This morning's sermon, together with the Divine Liturgy, can be viewed on our St Herman's public FaceBook page. It was also pre-recorded on our St Herman's YouTube Channel. https://youtu.be/DRaE52f5DYA For neither of these do you need to have an account. They are accessible to all.
These last two weeks, our daily scripture lessons have taken us to Romans and to the Sermon on the Mount. The theological vision of these daily lessons I think is encapsulated in this morning’s Gospel image of the eye that is the lamp of the body.
This eye is the heart, what the Law and the Prophets of the OT are chiefly concerned about. The heart, according to the Greek reading of Jeremiah, ‘is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man’ (Jer 17.9). This heart, obviously, is not the physical organ. It is the mystical heart, of which the physical heart is the bodily form. Keeping with the Greek reading of Jeremiah, it is my true self, my personal center that is invisible, immaterial, spiritual. It’s where I am able to open beyond myself out onto the other invisibly, immaterially, spiritually, mystically, truly.
In the imagery of St John’s Apocalypse, the heart is the ‘door’ outside of which the LORD stands and knocks (Rev 3.20), wanting to come in to dine with us and, as it says, us with Him. This image reveals that the LORD is the true ‘Beyond’ onto whom—not which but whom—the door of the heart opens. For, the LORD is the Beginning in whom I originate; He is the End to whom I return. He is the divine mystery of the ‘Beyond’ in whom I live and move and have my being.
I’m quite sure that with this image, St John means the Church’s Holy Eucharist. Here, the LORD incarnate, risen from the tomb triumphant over death and corruption, gives His flesh as Living Bread, His Blood as the Living Cup from Heaven to those who receive Him (Jn 6.55), that He may abide in them and they in Him (Jn 15.4), that they may become one with Him and He with them (Jn 17.11, 22), that He may become their Life in whom they live (Jn 6.53), their Light in whom they see Light (Jn 8.12), that He, the Source of Beauty and Goodness, may be their wisdom and the fullness of their joy (1 Jn 1.4).
The Church’s Holy Eucharist is the heart of all creation. It takes place visibly on the altar of the Church’s temples, invisibly in the heart of man, in the sanctuary of our body that was made by God to be a Temple of His Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Church’s Holy Eucharist is the heart of creation because here takes place the union of body and soul with God in the human heart, the sanctuary of creation; and this, becoming one with God, is the goal and purpose of human life. To seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, then, is to seek first the LORD Jesus Christ in my heart where I am deep, beyond all things. It is to seek union with the LORD Jesus Christ, for that is the goal and purpose of my existence.
The LORD says, ‘If your eye is good your whole body will be full of light.’ Only God is good, the LORD says to the rich young ruler. The heart, then, can be good only when the LORD Jesus Christ abides in her and she in Him. Now, the LORD says to Mary and Martha in front of Lazarus’ tomb, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life.’ (Jn 11.25) This may be another way of saying, ‘I am the Christ;’ for, He is Life because He carries within Himself, as the LORD’s anointed, the Holy Spirit, the LORD and Giver of Life. Remember, He was conceived in the flesh not of the seed or will or desire of man but of the Holy Spirit; and this Life of the Holy Spirit that anointed Him as man even in the Virgin’s womb, is the Light of men. (Jn 1.4)
Therefore, your eye is good if your heart abides in the LORD Jesus Christ and He in you. If your heart is abiding in the LORD and He in you, then your whole being will be full of light. Your whole being will radiate the Holy Spirit. You will be deified, for you will have become a child of God, born not of the seed or the will or the desire of man but of the Holy Spirit. Everything about you will be living—even your dying and your death!
And so, the LORD goes on to say to Mary and Martha, ‘Whoever believes in Me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.’ For, to die in Christ is to die to everything that darkens you, everything that is dead in you, everything that closes the door of your heart to the LORD. For, if you have believed in the LORD Jesus Christ, and if you eat His flesh and drink His blood in the mystery of the Church’s Holy Eucharist, as He says (Jn 6.53), then you have received the Life of God into your mortal body, even into the tomb of your heart. You have received the Holy Spirit whose Light begins to dawn from your heart even in your dying, just as it was dawning (epifosken) from the LORD’s Tomb on the Day of His Sabbath Rest. (Lk 23.54)
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints; for, they die with the love of God in their hearts. Their death is the death of all that is dead in them. It is their final purification that rolls away the stone, that opens the door of their heart out onto the Beyond, so that the Light that lives in their heart can now begin to shine in all its brilliance. If it is the Light of Christ that shines forth from their death, it is the Light that is the Life of God that lives beyond words and ideas and schools of thought in the Light of God’s extreme humility, His ineffable compassion, love and joy. It lives in the Light of ‘Righteousness,’ which is Christ Himself (Righteousness is not primarily a ‘what’ but the ‘Who’ who ‘is’), who lives forever. (Wisd 1.15)
We are drawing here the outlines of faith, specifically that faith that ‘justifies’, or ‘makes righteous,’ or ‘makes to live in the Light of Christ that is the Holy Spirit who is the Life of men. Surely, we can see from this outline that faith is not of the head but of the heart. It is the movement of the heart turning to the East, to the Light of the Sun of Righteousness risen from the grave, triumphant over death and corruption. It is my soul opening the door of her heart to receive the LORD Jesus not as a religious assertion or idea or belief system but as the transcendent principle of my being who is within me.
