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Homily for 6/1/08 - pascha 6 - the nature of the encounter

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  • Fr David Moser
    Acts 16:16-34 John 9:1-8 Orthodox Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs and practices – in fact these things are only secondary to the true nature of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2008
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      Acts 16:16-34 John 9:1-8

      Orthodox Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs and practices – in
      fact these things are only secondary to the true nature of our faith.
      Orthodox Christianity is at its core the encounter of man with God.
      Everything that we do is to facilitate that encounter and everything
      that we believe, our theology, is the description of that personal
      encounter with God. Today, like all the Sundays since Pascha, we read
      about a personal encounter with God. This man who had been born blind
      encountered the God/man Jesus Christ and his darkness was turned to
      light; he was no longer blind but could see. Jesus Christ is the Light
      of the world and where the source of the Light is, darkness can no
      longer exist. When this man encountered God, his life was altered for no
      one can see God and be unchanged.

      We were created to live in union and communion with God, but because of
      the sin of Adam we are now estranged from God. But God loved us so much
      that He could not tolerate that separation and so He Himself came to us
      and opened the way that we might again live in union and communion with
      Him. His incarnation, His worldly life, His death and resurrection make
      it possible once again to encounter God face to face. But Jesus Christ
      no longer bodily walks the earth for after the resurrection, He ascended
      into heaven (as we will celebrate this coming week). How then can we
      encounter Him face to face now?

      Although our Lord ascended into heaven, He also sent to us the Holy
      Spirit Who fills us and who unites us to God. Through the indwelling of
      the Holy Spirit, the Church – not the building, but the body of all
      believers – becomes the Body of Christ. In the Church then, we encounter
      God face to face. Today’s Gospel reveals to us a great deal about the
      nature of the Church and how we encounter God within her.

      This miracle of the healing of the man born blind teaches us about the
      sacramental nature of the Church. When Jesus healed this man, He made
      some mud and put this mud on the eyes of the man who could not see and
      sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Now Jesus was God and could have
      healed in an instant with only a word or even just a movement of His
      will, but He did not. Instead He employed this elaborate ritual. This is
      the same as the sacraments. The sacraments have not only a spiritual
      element, the grace of God, they also have a physical element. This is
      because we are not simply a soul trapped in a body or some kind of
      spiritual being with the illusion of a physical existence, but rather we
      are a unity of soul and body, of spiritual and physical. In order to
      encounter God with the fullness of our being, we must do so in both the
      spiritual and physical realms, with both the soul and the body. Thus
      when we receive the sacrament of Baptism, we not only receive the grace
      of God by which we are given new life, but we are also immersed in water
      that has been blessed. Not only is the soul washed but the body as well.
      Likewise in the sacrament of Chrismation, we are not just mysteriously
      filled with the Holy Spirit but we are anointed with the oil of Chrism
      as well. We commune with God not only in spirit, but we also commune
      with the elements of His Body and His Blood under the form of bread and
      wine in the chalice. It is likewise with all the sacraments, indeed with
      all the blessings we receive – there is a physical element and a
      spiritual element for we are creatures of both soul and body and we
      encounter God with the fullness of our being.

      The healing of the blind man also instructs us as to the nature of our
      interaction with God in the Church. It is not just God acting on us from
      the outside, but rather our interaction is a synergy of God with us. We
      do not sit passively and idly by and wait for God to do something to us,
      rather we offer our own efforts to Him and act in concert and union with
      Him. When Jesus had anointed the eyes of the blind man with clay, He
      then instructed him to go and wash. It was necessary for this healing to
      occur for the man to act as well as for God to act. He had to go and
      wash the clay from his eyes, bending his will to that of Christ and
      acting in obedience to the will of the Master. Our interaction with God
      is one of synergy, of acting together, of bending our will to conform to
      His and then acting according to His will. This blending of the divine
      and human actions, this synergy leads us into union and communion with
      God. Our Christian life, our encounter with God is not passive – it
      requires that we act together with Him.

