One of the most striking features of the Gospels is the frequent response of the Disciples after the resurrection of Christ: doubt. I have always been sympathetic to the doubts and hesitations that afflicted their lives during the ministry of Christ. The disciples are almost endearing in their inability to grasp what Christ is all about. However, the same inability to grasp things after the resurrection seems to carry with it all kinds of difficulties. What was it about the resurrection that the disciples could not or did not believe? A man dies and is buried. Then he is not buried and is not a walking corpse but manifests an entirely new form of existence. Call it resurrection or what have you – but apparently Christ had mentioned this coming reality more than once before it happened. What was the problem?
The problem seems to go to the very heart of things both then and now. Had the resurrection belonged to the classification of events that everyone can see, measure, study, and reach “scientific” agreement, there would surely have been no trouble. But the resurrection does not belong to some general classification. It is sui generis, its own classification.
There are many who want to speak about the resurrection as if it were a car wreck down at the corner drugstore. Whatever it was (is), it is very much more, even, indeed, something completely different – not like anything else.
And it is here, that the continuing problem of vision is made manifest. Orthodox Christian writers are wont to utter things like, “God will save the world through beauty” (Dostoevsky), or “Icons will save the world” (recently in First Things) all of which makes some people want to run out and complain. But at their heart, such statements are trying to say something about the nature of the resurrection and its action in our world.
The resurrection of Christ is something completely new. It is a manifestation of God unlike anything we have ever known. It is Truth made manifest in the flesh – not the truth to be found in an average living man. I am 55 and I look very unlike what I did at 10. I look decidedly unlike what I will in another 100 years (you probably wouldn’t like to see that). Thus we never see anything in an eternal state. But the resurrection is just that. It does not belong exactly to the classification of “things created,” for it is the “uncreated” before our eyes.
And thus the Church paints the things that pertain to the resurrection (including the saints) in an iconic fashion – not like portraiture or the “truth” that generally lies before our eyes. Icons paint the Truth as it appears to eyes that behold the resurrection. By the same token, the Church does not write about the resurrection in the way we write about other things, for the resurrection is not one of the other things but a thing that is unlike anything else. Thus the Fathers of the Church said that “icons do with color what Scripture does with words.”
And both have something to do with vision. The Gospel tells us: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I am not pure in heart but I think I may have encountered such a person. At the least I have read stories about such persons and I know that such persons see what I cannot and they see in a manner that as yet I do not.
But this goes to the point of salvation. Salvation is not how to get people like me (or like you) into some place safe from the fires of hell. That is a transportation problem at best, or a legal problem, at worst. The point of salvation is how to change people like me (and you). It is about changing us such that seeing the resurrection becomes possible. In order to see the resurrection and those things that pertain to it – one must somehow participate in the resurrection. The vision that is birthed in our hearts at Holy Baptism is the vision born of the resurrection of Christ. He is the “true light” whom we behold in the Holy Eucharist.
In this sense, God will indeed save the world through Beauty. The problem is that so few if any of us have ever seen Beauty. Had you truly seen Beauty, then you would not disagree with the statement. It’s obvious character would be, well, obvious. That people want to argue with it (or with icons) only means that they do not or cannot see. And neither do I, most of the time.
If I could see as I am meant to see then my eyes would not see enemies nor the like. Not that others might not intend to be my enemies or want evil for me – but there are eyes that see beyond all of that and see the Truth of a person. Had I the eyes to see, love would not be an insurmountable problem but as tangible as the Resurrection itself.
And so we have celebrated the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity. Every heart must prepare Him room. More than that, every heart should beg to see the Beauty, to read the Icon of the Gospel of the Nativity, to see what daily escapes our vision and leaves us blind – leading the blind.
Photo: Orthodox pilgrims receiving communion at the entrance to the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem (Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
I’m still over awed by the Incarnation and the radical consequences of God taking on not just human flesh, but human nature: ‘“…in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the
distinction of natures being in no way abolished because of the union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature being preserved, andconcurring into one Person and one subsistence…”
I haven’t even really begun to deal with the resurrection yet on any level but accepting it has the teaching of the Church. I’m utterly incapable of saying anything but Christ is Risen. Not just ‘spiritually’ risen, but risen as the Incarnate Lord which means that our nature is risen too. That obliterates every thing I tend to assume about myself and humanity.
Christ is Risen is the ultimate Gospel message but especially in a era where rationalistic materialism reigns, quite difficult to communicate.
Indeed. One of the things I find in the lives of many saints is the reality that “the order of nature is overturned” as we sing during this season. It is one of the many things that says that the Resurrection is not simply a single event but that Christ is “the first of many brethren,” that the resurrection is transfiguring the cosmos.
You really hit the nail on the head Father.
