Faith in Jesus Christ
Our theme for today is in a certain sense a central one. It is central because as I have already told you, the part of the "Symbol of Faith" concerning the Creator of the World is common to us and Judaism and other monotheistic religions. The specifics of Christianity begin with the second section, with faith in Jesus Christ. That is why we call ourselves "Christians". Not simply believers, but Christians, because for us the highest Revelation took place in the personality of Jesus Christ.
Last time I told you what the name "Jesus" means. His historical, personal, human name. Then we talked about where the word "Christ" came from, that it means "anointed one, king, messiah". We cast a fleeting glance over 15 centuries of Old Testament history. And we came to the most important thing.
What is the essential meaning of Old Testament prophecy? That the world is not static, that the world has a history, that the world has a purpose and is moving toward the highest Revelation of God, Not one of the great religions of the world has known this. All of them, one way or another, have conceived of existence as in principle invariable. To the prophets, on the other hand, it was revealed that existence is like an arrow shot in a certain direction. That the fullness of the Divine Presence is not a given, but in some sense an aim. Therefore they spoke of the Kingdom of God. Because today God does not reign. Physical and moral evil happens. Death and crime -- this is not the reigning of God, this is the kingdom of the material elements and of the evil will of man. The Kingdom of God signifies the full realization of His beneficent Designs. The ancient founder of the Old Testament Church, Abraham, and after him Moses, took God to be gracious and full of mercy, love, and compassion. But in the world this is not realized. Hence the conclusion that the Kingdom of God is something awaited, something coming. But for this there had to take place the Revelation of the Most High, so that He might touch with His absolute unattainable Personality, that He might come into contact with, the personality of man. This seemed unthinkable, it seemed impossible. How could man -- mortal man, finite man -- come to know what was immortal and infinite? This is what happened in the experience of the prophets. But their experience lay not only in the fact that He spoke to the world through them, not only in the fact that He revealed His will and revealed a moral law as a form of serving the Most High, but also because this experience gave them the opportunity to see what was coming, to see the approaching manifestation of the One Who Is.
In the book of the Prophet Isaiah we read, “O, if only Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!”
So this is the intense expectation -- that God would come into the world, that He would reveal Himself to the world, that He would bring to the world His greatest Revelation, which all peoples would perceive. Now either this never happened and was an illusion, a deception, or else it did happen. And if it did happen, we know where and when.
However much we peruse the history that has taken place on earth from the times the prophets lived, however many great wise men, ascetics and saints there have been, we find only one unique personality in Whom this Revelation really occurred.
He is the only one, as the "Symbol of Faith" teaches us. The only Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God.
What does this signify? To be sure, when we speak of the Unattainable, of the Divine, we use earthly terms, human terms. In human language a son is one who is begotten by a father. The world, the Universe, man -- these are not begotten by God, they are created by Him. Out of non-being He gave them being. Not out of Himself, but as it were out of nothing. He constructed being on non-being. This is a very important moment -- in our liturgy, both in the Liturgy of Basil the Great and in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom the great words are repeated. "You have brought everything into being from nothing." From non-being into being. A logical abyss, a spiritual abyss, a real abyss lies between what is made, created, and the Absolute, the Divine.
In order that this abyss be crossed, a Divine revelation was necessary, some kind of step.
So this is the point: if the world is a creation of God. Jesus Christ who appeared in it is not a creation of God, but a Son; He was begotten of God. He was begotten in a deep, mystical, mysterious, divine sense. In the Bible, as in general in Eastern languages, the word "son" means connected with, connected directly. A person who inspired hope was called a "son of hope". A person filled with sin and evil was called a "son of perdition". Guests at a marriage feast were called "sons of the marriage hall". The disciple of a prophet (and the prophet himself) was called the "son of prophecy". That is, the concept "son" meant not simply birth according to the flesh, but an inner spiritual connectedness. When the Gospel of Mark, which historians suppose to be the oldest one, speaks about Jesus Christ the Son of God, it tells us a great mystery; this earthly man, who shared birth and death with us, and suffering and fatigue, and feelings of hunger and compassion, joy and sorrow -- He belongs simultaneously to the divine world. He is not made. He is begotten of the Most High. "I and the Father are one." He says. And this is not simply one of the emanations of God, but something unique of its kind. Therefore "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten; begotten of the Father before all worlds." This means that this begetting is not an event in time, that at some time He did not exist and at some time He came to exist, "Before all worlds" -- when there was no time, when the words “before” and “after” had no meaning. The begetting takes place in eternity. Outside of time.
