Running toward hope.

Homily 303 – 4th of Great Lent
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 18, 2018

Epistle: (314) – Hebrews 6:13-20 and (229) – Ephesians 5:9-19 (St John Climacus)
Gospel: (40) – Mark 9:17-31 and (10) – Matthew 4:25-5:12 (St John Climacus)

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

I don’t know how many of us have read “The Ladder of Divine Assent.” This book was so important in the life of the Church, that St. John’s very person became identified with it.

And we commemorate his memory every year, multiple times, perhaps never as significantly as today, the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent.

I read the book in detail in Seminary. My professor, Dr. Christopher Veniamin, grew up with the text and it was a capstone class in my final year.

We can begin to see the progression – one which Dr. Christopher made quite evident.

Great Lent begins with the asking and receiving of forgiveness, which is the beginning of repentance. The following week, we hear the faith proclaimed in the Sunday of Orthodoxy, specifically in the Synodikon – or so-called Anathemas – read at the Vespers for that Sunday evening.

The following week, St. Gregory Palamas reminds us that an encounter with God is possible.

The Third Sunday, we learn why that encounter is possible – because in the Cross, the Second Person of the Trinity dwelt among us, with the same flesh and same nature common to all of us.

And he combined that nature with the Divine, and died on the cross, and injected life into death itself – and death ceased to exist.

And today – we learn from St. John, who lived 700 years before St. Gregory Palamas – from St. John we learn how to unite ourselves to Christ.

We begin with Baptism, of course, but what comes next?

St. John’s “Ladder” has 30 steps. And to be honest, many of them are frightening. It is not a text where you look ahead, but rather focus on where you are.

Most of us are at the very beginning. The First Step on the ladder is to renounce the world.

The First Step.

Right away we learn a couple of things. The Ladder is not for the faint-hearted. The Ladder was written as advice to monastics, which most of us are not.

We need to approach what we do here – and in life outside this building – with seriousness.

We should never allow ourselves to think that it doesn’t matter. Because it does. It does matter.

It is literally a matter of life and death.

Belief is not an easy path. To us it feels like taking a risk. Am I willing to stake my very existence on God’s? And more than that – that He really cares? That He loves us?

Like the father, desperate for the deliverance of his son, we cry “I believe, help my unbelief!”

We believe – we have hope. A deep and abiding hope that allows us to fearlessly begin the climb of the ladder.

Knowing that as St. Paul points out – Christ went there first. That hope which anchors the soul, and a hope that is both sure and solid.

It is the hope of the resurrection.

That is our hope. That is our promise. That is the promise given to humanity since the time of Abraham. The one Abraham patiently waited for.

And found fulfilled in Christ.

So we live our lives in this hope. We live imperfectly in that hope. We frequently fail that hope.

We’re learning how to live in hope. Jesus standing at our side, helping us get up, helping us try again, as we struggle to learn.

We hope – and step onto the ladder. Knowing that the ladder will not break, will not move.

Knowing that there are demons trying to drag us away, taking advantage of the times we loosen our grip on hope.

And if we do loosen our grip and get knocked off, with the encouragement of our Lord, to get back on the ladder and climb again.

In hope.

Knowing Christ is with us, like a parent teaching a child to ride a bicycle. Always there – until we can balance ourselves.

The ladder is scary. But fear isn’t the end. We don’t run away from the world because of fear.

We run toward the ladder because of hope.

Because while the first rung of the ladder is to abandon the world, the last rung is love.

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