GLORY TO THE KNOWN GOD
Sermon for the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
Today’s Sunday, the first Sunday of Great Lent, is dedicated to the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We have just served the moleben of the Triumph of Orthodoxy and read the Gospel. It told us a story about a master who left his ninety-nine sheep and went seeking for one that went astray. It is not by chance that we read this Gospel today. The Holy Fathers and the Holy Spirit chose it.
Today I would like to take pity on pagans and justify them a little. Before the coming of Christ, people wandered in different directions seeking God. But I want to excuse them a little, and I want to explain why they acted this way.
Since creation, people have had a yearning for God. Regardless of whether someone is born to an atheistic or non-Orthodox family, somewhere deep inside, on the genetic level, we have this longing for God. A person may be raised in a non-Orthodox environment, but somewhere in his or her conscience, there is a small prompting voice.
Why did poor pagans always create idols for themselves? Because they had this thirst for God, but they could not discover the Unfathomable God, Who was unknown to them. Now, in Christian times, the Holy Fathers can fathom God in His Divine darkness through the Holy Spirit. In other words, to perceive His shapelessness in the format of this world. God, His essence, is not limited by the format of this world. The Holy Fathers, when they practiced noetic prayer, passed beyond form and were granted vision of the essence. They experienced the Unfathomable and shapeless God very definitely. These people however were unique. People such as Holy Father Seraphim of Sarov were one in a million, or perhaps, in a billion. One in a century or two in a century. These people entered the Divine darkness and perceived the shapeless and limitless God. What does our vision work with? It works with shape. God however cannot be limited by anything, as He is Perfect. Any limitation will deprive Him of perfection.
These poor pagans had the yearning but did not have the vision. This is why they formed idols as best they could, according to their carnal and earthly understanding. Nevertheless, their thirst made them do something. For this reason, today, on the Day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, I do not have any hatred, disdain, or disrespect towards them. Only pity arises in me. Poor pagans, they could not fathom God the way Christians can in the Holy Spirit. Rare Christians can perceive the shapeless God through the Holy Spirit. Because we are not all rare, the Lord condescends and takes shape for our sake.
He is present in the form of an icon, and lives with us through this icon, filling it with His Grace. The Lord fills His True Cross with His Grace. This happens not only with a tangible hand-made Cross, but also in the sign of the Cross we make on ourselves. The Lord enters the shape and sign of His Cross with His Grace and works wonders.
God enters the blessing of a priest, which bears the form of IC XC – Jesus Christ – and fills this act with His Grace, His Divinity. This is why when a priest blesses someone, God touches the person through this blessing.
God enters the calling of His Name mysteriously. Christ Himself says, “In My name they will cast out demons.” Not by simply calling upon ‘Me’, but ‘My Name’. God in His Grace enters His Name in the mystery of the Jesus Prayer. We call “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” into our heart. If we do this sincerely, with pure heart and mind, Christ Himself enters our heart.
God enters the shape of bread and wine and makes them His Body and Blood, which we literally receive inside of us. This is not imaginary, and it is not symbolic, this is Christ Himself. If we believe otherwise, we should not receive Holy Communion as this is not a game; this is very serious and significant. We come to the Sacrament of Holy Communion and take the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.
Here however, a question arises. After partaking of Holy Communion, why do some people gain something, while the others remain empty? Saint Symeon the New Theologian said one precise phrase. It is precise for those who comprehend it. He said, “God is Fire, Who seeks matter.” To make fire burn, one needs matter that will kindle and ignite. This matter is our spiritual state of sincerity and seeking after God. If we have it, the Lord touches this matter, kindles it, and it comes to life. I mean spiritual fire, not physiological. Those who have no such spiritual matter have nothing to ignite.
Many religions have a notion of god. There are monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. God exists for them, but He is shrouded somewhere beyond the world. He is believed to exist, but He cannot enter into personal relationship with people in any form or shape. On the contrary, in Christianity, before Christians are enlightened by contemplation through which they can see the invisible and unfathomable God, Christians like every one of us, except Holy Father Seraphim, who could experience God without a shape, the Lord condescends and comes to us through the forms and shape of this world, to be tangible and perceivable. Have I wracked your brain? Glory to God!
Saint Paul the Apostle was very pleasantly surprised when he found an altar in the Areopagus of Athens dedicated to the Unknown God. The pagans realized somewhere deep inside of them that He existed, and they installed this altar among their hand-made idols. At the Saint Sergius-Holy Trinity Lavra, above the entrance to the Dormition Cathedral we read the inscription, “To the Known God.” Christians already know God. He ceases to be unknown, unfathomable, beyond-the-world, transcendent and blurred. God becomes Known, perceivable, tangible, and real for Christians. God Is Who He Is. “I Am.” This is how He identifies Himself.
Blessed Feast to everyone! You have come a week closer to Pascha. I congratulate you. May the Lord save you.
Glory to Thee, our God! Glory to Thee, our God! Glory to Thee, our God!