If God in the flesh did not “revert to type” in glory, subsequent generations could not, and would not have produced witnesses of that same Resurrection.
One of the things that I ponder continually is the realization that it was not the fact he was killed and not just that he rose. Not the legal demands of punishment. And not just being raised from the dead. For returning from the dead had happened before. Elijah raised a boy, a man buried in a cave with Elishas bones came to life again, indeed even Lazarus and the girl who were raised by Christ.
The more I study the more I become convinced I have no idea what happened. But that whatever it was it was awesome and changed a great deal.
Its shocking when you realize that it was also the combination of humanity and divinity together entering hades. That while there works were really done that relate to salvation of our souls.
Reality is not what we perceive it to be. And that is the most confounding and amazing thing to realize.
I have some questions about the resurrection events though. Who were the people who were also raised and who went into the city and were seen by many. Were they the ones who Christ preached to in Hades. Did they return to heaven with him in body form or did they return to dust again.
I know its a mystery and that we will not know most of the answers until after the earth is made new, and perhaps not even then. But I like mysteries and to think about them.
I have always found solace in the apostles constant struggle with doubt.
Very helpful blog, Father.
Thank you. You raise so many very important questions. I really liked this point
Salvation is not how to get people like me (or like you) into some place safe from the fires of hell. That is a transportation problem at best, or a legal problem, at worst. The point of salvation is how to change people like me (and you). It is about changing us such that seeing the resurrection becomes possible
So the real question is how do we change and how do we change our vision? Perhaps, renewed vision is a by product of a willingness to truly and perhaps unceasingly repent from all of the patterns in my life which seperate me from God and are inconsistent with what he instructs or commands of me. One of the key challenges I face is remaining focused on ‘what is my job’ and letting go of ‘what is God’s job’. Perhaps, it’s my job to focus on my willingness to truly change these actions and behaviors and less on me changing my own vision or somehow self generating the resurrection. Continual praise of God and a humility which understands how much of the miracle of vision is truly God’s work….I plow the field through my willingness and discipline in following His commandments, he provides the sun, rain, and the fruit of vision is truly a miracle of His grace.
Many thanks, Father. I just wanted to say that having stumbled upon your blog several months ago I have returned often since, and always encounter a rich blessing in your thoughts and words. After reading separately today of Christ’s encounter with and subsequent healing of Bartimaeus, who apparently was blind from birth, I’m struck by how after receiving his sight, Bartimaeus must have been overcome by the never before seen physical beauty all around him and the spiritual impact this must have had upon him. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy.
I think you put this very well. It obviously must be the work of God’s grace (the very Life of God) working in us. And I agree that our struggle is to praise God and live in humility. We struggle to keep His commandments, and get up whenever we fall. Grace will do abundantly above all that we could ask or think. The healing must be of God because we have no idea how to make ourselves see what we do not see.
My entire comment on this post is absolutely nothing—I can add nothing, I disagree with nothing, nothing is missing, nothing is wrongly stated, nothing is incomplete, nothing is offensive, nothing is mere wordplay, nothing is unrealistic, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Forgive me, but I cannot help drawing attention to this post, and I will, in my blog: http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2008/12/what-we-do-not-see.html
Thank you for your kind words, both here and on your blog. I enjoyed my visit there. What is the music – wonderful guitar – itself a blessing. I have added your site to my blogroll. Welcome.
I’ve been highlighting some of my son Andrew’s compositions and guitar virtuosity this Christmas. Today it’s a piece called Unconditional, from his CD by the same name. The title of what’s playing is at the very bottom of my blog page. You can hear more of his music, as well as see some video of him playing at either of the two links in the side panel of my blog. (Remember, he IS an artist and moves among some very UNUSUAL circles, but amazingly, he is a faithful Orfthodox, wearing his komboskini and silver baptismal cross at all times, when performing publicly, and he is not ashamed of our faith. But you may see some weird things on his sites.) Andrew is also the unofficial protopsaltis at Holy Trinity GO Cathedral in Portland, having been trained here and also in Athens, Greece. Andrew is 25 years old.
I am convinced that our ability to understand the resurrection and it’s meaning has much to do with what we, as believers allow ourselves to become.
This is not to say that we ought to be living some kind of super-spiritual existence here on earth. On the contrary, it is the human Christ who is raised to eternal glory in us.
The resurrection is an affirmation of who God is in us and the cross is the means in which the “exchange” takes place. The cross and the resurrection are inseparable.
Dear Father, bless!
“And so we have celebrated the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity. Every heart must prepare Him room. More than that, every heart should beg to see the Beauty, to read the Icon of the Gospel of the Nativity, to see what daily escapes our vision and leaves us blind – leading the blind.”
Grant this, oh Lord! Thank you again, Father, for your thoughts. This and your subsequent two posts touch on so many issues close to home.
Christ is born!