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 (Part IV)
By Archimandrite AIMILIANOS of The Sacred Monastery of SIMONOPETRA - Mt. Athos
This is the nature of our heavenly calling: we have been given the right to the throne of Christ, to be enthroned at His side. And this is no less than what He promises us in the book of Revelation (Apocalypse): "To him who conquers will I grant to sit with Me and My throne, as I Myself conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne: (Revelation 3:21). Do you hear what He says? "With Me, and My throne, as though we were one. The throne, then, is the symbol of our glory together with the glory of Christ. When we consider the glory of Christ, let us remember the glory that God has also prepared for us.
We read that there are "Twelve Thrones above the Apostles" (cf., Revelation 19:28), and another "Twenty-Four for the Elders in the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:4). And like the Cherubim and Seraphim, there will be a "great multitude that no one could number...standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with branches of palms in their hands" (Revelation 7:9). We shall be an innumerable host with Christ. Each one of us with Christ, and each one of us bearing the palms of victory in our hands. We long merely to see Christ, but how much more will be revealed to our eyes!
Is there a scene more beautiful than the eschatological triumph of Christ? What greater thing could we imagine for ourselves? For Christ, Who is both the Lamb and the Shepherd, will gather his people together, "and He will shepherd them, and lead them, and God shall wipe away every tear from every eye" (Revelation 7:17). Where will our pain be then? Where will our problems be, since the Lord Himself will guide us? Where will our sins be when we stand before the "throne of mercy?" We need only "stand firm until He comes" (cf., Revelation 2:25). To "stand firm," that is, in the Body of the Church; to "stand firm" in prayer and vigilance; to "stand firm" in our rejection of the world and its vanity and corruption, which means to keep our eyes fixed firmly on God.
The Heavenly Court
In the time that remains, let's take a quick look "around" the throne, at the heavenly court. Can there be a king without a court? To the court, then.
Among God's chief courtiers and heavenly officials are, as we said before, the Seraphim, who stand round the throne, with their vast wings in perpetual motion, sending forth a great, rustling noise, which Holy Scripture says is "like the voice of many waters" (Ezek. 1:24). What is the significance of the noise made by their wings? It shows that God is perpetually active, perpetually in motion, perpetually running to us. He never rests. This is why God's throne appeared to Prophet Ezekiel as a great chariot, rushing through the clouds, at one moment ascending into heaven, and at the next descending to the earth (cf., Ezekiel 1:4-28).
Prophet Ezekiel describes many other features of the heavenly court, as does Prophet Isaiah, and Saint John in the Book of Revelation, passages from which we have already looked at. But unlike a hall of ceremonies and state functions, the court of God is a place where God is "worshipped," and thus has the character of a sacred temple. The worship of God in His heavenly court was imaged in the Liturgy of the Tabernacle, and, afterwards, in the Temple of Solomon. Now if you want to see the most magnificent image of the exalted heavenly court of God, you have only to look at our daily worship, as conducted in our churches. The earthly Divine Liturgy is an exact copy of its heavenly counterpart. The Church is the Holy City, "the Jerusalem on high, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:10).
And this is why the ancient Church placed the Bishop's throne in the apse behind the sanctuary, so that the whole Liturgy would unfold before the bishop's throne, which represents the throne of Christ. Indeed all things in the church--the altar, the holy Icons, the lights, the movements, the hymns, the chanting--none of these things are conventional acts, but rather God-bearing realities which have their place in the Divine Liturgy that unfolds before the divine throne. The moment you enter an Orthodox church, and especially when you participate in the Divine Liturgy, you know that God is there, you sense that everything there "has come down out of heaven from God."
The Jews did not doubt that their liturgy had been given to them by God, for the same God Who commanded that "there be light" (Genesis 25:1) also commanded that "you shall make a tabernacle with ten curtains, and an ark, and two cherubs of gold," and all the rest (cf., Exodus 26:1, 25:1). God was with them, present to them, in and through their sacred worship. They had no doubt that God dwelt within the Holy of Holies. Christian Divine Liturgy is simply the fulfillment and continuation of the worship of God established long ago by God Himself.
Everything, then, in the Church is a sign that points to God; everything is a vehicle of His presence and grace. And it is in and through the worship of the Church that God's grace is "poured out on all flesh" (Acts 2:17). In the Church, grace settles on the sons and daughters of men, and makes them sons and daughters of God. In each of us, the Son of God reiterates the mystery of His incarnation, deigning to be born within the dark cave of the heart.
Solomon's Temple was equipped with a "great ivory throne, overlaid with the finest gold" (cf. 1 Kings 10:18), which we mentioned earlier. But we, too, are "thrones" of God, dwelling places of the divinity, which is why we must be pure and incorrupt, like precious ivory, through and through. And likewise we must be completely covered with the gold of prayer, action and contemplation, and be radiant with the anointings of divine light. And these things must be so because it is no possible for us to be absent from the throne and chariot of God.
Consider how Ezekiel describes the throne of God and the Cherubim. He says that the base of the throne, its legs, as it were, are formed by the Cherubim, who thus enable the throne to fly through the heavens like a chariot. And even though we are now at the very heights of heaven, surrounded by throngs of fiery Angels, the Prophet draws our attention to a remarkable detail: "Under their wings is a human hand" (Ezekiel 1:8). Wherever God is, we find His throne. And wherever we find His throne, we find the host of Angels. But now we find something else, which seems to be an equally irreducible part of God's presence: the human element. And this is at once a reference to Christ and to us. God cannot imagine Himself without us, so how can we, then, imagine ourselves without or apart from Him? It's impossible, as I said, for us to be absent from the throne and the chariot. The meaning of the throne is now complete: wherever God is, He has us with Him. Wherever there are Cherubim and Seraphim, there, too, are we.
Yes, my dear friends, the throne of God is everywhere, and, above all, it is present within us. God has made us His throne, so that He can be with us always. Amen.
MY BLESSING TO 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!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God