The Mystery of God’s Love (1)

The following is a loose translation of the homily delivered by Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic) here this past Third Sunday of Lent:

Great and joyous is the day this week of  our Lord’s Resurrection and great and joyous is this Sunday of our Lord’s Cross – two events connected with one another, united, two events equally salvific. The Lord rushes, hastens to Jerusalem, to the suffering for our salvation. This is the endless, pre-eternal love of God for His creation and that most loved creation – Man. And the Lord created man in the sign of the Cross. When man stands, says St. Irenaeus of Lyon the great martyr from the second century, (Asia Minor, he suffered in Lyon, south France), when he stands and stretches out his hands, he is a living and walking Cross. God created man in the sign of the Cross and as St. Bishop Nikolaj says all of the universe is in the sign of the Cross. Upright or vertically and horizontally all of the universe is marked with the Cross, signed with the Cross, crossed.

The Cross is the mystery of God’s love, not the mystery of suffering, but the mystery of the sacrificial love, self-burnt [offering]. Love is always a sacrifice, but  a joyous sacrifice. Not a love of atonement as the Latins heretically preach that God should be appeased, as if God is angered, and now we must bring offerings that God might be made merciful. This is not the Biblical God. This is not the God of revelation. This is not the God of Jesus Christ and our God and Father. Our God is the God of love who knows that with love, man, God, the angels and all of creation should serve one another and to rejoice in it. This is why the self-sacrificed love has been called for centuries the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us and our eternal salvation.

God showed this when He called our forefather Abraham to go to the distant land of Ur of the Chaldees (today’s southern Mesopotamia) to the promised land which He will give him, land unknown to him, unfamiliar. And Abraham left and arrived in Haran (north of today’s Syria, on the border of Turkey. Those are still fertile areas.)  Then God called him to leave the rest of his family and to set off for Canaan, to set off to the rocky, rugged, barren land – today’s Judea, and that He will give it to him as an inheritance. Strange is that land, brothers and sisters, dear children – the Holy Land. A good part of it is a desert, especially the southern part around Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to Egypt, to the Red Sea.  But when the rain falls it instantly blossoms. At once, The deserts shall blossom like the lily, O Lord. Something strange is occurring by us where there are artificial lakes (Bilecka Lake where there is a reservoir with a hydro central facility). It can be a year or more, maybe two that an area surrounding the lake has been flooded, and when the water is drained everything turns green very quickly. This is the mystery of life which God created in deserts and in waters.

Therefore, Abraham came and asked himself, How will I inherit this land? God showed him the stars in the heavens – That shall be your offspring. After a long wait and strengthening of the faith of Abraham he was given a son, Isaac. And when Isaac grew older and turned twenty, God took a new step, a new economy as the Holy Fathers say, a new dispensation and says – Offer your son as a sacrifice to Me. Based on this, the Western philosopher Kierkegaard created an entire philosophy of doubt, anxiety, agony. Abraham had none of this, he was a man of faith. He took his son and his heart was surely saddened when he took him up Mount Moriah, but this is the present spot where the Temple of Jerusalem sits. (It was more rugged but was leveled out during the time of Solomon and afterward the time of the Maccabees).  And Isaac says to him – Father we carry the wood but where is the sacrifice. Abraham replied with the words of faith – God will provide. It is more clearer in the Hebrew – God will reveal Himself and you shall see what He will do. And he willed to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. But, in the moment Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son by his obedience to God, out of his faith in God, out of his love for God, God stopped his hand and showed him the ram caught by his horns in a thicket and this was an image of Christ. He gave His only begotten Son in place of Abraham’s son. In place of Isaac – the new Isaac – the Lord Christ. And He set off to Jerusalem, as the evangelist says – There are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power. What Kingdom of God is this? This is the Cross on Golgotha. At first a few of the Apostles saw Him: John, the myrrh-bearers and the thief on His right side, the Roman centurion and Joseph and Nicodemus. And then the rest of the Apostles and other people saw Him, to this day, whoever wants to believe in Christ and in everlasting life.

Faith is not violent, faith is not mechanical. Faith is not holding someone in a grip, in fear, in warnings or even promises. Faith is the free offering, the gift of a loving heart to God, from the free and the freeing man. This is the mystery of the Cross and the mystery of the love of God. In the West, unfortunately, the Cross has been understood as suffering and Jesuits and others depict Christ as He is crucified. God forgive me but this is a despairing man who needs help, and not as He appears by us at [Monastery] Studenica – the King of Glory fallen asleep, who spreads out His arms to include the entire world. He was the King of Glory then too, on the cross He was on the throne with the Father, in heaven with the thief, in Hades with the souls of the deceased and with us on Golgotha. And peace shown and He gave hope. He entrusted the Mother of God, the Mother of His Son with His adopted brother John and all of us He entrusted to Her and him.

To be continued

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