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Hebrews 13:7-16 (Fathers)
Romans 5:1-10 (Sunday)
John 17:1-13 (Fathers)
Matthew 6:22-33 (Sunday)
My contemplation on this morning’s Scripture lessons is drawn to St Paul’s words in Hebrews: “We have an altar,” he says, “from which those who serves in the tabernacle have no authority or power to eat. (From Jn 1:12, I’m inclined to believe St Paul means that they cannot eat from our altar because they have not received the Holy Spirit, and they’ve not received the Holy Spirit because they do not believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and so the “blood” they wash in for cleansing is the blood of bulls and goats, which cannot cleanse the conscience, or the root of the heart, as does the Blood of God, cf. Heb 10:4)). St Paul goes on: “Therefore, Jesus, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the camp. Therefore, let us come out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” or, His death; so, bearing in our mortal bodies His death on the Cross (cf. II Cor 4:10). I hear in this St Paul exhorting us to answer the call of God the Father, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son!” (Hos 11:1) by uniting ourselves to His Son in the “inner Exodus of the Gospel,” of which the LORD Jesus is our Moses, our Joshua.
St Paul is talking, then, about Holy Baptism. Let us go to the font, the tomb of Christ, outside the camp (Rom 6:3-5). The tomb of Christ, the baptismal font is at the border of this life, outside the life of this world and everything in it. Let us go to Christ outside the camp: let us renounce the prince of the power of the air, the dark spirit at work even now in the sons of disobedience. Let us turn away from the devil. Let’s not walk anymore with our hearts oriented towards the darkness of the “west”. Let’s turn to the light of the East and unite ourselves to Christ in His tomb outside the camp, outside the life, the ways and mores, the memes that set the values, the morals (or im-morals) and standards of this world, that would make us prisoners to whatever trend and fad is en vogue as they lead us on the broad path to meaninglessness, emptiness, nonsense, despair and finally destruction in the setting sun of the dark, western sky.
St Paul says: “For we have no continuing city here, but we seek the City that is to come.” This is the City of the Heavenly Jerusalem in the Promised Land of our Inheritance, the mystery of Eden.
But, the Psalmist cries out to the LORD: “Thou, O LORD, art the portion of my Inheritance and my cup!” The LORD is the Tree of Life who comes forth from the Virgin in the Cave, outside the city of the world because there was no room in the Inn (Lk 2:7). Here, outside the camp, then, is where we come upon the Gate of Heaven that opens onto the Heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Heb 12:22). Going out to the LORD outside the camp and uniting ourselves to Him in the mystery of the Font, we become “citizens”, as St Paul says, “of the Heavenly City that is to come” – which is Christ Himself.
This helps me to understand St Paul’s meaning when he says: “Having been justified by faith.” The faith by which we are justified is that movement we made to come out to Jesus outside the camp of the city of the world, to His Cross and into His Tomb in the mystery of the baptismal Font. In the movement of that faith, when we were still without strength, i.e., still dead in our sins and trespasses, the LORD Jesus Himself took us into His arms in the arms of His priests, and as the priest immersed us into the baptismal waters, the LORD Jesus poured out into our hearts the love of God in His Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) and raised us to life. The evidence that this is not just religious pretending but real is the “peace” of God that descends palpably into our souls, filling us with hope in the joy we now feel in the deeps of our soul from the Holy Spirit who was given to us in the tomb of the font that is the Fountain of our Resurrection.
Dear faithful, let us note in all of this that our life as baptized Christians is not here in the camp, in the city of the world. Our Life is in Christ Jesus outside the camp, outside this world.
The eye, the lamp of our body – this is the heart (the nous) – has been illumined in our union with the WORD of God who is the True Light of the world. The love of God, like the Fire of the burning bush that was not consumed, filled our heart and we were ignited in our “inner man” with the fiery love of God’s Holy Spirit.
Our Baptism was our Passover, our death in Christ, our passing through the Red Sea of death in the likeness of Christ’s death. In Christ, we have already died. It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. The death we now carry in our mortal bodies is the death of Jesus Christ, a death that destroys death and gives life to those in the tombs. Our baptism transforms us into citizens of Heaven. It transforms our life in this world into an inner Exodus through the desert of this life back to Eden, and, it transfigures our physical death, as we call it, into our Jordan, through which we pass over into Eden and into the Heavenly City that is to come.
Christ is the “pioneer” of our faith, says St Paul (Heb 2:10, 12:2). He it is who, by His Holy Pascha, blazed the trail through the Red sea of death and opened the grave onto the inner Exodus to the Kingdom of Heaven beyond our Jordan. To seek first the Kingdom of God and its Righteousness is to train our eye on Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. To come out to Jesus outside the camp and to be united with Him in the likeness of His death and Resurrection and to follow Him on His Ascension into Heaven on this “inner Exodus of the Gospel”, this is what it means to believe in Jesus with an eye that is single. The eye that is single is a heart devoted to denying herself and taking up her cross and losing her life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel; that means, in the work of faith to put all that is earthly in us to death so that we may die to the love of our ego, which is death, and love God with all our soul, strength and mind, which is eternal life.
How do we make this journey of faith, this inner Exodus of the Gospel? How do we “come out to Jesus outside the camp”? In faith. What is faith? Doing what He tells us to do. What does He tell us to do? To deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, which is, to love Him with a heart that is single, not divided by trying to serve two masters, God and the world. How do we do that? First, following St Isaac of Syria, we “cast off from ourselves the causes of our laziness” (Hom 37, p. 169), or everything that makes our eye drawn to the “mammon” of this world. That may mean attending to our physical, emotional and psychological health, cleaning up our home and setting our environment in good order, honoring our obligations and responsibilities. Then, says St Isaac, we approach the work: denying ourselves and losing our life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. That work is given us to do in the ascetic disciplines of the Church. It is centered on the confessing of our sins in the work of cultivating the humility of a broken and contrite heart. The work is done in our secret heart, for the real work I see as breaking through the thick screen of the delusion of our egotism in which we keep our hearts absolutely shut off from God in the illusion of a righteousness that is but self-righteousness. The real work, then, is to put our vanity, our ego, our self-righteousness to death at the core in the root of our heart, where, in the blindness of our delusion, we have set ourselves up not in union with God, but alongside God as little gods. This is the false “becoming like” unto God for which reason we are expelled from and kept out of Eden.
It is in this work of crucifying our ego and opening our heart to God in the deep of our heart, where we are “beyond all things”, that we offer the sacrifice of praise, as says St Paul. This is the mystery of loving intimacy; for I gladly sacrifice myself, I want to deny myself and lose myself to my beloved, and to praise my beloved is the spontaneous movement of the joy of my heart filled with love for my beloved. This is what gives us our deepest joy; this is what it is really to live; this is, in fact, what our heart yearns for. “Let us go out to Jesus outside the camp” we now see to mean, let us deny ourselves, let us take up our cross, let us follow Jesus into the bridal chamber. Let us lose our life out of love for Him that we may live in His love for us! Amen!