Sunday, July 6, 2008: 3rd SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. Today's commemorated feasts and saints: Ven. Sisoës the Great (429). Ven. Sisoës, Schema-monk, of the Kiev Caves (Far Caves—13th c.). Uncovering of the Relics of Holy Princess Juliana Ol'shánskaya (16th c.). Martyrs Marinus and Martha, and their child
In his own homily, rather than dealing with these words directly, John follows the example of Jesus Who teaches about those "things which are more within the reach of our senses." Where a moment ago, "He had spoken of the mind as enslaved and brought into captivity," now he speaks about "things outward . . . lying before men's eyes, that by these the others also might reach their understanding." So, for example, "just as when the eyes are blinded, most of the energy of the other members is gone, their light being quenched; so also when the mind is depraved, your life will be filled with countless evils . . . . For as he that destroys the fountain, dries up also the river, so he who has quenched the understanding has confounded all his doings in this life. Wherefore He says, 'If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is the darkness?' For when . . . the general is taken prisoner what sort of hope will there be, . . . , for those that are under command?"
The old gods have been driven out of our awareness. But this exorcism was not performed in the Name of Jesus Christ but by in our own name. We no longer believe in the old gods not because we are Christians who trust in Christ, but because we have an almost childlike confidence in our own scientific knowledge. It is easy for us to forget, if we ever even knew, that the various "masters" to whom Jesus refers were in the ancient world all associated with the old gods that we no longer acknowledge. Mammon (money), biological life, food, drink, all had their own gods who were responsible for them. And so Jesus referring back to the many masters that compete for human attention He says that "after all these things the Gentiles seek."
The counsel being offered by Jesus is not a hostility to the body or the legitimate needs of the body. Nor is He condemning wealth as such. Think for example there is the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-15) who was praised for knowing how to use money. In that parable, where by the way Jesus reminds us we cannot serve two masters (v. 13 ). And it is here that we get a sense of what we are being told about our relationship with not only money but the good things of creation. Jesus tells us:
Creation is, in its own way, a sacrament of God's love for us. To borrow from St Isaac the Syrian, "In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised." What else does the Incarnation tell us, but that creation is taken up, "swallowed up" in Isaac's phrase, by the unbounded love of God?
For the Gentiles of Jesus time, if they had any relationship with the material world at all, it was either exploitation or terror. Absent from their relationship was any sense of love and mercy. In the ancient world, one sacrifices to the gods not out of love, but in the hope of bending the gods to human will. And so we are told we cannot serve "two masters." To do so invariable we lead to "hate the one and love the other, or else . . . be loyal to the one and despise the other." And how can it be otherwise? Apart from the heart that knows creation as a divine gift "swallowed up in the great mystery" of divine love and mercy, the material world—for all its delights—is a journey to death that travels along the path of decay and disappointment. It is only the echo of the biblical witness that keeps alive for many in our culture any warm feelings for the material world. But if creation is not a gift what else is it but that which binds and limits me? What else is it but a source of frustration and disappointment?
We can now return to the initial verses of the this morning's Gospel: 'The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Generally in the fathers the word we translate as "mind," nous, is literally the "eye of the heart." For simplicity we probably would do better to translate nous as "heart." But not heart in the emotional sense, but the biblical sense—the center of the human person and out of which all of our thoughts, feelings and actions arise.
So, returning to the Gospel, the darkness that Jesus refers to is to a darkened heart, a heart that does not trust in God or the gift of His creation. If my heart is dark, if there is nothing of the divine light in my heart, how deep is that darkness. But if your heart is filled with light, then (like the saints), you will shine with divine light. Jesus is setting up a contrast between a heart darkened by sin, on the one hand, and of a heart filled with divine light on the other. This really is the common human struggle, between a heart filled with light and a heart not simply shrouded in darkness, but that has become all darkness. And it is in terms of this struggle, one that we can recognize in ourselves, that we read the rest of the Gospel.
To rise out of the darkness we need to avoid two extremes. We must, on the one hand, not worship the creation as if it were our god. This is the sin of the Gentiles St Paul says in Romans (1.18-25):
If I am to trust God, if I am have faith and confidence in Him and stand in right relationship to Him and the creation, I need to have not only a sense of thankfulness to God for all that He has given me but also a sense of my own place in that creation. Finding the right balance in this is a lifelong task since as I change and grow that balance will necessarily change with me. I think though the right tone is expressed in the Akathist "Glory to God for All Things."
Composed by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a Nazis prison camp in 1940 it is a meditation on the words of St John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. Taking its title from Chrysostom's meditation it is a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings. It is also an extended praise of God for the mercy and love He pours out on us in creation.
The Akthaist begins and ends with these words:
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