flesh of the LORD’s flesh, the very Body in which He has conquered the devil and destroyed death.

If, then, we desire to be found in the Church; that is, in the Body of Him Who Is the LORD of the living and the dead, here are the tools, and they are ready at hand for us to take up that we may run to meet Our Savior and find our salvation, our Hope of Glory coming to us on the shore of this life. Amen!