|48 - DORMITION, WALKING ON WATER, TRANSLATION, August 22, 2021|
1 Corinthians 3.9-17
We are still in the Feast of the Theotokos’ Falling Asleep. (The leave-taking of the Feast is tomorrow, Aug 23). With Her Dormition, we come to the season of endings: the earthly life of the Theotokos ends, John the Baptist is beheaded (Aug 29), the liturgical year ends (on Aug 31). But in coming to the end of the year, we do not stop to start all over again. Following the hymns of the Feast, we could just as well call the Dormition the Translation of the Holy Theotokos. In this, we are given to understand that the ‘logos’—the ‘inner essence’—of the passing of time from the old year to the new, in the Church—which is the Body of Christ—is a translation into the New of all those who believe in the Name of the Virgin’s Son. In this translation, the old creation is transfigured in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Thus, the passing of the years is shown, in the Church, to be a mystical, a spiritual Path leading to our own end, our own falling asleep, that is transfigured, in the Light of Christ, into our translation from death to life in the mysteries of Christ and His Holy Mother.
What unites the years together to make them one continuous path, winding through the days of our life in the mystery of God hidden from the ages, is the conception of Our LORD Jesus Christ in the Virgin’s womb. For the LORD was conceived in her womb five months ago (Mar 21) at the beginning of Spring in what is now the old year. As we now make ready to pass over into the New Year, the LORD Jesus is still with us, hidden as it were, in the womb of the Virgin. He is the One who is translating the Virgin from death to life. He is the One translating us from the old into the New. And in translating Her from Her Dormition at the end of the old year into the ‘dawn of our salvation’ [as the Virgin’s Nativity is described in the Church] at the beginning of the new, He is preparing to be born of Her (and of each one of us) on Christmas in the New Year.
On this level in the Church’s mysteries, the Mystery of God is still hidden (Col 1.26) in the mystery of the Virgin, and everything we see in Her is the pattern of what should be ‘coming to be’ in us. Her death comes into view as an image of the ‘secret chamber’ (Mt 6.6) of the heart, even the ‘bridal chamber,’ in which the Seed of God is hidden Who has become incarnate already in Her womb by the Holy Spirit. It is His indwelling Her that translates Her from her Dormition to Her Nativity in the New Year, so that Her birth in the New Year becomes the visible image in space and time of the mystery of Her bodily resurrection that was revealed to the holy apostles three days after She fell asleep.
See how the passing of time in this world, from the old to the new, transpires, in the Church, wholly within the death and birth of the Theotokos; and see how there is hidden in the liturgical translation from the old in her Dormition to the New in her Nativity the mystery of God the WORD become flesh and dwelling among us (Jn 1.14)! Can you see how this proclaims the mystery of the Christian Faith to those who believe in the Name of her Son? Immanuel, God is with us! Daily, year by year, He is in the ‘tomb of our heart’ trampling down our death by His death, transfiguring our heart into a bridal chamber and transfiguring our life’s end into our translation into His Heavenly Kingdom!
In the reality of the indwelling presence of Christ, those who believe in the Name of the Virgin’s Son live out their days on this earth and approach their end in the living hope that Christ is in them (Col 1.27) to lead them, if they will but walk in His Light that shone out on Mt Tabor, out of the darkness of the region and shadow of death and into the marvelous Light of His Heavenly Kingdom in the sacred mysteries revealed in Christmas and Holy Pascha. This, I think, reveals the meaning of the passing of time for those who believe in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ. Our days do not pass in vanity but in the Spirit of Christ. Through the mystery of the Virgin, His Holy Mother, God has become incarnate and our own human nature has been permeated, like a sponge with water, with His Holy Spirit. If we are looking to Him as the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12.2) and striving to walk in the Light as He is in the Light, our life on this earth that is always descending to the grave is transfigured in that very descent into an eternal ascent in the glorious Ascension of Christ our God who is risen from the dead, trampling down death by His death. The ceaseless movement of time from the old to the new is transfigured into a living classroom in the Living Temple of God, the Holy Virgin, in which we are studying to learn how to die daily in Christ so that we can learn how to be born daily in Christ as children of God and to become even ourselves ‘mothers of God’.
