The Rhythm of the true life.

Homily 538 – 4GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 26, 2023
Epistle:  (314) Hebrews 6:13-20 and (306) Hebrews 2:11-18
Gospel:  (40) Mark 9:17-31 and (3) Luke 1:24-38

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

There are several different liturgical elements that overlap one another today.  The primary one is the Annunciation, which we celebrated yesterday, and the other is the Synaxis, or “gathering” of the Archangel Gabriel.

A consistent theme in Orthodox feasts is the idea of Synaxis, the day following the feast.  The day after Christmas is the Synaxis of the Theotokos.  The day after Ss. Peter and Paul is the Synaxis of the Apostles.  The day after the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple is the Synaxis of Righteous Simeon and Anna the Prophetess.

This allows us the opportunity to enter into the roles, or at least consider the roles, played by the other individuals in the feast.

Today, that individual is the Archangel Gabriel.  And that role is important enough, combined with the feast yesterday, that there is no room for the liturgical celebration of St. John Climacus – St. John of the Ladder – as there would be in a – quote – “normal” Great Lent.

For everything we do in the Church, all the major feasts, there is a pre-feast and an after-feast provided on the calendar.  The presence of these pre- and post-feast periods have reminded me that nothing in God is really instantaneous.

One of the most difficult things for us to comprehend is that there isn’t time in God – God doesn’t experience time.  So, “instantaneous” has no meaning.  And yet, for us, who only experience time, we struggle to live in the moment.

While God lives outside of time, and we live inside of time, the statement is still true:  nothing in God is really instantaneous.  And we want it to be.  We like definition.  We like before and after.

We like saying life begins at the moment of conception, but pregnancy is a 9-month process.  We struggle to identify a day and time and moment of death at the other end of the spectrum, yet, that also is a process.

For Moses ascending and meeting God on Mt. Sinai, it was a process to ascend the mountain, meet God as commanded, and descend the mountain.  For the disciples and Christ at the Transfiguration there was the ascent and descent of Mt. Tabor.

What we experience today is the mountain – the Divine Liturgy.  Yet, there is an ascent – a gathering, a synaxis – as well as an afterfeast, which is the descent into the world.

It is truly us ascending to heaven and returning to the earth!  We sometimes say that we “call down” the Holy Spirit, but the journey for us is not that God comes down, but that we ascend and return.

So too with the image of the feasts – we prepare, ascend, meet God, descend, then start again.  We do that weekly for the Divine Liturgy.  In the monasteries and some larger parishes, they do that daily.

So, for us, it becomes a cycle of ascending and descending – entering and withdrawing.

Some in the Church used to pray the thanksgiving prayers after communion each day until Wednesday, when they would begin to pray the preparation prayers before communion daily.  This reinforced in them the idea that our whole life is one of preparation, receiving, and withdrawal.

Even this period we are in now, the period of Great Lent, is a period of preparation.  We ascend through Lent and Holy Week.  We experience God at Pascha in a way that transcends the other encounters – and yet is exactly the same as them.  Then, we withdraw into the afterfeast – right up to the Ascension of Christ 40 days later.

After the Ascension, we begin thinking about Pentecost.

And the rhythm of time continues.

I encourage all of us to enter into that rhythm.  To join those cycles of ascent, and descent.  To savor the God-encounter.

To set aside all that this world can offer – because what this world offers is, by comparison, dust and ashes.

We have a choice – the fame and wealth and power of this world, which is but dust and ash and filth – or the whole of creation, the beauty of love, the experience of being in the presence of God.

What is more valuable?  Our stuff?  Or our relationships?  Someone to love, and someone to love us.

Our stuff will never provide us with happiness or joy.  When we are laid to rest in the sleep of Christ, our stuff will not go with us.  Our status will not go with us.  Our power will not go with us.

However, our relationships will survive that experience.  Our relationships will endure, particularly the relationship with our spouses.  We are made one flesh in marriage – that isn’t just a euphemism for intimate relations.

It is an apt description that two become one – like the Three Persons of the Trinity are one.  Like Christ prayed we all would become one.

That is what survives.  That is what endures.

When St. John of the Ladder describes step one of the Ladder of Divine Ascent as leaving the world, some, very few, are called to actually leave the world.  The rest of us are called to see the world differently.

To see the world for what it is.  Fallen.  Selfish.  Fake.  Worth-less.  Unworthy of our attention.  Unworthy even of our noticing.

And instead, to set our eyes on what is everlasting, and true, and self-less.  God that is always with us and always around us and in us.  The people around us that are made in the image and likeness of God.

The Kingdom of Heaven, which is in our midst even now.

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