In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
On October 4, 1957, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union made the following transmission: “As a result of great, intense work of scientific institutes and design bureaus the first artificial Earth satellite has been built.” Indeed, it had not only been built, but Sputnik 1, only 184.3 lbs. in weight, had, by the time of that transmission, orbited the Earth for the first time.
Four years later, Yuri Gagarin, a citizen of the Soviet Union, traveled into space and made the orbit himself. Later, in describing the flight of the first man beyond the atmosphere of the Earth, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev would say, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any God there.”
Though the Soviet Union now finds itself relegated to the historical dustbin, Khrushchev’s words still echo ominously in our world. Through the use of rockets, mankind has been to outer space—many times, in fact—and we didn’t see God out there. By using telescopes, we can see a staggering distance out into space, and yet the Face of God is not staring back at us. Through the use of microscopes, we have also traveled deep into biological cells and even into subatomic particles, and yet there is no obvious fingerprint of the divine.
Most people’s experience of life in this world is largely one which includes the absence of God. Even our whole political machinery, which seems to get vaster as the days go by, is predicated upon a kind of Pelagianism, which is an ancient heretical teaching that man is capable of saving himself without God’s help if only he tries hard enough. We’re just one or two legislative triumphs away from utopia, right?
Even professed Christians often act in public as if God is absent, perhaps out of concern for being impolite to our unbelieving neighbors or out of fear of being ridiculed by a world who has traveled into space and didn’t see any God there. Or maybe even it’s just because there are so many Christians who can’t recall ever having encountered Him. They believe, but they do not have any experience of what they believe in.
But today, St. Paul quotes these words from God: “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” It’s not clear where exactly Paul is quoting from, because God says this to His people again and again, recorded in the books of Leviticus, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
“I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” These are not the words of the God Who is absent. These words were not spoken from the vast emptiness of outer space, nor from the hidden secret places within the cell or within the atom. These words are from the God Who is there, the God Whose presence is closer to us than our blood, and more profoundly filling us than breathing.
So why is it that Nikita Khrushchev did not see God through the eyes of Yuri Gagarin? Why do we not see His undebatable signature when we peer at our DNA through microscopes? Why do we not see His almighty hand through the lens of our telescopes? It is because these are the wrong tools for this job. We cannot see or experience the presence of God through these means. Yet there have always been people who use them and then conclude, having seen nothing, that God is not there.
But for a people so dedicated to scientific investigation, for a nation and culture who thirst for true knowledge of reality, we have a curious hesitation when it comes to using the tools that God has provided us in order to encounter His presence within us. St. Paul tells us that “we are the temple of the living God,” yet for so many of us, that temple sees the coming and going of priests and worshipers, but no requisite presence of the divine. If we are temples, then we are temples to unknown gods, hoping that someday the god we worship will make a stop to visit our altar.
So how do we overcome this absence? How do we get in touch with the God Who is our God, so that we may be His people? Sending radio signals out into space will not do it. Shouting into the wind will not accomplish it. Trying to find the Creator hidden in some crevice of His creation will not yield any testable or repeatable results. But God has given us the means not only to seek Him, but to find Him.
Paul also quotes for us these words from God: “Therefore, come out from them, and be separate from them…. And touch nothing unclean.” So much of our lives is spent in imitating the world. Whether we are buying into “the American dream,” some “way of life,” or whatever it might be, most of us spend the overwhelming majority of our time not “[coming] out from them” or being “separate from them.” And we too often touch many unclean things, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
I sometimes believe that one of the worst things ever to happen to Christianity was that it became “acceptable.” Yet it is not so much Christ and the Gospel which became “acceptable,” but rather that Christians bought into the world’s way of life and continued to call themselves Christians.
But here is a radical truth: If you truly try to live the Christian life as the Lord Jesus told us in the Gospel, then you will have no choice but to be very different from the world around you. People will think you’re nuts for giving up 10% or more of your income. People will call you crazy for wanting to worship the Holy Trinity more than just once a week. People will not begin to understand as you give of your time, love and substance to a bum whom they suspect of just looking for more booze. People will not know why you should want to confess your sins with another person and truly repent of them. People will be baffled when they hear that you’re not always trying to “trade up” on your possessions. People will never be able to accept your desire to put Jesus Christ first in everything you say, everything you do, everything you are.
The kind of ardent desire that it really takes to be a Christian will always seem insane to the world. We don’t have to try to separate ourselves from the world in order to follow God’s command. All we have to do is follow Him, to be serious about becoming holy men and women of God, and we will find that the world will separate itself from us. All we have to do to “come out from them” is to love Jesus Christ with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.
Take an honest look at yourself sometime. Would it be right for people to say these things about you? “Here’s one who’s obsessed with Jesus. Here’s one who would gladly suffer and die for his faith. Here’s one who spends every moment he can looking for ways to deepen his connection with God.” If people can’t say those things about you, then it’s time to do some serious thinking. It’s time to take stock of who you are and what you are doing with yourself, to see what order your priorities are in, to see whether you really are worthy of the name of “Orthodox Christian.” With that name come some very serious expectations.
But with these expectations, God also gives a promise. He says that if we do what He says, “then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.”
Is your experience of Christ real? Do you have any experience of Him? Or is what we do here opaque to you, such that you cannot see through the words and the music and the ritual to the God Whose hand touches the altar?
Here, we undertake something very serious. Here, we plunge ourselves into the intensity of mystical connection and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here is a place for real men and real women and real children to meet with and know the present and powerful warmth of the real God. This is not spirituality for the faint-hearted. This is where warriors are made, where people cast off all that will not put them in touch with God and push forward to find Him.
To our ever-present God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.