42 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 20, 2010

Romans 6:18-23

Matthew 8:5-13

St Paul writes to us this morning: “Having been delivered from sin (and its fruit, which is death), you have been made slaves to righteousness (and its fruit, which is eternal life).” St Paul is referring, of course to the great mystery of baptism. How is it that immersion in the waters of the Church’s baptism delivers us from sin to make us slaves of righteousness?

The Incarnation of God the Word proclaims the inner unity of the outer world of the body, which includes history, and the inner world of the spirit. From Holy Scripture and from the Church’s doctrine of the Incarnation and from the Church’s liturgical imagery and from the experience of the holy fathers, I believe we can locate the point of that unity. It is in the heart. I’m not speaking of the physical heart, but of an actual spiritual organ, which the holy fathers tell us is in the region of the physical heart. The holy fathers tell us that this “secret heart” is our personal center; it is the man, says Jeremiah the prophet.[1] It is where our will and our desire originate. According to the Proverbs, it is the font from which flow the springs of life,[2] not the life of the soul but the life of the Spirit of God. This spiritual fact tells us that in our “secret heart” we are open to God. The heart is deep, says the Psalmist; it is deep beyond all things, says Jeremiah.[3] We are created from nothing; but the principle of our being is in Christ, the Word of God.[4] This presents to us the vision of man in his secret heart opening onto the abyss, and so onto the Holy Spirit brooding over the waters of the abyss, and so onto the Word of God who is living and active within that brooding Spirit, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the division of soul and spirit and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.[5] Created in the Image of God, which is Christ, man has in his secret heart an affinity for the uncreated God, a natural kinship with the eternal.

The perfect realization in history of the heart’s natural capacity for God is the Theotokos; and the image of the Theotokos that perhaps most strikingly manifests the affinity of man for God in his secret heart is that of the bush on Mt Sinai that burned but was not consumed. The fire was the Holy Spirit; and instead of consuming the bush, the Fire sanctified it and made it luminous with the uncreated, spiritual Light of God. When the Holy Spirit descends and takes up His dwelling in us, we are not destroyed. We come to life in God – we become righteous. We rise up out of the abyss and we ascend into the uncreated Fire of the Holy Spirit, clothed in it as in a “Robe of Light”, and so we become fiery in the Fire of the Spirit; we become partakers of the divine nature, luminous and spiritual, holy and alive in the uncreated and eternal Life of Christ’s Holy Spirit in the love of God the Father.

I have said that this secret heart is imaged in the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha. Again, as the Incarnation of God the Word reveals to us, there is an inner unity between the Lord’s tomb in the outer world and the secret heart of man in the inner world. When the crucified corpse of the Lord Jesus Christ was laid in the tomb of the outer world, He was laid in the secret heart of man which, because of our sins and transgressions, had become a tomb. When He descended into hell, He descended into the depths of the heart that are beyond all things. He descended as the living and active Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, and He penetrated to the division of soul and spirit to destroy in the heart’s deeps the wall of enmity that separated us from God. He restored human nature at its root, in the deeps of the secret heart, to fellowship with God, and He raised it up to Life eternal in the power of His Holy Spirit.

Because of this inner unity between the outer world and the inner world, the font of our baptism is united to the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha in the Holy Spirit at that inner point of the secret heart. You were immersed in the waters of the font as into the tomb of your secret heart; and it was made into a bridal chamber where you were united to Christ in the likeness of His death and raised up out of the waters as from out of the abyss in the likeness of His resurrection. In this sacramental dying in Christ, the tomb of your secret heart became the font of your resurrection in Christ. The prophecy of Proverbs was fulfilled: the heart was opened onto God and became the font from which flow the rivers of life, the life of God, and you born from above as a child of God.

The energy that effects this mystery that transpires in the secret heart of man in the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha is the energy of faith. Its dynamic power is the love of God that is united to the love of man in the Blessed Theotokos, in whom the great mystery of the Incarnation transpired. Faith, you see, is not some form of mental activity distinguished from scientific knowledge in that it blindly bypasses the reasoning process of proof. Faith is the energy of the secret heart. Its dynamic power is love. In the love of the secret heart, it knows Jesus Christ, who is the Love of God. Man is made in the Image of God, who is love; he is made in Christ, in the love of God. So, when the Fire of the Holy Spirit descends on him in his secret heart and his heart begins to burn in the Fire of God, man is not consumed because the Fire of the Holy Spirit is the love of God. In the Fire of that love, man comes alive in love. When Christ in His Holy Spirit broods over the abyss of man’s secret heart, when in the mystery of His Incarnation He enters the heart of man as into the tomb of His Holy Pascha, Love unites with love; God unites with man; and in that union, man comes alive in the energy of faith, the energy of love that proceeds from the secret heart.

This is how we understand the “great faith” of the centurion by which his servant was healed. It wasn’t that the centurion believed in Jesus in some kind of blind leap that by-passed all rational proof. Faith is not blind. Faith is the knowledge of personal love that is so much higher than the intellectual knowledge of the mind because it proceeds from the secret heart. The centurion’s faith was his love for God in his secret heart. In this love, the centurion knew Jesus immediately as the Word of God. In the faith of this love, he knew the Savior could heal his servant from afar simply by His Word. For His Word is that living and active Word sharper than any two-edged sword that penetrates to the inner world of the secret heart where nothing is far off; everything is near; for it is here in the secret heart that the Spirit of Christ is everywhere present, filling all things. The Church is directing us into the depths of our secret heart when she has us greeting each other with the Good News: “Christ is in our midst!” In the secret heart that is aflame with the Fire of the Holy Spirit, every moment of history is taken up and made present in the eternal Today of the Spirit; and in that eternal Today of the Spirit, we answer: “He is and ever shall be!”

When the Lord says He has not seen such great faith even in Israel, one thinks of the Lord’s word to his prophet, Isaiah: “This people draws near to me with their lips, but in their heart they are far from me.” We need to look to ourselves in repentance and confession to consider if we are not the “people” who draw near to the Savior with our lips while in our secret heart we are far from Him.

If we are of the faithful, we will want to know this better and changeless path by which we ascend to God in our secret heart. As the body of Christ, every word of the Church – her Holy Scriptures, her prayers, her dogmas, the stories of her saints – all these words are of the Word of God that penetrates to the division of soul and spirit in the secret heart. We need simply to take up the words of the Church and guard our heart with them with all vigilance, as the Proverb directs us. As words of the Word of God, they are active and living, able to lead us into our secret heart. When our secret heart is penetrated by the Word of God, we are healed of our secret heart’s paralysis – its inability to love as God has loved us – as the centurion’s servant was healed of his. As the centurion was raised up from his bed of paralysis, we are raised up into the life of Faith, the life of the Church, the communion of saints in whom God loves to dwell. In that communion we then become like the centurion: men and women of “great faith” who intercede for the world in the love of faith that proceeds from our secret heart, offering ourselves to God in the love of Christ’s Holy Spirit on behalf of all and for all. Amen.

[1] Jer 17:5 LXX

[2] Prov 4:23

[3] Psa 64.6 & Jer 17:5 LXX

[4] See St Maximus, Ambigua 7

[5] Heb 4:12