All I can say was it was embarrassing! I could have sworn the person I ran up to in the store was a buddy of mine from High School. I just knew this was going to be a fun reunion, and we’d laugh about that time we all… and we’d talk about the old days and comment on how hard that Algebra class was and how the teacher was so difficult, and then we’d go have lunch together and catch up.
But it wasn’t him. And all my mental joy in anticipation of a reunion with an old friend evaporated in a moment of clarity. Sorry, fella.
Don’t you just hate it when that happens!
Mistaken identity can really cause problems both great and small. The truth is the more I study the Fathers of the Church, the more I allow the rhythm of the liturgy and prayers of the Church to wash over me, the more I live this Orthodox faith on purpose, the more I am convinced the primary result of faithfully living this eternal wisdom is an increasing clarity as to Who God is and who I am. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if your practice of the faith isn’t revealing God more and more to you and isn’t revealing your own true self to you on a regular basis, you just ain’t doing it right!
Let me take it a step further and suggest that this increasing intimacy with God and the ever growing awareness of my true self (warts and all!) is absolutely necessary if I ever hope to fully embrace the Orthodox understanding of what salvation is all about. In light of this revelation, no wonder it is a complete waste of time to compare myself with anyone else other than Christ Himself. No wonder it is a complete waste of time and a total dead end to judge my brother or notice all his sins and remain blind to my own sins. No wonder the faith, the Lord, the Church, the Liturgy over and over again insists that I spend my time gazing into the Face of Christ and into the faces and events in human history that reflect the Face of Christ, His attitudes, His teachings, His Person, because this is the work of my life – to become “like Christ.”
And no wonder the pivotal moment in the lives of the disciples came when they recognized just Who Jesus really is!
In our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 9:18-22 we see the tipping point in the lives of these simple men as God reveals the cosmic truth of just Who is standing before them. Jesus asks the Million dollar question: “Who do the people say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen.” And he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Now it’s personal. Now the rubber is meeting the road. Now there is no escaping the consequences of the answer each man will give. St. Peter, impetuous, flighty, proud, strong, and opinionated (no wonder I like him so much!) declares his answer: “The Christ of God.” OK folks, the cat is out of the bag, and there is no walking back from this. St. Peter is transfigured by this revelation and will spend his life in service to Jesus, “The Christ of God.”
The truth is I will never know myself, dear one, I really mean “never,” until I answer the question Jesus asked His disciples – Who do YOU say I am? Your answer to that question is the gateway to all the spiritual resources given by the Holy Spirit to the Church to set you free to become who you really are. When you know Him, you will begin to know yourself.
This is why the treasures of our faith can never be reduced to mere nostalgia or mindless repetition, but must be the faithful practice of a heart awake to the magnitude of God becoming Man for my sake! If Christ really is fully God AND fully Man, “begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father” as we insist in the Creed, then knowing Him is the gate I must pass through to know myself. And as I know myself better in Him, I am able to love even my enemies, and to build healthy relationships, and to constantly move my life by the grace of God toward more freedom and becoming “like Christ.” The truth is I’ll call eternity “hell” if I don’t do this all important work now! It is only as much as I resemble Jesus that I will call His Home, my home.
Today, Who is Jesus? What steps, I mean concrete and practical steps, will you take today to know Him better? Will you pray? Will you stand before His icon and gaze into His Face to allow His image to imprint Himself in your heart? Will you see Him in those around you and learn your own capacity for love and compassion? Today, will you say “yes” to the Holy Spirit’s gentle invitation to see Christ as He is and then to allow that “light” to shine into ever recess of your own heart?
Today, know Him and you will come to know yourself. The entire cosmos waits and groans for the revelation of the sons of God (see Romans 8:19). All the universe is rapt with anticipation waiting to see how you will respond and if you will allow yourself to be unveiled as the being you were created to be. The universe longs to tap you on the shoulder and say “Hey, aren’t you….?”