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581Homily for 3/9/14 - L1 - the true faith

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  • David
    Mar 9, 2014
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      Heb 11:24-26; 32-12:2

      This particular epistle is repeated on various occasions throughout the
      Church year in that it reminds us of the communion of the saints and the
      struggles of those who have gone before us in the faith. In the
      selection that is read we only hear of a few of the struggles for the
      faith that are mentioned by the Apostle, but it is enough to portray for
      us the fervent love of God which carries these saints through every
      trial and persecution. At the time of this writing, the great
      persecutions and waves of martyrs of the Christian Church had not yet
      occurred and so the saint was referring to those among the old testament
      saints who remained faithful to the True God even prior to the coming of
      the Messiah. Even as we read this testament to their struggles, however,
      it is not difficult at all to perceive the link between those old
      testament saints who looked forward to the promise of the Messiah and
      the deliverance that He would bring and those saints who had received
      the Messiah Himself and lived in His promise of eternal life. Thus on
      this Sunday of Orthodoxy, we are inspired to look at the struggles of
      the great passion-bearers and martyrs to understand the True Faith which
      they have, through their labors have confirmed and passed on to us as
      our spiritual inheritance.

      Even during the life of Christ we see that some men chose to completely
      misunderstand Him and sought to destroy Him. They did not grasp the
      eternal purpose for which God created us and to which He called us. They
      had created a God in their own image and thus could not abide the
      self-revelation of God which conflicted with their own imaginations. In
      the end their hatred of our Lord Jesus Christ was so great that they
      sought to destroy Him – but in doing so they revealed His true nature as
      God incarnate all the more. Though they tried to silence Him, their
      efforts only served to emphasize the Truth that He proclaimed. By His
      incarnation God took upon Himself our corrupt and mortal flesh which was
      diseased by sin and death and by His death and Resurrection, healed us
      and united us with the glory of His divinity.

      The persecutions did not end, however, with the Resurrection, but
      continued; first at the hands of the pagans who opposed the One True God
      and later at the hands of those who wished to impose their own erroneous
      understandings and limits on the True Faith. It is the ongoing Triumph
      of Orthodoxy against these heresies that we celebrate today. For us who
      live so far separated in time and culture from these controversies, it
      is difficult sometimes to see their full importance and to understand
      why it is so vital to resist those heresies. Let us therefore look at a
      few of the major controversies that arose in the early life of the
      Church that we might grasp their importance and the true value of the
      struggles that our forefathers endured to protect the True Faith and
      pass it on to us.

      Among the first of these heresies was that of the priest Arius who began
      to teach that Jesus Christ was not fully God, co-eternal and of one
      essence with the Father, but rather that He was the first created being,
      a demi-god through whom all the rest of creation was brought into being.
      This belief was appealing to some because it preserved the idea of the
      One God without the mystery of the Holy Trinity (which was difficult to
      comprehend and explain to the rational mind). This heretical belief
      however had a very unfortunate effect (as do all heresies) in that it
      made our salvation impossible. Our salvation is not to simply spend time
      relaxing in paradise after death, but rather it is to live in union and
      communion with God, united to Him and sharing in His life. If Jesus
      Christ is not God, then His incarnation does not unite us to God, but
      rather to a created demi-god and the wall of separation between man and
      God remains. Under the heresy of Arius we remain separated from God and
      unable to be united to Him. This heresy was condemned by the 1st
      Ecumenical Council in Nicea which was in turn confirmed by the 2nd
      Council in Constantinople and which delcared the truth that our Lord
      Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in the Nicene Creed.

      Although Arius was condemned, the heretical controversies did not end.
      Another controversy centered in Antioch erupted around the teaching of a
      bishop Nestorius who distinctly separated the humanity and divinity of
      our Lord. He taught that the Virgin Mary was not the mother of the
      God/man Jesus Christ, but rather she was the mother only of the man
      Jesus who was later loosely joined in the same body by God. Thus the
      divinity and humanity of Christ were not joined in one person but that
      Jesus Christ consisted of two persons co-habiting one body. Nestorius
      therefore objected to calling the Virgin Mary “Theotokos� (the Mother of
      God) and insisted rather that she be called the Mother of Man or at most
      the Mother of Christ. This extreme separation also prevents our
      salvation for it denies that the human and divine natures can be united
      but can only exist side by side. This heresy was condemned by the 3rd
      Ecumenical Council in Ephesus and the Church continued to proclaim the
      truth that the God/man Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, united
      in one person.

