May 28, 2023

Homily on the Gospel Reading for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on July 30, 1950)

In today's reading, you have heard the extremely important words of our Lord Jesus Christ, which I need to explain so that you understand them properly and imprint them in your hearts.

The Lord Jesus Christ, before His terrible sufferings, prayed to His Father like this: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:1-3).

What is eternal life? This is the same as the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Lord explains what the Kingdom of Heaven is, what eternal life is. He says that eternal life consists in our knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ sent by Him.

The Apostle Paul says in one of his epistles: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17), that is, not the joys and delights of the flesh, but “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Many people do not understand the full depth of the words of Christ.

All Muslims do not know this. They imagine the Kingdom of God, eternal life in a way that one should not imagine: precisely as food and drink, precisely as earthly pleasures. Muslims think that eternal life will consist in the fact that the righteous will be in constant communion with young beautiful women who will delight them with their singing, music and dances, that they will enjoy extraordinary delicious dishes. This is a grossly sensual representation. It is impossible for us Christians to think like that about the Kingdom of God, about eternal life. We must remember what the Lord Jesus Christ said: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Eternal life, the Kingdom of God, eternal joy in the Holy Spirit, eternal peace consist in the knowledge of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember this.

But how do you understand it, how do you enter it? What does it mean to know God the Father and God the Son? We can understand this if we think about how we know the people around us.

We know them by their deeds, by their words, by their feelings and desires, by their thoughts, which they express in conversations with us. We come to know them in constant, long communion with them.

This is exactly how we will know God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in eternal life.

How and what will we know?

With your heart, with your love, for the Holy Apostle John the Theologian in his universal message revealed to us the greatest and most important truth, that God is love.

Love is the essence of the nature of God.

To know God is to know all-perfect, absolute love.

How do we know the love of those around us? Is it not with your heart?

Of course, with the heart, and only with the heart!

Thus, the knowledge of God the Father and His Eternal Son Jesus Christ must consist in the knowledge in our hearts of the love of God.

How exactly do we know God with our hearts?

One can know Him only with a pure heart, a heart full of love, a heart cleansed from evil, from hatred, from curses, from all filthiness, a pure heart, a heart that keeps holy love in itself.

Thus, our knowledge of God will consist in communion with the Love of God.

We will in this way more and more understand love as the essence of the Divine and we will become partakers of it.

But will the knowledge of God the Father and God the Word consist only in this?

No, not only.

In addition to the heart, the most important organ of higher cognition in general, we also understand with the mind.

We will also know God with the mind.

This will be when, in temporary life, we learn to cleanse our mind from all lies, from all filthiness, when, according to the word of the apostle, we acquire the mind of Christ; when all our thoughts will be directed where the Lord Jesus Christ commands them to be directed; when we think only of the highest, of the holy, of the pure; when our mind will be free from all cunning, lies, when it will be pure; when it is deeply, completely focused on the knowledge of the higher.

So, with our hearts and minds, let us know the Holy Trinity.

In this knowledge, unceasingly, invariably expanding and deepening, our eternal blessedness will consist. For there is no higher blessedness than that which we receive by knowing the mind of Christ, by knowing the love of God.

The eternal blessedness of the righteous will consist precisely in constant communion with God.

Where will this communication take place? Where is the Kingdom of God? Will it be only a spiritual realm unknown to us, staying no one knows where? No, it will not.

It will be where, according to the word of God, revealed through the great Apostle John the Theologian, we will abide in eternal life, it will be in the New Jerusalem descending from heaven.

Let us listen to what the great apostle says in the 21st chapter of his Revelation: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said to me, 'Write, for these words are true and faithful'” (Rev. 21:1-5).

When the earth is destroyed, and all works on it are burned, then the Lord will create everything new: a new universe, a new earth, a new heaven. Then a New Jerusalem will descend from heaven, destined for the habitation of the saints together with God.

Further in the narrative, the holy Evangelist John the Theologian describes in detail the city of Jerusalem. I will not dwell on this, I will only say what is especially important for us, what needs to be said. There, in the New Jerusalem, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3-4).

And in this city of the New Jerusalem, destined for the eternal blessedness of the righteous, "nothing unclean and no one given over to abomination and lies will enter, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).

It will be the city of the children of God. They will enjoy eternal and unchanging fellowship with God Himself there.

Here, in earthly life, we have communion with God only in prayers, in our deep tearful prayers.

Then, our spirit will communicate with the Spirit of God. There this communication will be eternal, endless, unceasing.

Will we then see our God face to face?

Oh no! God is Spirit; He has no corporeality.

