“Where are We Headed?”: Pascha – Ascension – Pentecost

arrowWe are approaching the end of the season of Pascha in the western church. The feasts of Ascension and Pentecost will soon be upon us. It is important, therefore, to be reminded of the way of life that is supposed to be borne out in and through the Church and her members as a result the resurrection of Christ Jesus. To put a not too fine point on it, “Where are we headed?” The Holy Tradition proclaims and facilitates an answer: We are to become partakers of the divine nature in the person of the Holy Spirit; daily live out the grace of our baptism, dying and rising with Christ Jesus and more consummately manifesting our union with God the Father in His Son – in other words, to grow up into the likeness of the Son by the same Spirit; and to have Christ Jesus make His appeal through us to the world and continue His ministry in the world.

The season of Pascha initiates this message. The grace proclaimed and communicated through Ascension and Pentecost continue it and bring it to fruition. Once again, St. Macarius the Egyptian speaks eloquently regarding this trajectory. I must admit that his allegorical application of the prophecy of Ezekiel to the disciple was new to me. I found it to be wonderfully enlightening as I consider the meaning of Pascha, Ascension, and Pentecost. Here is the segment of Homily I articulates, “where we are headed.”

HOMILY I – An allegorical interpretation of the vision described in the prophet Ezekiel

1. The blessed prophet Ezekiel relates a glorious and inspired vision or apparition which he saw, and his description is that of a vision full of mysteries unspeakable. He saw in the plain a chariot of Cherubim, four spiritual living creatures. Each living creature had four faces, one the face of a lion, another the face of an eagle, another the face of a calf, and the fourth the face of a human being. To every face there were wings, so that there were no hinder parts to any of them. Their backs were full of eyes; their bellies likewise were thick set with eyes ; there was no part about them that was not full of eyes. There were also wheels to every face, wheel within wheel. In the wheels there was a Spirit. And Ezekiel saw as it were the likeness of a man, and under his feet as it were a work of sapphire. The Cherubim-chariot J and the living creatures bore the Master who rode upon them. Wheresoever He chose to go, it was with face forward. Beneath the Cherubim he saw as it were a man’s hand supporting and carrying.

2. And this that the prophet saw was in substance true and certain, but it signified and foreshadowed something else, mysterious and divine – a mystery hidden verily from ages and from generations (Col. 1.26) but in the last times made manifest (1Pe. 1.2) at the appearing of Christ. The mystery which he beheld was that of the soul, that was to receive her Lord, and to become a throne of glory (Ma. 25.31) for Him. For the soul that is privileged to be in communion with the Spirit of His light, and is irradiated by the beauty of the unspeakable glory of Him who has prepared her to be a seat and a dwelling for Himself, becomes all light, all face, all eye; and there is no part of her that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light. That is to say, there is no part of her darkened, but she is all throughout wrought into light and spirit, and is full of eyes all over, and has no such thing as a back part, but in every direction is face forward, with the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of Christ mounted and riding upon her. As the sun is of one likeness all over, without any part behind or inferior, but is all glorified with light throughout, and is, indeed, all light, with no difference between the parts, or as fire, the very light of the fire, is alike all over, having in it no first or last, or greater or less, so also the soul that is perfectly irradiated by the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of the face of Christ, and is perfectly in communion with the Holy Ghost, and is privileged to be the dwelling-place and throne of God, becomes all eye, all light, all face, all glory, all spirit, being made so by Christ, who drives, and guides, and carries, and bears her about, and graces and adorns her thus with spiritual beauty ; for it says, the hand of a man was under the Cherubim, because He it is that is carried upon her and directs her.