Of course, this is the greatest mystery, a mystery connected to the fact that God is Love. But not merely love for someone, even for His creation. He is love itself, realizing itself within. In order to get some sense of the mystery of divine love, remember Rublev's "Trinity" icon. Where a group of three sit at a table and carry on a silent conversation. Unity connects them. They are Three but they are at the same time One. Mysteriously, incomprehensibly, unconditionally, and absolutely One.
When God creates the world, at that moment He comes forth from His Being which has been hidden from us. He becomes the God of action, God-the Word. In silence God pronounces His word, said one of the medieval mystics. The Word of God in the Bible signifies at the same time the action of God.
The Ancient Hebrew word davar and the Ancient Greek logos signify reason and meaning and action all at the same time. When God acts, His Word acts. His second "I". The second divine "I". It is already more comprehensible to us, because the second "I" of God is both the Creator, and Love, and much else. Thus, when the Self-Existent One creates, He does so through His Word. Therefore it was said. "In the beginning was the Word." This "beginning" is not in time. "And the Word was with God. And everything was made by Him, " says the Apostle John, and the Symbol of Faith repeats it: "By Whom all things were made: that is, through Him - the Word - everything came to exist.
The authors of the "Symbol of Faith", the Fathers of the Church, knowing that for many people a statement that there had been a time when the Logos of God was not would seem more understandable, rationally more explicable, more transparent to common sense, emphasized that He is homoousios -- in Greek, "homoousios" means "of one essence" with the Father. This is not another God, and this is not a being inferior to the Father. But this is also God, one in essence, and this is grasped through symbols, through images. Hegel was right when he said that our "Symbol of Faith" is not set forth in speculative concepts.
"Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father."
What does this image consist of? When a bonfire or any fire burns, if we go up to it and kindle another fire from it, they belong to one fire, but the former is not diminished, and both fires, when one is kindled from other, present themselves as one fire-nature. Exactly the same way, the Word generated inside the divine Essence belongs to the nature of God. This is very difficult for people to grasp. Over the course of several centuries teachings arose that tried to interpret this somehow, and the long struggle that was conducted around the Ecumenical Councils shows us how really difficult it was for people to accommodate it.
What was not accommodated? What was not accommodated was the second mystery of Christ, that He is not only of divine origin, but also of human origin. So we have successive departures from the Christian faith. Arianism. The First Ecumenical Council was called in 325 AD, in the struggle with Arius, an Alexandrian teacher. He said that there was a time when the Logos did not exist.
Then there arose a teaching that Christ was simply a man on whom the Spirit of God descended. By the same token the God-man was divided in Christ. So thought the people who gathered around the Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius. However, Nestorius himself was perhaps not very guilty of this, although that is not the point.
But then other persons, Orthodox Christians who esteemed Christ highly, put aside His human nature. They said that there was in Him only one nature, the divine. And what was human in Him was something of secondary, of lesser importance. However for the Church this was not something of little importance, it was central, that He is one of us. He is not a phantom. He is not some kind of divine vision. Holy Scriptures that emphasize that He was indeed genuinely man and genuinely God remain before us.
Finally, after this Monophysite teaching, rejected at an Ecumenical Council, there arose a subtler teaching, that of Monothelitism. Some Greek theologians tried to demonstrate that Christ was indeed man, that He was truly God, but that He had one will, one divine will. But was this in fact the case? Didn't He pray in the garden of Gethsemane before His death. Didn't He pray to the Father, "Let this cup pass from Me"? It means that His human will was opposed to what He was headed for. There was an inner struggle. It means that it is not possible to think that He had only one divine will. It means that He is a unique being, fully human and fully divine. Because salvation came to us, communion with the higher life, through One Who simultaneously belonged to two worlds. This is what the essence of the confession concerning Christ in the "Symbol of Faith" is.
