Homily 5

Salvation – East and West: Homily 5, June 30, 2013

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

Yesterday we venerated the Holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. I should thus like to remind each of us that these men knew full well that salvation in Christ Jesus means far more than the promise of some far off Heaven or even the rescue from some far off hell. Rather, they affirmed the reality that their Savior proclaimed: The Kingdom Heaven is now and in turn so too can our own personal hell be now if we do not respond to the deepest cry of our heart to truly rest in God – a cry that remains even after the Fall of Adam. These men spoke of nothing less than the process of deification or theosis. The process by which, through Christ, we may become by Grace what God is by nature. St. Paul reminds us in his second letter to the Corinthians that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Likewise, St. Peter in his second Epistle declares that we are to become nothing less than “partakers of the Divine nature.”

Do these ideas sound foreign to you or perhaps even heretical? This may be the case, even for those of us who come week after week to worship in Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. While our Church teaches the fullness of Truth on this and all matters, our minds have too often been molded by the prevailing innovations of western theology. Such innovations have not only reduced salvation to a Heaven or hell of the afterlife, but often over emphasize or even solely emphasize an atonement theology as a means of attaining this limited view of salvation – the notion that Christ merely died on the Cross to erase the sins of those who profess Him as Savior. While it is certainly true that Christ died as a Sacrificial Lamb to blot out our sins, it is indeed an inadequate explanation of His plan for our salvation. I would pose this question to such theorists: If Christ came for the sole purpose of washing away our sin, why did He promise that His Father would send us the Holy Spirit? Our Creed proclaims the Holy Spirit “together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.” Yet I would suggest that some modern traditions have weakened the role of the Holy Spirit or at the very least have lost a clear understanding of what that role is.

One week ago we celebrated Pentecost and today we rejoice in the lives of all of Christ’s Holy Saints. How fitting it is then to examine the vital link between the Holy Spirit and Sainthood. Perhaps we need simply look to the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, whose Holy Icon is beautifully depicted above us, as he teaches that the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is THE aim of the Christian life! Indeed he professed the same Creed that you and I do, proclaiming the Holy Spirit to be “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” If this is true, and of course it is, what is the “Life” that the Spirit gives? It is nothing less than the Christian life of which St. Paul declares in his Epistle to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

In keeping with our series on the instruction of St. Symeon the New Theologian, we fittingly turn to the Saint’s 15th Hymn: “We become members of Christ—and Christ becomes our members, 
Christ becomes my hand, Christ, my foot, of my miserable self,
and I, wretched one, am Christ’s hand, Christ’s foot!
 I move my hand, and my hand is the whole Christ
since, do not forget it, God is indivisible in His divinity;
I move my foot, and behold it shines like That one!
 Do not say that I blaspheme, but welcome such things,
and adore Christ who makes you such!
 Since, if you so wish you will become a member of Him,
and similarly all our members individually
will become members of Christ and Christ our members,
and all which is dishonourable in us He will make honourable
by adorning it with His divine beauty and His divine glory,
and living with God at the same time, we shall become gods,
no longer seeing the shamefulness of our body at all,
but made completely like Christ in our whole body,
each member of our body will be the whole Christ;
because, becoming many members, He remains unique and indivisible,
and each part is He, the whole Christ.”

The Holy Orthodox Church rightly teaches more than just atonement theology. She teaches a theology of restoration and transformation to that which man was created before the Fall. She teaches, as Her Head, Christ Himself, taught…that we can experience this blessed state now, not just hoping for it at a time when this life passes. Brothers and sisters, we have a choice as to how much we let God transform us. Here I should like to turn to the words of St. Basil the Great who illustrates the choice so well when speaking on the categories of those who are saved: “…the slaves who follow the will of God in order to avoid hell, the wage-earners who struggle to earn Paradise as a reward, and the sons who obey God’s will out of love for God.” Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos translates this to say, “throughout our life we must advance spiritually and pass from the state of the slave to the state of the wage-earner and from there to the mentality of the son. This means to pass from fear and recompense to love. To love Christ, because He is our father, our mother, our friend, our brother, our bridegroom and our bride. This way we transcend the judgment.” As the son, we inherit the fullness of the gift of salvation, indeed becoming partakers of the Divine nature – even now!

I challenge each of us today to ask ourselves honestly if we wish to be a slave, a wage-earner or a son of the Living God? Our Lord has given us in His Church the tools to reach the spiritual heights to which our soul aspires. No matter where we are today in this continuum, God loves us and wants even more for us…that we would experience the profound freedom that comes from loving Him in return and acting at every moment out of nothing less than that love. We must never forget that as the Psalmist proclaims, Christ will not deny the humble and contrite heart that which it earnestly desires.

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

 

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