Commemoration of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE INFIRMARY CALLED THE CHURCH
by Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Cyprus [A talk given by Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol at the University of Cyprus]
...we'll try to have a series of homilies as a base so that we can move on to the true knowledge of the spiritual life, as the Fathers of our Church placed a lot of importance and attention on this, that a person who is to begin the spiritual life will place things correctly inside of him right from the beginning; for the spiritual life, the life in Christ is very delicate and very specific. For example, it's like a chemical equation, in which all the elements must be placed in the right way. Because if not placed correctly, then we will obtain erroneous results, and sometimes those results are very painful, especially in the spiritual sphere, in our spiritual course.
And so, they placed much importance on this, so that a person who would receive accurate knowledge, the correct knowledge. That's why I thought it appropriate for us to begin by talking about the first fundamental, this fundamental of the knowledge of man. The Holy Fathers, even though they were spiritual people and theologians--not in today's sense of the word, where we study in universities and attain a sheet of paper saying 'theologian', but were theologians who spoke with God and about God from their experiences--wrote works and things concerning man. Even more so, you know that the Holy Scriptures, the Old Testament, starts by speaking about the creation of the world and the creation of man. In this way, I too will try to say a few words about this great event, so that we can understand how important it is for someone to be human and how important it is that God became man and gave us the possibility to become gods. For this reason, I will say a few things, which you obviously know from school, from your childhood, but are necessary, so that on this we can build the rest of the edifice, which we will try to achieve by God's grace.
It is well-known to all of us that in the Church we say that God became man to deify man. We, the people of today, meaning the people after the fall of the first Adam, the first man, aren't unaware of how man was made from God's hands. Of course, we know from the Holy Scriptures that God made man in His Image and according to His likeness. Holy Scriptures is neither a scientific book, nor an anthropological nor geographical nor astronomical book not any of that. And those fears that arise at times are ridiculous, the fear, let's say, that if fossils are found, or astronauts discover life on other planets, then what will happen to the Church, what will happen to the Holy Scriptures spoke of a different fact. The fact that concerns us Christians is that God, out of non-being, nothing, driven by endless love, created man. He created man in His Image and according to His likeness. Meaning He gave His Image, all the gifts that He Himself has, meaning He created a copy of Himself, a photo of Himself, this is what "in the image of means", all that God as in His Nature, He gave as gifts, free, to us. And in this way He shows the great value of man, because man is king over all creation and is the center of all creation.
We know from the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) that the first man, Adam, who acquired his main work in paradise, within this place that God placed him, all powers within him functioned normally. And in this way, all his love, all his desire, all his mind, his heart, his power his strength functioned towards God and through God within the creation. Adam embraced all of creation in a natural way, because all his strengths were united; his personality had not been divided yet. We know that after the breaking God's Commandment, communion with God was immediately interrupted, his personality was split and in this way we now have the invasion of passions and sin in the human being.
Sin and passions are nothing more than perversions of natural human actions--that is, those gifts that God gave people. That is, God gave man love, since He is love, and love was perverted into hate, from selfless love it turned into self-seeking love. God gave man's mind ceaseless prayer as its task. Ceaseless prayer is nothing other than the continuous contemplation of God. And yet, through his fall this good work ended and his mind turned towards matter, towards the world, to the creation and worshipped creation instead of the Creator. And so, we had the birth of idolatry, which of course did not take place only before Christ, but continues up to this day in different guises.
We have the course of man through the centuries. We have God's revelation to the chosen people of Israel, and after that God's entry into the world-the incarnation of the Divine Word. Christ came into the world, not to give us the Gospel as a body of truths; the Gospel is not a book like the Koran, which fell from the sky and talks about philosophies, so as to comprise a law and a code for the people. The Gospel is nothing other than the experience of the Apostles, who live with Christ.
Christ came into the world not to reveal ideas or give us a philosophy or a few principles, but came into the world to give us Himself, Who is given to the world daily, in the church, in Holy Communion. This was the meaning of the Incarnation, of the Divine Word (Logos). And by giving Himself to the world, at the same time He took the world upon Himself; He became man, He sanctified human nature, took it into heaven, sat it at the right hand of God the Father and after that showed us that His path and place also belongs to us, of the glory of the human body, of man in his entirety. Man is no longer a soul or just an ethical concept, but human in his totality in all that he is. God having ascended left man in the Church, and this Church is precisely the spiritual sphere through which the knowledge of God has been passed down from generation to generation, now as an experience, the knowledge of God, of the true God. In this way, our Church, from the day Christ came, from the day of the Pentecost, was received as a trust, a treasure, as a gift, as an inheritance, this grace of Holy Spirit. And it passes on this grace of the Holy Spirit from generation to generation to people, who follow this method of the Church, and the method of the Apostles; and in this way, we have during this journey the body of saints, who are the confirmation of the Logos (word) of God, the confirmation of the Gospel.
Many times we all ask ourselves, and especially young adults, about the existence of sin, and why a particular deed is a sin and what does sin mean. This is of great importance for our subject, the person. Because, as we mentioned before, we do not know who man is according to nature. We didn't see the first man. We understand today's man, ourselves, those around us, about whom we can say, none of us is a normal person, a person according to nature. Meaning, we have Adam, who was created by God, who is a person according to nature. And there's man after his fall, who is us, who we understand, who is man not according to nature. We'll call him sub-man. So, after Christ's Incarnation we have the new Adam, Who is God-Man (Theanthropos). We have man, sub-man and God-Man (Theanthropos).
