St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Delivered at the 150 anniversary of the Paulists at the Paulist Center in Boston

Sermon given by Fr. Antony Hughes on April 8, 2008

PHILIPPIANS 4:4-9

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The great prophet, mystic and healer St. Seraphim of Sarov always greeted people in one of two ways, either with the traditional Paschal Greeting, "Christ is Risen" in season or out, or by the gentle words, "My joy!"  Orthodox Pascha is near, only three short weeks away, so I will express my emotion at your hospitality on this great occasion by addressing you from the bottom of my heart as "My joy!"  I sense much here in harmony with my own heart.

In these verses from St. Paul's Letter to the Church Philippi we catch a glimpse of a man wholly emersed in the process of theosis.  Here is the mystical Paul who was once caught up into the third heaven now encouraging the Philippians and us to follow him there.  "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you."  Here are the things he hopes they have noticed.

Rejoice always, let the spirit of gentleness be manifest to all, replace all anxiety with prayer and deep faith so that the peace of God itself becomes the guardian of the heart and mind. Finally he ends with this:  

 8...brethren, (I)whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

What he expresses here is what the Orthodox call "the love of beauty", which is the title of the classic of Orthodox mystical practice, "Philokalia."  It is the spirit of Dostoevsky's famous statement that "beauty will save the world."  The contemplation of beauty produces beauty.  It is what the Desert Father proclaimed in his transfigured wisdom, "to the pure all things are pure!"  It is, quite simply, the truth hidden in all things.

We are called to constant remembrance of the truth expressed in the Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit that God is "everywhere present and filling all things." This truth is the source of unending joy.  St. Paul's words do not simply confirm the old adage, "what we think we become" although that is true.  This is also not only a call to positive thinking as helpful a practice as that is. It is a call to purification, a call to revelation, a call to see things as they are, not as we want them to be, think them to be, or believe them to be.  It is an exhortation to transcend the words and concepts that make up belief and ascend the mountain of ascesis towards faith that words and concepts cannot hope to express.  In the Paschal Canon of St. John of Damascus we hear these words, "let us purify our senses that we may behold his radiance."

In the midst of the world of woe is the yeast of joy, the seed of beauty, the Divine Life filling all things and linking them together.  We are called to radical repentance, the shifting of our own consciousness God-ward, to the holy temple within and refrain from the sinful practice of projecting our own egoistic dreariness on the world and its inhabitants.

"If the light in you is darkness, then how great is that darkness!"  But Paul's message is that there is light within us!  The darkness is an illusion.  Christ has come!  He has restored the image.  He brings light to all!  We proclaim in the Orthodox Presanctified Liturgy ascribed to St. Gregory Dialogist, Pope of Rome, "The Light of Christ illumines all!"

Allow me to quote St. Maximus the Confessor:  If, as St. Paul says, Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, and all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in him, then all treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in our heart."

What but joy can accompany so great a mystery?