My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT: REFLECTIONS ON LIFE IN GOD
By Archimandrite AIMILIANOS of SIMONOPETRA
The Throne of God
By the grace of God, we have now entered the period of the Triodion, which will lead us by stages to the heart of the ecclesiastical year. The next four weeks will be a preparation for Great Lent, and ultimately for Holy and Great Week, when we shall suffer and be buried with the Lord. After that, together with all the saints and all creation, we will joyfully celebrate the Lord's glorious Resurrection, along with our own spiritual renewal.
Anyone who has developed a strong, spiritual connection with the feasts of the Church will surely cry out in exclamation when, on the First Sunday of Lent, he hears the words: "You will see the heavens open and the Angels of the Lord ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (Saint John 1:52). This passage from the Gospel of Saint John provides me with the starting point for my homily today.
If we pay close attention to the Gospel readings throughout the period of the Triodion and Great Lent, we will see that, in each of them, Christ is revealed to us in new and different ways. The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, and that of the Prodigal Son, presents us with the humility and paternal embrace of the Son of God. As such they constitute a revelation of God and a source of knowledge about Him. Meat-Fare Sunday reveals to us the Son of Man in His glory, seated on His Throne and judging the nations. Cheese-Fare Sunday speaks to us of the new life of communion in Christ.
As you can see, Christ reigns supreme in all things. But even though all things reveal His glory to us, man's tragedy is that he cannot see with his eyes the God Whom he desires. We seek God in our prayers. Each of us, in his own way, as much as he can, and by whatever means he has at his disposal, endeavors to see God. In the end, however, we must make our own the words which say: "I sought Him and did not find Him, I called upon Him and He did not hearken to me" (Song 3:1). This is the cry and the lamentation of our hearts, because we don't see God, or obtain from Him a response to our prayers.
What are we to do? Who would ever be satisfied with never seeing or knowing the person he loved? Who would ever marry a person he had not first met, and gotten to know? How can our hearts espouse Christ if we don't see Him anywhere?
This is why we feel like the bride in the Song of Songs, and join her in her resolve: "I shall arise and go about the whole city looking for him. I will search the market places, I shall run through the streets and I shall seek him whom my soul has loved" (Song 3:2). We know that God is within us, because we know that He is everywhere. But we don't see Him, we don't hear Him, and it is hard to live as if we had neither eyes nor ears.
To be sure, we know that "no one has ever seen God" (St. John 1:18) in His nature, for "no one may see Him and live" (Exodus 33:20). In His nature, God is absolutely transcendent and inaccessible, utterly beyond all things that we are able to know or imagine. He alone is not like all the other things that we know, for He is not a thing, not an object we can grasp with our minds. And yet, my dear friends, the Sacred Scripture are full of testimonies and signs of God's loving, active presence among men. Let us then consider a few of these passages and see how the infinite God is manifested in time and space to finite man.
Speaking through the Prophet Hosea, God says: "I have multiplied visions and at the hands of the prophets I have been represented" (Hosea 12:10). God has revealed Himself in visions; He has given Himself over to prophets and seers, to be seen by them in various forms and likenesses. And in these forms and likenesses the prophets recognized God and passed on to us that which they saw and venerated. God gave Himself into their hands and allowed Himself to be represented by them. And He appeared not just once, or under a single form, but many times, "in multiple visions," and thus the invisible God rendered Himself visible through symbolic images and representations.
We can say, then, that, without departing from or in any way altering His inaccessible essence, God graciously condescended to human weakness, and appeared in forms and representation that were intelligible and familiar, in order to raise us to full knowledge of His Divinity. Thus we have the experience of God's presence among us, and the sense that we have seen that which is beyond vision.
Perhaps the most prominent vehicle of God's manifestation on earth is His throne, which He occupies in order to visit His people. Images of God as a King seated upon His Throne can be found throughout the Scripture, including the Gospel for Meat-Fare Sunday (St. Matthew 25:31-46), which we mentioned a moment ago. This is an unparalleled account of the Second Coming, when the Lord will appear "seated on His Throne of Glory" (St. Matthew 25:31). All of us are familiar with this passage, having read and heard it many times. It may be the case, however, that the meaning of Christ's "Throne of Glory" has escaped our attention, and thus it will be worthwhile to consider it carefully.
Let's begin, then, by turning to the vision of the Prophet Isaiah, who, beholding the glory of God, said: "I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne" (Isaiah 6:1). These are not simply a series of words spoken by the prophet. In fact they are not really words at all, but rather revelatory actions. They are not projections of the human imagination, but rather the self-expression of God, revealing how and in what manner He is among us. From the moment we come to know God, we understand that, day and night, wherever we are, God is there too, and He will be present to us wherever we go.
The Prophet Ezekiel says virtually the same things in his vision: "I saw the heavens opened and I saw visions of God...I saw the appearance of a sapphire stone, and upon it was the likeness of a throne" (Ezekiel 1:1, 26). The Prophet tells us he saw visions, which means that he saw God in many ways, under many forms, and through many representations. It's as if he's saying: "God presented Himself to me by means of a thousand ruses, so that I might gain a true idea of what He was, and transmit that knowledge to His people." Like Isaiah, Ezekiel also beheld the heavenly throne, which for both prophets is linked to a vision of the Heavenly Temple, of which Solomon's Temple was an earthly copy. And if the throne in the earthly temple elevated on six steps (1 Kings 10:19), it was in imitation of its heavenly archetype, the Throne of the Lord, which is "high and exalted" (Isaiah 6:1), located "above the firmament, over the heads of the four living creatures" (Ezekiel 1:26).
Now if God's throne itself is beyond the heavens--the bottom of it, in a sense, being just barely visible beyond the height of the heavens--then we can understand how exalted God Himself must be. God is beyond the heavens. He is not part of the created, material order. Neither is He part of the created, spiritual order. He is just as much beyond mind as He is beyond matter. As such He is visible neither to the eyes of the body nor to those of the soul. He is not like anything you have ever seen or thought or imagined. He is utterly different from anything the human mind can conceive. This is why the Prophets saw Him in visions and manifestations, and why they spoke of Him only "in representations, likenesses, and parables" (cf., Hosea 12:10).
God, then, transcends all things, and thus the throne is an appropriate image of His absolute majesty and sovereignty. The foundations of God's throne are far beyond the earth, its bases are higher than the heavens, and its lowermost steps transcend the immaterial spheres of the Angels. Indeed, not only is God Himself beyond the highest reaches of human knowledge, but even His throne of glory cannot be known, for it is fashioned of divine fire and utterly beyond all human comprehension. This is why Saint John Chrysostom says that "even the place where God sits in incomprehensible and inaccessible." He says that "God's throne is unapproachable, for God 'dwells in incomprehensible light' (1 Timothy 6:16)." And this is why, in the vision of Isaiah, "the seraphim stretch froth their wings and cover their faces": because they cannot endure the sparkling flashes or the lightning which shines from the throne.
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God