St Herman's Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
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September 25, 2022

THE NET OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION

2 Corinthians 4.6-15

Luke 5.1-11

At the Tomb of the Savior’s Resurrection, the angel says to the myrrh-bearing women: ‘Go, tell the LORD’s disciples, and Peter, that He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, as He said to you.’ (Mk 16.8)

The word of the angel takes us with the disciples back to Galilee, where Jesus’ earthly ministry began; and that’s where we are in this morning’s Gospel—in Galilee, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But now, in the Church’s liturgical lectionary, it is the risen Jesus going about Galilee. Now we see the Gospel stories bearing witness to Him not as a prophet, but as the Son of God risen from the dead. We are reading of Jesus ‘in the flesh’ no more but in the mystery of His Resurrection; and so also it is not in the geographical Galilee, but in the Galilee of our own daily life that we see Him going before us, destroying our death by His death in the power of His Resurrection, which is shining invisibly all around us, and we are given to understand, through faith, that the tomb of our heart is becoming an empty tomb; it is being emptied of death and it is becoming a bridal chamber filled with the risen ‘Christ who is in you, our hope of glory.’

But, if His Body that is risen from the dead is the Church, then it is the mystery of the Church, the mystery of the LORD’s risen Body that is shining invisibly all around us. Having made our way this morning, then, into the Church in the midst of our daily life, we have made our way to Galilee and into the luminous presence of Christ risen from the dead.

The nets of Simon and his companions, let down into the deep at the LORD’s command, come into view now, do they not, as the risen Christ coming down to us. We see that we are the fishes swimming around in dark, stagnant waters of death that the LORD’s net is coming down to. He comes down to us and is ‘in our midst’ here and now, today, in our daily life. And from the luminous Net of the Church, of Christ’s Body risen from the dead, a call goes out. It comes from the voice of Him Who Is the Resurrection and the Life, and it calls out to us as it did at the tomb of Lazarus: ‘Come forth!’ Come into the net of my resurrection that my servants, the apostles and evangelists, have let down to you. I have sent them out into the deep, out into the far corners of the universe to draw the whole world into the net of my Resurrection, that they may be healed of death all the way down to the deep of their heart, and be raised from the depths and brought to the shore of My Father’s Heavenly Kingdom.

This morning’s Gospel (this year) follows the Elevation of the Cross, which concluded a 40 day period beginning with the Feast of the Transfiguration. We have just come out of a ‘summer Pascha’ in which we ‘passed over’ from the death to the birth of the Theotokos, an ‘icon’ of our own resurrection in the transfiguring power of the Savior’s Cross. This morning’s Gospel is like a Pentecost Gospel in September. As on Pentecost, when it was Peter who stood up and proclaimed to the nations assembled in Jerusalem that Jesus was risen from the dead, so this morning it is Peter who, with his companions, casts the Net of the LORD’s Resurrection into the depths of the sea—to us who, in our hearts, are ‘dead in our sins and trespasses,’ ‘dead men to God’.

Now the nets of Simon and his companions come into view as images of the Holy Spirit let down to us like this morning’s nets when the priest, like Simon and his companions, brings the Chalice down to us from the altar as from the boat and we receive the Heavenly Spirit in the partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood, and we are drawn into the Net of Christ’s Resurrection and our being raised from death to life begins.

The boat of Simon that the Savior climbs into comes into view as an image of the Tomb in which His Body was placed. But, our epistle this morning opens to us a deeper meaning. Simon’s boat is our own body, this ‘body of death,’ this ‘earthen vessel’ that is hard pressed on every side by the sea of life surging with the storm of temptations, but it is not crushed. In the boat of our body, we are perplexed but not in despair, we are persecuted but not forsaken, we are struck down [by death] but not destroyed because we have a treasure in this earthen vessel. It is the Body of Christ whose resurrection is manifested, marvelously, in our dying. For the deep into which He directs Simon and his companions to launch their boats and let down their nets—the Nets of the LORD’s Resurrection—is the deep waters of our death.

‘Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,’ we sing on Pentecost. ‘Thou hast revealed Thy fishermen as most wise; for sending down upon them Thy Holy Spirit, Thou didst draw the whole world into Thy Net!’

The net, according to the troparion, belongs to Christ. The nets in this morning’s Gospel belong to Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen. I think we can say that the nets of Simon and his companions are an image of the human soul now deified in her union with Christ. We are not our own because we were bought with a price, the Blood of God on the Cross. Our soul is no longer our own; we are now the ‘property’ of God. In His human soul, which comprehends our own soul, Christ descends into the depths as the net of a fisherman, and raises all the dead. ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory!’ This is the ‘mystery of God’ that the nets of Simon and his companions make visible to us this morning. Their casting their nets into the deep at the Savior’s command is an image of Christ descending into the depths of our own soul that He has made to be His own, to raise us up, body and soul, in the Net of His Resurrection.