      This heresy gave rise to a reaction in other parts of the Church
      opposing the humanizing of Christ by Nestorius seeking to emphasize the
      divinity of Jesus Christ. This reaction, centered in Alexandria, was
      championed by the bishop Dioscorus. Dioscorus maintained that while
      Jesus Christ was both God and man, united in one person, after the
      incarnation the human nature was eliminated and that only one nature,
      the divine, remained. This preserved the divinity of Christ from those
      who would over-emphasize His humanity, but again, it went too far and
      created a barrier to our salvation. Because, according to these
      monophysites (meaning “one nature�), the God/man Jesus Christ did not
      possess a human nature, the possibility of the union of divine and human
      natures without the destruction of the human nature is rendered
      impossible. What remains is something akin to the hindu belief that in
      the afterlife the individual is lost and his essence absorbed into the
      divine. This is not our salvation for our union with God is an icon of
      the divine Trinity, the unity of 3 persons in the 1 essence of the
      Trinity. If we were to follow the monophysite belief, then our human
      nature would be lost, swallowed up in the divine and while our unity
      with God would be accomplished, that unity would be imperfect as our own
      personhood would be lost. The 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon,
      addressed this issue and condemned the monophysite teaching, confirming
      that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man possessing both a divine
      and human nature united together in one person. The decision and
      teaching of the 4th Council was later confirmed by the 5th Ecumenical

      Seeking to further explain and justify their thinking, the former
      proponents of the monophysite teaching put forth a new idea that while
      Christ possessed both a human and divine nature, he possessed only one
      will, the divine will (called monotheletism meaning one will). Again
      this teaching is problematic for it denies that our Lord was fully human
      in that He did not possess a human will and further because of this the
      implication is that in order for man to be saved the human will must be
      destroyed for it cannot be fully in submission to and brought into
      harmony with the will of God. This heresy was condemned by the 6th
      Ecumenical Council in Constantinople.

      About this time, the Church began to be confronted with the rise of
      Islam in Persia and the East. The Islamists held strictly to the Jewish
      law of the prohibition of images used in worship. This idea is drawn
      from the belief that God cannot be seen by man and therefore cannot be
      depicted. Any attempt to depict God is interpreted a move towards
      idolatry condemned by the 2nd Commandment. This influence among those in
      the Church who lived under the influence of Islamic rule brought forth
      the condemnation of the Holy Icons (called Iconoclasm). The Iconoclasts
      demanded that all images of our Lord Jesus Christ and the saints be not
      only taken out of the temples, but destroyed, claiming that they were
      false images and therefore idols. This again attacks the basis of our
      salvation which rests in the incarnation of Christ. If God truly took on
      Himself human flesh and in His incarnation revealed Himself to the
      world, then the God/man can be depicted – otherwise he would not truly
      be man. In addition, If the saints cannot likewise be depicted, then we
      are not united with God in a tangible and visible manner and our union
      with God is limited and not a full communion with God. Iconoclasm denies
      the very idea expressed by St Athanasius that “God became man in order
      that man might become god.� After many great struggles the Iconoclast
      heresy was finally overturned and condemned by the Church in the last of
      the great Ecumenical Councils – the 7th Council of Nicea.

      It is this great triumph of the Orthodox faith that we mark today as the
      capstone of the era of the 7 Councils of the Church. These 7 Ecumenical
      councils stand as defining benchmarks of the Orthodox Faith, defining
      and preserving for us what is the True Faith and what is error. The evil
      one, however, has not ended his war with the Church and continues to
      introduce novel teachings which would pull us away from the Church. Even
      some of these old heresies have continued to exist in various ways
      throughout the years. There are remnants of the Nestorian confession
      today in Persia and further east (such as the “Church of the East� or
      the “Indian Orthodox Church�). In Egypt, North Africa and Armenia the
      Coptic and other “Oriental Orthodox� confessions, which are the
      descendants of the monophysite heresy, continue to exist. Although these
      ancient confessions are close to the Orthodox faith in many ways and
      have evolved over the centuries to a more Orthodox confession of faith,
      they remain separated from the Church. In many of the Western Protestant
      confessions we see the same iconoclast beliefs being resurrected and
      militantly proclaimed. In addition to all of this there is the new
      “pan-heresy� of Ecumenism which attacks the very concept of the Church
      as the visible and substantive Body of Christ (and therefore which
      denies a full and robust understanding of the incarnation of Christ).

      The age of the Ecumenical Councils may have ended, however, the battle
      for the true confession of the Orthodox Faith continues even today. Many
      have suffered and died for their confession of the God/man Jesus Christ
      and we stand in the same line and heritage with those great confessors.
      They have passed on to us the true faith, revealed to mankind by the
      God/man Jesus Christ in His incarnation and preserved by the power of
      the Holy Spirit. Now we too step into their shoes and it is our turn to
      boldly proclaim the True Faith to the world – not only by our words, but
      most especially and most powerfully by our lives. Let us shine,
      therefore, with the light of Christ and so illumine the world around us.

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