03 June 2007

Loved Restores what Love Created

Excerpts from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, a Western Rite Vicariate parish in the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

The praise, worship and adoration of the Most Holy Trinity separates Christianity from all other religions. For none other “worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” (QuicĂșmque vult) ... [So] the chief thing is not the teaching, but the worship. The chief thing is not that we can adequately and reasonably describe the mystery of three persons in one God. The chief thing is that we continually and equally ascribe all glory, honor and worship to the Father through His only-begotten Son in the Holy Spirit.

For this reason we were made. ... When God determined to make man, He did so in order that He might build a relationship with us. He desired to extend the love that He is beyond Himself; and He desired that we be the creatures who could and would return His love. He desired to create men so that He might make His home in them; and He desired that we would receive Him. He desired to show mercy; and He desired that we give Him thanks.

It was all, then, designed to be a true, loving relationship, with God as the initiator and we as the respondents; with God saying, “Let us make man,” and we responding, “Thy hands have made me and formed me”; with God begetting in love and pouring out His love and ceaselessly extending love; and we being in love—in the love that He is and gives.

Yet when we broke this covenant of love—when we determined to love ourselves, rather than loving Love Himself; when we determined to take pride in ourselves, rather than praising the Lover who loved us into being; when we determined that we deserved to be love, and to initiate our own self-loves, and to gratify whatever we thought was lovely; when we determined to do whatever we pleased with what God’s love had made. Then our love turned cold, and our life in God spiraled out of control, and our desires became disordered. But worst of all, our praise, worship and adoration for the Trinity ceased to flow purely and truly; and so it dried up in our hearts and died on our lips.

Yet this did not quench Our Lord’s love for us. Neither did it cause Him to turn against us. With us, spurned love quickly turns to hate, and jealousy begets rage. But with Our Lord, spurned love increased His desire to seek us out, to entice us back, and to restore lost love. So, in the cool of the day—that is, when our love had cooled toward Him—the Lord God came looking for us as a good father eagerly yearns for his prodigal son, as a Good Shepherd earnestly seeks a lost sheep, and as an innocent and pure woman diligently searches for a lost coin. ...

It is no mistake or mere coincidence, then, that after Our Lord’s Passion had loved the world back to God; after the Lover, in Love, gave up and then resurrected His Beloved; after Love covered a multitude of sins—it is not happenstance that Our Lord Jesus directed His first bishops to reclaim and restore all men, one by one, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For in baptism for the remission of sins, in baptism which returns life where there was death, in baptism which restores and renews lost love—in this “the Trinity is united in showing mercy” (St Peter Chrysologus), in the same way that the Trinity was united in creating man.

So man is begotten by the love of the Father through the Son in the Spirit; and man is re-begotten by that same love. Man is loved into being by the Most Holy Trinity; and man is restored in love by the same Holy Trinity. Man is created, and man becomes a new creature, by the fullness of the Godhead. And in this way, by the initiative of the Father, Son and Spirit, the covenant of love is renewed; and the relationship is repaired; and the true synergy between God and man is re-established.

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