|Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent St John Climacus|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” What an extraordinary injunction St. Paul gives us today! He tells us to awaken from our sleep and arise from the dead. Surely Paul was using a figure of speech, here we would think. By rising from sleep and from death, surely he does not mean to be taken literally. Well, yes and no. Just because something is spoken poetically or symbolically, does not mean that it is not also true at a certain level of reality. If one looks at the terminology St. Paul is using, one will find that it is strikingly close to our Lord’s own terminology.
“‘Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ 20 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ 21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ 22 But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” (Matt. 8: 19-22). We see straightaway that the Lord called those who were not His followers the dead. The Lord, of course, is not telling the man not to honor his father who has died physically. He is making a point about priorities. Jesus can see into the hearts of a man. He could see where this man’s priorities lay. Our Lord wanted and still wants us to know that God is to be our highest priority. Everything that is created has its continued existence due to the love and benevolence of the Creator. God holds all things together by His will. To ignore or disdain the Creator is to ignore or disdain the source of life itself. To turn from life is to turn toward death. To live apart from life is no life at all. It is as if one were sleepwalking through their existence. It is as if one were dead already. The symbolic becomes reality.
We are accustomed to seeing people at sporting events flashing signs to TV cameras: John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We are all intimately familiar with this phrase from scriptures, and rightly so. It is a cornerstone of our faith. We should continue to read, though: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” We can then look at this passage and say that we need to awaken out of our dreams and delusions that we carry with us and open our eyes to the Truth that is Christ. When we are truly united to Christ then we are also united to Life and have, as it were, already risen from the dead. Is this not one of the major images that we have concerning baptism? We say that a person goes down into the waters and dies with Christ and is buried and then arises with Him in His Resurrection and is a new creature in Christ.
Today’s passage in the Epistle does not just speak of rising from the dead, though, it speaks of light; receiving light. St. Paul writes: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says: ‘ Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.’”
St. John Chrysostom looks at this passage and writes:
…what Paul is saying is of this sort. As a wound, so long as it is imbedded and concealed outwardly, and runs beneath the surface, receives no attention, so also sin, as long as it is concealed, being as it were in darkness, is daringly committed in full security; but as soon as “it is made manifest,” becomes “light”; not indeed the sin itself, (for how could that be?) but the sinner. For when he has been brought out to light, when he has been admonished, when he has repented, when he has obtained pardon, hast thou not cleared away all his darkness? Hast thou not then healed his wound?
This passage from St. John reminds us how the Church views sin and sinners. She does not just look at these things in a juridical way. We do not play judge and jury but we look at a sinner in a therapeutic way. We see sin as disease or a wound that is in need of healing. Indeed, we often speak of our Lord as being the Physician of souls.
These passages from Scriptures also remind us that we in the Church have the means of exposing the darkness within us and shining Christ’s light upon it and banishing it so that we are left with light and the ability to heal from unrighteousness, for it is not always just the unbelievers who separate themselves from the light of God and His life. We often delude ourselves and fall into sins and stop paying attention to our inner life and our life in Christ and we listen to the voice of the world or of Satan. Then we can become the walking dead among those alive around us. We become those who cry out “Lord Lord” but the Lord says He never knew us.
The way that we can escape this deadly fate, this fate that is indeed worse than death but is eternal death, is to develop what the fathers call watchfulness. We pay attention to our inner state and our outer state and we do so with great humility. True humility is the ability to see oneself as we truly are. We have been called to “redeeming the time because the days are evil.” The days are evil not because they are evil by essence, but because of our actions. It is easy to quote John 3:16 and feel good, but we forget what the rest of that chapter also says. We already heard from that chapter that those who do not believe are condemned. Our Lord continued: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” The condemnation is, then, voluntary. We see that Paul is in some ways simply repeating what the Lord had said to His disciples.
Along with watchfulness we find it necessary to confess our sins. We expose our evil deeds to the light and again as St. John Chrysostom writes: “For when he has been brought out to light, when he has been admonished, when he has repented, when he has obtained pardon, hast thou not cleared away all his darkness? Hast thou not then healed his wound?”
Many people, however, do not want to confess their sins. They are embarrassed to, or they think they cannot be forgiven. These promptings come from those who love the darkness, the demons. The demons want nothing more than to drag us down into the darkness with them. In confession we drag them into the light which will expose them and banish them. Confession is not something to fear it is something to embrace with joy. Pride (and embarrassment is a form of pride) brings continued darkness. Humility in confession brings one light and life. St. Silouan the Athonite wrote:
A cloud blows over and hides the sun, making everything dark. In the same way, one prideful thought causes the soul to lose grace, and she is left in darkness. But, equally, a single impulse of humility—and the grace returns. This I have experienced and proved in myself. (p. 441 St. Silouan the Athonite)
“ Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”
Let us all invite the Light into our hearts and banish the darkness within.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
2009 Fr. Philip Kontos