This morning's sermon was video-recorded on our Facebook page from Fr Paul's home office because all public services have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can view the recording on our FB page. If you don't have a FB account, you can still view it by going to our St Herman's website home page, scrolling down and clicking on the FB icon at the lowermost right hand corner. Ignore the box that asks you either to create an account or log in. Click on "Not Now" beneath the green log-in box if and when "Not Now" comes up. Otherwise scroll down and click on 'video' in the left-hand column. You'll find a collection of archived videos, including the video recording this 'sermon'.
In the video of Fr Roman Braga posted on our St Herman’s Facebook page this last week, we hear Fr Roman talking about the ‘inner universe’ of the soul. Fr Roman wrote a book, entitled "The Inner Universe," (published by Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI) in which he talks about the 'inner universe' in greater depth.
The bible calls this 'inner universe' the ‘deep beyond all things,’ (Jer 17.9) the soul, or the ‘heart’. The Psalmist, for example, says: “The inward thought and heart of man are deep (Ps 64.6). The prophet, Jeremiah, says, “The heart is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man.” (Jer 17.9). The Psalmist again: “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” It is striking, but surely not surprising, to see, by the frequency of its occurrence, how central to the Psalms and the prophets, not to mention the NT, the word ‘heart’ is to the biblical vision.
In the inner universe of our soul we come upon our heart, our true self. We are infinitely more than our bodily ‘self’. We are ‘soul’, an ‘inner universe.’ Our ‘heart’—not the physiological heart, as Fr Roman makes clear, but the hidden mystery of ‘who’ we are, our inmost self—is not like a cave in which we are closed off from everything outside of us. Our heart is a ‘chamber,’ a ‘closet,’ as the LORD describes it (Mt 6.6); but, if you will, at the back of the closet is a gate that opens out onto the infinite mystery of the Spirit.
“The heart is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man,” says Jeremiah. Ponder this closely. The heart herself is beyond all things. She exists as herself not enclosed in herself but in the deep beyond all things, beyond all thoughts, ideas, feelings, beyond space and time, beyond all things. She exists in the deep wherein she is ‘beyond’ herself. Can you make sense of that? Only when you begin to ‘think,’ to ‘see’ and to understand with your heart. The deep beyond all things is our heart’s native home, her natural habitat.
She ‘comes to be’ in God in this deep beyond all things. She comes to be in the deep of God beyond herself. Surely, we recognize this deep beyond all things immediately as the Image of God, which is Christ. (Col 1.15) The LORD God, then, is our heart’s native homeland, her natural habitat.
In our heart, of course, we are not God. God is beyond us. But, in this deep beyond our heart, we are in God; but can you see that God is in us? Do you not see here the beauty of the Virgin Mother of God holding God her Son in the bosom of her heart as in the icon of the Lady of the Sign, an icon drawn from Isa 7.14 (the Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son!), and the risen LORD God incarnate, Son of the Virgin, holding the soul of His Mother, the Theotokos, in His arms near His heart, in the icon of the Dormition? The inner universe of the soul is the mystery of communion in love, where the soul, the bride of God, is one with the Heavenly Bridegroom, the LORD Jesus Christ, in the love of God and of our soul that abides forever.
In the ‘inner universe’ of our soul, we come into the presence of God as a Someone, a ‘Thou’ who is ‘beyond’ us, who dwells in what we can feel to be an impenetrable, unfathomable deep of humility. Here is where we begin to sense our soul’s likeness to God, and this sense awakens grief; not a grief that darkens the soul with despair, but a grief that stirs the soul with a yearning to deny herself, to lose herself in the desire to come out of herself. For, this being enclosed in herself she now comes to feel intensely as exile in a far country, as Archimandrite Aimilianos describes it. She desires to come out of herself into the deep beyond all things, into the inner universe of the heart where her beloved LORD is found. Perhaps, this is when the soul’s yearning for God is joined by fear and trembling before God. The soul cries out with Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am undone, for I have seen the LORD of Glory!” (Isa 6.5); or with Peter, “Depart from me, LORD, for I am a sinful man;” all the while making no movement to flee but instead drawing near to reach out and touch Him with St Thomas, or to lay hold of His feet with Mary Magdalene in the Garden.
The soul fears and trembles, perhaps, because she feels how ‘unlike’ the LORD she has become; and, in this, how alienated from herself she now is. But, deeper than her fear is her primordial longing to come out of herself and into the LORD beyond her, to become one with Him, for she knows that union with Him in the ‘deep beyond’ is her natural ‘state’, her native Home.
Fr Roman talking about the ‘inner universe’ of the soul brought to my mind the body as the corresponding ‘outer world’. The outer world of the body would include all the intellectual activity of what the world understands as the mind; it would include all the sentiments and imaginations of what the world calls the soul. That is, the outer world of the body is both visible and invisible, material and immaterial, noetic, psychic and sensate. The wisdom of the world, especially in our day, has mistaken the noetic and psychic workings of our body to be what the ancients called ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ or what we today call the ‘self’; but, these are not the spirit or the soul, the ‘inner universe’ that Fr Roman is talking about.
