St Herman's Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
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June 26, 2022

ENTERING THE MYSTERY

Romans 2.10 – 16

Matthew 4.18 – 23

It says in our Gospel this morning that Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two fishermen, Simon Peter and Andrew, casting their nets into the sea. He said to them, ‘Come, follow Me!’ Then He went on from there and saw two more fishermen, James, the Son of Zebedee, and his brother, John, mending their fishing nets. He calls them, too, saying they will become fishers of men. Then the LORD goes throughout Galilee teaching and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, healing every sickness and every malady among the people.

And what is this Gospel of the Kingdom? It is the cosmic Victory of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, over the devil, His destruction of death by His death, and His bestowing life upon those in the tombs. This is the divine healing of the Gospel that heals every sickness and every malady among the people!

Now, we read in Ezekiel (47.1-12) that Ezekiel saw in a vision a ‘Snow-Melt’ river descending into the Temple of the Last Day on the mountain opposite Jerusalem [i.e., this is not the Temple of Jerusalem (Eze 10.18&11.23 LXX)] and issuing from its eastern gate. It starts out as a­ shallow trickle until it becomes a Mighty River so deep it cannot be crossed. It flows eastward into Galilee, into the desert and out as far as the outlet of the sea, healing the waters, and making to live every living and moving creature. Many fish are there, it says, and the River heals them and makes them to live wherever it goes. And fishermen are standing there, it says, spreading out their nets.

We celebrated the birth of John the Baptist on Friday. He was the last and greatest of the prophets because, whereas the prophets saw the WORD of God in a vision and proclaimed His coming to Israel, John the Baptist saw Him in the flesh and proclaimed His coming in the flesh to Israel and, indeed, to all the nations!

It is clear from our Gospel this morning that Jesus is the Mighty River of Ezekiel’s vision now come in the flesh. The Temple Ezekiel sees, then, is clearly the Theotokos. Jesus, Her Son, is the WORD of God who comes down from heaven like Ezekiel’s snow-melt River and enters the sanctuary of His Temple, Her womb, to become the Son of Man. He issues from Her womb, His Face set to the East, His Holy Pascha, exactly like Ezekiel’s snow-melt river issuing eastward from the Temple’s gate. He grows to manhood like Ezekiel’s snow-melt becoming a Mighty River, and then He goes throughout Galilee as did Ezekiel’s Mighty River, healing every sickness and every malady among the people wherever He goes, all the way to the outlet of the sea, to His death on the Cross by which He destroyed our death and gave life, the ultimate healing, to those in the tombs.

We see from Ezekiel that the WORD of God who came to all the prophets is the same WORD of God incarnate who said to His disciples just before He ascended in Glory: ‘Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled: the Christ must suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.’ [Luk 24:44-46]. So, why must the WORD of God become flesh and suffer and rise from the dead?

St Luke says, ‘Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.’ [Lk 24.45] See how it is the LORD, not man, who opens the disciples’ mind to understand the Scriptures. And note well that the LORD opens their mind in the mystery of His Tomb. By tomb, I mean the whole mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection; for His resurrection happens in the tomb.

No one can see into the mystery of death that opens out beyond the grave if their eyes are not opened. For what is found in the mystery of the tomb is our beginning and our end. Our eyes can be opened to see into the mystery of the grave, then, only by the One Who Is Himself the Beginning and the End. So, note well that it was in the Tomb, in the mystery, that John ‘saw and believed what the Scriptures, the prophets, were saying.’ (Jn 20.8-9) And it was in the Garden, which was in the place where He was crucified and so in the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb, that Mary Magdalene beheld the risen LORD Jesus. (Jn 20.11-17) And, the risen and glorified LORD Jesus Christ appeared again to John a few decades later in a vision, i.e., in the mystery, and said to him: ‘I am the Beginning and the End.’ (Rev 22.13)

The Orthodox Church is holy because it is the Body of Christ in which He suffered and rose again! The Orthodox Church is the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s Tomb. In the Church, then, we can see the mystery of God hidden from the ages. Entering the Church, we enter the mystery of our Beginning and our End. We enter the Living Waters of the Mighty River Ezekiel saw issuing from the Temple eastward into Galilee.  We enter the mystery of God in which the vision of the prophets has been fully accomplished in the death and resurrection in the flesh of the same WORD of God who appeared to them in visions.

In the mystery of the Church, we stand with St John in the LORD’s Tomb, with Mary Magdalene in the Garden, and we may see why it was necessary for God to become flesh and to suffer and to rise again from the dead. It is because He is the Image of God, the Beginning of our coming to be as an ‘image of His own eternity.’ (Wisd 2.23) But, made in God’s own Image, Christ (Col 1.15), means that until we have attained to the Likeness of God, we have not yet attained our End. We are not yet saints, not yet ourselves the mystery of the Sabbath in whom God rests.

We therefore are the fish Ezekiel saw in his vision. The Holy Evangelists and Apostles are the fishermen; their preaching and teaching is the same WORD of God who came to the prophets, except that He now comes to us still on this side of the grave in His Church in which the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of His death and resurrection, the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory, has been revealed in these last days to us, His saints!

When we are drawn into the Net of the Holy Apostles’ preaching, we are immersed in the Wellspring of the Church’s Living Waters, Holy Baptism, and we descend to the Beginning of our Life in the mystery of Christ’s death. In the Living Waters of the Church, in the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s Tomb, even as we are still on this side of the grave, we are given as our food and drink the Body and Blood of Christ from the mystery on the other side. And now the mystery of God, Jesus Christ, our Beginning and our End, is in us, and we are in the Mighty River, swept up into its strong current that carries us eastward into Galilee, into our everyday life, and into the desert of our soul all the way to the outlet of the sea, to our death in the flesh, and out into the deep beyond all things and into our Beginning and End in the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. In the Living Waters of the Mighty River of the Church, Christ’s Body, our every sickness and malady are healed precisely in our death! For in His Body, the Church, Christ has destroyed our death by His death and given life to us who were dead in our sins and trespasses.

It was necessary, then, for God to become flesh, to suffer and to die because, made in His Image, we were made in the image of His own eternity (Wisd 2.23); we were made for immortality. In the mystery of His Incarnation and His Holy Pascha, Christ, the Image of God, clothes Himself with us so that we can clothe ourselves with Him, our Beginning, and so attain to our End in the Likeness of God.  Clothed in Christ and having received the Heavenly Spirit in the sacramental mysteries of His Church, His Body, we have received Power from on high, the Power of His Holy Spirit, to attain the End for which He created us ‘in the Beginning’: becoming children of God, partakers of the divine nature, even gods, sons of the Most High, by the Grace of God, as the prophets foretold. (Ps 82.6)

Therefore, in the Church our deification has begun. Through Holy Baptism, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. If we cleave to Christ and follow Him to the outlet of the sea, we will attain our end, which is immortality and eternal life (Wisd 2.23) in the Likeness of God. We will come to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ [Eph 4:13] in the joy of the Apostles’ communion with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit. (1 Jn 1.3-4) 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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