“Peace be with you and may God’s blessing and mercy be upon you.” (Traditional Byzantine Greeting)
Dearly beloved brethren, in today’s epistle (Heb 11: 24-26, 32-40) and gospel (Jn 1:44-52) readings we were presented with the theme of faith and its repercussions in attaining the realisation of God and of our own identity. In the first Scriptural lesson, we hear St Paul citing the example of Moses who spurned the wealth and grandeur of royalty in exchange for suffering affliction alongside God’s people, instead of enjoying the “…passing pleasures of sin”. Paul illustrates that this act of faith, like many other examples throughout history, was able to subdue kingdoms, bring about justice, overcome adversity, hatred and violence.
While in the gospel we see Nathanael who is told to come and see for himself who the Messiah is, and what He is. In seeking the Messiah, Nathanael had his concerns answered by Jesus who proclaimed that Nathanael was a person who was pure in heart. Just as in our lives, Jesus solicited Nathanael to undertake further investigation in order to deepen his faith. Nathanael does respond by asking, “How do You know me?” Jesus demonstrates His divinity by pointing out His foreknowledge of Nathanael, to which Nathanael then proclaims his faith in Jesus as well as his amazement. Jesus then points out that Nathanael’s expression of trust and belief in Him will witness even greater things. The message presented in both passages is that through a living experience and seeking God, one attains faith, that is, belief and trust in something certain that transcends all human reality or logic. The result of faith is to establish a relationship with God, within ourselves, with our neighbour and all of creation. In doing so, we are able to realise our true identity and the full potential of our personhood, thus being able to bear witness to even greater things (as Jesus cited to Nathanael), and even perform miracles ourselves (just as Moses overcame the passing pleasures of sin).
Yet one may ask why the attainment of faith is of paramount importance, what is it that we seek to effect?
The response to this question can be illustrated by the example of a migrant or refugee who out of necessity is forced to leave their homeland to go to another land and become estranged, often plagued by the memory and desire for the rest of their life to return home. This dilemma is surmised by the compound Greek word NOSTALGIA, which consists of the words nostos meaning “the memory to return from or repatriate to”, and algos which means “pain or struggle”. Thus, like the unfortunate migrant, we have become estranged from our origins in God and what is only natural to our nature and being.
Irrespective of culture, distance, geography or ideology, there is an inherent need within all humans to go out and seek the divine or reject it. Accordaningly, every person has something to say on such matters, while at the same time an unexplainable urge to aspire to a higher ideal is manifest in every person’s behaviour. This is what can be identified as the divine image within every person wishing to effect the realisation and perfection of their personhood, and therefore bring about the salvation of body and soul through union with God. The Church defines this as THEOSIS, which simply means that union is achieved through transfiguring our personhood through spiritual struggle in order to become “deified or godlike” and partake in God’s glory as the reward. This of course, can only be done with the help of God’s grace and our willingness to work alongside God in the spiritual/existential struggle. In more simpler terms, the journey of life, with God as its point of reference and guidance.
On a related note, the Church on this day celebrates the restitution of icons as an expression of faith and medium that facilitates worship. This item of popular piety was argued to be a physical reflection and manifestation of the aforementioned divine human image in its glorified state together with creation being united with God. Furthermore their purpose in conjunction with Scripture, music, Church services, sacraments, prayer, fasting, charity and virtue, was to serve as a teaching tool to cultivate all our psychosomatic senses and provide us with the means to struggle against our inabilities and weaknesses. Therefore our PHRONEMA, that is our mindset, behaviour and spirit may reflect the qualities needed to ascend the differing levels of faith towards salvation, namely purity, humility, repentance, compunction and contemplation. In this way our relationships with spouses, siblings, parents, friends and strangers shall be built on solid ground and remain fulfilling. Our connection with God and nature shall be balanced and in perfect communion, as well as attaining satisfaction with our lives and work, since we first sought faith, Amen.
I dedicate this sermon to Fr Stavros Karvelas and the parishoners of St Therapon’s who welcomed me into their midst, and provided me the means to express the zeal and love that burns within, to speak of the beauty of God and His Creation during that time I was close to them, despite wallowing in the ugliness of secularism that afflicts our everyday life. – VM