Why is this called the Good News, evangelion in Greek? Because this news is not that some angel or some inhabitant of cosmic worlds, or some kind of higher being saved us. But that the Creator Himself came to save us -- the Creator Himself in the person of the divine Logos. "He was in the world, and the world knew Him not. But the light," continued the Evangelist, "shines in darkness, and the darkness has not comprehended it."
So the light of Christ shines in the world. Man always strives to expand his soul. He has always felt constricted in his framework, he has wanted to merge with the crowd, with the nation, with nature. There is something great in this striving, although there is also a negative side to it. What is great in this striving is that we are vastly more mysterious and voluminous beings than we think. We really do feel cramped within these limits, in the merely individual. Man strives for a universal [sobornomu ., "conciliar"] inclusiveness. Taking in brothers, and sisters, and nature. Above all, man strives to be united with God, to merge with the divine. In all its forms.
Perhaps some of you have read the American poet Whitman, who thought that he had reached the divine by dissolving himself into the breath of the prairies, by feeling himself one with the grass that grew under his feet, with the clouds that floated in heaven. Many people, experiencing a oneness with nature, have felt that something holy transpires within them, something out of the ordinary and striking. Perhaps such a feeling of oneness with nature is known to many of you. How special are these moments! Oneness with the fullness of life, in a deep, holy silence. The works of poets, painters, and writers speak of this
There are some lines from War and Peace that are well known to all of you. There are verses of multitudes, multitudes of poets, which I am not even going to enumerate. They all speak of the same thing. There is a philosophical play by Aaubert, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Not, in my opinion, a very good one, but it has a special ending, an epilogue to the play, when this ascetic hermit, who has struggled with the passions with his whole heart, suddenly feels that all of nature as entered into him, that he is flying with the birds, that all creatures are living and developing within him, that all the cosmos is breathing within him. This feeling is not accidental. The mystics of Ancient India and the contemporary mystics of Iran, the Sufis, a multitude of mystics of all times and peoples have of course thirsted for precisely this oneness. They have told a parable about it. I think it is also of Indian origin: I don't remember right now. It is about how there lived in the world a certain animated doll, a figurine. But she was made of salt. She always wanted to find out what the sea was, what the ocean was. She was told: you can find out only by entering its waters. And so she entered the water and stood there. She kept standing, and gradually the salty sea water washed over her, and she carne to know the ocean only after having dissolved completely in it. Nothing remained of her, but she spread out in the salty expanses of the sea waters.
At first glance it seems that this thirst for dissolution is present in the Bible also. In Psalm 41 [KJV 42] it says, "As the deer yearns for springs of water, so does my soul yearn for Thee, 0 God." In fact, however, the man of Old Testament times knew that it was possible to touch only the radiance of God, what in the Bible is called the Glory of God. His emanation that spread over the whole universe. But this was not Him, this is not Him, but only a "corona", like the sun's corona. When there is an eclipse of the sun, around it we can see the corona. This is not the sun, but the aura surrounding it. It is not possible for man to merge with God Himself. When the Prophet Isaiah saw the Glory of God he said, "I must die, because I have seen the face of God" -- 'face' in a conventional sense. This is how the Old Testament understood the encounter with God. An encounter -- and what is more, an obedience -- and what is more, love yes, of course, for the very first commandment of the Old Testament says, "Love thy Lord with all thine heart, with all thy mind." But the Lord also says in the Prophet Isaiah, "As the heaven is far from the earth, so are My thoughts far from your thoughts." This is a very important verse: it sounds like thunder in the Holy Scripture. All peoples, in the East and in the West, in Greece, Babylon, and Egypt had conceived of their gods anthropomorphically, or at least in forms derived from nature. To conceive of them anthropomorphically is only natural. Therefore the majority of graven images and frescoes, no matter of whom Osiris, Zeus, or Marduk of Babylon -- are always in the form of a man. In the Bible, however, we hear the terrible and severe voice of the Trinity: I am God, and not man. So only when God Himself draws near to our existence, when He enters into our life, when He becomes human and close to us, is union with Him possible. Only then.
