the anxiety of holiness

Homily 464 – 3rd APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 11, 2021
Epistle: (88) Romans 5: 1-10
Gospel: (18) Matthew 6:22-33

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

I want to commend this Gospel reading to you, particularly if you suffer from anxiety. Read it out loud to yourself every morning and every night. You need to hear this. I need to hear this.

Not just read it – hear it. Audibly. Remind yourself often that God loves you. The evil one doesn’t want you to know that. Or at least doesn’t want that to be the thing we dwell on.

The evil one distracts us. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating. The evil one distracts us. From God, from His love, from the source and font of life.

The gospel passage alludes to the idea of focusing our attention, as I have mentioned before as well. The lamp of the body is the eye.

The eyes are the most broad-reaching of the senses. We all know how if blindness strikes, the other senses are heightened. Meaning, if we can see, the other senses are somewhat dulled and are limited.

He says “if your eye is sound …” The characteristic of a sound eye is one focused entirely on our Lord. That light – the uncreated light which emanates from our Lord, that light of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor – will not allow the presence of any darkness in us.

And if we do not have focus on that light, the darkness enters. But, we have to understand that darkness isn’t a thing – it is the absence of a thing. We have to understand that darkness can’t compete with light. It cannot overcome light.

We, however, can remove our gaze from the light, and the light departs, leaving us in darkness.

It is our choice. God never abandons us. We may feel that way at times – and as a result, feel anxious, even despondent. But that isn’t true. God never abandons us. The light still exists.

We are the ones who refuse to focus on it. We refuse to enter into that light.

We choose to live in darkness. We don’t like to hear that. But it is true, and we shouldn’t lie to ourselves.

So we should ask – what about the painful things? The tragic things? Isn’t God abandoning us?

Short answer is no – not at all. Rather those things occur to everyone – the righteous and the unrighteous. There is no relationship between the lack of pain or perceived lack of trouble in our life and the degree to which God loves us and is here with us.

These things are used for our good, though. We’ve all heard the saying “no pain, no gain” in the world of fitness or exercise.

Same is true of the spiritual exercises. Spiritual exercise endures all things. Is content with all things. The elite spiritual athletes are those who are able to say thank you to God and glory to God in the face of pain, of trauma, of perceived abandonment.

If we don’t have a force exerted against us – a weight, a barrier to be overcome – some type of obstacle – our spiritual muscles, just like our physical ones, atrophy, become weak and useless.

But through struggle and exercise – not always successful, by the way – we build our strength, with each repetition, with each set.

And we have the perfect trainer for these exercises. We can, and should, put our complete trust and faith in that trainer, that everything the trainer places in front of us is for our wellbeing and ultimate healing and strength.

What are these training exercises? That is a question with a lengthy answer. One that takes the remainder of our earthly lives to accomplish.

It is keeping our focus entirely on Christ, and as soon as we notice any distraction, returning our gaze, our eyes, to the Light.

It is, as Christ commands, denying our self – that is to say, our fallen self. The self that doesn’t want to accept that God wants what is good and perfect and holy for us. The fallen self that sees pain and trauma and tragedy as punishment, instead of opportunities for healing.

To focus not on acquiring resources to meet our own needs, but to accept the resources we have to meet both our needs and the needs of our neighbors.

To share – to invite others to share in our abundance, be it food or shelter or clothing.

People sometimes say, but Father, that is socialist! The pooling of ownership of resources is outright socialist!

And I don’t know the answer to that – but I know that is what Christ commands, and the Fathers teach, and my salvation demands of me.

Christ gives us but one command – deny yourself. That certainly isn’t capitalist, nor democratic. The attention in that command is focused not on our own needs, but solely on the needs of Christ.

Because everyone – everyone – we encounter is Christ.

Beloved we live in an amazing time. I have personally been quite discouraged about the state of our society. How little we care for one another, particularly those we don’t know in person.

Hearing this Gospel gives me, and hopefully you, hope. Because there is a lot of low-hanging fruit out there, my brothers and sisters. A lot.

Sharing, giving, denying ourselves – in this day and age has never been easier.

And that is for our healing, and for our salvation.

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