The ‘inner universe’ that Fr Roman is talking about is not the soul that is the subject of ‘psychology’ or psychiatry, whose movements are governed by brain chemistry. The ‘inner universe’ of the soul cannot be measured by worldly, scientific instruments. For, it is the deep, beyond all things, beyond all physiology, all intellectual activity, all psychic emotions and sentiments. It is our true self that can be measured only by the immeasurable Spirit; it is the spiritual depth that we are, it is the image and likeness of the God whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, the image and likeness of the incomprehensible God that constitutes the essence of our human identity.
In the outer world of the body, I am separated from you by my body. I am separated from you by space and time. If you die, I don’t ever see you anymore. I’m not with you anymore. If you’re not here, I don’t see you and I’m not with you anymore. In this outer world of the body, life is ‘biological’ life. It is subject to birth and death and so it is cut up into generations that are always falling back into the dust as soon as they rise from the dust.
So, if I live in the body, my soul becomes like the body. She becomes fragmented, enclosed, cut off from others, even from herself. Parts of her split off to become the ‘unconscious’ and the ‘subconscious.’ The soul’s energy is thereby divided between these fragments of herself, and they work against each other, they enslave the ‘conscious mind,’ and take it hostage to all kinds of psychic disorders, so that inside, in my ‘inner universe’, I am a jumbled, conflicted, chaotic mess even if outwardly, my body looks perfectly ‘put together’ like a Greek statue.
But, if I live in God in the ‘inner universe’ of the soul, my soul begins to become like God. The fragments of my soul begin slowly to come together and my soul begins to heal. The stone that closed my heart off to God and to you starts to roll away, and, if you will, my heart becomes empty of emptiness, empty of separation, empty of loneliness, empty of death—for emptiness, separation and loneliness are what death is, and I begin to see with St John and St Peter the evidence of the LORD’s destruction of my death by His death, until I find myself with Mary Magdalene in the Garden of His Resurrection, I find that the curse of my soul, the Eve within me, has been annulled and I am set free, free to come out of myself and into the deep beyond and into the communion with the LORD God that is the primordial yearning, the natural longing of my heart. My body becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit and no more a façade of loud, angry, warring demons tearing me up inside.
The outer world is real, it is not an illusion. It is continuous with, not separate from the inner universe. It is the outward form or expression of the inner universe. The outer world of the body does not make the inner universe real or give to it its meaning; it’s the inner universe that makes the outer world real and gives to it its meaning—or its emptiness.
The mystery of the inner universe is what the Church’s visible celebration of the LORD’s Holy Pascha makes incarnate. If present circumstances prevent us from celebrating Pascha visibly in the Church, it will be to me like the unexpected death of a loved one. But, let us understand, that our loved one does not cease to exist in death; she simply leaves, for now, the body that made her visible and she now becomes invisible as she ascends into the inner universe that is deep, beyond all things, and where I am not separated from her. I am in her and she is in me in the loving communion of the inner universe. No more does the LORD’s Holy Pascha cease to exist if it is not celebrated in the outer world of the body. The true essence of Pascha is the love of God, and that love abides forever in the heart, in the deep beyond all things.
The challenge given to us this year, then—considerably less than what was given to Fr Roman, but sufficient for us in our weakness nonetheless—may be to discover the Church in her inner, invisible reality as the spiritual Path by which, paraphrasing St Isaac of Nineveh, we ‘plunge deeply within ourselves, into the inner universe of our soul, to find the Ladder within our heart, the Ladder of the Cross, the Ladder of Christ’s Holy Pascha, the Ladder of God’s love for us and of our soul’s primordial, natural love for the LORD God. To find this Cross is to discover the longing natural to our heart, the longing to deny herself, to lose herself in the desire to come out of herself into the ‘beyond’ of her beloved and to become one with Him. If we could find the joy of that love, it would become our guide for re-shaping our home and our daily life so that they take on the contours of, they become the incarnation of the Paschal realities of the ‘inner universe’ in the love of God for His holy Mother and of the Holy Mother for her Son, of the Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ, for His Bride, the Church, the human soul, and of the Bride, the Church, the human soul for her Heavenly Bridegroom.
Under the present circumstances, I honestly don’t know what to do except to apply myself to the Lenten work of uncovering the roof of the house of my visible, outer body in order to let myself down into the ‘inner universe,’ the house of my soul and into the presence of the LORD, and to make my soul’s natural love for God incarnate in the outer world, in the daily life of my body.
So, whether or not we can celebrate Pascha as we dearly want to, just as we dearly want to hold our loved ones in our arms and be with them, physically, we can, even so, in the goodness of our crucified and risen LORD, celebrate the true Pascha that is truly within us by giving visible form to the invisible love of our heart for our own spouse, our parents, our children, our friends and loved ones, and so our homes can become Paschal, little churches as our bishop has said, conformed more and more in the joy of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, in the love of God that abides forever, to the image and likeness of God in the inner universe of our souls. Amen!