Sunday, July 6, 2008

The 7th Sunday of Pascha

Sunday, June 8, 2008

“Holy Father keep them in your name, which you have given me out of the world, that they be one as thou art one."

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit..

Christ has ascended! In glory!

We were blessed this year that on the feast of the Lord’s ascension there were a lot of people, a large number of people to celebrate the wonderful feast day that often gets ignored because it always comes on a Thursday. It was a special blessing because this is the day that marks for us a turning point in our advance through the church year. Someone said to me on Wednesday morning when we served the leave taking of Pascha, and we did it according to the Greek typichon, that is to say served it the way we do on Holy Saturday night and on Sunday morning when we serve Pascha with the festal tones.. And someone said, “I wonder how the Holy disciples and our Lady felt when Jesus ascended into heaven? How did they feel at that time?”

And I said “Well, you know the day before that, I don’t know if they anticipated what was going to happen or not.” They were basking in the joy of having Him from time to time appear in their midst and talk with them. You can imagine that if you thought that you had lost someone forever - if you believed that they were dead or that they were in a far off land and would never return - and suddenly you found them with you and speaking with you, that you would have such great joy that it would be almost boundless. You could imagine that, and you could imagine the disciples who not only believed the lord most likely to be permanently gone from them at the time at which he gave up his spirit on the cross, now finding him who had suffered so greatly standing in their midst, what a great joy they had. And He said, “You sorrow, and you will sorrow, and the world will rejoice; but I will return to you and your sorrow I will change to joy.”

Their joy was so great that they couldn’t really believe what they saw, they began to doubt their own senses - to believe that somehow they were imagining something or that perhaps this was some kind of illusion or a phantom that the Lord had sent them as consolation. And He had to say to them: “Reach out and touch my hands and my side and see that I have flesh and bones, for a ghost hath not flesh and bones which you see me have.” It’s interesting for us if we think about it, because that morning when Mary Magdalene went to embrace the Lord in the garden He said, “Do not touch me for I have not yet ascended to my Father,” but that night He said, “Reach out and touch,” which means that the Lord ascended immediately after His resurrection. He went immediately to the Father, presented Himself as the sacrifice to unite God and man, and carried human flesh into the hall of highest heaven.

But He remained behind on earth from time to time for 40 days. Why? Well there were two things from before I was Orthodox that were always kind of perplexing to me. One was Holy Saturday, because we would celebrate in the Western church, we would remember the crucifixion of Christ. We would do the three hour service from 12-3 o’clock, and then at night there was nothing to do so we did a made up service called Stations of the Cross. And then it was kind of like “Jesus is gone, He’s in the tomb, and nothing happens liturgically.” It was kind of like a blank time, an empty time, and it wasn’t until it penetrated into my consciousness what I always believed – that Jesus’ resurrection began when He descended into Hell that Friday evening and raised up Adam and Eve and all the dead. That He was very busy, He was very busy, He was liberating the captives from all the ages.

And the second thing that was perplexing to me was this forty days between the Lord’s resurrection and His ascension. Yes, I knew, I knew that the Lord appeared to His disciples at times. I was told that He appeared to prove to them that He was risen from the dead, and I understood as well that He accorded to them some teachings. But you see there’s a kind of prejudice in the Western religion, that if it’s not written down in the Bible, you suspect that maybe it might be just not quite as valuable as the information that’s written on that page. What I now understand is that what’s written down in the Bible is what the Church wants us to read at church. It was the memoirs, as we’re told by Justin the Martyr, memoirs of the apostles written down so that we would have our own Christian Torah to read at the Divine Liturgy in place of the Jewish law. But that there was a whole lot more that the Lord spoke to them during the 40 days, and that what He told them during the forty days was everything they needed to go out and set up the Orthodox church throughout the world. It was everything they needed to be able to worship God the right way, and everything they needed to believe the right things. That is why we say the apostles preaching and the fathers’ doctrine have established one faith for the universe.

