St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Forefeast of the Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross

Sermon by Fr. Antony Hughes from Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Reading is from John 3:16-21

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!   

Of all the verses in the New Testament this one from the third chapter of St. John's Gospel distills the divine message best into two little sentences.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Thomas Merton explains it this way:  "As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a burning knot f heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ in the Gospel concentrates the rays of God's light and fire to appoint that sets fire to the spirit of man.  Through the glass of  His Incarnation He concentrates the rays of His divine Truth and Love upon us so that we feel the burn, and all mystical experience is communicated to men through the man Christ."

It is the will of God, writes Saint Paul that "all should be saved."  Why?  Because

God loves all His creation.  How do we know?  Because He sent His only Son to become one with us. In Christ God and humankind are now inextricably united.  If He took flesh at all, He took the flesh of all.  This is the awesome mystery to which we simply must bow our startled minds in reverence.  The Love of God became one with us, with you and me and all that is possible becomes possible through Christ who lives in us.

If we receive Him, if we believe in this divine truth and unite ourselves with it, that is, our hearts and minds and bodies, the power of this ultimate reality makes our life, the very one we live, divine.  "God became man so that man might become God."  

The light does not set fire, however, to hearts that have not been prepared.  This preparation is much more than a sudden moment of inspiration.  Being born again is a process it is not a single moment in time. It demands the hard work of taking out of us all that refuses to burn, the rocks and boulders with which we have walled in our frightened little egos.  The Lord knocks at the door, but He will not break it down.  He stands at the wall and invites us to tear it down.  A moment of "salvation" is when a little light manages to break through. A chink in the wall, perhaps, that little peep hole through which we look to see whether or not anyone is there.  No wall or fortress we can build is perfectly impregnable.  There are weaknesses in each prison we erect for ourselves.  The Lord will find those weaknesses.  No one can keep the light out forever, but some of us would die trying.

The problem is that, as St. John writes, we tend to love darkness more than light.  We hide in the shadows because "our deeds are evil" and we defend ourselves against the coming of the light.  And although that very light has been united with us in Christ we fear it, struggling against it with all our might.  This fear of being discovered makes us slaves.  Out of this fear, which at its base is the fear of death, come all the things that torment us.  It is the cause of our suffering, of the guilt that crushes us, the jealousies that divide us, of our inability to see the Truth that has invaded creation.  It is the reason we can so easily be fooled and distracted from the "one necessary thing."  Fear is what blinds us. It is the source of our familiar ignorance.  George Orwell writes, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."  We are so easily fooled, so easily distracted because we fear the light.  Although it brings warmth, it also burns. 

The secret is that just a little truth can release us from our prisons. The walls are paper thin.  The ego is on the razors edge.  If we can, for a moment, come out from behind those walls we will see how simple liberation is.  The next time you eat an apple or an orange eat it with concentration.  Smell the smells, feel the feelings, chew with awareness and all of a sudden the light begins to shine and you notice, at this moment all there is is me and this piece of fruit. The fantasies of the mind, its wanderings in the dreams of past and future, dissipate and we discover through a simple, unadorned action the secret of life itself.  The apple, the orange participates in the incarnation. Everything does and we do as well.  We begin to eat with joyful awareness and thanksgiving.  Where at that point is fear?  It has receded.  Where is despair?  It has taken a back seat to the joy of being alive.  We live and breathe Christ by participating with awareness in the world He has made and the world He has redeemed.  All it takes is to wake up and see what is real.

Lay aside all worldly cares!  What a wonderful prescription for the spiritual life.  At this moment, at this very moment, there are no worldly cares.  At this moment, within these four walls the light of God is shining on us as through a magnifying glass and everything that is real is in this place.  At this moment think to yourself is anything wrong?  No. Nothing at all.  If we venture outside these walls in our minds, then we have begun to fall asleep and dream and everything becomes "wrong."  Wake up! Prokeimon!  Wisdom!  Let us Attend!  Not only here, but in every step we take, every breath we breathe, every apple we eat, every cup of tea we drink, every conversation we have, every moment of tenderness we share.  And in all of them we find Christ mystically present, if we are awake.