So, when we come into the ‘visible’ Church we are swimming into ‘invisible’ nets let down from the Boat of the risen Christ’s Body from the Church on high. We are swimming into the net of His Tomb, for we are coming into the Body of Christ that was crucified, dead and buried. But, when we come into the mystery of Christ’s death, we find ourselves in the Net of His Resurrection. Now our dying in this earthen vessel of ours becomes our being raised from death to life in the net of the Savior’s Cross. And so, our dying becomes a manifestation of the life of Jesus, for we now carry in our ‘body of death’ the treasure of the risen Christ.

Now perhaps we hear the word of the angel to the myrrhbearers with new ears. The LORD goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, as He told you. The risen LORD goes before you into your everyday life and into your dying and into your death. For the LORD says, I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live. And, Whoever denies himself and loses his life for my sake, i.e., out of love for Me, will find it in My death and in the Net of My Resurrection.

It seems clear to me that it is this ‘business’ of denying ourselves and losing our life for the sake of Christ—i.e., in love for Christ—that we begin to see Him, invisibly, in the power of His Resurrection that begins to work ‘in the midst of the earth,’ in the soul of this earthen vessel of ours, this ‘body of death,’ as soon as we take up our cross and begin following the Savior into His Tomb and into His Net to become partakers of His death and Resurrection. How do we swim into His Net so that our dying becomes our being raised to life in the Net of His Resurrection?

St Peter says, ‘by fleeing the corruption that is in this world because of lust and greed.’ Can you see? If I am fleeing the corruption that is in the world because of lust and greed, am I not swimming into the Net of Christ’s Holy Pascha? St Paul says: ‘Put to death what is earthly in you: anger, fornication, impurity, the desires of lust and greed, malice, slander, and deceit.’ (Col 3.5&8) Submit yourselves no more to sin as though you were its slave, but submit yourselves to God for you have been brought from death to life. (Rom 6.13) Put away your old nature with all its practices and ‘swim into the Net of the new nature—the Body of Christ risen from the dead that you were clothed with in the waters, in the ‘deep’ of your baptism. Live now, every day, every hour, every minute in the Life of the Church and no more in the life of the world, and so let your dying in this life become your swimming into the Net of Christ’s Resurrection and your being raised up to the shore of His ‘Church on high’. Amen!

MEOCCA BRIDEGROOM MATINS - April 17, 2022

Behold, the Bridegroom Comes at Midnight, April 17, 2022

Behold the Bridegroom comes at Midnight!’ Midnight is that ‘instant’ when, ‘in the twinkling of an eye,’ (1 Cor 15.52) the old passes away and the ‘dead are raised incorruptible, and we are changed.’ This change doesn’t just happen. It happens because the Bridegroom comes at Midnight and consummates His union with us, the children of flesh and blood, in the ‘bridal chamber.’ But the Church shows the Bridegroom consummating His union with us in the tomb. For there, having shared in our conception and birth through His Virgin Mother (Gal 4.4), He now shares in our death (Heb 2.14) in the flesh He received from Her, and it is in that instant that ‘we are changed.’

We find the divine mystery of Midnight, then, in the bridal chamber; and we find the bridal chamber in that ‘point’ in our inner man where we are dead. The bridal chamber, that is to say, is found in our heart, ‘for the real death is within, in the heart, and is concealed, and it is the inner man that perishes.’ [Macarius Hom XV.39, 125]

If the bridal chamber is in the heart, then it is in our true ‘self’; for ‘the heart is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man.’ [Jer 17.9] In the bridal chamber, then, we come upon our true self as the image of God. In this image, we yearn to attain to the likeness of God. And this character of the imago Dei which, as Origen wrote, constitutes our very essence, itself reveals that, by nature, we yearn to be one with the Bridegroom in the bridal chamber of our heart; but if Christ is Himself the Image of God in whom we came to be and in whom we move and have our being, then we are given to see that the bridal chamber of our heart comes to be and has its essence and movement from outside itself, in ekstasis, in the Bridal Chamber of the LORD Jesus Christ our God and Savior.

Illumined by the light of this doctrine of the Church, we begin to know ourselves. We see that the essential movement of our heart is the erotic yearning to belong not to ourselves but to the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight.

And so, when the mind that has caught the fragrance of the Bridegroom in its heart learns that the Bridegroom is coming at Midnight, it rouses itself. It hastens to descend into the bridal chamber of the heart to cry out: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God! Through the Theotokos, have mercy on me!’ For the soul, if she only knows about God in her head, she is still dead and her heart is still stone. The soul who longs to live is the soul who longs to know God directly; but ‘there is no direct knowledge of God without an exceedingly great love, and such love does not come from the head. It must come from the heart.’ [Art of Prayer 20] And so the soul hastens to descend with her mind into the bridal chamber of her heart, for she longs to receive Him and to cleave to Him, to become bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh, so that it is no longer she who lives but the Bridegroom who lives in her.

And the Bridegroom comes. He comes to us in our own flesh and blood through the woman [Gal 4.4]. He comes to us in the Bridal Chamber of the All-Holy Virgin’s sacred womb, in the inmost sanctuary of His Living Temple. Knitting Her pure blood into the ‘schema,’ the ‘garment’ of man [Phil 2.8], He clothed Himself in our flesh and blood and was no more ashamed to call us ‘brethren.’ [Heb 2.11]

And when the soul darkened and weighed down by her many sins, learns that He has come into the ‘house’ [Lk 7.37ff.] of her own flesh and blood [Heb 2.14], she comes to Him with an alabaster jar of perfume, and she stands behind Him weeping. She wets His pure feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. She kisses them, she pours perfume on them, and through her tears, she prays to Him softly: ‘Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior; but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul and save me!’