When the Lord had taught them, then He went up to heaven and He was parted from them physically and they were in a perhaps semi-quandary, but they knew what they were supposed to do. So immediately they began to replace the twelfth apostle who had hanged himself, Judas. And they began to prepare themselves so when the Spirit came on them as the Lord had said He would they would be fortified to engage immediately in the ministry to which they were called. And on that fiftieth day the HS came down and awoke in them an understanding of all the words Jesus had spoken to them during those forty days and all the words He had spoken to them before that time.

Now, why forty days and then nine days and then the fiftieth day the HS came down? Well because God was showing us a contrast between the old and the new covenant. In the old covenant Israel passed from Egypt to Mount Sinai and on the tenth day, they arrived at the mountain. Moses ascended the mountain, and on the mountain, Moses, who climbed up on top of the mountain to talk to God remained, for forty days and on the fiftieth day the Law of the old covenant was given. But for us, Christ remained on earth speaking gracious words for forty days. Then, having gone up to heaven our true law giver, He sent His spirit down to us to write the law, not on tablets of stone but on our hearts, so that every man needs no one to say to him “Know the Lord your God;” every woman needs no one to say “Let me tell you about God.” For we all know Him, we know Him as our own, we know Him in our hearts. So God prepared for His people a body on earth whose Head is in heaven. Had He not ascended into heaven, then it would have been physically impossible for the Church to extend from east to west, from north to south, and o be the body of Christ. For the head must be above the body, Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Father has made us His hands and His feet, His eyes and His ears, on earth. The organs of His body

Today we celebrate the fathers of the First Council. What did the Church do when the persecutions had at long last ended? Well, the Church sought to make certain that only the truth was being preached. There were some people, some people who thought that Christianity was a business; who thought the Gospel was a product they were selling. Some people who judged the importance of their religion by how many converts they could make. And these people wanted to, as it were, tweak the gospel.

Everybody who thought about anything at all, believed this: That in the beginning there was one monad, one single being, one impersonal blob of divine substance, and that that glob of substance exploded, kind of like the Big Bang, huh? And it became emanations, and then it became first another, and then several, and then from the several, several more, and from the several more, even more. In other words, that there had to have been only one singular being, not even personal, at the beginning. And since everybody believed this, Arius, this priest in Alexandria, thought, “Well, if we could just allow people who want to to believe that, we could make a lot more people Christians and we could have a bigger church, and probably bigger collections too.” So Arius went around saying, “There was a time when God the Son did not exist.” He didn’t tell us what time that was in his opinion, he didn’t care. It wasn’t a doctrine, it was an anti doctrine. It was the idea that there could not have always been eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is what the church believes, but it didn’t make sense to the minds of those who were steeped in this Platonic idea of emanations. And so Arius said “Come on guys, let me just let people believe this if they want to, and then, it won’t hurt anything.”

So the Church gathered, she gathered her children together from England to India, from Rhine River to the deserts of Africa. And they gathered in the city of Nicea across the way from the new city of Constantinople. And they each stood up, each bishop who had been made a bishop by a bishop, who had been made a bishop by other bishops, who had been made a bishop by other bishops, back to the Apostles who had consecrated the first bishops and given them their teachings, the teachings given them. And they stood up and they each recited “What do we believe in our church?” And they found that from India to Ireland, everyone believed that there was eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So they created for us a synthetic creed called the Symbol of Faith from the creeds of the many churches. “We believe” they said, not “I believe in this document,” because it was the witness of the whole church. “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages.” In other words, eternally begotten of the Father. “and in the Holy Spirit.” So they set down this formula that you will sing during the liturgy today, and they gave it to us. The formula that Jesus had taught the apostles during those forty days. And they regularized the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, and they stabilized the practice of the Holy Mysteries, and they went back to their churches. And they did this by the power of God’s spirit, who recalled to their minds 280 some years after the Lord’s ascension all the words He had taught them, the power that is given. So today we celebrate the Holy Fathers, and we prepare next week when the church will be all green for Life. We will celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thank God today that our Lord remained with us, we thank Him for teaching us, and we thank Him for His body which is in the world, and for His mind which by the Holy Spirit drives directs and enlightens His body. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ forever. Christ has ascended! In Glory!

No comments: