Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 10, 2014
The Reading is from the Gospel of St. Matthew. (14:22-34)
The month of August is a month of theophanies. A theophany, from the Greek, literally means a “revelation of God”, not “from God”, but “of God.”
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a theophany. God reveals himself present in Jesus Christ in this world. He shares his light and energy with us and with all of creation as his face, his clothes, the mountain and even the apostles are bathed in light and cloud.
Remember the Hebraic tabernacle in the Old Testament? When God was present there the tabernacle filled with light and smoke. Here on Mt. Tabor we have light and cloud in the flesh of Christ who came, as St. John wrote, to “tabernacle” among us. The reference is not accidental. John connects the incarnation of the Son with the Old Testament metaphor by the use of one word. Also, remember how a pillar of smoke guided the Hebrews by day and a pillar of fire by night. Here we see both fire and smoke. God is present and he fills everything with himself when it is dark and when it is light, in times both good and bad.
Jesus walking on the water is a description of another theophany as the sea bows to him and becomes like dry land for his feet. He does not dominate the waters as a tyrant; the sea cooperates with its Creator. They work together. They are one.
The Dormition of the Theotokos, is still another theophany, a confirmation that in Christ human nature is made divine. We are like him, that is, tabernacles of divine glory and even now we are with him in “the heavenly places” for every place that God is is a heavenly place – even our physical bodies, for they are, as St. Paul insists, temples of the Holy Spirit. Realizing this in thought, word and deed is our vocation.
The Elder Thaddeus was asked about this in the six-part video series on YouTube I told you about. Where do we find God he was asked by a monk? His answer was that God is energy and his energy is everywhere. The questioner then said that surely we are closer to that divine energy in church or on Mt. Athos. How silly of him to try and box God into any form of sacred geography, in the presence of one who knew better, like the apostles who wanted to build booths for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on Tabor!
Thaddeus smiled and insisted in his humble, quiet way as the true holy man that he was, “No, God is everywhere!” God is not more here and less there. He is present everywhere equally.
“There is a time coming when true worshippers will not worship in Jerusalem or on this mountain, but in spirit and in truth,” Jesus told the Samaritan Woman. There is no special place and no particular shrine that can lay claim to God’s Special Presence. There are no boundaries that can house him. There is no sacred geography that can enclose him. He is spirit and he is truth. He is himself the temple of his own glory and so are we for that is precisely what we were created to be and to do. Do you see how closely God identifies with us?
The One Great pilgrimage we are all called to make is into the Holy Place of our own hearts. Enlightenment, deification, salvation – call it what you will – can only come from within.
A long time ago, back right after the human race was created, there were these three devils who plotted to do something very wicked. They plotted to steal faith, hope, and love from the human race and hide them somewhere where they could never be found.
The first one suggested hiding them in the deepest ocean, but the others argued that since human beings were pretty smart they would probably develop submarines and eventually find them even in the bottom of the sea.
The second suggested outer space. That seemed like an even better idea, but the others insisted that even though it might take little longer, sooner or later human beings (from MIT perhaps) would figure out how to travel into space and find them there!
Finally, the third devil came up with the perfect idea! Let’s steal them, roll them into a ball and bury them inside the human stomach. Those silly humans will never think to look there! So that is what they did!
And guess what? To a degree they were right. Very few of us look inside ourselves for faith, hope and love. But if we look anywhere else than into the tiny aperture of the heart these three cannot be found.
“The gate is narrow that leads to life and there are few who will find it,” Jesus said.
The narrow gate Jesus spoke about that few will find and the rich cannot enter is within. It is, as the Lord said, like an eye of a needle. We must concentrate our hearts, souls, and minds like a laser beam to become small enough, humble enough, focused enough to fit through it. Letting go of all earthly desires and ambitions we become small enough, all things that pass away, all things that cannot last.
How amazing that the God who cannot be contained by the universe or multiple universes, has made our little hearts the dwelling place of his uncontainable glory! Like the Virgin Mary, we too are “more spacious than the heavens.”
~Fr. Anthony Hughes, St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2014/august-theophanies.