Let’s be sure, however, not to overlook what is at the heart of this time of the year when we pass over from the Dormition of the Theotokos at the end of the year to her Nativity at the beginning of the New Year. It is the Cross of Christ and its life-giving, healing, transfiguring, and deifying effect. For we begin the fast for the Theotokos’ Dormition with the procession of the Cross. We move from there into the Feast of the LORD’s Transfiguration on Mt Tabor; and from there, forty days later—i.e., in a kind of mini-Pascha—we come to the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross on Sept 14 in the New Year, announced already at the Feast of Transfiguration in the old year when certain verses for that Feast are taken from the Elevation.
This tells us, I submit, that we begin to see with the eyes of our soul these mysteries of God that are hidden in the mystery of His Son’s Incarnation of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin and in His Holy Pascha, when we begin to live according to the Cross of Christ, when we become His disciples to learn from His Holy Mother how we elevate our Cross in our daily life, thereby transfiguring our descent into the tomb into our translation from death to life in Christ.
I see our Gospel this morning as a lesson already in how we elevate our Cross in order to triumph over the grave, transfiguring our death into our birth and our resurrection in the mystery of the Virgin Theotokos’ Son and our God.
This is a Paschal Gospel. Jesus walking on the water: here is the pattern of which Israel’s passing through the sea as though it were dry land was a copy (cf. Ex 25.9&40). It is also a creation Gospel. Jesus is the God who founded the earth upon the waters; and walking on the waters as Man, He shows what it is to be Man. It is to be lord of the earth; that is, to be lord of our body so as to have dominion over all its desires, not to be the hapless slave of our body, jerked around by its lusts and passions like the disciples’ boats was thrown about by the stormy sea.
Note that it says that the wind was against them! How often do we feel that the wind of this life is against us, tossing and throwing us about like the waves were throwing and tossing the boat of the disciples?
In the compline service for Tuesday evening, in the 7th Tone, the Church tells us that the tempest and the storm and the waves are an image of what is going on in our soul. The stormy waves threatening to overwhelm me are my lusts and passions (Ode I). But if we can say that we experience this most every day on some level, then we should begin to understand that the mystery of Christ walking on the water, that is, the mystery of the LORD lifted up on His Cross high above the stormy waves of this life, mightier than they are and victorious over them, is always with us, that the victory of Christ’s Holy Pascha is not a religious ‘belief’ but the fundamental ‘reality’ of this life.
And if I complain that I can’t see it, or that I don’t experience it, well, is that because in fact it isn’t a reality—or is it because my eyes are focused not on Christ but on the turbulence in my soul or on the storm-tossed waves in the sea of life, surging with the storm of temptations all around me from the winds that are against me? But if I maintain that I am focused on Christ, but I still don’t experience the victory of His Cross in my life, well, is it because the Cross of Christ is just a nice-sounding but empty religious idea that I have not made incarnate in my life, or is it because the Christ I’m focused on is the image of my own reasoning, Christ as I presume Him to be, a Christ who is but the projection of my own ego?
The lesson this morning is both simple and most difficult precisely in its simplicity: to be saved from the temptations that roil the sea of this life, to be delivered from the lusts and passions that threaten to overwhelm me and to be translated into the safety of the Boat which is the Church, the Body of Christ, that rides victoriously on the stormy waves of the sea of life, I must train my mind on Christ. I must build the foundation of my life on the precepts and commandments of Christ, on prayer, on the ascetic life of His Holy Cross, on constant submission to Christ. Otherwise, I am on my own, without Christ, in the hapless boat of my worldly body, sinking inexorably into death and corruption, completely at the mercy of my passions and lusts and the winds of fear and uncertainty howling at me in the words and memes of the world that are against me and that are stronger than I. I must learn how to put my trust not in princes or in sons of men but in the LORD Jesus Christ and in His Holy Mother, how to bring His all-victorious, death-destroying and life-giving Body—which He received from Her and which is mightier than the waves of the sea and which is the mystery of the Church—into the boat of my body. For, if Christ is real, if the Virgin Birth and His Holy Resurrection are real, then the transfiguration of my body into the conquering Boat of the Church that holds Christ as a temple of God is real, the Boat that is mightier than the thunder of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Boat that translates me to the calm haven of the LORD’s Kingdom. But I must turn to the LORD and call on Him. I must learn to trust in Him, to listen to His voice and not to the angry voices howling at me in the winds and crashing waves of the world, and I must give my ear to the instruction of our sacred teacher, His Holy Mother, who tells us, “Do whatever He commands you!” (Jn 2.5) And watch the waters of your life turn into the sweet wine of the Heavenly Bridegroom that makes glad the heart of man (Ps 104.15)! Amen!