Losing Ourselves in Love
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 16, 2018 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
The Reading is from the Gospel According to Mark 8:34-38; 9:1
Today's Gospel reading from Mark chapter 8, marks a turning point in the Lord's ministry. From chapter 8 to chapter 13 we read the account of Christ’s final journey to his crucifixion in Jerusalem.
Jesus announces his death and meets with resistance. Peter rebukes him, and Jesus rebukes him back. The polarity between Christ and this broken world is exposed. Christ reveals the Way of the Cross and the world resists insisting on its own way. Interestingly, in the earliest days, the faithful referred to the Church as “the Way.” It is a different and unique Way.
If we look at the temptation of Christ in the wilderness we find the same war of opposites. Satan tempted Jesus with power, wealth, and fame and Jesus refused even to engage him in dialogue, choosing only to quote scripture to dispel him. In Mark 8:33 it is Peter who metaphorically represents “Satan.” Let’s read it.
“Turning and looking at His disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’” There we have it – the Great Divorce (using CS Lewis’ colorful title) between the mind of God and the mind of “this world.” The Prophet writes these words as the voice of God:
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Today, Jesus invites his disciples and the crowd to follow His example, to adopt his thoughts, to become true disciples.
"If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”
So, we must ask, “What does this look like? What does it mean to deny ourselves? Simply put, it means to lose ourselves in love. Here is a first step: the reconciliation of our internal life.
Last week we spoke about how this effects the external life – how we treat one another. Today, let’s talk about how the Cross effects the internal life/.
I like to speak about the transformation of the internal world for two reasons. First, so few do. And second because the only way to bring the light of Christ to the world is to become the light of Christ.
When I was researching what I would say today, I found something interesting about Evagrius of Pontus, thanks again to Fr. Tom Hopko. Evagrius was an amazing psychologist. He wrote in the fourth century about things modern depth psychology has only now begun to discover.
Evagrius, the great mystic and writer, taught that human beings have two selves. The first, he called the “Christ-Self,” the original and defining self, the image of God. And the second he called, “the legion of other selves.” These “other selves” are represented in us by the myriad thoughts, feelings, passions, and emotions that we experience moment by moment. We are fragmented; it seems, into many parts.
At some point, Evagrius continues, by the grace of God working in us through Holy Baptism, the Christ-Self awakens to its own beauty and worth and turns its compassionate gaze upon the legion of other selves within us. Reconciliation begins to flow, fragmentation is overcome, and the inner world is united in love. The whole of life, external and internal is swallowed up in love.
St. Maximos the Confessor speaks of this reunification as “attaining perfect love” by the re-ordering of one’s whole life with love; in other words, by losing ourselves in love.
So, it is not the Christ-Self that must “be denied,” but the legion of other selves. And here “denial” does not mean rejection, but transformation. The Christ-Self brimming with the energy of God becomes the primary leader, the director of the symphony of the internal landscape. The whole inner world awakens to the presence and power of the grace of God and begins to adopt the Way of the Cross, the Way of love, self-sacrifice, and humility as its natural way of thinking and living.
The internal war of opposites comes to an end and the “peace that passes understanding” envelopes the whole of life, inside and out. The world outside begins to mirror the peaceful world inside. Because we have become peace, we make peace.
And all that is not love withers and fades for only love is eternal. Everything else passes away.
As we elevate and venerate the Cross today, let us elevate it daily in our hearts, reordering our lives to the Way of Love, always choosing the narrow and selfless path that Christ Jesus calls us to walk.