We are on the doorstep of the glorious feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have already entered into the Forefeast, the hymns of which fill our ears with the joyous, timeless proclamation of the ever-new Birth of our Transcendent God in human nature.
What is this Feast? It is the beginning of the fulfillment of the desire God had before He created all things. Before mankind, before Paradise, before the sun and moon, before all time, before Seraphim and Cherubim and all the heavenly hosts, the Holy Trinity took counsel, deciding that One of Them, the Son, would take on created human nature through the Most Holy Virgin-Mother, uniting God with man in an incomprehensible union; Creator and creation becoming one, distinct but indivisible.
This was the desire of God before all time, this is the reason He created all things—so that He might be fully united with His entire creation through the crown of creation, man, who is made in the Image of God. St. Paul, in Colossians, calls this “the Mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, but is now made manifest to His saints…which is: Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Christ in you! Do we comprehend this Mystery? This is the Mystery, St. Paul says, that has been hid from before all time, and is now made manifest to the saints of God. By saints in this passage, we must understand a two-fold meaning. First of all, all those who have been sanctified by Holy Baptism and the Holy Mysteries, all Orthodox Christians, are referred to as “saints,” holy ones, for we have been imparted holiness from Christ in the grace of the Mysteries. By virtue of Holy Baptism we have had Christ planted within the deepest parts of our hearts. This is the gift of God which is irrevocable. We all partake of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Holy God Himself.
However, it is only the Saints of the Church, according to the second meaning of the word—the close intimates of God, the intercessors of all mankind, who have at their head the Mother of God; it is only them—that have fully realized, consciously and palpably, the mystery of Christ within them.
We are all called to be this kind of saint. Having been sanctified by the Holy Mysteries, we have all the grace needed to actualize the potential holiness of God hidden within us. We must understand this, for St. Paul has given us a commandment to do so, saying: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the Faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be worthless.” Elsewhere he says: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? …the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
See! by the grace of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion we are already God’s temple, holy, sanctified, saints by grace. But we must become Saints—with a capital “S”—in actuality through struggle, faith, prayer, assimilating as our own the free grace already given us. The Fathers of the Church teach us that God allows us to struggle, suffer, exert ourselves, sacrifice ourselves in love, and force ourselves even when we do not feel like being virtuous, in order that we might assimilate the grace of God as our own. They teach us that God desires that we receive into ourselves His free gifts of grace as if they were our own rightful possession. This is why He desires our struggle.
If He did not allow this struggle, we would be just like Adam again: given new life, birthed into purity, painlessness, divine illumination, and set down in the spiritual comfort of Paradise, but falling quickly away from such blessedness. Adam was un-tested, and thus did not know how to possess such divine gifts, the life of God given freely to him.
Our entrance into the Church was a conscious tasting within ourselves of the life of Paradise, the life of heaven, the uncreated life of the Ever-Existing God. But most of us, who have fallen from such grace like fallen Adam, have squandered such riches, and maybe the very memory of such grace is far from our conscious memory. Yet, all of us have the memory of this grace stamped upon our hearts, all of us have within us a divine desire.
For what? For the very life of Christ, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, pulsing within us, more tangible than our unceasing breath, more consciously perceived than anything around us, even ourselves. We desire this! Who does not desire it!
If we desire indestructible joy, we desire Christ fully alive in us!
If we desire unshakable peace, we desire Christ fully alive in us!
If we desire to be free of filthy passions and evil tendencies, we desire Christ fully alive in us!
If we desire to be in the bond of sacrificial love and brotherly affection with all men, and are sick of our passions and sins which harm our souls and those of others, we desire Christ fully alive in us!
Who does not desire peace? Who does not desire un-stealable joy? Who does not want heavenly rest, eternal life, stillness of soul, attention of mind, rapture of heart, Paradise on earth, God fully alive within them?
Who does not desire the Kingdom of heaven which Christ has said is within us? Who does not desire with all their heart and soul the Kingdom which Christ has promised the Most-Loving Father desires to give us, telling us to fear not! Who does not long for the Holy Spirit and all His graces pulsing through every beat of their heart, coursing through their veins, knit together with their breath, fully active, fully perceived, fully alive, within themselves?
Orthodox Christians: we have a treasure buried and hidden within the lowly earthen vessels of our bodies and hearts! We have Christ enthroned as King already in our hearts. We must strive to find Him! We must beg Him to open the doors of our hearts to us, that, entering, we may come to ourselves and find Him awaiting us! If we always contemplated this truth—that Christ is hidden within our hearts—how would we live? How would we think? How would we act?
Would we judge others in cruelty if we remembered Christ in us?
Would we harbor evil feelings, envy, hatred, disgust?
Would we become despondent, sorrowful, beaten down by sufferings?
Would we give ourselves over to lust and filthy passions?
Would we not pray at all times, thank God at all times, rejoicing in Him?
And if we contemplated the reality that every man is made in the Image of God, in the form of Christ the God-Man, would we treat them as we do now?
Furthermore, if we contemplated that Christ dwells especially within every one of our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters, would we not cast off all pride, lust and anger? Would we hate the one in whom Christ dwells? Would we lust after the one in whom Christ lives?
The Saints fully realized the Mystery hidden from before the ages manifested in themselves. They knew that Christ was given as the Most Precious Treasure, deposited within their hearts at Baptism, and they struggled to realize this truth consciously, palpably. They heard this truth with their ears from those who saw and felt it within themselves. They sought to experience it first-hand, and did so.
Let us remember the graces already given to us. Let us remember, if we can, the day of our entry into the Church through Baptism and/or Chrismation. Or, if we were only infants, let us remember the enlightenment given to us when we turned back to Christ and took up the beginnings of a new spiritual life. Let us remember the purity, the light, the joy, the peace, the love for God and every man and every creature and all the world that flowed forth from our hearts.
Let us also remember any other graces that we have been graciously given by the Lord. Whatever taste, no matter how small, any of us has had of the fruits of the Spirit within ourselves, let us remember them as a sign that God loved us even when we were estranged from Him. Let us take it as a sign that He desires to bless us all the more now, and forever, since He has called us into His Church, making us members of His very own Body. Did He call you out of the world of sin into His Church? Then He desires all the more to suffer with you even now, perfecting you by His grace.
We have been given the faith of hearing, which our Fathers have told us, that Christ, His Father and the Spirit, have been enthroned within us since our entry into the Church. Let us beg the God of our Fathers, through their intercessions, to acquire the faith of sight, vision and experience. Let us beg God to allow us entry ever more and more into the understanding of the truth that He is not only with us, as Emmanuel, but is within us as Lord, King, Wisdom, and Power.
Let us beg Him with all our hearts. If we are poor, let us beg like poor men for the Kingdom. If we are empty and barren, let us tell Him in honesty, asking for all things. Let us become little children, fully dependent upon Him Who said, “Without Me you can do nothing,” ever clinging to Him by His sweetest name and constant prayerful cries, and He shall grant us entrance into the Everlasting Kingdom of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.