Triumph of Orthodoxy Sunday
4 March 1990
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Week after week in the period of preparation for Lent, we have been confronted with parables in which our own condition is so clearly, so sharply, so accusingly depicted; and also with stern warnings that there is no middle way between the way of life and the way of death, that we can live on earth in a twilight or unconsciousness, but a moment will come when the full light will shine before us, and when then it will become clear whether we, ourselves, have been children of light or prisoners of darkness.
And the culminating point of this process is the reading of the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete in which both sin and repentance are so powerfully depicted.
But now we enter into a new phase of our preparation for Easter; we enter into Lent which is an old word that means 'spring', the beginning of life; a period when we will no longer be confronted with our twilight or the darkness which still has power over us, but with the light of God, the light that dispels darkness, the light that makes all things to shine and to be light itself according to the word of Christ.
And today we remember the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the day when the Church recognised in its last Ecumenical Council, in the 9th century, that all that was essential to the Christian faith had been proclaimed. And what had been proclaimed was our hope, our absolute, unshakeable hope, because what it proclaimed was that God had become Man; that God had chosen, in an act of love for us, of solidarity with us, however sinful, however fallen, however darkened we were, had chosen to become a man in our midst, taking responsibility – yes, responsibility! – for His act of creation performed without our ascent, and the freedom He gave us that is the a b s o l u t e condition for our being able to love and to chose life rather than death, but at the same time which is the frightening condition of our fall.
And today we have read the Gospel, in which Saint John proclaims, in the words of Nathanael, that Christ is the Son of God, the King of Israel, that Salvation has come, that God is in our midst, that all things are possible if we only, if we o n l y believe.
We have read – or heard – today in the Epistle how before us millions of people have believed in the u n b e l i e v a b l e: that God can love us in such a way, that God can love e a c h of us and all of us with His life and His death, that God can love us however unlovable we feel within ourselves and (?) to others: we are called to believe the u n b e l i e v a b l e to be sure that God has a heart deep and wide enough to contain us; or, if you prefer, that His love is sacrificial... (?) that He not only became a man to share with us all our condition, including the horror of having lost God: My God, My God, why hath Thou forsaken Me? – , but He is prepared day in day out to seek us out, to take us upon His shoulders as the shepherd takes the lost steep, or if necessary, to take us upon His shoulder the way H e, in Holy Week, took up His cross to walk, to fall under it, to be crucified upon it, and because in His f r e e gift of Himself He could obtain the power to forgive: Forgive them, Father: They don't know what they are doing...
And we are looking now towards the vision of Holy Week, step after step; but this Holy Week is not a Week of horror: we k n o w that this Holy Week is s u f f u s e d with the glory of the risen Christ, that the Holy Week is a week when we are confronted, each of us, all of us together and singly, with love Divine, with the extent, the depth of Divine Love, a personal love, a love addressed to each of us...
And we will see in the course of these weeks two things: today, that God has come in our midst, – He, the Light is in the midst of the twilight of history, or in the darkness of the darkest soul and the most sinisterly (?) dark situation!
If t h a t is true, then all things are possible! Then i n d e e d we can believe the u n b e l i e v a b l e! And more than this: we will be shown week after week what God c a n do! Next week, in the day of Saint Gregory of Palamas, we will hear proclaimed by him the fact that God does not only cherish us as it were, from the outside, not – but He gives us His grace which like fire pervades us, making us gradually if we only accept it, to be like the Burning Bush in the desert that burnt without been consumed, because God does not consume, does not destroy, unless we turn against Him; yes, He i s the consuming fire until and unless we accept Him. But accepted, He makes us partakers of His Divine nature, He fills us with His own life, He is life itself in us, and we in Him.
These are the two messages that come now; and then we will see that Saint John of the Ladder teaches us h o w to move Godwards, how to overcome the twilight of (or) darkness which is in us. And we can see the result of this struggle, of this cry of the soul, of this hunger for life and for light in the person of Saint Mary of Egypt and of other sinners who r e c e i v e d Christ and were transformed, transfigured, saved...
This is the way that leads us step by step to meet Holy Week, a Weak so holy when the love of God has been expressed not in words, not in blessings, not in tenderness, but in the vision of the cost of love to God Himself, the cost of o u r falling away from Him to the Son of God become the Son of Man.
How can we respond to it? What is then the message of this period? In the first period which I have mentioned we were confronted with evil in us, been challenged by it: This is what you are! And t h i s is what is bound to happen... But n o w we are confronted with this vision of unutterable beauty and hope: how can we respond to it?
By gratitude! Gratitude is the next stop; gratitude is what must carry us through all this week: gratitude, a sense of wonder: how can God be as He is? How can He love m e as I know myself, and indeed, horror of horrors, as others know me!..
And if t h a t is understood by us, then the only answer we can give to God i n gratitude, to express our gratitude, is to say, 'Lord; However weak I am, however imperfect, however sinful, however unworthy – from the depth of my gratitude for Who You are and what You do, I will do all within my power, however frail my will, however weak my power, I will do all I c a n to show you that I have u n d e r s t o o d the message of love, the message of the cross, the message of mercy, that I have understood with all my being and that I want to prove it by living in such a way that would be a proof of my understanding, live in such a way that I should be a j o y to You, a j o y to God, a consolation to God!..
O God! To think that we can do this! Aren’t we going to do it? Let us enter into these weeks of Lent r e all y as one begins to live in spring! Enter into newness of life, and throughout, throughout these weeks, in gratitude, to give joy to God... And then we will be able to face Holy Week not as the ultimate horror that condemns the ungrateful, the murderer of Christ – no: as a Week that is a full and perfect revelation of a love understood, received, and insofar as we can e n a c t e d by us.
O, let us gather all our strength, and when our strength will not suffieth, let us remember the promise of Christ: M y strength deploys itself in weakness; all things are possible to me – as Paul puts it – in the power of Christ that sustains me... And the words of Christ: What is impossible to men is possible to God: let us s u r r e n d e r to God to give Him joy! And all will be of God, and all will be well! Amen!