And the Savior, ‘spellbound as it were by goodness, love and longing, relinquishes His utter transcendence’ [St Maximos Philo 281] to the point of death on the Cross. Partaking of our death, the Bridegroom breathes out His Spirit on the Cross [exepneusen, Lk 23.46] and destroys the death that separated us from His love in the bridal chamber of our heart;’ [Heb 2.14-15, Rom 8.39]. His Body was ‘placed in the tomb,’ the Tomb was ‘changed’ into the Bridal Chamber, ‘and the Sabbath dawned,’ says St Luke [epephosken, Lk 23.54]. And in the Bridal Chamber of the LORD’s Tomb, the soul was enlightened, and the heart that before was a tomb sealed off by a stone was ‘changed’ in that instant into a bridal chamber and into a heart of flesh, a living heart!

The wedding garment? It is Christ Himself, whose Light we put on when we were raised from the Font, having united ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection. Can you see, then, that the Baptismal Font is the bridal chamber? And can you see that the Bridal Chamber is the Church? For the Church is Christ’s Body that He received from the pure blood of the Virgin, and in this Body, we are fashioned anew as children of God in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest, in the Tomb of our death that has received the Body of Him Who Is the Resurrection and the Life. When we pursue the Bridegroom in the baptismal Font, we receive His Seed into our dead, stony heart, and in that instant, our heart is ‘changed’ into a heart of flesh, a living heart; and we are ‘changed’ from children of blood born of the desires of the flesh into children of God born from above in the Love of the Holy Spirit.

From an ancient Christian text, we come upon this ancient biblical rubric of the Church: ‘By striving in the visible Church, we enter the invisible Church of the heart and the invisible Church of Heaven.’ (Liber Graduum XII) In the coming week, on the loom of this biblical rubric, we will weave the sights, sounds, movements, smells, all the elements of creation, both visible and invisible, into a wedding garment that can be seen, heard, smelled, and touched with the bodily senses. Who would not want to be clothed in this wedding garment who has caught the fragrance of the Bridegroom? For ‘He is the Beautiful and the Good whom all things seek at every opportunity, and there is no being who does not participate in Him, and He attracts the [erotic] desire of all who are drawn towards Him, and He thirsts to be thirsted for, He longs to be longed for, and He loves to be loved!’ [Philo II 280-81]

And if we would clothe the hidden man of the heart with the death of Christ made visible for us in the rites of Holy Week, then would we come invisibly into that ‘Midnight’ when the Bridegroom comes, and we are changed. We become like the children with the palms of victory. They are the emblems of the Cross of Christ our King. And on Pascha Night, we follow, mystically, our King who goes forth from the Tomb like a Bridegroom in procession. He is raising us from our graves and bringing us to our own land into the Jerusalem on high as His prophets foretold. [Eze 37.13-14]

For, if we have received into the bridal chamber of our heart, in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, the Seed of the ‘heavenly man,’ then we carry the Bridegroom’s death in our mortal body. [2 Cor 4.10] That is, we carry the Bridegroom’s love in our body—for His death is the supreme manifestation, the final Incarnation of His extreme humility and compassion in which He created the world, and in which He recreated it when we had fallen. And if we tend that Seed and cultivate it through the ascetical disciplines of the Church, the Cross of Christ the Church gives us to take up if we want to follow Him—for they are the ‘flower of abstinence that grows from the wood of His Cross’ [LT 231]—then yearning for the Bridegroom begins to grow in us into a tree of life, and love for the Bridegroom begins to reign in our mortal bodies. We tend that Seed by taking up the ascetical disciplines of the Church, our cross, our ‘palm of victory.’ By the Grace of the Holy Spirit that shines in them, we strive to be obedient to sin and its carnal desires no more. We strive to lose our life for His sake; that is, in our love for the Bridegroom, we now present our bodies to Him as instruments of righteousness and no more to sin as instruments of unrighteousness. [Rm 6.12-13] Now the Bridegroom’s death is swallowing our death; now our mortal and perishable bodies are putting on the immortal and imperishable ‘wedding garment’ of the Bridal Chamber; now the Life of the Bridegroom begins to manifest itself even now in our mortal bodies [2 Cor 4.10]. It manifests itself in the hope that begins to form in us from the Seed of God’s love poured out into our hearts in the Bridal Chamber of His Holy Church. This is a real and living hope; and it is the pledge of our inheritance, which is our own land that is not of this world. It is the kingdom of heaven with all its glorious riches, found through the doors of Midnight in the deep, beyond all things, in our deep heart, in the mystery of the bridal chamber. Amen!

 
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5355 38th Ave So; Minneapolis, MN 55417
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7 pm Small Compline with Canon from Octoechos
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Protection of the Theotokos
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