The Samaritan Woman: Coming to Faith and Ending Religion

So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”  Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him. Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:5-42)

Fr. Alexander Men referring to the end of the Gospel lesson when the Samaritans come out to see Jesus writes that today we are all like these Samaritans in how we come to faith in Christ:

Samaritans surrounded the Jewish traveller, not caring that He was from a hostile nation, and led Him to their village; we do not know what happened then, but the most important thing in this story is the result. After listening to Him, they said to the woman: “Now we see the truth; no longer because of what you said, but because we have seen for ourselves.

So now all of us are in the same position: at first we believe in the words written in the Scriptures and in other books, then we believe in what other people tell us. But the happiest moment in our spiritual lives is when we come to know the mystery of God, the mystery of the Lord Jesus, as revealed in our hearts, no longer through the words of others but through our own instincts and our own profound experience. We, like the Samaritans, guess at what is true and ponder on it. But He is near us, He reveals His word to us. Only we must also be ready to hear Him – like that simple woman of Samaria, like everyone who has ears to hear and hears. Amen. (Awake to Life!, p. 78)

Fr Alexander Schmemann comments on the Gospel lesson and how it shows that Christ was declaring an end to religion not creating a new one for Christ is calling us to life itself:

Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear. “‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’” (Jn. 4:19-21, 23). She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity present as a cult or as a religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. (For the Life of the World, pp. 19-20)

In Christ and Christ in Us

Commenting on the words of St Paul the Apostle, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”   (1 Corinthians 2:9), St Symeon the New Theologian writes:

Image 1These… eternal good things… which God has prepared for those who love Him, are not protected by heights, nor enclosed in some secret place… They are right in front of you, before your very eyes… [they] are the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which we see every day, and eat, and drink…” (ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE,  Vol 3, p 112)

What God has prepared for those who love Him, He does not hide but rather freely gives to His servants in a form that we can receive.  Not only does God not hide what He has prepared, but He enters into our lives, into our selves, into our bodies, into our hearts so that we can experience it and be both enlivened and enlightened by it!

The Eucharist is the presence of that same body born of Mary and now, through the Resurrection, entirely ‘spiritualized,’ i.e., moved and quickened by the Holy Spirit.  The New Testament accounts of Christ’s Resurrection tell, after all, of a change, not of a simple resuscitation (1 Cor 15:42-54, John 20:11-19, Luke 24:13-31).”  (Alexander Golitizin, ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE,  Vol 3, p 115)

Christ enters into us to reveal Himself to us.  It is a revelation which St Symeon says Christ made to him when He said these words to the saint:

“I am the kingdom of God that is hidden in your midst… though by nature I cannot be contained, yet even here below I am contained in you by grace; though I am invisible I become visible… I am the leaven the soul receives… [I am] He who takes the place of the visible Paradise and becomes a spiritual paradise for My servants… I am the sun Who rises in them every hour as in the morning and am seen by the intellect, just as I in times past manifested Myself in the prophets…” (ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE,  Vol 3, pp 110-111)

The same Son of God who revealed Himself to the prophets, now reveals Himself to us in the Eucharist as well as in the Eucharistic assembly, namely the Body of Christ.

The Incarnation and the Resurrection

Through His Resurrection, Christ put an end to death, changing it into a necessary passage to immortality. Seen in this perspective, death frees us from the demands and conditions of the fall. Death, the fruit of corruption and “corruptibility,” allows us to move beyond time, which in turn abolishes the corruptibility of death. There is one condition, however: that this movement be an entrance into the Kingdom already present in this world. This is what allows Death to open onto eternity.

According to St. Irenaeus of Lyons:

This is why God cast [Adam] out of Paradise and sent him far from the tree of life; not because He kept this tree of life form him out of jealousy, as some have dared to maintain, but He acted out of compassion, so that man might not remain in sin forever, so that the sin which weighed him down might not be immortal, so that evil might not be without end and thus without remedy. He kept him from his transgression, therefore, by introducing death…giving him an end through the dissolution of the flesh which would take place in the earth so that man, having “died to sin” [Rom 6:2], might be “alive to God” (Adv. Haer., III, 23, 6).

Through His Incarnation, the Logos of creation penetrated matter, His own work. The Infinite became incarnate and subject to space; the Eternal entered time. By coming into the world Christ transformed time and space, effecting a revolution with profound consequences. As God-Man He did not merely assume the corporeal limitations of our condition, He surpassed them. Destined to die by virtue of His Incarnation, whereby He entered into time and space, the crucified Christ bears the suffering and death of every person throughout time and space. Through His Ascension and Resurrection, He leads us beyond the cycle of time, to the never-setting sun.”