      How then do we shape this synergetic action? That is the next element of
      the Church about which this healing instructs us. The Church gives to
      us, through Holy Tradition and through the lessons of Scripture, a
      course of life to follow. There is a rhythm and routine to the life of
      the Church. That rhythm is expressed in the times of prayer, both our
      private prayer rule and our public prayer in the services. There are
      times to pray alone, times to pray together, times to pray for ourselves
      and one another. We also experience this rhythm of the divine life in
      the feasts and fasts of the Church. The way of life that we are given
      instructs us in works of righteousness – in charitable giving, in
      compassionate works, in loving our neighbor, in bearing one another’s
      burdens. All of these things that we do are the actual working out of
      the Life of Christ in the Church.

      There are times when it might seem to some that the requirements of this
      life are just a bundle of rules that restrict our lives, but in fact the
      purpose is entirely different. The practice of the life of Church is
      given to us for our health and salvation. These are all instructions in
      how to act, what to do, how to live in order to conform our will to the
      will of God, in order to strengthen both body and soul so that we can
      live more fully in union with God. This way of life is no different from
      a man who diets and exercises according to a certain regimen prescribed
      by a physician or trainer so that he might be more fit for some sport or
      other physical activity. The Great Physician, Jesus Christ has
      prescribed for us the regimen of diet and exercise of the life of the
      Church so that we might become more fit to live in union and communion
      with Him. We can choose whether or not to follow this regimen or how
      intensely to train, however the consequences of neglecting this life are
      that we do not prepare ourselves fully for life in the Kingdom of God
      and our desired union and communion with God (for which we should be
      preparing) is lost. Do you love and desire God? then keep His
      commandments. Live in the way that He has prepared for you so that you
      might be able to enter into His Kingdom.

      When we do all these things, when we encounter God and are changed by
      that encounter, then we no longer quite fit in the fallen world. Rather
      than rejoice with the blind man who was healed, the religious
      authorities reviled him and condemned him because this miracle did not
      occur according to their ideas of how God should act. We too, if we
      follow Christ, will face difficulties and resistance from those in the
      world who demand that God act according to their rules. When they see us
      acting according to the life of the Church rather than the life of the
      world, they may question us and even turn against us. The same thing
      occurred to the Holy Apostles Paul and Silas as we heard in the epistle
      today. They healed a woman tormented by a demon but were accused and
      reviled by those who valued the money that this woman’s torment brought
      them than they valued compassion and love for another human being. The
      values of the Kingdom of God, though they at times appear to be the same
      as worldly values, are in the end different and will come into conflict
      with the world. Our encounter with God will change us and we will no
      longer walk according to the way of the world, but rather we will endure
      difficulty and resistance from the world when we forsake its ways for
      the path of salvation.

      Finally the epistle reminds us of another characteristic of the Church
      and that is the communal nature of our faith. We are not saved as
      individuals, but rather as a community. When Paul and Silas were brought
      by the jailer to his home, he asked them how he might be saved. Paul
      replied, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and
      thy house.” And in the same night this man, and his entire household
      (wife, children, servants and all) was baptized. We are saved as a part
      of the community of the saints, as a part of the family of the Church.
      It is not just “Jesus and me” but rather “Jesus and all of us” Even the
      saints who have finished their course on this earth and who stand at the
      threshold of the Kingdom of Heaven are waiting for us, not yet entering
      into their reward until we are all united and enter together into the
      Kingdom of Heaven. We are saved, not by ourselves, but together with the
      whole Church. We encounter God together.

      When we encounter God, we will encounter Him through the Church and the
      nature of this encounter is described for us today in the Scripture. Our
      encounter is sacramental – that is it encompasses both body and soul,
      both our physical and spiritual nature. Our encounter with God is
      synergetic – we act in concert with God, bending our will to His and
      then acting according to His will. Our encounter with God is defined and
      given shape and form by the life of the Church. The life of the Church
      is the life of Christ and as we adopt His life, we become more and more
      able to live in union and communion with Him. Our encounter with God
      will put us at odds with the world, for the ways of the Lord are
      foolishness to the world. The worldly life will lead us away from God,
      but the heavenly life will lead us into union and communion with God.
      Finally our encounter with God is not individual but communal. We
      encounter God as a part of the unity and community of the Church. In all
      these ways we encounter God face to face and entering into his Kingdom,
      we live in 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
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