Homily 3

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

As the western traditions celebrate Easter today, I should like to remind each of us here that Christ’s Church, the Holy Orthodox Church, is still early in Her Lenten journey. This journey is for each one of us ultimately a return from exile. We are reminded of this in the Lenten Psalm, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” Brothers and sisters, if we do not realize the Paradise and indeed Heaven from which we have been exiled, we will have no sense whatsoever of the meaning of our Christian journey: a journey that is perfectly expressed in this Great Fast. Yet if we do have even the slightest perception of the cosmos and the heavens before the Fall, surely we would weep for our return! Yet so too we would rejoice in the Incarnation and the gift of Christ’s Church, which provides nothing less than everything necessary for our safe return from exile.

In our too often egocentric world-view, we tend to think of the creation narrative of Genesis as the story of man, of Adam. Perhaps we forget that the first four chapters of the entirety of Scripture are about the creation of the heavens and the earth, not of Adam. And the Hebrew word for creation is not stagnant, but rather looks forward such that the offspring of this creation is what ultimately gives it meaning and purpose. We thus see that Genesis 1-4 is about the birth of the heavens and earth, of which Adam, or man, is merely the product or fruit. We humans are just one element then of this totality. In fact, we must acknowledge the priority of the earth’s creation, along with the other living creatures, in God’s plan. We must recall that God’s entire creation is brought into oneness through His breath of life, so much so that we hear in the first chapter of Genesis, verse 31, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” So too, we see that the first four chapters of Scripture speak of a great preparation for the creation of man, a leading figure therein, in Genesis 5. We thus learn in these early narratives that man is dependent on earth as one of its creatures, with earth being not just his origin, but his sustenance and life. Moreover, just as the value of man lies in his offspring, the value of earth ultimately relies on the fruit of man. Thus, when man in his transgression brought spiritual and physical death upon himself, he in turn brought the same corruption upon the whole of the cosmos and a curse upon earth.

In keeping with our series, let us now look further at the visible creation before the Fall as revealed by God to St. Symeon the New Theologian. St. Symeon reminds us that God not only gave Paradise to our ancestors, nor did He only make Paradise incorruptible. Rather, the same is true for the whole earth and everything in it. Symeon proclaims, “the whole world had been brought into being by God as one thing, as a kind of paradise, at once incorruptible yet material and perceptible.” Before the Fall, Symeon describes a creation that did not “bear perishable fruits and…sprout thorns and thistles.” Likewise, he tells us that every variety of fruit was given to man; fruit that did not spoil, but remained fresh and full of sweetness and indescribable pleasure. Here, Symeon affirms that, “it was fitting that man’s incorruptible bodies be supplied with incorruptible food.” Similarly, St. John Chrysostom observes that the animals also “came to complete subjection to (man) as to a master and accepted the names (given them), while (man) had no fear of these wild beasts.” Of note, the animals did not even eat one another at creation, but rather the plants given them by God. Though this is hard to imagine to those of us in exile, who know only a world in the corrupted state, we must be ever reminded that “the earth, created, adorned, blessed by God, did not have any deficiencies.” Through the Fall of man, the earth has, in the words of St. Barsanuphius, rather become a place of banishment, of exile.

Lest we despair, let us remember that the cosmos still bear visible fragments or reminders of the incorrupt state. Just as God’s fingerprint never leaves man, so too, God is still present in this corrupt world. Recall that man was created in God’s image and for His likeness. Being in God’s image, we are His kin, with similarities such as free will, reason and moral responsibility. Properly understood, being in His likeness means we can become like God, by moral choice, through virtue. Thus, as man was incorrupt at his creation, he was not created in his final or perfected state. The same is true for the created matter. And as the visible creation was made for man, it was through man that the creation was to reach its final perfected condition. Can you imagine, brothers and sisters, that man having both body and soul, was thus the link between the incorrupt material world and the spiritual world of the angels! In the words of St. Maximus the Confessor, man was called, “to unite, through love, created nature with Uncreated Nature (God).” Yet we gave this indescribable gift away at the Fall. We are indeed in exile in a world that is intuitively strange to us.

Yet it is fitting today that we celebrate the Feast Days of St. Innocent and St. Gregory Palamas. Though many people came to this country in a state of exile from their native lands, St. Innocent together with St. Herman, credited with great missionary work in Alaska, have brought the Faith to this country that none need live in exile from Christ’s Church, which ultimately defines who we are before where we came from. And in St. Gregory Palamas, we are taught that we can indeed again know God through Christ. Gregory Palamas reminds us that though we cannot know the essence of God, we can know God and indeed experience God by His grace or energies. As we discussed in a previous sermon, this deifying grace is again given to man through the Incarnation and a life lived in Christ’s Church. In the Sacraments, we experience God Himself that we may become like Him. It is for nothing less that God became man. As God took on the flesh, He not only opens the door to man being deified, but also makes possible again that the whole of matter can become deified through man, with, as we learned last week on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the holy icons as the firstfruits of this deification.

Though we are in exile, hope has been restored and our purpose made possible again in our Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of Blessed Seraphim Rose, “Exiled from Paradise, we must become exiles from the (current corrupt) world if we hope to return. This we may do by spending these days in fasting, prayer, separation from the world, attendance at the services of the Church, in tears of repentance in preparation for the joyful Feast that is to end this time of exile.”

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

 

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