January 29, 2024

Homily on the Fifteenth Sunday of Luke - Personal Encounter With Christ (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 Homily on the Fifteenth Sunday of Luke

Personal Encounter With Christ

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Zacchaeus, make haste and come down" (Lk. 19:5)

To satisfy his metaphysical search, Zacchaeus sought to encounter Christ and He, showing the purpose of His incarnation, called him to a personal encounter: "Zacchaeus," He said to him, "make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." We will formulate a few thoughts about the personal encounter with Christ.

The communion of man with Christ and of Christ with man is primarily a personal event. Christ does not meet with the mass, but with the persons who are worthy to receive His divine teaching and to hear His heavenly call.

Christ is a Person. The same goes for man. Therefore a personal encounter (face to face) creates the proper conditions for salvation. Indeed, the knowledge of God is experienced at the limits of the personal relationship.

An expression of this encounter and communion is the pronunciation of the name. Christ calls man by his name (which is very personal to him) and man calls God by His name: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me."

Christ Himself, who is "the Good Shepherd," revealed this personal relationship with His flock, when He said: "The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (John 1:3). We see this in the case of the Apostle Peter. After His resurrection, the Lord asks him: "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs" (John 21:15). We also see the same in the case of Mary Magdalene. When the Lord says, “Woman, why are you crying? What are you asking for?" she thinks He is the gardener. But when He uses her name "Mary" then she immediately recognizes her Lord and her teacher.

Christ's encounter with Zacchaeus also shows the real conditions of a personal encounter. And this condition is ecstasy. The Lord came down from heaven to earth to encounter man and converse with him, for the purpose of his salvation. And Zacchaeus climbed from the ground to the tree to see Christ and hear His divine word. Both of them made a departure and had an encounter. Zacchaeus in particular succeeded in the personal encounter because he was doing something crazy. It was no small thing, a rich man, a publican with a social position, to climb the tree to see a Nazarene. But this departure from having a good idea about himself and his "dignity" had the consequence of his salvation.

This shows that man encounters Christ at the limits of the personal relationship, when he does something crazy. When he destroys the illusion of completeness and self-sufficiency, when he ceases to consider the opinion of the world, and when he innocently and truly seeks Christ, even if everyone mocks him, then he encounters the Lord.

The personal and saving encounter with Christ takes place in the Church which is His blessed and glorious Body and a communion of persons.

At Baptism, the Church gives a person his name and knows him by it from then on. She personally gives him divine Grace and personally offers him the message of salvation. With his name she forgives his sins, crowns him, ordains him a Priest, gives him the divine Gifts, i.e. the Body and Blood of Christ, accompanies him to the next life with the funeral service.

Since the Church is a communion of persons, it means that if we want our salvation, we need to feel it as the place of our personal encounter with Christ and not just with external contact with Him. After all, with His divine Grace we are united with Him.

So we should not live our lives in the Church as individuals, since she herself does not want to speak to a mass and consider the believers as a mob, but wants to talk and associate with people personally. This is the greatest offering of the Church especially today when everyone is trying to turn people into individuals, into a mob to lead them where they want.

Many today accuse the Church of not doing a great social work and dealing only with worship, or rather giving priority to it. But this objection shows the terrible weakness they have to access the redemptive space of our Church. The Church does great social work. It has plenty of social work. And only an objective researcher can establish this. He can also find that she is doing it correctly and truly. However, despite the great social work, she avoids doing it only in order to overcome the great temptation to view people as a mass. She works more personally, with confession, personal salvation encounters, than "socially", as people mean by it, because many times with social work the person is destroyed, since the person becomes just a number, so he loses hope of salvation. Statistical surveys about the poor, the elderly, etc. or the collective offer of work (a boarding school with so many children who eat, drink, etc.) help us to work socially, but most of the time they do not let us work philanthropically. It is better to give the other inner peace and security than to limit our work to external offerings.

In conclusion, we say that it is necessary in the critical days that we are passing through to consider the Church as an ark of personhood and not as a ministry of social services, as an ark of salvation and not as a hall of lectures and discussions. Then like Zacchaeus we will acquire our salvation.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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