Now, the Church, Christ, calls on us to make progress, to dedicate ourselves, to find our self, to find our real self. This finding our real self is nothing more than the return course which heads backwards; that is, to return to our creation (which was) according to nature, where as God created us, and in continuation, after we work within this sphere, this state, we surpass this state as well and ascend towards the supernatural state, which is Theosis (deification). And this is neither ethics nor philosophy, but an experience. And glory be to God that in our Church, to this day, there are still people and will always be people who have reached this state of Theosis (deification), and in this state all their energies are now active, these energies which God gave us at the time of our creation. And they confirm that those things which Christ revealed to the world are realities and truth.
Today, an Orthodox person, a Saint, would easily place the Church in the school of medicine, because the Church is nothing more than a spiritual sphere, where the spiritually sick are healed. And it does not heal him through magic or wishing, but it heals him through a precise method, which has been tested by the Saints. And the truth of the method has been proved and ended up an axiom and has been reduced into a scientific path, since thousands, even millions of people, have found spiritual health and balance through this method, which is nothing other than the return of man to the sphere, to the way, the axiom of his first creation by God and in continuation his ascension t the state of Theosis (deification).
So we have said that the Church belongs--according to the Orthodox view--within the area of medicine, because truly it is about healing. And in this hospital, this spiritual one, the doctor is not a person but God Himself Who acts and ministers to a person's needs through His Saints, who are experienced in this therapeutic path. From my own little experience, my personal experience, as a feeble person and my experience as a priest and monk, I may say that it is a fact that we experience daily all this tragedy of the division of human personality and discover that sin is a person's greatest illness. Sometimes, I say to myself and to others that it would be nice--if we can say such a thing--if sin healed man; and today most people would be healthy or at least happy. Because today this concept has been renounced and sin has been made divine, and so if you do things that are infractions of your according-to-nature creation they are considered normal; while if you choose to be on the other side then it is considered against one's nature, and you must be sick not to do what everyone else does! But the paradox here is that the more man becomes free, the more man does things that were or are considered sins, the more he becomes entangled in this sick condition, and cannot then get out of it. And in the end, if his soul remains alive, then he will taste much bitterness through this path which he began, and afterwards many tears.
I have seen hundreds of people crying bitter tears for the fruit of sin. I have not seen hundreds of people crying bitter tears for the fruit of sin. I have not seen anyone cry for having followed the footpaths of the Saints' experiences. On the contrary, if they seemed miserable to people, their heart was filled with heavenly joy and inexpressible blessedness, which we often hope for people to have many times, even if only some crumbs, so that they could finally understand where this happiness rests which they're looking for.
Our relationship with God is a relationship of love, a relationship of children with their father and a relationship, to use a term from the Church Fathers, a relationship of repentance. That is, repentance is when man feels that he is breaking the Law of God--which is his cure--and is acting perverse. When he feels the perversion in his nature, then he starts to pray. This prayer is the urging of God's mercy, of God's existence. Because God is a person, God is not idea. God is a person and indeed the person par excellence on Whom we were at our creation. And if whichever personal relationship in this world has strength, imagine how much strength and intensity the personal relationship with God has! When man correctly enters into this sphere of his relationship with God, internally this powerful hope of God's love slowly dawns. He overlooks the fact of his sin, he overlooks the fact of his distancing, he overlooks the fact of his sickness and attains the joy of hope. It's like an ill person who is in the hospital aches and suffers from his traumas, but knows that his doctor is very able, the hospital is well equipped, there are many other sick people that were all healed. And so, in the hope that all will go well, hope begins slowly dawning inside him.
The joy that the world gives is an external joy, because it depends on external factors. So, if we assume that our family is well and happy, our studies are going well, our work and actions are good and are going well, all those external factors affect us internally, usually, and create in us pleasant states, joy and happiness. If the external factors are not going well, usually our soul aligns and internally we don't feel well.
But in the spiritual world of the Church things don't work this way. Man becomes independent from the influence of his surroundings. He is free of his surroundings, even if everything external is not going well, and they threaten him and crush him and even if they make him disappear from the face of the earth, then this joy and peace remain inside him, because they have become an internal fact, meaning internal to external, not external to internal. Precisely because God's Grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to enter into the deepest being of man. And this has been proven by the Saints, that despite being persecuted, despite being poor, despite being in deserts, in caves, the martyrs who were eaten by lions or slaughtered by executioners, those people were people of peace and joy, people who could embrace in absolute love even the people that hated them and were killing them. When man enters into the spiritual life correctly then right from the first instant the light of hope in God starts dawning inside him. However, we definitely have a path (to walk), and this path requires struggle, patience, endurance and most of all faith that God, as a good doctor, retains in His hands our path, which is a collaboration of human freedom together with freedom and grace of the Holy Spirit. A proof is that despite the fact that many times they tell us we are not on the right path, and we are striving with no results, still we do not leave the Church. That is, regardless of what bad shape we're in the spiritual sphere of the Church, because there is a secret attraction, a secret power that retains all the opposition that we come across in our every step.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God