Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ON THE GRACE OF GOD

"How shall we escape," asks the Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews, "if we neglect so great salvation...?"  For according to the Holy Fathers of the Church, salvation consists not merely in God's formal, legal pardon of our sins, that we might "go to heaven" when we die.  It is, rather, that we might become (according to the words of St. Peter) "partakers of the divine nature," transformed by divine grace into His sons and daughters.  As the Holy Fathers affirm, God became man, that we sinful ones might become gods by grace.

But what, precisely, is this grace by which we hope to be transformed?  It is not, contrary to the teachings of the Latins, something God creates and adds onto our human nature. It is, as St. Gregory of Palamas expounds, the uncreated energy of God, His Holy Spirit imparted to the heart that has been purified and delivered from every worldly attachment and thereby rendered worthy of true and eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom.

By grace, the eternal and living God is closer to the human soul than the very air we breathe.  Like red hot iron that has been plunged into a fire, the all-consuming fire of God's love draws us into a communion so deep that it is no longer possible to distinguish that boundary that separates the merely human from the divine.  

Because, as St. John the Theologian assures us, God is love, the fire of divine grace enkindles in the heart a love so intense that it utterly consumes every egotistic, self-centered thought and desire that lurks in our fallen human nature.  And so it is that we cease to exist as individuals intent on fulfilling our self-centered wills, striving above all else to fulfill God's will for our life.

This is, to be sure, a lofty goal--which most of us are far short of achieving.  But if the goal we set for ourselves were to be anything less than this, it would hardly be worth striving for.  The glory and honor God holds in store for those who love Him and fulfill His commandments in this earthly life can clearly be attained by no other means than a total and unconditional dedication of our lives to Jesus Christ--the Lord, God, and Savior of the human race. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

COME AND SEE

In today's Gospel, Jesus find Philip and says to him, "Follow me."  Then "Philip findeth Nathanael and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.  And Nathanael said unto him, can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?  Philip sayeth unto him, Come and see."  Indeed, the theme of light and darkness is interwoven throughout the Gospels and Epistles.  Christ--Who declares Himself to be the Light of the World--opens the eyes of the blind and enlightens all who desire to cast off the darkness and ignorance of their former lives. In like manner, the Holy Apostle Paul is temporarily blinded by the light of Christ's revelation on the road to Damascus.  It was only after he had received through Ananias the gift of the Holy Spirit that immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales.

The relative sight or blindness of our material eyes, of course, is not the issue.  What we need to fear above all is the blindness of our spiritual perception, the darkening of the eye of the soul--the nous--the blinds us to the vision of God and consigns us, in the end, to that place of outer darkness... where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Such blindness is the result of our sinful pride and willful ignorance.

It is by faith alone that we can, by the grace of God, be delivered from the bondage and darkness of the sinful passions, that we might, through heartfelt repentance, be made worthy to behold the ineffable and eternal Glory of God made manifest through the incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  For truly God is light, in Whom there is neither darkness nor the shadow of turning.  It is by faith alone that the vision of truth is granted to the believer--and this faith is never blind.  It is, rather, acquired through the acquisition of the knowledge of God, which is the key that opens unto us the gates of Paradise. 

Today we celebrate the joyous Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy--which is, precisely, the restoration of the holy icons that came to pass after the bleak and barren winter of the heretical doctrine of iconoclasm--a heresy that is still alive and well in our present day among the heterodox.  By their rejection of the sacred image as an essential component of divine worship, however, the heretics deny the foundational principle of our Faith: the incarnation of Christ as the Godman, Who has taken upon Himself the fullness of our humanity that we might become gods by grace.  And so it is evident that the veneration of icons is not only lawful, but indeed it is vital to the preservation of that Faith which has established the universe.

For those whose spiritual eyes have been opened, the icon is revealed as a window to heaven--a revelation of that eternal and unchanging spiritual realm that exists above and beyond the transitory world of time and space we perceive through our physical senses.  Like every aspect of the divine worship of the Orthodox Church, they impart to us the vision of a world transfigured and glorified by the grace of God, a reality that far transcends the boundaries of our material existence, that we might become partakers of the divine nature and communicants of life eternal.