3. The four living creatures which bore the chariot were a symbol of the ruling factors of the soul. As the eagle is the king of birds, and the lion of wild beasts, and the bull of tame ones, and man of creatures in general, so the soul also has its ruling factors. They are the will, the conscience, the intelligence, and the faculty of love. By these the chariot of the soul is controlled, and upon these God rests. According to another interpretation the symbolism is applied to the church of the saints in heaven. As it is here said that the living creatures were exceeding high, and full of eyes, and it was not possible for anyone to apprehend the number of the eyes, or the height, because the knowledge of these was not given ; and as it is with the stars in the sky, to see and wonder at them was given to all men, but to know and apprehend the number was not given ; and with the plants of the earth, to enjoy them was given to all, but it is impossible for anyone to know the number of them ; so with regard to the church of the saints in heaven, to enter into it and enjoy it was given to all who will but strive, but how to see and apprehend the number is reserved for God alone to know. The Rider, then, is conveyed and carried by the chariot or throne of the living creatures which are all eye, or, in other words, by every soul that has become His throne and seat, and is now eye and light. He is mounted thereon, and governs her with the reins of the Spirit, and guides her according to His understanding. For as the spiritual living creatures went not whither they were minded to go, but whither He that sat upon them and directed them knew and willed, so here it is He that holds the reins and drives by His Spirit, and they go accordingly, not by their own will when they are minded to go through heaven. Sometimes, discarding the body, He drives and takes the soul in thought through heaven; sometimes, when so it pleases Him, He comes into the body and its affairs; sometimes, when so minded, to the ends of the earth, and discovers to the soul mysteries revealed. Oh, the noble and good and only true Charioteer! In like manner shall our bodies also be privileged at the resurrection, the soul being thus pre-glorified even now, and mingled with the Spirit.

4. That the souls of the righteous become heavenly light, the Lord Himself told the apostles, when He said, Ye are the light of the world (Ma. 5.14) He first wrought them into light, and ordained that through them the world should be enlightened. Neither do men light a lamp, He says, and put it under the bushel, but on the lampstand, and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men. (Ma. 5.15, 16) In other words, Hide not the gift which ye have received from Me, but give to all that are minded to receive it. Again, The light of the body is the eye ; if thine eye be full of light, thy whole body is enlightened, but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body is dark. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness. (Ma. 6.22,23; Lk. 11.34)) As the eyes are the light of the body, and, so long as the eyes are well, the whole body is enlightened, but, if any accident befalls them and they are darkened, the whole body is in darkness, so the apostles were set to be the eyes and light of the whole world. The Lord therefore charged them by this saying, If ye who are the light of the body, stand fast and turn not aside, behold, the whole body of the world is enlightened ; but if ye who are the light are darkened, how great is that darkness, which is nothing less than the world. So the apostles, being themselves light, administered light to those, who believed, enlightening their hearts with that heavenly light of the Spirit by which they were themselves enlightened.

5. And being themselves salt they seasoned and salted every believing soul with the salt of the Holy Ghost; for the Lord said to them, Ye are the salt of the earth (Ma. 5.13), meaning by earth the hearts of men. They administered in the souls of men the heavenly salt of the Spirit, seasoning them and rendering them free from corruption and from going bad, instead of that unsavoury condition they were in. Flesh, if it be not salted, corrupts and is filled with ill savour, so that everyone turns from the evil odour, and worms creep into the corrupted flesh, and there dwell, and feed, and burrow; but when the salt comes, the worms that dwell there are destroyed, and the offensive smell is at an end; for it is the property of salt to kill worms and to banish an ill smell. In the same manner, every soul that is not salted with the Holy Ghost, and does not partake of the heavenly salt, which is the power of God, corrupts, and is filled with the ill odour of bad thoughts, so that the countenance of God turns from the dreadful odour of the vain thoughts of darkness, and from the passions that dwell in such a soul. The evil and dreadful worms, which are the spirits of wickedness, and the powers of darkness, walk up and down in it, and dwell there, and burrow, and creep, and devour it, and bring it to decay. My wounds stink and are corrupt, says the Psalm. (Ps. 38.5) But when the soul flies to God for succour, and believes, and asks for the salt of life, which is the good Spirit that loves mankind, then the heavenly salt comes, and kills those dreadful worms, and banishes the ill savour, and cleanses the soul by the effectual working of its power, and thus the soul is made sound and free from deterioration by that true salt, and is restored to being useful and serviceable to the heavenly Lord. That is why in the Law God, using a figure, commanded that every sacrifice should be salted with salt. (Le. 2.13) from Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Marcarius the Egyptian, by A.J. Mason D.D., SPCK, 1921

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