For audio, click here
Galatians 6:11-18 (Sunday Before)
2 Corinthians 4:6-15
John 3:13-17 (Sunday Before)
The Faith of the Church includes proclamation and teaching, or preaching & healing, or theoria (the vision of God) and praxis (practice). The teaching or praxis is how we go about aligning ourselves with the vision of reality proclaimed in the Church’s preaching to become healed, a new creation in the reality of Christ in His Holy Resurrection.
The reality proclaimed in the preaching of the Church is altogether unlike anything we hear in the teaching of the world’s philosophies and religions. It cannot be clearly seen or known by the mind of man, because it is not of this world. The worldly mind can make it out dimly if it is astute, and attending very closely to the unseen and the inaudible. Even this glimpse is enough to enrapture the soul; but it is the beauty of a shadow and when the Thing itself appears in its full brilliance, the shadow disappears and the Beauty of the Thing Itself can scarcely be contained.
It cannot be known in the way of any of the human scientific or religious or artistic disciplines. St Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that they might come to know this Knowledge of God that surpasses knowledge. In the Prayer of the Hours, we pray that we might attain to a comprehension of the incomprehensible Glory of God. In these biblical and evangelical ways of speaking, the Church is talking about a different kind of knowing than what the world thinks of as knowing. It is more closely akin to the way one knows one’s beloved lover.
For example, the science of the world seems to presume that the fundamental principle of existence is an impersonal, energic process, of chemical, energic actions and reactions, that the fundamental stuff of all things is “energy”, some kind of “force” that is impersonal. Sensitive souls, artistic souls, know intuitively, however, that this scientific, mechanical view of existence is insufficient. There is something intangibly beautiful about a rainbow, for example, that goes far beyond its physical explanation of light rays refracting air particles – or whatever.
This “something more”, this unquantifiable something that the soul sensitive to beauty feels intuitively, this unquantifiable something that cannot be grasped even qualitatively, this is the Mystery the Church proclaims. It is described, but not comprehended, as personal. Imagine if you can, if that living force – whatever it is – that makes things to live was not some kind of mechanical force or energy, not some kind of what, but a “Who”, a Person, whose attributes or manifestations were incorporeal light, a light that itself is not just dancing molecules but the very radiance of the Person, and that this light was filled with this Person, and that the “substance” of this light was not dancing molecules but an incorporeal, boundless joy, Beauty itself. What if this were the “stuff” that makes us what we are, that this is the “stuff” in which and by which we came into being. Imagine if Life was not some impersonal force of energy, but the Person of God Himself; imagine if life was not something we exist in alongside of Christ God, something that Christ lives in along with us; but rather that it was Christ Himself, so that to live truly would be to exist in Christ and for Christ to exist in us. Imagine if the air we breathe was not just a compound molecule of oxygen and carbon dioxide but was the very Person of the Holy Spirit, so that as you inhale and exhale, you are receiving the Holy Spirit Himself into yourself, and you are yourself coming out of yourself and moving into the Holy Spirit. Imagine if the water you drink to satisfy your thirst was not a collection of hydrogen and oxygen, but was the Holy Spirit Himself, so that when you drank this water that is the Holy Spirit, you would be drinking the Holy Spirit Himself. Imagine if the bread that we ate was not the bread made from the grains of the earth but was the Body of God Himself, a Body that is Christ Himself, so that when you eat and drink and breathe you are living in God Himself – you are not living in some medium alongside God, a medium He exists in alongside you; but He is Himself the medium in which you live in Him. Imagine if the Light that gave you to see was not dancing molecules but was God Himself, and that its “living substance” for lack of a better word was the joy I spoke of a moment ago, a joy that is not of this world, not of our emotions, that is not dependent on everything going right for us in our particular circumstance, a joy that was immovable and that was the bedrock of our existence. This joy and love of God is what we receive not as an idea but as our food and drink in the concrete reality of the Church’s Holy Sacraments. It is not of us, but of God; and it has been given to us to become the bedrock of our being.
All of this is the vision I see coming to expression in the proclamation of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel – which itself is not a message but a mighty act of creation, a terrible, fearsome cosmic act of healing, of such potency that it makes what is dead, lifeless, to live (Eze 37), that it makes every incurable wound well. This Gospel of the Church is proclaimed in the joy and beauty of the Church’s liturgical hymns celebrating with joy and radiance and beauty the glory of the nativity of the Most Holy and Most Beloved Panagia, the Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos. The mystery of her nativity is a wonder of beauty, beyond words, that reveals what the human mind at best could only very dimly make out – and that only if it learns to listen to the pathos of its soul, not to the dry aridity of its lifeless, dialectical logic. It is the proclamation of the reality in which this world was made to exist, and in which we were raised from nothing into being: a reality that is living, personal, light, joy, goodness, beauty!
With this Feast of the Theotokos nativity we begin the New Year of the Church. This sets before us the ineffably glorious mystery of creation that science and art, at their best, can only dimly make out. This Feast calls out to us to wake up, to turn around, and to stop living for the deadness of an impersonal, mechanistic world that has taken over the worldview of the world’s cultures, both west and east. Stop living for yourselves, for your bodily comforts, for gain that has no life beyond the grave. Begin living for your soul, for that mystery within you that knows intuitively and yearns intuitively for joy, for love, for light, for goodness and beauty – all of which are set before us in the exquisitely tender and beautiful mystery of the LORD’s love for His Holy Mother, and of His Mother’s love for her Beloved Son. This holy love is not confined; it spills over to embrace the world in an immeasurable, unfathomable abyss of merciful compassion, of compassionate mercy, of a love that our soul longs for at the very root, the center of our being.
This is the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News. The teaching – “how” we go about finding this divine, heavenly reality that is in our midst, that has even become embodied in us, and is incarnate in the world in the mystery of the Church – this “how” is given to us in the Feast that immediately follows, the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. That is, those who would follow the LORD Jesus, the Source of all this goodness and beauty, the Creator of the world, are called to deny themselves and to elevate or take up their cross. Retreat into your closet. Get beneath the clamoring enticements of this world trying to ensnare your soul and take you away from yourself. Find your soul and her desires in the quiet of the heart. And hear the Gospel of the Church setting before your eyes and your ears, even your nose, the Lover whom your soul loves who has come to us in the love of His Holy Mother to call us to Himself. Who of us would not lose his life for the sake of his beloved? Let us listen to hear the voice of the Bridegroom calling to us at midnight, and let our souls fall in love with Him. Then, to lose our life for His sake that we might find our life not in the tombs of this world but in the empty tomb of the Church, the bridal chamber, the font of our resurrection and our life and healing, this will be the only thing we want to learn how to do. Now we are becoming students, disciples of God. LORD have mercy on us! Amen!