Christ Descends - A Sermon for the Sunday after Theophany (2021)
St. Paul says of the Ascended Christ that “He descended first into the lower parts of the earth. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.”
Christ, the Son of God, God from God, descended when He mystically came down from heaven, and was made incarnate of the Holy Virgin Theotokos.
He descended when He went down into the baptismal waters.
He descended in humility when He endured the arrogance of men.
He descended in body and soul when He prostrated in prayer in His agony.
He descended in humility when He allowed sinners to bind and imprison Him, when He stood before the judgment-seat of sinners, when He was uplifted on the Cross, and when He bowed His head, giving up His most pure spirit.
Christ then descended into dark hades, that He might fill even death and hell with Himself! And Christ further desires to descend into every hades-like soul.
He came to hades in soul; with the soul of a Man unto the souls of men; in that human soul of His which He assumed from our nature through the Theotokos; in that soul which fully belongs to One of the Holy Trinity forever.
He came into dark hades bringing light, for He is the Light. When He came unto Galilee, as we hear in the Gospel, “a people which sat in darkness saw great Light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death Light sprang up!”
Light Himself came to those in spiritual darkness when He began His public preaching. Light Himself came again to those sitting in darkness when He preached to the spirits of men held captive in hades. Light Himself comes again to all who, in humility, confess their heart to be a hades and beg for His coming.
He endured hades’ darkness, its misery, its separation from God, its despair, and pain. But He was not conquered by it, He was not afflicted by it, though His maternally-sorrowing heart embraced with compassion all those imprisoned there. He is Light, Life, God Himself. He entered hades and filled it with His divinity. He came to it in soul, and He called all to follow Him to the light.
But many did not follow Him. Many did not believe in Him. Many wanted to remain in darkness, in the deadness of sin and spiritual death and eternal separation from God. God came in humility to them, but they rejected Him.
But many others followed Him. Many awaited that day. Many desired Light and Life more hungrily and thirstily than any starving man does for bread and water. Adam and Eve awaited Him, ever since they heard of His coming from the Virgin before they were exiled from Paradise. They were told of the Seed of the Woman, that is, Christ born of the Virgin. They preserved this prophecy of hope in their hearts, imprinting it deeply therein, even as much as the vision of Paradise filled their eyes as they looked upon it in their exile and repentance.
Adam labored in struggle and repentance for 900-some years. Then he labored in patient hope in hades for 4500-some years—whatever a year in hades equates to in earthly life. What were his thoughts in hades? What oppression filled his soul? How did he exist in such a state for so long? He had hope in the coming of Christ from the very lips of Christ Himself, and he cherished this promise amidst his long life of toil and his seemingly-endless existence in hades.
Whenever our minds are darkened, hades exists within us.
Whenever we feel that painful separation from God on account of our sins, hades is a present reality for us.
Whenever we sense spiritual death in our soul, we dwell in hades.
Whenever we harbor hatred, judgment, intemperance, lust, avarice, envy, hardness of heart, doubt, despair, vainglory, pride, or any other passion or sin, then we know ourselves to be dwelling in hades.
What must we do then in order to be delivered from hades?
We must call upon Christ Who has gone before us, showing us that He descended in humility, from beyond the heights of heaven, down to earth, and further than the earth, into its depths, into hades, seeking out His lost sheep, bringing them gladness and light, taking them by the hand and raising them up out of darkness into Paradise again.
If we were able to deliver ourselves from the deep roots and bonds of sin and passion, then there was no need for the Lord to come and save us. If we had the power to ascend out of our fallen state into heaven, then there was no need for Christ to descend to us and to make us ascend with Him. Therefore, even now, we must beg Him, Who has already come down to earth and into hades, to fill our heart, which is often a dark tomb and hades, with His grace, life, light and joy.
He Who descended also ascended, says the Apostle. He Who descends in humility to grant us the grace of spiritual life and strength is He Who takes us by the hand and seeks to raise us up fully. This is our Lord, the One we call upon in faith. This is the Merciful One Who fervently longs with burning desire to heal broken hearts, to renew them, to resurrect us from our deadened state, to make new spirits arise within us, to unite us with Himself, making us to ascend in spiritual exultation.
“Repent!” He cries out to each and every one of us, whether we are Saints or sinners. No man is without sin, no man exists who does not need the Sinless One’s help and mercy. No one is free from the need to repent. All must see themselves honestly and truly in the light of the Lord. All must bring themselves to Him in humility, begging Him to come to them in mercy. All need to be transformed, whether from sinners to righteous ones, or from glory to glory.
“Without Me you can do nothing!” says this same Lord, the Unlying Truth. We are always dependent on the Lord’s power, life and grace. We cannot repent and be transformed into Christ without Christ Himself. Let us call out to Him as children to their Father. Let us become simple-hearted, transforming every thought and feeling and circumstance into an occasion for prayer and repentance.
If evil thoughts afflict our minds, let us confess our sinfulness and beg God’s help. If temporal prosperity comes to us, let us thank the Giver of life. If stillness of soul graces us, let us praise the God of peace. If cares and worries weigh us down, let us pour out are desires and needs to the Lord. If we have become a living hades, let us pour out our hearts to the Destroyer of death and hades. Let us turn all into an occasion for humble prayer and the Lord will bless us more than we can imagine, hope, think, or ask. To Him, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory from angels and men and all creation, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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