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.
As we approach these Lenten days, there is urgency in the voice of the Apostle as we hear his words of alarm going up, like Paul Revere galloping through the night warning all that “The British are coming! The British are coming!” “’Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light’” (Ep. 5:14)! “[N]ow it is high time to awake out of sleep.” Why? Because, “our salvation is nearer [now] than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” Of course, the natural question is, do we believe this? Are we one step closer to salvation than when we first believed?
The Church has her times and seasons of redemption, of calling us to salvation and sanctification. Like a monk, she goes about striking her semantron, summoning us all to wake up, take heed, pay attention, for what we are about to hear could indeed save our lives. Arise! The Son of God is coming with His holy angels. Wake up! He is enroute to this location to set aright this world hurtling through space. Beware! As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of God shall descend, we hear in the Gospels (Mt. 24:37). It will be just another ordinary day on planet earth, until . . . . . . . And, then, it will be too late: too late to repent, too late to ask for forgiveness, too late to say, “I’m sorry”, too late to replenish the oil in our flickering lamps (Mt. 25:1-13), too late for second chances or to make amends, too late to say, “I love Thee, O Lord. Thou art my God from my mother’s womb.” Who of us will not want to cry out, “But, Lord, did we not do and say things in Thy holy Name?” And then Jesus will say those most stern words, “’I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Mt. 7:21-23). “’Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Mt. 25:41).
How this lack of compassion and mercy flies in the face of the world’s neutered version of Christ Pantocrator! When one spends all your days and nights living in darkness, inebriated on the passions and intoxicated with the swill of sin’s seeming delights – Egypt’s pleasures, according to Sacred Scripture (Hb. 11:25-26) – it is indeed very difficult to shake off the stupor of the anesthesia. In the moment, it feels good, it feels right. How can it be so wrong? But, we believe the lie of the devil steeped in death, the prince of darkness (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cr. 4:4), the street con artist perfected in the trickery of “bait and switch,” the expert of “the fine print clause.”
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” Sacred Scripture calls us to repent and to redeem the time (the little we may have left). For the days are full of evil (Mt. 6:34; Ep. 5:16). God demands our attention in order to save us! Those who refuse to believe the building is on fire must be persuaded or else perish. Expose the darkness, says St. Paul who once relished the darkness until the brilliant light of Jesus Christ exposed it and saved him (Ep. 5:11). “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” he commands us. How can we who say we love God entertain the darkness and be friends with it? “If we say that we have fellowship with [the God Who is light], and walk in darkness, we lie,” St. John tells us, “and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6). “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, . . . .” (1 Jn. 2:9-11). The Apostle and Theologian goes on in his Epistle: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). In fact, St. James is even sterner. He warns, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jm. 4:4)! Now, that’s hard! Why? Because we have been lulled to sleep by the darkness of this world enslaved to the evil one.
St. John finishes his thought. He says:
For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:16-17).
The remedy to our malady is to remain vigilant. There is no détente with the devil, no friendly cease fire. You and I? We’re called to put on the armor of light. In fact, we already have if we have been baptized into Jesus Christ. In those most holy waters of our salvation and sanctification, we have “put on Christ” (Ga. 3:27). Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome (Jn. 1:1-13; 8:12:35-36, 46; Phos Hilarion)! Interestingly, the Light, which is Christ God, is the garment Adam and Eve lost in Paradise but is now restored to us! We put on Christ, we put on the armor of His light. Armor is not some sort of casual attire nor is it formal wear. It is the work clothes of a soldier outfitted for combat (Is. 59:17; Ep. 6:10-18). It is the stuff worn in hostile environments, to engage combatants and protect its wearer. It is the stuff of soldiers and peace officers whose very lives depend on the integrity of their armor. No greater light, no greater armor, can we don than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who dwells in light inaccessible (1 Tm. 6:15-16). If we have Him, we walk in His light and not in the darkness of this world. The two are incompatible!
