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homily for 3/15/09 - L2 - so great a salvation

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  • Fr David Moser
    Hebrews 1:10-2:3 “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2009
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      Hebrews 1:10-2:3

      “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the
      first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them
      that heard him;”

      What is the purpose of all our ascetic effort during Great Lent? What is
      the goal of our Christian life toward which it all leads? These are
      important questions for us, especially now during the beginning of the
      fast. The momentum of the services and prayers and extra strictness of
      the first week is beginning to wane and now we need something to help
      keep us motivated through the rest of the fast. We need something that
      will continue to pull at us, that will continue to draw us forward and
      to give purpose to our ascetic labor. This purpose is the goal of the
      Christian life, which we often call “salvation”.

      When we talk about “salvation” as the goal of our Christian faith, what
      do we mean? There are may different ways that “salvation” can be
      understood. For some, “salvation” means to escape hell – they are being
      saved from an eternity of torment. For others, “salvation” means going
      to heaven – they want to go through eternity in comfort and style. These
      two images are actually two sides of the same coin as it were, the coin
      of reward and punishment from God and are most often portrayed by images
      of devils with pitchforks and flames on one hand and angels with harps
      and clouds and pearly gates on the other. These ideas are sometimes
      offered to us as cartoonish images by the entertainment industry and
      they make even the torments of hell seem palatable while the joys of
      heaven seem pale and washed out. There is also the idea among those who
      believe in reincarnation that “salvation” is escape from the cycle of
      constant rebirth back into this world in a different life each time.
      Moslems, as we hear frequently from the news reports, believe that
      salvation involves living in a paradise of plentiful food and virgins as
      a reward for the things accomplished in this life on behalf of God.
      These are but a few of the ideas of “salvation”, but by no means an
      exhaustive list. What then do we make of the words of the apostle when
      he talks about “so great a salvation” that is spoken to us by God
      Himself? This speaks of a “salvation” that is different from the run of
      the mill ideas of escape unpleasantness and judgment or enjoy the good
      life and rewards that seem to be the common thread of all other
      teachings about salvation.

      Today, on this the second Sunday of Lent, we honor the memory of St
      Gregory Palamas. St Gregory was a great ascetic teacher and practicer of
      prayer. Throughout all his teaching we find out about the goal and
      purpose towards which we strive, we find out what that “great salvation”
      is that is different from and superior to all others. St Gregory points
      out that there is a great difference between knowing about God and
      knowing God. It is, he explains, quite a different thing to know about
      God, than it is to actually know Him. “There is a knowledge about God
      and His doctrines. (…) The use and activity of the natural powers of the
      soul and of the body do shape the rational image of man, but that is not
      the same as the perfect beauty of the noble state which comes from
      above;” by which he means “the supernatural union with the more than
      resplendent light, which is the sole source of sure theology.” For St
      Gregory our salvation is not just to receive a reward from God (or to
      escape punishment from God) for our performance in this world; this
      would only constitute knowledge about God. Our salvation is something
      far greater than this and that is to live in union with God, to know God
      and to participate in the life of the Trinity. For St Gregory, it was
      not a question of whether or not man could know God by direct, immediate
      knowledge, but whether or not he would, given the life he was leading.

      Now we see more clearly our goal. We are not trying to earn some kind of
      reward from God or to avoid some kind of punishment from Him. This is an
      inferior idea of salvation – this would be the reward of a servant. Our
      goal is to be united to God, to enter into His life and His love not
      only in the life after death, but here and now in this world as well –
      this is the heritage of a son and heir. The heritage of a Son and heir
      is the great salvation that is offered to us by God which is far and
      away superior to our own ideas of reward and punishment which are only
      the rewards given to servants.

      Another idea that seems to run through these inferior concepts of
      salvation is that salvation is only for the soul, that before we can
      truly experience the reward that God gives us we have to shed the body
      as some kind of chain that holds us down. Thus we frequently hear people
      talking about “saving your soul” but we hear nothing about saving the
      body, as though salvation did not apply to it. St Gregory draws out for
      us the more biblical stance in his understanding of the human person as
      an integral whole – a union of body and soul, of two natures spiritual
      and physical. A soul without the body or the body without the soul is
      incomplete. Our salvation is offered to us to participate in as whole
      persons, in both body and soul. Thus we begin to see the radical
      importance of the Resurrection, when the body and soul will be reunited
      so that we can stand before God not as an incomplete being but as a
      whole person, ready to receive Him in our own fullness and completeness
      as a person created in His own image and likeness. This also indicates
      that our spiritual labors to prepare for our salvation should involve
      not only the soul, but the body as well. Therefore the necessity of
      prayer not only with the heart and the mind but with the body as well;
      and the necessity of the physical disciplines of fasting and almsgiving
      and chastity. In their ‘natural’ state, all elements of creation have
      the ability to bring about knowledge of and union with the Creator, it
      is only the misuse of the elements of created nature, whether mind or
      matter, soul or body, that cause them to become ‘evil’ and far from God.
      Our lenten and ascetic discipline is the means by which we learn to use
      these elements of our physical world in such a way that the do us to the
      point of union with our Creator.

      To this end, St Gregory taught that both the soul and the body are
      transformed by the grace of God so as to take on the divine likeness,
      “There are blessed passions, activities common to soul and body, which
      do not attach the spirit to the flesh, but draw up the flesh to a
      dignity near to that of the spirit, and make it to turn towards the
      heights. (…) In the same way as the Divinity of the Word Incarnate is
      common to soul and body … so, in spiritual men, is the grace of the
      Spirit transmitted to the body by the soul as intermediary, and this
      gives it to experience of divine things, and allows it to feel the same
      passion as the soul” In this we begin to see our goal as something no
      less than the purification and sanctification of the person, so that the
      divine transfiguration wrought of the Spirit might take place and that
      we might be like our Lord Jesus Christ.

      We can see, in the teaching of St Gregory Palamas, whom we honor today,
      that this “great salvation” of which the apostle speaks is truly a great
      and radical thing. This is not just about reward and punishment or about
      getting God to give us good things, rather our great salvation is to be
      united to God and to share in His life. This transfiguration of the body
      and soul so that it might ‘experience divine things’ is not a mere
      metaphor; it is not simply a symbol for increased knowledge of God that
      leads to improved understanding, but a real and true change in the human
      person, such that the manner of his knowing the Divine Creator might
      indeed be transformed. This is that great salvation which is spoken to
      us by God and which is passed down to us by the Apostles who heard it
      from the god/man Jesus Christ Himself. He is offering us not the rewards
      of good servants, but He is offering to us the inheritance of sons and
      daughters – to share in His life and to live in union with Him. This is
      the goal towards which we strive, this is the purpose of the work of
      great lent, this is what draws us now to complete the fast with the same
      vigor with which we began it. This is the great salvation offered to us
      by God.

      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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