Daily Reflection for September 30, 2020

Hieromartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles Gregory, Bishop and Enlightener of Armenia


Marvelous changes occur daily in the destiny of men-in the present, as in times past. Those humiliated for the sake of God’s righteousness are raised to great heights, and the blasphemers of the Faith are converted to servants of the Faith. King Tiridates threw St. Gregory into a deep pit. The saint spent fourteen years in that pit, forgotten by the entire world, but not by God. Who among men could have thought that the greatest light of the Armenian people was to be found in the darkness of a pit? And who would have ever thought that the powerful and tyrannical King Tiridates would one day save the life of that same Gregory, whom he had condemned to death, and would help him more than the rest of the whole world could help him? After fourteen years, God revealed Gregory as still alive. Gregory then miraculously healed the insane king. King Tiridates, the unrestrained persecutor of Christ, was baptized and became the greatest zealot for the Christian Faith! It could be said that, with God’s help, Gregory and Tiridates were both drawn out of the pit of darkness-Gregory a physical one, and Tiridates a spiritual one. Oh, the infinite wisdom of God in governing the destinies of men! The formerly wild and passionate Tiridates was softened and ennobled so much by repentance and the Christian Faith, that he came to resemble St. Gregory more than his old, unrepentant self. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Moses replied, “Reveal Yourself to me.”
            Then God said, “I will pass before you in My glory, and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, before you. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man can see My face and live.” Moreover, the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me; you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
(Exodus 33:18-23)

The story of Moses asking God to “reveal Yourself to me” is full of allegory for believers. In the first verses of Scripture, we see God create the world as paradise and place man and woman in the midst of it. No one can deny the revelation of God to the first beings. They talked together and He led them to understanding about their dominion over creation. But when they chose sin over Him, they were cast out of paradise and a more difficult relationship began between God and His creation. This request by Moses is not a request that God interact with His people; He never stopped doing that. This is a much more personal revelation. In some ways, we echo that request when we struggle to see His presence in our own lives, and ask that He reveal Himself somehow to us. There are two realities in these few verses:

No one can see the face of God and live. The “face” is the essence of God according to St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory of Nyssa, among others. No one can encounter His essence and not be consumed by divine fire. But God protects Moses (and us), putting him in the cleft of the rock (He is the rock) and covering him with His hand, passing by so Moses only sees the “back” of God. The “back” is the energies of God, or the way He interacts with creation. Everyone with a pure heart can interact with God in ways that He allows us to perceive. Indeed, the journey of salvation is the interaction with Him as our purity allows. Our repentance and desire to “see” Him is what opens us up to Him coming in with those energies (and the Holy Spirit), enlightening and removing the blindness that sin and passions create in us. The Lord said in His Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The other reality, however, is that we have been blessed by God in ways unknown to even Moses, for God comes down to earth in His Son, making it possible to “see” Him in all His fulness. Again, not the essence or nature that He has as God, but in a tangible way that can been seen and described. Hence, we have icons of the Son of God, equal in essence with the Father and the Spirit. Not only was the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary, thereby allowing all of creation to see God, but we get to see Him, touch Him, taste Him and become one with Him in the Eucharist. The “rock” that holds us and allows God to reveal Himself to us is the Church. How blessed are we that God loves His people so much that He shares Himself with us?