Humans Were Created for Christ

St Nicholas Cabasilas  says that we humans were created by God with our unique set of characteristics precisely that we might know Christ. Adam was created with Christ already “in mind”  –  God didn’t send Christ into the world in response to a broken Adam, rather God created Adam in Christ’s image so that Christ could become incarnate as a human.   The human was designed to be capable of bearing God.   God knew where He was going with these creatures created in God’s image – with mind, desire, reason and memory.  God the Trinity was planning for the incarnation of God the Son from before the humans were ever first created.  Adam was not the model for Christ, but rather Christ was the Archetype which made the particular human characteristics necessary so that God could be incarnate as a human.  God knew what was needed in a creature for the incarnation to take place, and God created us accordingly to prepare us and the world for the incarnation.

“It was for the new man that human nature was created at the beginning, and for him mind and desire were prepared. Our reason we have received in order that we may know Christ, our desire in order that we might hasten to Him. We have memory in order that we may carry Him in us, since He Himself is the Archetype for those who are created. It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old, even though it is said that the new Adam was generated according to the likeness of the old (Rom 8:3) because of the corruption which the old Adam initiated.

The latter Adam inherited it in order that He might abolish the infirmity of our nature by means of the remedies which He brings and, as Paul says, so ‘that which is mortal might be swallowed up by life‘ (2 Cor. 5:4).”   (The Life in Christ, p 190)

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The Risen Christ: A Drop of the Ocean

Christ is risen, chosen people! The earth cannot harm Him, nor can the tomb restrain Him. Let your souls arise, you who are filled with the grace of Christ! Let the image of God within you shine, cleansed of earth and saved from mortal decay! Rejoice and be glad, for your Messiah, the One and Only, has conquered death, that terror of all those born on earth!

The miraculous resurrection of Christ the Lord from the tomb was completely in accord with His miraculous appearance in the world. It corresponded to His extraordinary birth from the most pure Virgin, His almighty works on earth, His heavenly wisdom and mercy, His superhuman patience and dignity in suffering injustice and torture, and His divine forgiveness of His executioners from the cross. Everything is in accord. Everything resembles and corresponds to each other. Just as you can know the nature of a whole sea from one drop of sea water, you can know the entire character of Christ from one incident of His life. His entire character represents one continuous miracle, organically consisting of innumerable miracles. He is your all-powerful Messiah, O Christ-bearers, who blessed you from the cross, from the tomb, and out of the tomb.

(St  Nikolai Velimirovich, The Faith of the Chosen People, pp.45-46)

Resurrection Not Mere Immortality

St. Paul, furthermore, is not concerned with the specifically Greek dichotomy between the soul and the body.  Faithful to the realism of Jewish thought, he always thinks of man as a whole: for him, the body does not imply so much the materiality of human life as opposed to its spirituality, as it does the organic unity of that life, indissolubly material and spiritual.

This is why eternal life, salvation made perfect, is for him in no way a deliverance from the body, but the resurrection of the body.  Is not man’s body called to become a member of Christ, a temple of the Spirit?”

(Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, p. 79)

The Light in the Tunnel

The Lenten Sunday Gospel lessons from St. Mark (Mark 2:1-12, 8:34-9:1, 9:17-31, 10:32-45) help shape our understanding of what it is to be a disciple of Christ.  But also experience them as moving through an ever narrowing tunnel.

Each week of Great Lent, our way of life, our beliefs and perspectives are challenged by our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we can properly understand how to follow Him.  Discipleship and discipline are completely interrelated.  Asceticism (i.e., self-denial, self-renunciation, self-control, self-emptying) is the necessary activity of the disciple.  If we are ever going to do the will of the Master, we have to know how to say no to our self, no to our self will.  Each week of Great Lent we are drawn deeper into that ever narrowing tunnel of self-denial.  And as Mark has it, that tunnel gets darker as we go deeper into it.  It gets darker because “the world” as Mark portrays it increasingly rejects Christ and pushes Him toward the crucifixion.  It gets darker because slowly even his family and followers and then even His disciples  abandon Him, betray Him, deny Him and flee from Him.

But also and always, there is a speck of light at the end of the tunnel – and there is an end to the tunnel!  We are drawn toward the Light, who is Christ.  Throughout Lent, we like the catechumens of ancient times continue to move toward Christ.  In fact this is our entire spiritual life even when not in Lent.  But to get to the Light, as we realize liturgically in the Church, we must pass through this painful and most narrow passage – the Gospel.  We end up on our hands and knees in the tomb of Christ.

There is no other way for us on this spiritual sojourn if we are to follow Christ because this is the way He walked, and then was carried.  We all must pass through that narrow and dark passage of the tomb of Christ.  We liturgically and literally in our parish pass into the narrowness of the entrance into the Tomb of Christ.  All of Great Lent and all of Holy Week lead to the darkness of the night – Christ asleep in the tomb, Christ in Hades.   We hope that God will arise and judge the earth.

