The Cost of defiling God’s Image in others

Last year in Charlottesville

 

It is the anniversary of a difficult weekend in our nation. When we see the events of this weekend last year, the natural thing is for us to get angry (not that our anger is natural, but that it is what we are thrown to feel), and then to feel helpless and frustrated. We see violence against the unarmed. We see the images of actions taken by hate-filled men, and know that where we can’t see, that someone died as a result of their action.
 
We see people saying that one race is better and that other races are less. Yet this is a denial of Creation; it is a denial of all of mankind being in God’s Image. Saints Peter and Paul both denounce this. Indeed the Council of Constantinople in 1872 condemns phyletism — any superiority based on race, nationality, or ethnicity. It is heresy. And the very word “superiority” is an abrogation of humility. Humility is the fundamental virtue; without it, no one will be saved. We must reject this appeal to lack of humility. It is not hyperbole to say that what is happening in our nation is demonic. And this kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.
 
If we quiet ourselves enough, we can notice that underneath the anger and frustration, is fear: Our own fear that our country is falling apart, The fear that drives others to commit such acts of hate against their fellow humans. If we were to read the portion from Galatians before the appointed epistle reading we would see the fullness of it: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalry, dissension, partisanship. . . . these are the works of the flesh — and we have seen much of that recently. It is hard to look at what has happened and respond with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Yet this is the fruit of the Spirit.
 
Violence against any wounds all of us. The Spirit can heal our wounds — but we must be open to that healing. Jesus took our passions on Himself and nailed them with Himself to the cross. He bids us to come to Him with our passions and burdens and accept His burden instead of our own; for He is gentle and lowly in heart. (indeed gentleness is a pun for Christ in Greek) There we will find rest.
 
And He invites us to learn from Him. As He is humble and lowly, so He invites us to be humble and lowly . . . to lay our burden down — to take up His burden. Our burden is usually what our passions excite in us. For a time we enjoy that excitement; after a while what was exciting becomes tiresome, a drain, a burden.
 
Humility is very much lacking in our society. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. Humility takes the sword and beats it to a plowshare, and then uses that plow to dig in to see what passions make our decisions for us. And thus exposed, our passions can be healed by our heavenly Physician. For from His fullness we receive grace upon grace.
 
God gives us the grace to bear the burden. Yet in a real sense, it is the grace bears us.
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Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sunday of Orthodoxy

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

Today is the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We celebrate the return of icons to the worship of Christ our God on earth. Today we commemorate the restoration in AD 843 of Icons. They went in procession to the Church of Theotokos ton Blakhernós, and restored the icons.

The scriptures we read were catechistic (Heb 11 and John 1:43-51). They are pointing those who will be baptised at the end of Great Lent to what the beginning of the journey was for the disciples, and reminding them of the prophets of old that looked forward to the Kingdom and the coming of the Messiah but never saw it themselves.

We celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God Who took flesh for our sake. The indescribable deigned to become describable. As we will hear on Bright Monday: “No man has ever seen God; the only begotten Son Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

He Who is the very radiance of the glory of God, the very Icon of His Person has shown Himself. As we sing in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us!”

Because He took flesh and dwelt among us, it is proper to depict Him in icons. For He Who is the very Icon of God has taken flesh that He Himself created in His Image, and joined the two together without confusion.

We venerate icons by kissing them as we would kiss a revered friend. We venerate them by bowing, again as to a revered friend. We also venerate them by censing them with incense. When we cense icons we are recognizing that the person depicted was created in God’s Image and reflected His likeness.

But we also cense us — we humans. We are created in God’s Image; by censing ourselves we honour that Image of God in ourselves.

So as we honour the Image of God in ourselves by censing we must ask ourselves: “Do we honour God’s Image in us?” Is how we live a reflection of that Image of God in us? Do we seek God’s will in our lives? Do we honour His image in ourselves? our family members? Our co-workers? The people we meet everyday? Do we see God’s image in the Barista who makes our coffee drink? Do we see the Image of God in the homeless person whose path we cross? Do we see the Image of God in the person whose politics we despise? In the eyes of the refugee who asks for a safe place? Do we see God’s Image in the face of those people we don’t like?

For most of us, that likeness with God is broken and distorted. Are we working with God to restore that likeness? Are we treating His Image in others remembering that He said, that how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him?

These are questions that this Sunday requires us to look at. While we are celebrating the Triumph this evening we must pause and take stock at where we are.

The older themes of this Sunday can help us. Before the restoration of Icons, this Sunday was dedicated to the prophets. If you read or sing the hymns of this Sunday you will notice that it bounces between Icons and the Prophets. If we were to do Complines tonight we would hear the older canon of the Prophets. The prophets called Israel and Judah to repentance. They called the people to treat the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner with respect. They called the people to treat their children as precious gifts from God. They called the people back from and criticized the false images of their material greed, their love of power over love of people. Often the people did not repent and had to pay the cost in exile. We are encouraged during Lent to read the prophet Isaiah. No matter what age we live in, the book of Isaiah has some sobering criticism of our society.
He sandwiches his prophecies of destruction with consolation, with the message: “It doesn’t have to be that way; you can repent.” By Chapter 40 it becomes clear that the people won’t repent, and he prepares them for exile and return. I commend to you all the reading of Isaiah.

This is what the Church asks us to chew on as we journey towards Pascha. God calls us in this period to work with Him to restore His likeness in us. The prayers are all a part of that. The services are all a part of that. Fasting is all a part of that. Alms are all a part of that. The Triodion is part of that. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is part of that. These are the tools we have been given. These tools must be applied with love or they will be useless to us.

God calls us today to restore His Likeness in us, just as the icons were restored to the Churches.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Sunday of the Prodigal Son. (Personal reflection)

There are several sermon ideas one can pull out of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. One would be to examine how I have estranged myself from God by my actions, like the prodigal. A valuable endeavor, but not where I want to go today. Another would be to look at how unforgiveness hurts my relationship with the Father like the elder son. Again a valuable exercise but also not what I want to ruminate about today. Still one could meditate on how the Father went out to both of his sons rather than expecting them to come to him; again, good spiritual food — not today’s meditation. What I focused on this year as I read the hymns of Vespers and Matins is. . . . the wealth.. the wealth that was squandered. We were created in the Image and likeness of God to fellowship with Him in His Kingdom. The wealth we squander is the likeness of God in us. We squander it when we run away from fellowship with God. When I run from God, I squander the wealth of His likeness in foreign countries. I take His treasure, and my inheritance and treat it like trash. When I refuse to pray I starve myself of spiritual food. It is upon me to return to the Father and eat the spiritual banquet. Lent is soon upon us. An excellent time for that.