Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath for us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. . . . We love Him, because He first loved us.
Today, the Church commemorates a truly extraordinary saint who has been honored with the title “The Theologian.” (In the older version he was known as St. John the Divine.) Not many in the Church’s history have been so honored. In fact, only two others have merited the title “Theologian” because of their spiritual vision and the mystical heights they attained and to which they now direct us: Gregory the Theologian and Symeon the New Theologian. In the Tradition, St. John is frequently represented by an eagle – symbolic of his clear-eyed sight of the numinous and the spiritual heights to which he soared. Of the four Evangelists, he is perhaps the most sacramental capturing for us the Mysteries of Holy Baptism (Jn. 3-4), the Holy Eucharist (Jn. 6), and Holy Confession (Jn. 20). His Gospel has lent itself nicely to the preparation of catechumens for their reception into the Faith and as a mystagogical commentary on the Mysteries themselves. His Gospel is read almost exclusively during Paschaltide.
St. John was one of two sons of the fisherman, Zebedee, and of Salome, the daughter of Joseph the Betrothed who took unto himself the Most Holy Theotokos. His brother was St. James and, together with a fellow fisherman, St. Peter, they formed the triumvirate inner core of Jesus’ Twelve. James and John earned the nickname from our Lord, “Boanerges, that is, The Sons of Thunder” (Mk. 3:17). Why Jesus nicknamed them as such, the Gospels don’t really say. We are left to conjecture that it may have had something to do with their “thunderous” demeanor displayed once in St. Luke’s Gospel when they wanted to call down fire from Heaven, like the Prophet Elijah had once done, upon some Samaritans who had refused Jesus “because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.” Our Lord had to remind them (perhaps reprimand them?), saying unto them, “’Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them’” (4 Kg. [2 Kg.] 1:10, 12; Lk. 9:51-56).
And yet, the glorious truth is that even this “son of thunder” was transformed by the divine Lover enfleshed in Jesus Christ the Son of God so that, in my opinion, St. John, transfigured by our Lord, is truly the Apostle of love, even moreso than St. Paul whose famous “love chapter” (1 Cr. 13) is frequently called upon in non-Orthodox weddings. St. John the Theologian drives home the utterly profound and ineffable love of God Almighty for His creation and for sinners:
‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’ (Jn. 3:16-17).
So great was John’s sense of God’s mercy in his life that he does not name himself in his Gospel but simply and humbly prefers anonymity to celebrity, referring to himself, as though in total disbelief, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn. 13:23; 18:15; 19:26; 21:7, 20). It is to this Disciple that our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ commends His most holy Mother as they stood by the Cross keeping vigil on that Great and Holy Friday. Of the Twelve, St. John is the only one who did not suffer martyrdom, but rather was exiled for the sake of our Lord and His testimony on the island of Patmos from where he penned the Apocalypse, that is, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rv. 1:1). Released from his exile by Nero, he returned to Ephesus where he reposed in the Lord at around 100 years of age.
For this Apostle and Evangelist, the love of God is the heights of Heaven to which we are called as redeemed and sanctified sinners! “God is love,” he declares. God doesn’t merely have love, but He is love. His nature is love – a fact of faith we constantly announce and affirm in our services. God loves mankind: “For Thou art a good God and lovest mankind and unto Thee do we send up glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” Again and again, we confess this truth as though, we, too, cannot believe it is so! “Herein is love,” declares St. John, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). It is divine Love – the Lover Jesus Christ Himself! – that transforms sinners into saints and transfigures us with His divine glory. “[H]e who dwelleth [i.e., abides, remains, tabernacles] in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Love, Biblically, is first and foremost a divine act of the converted will and, secondly, an affection of the sanctified heart. In the Gospel, God loves sinners so much that He wills our redemption and does something about it because He truly has affection for all that He has brought into existence from nothing! In God love is perfect, and if we are in Him and He in us, His love, too, will be and is being perfected in us. God cannot dwell in souls that do not love.
Love as a spiritual reality must take on earthly substance, that is, it must look like something just as faith and hope must look like something. This is the basis even of the Church’s Sacraments – her Mysteries – that are the physical expressions for grace – the channels of God’s grace. God has given to us His Holy Spirit which the Theologian assures us is evidence of the mutual divine indwelling: God in us and us in God. But, how do we know? When and where did we receive such an amazing gift, did we receive God? Answer: in the Mystery of the waters of Holy Baptism and, more specifically, in the anointing with the oil of the Mystery of Holy Chrismation. This reality gets reinforced when we eat the divinized Body of our Lord in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist and drink His divinized Blood. “We have received the heavenly Spirit,” we sing testifying to this truth (Divine Liturgy). Through these Holy Mysteries the love of God is being perfected in us because He dwells in us. Through our exercising of faith, hope, and love, God’s love is being perfected in us because we dwell in Him. All of this is, part and parcel, tied up with our confession at Baptism “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” and with our keeping of God’s commandments. “And this is His commandment,” says the Theologian,
that we should believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us: by the Spirit which He hath given us (1 Jn. 3:23-24).
We cannot say that we love God and yet not abide in His Word nor His Word, in the form of His commandments, not abide in us, which is to say, that we do God’s Word. The two are interdependent. These two are likewise bound up with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, given to us and through Whom our Lord’s words are “’spirit and life’” (Jn. 6:63; 14:15-26). In short, to love the Word of God is to love God Himself and to love God Himself means, of necessity, to love others. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8).
All of this is because St. John the Theologian has the heavenly vision of God filling the eye of his soul (nous) because he gazes in his heart upon the Word of God made flesh Who has manifested the Father. “No man hath seen God at any time.” That’s what St. John says both here today in his Epistle and in the opening chapter of his Gospel. “[T]he only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared Him” (Jn. 1:18). “In this was manifested the love of God toward us: that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him,” that we might replicate God’s love enfleshed in Jesus Christ in the way we live (1 Jn. 4:9). This vision of God must fill our hearts and capture our thoughts and dreams, just as much as it did St. John’s. “By loving God, we lift ourselves up to a higher spiritual atmosphere, an atmosphere of love and a new ‘inspiration of life,’” Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory says. “The heart of an Orthodox Christian is filled with such divine love and radiates it everywhere and upon everyone.” Love for God with an undivided heart can only “strengthen and deepen” our love for others (Living According to God’s Will, p. 120).
“No man hath seen God at anytime. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” Love for God, beloved, is the summit of our Christian moral ascent as well as the source for our spiritual living, for our living the Christ-life (Living According to God’s Will, p. 121). Is this not what is said of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist – the Memorial of divine love enfleshed and sacrificed? The Holy Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Church, of the Orthodox Christian. It is that which constitutes the supreme Kingdom of the Holy Trinity and is the majesty of “love divine, all loves excelling” (St. Nikolai of Zhicha)!
Beloved, “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. . . . We love Him, because He first loved us.” “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, especially the holy, glorious, and all-laudable Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
1 Jn. 3:21-4:6 Hb. 13:17-21
1 Jn. 4:11-16 Lk. 6:17-23
1 Jn. 4:20-5:5