Then in the middle of the night, in the midst of the darkness, the Light appears, the unfading, everlasting and gladsome Light which overcomes the night.  Christ the Light, risen from the Dead!  We have passed through the cross, through the tomb, through death, through Hades, into the never ending light of God’s Kingdom.  And the tombs which stink of death suddenly become the fount of life, the source of the resurrection, the font of baptism, the means of new birth, of regeneration, of access to God, to the Kingdom, to eternal life.

The tomb of Christ, his death and his burial, all become for every one of us passage into new life.  We enter through this narrow passage way in our own baptism, where we die with Christ and are buried with Him, and then are raised with Him to a new and unending life.  And each Pascha we are reminded of this journey, of our spiritual sojourn through the darkness of this world, through the cross and tomb into the joyful light of God’s Kingdom.  Our walk into the darkness of midnight is a reminder that we are but sojourners on earth, passing through on our way to the Kingdom of God.  And the night does pass away, and the darkness fades before the Light of Pascha and the New Day, the 8th Day, the Lord’s Day.  So too this world and our life on this earth will also pass away, and only that which God establishes will continue on forever.  So we live not for this world but in this world.  We live for the Kingdom of God which stands forever and which is not overcome by the darkness.

We are not blind to the fact that the world in which we live has not changed.  Life seems to go on as if there is no God and no resurrection.  The world is still awash in violence, disease, warfare, sin, lust, greed, disbelief and death.

It is we who believe who have been changed – for we now have light and hope and joy, despite whatever darkness there is in the world.  We by our faith are to be a light to the world.  We don’t shrink before the darkness and its threats, but rather we shine with the Light of Christ rather than curse the darkness.

Let us arise at the rising of the sun and bring to the Master a hymn instead of myrrh, and we shall see Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, who causes life to dawn for all.

Opening Our Eyes to See Christ

Excerpts from Luke 24:13-35 (emphases not in the original text):

4446232309_8850e4887f_nThat very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  . . .   

[One can only wonder why they couldn’t recognize Jesus if they had in fact spent the past 3 years as His disciples, following Him around daily, it would seem they should be able to recognize Him.  Some might think that perhaps God had blinded them for some reason . . . but I would purpose it differently and say that what Luke presents to us is that they cannot see Him with their physical eyes because they are in the presence of the incarnate and resurrected God.  No one sees God with their physical eyes – even in the Liturgy we say God is ineffable, inconceivable and invisible.  God isn’t blinding them but they cannot see what is invisible and ineffable!   Our physical eyes are incapable of seeing God.   They are not recognizing God, that is their problem.  There is nothing wrong with their eyes or their optics, but they need to see with their heart if they are going to see God in Christ.]

Moreover, some women … were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”   

[The empty tomb, the message of the angels, the testimony of the myrrhbearing women, none of these things convince the disciples.  There is evidence which they can see but it still does not help their understanding.  The eyes are not the problem – but using eyes alone is the problem for they need to see with the eyes of their heart.]

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

[Their eyes are closed from recognizing Jesus, and their hearts/minds are also closed to the meaning of the Scriptures!  Jesus opens their eyes and their hearts (or the eyes of their hearts) so that they can see/read/understand the Scriptures and with the eyes of their heart see Christ.  Their physical eyes are of minimal value – God after all is invisible and the words of the scriptural text must be properly interpreted for their meaning to be comprehended.]

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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[What happens to these two disciples of Christ brings to mind what happens in Numbers 24 with the Prophet Balaam when he proclaims:

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes uncovered…”   (Numbers 24:3-4)

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes uncovered: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab, and break down all the sons of Sheth.   (Numbers 24:15-17)

[Like Balaam, the disciples needed to have faith – to have the ability to see with the eyes of their hearts.   Their eyes have to be “uncovered” – the veil has to be lifted, but this is an issue of faith not optics.   What happens to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that they too have their eyes uncovered and they see the vision of the Almighty – they see Jesus as God, and in that instant he vanishes from their eyes, because He can only be apprehended with their hearts.]

But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  (2 Corinthians 3:14-18)

[To lift the veil, to have one’s eyes uncovered, one needs to purify one’s heart as we sing in the Paschal hymn:

Let us purify our senses and we shall see Christ, shining in the unapproachable light of the Resurrection, and  we shall clearly hear Him say, “Rejoice!” As we sing the song of victory!

We can read the Gospel lesson of the doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31) with these same “eyes”. ]

10181883175_d8d0e73f7fThen, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

[The disciples see the wounds on Jesus, but they see the Lord.  They have moved beyond physical optics and now see Christ with the eyes of their hearts for this is the only way to see God.]