It was St Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century who articulated the biblical proclamation of Christ God incarnate in a dogmatic way so as to identify the precise point where the Son of God united Himself to us and became one with us: it was in the ‘heart,’ where we were dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2.1). For, through Eve, we received into the womb of our heart not the living waters of God’s Seed, but the dark, fetid waters of the serpent’s venom, filled not with self-denying love for the other but with self-grasping greed and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3.5). Our whole body became dark because our heart, following now the Hebrew reading of Jeremiah, became ‘desperately corrupt.’ (Jer 17.9)
I think St Paul in his letter to the Romans is wanting to say that in the LORD Jesus Christ, we see the Law of God no longer outside of us but inside of us. Jesus is the Law of God incarnate, the supreme Theophany of the Law of God in action. The Law of God is the law of love that is personal and which, by its very nature, denies itself for the sake of the beloved. God is love. God, love, empties Himself, He denies Himself, He longs to lose His life for the sake of His beloved so that He can become absolutely one with her. But, if the heart was dead because she received in herself the law of death governed by the law of sin, the law of greed and covetousness, how could the Law of God, the Law of Light and Life, so long as He remained in the ‘Beyond’ outside of us, do anything more than illumine how dark and dead we were in our heart? As the Law of Moses, written on tablets of stone, the Law of God remained outside of us and could only accuse us. Not until the Holy Virgin, in the love of her heart for God, received Him, so that, in her womb, He became one with us and united Himself to us inside the center of our being, in our heart, could He save us; that is, heal us and deliver us from the darkness of the death that enslaved us. (Heb 2.14-15)
What the Law of Moses could not do written as letters on tablets of stone, viz., raise us from death to life, the Son of God, the Perfection of the Law of divine Love (Rm 10.4), did by becoming flesh. When He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, Resurrection and Life moved ‘beyond’ Himself in His love for us and entered into and took up His abode in the human heart. Already, in the sacred womb of the blessed Virgin, the Light of God that is the Life of men began to shine in the human heart. The union of God with us in the womb of the blessed Virgin was consummated on the Cross, when He finished what He had begun. He filled the emptiness of death with Himself. For, He is the Christ in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col 2.9). He filled its meaninglessness with Himself. For, He is the Logos, the Meaning of God (Jn 1.1).
In the Holy Pascha of the LORD incarnate, the prayer of King David was answered. When He became flesh and blood with us in the womb of Our Beloved Lady Theotokos, and when by His death on the Cross He became absolutely one with us inside of us, inside our heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses, that’s when God finished creating in us a clean heart and putting in us a new and right Spirit, His own Holy Spirit who is the Life of men. The Tomb became empty of death and filled with meaning, the Meaning of God. The Church is not a human institution. She is the very Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. And, in His Church, the fullness of God dwells in us bodily. When our bodies are immersed into the holy font, the stone is rolled away and the door of our heart is opened onto the Beyond, out onto the Garden of Resurrection and Life, the Garden of Eden, the Garden that is Jesus Christ in the mystery of the Theotokos: ‘The ancestors of our race rejoice in thee, O pure Virgin, receiving through thee the Eden they lost through transgressions.’ (Tone 1, Ode 6 for Sunday Matins)
To seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness comes into view now, does it not, as the new life-purpose of those who hear the Gospel and fall in love with Christ, the Son of God incarnate. To seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness is to seek union with Christ by uniting myself to Him in the likeness of His death so that I may become one with Him in the joy of His Resurrection, to lose my life for His sake so that, in the power, in the Spirit, in the Light and Life of His Cross, I may put to death everything in me that puts me to death, everything that darkens me, everything that separates me from Christ whom my soul now loves. This love of the heart, turning and opening herself to Christ, seeking to cleave to Him in the likeness of His death so that she may be purified of death and made luminous and beautiful, worthy to become one with Him in His Resurrection, this is the mystery of the faith that justifies, that makes the soul to live in the resurrection of Christ so that Christ is made manifest even in my mortal body, even in my dying, even in my death! How is Christ made manifest in our mortal body as we die in Christ? In the God-like humility, gentleness, joy and love that begin to radiate from the believer’s heart. For, she is being justified. She is being made to live not in the body of this world that is dying but in the Body of Christ that is risen from the dead. She is becoming a saint, a holy one of God. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ!