St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

You Are the Light of the World

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 17, 2011

Matthew 5:14-19 (Holy Fathers)

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

We, the Lord says, are the Light of the world just as He is the Light of the World. What can this mean?

It means that what He is, we are. The One who made us has made us like Himself. “You are the light of the world,” does not mean from this moment you will be light which is something you were not before. It means that you are and always have been the light of the world and how very tragic it is when that light cannot be seen.

It seems as though the Light that is us is hidden somewhere. Jesus tells us that we should not hide our light under a bushel, but that we should put it where it belongs, on a lampstand, so that the whole world can see it. What happens when the light that is in us is released?

St. Paul says in Romans that the whole of creation groans in travail awaiting for the children of God to be revealed. When the light that is in us is revealed the suffering of creation ends.

Remember last week when we saw the Lord's astonishment at the faith of the Centurion? I commented that Jesus saw himself in the man as if looking into a mirror. The Lord's Light attracted the man. The Centurion's light astonished the Lord. This is the light that resides in every one made in God's image. There, as sorrow and humility revealed that love had come to reign in his heart, the Centurion and the Lord struck a mystic relationship that had begun even before they met.

The Sufi poet tells us how in a beautiful line, “God knows only four words, 'Come dance with me.'” At that moment, the Lord and the Centurion began to dance. The Uncreated Light and the created light began to shine together and more than one miracle occurred. The servant was healed at that very hour and the groaning travail of the earth, for a moment, ceased. A child of God had been revealed.

Union with God is the only way to set free the light that is in us. We must allow ourselves the luxury of falling in love with God.

The Psalmist says, speaking of the desire of God for us and us for God, it is “the deep calling out to the Deep.” We can also say, it is the light reaching out for the Light.

The secret is in the heart. This is why the Great Mystic of the Church, St. Paul, speaks of the relationship between the Lord and the church as that between a husband and wife and of the heavenly kingdom as a bridal chamber. There is simply no other reasonable way to see this.

God wants to be known as our Lover. Our hearts are little bridal chambers.

There is resistance to the idea of God as the Lover of the soul. The first version of my article on Ancestral Sin quoted a canon based on the Song of Songs which said something like, “How long, O Lord, will you send us prophets, when what we long for are the kisses of your mouth.” The Protestant editor wrote back quickly and said, “We cannot print that!”

But there is also resistance in our hearts because we fear the absolute surrender of ourselves that true love demands. Love has no desire to hold back nor to control. Fear would have us do both.

When I counsel young people who are in troubling relationships (and which of them are not?), I tell them that there are two signs of an unhealthy relationship. They are: the desire to control and the fear of loss. When either of those is present, something is wrong, there is some selfish motive there that is seeking to undermine any love that exists. That is the definition of attachment. Attachment is so deceptive because it often looks exactly like what we think love should be.  But it isn't because it is selfish.  Selfishness corrupts a little at a time only revealing itself when it is too late.

The kind of love God offers is healthy, eternal. Unselfish, and pure. God demands nothing and wants nothing more than that we freely love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength just the way He loves us. But his love does not seek to control us, nor is it a consequence of fear. The love that is God's brings perfect freedom. He has freely chosen to love us and given us the power to freely love Him...if we want. The truth is, however, that we are not truly free until we are free of everything but God.

We are not free unless we choose to love God. Turning from God and giving our hearts to anything else propels us into the despair of attachment, the desire to control and the fear of loss since everything but God is temporal, always changing, and potentially unfaithful. Only God's love sets us free from the suffering of attachment. Only God's love is eternal, unchanging, and always true.

Archimandrite Ephraim, abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery, recently pointed out the central truth that “modern man, who has made a great progress in technological and economic development, has failed to find an inner peace. That is the presence of Christ in our hearts.” We must open the door of our hearts and welcome Him in. When we do and all our resistance drops, the heart becomes a bridal chamber, a place of love that passes all earthly kinds of love.

We must prepare ourselves to answer when, after laying aside all earthly cares and all our idolatrous resistance, we hear God say to us, “Please dance with Me.” In this dance with the Divine Light our own light expands and becomes one with Him. We enter, as Bishop Seraphim says, the Gate of Wonder. The union of lights becomes a beacon and the world stops its groaning as sons and daughters of God, souls married to Most High are revealed. As we dance together, stars are born and suns ignited, the creation becomes One in a grand celebration of Love and Light.

We discover another central truth: that the Uncreated Light of God and the created light that resides in our heart is of the very same spectrum. They are, in reality, One. This is a wondrous thing indeed!

“You are the light of the world,” does not mean from this moment you will be light which is something you were not before. It means that you are and always have been the light of the world and how very tragic it is when that light is hidden.