Exterior Watchfulness and Love: A Path to Transfigured Humanity - A Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (2023)

Exterior Watchfulness and Love: A Path to Transfigured Humanity - A Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (2023) - Holy Cross Monastery

Today’s Gospel, in short, shows us an icon of deformed humanity—ungratefulness, lack of good stewardship, laziness, greed, jealousy, vanity, hatred, and pride. All of this ends with the killing of Christ, the son of the Householder—the killing of God Incarnate!

Today’s Epistle gives us a short road to transfigured and deified humanity, which does everything in love, living in God Who is Love.

The Apostle’s voice first meets our ears today with the imperative exhortation—Watch! This is the voice of Christ Who constantly exhorts us in the Gospel to “watch and pray lest we fall into temptation,” to “watch, for we know not when He the Son of Man and Son of God will come again to resurrect the dead and judge all the world.”

The Apostle gives us five commands at the beginning of the Epistle: “Watch; stand fast in the faith; be manful; be strong; let all your things be done in love.” Here is the road to virtue. He begins with watchfulness and ends with love. St. Basil the Great, in his Longer Rules for monastics, after beginning with the highest commandments—love for God and love for others—then states that without attentiveness, spiritual sobriety, and watchfulness, one will never attain to such love.

There is an exterior watchfulness, and there is an interior watchfulness. The interior cannot be experienced without growth in the exterior, nor can the exterior bear any fruit without the interior. Without guarding our mouths, bellies, eyes, and senses we cannot guard our thoughts, mind, and heart. Without guarding our inner man we cannot get a firm hold on Christ Who stills our senses, calms our passions, and gives spiritual rest to our bodies and souls.

Exterior watchfulness is of two kinds—one good and God-loving; the other sinful and demonically-influenced.

Sinful exterior watchfulness is when one watches others in an unhealthy manner. We watch family, brothers, friends, neighbors, co-workers, spiritual fathers, strangers, and most of all, our enemies, with an evil intent. We watch how much they eat and drink and deem them gluttonous and drunk. Or we watch how little they eat and drink and deem them vainglorious and deluded. We watch how they move, how they look, how they walk, how they behave, how they speak, how they pray. We interpret everything negatively. We do not look with sympathy, we do not pray for them.

Or we watch others to lust after them. Both lust and hateful judgment are unhealthy fixations. They both deform the image of God in our eyes and hearts. They both make us fall away from love, from God. Lust fixates on body parts in isolation, making them into idols and twisted fetishes. Hatred focuses on certain annoying traits of others, their awkwardness, their weaknesses, their sins, their bad habits, their offensiveness—whether real or only perceived—towards us.

The face of one we lust after becomes a blinding image which makes our soul dark to God, heaven, the reality of the spiritual world, and the soul of the person we are lusting after.

The face of one we are angry with becomes a terrible beast in our eyes, instilling us with animalistic rage, the desire to avenge ourselves, the desire to attack, the desire to obliterate human life.

But the face of one we see in truth, as God created them, becomes a doorway wherein we see their soul. The soul in turn becomes a doorway wherein we see God radiant in His image.

But our sins blind us. We often blame others for not being able to perceive the image of God in them, but it is the personal fault of each and every one of us, and not of others. We think: that person is crude, that person is impure, that person is lazy, that person is judgmental, that person is angry, that person is evil.

Who sees the depth of human sin more than God and His Saints? But they see all the more the depth of human potential, they see all the more the divine image in each and every person—no matter how corrupt! Their eyes are good, seeing good, seeking to attract the good out of all. They search after it, they pray that it grows, they do all they can to make it flourish. They are not blind to sin, but this vision and unquenchable thirst overtakes them so that they are wholly fixated and preoccupied on the good and not the evil.

How can we see human bodies with a pure eye—free of lust and hatred—in simplicity, not as a mass of dissected parts serving our filthy passions, or as threatening matter stirring up anger and pride? How can we see the physical aspect, form, and beauty of others in Paradisaical purity, and then see their soul, and then see God?

By the other kind of exterior watchfulness, that which watches for the good. Abba Dorotheus teaches us to be watchful in this manner at every moment, that we might lay down a brick of virtue in the house of our soul. He teaches us to be ready and watchful at every moment to be patient, obedient, humble, sacrificial, loving, kind, sweet, self-denying, man-loving, and God-loving.

Certainly these moments come uncountable times a day. Someone comes and disturbs our quiet. Someone comes asking something we feel to be too much. Someone comes and robs—we feel—our time. Someone comes insulting us. Someone comes flattering us.

