Saturday, August 15, 2009

June 7, 2009

When God began to create the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, when the Father had called into thought all the splendid orders of the eternal things and bodiless powers, when He had conceived the ranks of archangels and angels and had as well imagined and drafted on the slate of His divine mind all of the stars and the planets and the creatures who would walk upon the face of the earth and who would swim in the waters and fly above the earth, then power was given to the Son to call forth from nothingness into being all those things that the mind of God the Father had conceived and by the word of the Son, “Let there be light,” creation began. And at the same time, the spirit of God hovered, or as the Hebrew implies, brooded like a mother hen over her eggs, upon the face of the deep. It's called the Spirit of God. It's also called rhua elohim, the might wind, the breath of God. So we see from the very first seen, from the beginning of creation, the divine trinity which always existed outside of time and matter, which is timeless, acting in time to bring into being out of nothingness all things which were to be called by God, “very good.” And when God had created the eons of creation, the sixth day God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Thus God spoke in the plural. And He created man to walk upright.

The image of God is not to be understood as that males somehow imitate God by their appearance, but that the image of God is this: that we have a mind capable of holding thought, of self consciousness, of memory, of calculation, of planning. We have the body capable of carrying into being and sustaining the thoughts of the mind. And we have the spirit which resides in the noos, the noetic eye of the body, which we call the spiritual heart, which is illumined by the presence of the life of God dwelling in it. So, we human beings possess within ourselves a tiny icon of the divine trinity. But when human beings sinned, when they fell from grace, then they began to extinguish the flame of the spirit, to not live in the body by the soul, according to the spirit, but to live in the body by the soul, according to the flesh. So human beings were drawn down. Of the earth, earthy. They became owned by the passions which had been meant to give them joy, and they made idols of the senses which God had placed within them. And humans became no longer the perfect image of God, but humans became flesh, body, and soul. And thus it was that God said, having declared to Adam, “On that day in which you eat of that fruit, you will surely die. To the earth shall you return from which you were taken, for dust you are and unto dust shall you return.”

But God had not, as St. Basil eloquently reminds us in his liturgy, abandoned us to the end. But God sought to fan into flames, little by little, that spiritual light which illumined the heart of Adam and Eve when they were created. So God began to speak to human beings. He spoke to Abraham in the form of three angels. He came to Abraham and that text indicates that the one God was three persons, and that Abraham saw the eternal divine as if it were three men, for the text says again and again, “And God said to Abraham... and Abraham said to the men,” and “And the angels said to Abraham... and Abraham said to God.” So these three visitors represent the three persons of the divine trinity, and thus it is that as we look at the icon that represents the trinity, that's in our altar, we see the Father adorned in the gold of the divine monarchy, and the Son adorned in the red of human flesh covered over with the blue of divinity with which he clothed, and the holy spirit clothed in green, the color of life, to show us that the Father offers the Son blessings, and the Spirit imparts grace.

The obvious then, God spoke to Moses and gave Moses a special gift of spiritual power. Not that the Holy Spirit entered into and abode in Moses permanently, or the Moses received the grace which we received at chrismation. But God made in Moses' heart a comfortable dwelling place for his spirit, so that very often God spoke to Moses and Moses possessed the great wisdom that is called the gift of prophecy. And we heard last night that when Moses got to be old and he couldn't handle every job and ever issue himself, that God took part of that spirit from Moses – not that the Holy Spirit is quantifiable, or that it has to be less here to be more there, but that that special gift of the Spirit was diminished in Moses, and it was given to the seventy elders, even the two, the two who neglected their call, who did not go out to the tent but remained in the camp, received that spirit poured out on them so they began as well to prophesy. And from that time on, at sundry times and in diverse manners, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. The Holy Spirit's gift would come upon them; come upon Elijah and Elisha, upon Nathan, upon Samuel. And the Holy Spirit would lead them to say, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.” And they would iterate the message God had given to His people. And as they uttered it the people would hear it, and sometimes the Spirit would overawe them and the people around would be caught up in the spirit of God. That same Spirit descended upon David, the priest king who was blessed to dance before the Ark of God. But it came and it left, it came and it left. It was a spiritual gift given as a corrective to the path of God's people as they wandered sometimes purposefully and sometimes mindlessly through history till the time that God would appear to them.

We see then that the Spirit sometimes uttered through the prophets messages of hope and joy, and other times threats of doom and punishment. Not that God had anger toward them, but that God's anger was revealed in the laws of nature itself which says that if you break God's law, you are going against the current and people who go against the current are hauled under by the undertow.

When the Israelites had returned from Babylon, having been given the revelation of the valley of dry bones and the knowledge of the resurrection of body, prophecy began gradually to fade away. The Spirit did not come upon men and motivate them to utter with ecstatic utterances the words that God had put in their hearts. But now men began to speak the words of God through apocalyptic writings which proclaimed God's writing through the whole world, and through prophetic writings of wisdom that answered the question, “How ought we to live?” So now it was no longer the Spirit guiding Israel alone, but the Spirit guiding individual Israelites. But there was no one who could say, “Thus says the Lord” for a long time. It got to be that when the Jews had a question they couldn't answer, they would say, “Well, let a prophet come. He'll tell us,” the same way we sometimes say, “When we all get to heaven, we'll know.” They didn't expect another prophet, but they received one.