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

[To me it is not completely clear what Thomas refuses to believe – does He not believe the Lord is risen or is he only saying that he doesn’t believe his brother disciples?  He wants to see for himself or he cannot believe their report.  Perhaps the issue is he cannot understand why would Jesus appear to the other 10 disciples at a moment when he (Thomas) was not with them?  Was Christ singling him out for some reason?]

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

[Thomas’ reaction goes far beyond what his eyes can see – he claims to be seeing God.  He too now sees with the eyes of his heart – he has come to faith in Christ.  He doesn’t see ‘Jesus alone’, rather He sees Jesus as one of the Trinity.]

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

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What is written in the Gospel is not so that we might “see Jesus” but that we might believe Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, the incarnate God.  The entire Gospel is aimed at our hearts, so that we might see God.

On Death and Resurrection in Christ

“Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.

Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.

Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.

Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us … ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper. Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.

Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man.

He assumed the worse that He might give us the better.

He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich.

He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom.

He came down that we might be lifted up.

He was tempted that through Him we might conquer.

He was dishonored that He might glorify us.

He died that He might save us.

He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin.

Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us.

We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live.

We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed.

We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him.

We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him.

A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation!

(St. Gregory the Theologian, Easter Orations, from The Orthodox Faith Doctrine & Scriptures Vol. 1 by Fr. Thomas Hopko)

St. Thomas: Keeping in Touch with Christ

We find the same line of thought in Thomas’ having to touch the risen Christ before he can believe (chap. 20.27). Indeed Jesus says to him afterwards: ‘Because thou hast seen me and thou hast believed; blessed are they which have not seen and yet have believed.’ In these words here at the end of the gospel reference is made, as has already been said, to those who no longer have the opportunity of seeing, and the readers of the Gospel are in this situation. These are then addressed directly two verses later and indeed specifically with reference to their faith: that ye might believe. The Thomas story, therefore, holds, as it were, the key to the Johannine understanding of the whole life of Jesus. But Thomas the apostle himself must see, he must touch. The last words of the risen Christ are not necessarily words of reprimand only, since the other apostles too, mentioned in v. 5.19 ff, had to see Jesus’ hands and side. Besides, Thomas did in fact attain to true faith, he makes the best confession of faith the fourth evangelist knows: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (v. 28).

Here too, however, seeing alone is not sufficient to enable one to come to this faith. The eyewitnesses had to see, but for them also something else had to be added to the seeing.

The Thomas story, chapter 20.24ff may again be mentioned here. Although, as we have asserted, the actual seeing appears there as a necessity for the apostle living in the lifetime of Jesus, the other idea plays an equally important part, the idea that believing, which must be added to seeing, is more important than seeing. That seeing in the flesh alone is in itself of little account is also expressed in the words in chapter 9.39: ‘For judgement I am come into the world, that they which see not might see, and they which see might be made blind.’ To see is here used in its double sense.

(Oscar Cullmann, Early Christian Worship, p. 42-43, 45)

Even Death is a Freedom

Bright Friday: Even Death is a Freedom

Christ’s resurrection as a “wonder” would have pointed to a new religion; resurrection as a sign points to a new mode of existence. It is this mode that the ecclesial social event wishes to realize. Death is the most burdensome and unbearably irrational existential limitation of human nature. And in his historical existence Christ assumes this irrationality, he dies, in order to signify that even death may be experienced as freedom of relationship with the Father, that is, as life without limitation.

He assumes human nature “unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), one of the most horrific forms of execution. And he does it so that this most horrific death should become a savific sign.

(Christos Yannaras, Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, pp. 32-33)

Resurrection to Glory

Bright Thursday

The author of 1 Enoch, for instance, speaks of a future resurrection of the spirits of the righteous. Others believed in a resurrection of the untransfigured body, and still others looked forward to the transformation of the body. They all moved beyond the Old Testament view of a shadowy existence in Sheol, which cannot be described as “life,” and expected much more after death than the teaching about Sheol would allow.

Physical death was not considered by all of them to be an important factor in their concept of resurrection. According to the Wisdom of Solomon, which was written probably by a Hellenistic Jew in the first century B.C., the souls of the righteous do not really die–they are in the hand of God, and only in the “eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died” (3:1-2). The death of the righteous is conceived as of their ascent to the presence of God, who “tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tired them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them” (3:5-6). The unrighteous, the ungodly, go to their punishment.

There is a variety of views among the ancient rabbis with regard to the final destiny of human beings. Their teachings on this subject cannot be reduced to one unified, common teaching. Nevertheless, all their views differed significantly from what the apostles saw and experienced after the resurrection of Jesus. As Joachim Jeremias writes: “Nowhere in Jewish literature do we find a resurrection to glory as an event of history. Rather resurrection to glory–always and without exception means the dawn of God’s creation. Therefore the disciples must have experienced the appearances of the Risen Lord as an eschatological event, as a drawing of a turning point of the world.”

(Veselin Kesich, The First Day of the New Creation, pp. 34-35)