Yet again we celebrate the Divine Liturgy behind closed doors, beloved brethren. However, just as the Lord entered “the doors being shut” (John 20:19), so he went out (through closed doors) and appeared to the people. There is no hindrance, there is nothing that can prevent man from encountering Christ, because the only and ultimate goal of the Church is to bring all things into the Body of Christ and to offer it to God the Father. This is also what the Apostle Paul means when he frequently and repeatedly uses the phrase, “in Christ” — “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In nature itself, Christ is to be found. The work of Christ is not something added to the world, or to the life of man, but was from the beginning in God’s pre-eternal design. And the Church, by every means, tries to make man a communicant of this new creation, which the Lord revealed to us by his Resurrection. He gives us the divine commandments, which are summarised in two commandments, as we heard today in the Gospel reading: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27).
“Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not”, as David the King and Prophet tells us, “he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 48:13). Man preferred to follow the way and the path of the irrational beasts, and to resemble them. He preferred to identify himself with the irrational life of the passions. The Lord, however, continues to provide a way for man. Not wanting to behold man in such a tragic state, he bends the heavens down to earth and turns everything upside down in order to encounter man. Not only to speak with him, not only to teach and enlighten him, but in order to identify himself with man, becoming an infant, becoming a child, as we shall see towards the end of the year at the feast of Christmas, the Incarnation of the Word. This is why St Athanasius the Great says that, Christ did not come to earth as a visitor, but himself became man. An awe-inspiring statement: “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), the one by whom all things were made, and without whom not any thing was made (cf. v. 3), the one who is at the foundation and root of being. The one whom nothing could contain, came and assumed human nature, identifying himself with us. In his person, he keeps the commandments that he himself had given us. In this way, no one is in a position to criticise him, and theological theodicy is surpassed, because he became like unto us men. He identified himself with our pain, our trouble, even our death, which is man’s ultimate enemy. He did not avoid these things, but met them in order to transform this whole tragedy. Pain was transformed into sweetness, sin into holiness. This is why, as we recently heard on the feast on the feast of John Chrysostom, man comes to church as a wolf, but leaves as a lamb. He comes to church a sinner, but leaves sanctified.
The Church is not a theatre. At the moment, it might feel as if you’re following along from home. You’re not following along. We participate in the Divine Liturgy. Something happens when someone is connected to the mystery of divine worship, even if at a distance. That’s why I said at the beginning that, just as the Lord came in through closed doors, so he went out through closed doors. There is nothing that can hinder our encounter with Christ. Even if we were to find ourselves in the deepest darkness, even there we could encounter him, since Christ descended to the nethermost depths, thus putting in place the prerequisites that allow man to encounter him no matter where he might find himself.
He gave us these two commandments that summarise all the others: love for God, which also expresses itself as love for neighbour. Love for neighbour is a prerequisite for love for God. You cannot love God and not love your brother (cf. 1 John 4:20). And should anyone ask, “Who is my neighbour?”, Christ today gives us the answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The entire Gospel is an answer to this question: “Who is my neighbour?” Our neighbour, my beloved, our true neighbour, is Christ. Christ is every human being’s neighbour, but also every human being is our neighbour, for in the person of Christ, the entirety of humanity is represented — every person is therefore our neighbour. In society, there are different and disagreeing interpretations regarding the notion of “neighbour”. On the natural plane, every person is neighbour, because we all have the same forefather and are created by the same Creator God, and we all belong to the same human race. Nature is common to all. It is neither mine, nor yours, nor his, but common to all. This means that, every time I act with compassion, love, charity, and mercy towards a suffering man, then I am being merciful also to myself, because there is no difference between the other and myself.
This is the message the Lord tries to convey to us. Thus, beloved brethren (in order to conclude lest I tire you), Christ is a neighbour to each one of us, and every person is our neighbour. Let us therefore practice compassion, mercy, love, for then we will encounter the true human being, namely ourselves in the person of every man. Amen.
Archimandrite Chrysostomos Michaelides
Translation: Fr Kristian Akselberg