It is impossible to imagine Him in the form of a good-looking Elder sitting on a throne. God has never been seen.

God is inaccessible to our eyes, because He is Spirit, because He is immaterial. Remember this.

Here is what Saint John the Theologian about what he saw in his great vision: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald” (Rev. 4:2-3).

These words describe God seated on the throne: this Seated One was in appearance like a jasper stone and a sardius stone.

This is not a human image at all, this is some kind of mysterious image, shining with the beauty of precious stones, which we cannot even imagine.

But we will see the Lord Jesus Christ with our own eyes, because He has risen and ascended into heaven in a human body, in a glorified body.

When the holy apostles followed with their eyes the ascending Savior, who had already disappeared from their sight behind a cloud, then two men in white robes appeared to them and said: “Men of Galilee! why are you standing and looking at the sky? This Jesus, who ascended from us into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him ascending into heaven” (Acts 1:11), in the same way, that is, in a human body.

And if, until His Second Coming, our Lord and God Jesus Christ retains His human body, does this not mean that He will preserve it forever?

We know that the Lord appeared many times to His martyrs and great saints in His earthly bodily form, and we will see Him in the New Jerusalem in a human body, see with our eyes.

We will see God the Father and God the Holy Spirit only with spiritual eyes.

Whose spirit is worthy of this supreme joy?

Only a pure spirit, only those who are pure in heart will see God, only those in whom there is no filth, for nothing filthy will enter the New Jerusalem.

In order to be worthy of staying in this eternal city, all the time of our earthly life must be devoted to one great deed - the purification of our hearts.

How to cleanse the heart? Don't you know how you keep your dwellings clean: you sweep and wash floors, sweep cobwebs and all kinds of dirt, wash windows and doors, wash tablecloths and curtains; and only then, if you constantly take care of the cleanliness of the home, is it clean.

In exactly the same way, one must take care of the purity of the heart: one must look every day to see if there is any dirt in it; one must strictly monitor what and when it is defiled and polluted. How will we wash it? Tears, tears of repentance.

This is the task of our life.

I have explained to you the meaning of the words of Christ: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

And now I will continue my speech and answer the question that arose in the mind of many of you.

You may think: what will happen to good people who do no evil, even do a lot of good, but do not confess God? Will they enter the kingdom of heaven? Will they be worthy of eternal life?

Oh no, oh no! It is not I who speak, but Christ Himself.

Good deeds alone are not enough, one must still believe with all one's heart in the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father who sent Him, one must wash one's sinful filth in the baptismal font, one must partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.

It is not I who speak, but Christ Himself spoke to His apostles before His ascension to heaven: “When you go into the whole world, preach the Gospel to every creature. Whoever has faith and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not have faith, he will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

For those who do not have faith, who have not been baptized, have not partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ, there is no access to this city of New Jerusalem, there is no eternal life, just as there is none for Jews and Muslims, although there are many good and kind people among them, very worthy.

Then where will they be? This is answered by Christ, who said: "In my Father's house there are many mansions."

True, this word refers to those who enter the Jerusalem on high, but we can draw a further conclusion from these words.

It is necessary to present the matter in such a way that eternal blessedness, eternal life will be inherited by those who followed Christ, believing in Him with all their hearts, who were baptized in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

All villains, stained with blood, all blasphemers, adulterers, all who were infinitely far from purity of heart will be condemned to eternal torment.

After all, between these two extreme groups, between the righteous, on the one hand, and the evil and the wicked, on the other, there is a huge number of people who we will not call either the righteous or the villains.

What will be their fate? We don’t know, but since the Lord said “there are many mansions,” we think that for them there will be some modest abode in the house of the Heavenly Father. They will not fully inherit the Kingdom of God, but they will not be tormented either. They will be in some intermediate state. What that state is, of course, we do not know.

The human spirit is immortal, and it will continue its existence either in the eternal joy of the righteous, or in the constant torment of sinners, or, finally, in an intermediate state unknown to us.

But let us say more: the Holy Spirit, who gives life to everything, inspires every living creature, and therefore we must believe in the immortality of all creatures, renewed by God, when He creates everything new.

Of course, we cannot confirm this, but only assume.

You, a small flock of Christ, are different from the huge number of people who are strangers to Christ, who never come to church, who do not partake of the Holy Mysteries.

You should always take care that here, in earthly life, you receive the right to enter into the eternal mansions of the Kingdom of God.

That's what you should try to do, to learn to enter into communion with God in prayer as often as possible. And our Lord Jesus Christ will help you in this, saying: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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