That we are instructed to “put on the armor of light” should tell us something about the world we live in and our relationship to it. We need armor to live in this world benighted by the powers of sin, death, and the devil. We need divine armor. We need Jesus Christ and His divine light to discern right from wrong, good from evil, moral from immoral. We might find that a curious thing, but our world is not friendly to our Lord nor His Church. It has fallen head over heels in love with darkness, intoxicated on the so-called wisdom of this world that calls bad good and good bad, that sees darkness as light and light as darkness, that puts bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, that declares a man to be a woman and a woman a man. This is all according to the Prophet of old. “’Woe unto them that are wise in their own conceit, and knowing in their own sight. Woe to . . . [you] who justify the ungodly for rewards, and take away the righteousness of the righteous’” (Is. 5:20-23). Such confusion of darkness can only lead to the judgment of God Who will come and not delay (Hk. 2:3; Rm. 1:18-32; Hb. 10:37).
It is for good reason, therefore, St. Paul sounds the alarm and urges us to get up from our slumbering ways and put on Jesus Christ the armor of light, and no longer indulge our passions, pamper our spirits, soothe our souls. Our warfare is real and our weapons must be those that are spiritual, crafted by the Holy Spirit and forged in His divine fire. We may walk in the flesh of these bodies, Paul says, but we war not according to the flesh (2 Cr. 10:3-6). Spiritual warfare calls for spiritual weapons and spiritual knowledge. We must remain in the Body of Christ – in the Church – where His light dwells and His divine revelation exposes the darkness of this world. The Church of the living God is “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (1 Tm. 3:15). “For with Thee is the fountain of life,” declares David the king, “in Thy light shall we see light” (Ps. 35 :9). It is only God in His Church Who can help us to see things as they really are for we live in a fallen world. And sometimes I think we forget that. “And I sought to understand all this,” laments the psalmist, “but it was painful work for me – Until I come into God’s sanctuary and comprehend what their end is” (Ps. 72 :16-17).
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. . . . . (1 Th. 5:4-11).
In one of his short homilies contained in The Prologue of Ohrid, St. Nikolai of Zhicha observes that in the Gospels when our Lord Jesus cried out to those physically dead, they awoke and arose in response to His Life-giving word. But, not everyone who was spiritually dead did the same. He says that for this resurrection to occur, “the agreement of the will of the [spiritually] deceased is necessary.” Hence, Judas the betrayer did not arise but Saul the murderer and persecutor of the Church did! “In truth,” St. Nikolai says, “deeper is the sleep of sin than the sleep of death, and the one who is asleep in sin does not easily awaken.”
Arise! Awake, you sleepers in sin and death! The Morning Star is arising and is cresting the horizon (Ep. 5:8-21; 2 Pe. 1:19)! “[P]ut on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts,” St. Paul commands. All those things of the darkness we once enjoyed but are no longer of, we cast off; we throw them away and confine them to the dung heap (Ep. 5:8; Pp. 3:7-11). All so we can have Jesus Christ Who is priceless beyond all telling! And, we put Him on: His virtues and graces, His righteousness and wisdom and power, His sanctification and redemption (1 Cr. 1:30; Ep. 5:8-9). In the light of Christ we put on His light: “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, . . .; even as Christ . . . .” (Co. 3:12-13). “But above all these things,” says St. Paul, “put on love which is the bond of perfection” (Co. 3:14). This is the seamless garment of light, the armor of Christ Himself. To live any other way, to be any other way, is to live in and to be of the darkness. If we are indeed sons and daughters of the Light, let us concentrate the 40 days of the Great Fast on acquiring the virtues of our Lord Who is Light and Life. And, in so doing, we will “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill [gratify] its lusts [desires].”
I leave you, beloved brethren, with this prayer of St. Basil the Great, taken from Morning Prayer:
O Lord Almighty, God of powers and of all flesh, . . . Grant us to pass through the entire night of this present life with wakeful heart and sober mind, awaiting the coming of the radiant day of the appearing of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, when the Judge of all shall come with Glory to reward each according to his deeds. May we not be found fallen and idle, but alert and roused to action, prepared to enter into His joy and the divine bridal chamber of His Glory, where the voice of those who feast is unceasing, and the sweetness of those who behold the ineffable beauty of Thy countenance is beyond telling. For Thou art the true Light that enlightens and sanctifies all things, and all creation doth extol Thee in song, unto ages of ages.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God,
have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!