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563Homily for 11/3/13 - P18 - Visions of truth

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  • David
    Nov 3, 2013
      2Cor 11:31-12:9

      Our Lord Jesus Christ is God incarnate, that is, He is God who Himself
      took on human flesh and blood and became a man so that He might reveal
      Himself to us as fully as possible. During the time of His life in this
      world, He chose 12 Apostles from among those who followed Him and who
      had seen and heard all that He did and said. After the descent of the
      Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the ministry of the Apostles was to proclaim
      to the whole world what they themselves had seen and heard and
      experienced directly from our Lord Jesus Christ. When one of the twelve,
      the traitor Judas, was lost, it fell to the other Apostles to fill his
      place and so, with GodÂ’s help, they chose from among themselves another
      disciple who had been with them since the beginning and like themselves
      had seen and heard everything that Jesus had done. This disciple,
      Matthias, was ordained to take the place of Judas so that the number of
      Apostles might not be diminished. This is recorded in the beginning of
      the book of the Acts of the Apostles in order that we might see how the
      ministry of the Apostles was to be passed on and expanded through the
      sacrament of ordination. However, the difficulty that seems apparent was
      that the number of those who had directly experienced Christ was limited
      and therefore the Apostolic ministry and the guidance of the Church
      entrusted to them was likewise limited and would eventually cease as
      they all reached the end of their own earthly lives.

      God, however, cares for us and loves us and did not want us to be
      without the living witness of the Apostles to guide us. Therefore, He
      has provided a way to overcome that limitation. Today we heard the
      Apostle Paul relate how he also was chosen by Jesus Christ as an Apostle
      and how, although he had not been present during the earthly ministry
      and life of Christ, he too had experienced the revelation of Jesus
      Christ first hand. After his miraculous conversion where he was blinded
      by the light of Christ and then healed by the touch of Ananias, Paul, by
      his own account went his home in Damascus (Gal 1:16ff) where he remained
      in seclusion for 3 years, praying and seeking God. The vision of which
      he speaks in this epistle occurred during that time and it was in this
      miraculous manner that he directly experienced our Lord Jesus Christ.
      From this we see how it is that the experience of Jesus Christ
      continues on, even beyond those who lived with Him during His earthly
      sojourn. The Apostle Paul, therefore, was truly an Apostle and like the
      rest had seen and heard and experienced Jesus Christ Himself. Having had
      this miraculous revelation, he then came to the Apostle Peter and James
      the brother of the Lord in order that this revelation might be submitted
      to them and confirmed as true by the Church in the persons of these
      Apostles before he acted on it.

      Throughout the history of the Church and even now there are many who
      claim to have had some kind of supernatural experience and who claim to
      have received some special revelation from God. The problem, however, is
      to know what is a true revelation from God and what is the deception of
      the evil one leading us away from God. The experience of the Apostle
      Paul will help us to understand how to make this distinction. First we
      know that this vision did not come immediately nor did it come outside
      the context of ascetic prayer. The initial vision that led to the
      conversion of the Apostle Paul was so intense that he could see nothing
      but was blinded by the light of Christ. Only by the healing touch of
      Ananias, himself acting in obedience to the command of God, was his
      sight restored. After this the Apostle Paul began to fast and pray in
      order to draw near to the One Who had called Him. Only after a period of
      withdrawal from the world and ascetic prayer was he ready to experience
      God in such a direct and miraculous manner again, but this time, being
      prepared, he was not blinded, but saw and heard the heavenly things
      which cannot be described.

      Even this, however, was not enough and the Apostle Paul then sought out
      the Apostle Peter and submitted himself and his vision to the Church
      before he spoke to anyone else about it. Consider for a moment the great
      courage of this action for if the Apostle Paul had been deceived by the
      evil one, then he would lose all that he thought he had gained and need
      to return again to his life of seclusion and prayer, repenting as well
      for falling prey to the delusion of the evil one. In submitting himself
      and his experience to the judgment of the Church, he acted out of
      humility not counting even this seeming heavenly vision as having any
      worth or value unless it was confirmed by the Church. Here is the second
      test of Paul’s experience and his apostleship – submission to the
      teaching and experience of the Church.

      The Apostle Peter, having received Paul and having heard of his vision,
      did not presume to act alone, even though he had been among those who
      were the closest disciples of our Lord and had been the one singled out
      as the leader of the Apostles. Peter called James, the brother of the
      Lord, and the two of them, acting together in prayer and fasting heard
      the witness of Paul and confirmed that this indeed was the true
      revelation of Jesus Christ, just as they themselves had also
      experienced. We see here that the Church in such matters never acts
      independently or individually, but rather exercises her true authority
      corporately, recalling the words of the Gospel that the witness of two
      is required (Matt 18:16-20) for judgment and for the true action of the
      Church. In such matters, we do not act on our own, but submitting
      ourselves first to those whom God has placed in authority over us in His
      Church (that is the Apostles and their successors the bishops) we then
      also see that they do not act unilaterally, but only in the consensus of
      the whole Church (manifest in the whole council of bishops or of a
      lesser council gathered by the local bishop). Having received the
      blessing of the Apostle Peter and James the brother of the Lord, the
      Apostle Paul only then began to proclaim and act upon what he had seen
      and heard and experienced.

      Here we see how it is that we should act when someone makes a claim of
      having received the revelation of God. First is the necessity of a life
      of prayer and ascetic labor. Without a righteous and holy life marked by
      prayer and fasting there is no context for such a gift from God. In such
      a case, even if there is an element of truth, this vision will only
      serve to exacerbate the pride and draw those who heed it away from God.
      Second is the necessity of humility and submission to the judgment and
      teaching of the Church and of obedience to the authority of the Church.
      Where there is no humility, there is no truth and where there is no
      submission and cutting off of oneÂ’s own will, there is no humility and
      the proof of humility is found in true obedience. We do not owe
      obedience to ourselves or to any other single person but to God alone
      and to His Body the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. There are
      many false “churches� founded by people who claim to have some special
      revelation from God – but without the historical root in the experience
      and teaching of the Apostles that is found only within the Orthodox
      Church, there is no authority and no truth. The authority of the Church
      is not found only in one person, or even in a few people, but it is
      found in the witness of the whole Church from that of the Apostles on
      through to the present (and for that matter even into the future for the
      Body of Christ is eternal, that is to say, outside of time). Thus it is
      necessary to submit oneÂ’s own opinion and experience to the eternal
      teaching of the Church which is the revelation of Jesus Christ witnessed
      by the Apostles and passed on by them to their successors. If it is
      consistent with the whole Church then we can act on those ideas and
      experiences with certainty. If it is not, then, in humility, we repent
      of our error and leave it behind so that we might then follow the true
      path of salvation laid out for us in the Church.

      God loves us and does not wish any man to perish. For that reason He
      makes possible a living and active relationship with us through the
      Church. In order that we not be led astray by the evil one and thus lose
      our way, He has given us the tradition and teaching of the Church and
      the witness of the Apostles so that we might be able to discern what is
      truth and what is error. But we are not left to do this on our own, but
      by humility, we submit ourselves to the authority of the Church and gain
      the help and assistance of the whole choir of the saints from the
      beginning until now, singing together the hymns of praise to our God. If
      our song is true, then it will join in perfect unison with theirs,
      however, if our song is found to be lacking or in error, we must exhibit
      the true humility of self-denial abandoning our own ideas and conforming
      ourselves instead to the image of Jesus Christ made manifest before us
      in the Body of Christ. In this way God opens and lays out before us the
      path to salvation and to the life of union and communion with Him.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org