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Homily for 2/3/13 - P35 - St Maximos

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  • Fr David Moser
    St Maximos the Confessor, whose memory we celebrate today, lived during the first half of the 7th century. At this time, the monophysite heresy had just been
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2013
      St Maximos the Confessor, whose memory we celebrate today, lived during
      the first half of the 7th century. At this time, the monophysite heresy
      had just been condemned at the Council of Chalcedon, but there were many
      still in the Church who had a sympathy for some of the ideals of that
      heresy and so attempted to reconcile them with the teaching of the
      Church. The monophysites taught that our Lord had only one nature – His
      divine nature – thus effectively denying that He was indeed “fully man”.
      This, in effect made our salvation impossible because it would mean that
      our Lord never took on the human nature and therefore that nature was
      not transformed into His image. If our salvation is to become like
      Christ, this would have been impossible for we did not have His divine
      nature and our own human nature remained untransformed. This heresy was
      condemned by the council of Chalcedon and the Orthodox dogma that Jesus
      Christ had both a divine and human nature was proclaimed.

      Although monophysitism had been condemned, it gave birth to another
      heretical teaching called monothelitism. Monothelitism is the belief
      that although Jesus Christ had two natures, He did not have a human
      will, but only a divine will. Again there was the problem that if Christ
      had only a divine will and not a human will, then the human will was not
      transformed or deified and thus we would never be able to follow Christ
      because our human will remained flawed and captive to sin. It was this
      heresy that St Maximos struggled against throughout his life. Even in
      the face of suffering, persecution, arrest, exile and torture, he
      continued to confess the true faith. He did not condemn others, but only
      held fast to the faith that had been handed to him and us by Christ.
      We might well ask what difference do these fine points of theology
      actually make in our lives. Does it really matter in our daily lives
      whether or not Christ had one will or two? This might be a question for
      theologians but why should we concern ourselves with such lofty concepts?

      To demonstrate the importance of this dogma in our lives, let us look at
      one of the conversations of St Maximos. He was asked by one Bishop
      Theodosius of Cesarea, “Did God foreknow and foreordain our deeds from
      eternity? …Explain what is in our power and what is not…I wish to
      understand what we can control and what we cannot…” St Maximos
      responded, “We do not directly control whether blessings will be
      showered upon us or chastisements will befall us, but our good and evil
      deeds most certainly depend on our will. It is not ours to choose
      whether we are in health or sickness, but we make determinations likely
      to lead to one or the other. Similarly, we cannot simply decide that we
      shall attain the kingdom of heaven or be plunged into the fire of
      Gehenna, but we can will to keep the commandments or to transgress them.”

      Notice here the importance that St Maximos places on the role of our own
      will. While we do not control the circumstances in which we live – we do
      control how we will act in those circumstances. We make choices which
      will lead us towards good or evil, towards God or away from Him. This is
      the importance of our own will. It is by the action of our will that we
      cooperate with God in our salvation. If our will remains fallen and
      untransformed by grace, then we will have no hope of choosing in
      accordance with the will of God. We will be trapped by our fallen and
      faulty will and will have no way to rise above our sinful state.

      But because our Lord did possess both a human and divine will, the human
      will was transformed and able to be conformed to and act in complete
      harmony with the divine will. For us this means that as we acquire the
      grace of God, our wills are transformed by that grace and begin to be
      able to be conformed to the divine will. We can then make choices by
      which we repent from sin and turn away from it, by which we resist
      temptation and choose instead to follow Christ. We will therefore be
      able to cooperate with God in working out our salvation. Without our
      free will and our cooperation in our own salvation, we become nothing
      but pawns moved at the will of someone else, subject to the will of One
      greater than us and unable to even desire to do good.

      St John Chrysostom divides our actions and characteristics into three
      categories. ‘One, he says, are good and can never be evil, such as
      wisdom, mercy and so forth; the second are evil and can never be good;
      for example, debauchery, inhumanity, cruelty. The third are sometimes
      the one and sometimes the other, according to the disposition of those
      who make use of them.’ St Nikolai (Velimirovic) continues on saying,
      “And with this explanation, by that godly teacher, one sees how riches
      and poverty, freedom and slavery, power and sickness and death itself
      fall into this neutral category, which are in themselves neither good
      nor evil, but are the one or the other according to the disposition of
      men and the use men make of them.” See here the importance of the human
      will, for by exercising our will in a Godly and grace filled manner
      (which is possible only because Jesus Christ has assumed our will and
      transformed it), we determine whether the circumstances in our lives are
      good or evil. Their eternal value and effect on our spiritual condition
      are the direct result of the exercise of our free will. If we use our
      will in harmony with the divine will, then it will lead us into the
      heavenly kingdom, however, if our will acts in a fallen manner, in
      opposition to the divine will, it leads us away from God.

      St Maximos is remembered as a confessor of the true faith in the face of
      heretical beliefs that would have rendered our salvation impossible and
      trapped us in helpless slavery to a fallen and unredeemed human will.
      Without the true faith proclaimed and defended by St Maximos, we would
      not know the value of self denial, of ascetic labor, of the patient
      endurance of sorrow and suffering. We would be caught in the trap of
      seeking only the good things of this life, mistaking them for the
      blessings of God and therefore missing the narrow gate and straight path
      of salvation.

      Today we honor a confessor of the faith who endured all manner of
      persecution and suffering in order to preserve, defend and proclaim the
      true faith. It is this faith that we inherit and which is the path of
      salvation which we follow and which leads us into the kingdom of heaven.
      Let us today make good use of this divine gift passed on to us by St
      Maximos and his fellow confessors so that we might join them in the
      heavenly kingdom.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
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