(Michael Quenot, The Resurrection and the Icon, p. 210)

Melitio of Sardis: Homily on the Pascha

For, himself led as a lamb

and slain as a sheep,

he ransomed us from the world’s service

as from the land of Egypt,

and freed us from the devil’s slavery

as from the hand of Pharaoh;

and he marked our souls with his own Spirit

and the members of our body with his own blood.

It is he that clouded death with shame

and stood the devil in grief

as Moses did Pharoah.

It is he that struck down crime

and made injustice childless

as Moses did Egypt.

It is he that delivered us from slavery to liberty,

from darkness to light,

from death to life,

from tyranny to eternal royalty…

It is he that was enfleshed in a virgin,

that was hanged on a tree,

that was buried in the earth,

that was raised from the dead,

that taken up to the heights of the heavens.

He is the lamb being slain;

he is the lamb speechless;

he is the one born from Mary the lovely ewe-lamb;

he is the one “taken from the flock” (cf. Ex. 12:5; 1 Sam. 17: 34),

and dragged “to slaughter” (cf. Isa. 53:7),

and sacrificed “at evening” (cf. Ex. 12:6),

and buried “at night” (cf. Ex. 12:8, 10),

who on the tree was “not broken” (cf. Ex. 12:10),

in the earth was not dissolved,

arose from the dead,

and raised up man from the grave below.

(Melito of Sardis, Homily on the Pascha, from Paul M. Blowers’s The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity, pp. 98-99)

Mothers Day and Myrrhbearing Women

Gospel: Mark 15:43-16:8

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.

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Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Christ is risen!

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Today in our Church we honor the Myrrhbearing Women who bravely went to the tomb of Christ to anoint His corpse.  Mark in his Gospel even gives us  their names: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, so we aren’t honoring “anonymous”, nameless women, but people well known to the Apostles, and who are all glorified as saints in our church.  They are named as the Women Disciples of the Lord.

3799994108_f25fae7a83_nAdditionally today, we have in America, Mother’s Day, and we are honoring our mothers, who gave birth to us and nurtured us in life.  One of the three Myrrhbearing Women Disciples of the Lord is also listed as Mother – her name happens also to be Mary.  We give thanks to you our mothers for all the beautiful things you have done for us, including giving us life.  Our mothers share in one of God’s own characteristics – being life-giving – in a way that we males cannot, so it is appropriate for us to recognize the godliness of women and to honor our mothers.

There is another woman disciple of the Lord that we know and she too happens to be named Mary, it is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha – she too is counted as one of the myrrhbearing women of the Gospels.  In John’s Gospel (11:1-2) we learn about this family:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

And we can read about Mary’s anointing of Jesus in Mark 14:3-10 –

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” And they reproached her.

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But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.

Jesus considered what Mary did for Him – anointing His body in preparation for His burial – to be a beautiful thing.  I’m sure Jesus would also have seen the Myrrhbearing Women coming to the tomb to anoint His corpse as a beautiful thing.  Especially considering that His male disciples were cowering behind locked doors afraid that they might be identified as His disciples if they showed their faces in public.

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When we look into the Scriptures we will see that the concept of “beauty” is related to many other ideas including that which is lovely, fair, desirable to the eyes, comely, befitting, pleasant, graceful, true, delightful, handsome, and godly.  Beauty is also connected to glory, splendor, being faithful, and loving.  That list in itself is joyous to think about.

In Scripture beauty comes from God, and beauty reveals God to us.  Beauty is joyful, wonderful, startling and glorious.  Beauty is something to be valued for its own sake.  We don’t value beauty because it makes us rich, rather it is prized simply because it is beautiful even when it gives profit to no one.  Beauty is noble, eternal and godly.

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The Myrrhbearing Women as they went to the tomb to do this beautiful act, knew nothing about the resurrection.  They only knew their Lord had been killed and that the authorities were threatening to harm anyone who followed Jesus.  So they represent to us courage, nobility, faith, hope and love even in the face of the threat of death.

We honor them for these virtues.  We all should be so virtuous and noble and courageous as these Women Disciples of the Lord.  In the face of death they don’t seek revenge or bring retaliation, they seek only that which is beautiful.

And we should consider whether we value such beauty in our lives.  Do we strive for this beauty that is related to courage, truth, love, nobility and virtue?

We might ask ourselves who are we more like from the Gospel lesson of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany.  Judas who was most concerned about money?  or Mary who is concerned about beauty, purity of heart and virtue?  Which are we striving for in our lives?  What do we really seek with our mind and strength?

