Becoming Sanctuary

Homily 281 – 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 1, 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

What does it mean to be a sanctuary of the Living God?

If what St. Paul writes is true, which it is, then a sanctuary is what we are. And not just any sanctuary. A sanctuary of the Living God.

Sanctuary literally means a container of holy. It is a Latin word – Sanctus meaning holy or sacred, with an ending, -arium, which means container.

Over time, it has come to mean the main area of a worship space – in the language of the Church, the sanctuary proper is the space on the side of the iconostasis where the Altar Table is located.

As our society has drifted further and further from all things religious, it is now considered any place of protection, any place of safety.

The Revised Standard Version as well as the English Standard Version translates this as “temple”. Same idea – a place where God lives.

St. Paul goes further. He quotes Leviticus and Isaiah to tell us not just that we are the dwelling of God, but that we are sons and daughters of God.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the second Epistle reading, St. Paul talks about another temple – the temple of God described by God in the Old Testament.

We read this Epistle for the feast of the Protection – in Church Slavonic, Pokrov. We have to connect the dots and see that St. Paul takes the image of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Church applies that exact image to the Theotokos.

And on this Sunday, that image is extended to us as well.

Just like God dwelt in the ancient temple in Jerusalem, just as the Womb of the Virgin Mary contained the uncontainable God – we also contain that same holiness, within us.

And, like Mary, perhaps we don’t fully realize what is within us.

The events surrounding the Annunciation and Birth of Our Lord were apparently not clearly understood by Mary either, as St. Luke reports she kept and treasured all the events, pondering them in her heart.

People often say, Father, I don’t feel holy.

And there is a reason for that.

Holy isn’t a feeling. It is a state. We don’t say, “I don’t feel bipedal,” yet we have two feet. We don’t say, “I don’t feel like I have two hemispheres in my brain.”

Yet we do. There are things that are so much a part of us that we can’t feel them.

There are physical things that are a part of us so deeply we don’t consciously recognize them.

We don’t feel them.

The problem we face is that our humanity is corrupted. We don’t feel holy because that holiness is clouded – obscured – by the defilement of our flesh and spirit.

It is that defilement that the Old Testament Law was meant to cleanse – but only to be obscured again.

And now – we have Christ, who has cleansed not just us, but humanity, and all our human nature.

It is exactly that simple – and yet, immensely difficult. In the Old Temple, there were many levels and many places within other places. And the priest had to cleanse them all.

So too do we have to give ourselves over to God for our cleansing. God will not compel us. I’ve said that before. God never compels us, forces us.

We have to willingly hand ourselves over to be cleansed by Him. And those parts of us that aren’t cleansed, aren’t healed.

Because we refuse to let them go.

We hang on tightly to them – those dark places in our lives that we believe are hidden from everyone – including God.

But they aren’t. God knows all of them – and understands them on a level we cannot understand ourselves.

Christ was incarnate – He had humanity, full humanity, including our fallen-ness. And yet He did not sin.

He knows about human desire, human feelings. Because He is fully human!

So let’s not kid ourselves any more. God knows. We don’t need to hide anything from Him. We don’t need to hold back anything from Him.

It is difficult to be sure. Painful to be sure.

But brothers and sisters – once we are cleansed! Such joy! Such life! Emotions no longer hold sway over us, because we know that everything works for the Good of those who love God.

Our life is transformed into a full-on effort to rid ourselves of everything, so that God may fill us.

And we will be a sanctuary.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

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