This is why the Apostle Paul teaches us that salvation, that is, becoming united with God, is possible only through Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ signifies union with Him, receiving Him in the heart: it means that we are with Him. The Apostle says. "I have been crucified with Christ." that is, we suffer with Him, we die with Him, we can rise with Him. Thus, the humanity of God is revealed through the God-man. The God-man no longer proclaims the awful and terrible truth. "I am God, and not man." He says. "I am man. I am your brother."
The human face of God, that is what Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made is all about. This is God for us, this is our God, this is that Face of God, as we say, the Second Face of the Holy Trinity, turned toward man, toward creation, toward the cosmos. Who also comes to us in the name of love.
In the Gospel of John we read. "God so loved the world, that He gave His Son, that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but should have eternal life." This means that in the depths of the Divine Being there lays the greatest love for the creation, and He descends into our world. We say "descends" because that world [from which He comes] is extremely lofty, unreachable. He comes into our ordinary world, our everyday world, in order to unite us to Himself. Knowing no suffering, He comes to know suffering; knowing no limitations, He becomes limited in space and time, the Almighty One limits His Almightiness. The question may arise for many of you, "But why was this manifestation not some kind of triumphant one, why didn't the Son of Man and of God manifest Himself among men to the accompaniment of the sound of heavenly thunder and some sort of cosmic signs, so that they could comprehend His power and glory?" Here we have the central question of Christian life, ethics, and teaching, connected to the problem of freedom.
Man is like God, that is, he is a free being. He does not want to be a free being, he opposes freedom, he flees from it, but this is his nature. He may pervert it, debase it, but it is freedom that makes him god-like. If there is freedom, it means that there is no kind of compulsion that could make human beings retreat in fear and impotence.
It was possible to interpret any miracle of Christ in another way. Some said that He had learned sorcery, the Pharisees said that He cast out diseases with the help of demons. That was the way it had to be. It had to be that way, and this is why He tells us that even if the dead were to rise, they would not believe. Why? Because faith is readiness of the spirit to listen to Him to be open to Him. Faith is the flight of the soul to meet God. If this is not present, then everything becomes one-dimensional, stiffens, and dies. The voice of God is not heard, because faith is a divine-human mystery. Although it is given us as a kind of gift, we have to be able to receive this gift. For without being received on the part of man it is not realized. All of sacred history teaches us this, the entire Bible and all the many centuries of experience of the Church. Receiving is necessary. Precisely in order that this receiving be voluntary, the envoy of heaven, God, when He appeared in the flesh, had to come without signs of earthly greatness. That is why the prophets had already intuited that He would come, working only by the power of the spirit. In the book of the Prophet Isaiah, in the 53rd chapter, we find the image of the suffering King, banished for righteousness, degraded before the nations, and the earthly kings. "We thought that He had been punished and wounded by God, but he took on Himself the sins of each one of us."
He came into this world, and this means He had to suffer. In our world it is impossible not to suffer. In the fallen world, in the world of sin, not to suffer is impossible, and the more perfect the personality, the more it suffers. As I have already told you, in my view, Golgotha began for Christ from the first moment of His birth, when He came into our world filled with evil. This coming into contact with evil was itself a constant suffering for Him, always. It was hard for Him to bear, it was a torment to Him. But this too was His Cross.
People had to accept Christ freely and voluntarily. When the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, accepting Christianity became advantageous, for it was confessed by the Emperor and his court themselves. Quite a different situation. The Lord Jesus came from a small town unknown to anyone. He was not supposed either by the schools of the authoritative spiritual teachers nor did He have any influential people in His circle. He was simply the Teacher from Nazareth. It was necessary to hear His words, to understand their prophetic, eternal, sacred meaning, and to accept Him as a teacher in the first place, and then His divine secret was revealed.
Not without reason did He not reveal it to the disciples at once, and even did not reveal it at all, but it revealed itself in them, and under surprising circumstances.