We must be watchful for all these moments, for they will come whether we want them or not, whether we are ready or not. So let us be watchful that we might expect them. Moreover, let us be watchful for Christ.

Christ teaches us to be watchful for His Second Coming. But He teaches that mercy and love are how we prepare for His Coming. He teaches that whatever we do to the seemingly most insignificant person, we do to Him.

This is manifest in today’s Gospel. God the Father, the Householder, has entrusted men with all that is His. Men become deluded and think their life and everything in this world are their own rightful possession solely for the use of their own selfish pleasures and vanity. When God sends certain servants, they kill them. When God sends His Son, they kill Him too.

If we love others, we love Christ. If we judge others, we judge Him. If we hate others, we hate Him. If we cast others away, we cast Him away. If we draw others to us in love, we give Him rest and repose.

We must practice exterior watchfulness for the coming of Christ in our neighbors at every moment. Christ comes to us at every moment. How do we treat Him? How do we receive Him?

Without love for others, the Beloved Apostle John teaches, we cannot love God. Without exterior watchfulness for Christ in others, we cannot develop true interior watchfulness for Christ Who desires to radiantly manifest Himself to us in our own hearts through watchfulness, prayer, purity, and stillness.

His interior manifestation is spiritual pleasure which washes the soul with peace, joy, warmth, and affection; and calms the body, imparting to it a delightful pleasure unknown by those whose only experience and desire is fleshly pleasure. He desires to make our hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and senses divinely still, content beyond this world’s power, sweet, holy, heavenly, immortal, eternal.

What tears us away from this? Lack of good watchfulness, lack of love, lack of readiness to love God in others.

Yet when we fall, when we sin, when we give in again to our passions, let us not give up! Let us stand fast in the faith, the virtue after watchfulness which St. Paul exhorts us to today. What faith? The faith that Christ has come to save sinners, to heal the sick, to cure our passions, to drain us of the puss and cancer of sins, to breathe new life into us, to make us new, to resurrect us.

Are you downcast, are you discouraged, are you in despair? This is faith in our sins, faith which believes our deformity and wretchedness and the power of the demons to be greater than the power of God Who created everything out of nothing, Who made a Virgin a Mother, Who made earth into heaven, Who makes life out of death, Who makes sinners divine!

Let us stand fast in true faith in the God Who desires our health, salvation, eternal bliss, and deification an infinite amount greater than we do for own ourselves or can ever imagine.

Let us remind ourselves Who our God really is by reading the Gospel and seeking the sweet face, voice, and life of Christ therein.

This is how we can be manful, courageous, strong. This is how we can endure the sorrows and pains of this life, and the trials which crush us. This is how we can tread the path to love, little by little.

Let us watch with good intent for opportunities to love. Let us watch for Christ. And when we fail, when our lack of good exterior watchfulness leads to the obliteration of our interior watchfulness and stillness, let us cast our disturbance, our sinfulness, our weakness, our despair, our failure, our desire for true life, our whole heart—let us cast all of this before Christ and His Most Pure Mother, and All His Angels and Saints. Let us look upon their sweet faces in the icons, taking assurance that they love us, that we can rise again, and let us be receptive to the humble contrition and compunction of soul which their sweet faces instill within us.

For these loving gazes will tear our souls away from sin much more than when we are hopelessly revolving around the vision of our own deformity and weakness.

Let us constantly call upon Christ, exposing our weakness and wounds, confessing our sins without hiding, with child-like trust in His unimaginable goodness. Let us also speedily humble ourselves before others with courage, asking forgiveness when we offend. And let us in turn forgive others without regret. If we do this, we will little by little grow in true life and love in Christ.

This sermon has focused on exterior watchfulness and love for others, while only mentioning interior watchfulness, secret prayer, and love for God. Let the visible teacher and the audible word keep to their own limits, expounding those things which sense-perception perceives and focusing on humble service to others whom we see. But let the secret and invisible matters of the heart be instructed by God Whom we cannot see with bodily eyes. St. John Climacus says that God Himself alone is the teacher of true inner prayer, not a man, not a saint, not even an angel. Moreover, the Great Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel proclaims: “God gives prayer to the one who is praying.” Prayer itself will teach us if we commit ourselves to it with child-like trust in God. Let us constantly cry out with lips, mind, and heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me the sinner!” Amen!

1 comment

  • Lydia Bazger

    Thank you for this beautiful sermon! I realize the depth of this and will pray to always live in God’s Love. Peace,☦️ Lydia

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