Do we even bother to seek out this godly beauty in our lives, and do those beautiful things which benefit others but bring no benefit to ourselves?  or are we always thinking about what benefits me?   Do we teach our children the value of godly beauty or is our only concern that they grow up and be prosperous, powerful and successful?

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If we are to be disciples of Christ like these Women disciples who we honor as saints, then we need to have serious discussions within our families and with each other about virtue, beauty, truth, purity and all of these characteristics of God.

Too often instead we place power, wealth, success, pride, and fame as our highest ideals.  We crave being praised.  Too often in the modern world we want to debate the roles of power and authority in the life of the church.  But Christ taught us that such arguments belong to the non-believers (Luke 22:25-26).  For us the discussion is not who is the greatest, but how can we serve one another and serve the Lord?

Jesus taught us to wash one another’s feet, and these Women Disciples of the Lord are going to the tomb to wash the body of Jesus.  The men disciples who debated as to which of them was the greatest are all cowardly hiding at this moment.  So which of these people – the women or the men – show themselves to be true disciples of Christ?

Christ’s Women Disciples witness to us about self-sacrifice, altruism, service, truth, nobility, charity, purity, courage and beauty.

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The Myrrhbearng Women reveal to us the more perfect, healthy, spiritual and beautiful way.  God created beauty and set eternity in our hearts.   As the Psalmist sings:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD…   (Psalms 27:4)

Those Women Disciples of the Lord remind me about a hospital for children which I once read about.  The hospital didn’t see the children just as patients but also as healers of themselves and others.  The children were not viewed as victims needing professional help, but as people capable of healing others.  The hospital’s motto:  “If you can help somebody else, you are not disabled.

In the Church we are not merely the walking wounded or the spiritually sick, we are able to show concern and care for others – we are not disabled.   We are here to serve, no matter what our condition or what we feel about ourselves or of how much we need to repent.  You are not disabled because you are able to help somebody else.  We are here to be as courageous as the women disciples of the Lord and serve those who are in need.

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Which brings me back to the fact that while all of us are called to serve one another , diakonia – to be deacons, we are especially remembering today our mothers who often are a great example of self-sacrificing service to others.  Mothers not only sacrifice their lives and time for their children and husbands, but they also have special opportunity for being evangelists in their families.  In that way they are certainly Women Disciples of the Lord.  For it is the Myrrhbearing Women who tell the Disciples about the resurrection.  And often it is our mothers who who pray for us their children.  There is a saying in the Church that the prayers of mothers is the foundation of households.  May God bless all of your our mothers with courage, faith, hope and love.  May we all follow the example of the Women Disciples of the Lord.

The Myrrhbearing Women Seeking the Lord

There are some, Dearly Beloved, who seem to be seeking the Lord, but since they are slothful, and strangers to virtue, they do not deserve to find Him; nor, when found, to see Him. What however were these holy women seeking at the tomb, if not the Body of the Lord Jesus? And you, what is it you are seeking in the Church if not Jesus, that is, the Savior? But if you wish to find Him, the sun being now risen, then come as these women came; that is, let there be no darkness of evil in your hearts; for the desires of the flesh, and works that are evil, are darkness. They in whose hearts there is darkness of this kind see not like light, and understand not Christ; for Christ is the Light.

Therefore, drive the darkness from you, brethren; that is, all sinful desires, and all evil works, and provide yourselves with sweet spices, that is earnest prayer, saying with the psalmist: Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in thy sight (Ps. cxl. 2).

(St Ambrose, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, p. 218)

The Presence and the Present of the Resurrection

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”  (John 11:21-27)

“Martha placed the resurrection at the last day; she changed it into a matter of the most distant future, and without immediate interest.  So she thought that Lazarus had been forever lost from her sight, but the Lord directed Martha’s thoughts to the present, and especially to His own presence.  In the person of the Lord Martha had the whole amazing fact of the resurrection and life.  Therefore, her confidence in the dogma of the future resurrection had to be replaced with confidence in Christ, who was even then present.  The meaning of the revelation which He made to Martha is as follows:  Do not dream of an unending age of silence, lethargy, isolation, inserted between the present and the last day, but learn that through me the resurrection is transferred from the future to the present; through me, life continues.  Beyond the tomb there is no lethargy, silence darkness, or unconsciousness, but life in me.  The resurrection and the life is stored up, like a treasure, in me.   . . . So now to Martha,  who was longing for her brother, whom death had snatched away, and whose resurrection she imagined to be in the unfathomable depths of the ages, He answers: “I am the resurrection.”  In Christ the resurrection exists both potentially and actually, and in Him we find everything which the deepest needs of our existence require in this life, and in the life after death.