There was a moment, which you will all remember, when earthly glory did come to Jesus, when He multiplied the bread and fed the hungry, and the crowds decided to make Him the leader of their uprising, and to proclaim Him king, by force, even against His will. He fled from them. He fled and hid. He was in such a hurry to hide that He walked on water, just in order to get away from them. You all, of course, will recall the moment in the Gospels of His walking on the water. Many people debate, could He have walked on water or couldn't He? Not only Christ, but some ascetics and holy men, even non-Christian ones, have been able to do this: there are witnesses to it. But this is not quite the point. In fact this is not the point at all. The Lord Jesus walked on water not in order to show or demonstrate to anyone His own power. Not for this at all. It was rather so that the crowd would not seize Him by force. Let me remind you of another well-known description of this in the Gospel. It is evening. The people have risen up: "This is our true leader." But He quietly tells the disciples. "Go to a boat, get in and sail to the other shore."
They sail off. He remains with the people as if not departing from them. The exulting crowd starts bonfires: evening falls. He goes up on the mountain to pray. When no one is suspecting anything, He comes down from the mountain and quickly goes after the disciples and overtakes them, walking on water. This was a form of flight. He hid from the royal crown -- because He didn't need it. This was earthly power and glory. His glory was in something else.
When He had to leave Israel altogether, He wandered in neighboring Phoenicia, modern-day Lebanon. Returning from there, He asked His disciples once, "Who do men think that I am?" And they began to speak: as the Prophet, as someone else. "And who do you think that I am?" And Simon Peter answers for all of them. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
But what did this mean? It meant, "You are tired, Your feet and clothes are covered with dust, You are an exile, You not only lack a crown, You don't have even a home. The birds have their nests and the foxes their holes. But You, the Son of Man, don't have a place to live, You have no place to lay your head. You are rejected by the religious teachers and wise men of the people. The rich and powerful make fun of You. The changeable crowd judges You in various ways. Perhaps You have already suffered defeat. You were in your native town of Nazareth and they drove You out of it. They almost wanted to kill You. You left the cities by the lake, Capernaum and Chorazin. You are one who has suffered defeat, a terrible defeat. But we do not care; in spite of this, we accept You as King, as Messiah, as the Son of the Living God.
This is what the heroic feat of the Apostle Peter consisted of, that he recognized in Christ the Messiah not in any moment of His triumph, albeit temporary, but in a moment of His most bitter isolation and rejection. Therefore the Savior said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for man has not revealed this to you, but the Father who is in heaven." Literally He said. "Not flesh and blood." Flesh and blood in the Bible is a synonym for man. Thus, freedom is always preserved.
For the sake of us men and for our salvation He came down from the heavens. Sometimes people ask. "From which heavens did the Lord come down, and why did He come down -- isn't God everywhere?" I have already told you that Heaven is the great visible symbol of the divine, of the infinite. He came from the infinite into the finite, into our dimension.
And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. What does this mean? It means that He became human, became a true man, and the Virgin Mary is the link in the one human family through which each one of us becomes a relative, kin of Jesus Christ according to the flesh. Some of you who open the Gospel for the first time are surprised at why the long lists of names are enumerated. This is the genealogy of Christ, to show His connection with the ancient Biblical forefathers and kings, and from the other side, to show His connection with us. He is one who has a human genealogy. He is our brother by blood. By human blood. "He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary."
Today at the end of my talk I will show you a few slides concerning the Virgin Mary, so that you will think about Her again -- because Her place is unique in the consciousness of the Church, in our worship, in church art. Of course, legends and stories are always springing up around Her. Her image has been adorned like Her icons have been adorned with precious stones in ancient churches of East and West, of Moscow, Petersburg and other cities here and abroad, whether Paris or some other capital. So why is the Virgin present here? Why did Christ have to be born of the Virgin? Think about this a little, and you will understand that a particular soul was needed, an exceptional personality, who had been called to become the Mother of the God·man.