John the Prophet, and Forerunner, and Baptist of our Lord Jesus Christ, upon whom the Spirit descended with power as he had not descended on anyone, even Moses and Elijah. And John, with mighty words, proclaimed, “Make straight the crooked places. Fill in the valleys. Knock down the mountains. Make a straight way for the Lord and His people. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And as people heard John, we're told by the Evangelist that not just a bunch of people, not five hundred or five thousand, but all of Judea, all of Samaria, all of Galilee came out to hear John and to be baptised by him in the Jordan, to make themselves ready for the coming of the messiah. Even Herod, who despised john's preaching because John condemned him for having married his brother's divorced wife, even Herod could not lay a hand on John for a long time. But he would call him into his chamber and have him stand before his throne and prophesy, and Herod would be moved with the desire to do good things, and he would do some good things, and then would fall back into dissolution, until finally in a drunken outrage he cried out to his young step-daughter-niece, that he would give her half of his kingdom or whatever she asked of him, and she demanded the head of John the baptist.

But before John was arrested by Herod, John was privileged to see the beginning of the new creation, for among those who came to him from Judea and Samaria and Galilee, was Christ Jesus Himself. And John, seeing Him come said, “I am not worthy even to bend down and to remove the shoes from your feet.” And Jesus said, “Suffer it to me now, to fulfill all things.” And John baptised our Lord in the waters of the Jordan. And as he baptised Him, the heavens were opened and he heard a voice accompanied with the descent of a visible dove, crying out, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” As God had prefigured with the dove and the olive branch at the time of Noah's flood, now God in the form of a dove descends upon Christ in the Jordan to bring about the new creation. The Father's voice, the dove descending, the Son, the new creation in the water. And John immediately began to diminish. He had said, “I will grow lesser, but He will grow greater.” For John, who, that day of our Lord's baptism and a few days later had pointed eagerly and said, “There is the Lamb of God. There is He who takes away the sins of the world,” now began to question, to doubt. He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you really the one who is to come? Or is there another?” The Spirit becomes weaker in John because it rests entirely in Christ. The Church's gift of the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ, and Christ goes about proclaiming the gracious work of His Father, doing the will of His Father. And the night before He died, as those of you who were here on Thursday of Great and Holy Week hear every year, Jesus spoke of the Spirit: “I will send a Spirit to come to you. He will lead you into all truth. He will deliver you from all error. He will recall to your mind all my words.” So, the evening of the Lord's resurrection, imparted to His disciples again the spark of the spirit of inspiration and power, when he breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Whosoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven.”

The Spirit, nonetheless, although igniting their hearts did not enlighten their hearts, for Christ remained with them. And for forty days He recalled by His own voice all the words He had told them before, and enlightened them with many new words, instructing them concerning all of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, teaching them how the Church ought to be structured, and how it ought to worship, and how it ought to act. On the fortieth day, our Lord finally went to heaven, taking His body with Him to the right hand of the Father to be seated.

Israel had for ten days after the exodus, traveled to, as I told you last week, Mt. Sinai and then for forty days prayed at the foot of the mountain, and also committed sin while Moses was up on the mountain waiting for the Law. Jesus for forty days comes down from the mountain, and stands with his disciples and teaches them, and then departs and for ten days, the church awaits the Spirit. And lo, today, the Spirit is poured out, not poured out at sundry times and in diverse manners, not poured out measure for measure, bit by bit, token by token, prophecy by prophecy, message by message; but poured out like running water into the hearts of all the souls that embrace the faith of Christ. Poured out like precious oil into the lamp that is the noos, and the flame is struck, and the human heart again bursts back into flames, and God comes to dwell within His people.

And so, this feast of Pentecost is not.... You know there are people who see Easter as the feast when Jesus did the trick of rising from the dead, and Pentecost as the day He did the trick of sending down the tongues of fire. No, that's not it at all. Jesus rose from the dead to raise mankind, and He poured out His Spirit to deify mankind. So today we become one with God. God entered into creation now brings us into Himself. His Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enlightens us. We can quench the spirit, we can drown it, we can smother it; we can allow all the logosmoi, the thoughts that pass through our broken minds, to crowd it out like so much ….. or we can scrape away the crud. We can clean the wick of our soul. We can fan back to a flame that fire. And we can allow Christ to dwell in us fervently so that with all hope, and with all faith, and with all joy, we are able to say, “We with Him have overcome the world.” Today, brothers and sisters, is the day in which we obtained our place at the right hand of the Father. On Pascha we received resurrection from the dead. Today we receive enthronement with Christ, in heavenly places, to whom be glory and dominion, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Glory Forever!

No comments: