Homily 6

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

I should like to close this series of homilies by expressing my heart-felt gratitude to our Lord, to His Church, to Father Andoni and to each of you. The warmth with which I have been embraced is humbling and indeed a reflection of the love that embodies Nativity of Christ: A love in which I pray we continue to grow together.

Next, I should like to ask these questions: What have we learned, if anything at all, in this series of homilies? What has St. Symeon the New Theologian taught us? Firstly, I can honestly say I have learned much. In composing these homilies and in delivering them, I presented not a word, at least theologically, that is my own. Nor should I have. What I spoke belongs to us, to Nativity of Christ, to Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church, indeed to God Himself. May He have mercy on me if I misrepresented Him in any way! What did I learn? In St. Symeon, I was reminded of the created state – a state in which man’s spontaneity brought him closer to God; a state in which man interacted harmlessly with the animals and ate of fruits that had an incorruptible sweetness; a state from which we fell and in which we are called to return…and indeed can return; a state that harkens, despite our corrupt nature, from the deepest recesses of our hearts…that in the words of St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, oh Lord;” a state from which we have never been completely cut off, but ever wandering from; a state again made possible only in Christ and the Spirit He sent; a state that is truly now and not merely reserved for some far off place that comes only when we depart this earthly life; a state that is attainable through the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to us in prayer and a life lived in the Church and Her Sacraments; a state realized through the process of deification.

Is any of this new? Did St. Symeon the New Theologian, teaching in the 11th century, teach us anything new? By NO means! Yes, he was blessed with a revelation of the first created world, but it was a revelation that was rooted and affirmed in Sacred Scripture and in the Tradition of Christ’s Church. What St. Symeon taught was nothing less than a reminder of all that was taught, in one form or another, in the Holy Fathers of the Church, whose Feast we celebrate today. These great men defined the Faith and it’s boundaries. All that St. Symeon taught can be found in the teaching of these Holy men, from the totality of meaning of the Incarnation, that “God became man so that we might become god,” to the redemption of the material world in the theology of the latest council in defense of the Holy Icons. These are indeed lofty theological concepts, yet we are called to participate in them. A regional Priest reminded me recently that it is as equally sinful and prideful to say we can understand everything, as it is to say we can’t understand anything at all! This brings to mind what we learned about God’s essence and His energy. As Fr. Andoni so eloquently puts it, can we know God in His essence? No. Can we participate in His energy? By all means…indeed we are commanded to do so!

How do we put it all together? While we may know that to which we are called, at least on a cerebral or mental level, how do we know if we are doing it? First off, we should not judge our spiritual progress lest we fall into delusion. The enemy would like nothing more than for us to think we are progressing nicely…he knows it is then that we lose sight of our own sin and sit in the judgment seat of God, by condemning the sin of our brother. Fr. Andoni has reminded us often why we must take time for confession rather than simply bringing a list and expecting absolution. His interest is not in a magical formula or prayer, but rather in guidance as a spiritual father. It is only in this honest humility with ourselves and our spiritual father that any real progress can be made. Progress that we don’t measure, but that rather finds us if our intention to know God is pure.

Assuming then that we are pure in our motives, how do we rest in the promises of God? In response to the reality affirmed in St. Seraphim’s teaching that the aim of the Christian life is nothing less than the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, a parishioner recently asked me, “How do we know if we are living in the Spirit?” A profound question indeed…one coming from a person who is clearly serious about the Faith! In answering this question, we need only turn to Sacred Scripture, which instructs that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruits are open to all. They come through grace. They come through humility, through repentance, through prayer, through a Sacramental life in the Church.

Let us look closely at ourselves…Do I have an unconquerable goodwill that seeks the highest of the other person? Do I have a joy that is Divine in nature, that flourishes even in the hardest of times? Do I have a state of rest that seeks God alone and is satisfied with nothing less? Do I endure under persecution, even when it is unjust? Are my actions motivated simply by what is best for all people? Am I a virtuous person? Am I faithful to the commitments I have made, especially that which I have made to Christ…to follow Him first and above all else? Am I tranquil and meek? Do I have control of my passions and behavior?

Brothers and sisters, we have the tools. All of them! St. Symeon reminds us that we live in the redeemed world. We can participate in that redemption right now as our hearts are transformed and the fruits of the Spirit shine forth. They are promises and they are guides. Not a one of us here has lived them fully, yet we mustn’t stop trying! Do not despair! We are not perfect, but we are being perfected. This recalls the proper understanding of image and likeness: We are in God’s image, with certain unchangeable qualities. We are made for His likeness, ever being made more like Him. We must trust completely in what is possible ever realizing that our wellbeing is solely dependent on God’s mercy. It is in this humility that only own sins will be ever before us and that the mercy of God will nurture the fruits of the Spirit within us. It is then that we will simply live in the freedom of being a son of the Living God. It is then that the words of St. Seraphim will be actualized, “acquire a Spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” It is then that the love of our Nativity of Christ community will realize our mystical participation in the transformed world…that present with us here is every creature, great and small, past, present and future. It is then that we will experience the words of Blessed Seraphim Rose, “God has called us, not to the modern “heaven” of repose and sleep, but to the full and deifying glory of the sons of God.”

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

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