I am the life.” I am the fountain of life.  In spite of the fact that Lazarus died and his body had already begun to decay inside the tomb – in spite of that – he was living, because his soul had been joined to the Fountain of life, to Christ; by faith and love, he had already been resurrected to new life; he had become a partaker of undying life.  It follows that the resurrection and the life of Lazarus as with everyone who believes in Christ, is the present one in Christ.  Through birth, parents transmit life to their children, but life which is temporary, corruptible, and sinful.  “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” the Lord said to Nicodemus (John 3:6).  But the life which Christ transmits to those who have been born again through Him, is another.  He transmits the life which is similar to His, not corruptible and sinful, but foreign to sin, immune to death, and thus eternal.  “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).  It follows that he who has Christ in his heart, possesses the true life; he possesses it now, a present possession and not a future gift.”

(Archimandrite Seraphim Papakostas, FOR THE HOURS OF PAIN, pp 95-97)

Our Prayers to the Crucified Christ

Sometimes we find in our lives a need to cry out with Jesus in desperation: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) and then we know with Jesus that despite human appearances, God is with us, even in tragedy, suffering and death.

At other times, meaning in tragedy can only be found in saying with Jesus: “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)  and then we trust God that His forgiveness, mercy and love will somehow and miraculously make right and whole that which had been destroyed or at least that God will forgive us for our willingness to destroy the Good.

Still there are other times when we come to understand the suffering and evil have no power over Jesus Christ our Lord, nor do they have ultimate power over any of us who are united in Christ.  We may suffer, but we realize the suffering is only in this world and is temporary for Christ has overcome the world.

We have been on a long spiritual sojourn together have followed God into the desert of Great Lent, and walked with Christ into Jerusalem to the cross.   We who have been baptized into Christ began a walk with Christ, that began right at the tomb of Christ.   We died with Christ in baptism – we came to his tomb, as St. Paul says:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  (Romans 6:3-5)

Baptism brings us to the tomb of Christ, where we die with Him in order to be raised with Him.   It is no accident that we are here, but is God’s own plan for us.  And we are here by our own choice – by accepting Christ’s call to discipleship.  And all of us who have chosen to follow Christ have received His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.   And what are we told about the Eucharist?

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:25-26)

Every time we drink the cup of Christ’s Blood, we proclaim His death, we end up at the tomb of Christ which also happens to be the fountain of the resurrection.   Christ’s own death is a significant part of our salvation.  We need to proclaim His death, we need to be at His tomb, to remind ourselves that our union with God comes in and through the death of God’s only-begotten son, Jesus Christ.

Our long Lenten pilgrimage has brought us to the tomb of Christ.  And here we remember all that Christ has done for us, and how He was willing to suffer for us and die for us.  But the tomb is not meant to be a shrine that we stay at and adore.

Because at the tomb of Christ we also hear the angel tell us, what?

He is not here!  He is risen! (Matthew 28:6)

The death of Christ which we personally experience in baptism and proclaim at every Eucharist and which is essential to our salvation, is still not our destination – if we want to be with Christ He is not at His tomb.  For we know now that Christ is sending us out into the world to live the resurrection and to share this good news with everyone we might meet.  The tomb of Christ it turns out is another sign of the Kingdom of Heaven, just like all the miracles Christ performed.  The tomb of Christ is telling us to continue our spiritual sojourn, to go out and live in the world, but live in the light of the resurrection.

Bright Saturday (2019)

Bright Saturday

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

St. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

“‘Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness, and there the blessed Paul partook of supernatural nourishment. When he tasted there of the tree of life, he cried out, saying “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” Adam was barred from this tree through the devil’s counsel. The tree of life is the love of God from which Adam fell away…When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread…The heavenly bread is Christ, Who came down from Heaven and gave life to the world..Therefore the man who lives in love reaps life from God, and while yet in this world, he even now breathes the air of the resurrection; in this air the righteous will delight in the resurrection.

The torment of gehenna, in Isaac’s vision, is constituted by a human person’s inability to participate in the love of God. This does not mean that sinners in gehenna are deprived of the love of God. On the contrary, this love is given to everyone equally, both to the righteous and to sinners. But for the former it becomes a source of delight and blessedness in paradise; for the latter it is a source of torment:

I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways. It torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend. But it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”

(Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, p. 279-280)