She had to surpass all people who had lived before. This means that the fire of Her love for God had to have been so great that it is hard to imagine that She would have been able to love anybody other than Him.
We know a whole series of women with such love for the Creator, who carried out the monastic exploit of sacrifice and self-abnegation. These are the great martyrs, the great female ascetics from ancient times down to our century.
Yes, they, of course, gave up a family, sometimes a home, and even life in order to belong to the Lord. So could His Mother have been lower than they were, could Her love for God have been less than their love? More, of course it was more. And if so, then His birth had unavoidably to have been a Virgin birth.
As far as the laws of Nature are concerned, that person who will tell me today that he knows all the laws of Nature may dispute the reality of this or that miraculous phenomenon. But I'm afraid there are no such people and won't be for a long time. In fact I am sure that there never will be. It is enough to remember the dimensions of the Universe... Consequently we have no right to limit the power of the Creator in Nature. The babe was begotten of the Holy Spirit. What is that all about? The Holy Spirit has been acting already in the Old Testament. We see there that a prophet speaks by the power of the Spirit, that a king who is sent on some mission has the power of the Spirit at work upon him. The Spirit takes control of those who speak in the name of God.
Therefore at the birth of the God-man there had to be a special action of that Spirit Which had spoken through the prophets, Which had entered into humanity already more than once.
Crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. Why did a petty official of the ancient world, a man of particular baseness who had executed many without trial or investigation, who during the 10 years of his administration had only provoked rebellion, end up in the spare lines of the "Symbol of Faith" -- what for? It is not accidental. There is nothing accidental here. Not one word. The point is that the ancient world did not have one method of reckoning years. Even when the "Symbol of Faith" was put together, there was no such single system of reckoning. Some counted time from the founding of Rome, the Greeks counted by the Olympic Games, in the East by the reigns of kings, and so forth. So you see, the indication of this man, of Pontius Pilate, is an indication of a point in history. Of the fact that Christ was incarnated not in the imagination of people, not in mythological time, but at a concrete historical and geographical point, "under Pontius Pilate", the fifth Procurator of Judea, who governed Judea from the year 27 of the 1st century of our era, as we now know, until the year 37 of the 1st century of our era.
And suffered and was buried. When we speak of the sufferings of Christ, a thought arises involuntarily, in fact two thoughts. The first is: didn't the martyrs also suffer? Didn't they also perish on crosses? In bonfires?
It is ruled out that there is here simply the suffering of the Lord. It is ruled out even from a human point of view. Even if we hold that Jesus of Nazareth was just a simple human being. Let us stop and think: in that case, was He weaker than his follower Jan Hus, who went to his death without flinching?
And than dozens of others? That is unlikely. Why in that case isn't Socrates taken as the greatest of teachers, instead of Christ, since Socrates also died without flinching? True, he was old, but you know that age does not eliminate the disagreeableness of death. There are few who want to die, regardless of age. So here the point was something quite different. We must think about this for a while. The suffering of Christ is a temptation: it was a temptation of Christ. That is why the Evangelist in fact says that Satan left Him for a while; he tempted Him at the beginning of His journey, and later, once again. When He said, "Let this cup pass," He was speaking not just about the brief minutes of agony, not just about the night of torment. If you think hard, you will understand that this was not the case. That in Him, I repeat, purely on the human level there had to be a fund of courage infinitely surpassing many human beings. So there is some kind of mystical secret here. It lies in the fact that Christ at this moment took into Himself the whole sum of human evil. He as it were redeemed humanity, taking on Himself everything that had accumulated in it. The entire black cloud that had been thickening for millennia over the sinful world of man was concentrating on Him. And He, as man, could accept this and He could reject it. Moreover, He could feel that He didn't expect this from mankind. As it says in Scripture, "Jesus Christ, instead of the joy that lay before Him, underwent suffering." That is, when God manifested Himself to man, this ought to have been the greatest triumph of humanity. But it was otherwise. He therefore suffered also for the human race that had rejected Him. Deeper we dare not go ever, but we know only that this was Divine suffering. The human principle in Christ could accept everything courageously. His Divine will had to accept what was alien to Divinity -- evil and darkness. "He was wounded for our sins; He was bruised for our transgression, the chastisement of this world was on Him and by His wounds we have been healed." So speaks the ancient prophet. This is indeed what happened in the sufferings of Christ.
And He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. "According to the Scriptures" -- these words pertain not only to the Resurrection but also to the Passion and to everything.
And He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Again, I repeat, what we have before us is an icon, a symbol. The ascent of Christ -- which we celebrate on the holiday of the Ascension -- is not a matter of His taking to the air in flight. I remember that twenty years ago we had a long and lively correspondence on this topic with a group of theologians. Trying to explain it somehow, one of them said that indeed. Christ flew through all the layers of the stratosphere, in order to sanctify the cosmos. I don't think that such an understanding makes any sense. The ascent to God signified and signifies that His existence as the God-man became completely different. It became just as universal as the Divine existence. Jesus of Nazareth in the days of His earthly life was limited in space and in time. You will recall that in the Gospels it is written that He left; He withdrew; He needed nourishment...
But when the Ascension takes place He is simultaneously everywhere. He acquires, as He Himself said when He appeared to the disciples, acquires all power on heaven and on earth. "All power is given to Me," He says. "Given" means that before this He did not have it at His disposal. But now He is all-powerful. He governs the Universe, it is permeated by the spirit of Christ. A spiritualized world has its beginning. With His advent. The gradual spiritualization of the world. Not inappropriately Teilhard de Chardin, the renowned scholar and theologian of our time, spoke of the Cosmic Christ. That all the flesh of the world had become the flesh of Christ, that all the material creation had become His flesh. Here is where the mystery of the Ascension lies. Therefore, when Teilhard de Chardin found himself in the desert on an expedition, as a priest he had to celebrate the Liturgy, and he had neither chalice nor bread, nor wine with him, since this was in the depths of Asia, in Mongolia, he climbed up on of the mountains before sunrise and watched as the world awakened, as the light came to the horizon, as the desert came to life, as the crescent moon set and the sun rose. He experienced these events as a liturgy. The sun is lifted up like the Holy Gifts, and he indeed felt that this was the Holy Gifts. Because all creation -- the air, and the mountains and living creatures -- become the divine flesh.
That is why our Eucharist is a cosmic sacrament; because the bread and wine are nature. This is the flesh of Christ, nourished by the juices of the earth. This is wheat, which is a symbol of birth ... This is what enters us and gives us life. Nature stops being limitless.
Nowadays people often speak of an ecological ethic. They speak rightly. But the foundation of an ecological ethic can only be laid when we feel in our heart that nature is divine flesh, that He has sanctified it. He, Who has been given the power to do so.
Finally, He completes the story: And He shall come again with glory. To judge the living and the dead. This is beyond the bounds of history. I think it would make sense to dwell on this point later. For now, I just want to repeat once more that the inspiring union with the heavenly world that would have been impossible for us is possible now through Christ. The Apostle Paul tells us, "It is not I who live, but Christ lives within me." His heart, His eyes, His love, something unique about Him indeed becomes the most important thing for the Christian, for the inner individual life of the Christian. One who has not accepted Christ in himself -- that person still stands in the vestibule, on the threshold of Christianity and is taking the first steps. The main thing here is the acceptance of Christ. In the sacrament of Baptism, and I will speak about this later, the words are sung. "Everyone who is baptized into Christ has put on Christ," that is, we are clothed in Christ. He is close to us. The feeling of His closeness becomes the pledge of the fact that with His power we will transform our own personality and our own life. He speaks of the fact that great powers will be given to everyone who believes in Him. Not conjuring tricks, not "phenomena". But rather an inner power. This is the power that we must not only cultivate in ourselves, but bring into the world. The world always needs Christ, always has needed Him, and will need Him. Only we can bring Him to people, those who in one degree or another have received Him into their hearts, bear Him, and reflect His light in their souls.
[This talk is from another cycle of talks on the theme of the Symbol of Faith, 1989. It is included instead of the Fourth Talk of the 1990 cycle, which could not be found. }